Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Toronto: stuff you're going to actually see.

Galas and stuff:

Michael Clayton
Warner Bros. Pictures, 120mins, R

Written and Directed
by Tony Gilroy

The people who brought you “Erin Brockovich” have returned with another anti-corporate melodrama, this time it's entirely fictional, which means that it can get a bit nastier in it's storytelling.

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is what might be called a glorified janitor. He cleans up the messes that the major law firm of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen can't exactly litigate above board. For this, managing partner Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack) is eternally grateful.

One of the messes our hero has to clean up was made by master litigator Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), who disrobed in front of everybody at a deposition and scared the heck out of everyone, and so Michael is called in, but this doesn't happen until later, although we hear much of Arthur's rant. However, we do see our hero's car blow up in the first ten minutes, which is when everything goes into flashback…

The problem with Arthur is that he's been working defense on a case in which the evil U/North corporation allegedly poisoned a whole bunch of innocent people with it's pesticide sprays. Arthur knows that the charges are true and so does U/North chief council
Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), who knows that her career is on the line and Arthur has to be stopped.

Now this is compelling enough. The parts about our hero's other problems are to some extent killing time. Sure the kid who plays his son is cute, and the part about his being 80 grand in debt is certainly intriguing, but they detract from the main thrust of the story, which is really worthwhile in and of itself. Clooney gives a splendid performance, but it's Wilkinson who's the real star of the show. It's one of those performances which has “Oscar” written all over it, and there's no doubt that he's going to get at least a best supporting actor nom. His performance is sooo good it's worth the price of the movies in and of itself. Thus you should go see it.

The Jane Austen Book Club
Sony Classics, 105mins, PG-13

Written and directed
by Robin Swicord

How to be literary without being literary? Well, that's the mission of many a chick flick, and as this is one of those, why not focus on the inventor of the genre? Jane Austen is just below Shakespeare in the pantheon of British writers and has been in print longer than any woman in the history of the world, so using her oeuvre as a scaffolding on which to construct a slight romance seems like a good idea.

Jocelyn (Maria Bello) and Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) have been friends for, like, ever, and when we meet them, the latter and her husband Daniel (Jimmy Smits) are attending the funeral of one of Jocelyn's dogs. While laughing about the thing at dinner afterwards, Dan tells Sylvia for a divorce. He's in love with someone else. Syl is, naturally devastated, and in response, Jocelyn and her old pal Bernadette (Kathy Baker) decide to distract her by starting up a book club, where they'll discuss the works of the divine JA.

So, with three members already accounted for, plus Sylvia's lesibian daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace) [this is the '00z, remember, we have to have at least one lesbian in one movie], who's recovering from a parachuting accident, they need two more members to lead the discussion on the two other novels [Austen's snarky “History of England” doesn't count], a mousy French teacher named Prudie (Emily Blunt) and an SF fan named Grigg (Hugh Dancy), who is single and straight, and recruited.

So we go through six months where everyone gets their consciousness raised through the good graces of JA and, with some expected bumps on the road, everyone lives happily ever after. It's cute, and almost too saccharin for words, but that's almost, and as such is quite tolerable. This is something that a guy can bring his honey on a date to, and that way she'll be grateful.

The Assassination of Jesse James
by the Coward Robert Ford
Warner Bros. Pictures, 160mins, R

Written and Directed
by Andrew Dominik

Bob Ford shot Jesse James in the back in the spring of 1882 and instead of being thanked for getting rid of Missouri's worst terrorist, he has been saddled with a reputation as a coward and a turncoat. The murder of the murderer has been forever the stuff of legend, and auteur Andrew Dominik has decided to dissect said legend in the only way it deserves, in a three hour epic that doesn't actually seem that long.

It's the waning days of the Garfield administration, and Frank(Sam Shepard) and Jesse James(Brad Pitt) are preparing to do one last robbery before calling it quits after 14 years. They've brought along the membership of their usual gang who aren't already in jail, Ed Miller(Garret Dillahunt), the James' cousin Wood Hite(Jeremy Renner), Dick Liddil(Paul) and Charley Ford(Sam Rockwell), who brings his hero-worshiping baby brother Bob(Casey Affleck) along, much to Frank's disgust and Jesse's chagrin.

This is the story of hero-worship gone wrong. The great man not only has feet of clay, but is a sociopathic monster to boot. As an epic, the film goes forward on a leisurely pace, letting us get to know the characters in a way that we expect only in TV series.

This is Pitt's best role since “12 Monkeys” He manages to chew the scenery with a panache he doesn't always manage to have, and his chemistry with Affleck is an interesting one. The supporting cast is excellent, with Renner and Schneider giving surprisingly strong performances. Rockwell is great as comic relief, but it's Affleck's movie, and here he far surpasses anything his brother Ben has ever done. This is the year's epic western and one wonders why it took so long to get out of the cutting room. See it.

Run, Fat Boy, Run
Picturehouse, 95mins, PG-13

Directed by
David Schwimmer

Okay, first the bad news. The “Fat Boy” in the title is actually thin. Not anorexic, mind you, but Simon Pegg looks fit during the entire film. It's an insult to fat boys everywhere. Then there's Michael Ian Black's script, which is actually rather predictable. Our hero Dennis (Mr. Pegg) leaves extremely pregnant fiancée Libby (Thandie Newton) at the alter, and his life goes downhill from there. Fair enough.

He's now a security guard at a clothing store, and is still in love with Libby and their son Jake(), and of course, she's in love with someone else. That someone else is a rich stockbroker named Whit(Hank Azaria), who is perfect in every way so just has to be the villain. The usual competition starts out, and it's clear that our hero is going to have a time of it, but as this is a comedy, he has to win right? But how to do it.

Now marathon running is popular nowadays, and even London has one. So when Whit announces that he's going to paricipate, Dennis decides to get in the game as well, and so he's stuck. His friend Gordon(Dylan Moran) has money on him, and his landlady Maya (India de Beaufort) says that if he doesn't do it, she's going to throw him out on his ear. So her father, Mr. Ghoshdashtidar (Harish Patel), and Gordon start coaching, and there follows a number of minor laughs before the slightly surprising, but inevitable ending.

This is not Pegg's best work, or any of the cast's, but it's a harmless enough comedy, and as such works as a pleasant bit of fluff. Worth a bargain matinee.

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