Last September, when former Friends star David Schwimmer unveiled his directorial feature Trust to audiences attending the Toronto International Film Festival, he divided critics into two camps: those who thought it was great and powered by exceptional performances, and those who thought it was OK, though powered by exceptional performances.
No doubt, leads Clive Owen and Catherine Keener are outstanding as the caring but vaguely clueless parents of a typically naïve teenage girl who meets what she thinks is the boy of her dreams (actually a child molester) online and begins an intense chat relationship that soon migrates offline with devastating consequences for all involved.
Trust - which is slated to open April 1 - hits a very timely nerve while raising all sorts of questions relevant to the age of the Internet: how much supervision should parents exert over their children’s online use? How explicit should they be in spelling out the potential dangers of chatting with (and ultimately meeting) strangers? Can chat rooms effectively police themselves?
Given that the film apparently will be slapped with an R-rating Stateside, it’s debatable whether any of those questions will reach the teen demo directly though you can bet parents of teens viewing this film will exit theatres feeling some combination of revulsion, terror and shock.
During a press conference for the film in Toronto last September, Owen - who has two kids - offered this observation: “I thought this [film] is a really strong examination of something that we could all be careful and a little worried about.
“I think the way children relate on the Internet is racing ahead so quickly that we have to take check that it’s healthy for our kids … The minute my oldest daughter joined Facebook, she got a number of messages from people she didn’t know to become friends, and this film examines that as a concern.”
Schwimmer, who is one of the board members of the Rape Treatment Center in Santa Monica, added that he used to have a girlfriend who was a victim of sexual abuse.
“I think the issues of the subject matter are incredibly timely. The Internet is a great tool but there are a lot of dangers out there. Eighty-nine per cent of chat rooms are solicited sexually; there are 50,000 predators online at any given moment; MySpace just kicked off 90,000 registered sex offenders’ profiles. The facts speak for themselves.”
According to a poll conducted by Cinematheque Ontario, Thai auteur Apichatpong Weersasethakul is responsible for not just the best film of the last decade (Syndromes and a Century), but also the sixth (Tropical Malady) and thirteenth (Blissfully Yours) best films of the decade as well. His latest, the intriguingly-titled Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, arrives at TIFF having already won the Palme d’Or and is widely regarded as Apichatpong’s best. Unless Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke makes a four hour long film about the effects of globalization on a small Chinese village, Uncle Boonmee will almost certainly end up at the top of Cinematheque Ontario’s 2020 best-of-decade poll.
Despite a close reading of James Quandt’s 255 page book on the director, I’ve never been able to see what all the fuss was about. Syndromes had a few creepy shots of empty hospital corridors, but it seemed like a fairly minor work compared to some of the other titles that dominated the more mainstream best-of-decade lists (In the Mood for Love and There Will be Blood, for instance). Tropical Malady had a brilliant second half (in which a soldier chases a shape-shifter through a jungle), but the first hour was a fairly routine and unremarkable contribution to the New Asian Minimalism (i.e. a bunch of long shots of people sitting, walking, and sometimes talking).
With Uncle Boonmee, I can sort of begin to understand the appeal. It’s an extension of the “strange things that happen in the jungle” plot of Malady, only slightly more accessible. Dying of kidney failure (bad karma for killing too many communists and possibly too many insects), Boonmee is visited at the dinner table by the ghost of his wife, then moments later, by his long-lost son, who has assumed the form of a red-eyed creature known as “the ghost monkey.” At first, Boonmee is startled by the unexpected arrival of his two visitors, but soon the conversation at the dinner table resumes back to normal. His son tells the story of how he became a ghost monkey, and the flashback that ensues is so deliriously strange that I began to suspect the kid at the concession stand of slipping something in my drink.
Not too much happens after that: Boonmee travels to the cave where his soul was born, a woman is impregnated by a catfish, and a monk takes a shower for five minutes. Much of this is undeniably brilliant, but for every trippy ghost monkey flashback, there's a corresponding scene that's just flat-out baffling and, well, kind of tedious. Perhaps there’s some deep significance to the scene where the monk takes a five minute long shower, but if so, but it's difficult to tell what it might be. Audiences who gave the comparatively fast-paced and straightforward The American an F will likely walk out of Uncle Boonmee after the first ten minutes. At the press screening, the creaking of the theater door could be heard at two minute intervals -- much more frequent than the usual TIFF ratio of one walkout every ten minutes.
I feel a bit silly giving a film by Friends alum David Schwimmer the same rating as a film by an internally renowned auteur, but there’s no way around it: Trust is exactly the sort of dark, disturbing child molestation saga that you don't normally expect from former Friends cast members. It doesn't get off to a particularly promising start -- indeed, the first twenty minutes feel like an extended “Do you really know what your children are doing on the Internet?”-type public service announcement -- but soon it evolves into something closer to the complicated family drama of Ordinary People.
The performances are uniformly excellent. Clive Owen and Catherine Keener are enormously effecting as the parents, Tom McCarthy is suitably creepy as the pedophile, and newcomer Liana Liberato is remarkable as the daughter. The film contains it's fair share of clichés and plot contrivances, but the absence of a whiny character who constantly complains "But we were on a break!" more than compensates for this.
Clive Owen was in Children of Men with Julianne Moore, who was in The Hours with Nicole Kidman, who was in The Interpreter with Sean Penn, who was in Mystic River with Kevin Bacon, who is in Super, one of the highlights of TIFF's Midnight Madness program.
