Summer arrived late to Toronto, to the point two heat warnings have taken place just last week. This also means misery to me, carrying a massive computer across Hogtown in my equally oversized black backpack. This wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t had to interview Jennifer Garner. My only consolation: Everybody is sweaty in this town. Except Jennifer Garner, who is too pretty to sweat.
Ill-planning had me running around downtown looking for a voice recorder. Apparently tape recorders are a thing of the past (as the Best Buy employee looked at me quizzically) and digital ones are not particularly a best seller.What about the built-in iPhone mic, you ask? Looks unprofessional. It’s like doing an interview without preparing questions, like half of the press here. Anyway. You want to hear about movies.
Cut Snake (Australia, 2014): Unless it’s Crocodile Dundee, if you’re watching an Australian film, odds are it’s a downbeat affair. Cut Snake is not the exception, but provides some interesting twist and turns and a live-wire performance by Sullivan Stapleton, better known as the muscle in Strike Back and 300: Rise of an Empire. Sparra, a young man with boy-band looks is trying to build a home alongside his gorgeous and supporting girlfriend, Paula. The lad once upon a time had problems with the law, but now he is going straight. Along comes Pommie (Stapleton), an ill-tempered macho man who once shared his cell with the kid. For a long time, it seems Pommie wants some kind of retribution over something (money? protection?), but when the other shoe drops, audiences are in for a surprise.
The slow-burn thriller fills you with dread at least the first half. Pommie is menacing, but also human, and he is badly trying to control his emotions. Regretfully, once the characters and their motivations have been established, director Tony Ayres can’t bring the story to a satisfying conclusion. It’s a pedestrian ending for a superb setup. Three and a half prairie dogs that could have been contenders.
Mary Kom (India, 2014): Bollywood is under attack. Granted, it’s a pretty huge monster to be bothered, but indie filmmakers have shed a less flattering light on its overproduced, musical-happy ventures. Mary Kom is most certainly an “industry” film, but it’s not oblivious to the winds of change.
Mary Kom adopts the aesthetic of the grittier, rough-and-tumble independent cinema while the story remains firmly in the realm of Bollywood. The gorgeous Priyanka Chopra is the title character, a world champion boxer from the traditionalist region of Manipur. Mary must face a series of challenges inside and outside the ring: Her father’s disapproval, the corrupt local federation and getting back in shape after getting married and having two kids. Her boxing nemesis? A really mean German girl. We are told “she’ll stop at nothing to win”, yet she would probably be disqualified if that was true.
An overly earnest film as most of Bollywood output, Mary Kom is nonetheless an entertaining affair. A woman struggling in her efforts to forge her own professional path is not the most common topic in India. Chopra is surprisingly good as the athlete and it’s clear she went beyond the call of duty for an industry favorite.
It must be said the real Mary Kom looks nothing like Priyanka Chopra and there is a good chance audiences wouldn’t be as invested if the actress cast as the boxer looked more like the source of inspiration. Because Priyanka is so pretty, the punches that land on her face feel extra painful. Nobody cares if Stallone gets beaten to a pulp, he’ll look just the same. Two and a half slightly machista prairie dogs.
The Humbling (USA, 2014): Al Pacino is mounting a comeback. Following a career low in Adam Sandler’s vehicle Jack and Jill and exiling to HBO, Pacino returns to TIFF with two films. At least he is very good in The Humbling, even if the movie is not all that. Pacino plays Simon Axler, a once talented actor who feels has lost his gift (amazing research). A breakdown on stage lands him in a mental hospital first and turns him into a recluse later.
As it happens with these old cats (at least in movies), a young and comely girlfriend materializes right at his porch. Pegeen (Greta Gerwig, a lot less warm than usual) is a lesbian teacher who nonetheless has nursed a crush for Simon for years. Both embark in a tentative relationship marked by the actor’s sanity and the nagging feeling that the girl may be in it for the wrong reasons.
As a veritable collection of insecurities and phobias, Pacino nails the old actor schtick, who still thinks his body of work is garbage even after winning every conceivable award and receiving all sorts of praises. While the movie progresses, Pacino adds further texture to the character by subjecting it to a number of humiliations. The story, however, is an old one (the unbalanced May-December romance) and lacks a fresh spin. Three prairie dogs doing Macbeth.
It occurred me that…
… Jennifer Garner is really pretty. Her head is small.
…running into Jake Gyllenhaal in an elevator without expecting it is awkward for all the parties involved.
Tomorrow… I’ll be hangover.