Toronto 08 — Day 6 capsules
THREE BLIND MICE (Matthew Newton, Australia, 2008) — 6
This is the sort of competent genre movie that you might catch flipping the channels, watch it through and be reasonably well entertained. THREE BLIND MICE is about the last night of liberty for three Australian Navy sailors before their ship heads for Iraq. The hemmed-in-by-Aristotelian-unities events that follow are more or less exactly what you expect if you’ve ever seen ON THE TOWN (the premises’ similarity being noted) or THE LAST DETAIL. But THREE BLIND MICE avoids the mannered quirkiness that torpedoes many Australian comedies (to outsiders anyway), and it is well cast though to fairly conventional types — the wiseacre leader (played by director Newton), the straight arrow, the dubious outsider. The set pieces are handled effectively (they’re lengthier and with less cross-cutting between than you’d expect), with a poker game for money holding some real tension and a meal with the prospective parents-in-law turning into the date from hell. There’s also a couple of War subtexts that pleasantly don’t turn out quite the way they often do (and gee … it turns out that military abuse happens not at the behest of the Bush administration and their grand Salvation Through Leviathan plans). But still … I shouldn’t oversell this refreshing spritzer of a movie, because it is very schematic and predictable, and never really pushes toward something great. Neither ON THE TOWN without music nor THE LAST DETAIL without Jack Nicholson could be called awesome.
KISSES (Lance Daly, Ireland, 2008) — 0
A piece of crap that I hated with a passion I haven’t felt since A HOLE IN MY HEART here in 2004. KISSES is one of the most immoral films I’ve ever seen — an apologia for young children running away from home. Basically a boy and a girl who look to be about 10 are unhappy with their next-door families and so run away on Christmas Eve to have fun in Dublin spending some stolen money — like ELVIRA MADIGAN with an Irish working-class setting and a happy ending. Did I say happy ending? Sorry I spoiled the movie (naw). But no … this movie is filled with benevolent barge-keepers, hookers with a heart of gold, street musicians whom the kids can help (like in “Beavis Can You Spare A Dime”), a Bob Dylan impersonator who imparts the wisdom that “we’re all running away from something” (see … it’s normal to do this kind of thing), hot dog vendors who give free sandwiches to persistent kids. Everything is played for a jolly lark, as if there are no dangers to 10-year-olds wandering the streets at a major capital city at night. Or rather, when danger does rear its ugly head, the two kids are able to defeat it through their own pluck. Oh … and the kiss in the “we’re alive, let’s kiss” scene is full-passion French-kissing, not the awkward pecks that might be believable. The film goes from a grim black-and-white to a washed-out color to full color in the course of the journey to Dublin, and then back when the kids are finally brought back to families that pointedly have not changed. Sure, the families are non-stop yelling from hell — the boy’s father punches his mom with a closed fist, understandably since she had just done the same; and the girl’s family is the sort where “you shchoopit cunt” is a term of endearment. But that’s part of the movie’s same stacked deck. I realize more than ever that KIT KITTREDGE made a genius move in sanitizing the Depression. It’s not a moral problem when an 8-year-old girl does her own crime investigation and the criminals are buffoonish, if the movie has basically been a fantasy from the beginning. But if KIT had played the Depression in full GRAPES OF WRATH miserabilism, it would have done what KISSES does with the brutalist portrayal of the family and the would-be kidnappers. There is even a scene that proves how black are the souls of the people involved with KISSES. The kids bought wheely shoes once at a Dublin mall and pointedly use them throughout. But later there is a reverie scene on an ice rink. Before it begins, the film shows the kids taking off their wheelies. After all, we can’t portray kids doing anything dangerous now, can we? Somebody might sue.
TOKYO SONATA (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 2008) — 5
Late in this movie, a title card announces “three hours earlier.” If you walk out of TOKYO SONATA at that point, you’ll think you walked out on a terrific movie. Not such FATAL ATTRACTION can I think of a realistic film that was so observant and so well-done for so long, but which so suddenly turned on a dime into risible crap. Now, there’s no bunny-boiling or “not dead yet” type moments here; TOKYO SONATA maintains the naturalistic, observational style. But nothing that actually happens after that title card was one-millionth-of-a-billionth believable. It’s really a shame because TOKYO SONATA starts with the premise of one of my 10 all-time favorites (TIME OUT) — salaried-manager Sasaki is fired from his job because of outsourcing and tries to keep it from his family. Kurosawa also has interesting ideas that went places Cantet didn’t — like Sasaki finding a second downsized man who had his own ideas of how to handle things, some of them semi-comic, and he actually does take a legitimate if much-lowlier new job, rather than smuggling as Cantet’s hero did. And the rest of the family plays a bigger role and are hiding secrets of their own. He also has an interesting theme about loss of face and how authority once pissed away can never be restored (at least as itself). It’s as precise and formal as an Ozu family drama film — given certain adjustments for changes in Japanese society since the 1940s — until it bursts into much-more explosive territory with a violent family-fight scene. It’s all so good for so long that when you find out “three hours earlier,” it’s an utter shame how laughable events become. One example: a conventional Japanese housewife throws herself at a home invader who threatens her at knifepoint.
THE BROTHERS BLOOM (Rian Johnson, USA, 2008) — 7
Like TOKYO SONATA, this is a great film for much of its running time but loses it at the end. It doesn’t become actively risible (hence the higher grade) … just loses its steam and tries to get serious. But for the first hour or so, THE BROTHERS BLOOM is one of the funniest contraptions you’ll ever see — a story of two brothers who have spent their lives doing cons. I mean it when I call this film a “contraption,” and one very specifically tied to movie-making. For one thing, the film is not remotely realistic — to name one very simple thing, it’s very hard to tell when the movie is taking place. The details of the cars and the technology needed for some of the stunts clearly imply present-day. But in their dress, in their mannerisms and sensibility, and in some of the details of the physical plant in the self-mythologizing montage of their boyhood (Skandies plug for Best Scene), the Blooms more resemble the “heroes” from Lubitsch’s TROUBLE IN PARADISE or some 40s caper pic. They’ve deliberately lived as hyper-conscious performers and see life as a con. But what separates this film from greatness is that, unlike in THE PRESTIGE from a couple of years ago, it doesn’t embrace its status as pomo discourse all the way down and find an ending. Instead, we get a more standard “wanna leave the life / OK, but one last con” conflict between the two brothers (Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo, respectively). And the last 20 minutes consist of more “is this a con or is this not a con” wankery that we’ve seen in a hundred con-men movies. THE PRESTIGE was about performers who valued performance so much that it was the end of their lives (“end” in both senses of that word). If I sound harsh, it’s only because the first hour or so was such an entertaining lark filled with great lines tossed off like the best of Lubitsch, my favorite being: “I would not like to simplistically vilify a whole country. But Mexico is a horrible place” (what’s funny is not only how callously it’s delivered, but the contrast between the labyrinthine first sentence caveat, and the bluntness of the second sentence punch line). THE BROTHERS BLOOM was so funny and “fun” (not exactly the same) that I didn’t want it to end in that tone, or to find a way to search for profundity while keeping that tone. But another awards plug — remember Rinko Kikuchi for what may be the greatest more-or-less mute comic performance in talking-picture history. She’s basically playing Gromit — the sidekick doing all the crazy sight gags, eye rolls and reaction shots at the edge of the frame.