Daily reviews of some of the best and worst movies to screen at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival
Take This Waltz
Director: Sarah Polley
Stars: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman
Sarah Polley moved from underrated actress to surprisingly solid director in 2006 with Away From Her and now returns five years later with her sophomore effort, Take This Waltz. The film stars Michelle Williams as a 20-something who is in a seemingly happy marriage with a man whose only flaw is that he cooks too much chicken for an all-chicken cookbook that he’s writing.
However, as beautiful 20-somethings are prone to do, Williams’ mind wanders to other possibilities, specifically the hottie artist who lives across the street and drives a rickshaw as his day job. It’s a film about wondering if comfort and a home is worth the sacrifice of new experiences. Admirably Polley never judges her protagonist for the decisions she makes and there’s a nice moral ambiguity that you just don’t see in films enough these days. Unfortunately that comes with a rather big catch.
You see, Polley leaves it open to the audience to decide how they feel about Williams’ character and that strikes me as not being the greatest choice in this particular case. While I’m sure this will be a movie that inspires wildly different responses from everyone who sees it, personally I hated Williams’ character and the choices she made.
I don’t mind a movie based around an antihero, but I can tell that I’m supposed to sympathize with Williams’ character at least a little bit and I just can’t do it. She seems like a cold, cruel, selfish whiner. Granted, she might figure that out by the end of the film, but I just didn’t enjoy spending two hours with her.
Of course, that’s not to say that the movie is without merit. Polley has developed a loose, but carefully composed visual style that is a wonderful aesthetic for these kinds of character pieces. She also works incredibly well with actors, gaining typically strong work from Williams and also drawing surprisingly heartfelt dramatic performances out of Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman that should surprise anyone who doubts the comedians’ talent as actors.
It’s a well made film that takes risks, I’m just not convinced that those risks pay off as well as they could or should. Polley remains a talent to watch as a director but for all its endearing qualities, Take This Waltz feels like a bit of a misstep.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning
Seriously, what is going on with Francis Ford Coppola? In the '70s, the man only made four movies, all of them mature masterpieces (The Godfather 1 and 2, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now). In the 2000s, he started self-financing his movies to ensure complete freedom from studio interference.
In theory, that’s exactly what an artist of his caliber should be doing. In practice, it’s as if he’s regressed artistically to film student level directing. Tetro was interesting, if flawed. But Youth Without Youth and now Twixt are self-indulgent disasters. Total freedom has led the great director down an unfortunate path.
His latest film is an absolutely absurd attempt to return to the horror genre that makes his over-the-top (and, to be fair, underrated) version of Dracula feel restrained by comparison. It’s an embarrassing collection of B-movie cheese, pretentious symbolism, and good old fashioned stupidity. There’s a certain amount of entertainment to be had in a “what the hell did I just watch” kind of way and it might end up appealing to fans of “so bad it’s good” cinema. Sadly, coming from one of the great directors of all time, that’s just not appropriate. A movie like this is should be credited to someone like Tommy Wisseau, not Coppola.
A pudgy 'n’ pony-tailed Val Kilmer stars as a third rate horror novelist visiting a small town haunted by a terrible murder. The sheriff (the always entertaining Bruce Dern) tries to convince Kilmer to collaborate on a vampire novel. He agrees and soon starts having dreams in which Edgar Allen Poe tells him how to finish the story based on what happened in the town. I’m not joking. That’s the actual plot. There’s a streak of self-conscious humor running through the film suggesting that Coppola’s tongue is lodged in his cheek at times. It would be nice to say the entire film is a joke of some kind, but unfortunately I doubt that's the case.
Coppola is clearly trying to craft some sort of horror movie that presumably seemed like a good idea in his head. On the screen, it plays like a collection of half-baked ideas, clichés, and gimmicks (several scenes are in 3D and you know when to put on the glasses because CGI glasses actually appear on the screen and seem to be placed over the camera). Why Coppola would spend his time and money on a project this ridiculous is a mystery. Maybe he suddenly decided that Dementia 13 was his best movie or maybe he went insane.
Either way, Twixt is instantly in the running for Coppola’s worst movie. Apparently the director is considering self-distributing Twixt, which now having seen the film might be a decision made out of necessity. If so, he’ll tour Twixt as a roadshow and actually edit it live so that each screening is slightly different. I’m not sure how the live editing will work, but maybe that process will somehow yield a good version. With all of the bad scenes removed it’ll be five to ten minutes long though. So make sure to arrive to the screening early if Coppola comes to your town. Something to keep in mind.