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It's Day 1 of the Toronto Film Festival, I've been in town for about 24 hours, and I've already got three movies under my belt. That's the speed at which film festivals work, and especially Toronto, where the screening venues are close together, the city is easy to navigate, and even the journalists from out of town seem to be more polite when they're here. For this year's festival I'll be trying a slightly different method of reviews, combining regular video blogs with what I've seen that day with short mini-reviews of each film (with longer versions to come either when they are released or later in the festival). Today we've got Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, Bennett Miller's Moneyball and Ralph Fiennes's Coriolanus on deck. I talk about all three in the video below, and you can read after it for more on each film.
I started off the day with Melancholia, the new film from Lars von Trier that got overshadowed at Cannes when the director spent a press conference saying he identified with HItler. But it also won a Best Actress trophy for Kirsten Dunst, and like so many actresses in von Trier movies, she's the real takeaway here, brittle one minute and delightful the next, playing a depressed woman with the metaphorical power to destroy the earth with her gloom. The movie itself, like most von Trier films, will inspire very different, very personal reactions from everyone who sees it; it's definitely not for everyone. But it's shot beautifully and full of fascinating, if not fully realized, big ideas; it's also got, I kid you not, a fantastic performance from Kiefer Sutherland. That's really reason enough to see it.
Next up, in the very same theater, was Moneyball, the big adaptation of Michael Lewis's famous book about baseball statistics, a movie I honestly never really thought could be made. Director Bennett Miller gets around the challenge of a movie about statistics by diving right into it, making the victory for Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and his assistant Peter Brand not winning games, but being recognized as a new kind of thinkers who can potentially change the game. The movie runs long and doesn't quite hit all the highs of a baseball movie you might want, but Brad Pitt anchors it with a performance that might be the best he's ever given as a leading man. He's probably the movie's best shot for Oscar consideration, and a long one at that, but Moneyball is such a crowdpleaser it will probably find way more box office success anyway.
The last film of the afternoon, one I just barely made after Moneyball, was Coriolanus, an adaptation of a lesser-known Shakespeare play that marks the directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes, who also stars. If you're only accustomed to seeing the actor playing Voldemort, he's not too far off here, with almost no hair and a power-hungry gleam in his eyes as a top-level Roman soldier making his way through the city's political sphere. The movie is set in a present-day Rome that's run by the military, that's remarkably multi-ethnic and in which everyone speaks Shakespearean English, but those are the kinds of leaps you expect in a Shakespeare adaptation, and it works well. These movies also require dynamite acting, and Coriolanus is packed with it, from Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave as his fiery mother right down to Gerard Butler, showing acting chops you may not have known he had. It's not the strongest Shakespeare play in the world, but it's a striking adaptation well worth a look.
I ended the day with The Descendants, which I saw after this video was recorded and will have to come up in tomorrow's video. Up tomorrow is David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method and Jennifer Westfeldt's Friends With Kids, along with who knows what other kind of surprises. Keep coming back for more as the Toronto Film Festival rolls along!