Most reviews of Super will begin by mentioning Kick-Ass, and the comparison is more than apt: the two movies share an identical premise (what would happen if someone in the real world donned a costume and became a super hero?) and arrives at the same conclusion (it would result in levels of violence that most people would find deeply, deeply disturbing). The main difference between the two is that Super is far more violent and disturbing.
Rainn Wilson (Dwight from The Office) stars as a short-order cook who adopts the guise of The Crimson Bolt after his wife (Liv Tyler) leaves him for a drug-dealer (Kevin Bacon). His initial crime-fighting excursion isn't particularly successful, but his luck improves once he buys a pipe wrench and starts hitting people in the face with it repeatedly. Soon he becomes a folk hero and winds up with a kid sidekick (Ellen Page) named Boltie.
Without Ellen Page, the movie would just be adequate. But Page's performance elevates it to near-greatness. She delivers a crazy, unhinged comic performance that's 180 degrees away from her work in Inception and will likely secure her position as one of the most versatile actors of her generation. A scene where she crashes into a bad guy with her car, then gets out and laughs at him for an uncomfortably extended period of time is simultaneously one of the funniest and most frightening moments of 2010.
Kevin Bacon was in Sleepers with Brad Pitt, who was in Babel with Rinko Kikuchi, who is in Norwegian Wood, a movie which in theory sounds like it should be great (it's based on a novel by the author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, it's by the director of The Scent of Green Papaya and Cyclo, and it's scored by a member of Radiohead), but which in reality is actually kind of terrible.
The reasons for the movie's failure are twofold: 1) director Tran Anh Hung's art film aesthetic completely clashes with Haruki Murakami's pop sensibility, and 2) Tran Anh Hung only adapts the scenes from the Murakami novel that feature some kind of sexual content. The result is a curiously solemn PG rated porno that goes on for an excruciating 133 minutes. It may look like a great movie, and it may sound like a great movie (Jonny Greenwood's score is brilliant), but don't be fooled: Norwegian Wood is an embarrassment.
Prediction: the TIFF People's Choice Choice Award, when it is announced on Saturday, will in all likelihood go to the Errol Morris documentary Tabloid (unless, of course, it goes to The King's Speech or The Black Swan instead).
To give even a brief plot synopsis would be to spoil it irrevocably, so let's just say that it's one of the craziest and most entertaining films of recent memory and leave it at that. (Warning: the less you know about the movie, the more you'll probably like it, so try to steer clear of the trailer, other reviews, and stills such as the above).
coming soon: The Whistleblower, Bad Faith, and Block-C.
Sometimes TIFF seems like all glitz, glamour, and big name movie premieres, but what is often overlooked is that many of the films at the the festival are being showcased in part to help find distribution. And it's not just the small films with little-known actors and directors. Case in point is David Schwimmer's Trust (check out our review here), starring Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, and Liana Liberato. The dark film, about an online child predator, entered TIFF with considerable buzz, but when asked if he had heard any news about finding a distributer after its premiere Schwimmer said that it was "radio silent" and quipped that anyone who hears anything "should let him know."
Finding a distributer is one issue he's dealing with, but on the acting front things also sound less than ideal for the former Friends star. When he was questioned about what sort of roles he is looking for, Schwimmer jokingly said that he'll "act for anyone who will have him." It's possible that he was being self-deprecating, but I suspect that he wasn't (which a quick look at IMDb seems to confirm).
Even TIFF's premiere scheduling seems to be against Schwimmer, as his was put up against Passion Play's, starring Megan Fox and Mickey Rourke. The photo pit for Passion Play was absolutely packed (Fox's movies are for the most part terrible but she knows how to walk a red carpet), while there were apparently just 4 still photographers at the premiere of Trust.
Trust will screen again this Sunday, September 19th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Like The Queen (and connected to it by real-life heredity), The King’s Speech occupies that rarest filmic space – the bells-and-whistles historical drama that tells a story better than any novelist ever could.
Colin Firth stars as George VI - father to the reigning Queen Elizabeth II, cherished husband to the Queen Mum, beleaguered brother to Edward VIII (a.k.a. the king who gave up the throne for twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson) and British monarch in Hitler’s Europe.
Just one problem: George VI stutters which is something of a debit in a king during the golden age of radio. Enter Geoffrey Rush as the eccentric but effective speech therapist covertly hired to ease the king’s pained staccato croaks. That may not sound like the ingredients for a riveting two hours but it is, thanks to leads Firth, Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, who make David Seidler’s hilarious/heartbreaking script crackle and dance.
TIFF Review: Trust
The performances are persuasive, the premise hugely current and the ending icky enough to induce appropriate squirm. Yet director David Schwimmer’s (yup, the Friends dude) Trust never successfully transcends its beige Movie of the Week vibe.
Clive Owen and Catherine Keener are the Camerons, the loving, well-adjusted parents to three cookie-cutter suburban kids including14-year-old mobile device junkie Annie, whose chat room escapades soon land her in the crosshairs of an adult online predator posing as a peer. Months of increasingly salacious correspondence culminate in a meet which culminates in sexual assault.
The following two-thirds of the movie chart the inevitable emotional fall-out on the increasingly distraught family and here the clichés – guilt-ridden Dad, in-denial victim, hysterical mom – mount. And as we nod our heads in recognition, we hunger for revelation… or even a vaguely unexpected plot twist. A worthwhile rental; a big screen must-miss.