TIFF, Days 7 and 8: Your Sister’s Sister, The Lady, Chicken With Plums, Dark Horse, Twixt

There’s a good amount of movies to catch up on here, so apologies for the excessive brevity. Today’s the last day of industry screenings, so barring any attempts at rushing public screenings (a bit of an ordeal, but usually worth it for the crowd’s energy), this is the last batch of reviews.

Director Lynn Shelton’s Hump Day was a very pleasant surprise, taking an Adam Sandler-worthy premise (two straight guys decide to make a porn together as a result of a game of gay chicken) and turning it into an insightful examination of male friendship. Your Sister’s Sister starts from a more grounded place, but eventually finds the same mix of heightened emotion and believability. This time, it’s platonic friendship and sisterhood that get put through the emotional wringer. It didn’t resonate for me quite as much as Hump Day, maybe because Shelton wasn’t targeting me quite as directly, but it’s still a rich blend of humour, naturalism and well-pitched drama.

Luc Besson (Fifth Element, Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec) tones down the fantasy for a biopic of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the Oxford housewife who became a leader in the Burmese quest for democracy. Though certainly not limited in scope at nearly 2.5 hours, Besson keeps the focus on the personal over the political, dedicating much of the film to Aung San’s house arrest and the Burmese government’s efforts to keep her cancer-sick husband from visiting the country. This means Besson can draw some powerful emotions from Michelle Yeoh, but the downside to this approach is that we rarely see Aung San achieve anything — the bulk of her screen time is spent pushing through self-doubt, loneliness and guilt at staying away from her children in England. It gives a good sense of the personal sacrifice involved in political change, but aside from a handful of speeches and one confrontation with armed soldiers, Aung San’s actual contributions are frustratingly unclear.

Marjane Satrapi once again co-directs an adaptation of one of her graphic novels with Vincent Paronnaud, this time choosing live action over Persepolis’ gorgeous animation. The switch leads to no loss in visual richness — the compositions are beautiful throughout — but may make the cartoonish tone of the material more off-putting. The story is more like a fable than anything, depicting the last eight days in the life of a renowned violinist who loses the will to live. Art, love, death and destiny are the main topics at hand, handled with a constant whimsy that takes some of the grimness out its mean-spirited protagonist’s quest for death. Occasionally reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet both visually and tonally, the film bodes well for Satrapi’s future as a live-action filmmaker — it’ll be interesting to see where she goes with a project conceived from the beginning for the screen.

It doesn’t seem right to describe a Todd Solondz movie as upbeat, but Dark Horse is somewhere near it. Never mind that its protagonist is a thirty something who lives and works with his parents, collects Thunder Cats action figures in his spare time and can only get a date out of pity. Played to absolute perfection by Jordan Gelber, Abe doesn’t let his obvious shortcomings get him down, preferring to think of himself as the dark horse who will surprise everyone in the end. Granted, that leads to a sense of entitlement and persecution that only exasperates his situation, but Abe’s optimism is a welcome respite from Solondz’s usually unrelenting cynicism. This is still a Solondz movie, so there are still plenty of dark moments, but the humour is more up front, the performances broader, and the whole experience less soul-crushing than usual.

Francis Ford Coppola sure is in a weird place lately. His latest bills itself as a gothic horror, but its hard to say how much of it is intended to scare and how much is intentional camp. The introductory narration by Tom Waits sets things up with plenty of cheek, and Val Kilmer doesn’t seem to take himself overly seriously as a “bargain-basement Stephen King” who uncovers a murder mystery while on his book tour. It’s certainly more self-aware than Coppola’s last attempt at gothic horror in Dracula. Gimmicky moments abound, including two exceptionally brief 3D sequences, with the overall sense that Coppola is more concerned with playing with a variety of techniques than providing a coherent story. Making the lead character a writer allows for plenty of metatextuality, and the ghost story that’s eventually uncovered is creepy when you get down to it, but I’d be more curious to see the film of that story than this one of its discovery and telling.

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