TIFF Day 5: The exhaustion sets in

It is very late in Toronto, so I’m going to go a bit shorter on these today.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (dir. Werner Herzog)

Come for Nicholas Cage’s glorious overacting, stay for exactly that. Herzog’s take on Abel Ferrara’s 1992 cops-gone-bad feature (which I haven’t seen) is explicitly not a remake, though what it is is hard to say. A genre pic, sure. A spectacle, undoubtedly. Cage’s performance is wonderfully unrestrained as a cop with a bad back who moves from painkillers to far harder stuff (like crack), embracing and reveling in every one of the character’s myriad faults. The camera lingers in the oddest places, inexplicably following an alligator once, and dwelling on a pair of iguanas for what feels like ages. It’ll be interesting to compare this to Herzog’s other film at this year’s fest, reportedly inspired heavily by David Lynch. Odds are, Bad Lieutenant is far more fun.

Chloe (dir. Atom Egoyan)

I’m a little torn on this one. It seems to me that it’s two thirds of a great movie, with a last act that goes oddly off the rails. One of the things about a fest like this is you have to make a lot of snap judgments, and this strikes me as a movie that doesn’t lend itself to snap judgment. Julianne Moore is fantastic as a woman who suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) is having an affair. In a familiar move, she decides to test her man’s love by hiring prostitute Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to seduce him and to report back with the details.

As you might expect with Egoyan, no one’s motivations are quite what they seem, and personal and sexual relationships become increasingly complex. Seyfried, probably best known as the bride from Mama Mia!, is a revelation, completely embodying a character that’s a bizarre mix of superficial and complex — at least, until the film moves into the third act and things start to fall apart.

The Warrior and the Wolf (dir. Tian Zhuang Zhuang)

A disclaimer on this one: mid-TIFF exhaustion was setting in, and I was drifting a bit, but I also know for a fact that I wasn’t the only one who thought this Chinese period piece was tough to follow. The attrition rate was far higher than any other movie I’ve seen at TIFF, and even interstitial title cards couldn’t spell out exactly what was going on. A great warrior (maybe) is reluctant to kill people in battle, leading to his army’s defeat (I think). He hides out in a desert for a bit, sleeping with a female outcast he meets, and after a really strange sandstorm, they both turn into wolves. For some reason. It’s well shot, but that’s about all I can really say for it.

Videocracy (dir. Erik Gandini)

I had high hopes for this Swedish doc, based around Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The subject matter is rich, what with Berlusconi’s control of Italy’s television and print media, but Gandini’s film isn’t the direct assault I was expecting. Instead, it’s more focused on Italy’s national obsession with scantily clad ladies (the first Italian TV show was a call-in quiz show where correct answers led to a masked housewife taking off her clothes in front of a live audience), manufactured celebrities and tabloid journalism. The danger of choosing a leader who’s essentially responsible for creating that kind of culture is touched upon but never really discussed, and Berlusconi himself is fairly peripheral to the doc. Despite this, the trailer for the movie has already been banned in Italy.

What Videocracy actually covers, it covers well, but I can’t help feeling it’s a wasted opportunity.

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel (dir. Brigitte Berman)

There’s no confusion with what this one’s about. Berman’s doc is a well researched, well presented and very thorough look at the man behind the Playboy brand. While most takes on this subject have played up Hef’s party-heavy lifestyle and his role in sexing up America, Berman is more interested in his often understated role in societal change. A good deal of time is given to Hef’s fights for equal rights for minorities, his promotion of blacklisted artists during the McCarthy era and his passion for jazz, as well as the magazine’s contributions to interview pieces and literature.

Of course, you can’t make a Hefner movie without sex, and sex is always present. But it’s more the stream of interviewees, from Mike Wallace to Joan Baez to Jesse Jackson and Pat Boone, who really make the film work. It’s a fascinating reminder of just how important Playboy used to be, and the high standards that “men’s magazines” once had.

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