Pronto in Toronto

In the whirl­wind that is the Toronto Film Fes­ti­val, Michael Dwyer runs from screen­ing to screen­ing, catch­ing two new crime dra­mas – one out­stand­ing (David Cro­nen­berg’s) and one a dud (Woody Allen’s) – and a mixed batch from ac­tors-turned-direc­tors Stu­art

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

SNOR­ING was au­di­ble at sev­eral Toronto cine­mas dur­ing the week as the re­lent­less daily round of movies and par­ties took their toll, but any­body feel­ing drowsy at the early morn­ing press screen­ing of David Cro­nen­berg’s East­ern Prom­ises would have been jolted wide awake. A few min­utes into the movie, a Rus­sian gang­ster is seated in a bar­ber’s chair when he gets a cut he doesn’t ex­pect, and his throat is slit – in close-up.

East­ern Prom­ises is set in Lon­don at Christ­mas time, among the city’s new af­flu­ent Rus­sian pop­u­la­tion and at the eth­nic restau­rant run by the os­ten­si­bly ge­nial Se­myon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), whose clients are drip­ping in jew­els and wear an­kle­length furs. The restau­rant is a front for the crim­i­nal em­pire Se­myon runs, traf­fick­ing drugs and teenaged Chechen girls, with the help of his psy­chotic son Kir­ill (Vin­cent Cas­sel) and their la­conic chauf­feur Niko­lai (Viggo Mortensen).

A young English mid­wife, Anna (Naomi Watts), en­ters this world when she de­liv­ers the baby of a 14-year-old Rus­sian pros­ti­tute, who dies af­ter giv­ing birth. The more Anna learns from the dead girl’s diary, the more her own life is threat­ened in Cro­nen­berg’s tight, richly at­mo­spheric thriller, which ex­erts an un­set­tling fas­ci­na­tion and never fol­lows a pre­dictable route.

Scenes of star­tlingly graphic vi­o­lence fol­low, one set in a bath­house where the naked Niko­lai fights for his life. Re­unit­ing with Cro­nen­berg af­ter A His­tory of Vi­o­lence, Mortensen is on rare form in a per­fectly cho­sen in­ter­na­tional cast that in­cludes Sinead Cu­sack and Pol­ish di­rec­tor Jerzy Skolimowski as Anna’s mother and un­cle.

Cas­san­dra’s Dream, Woody Allen’s crime drama, pales by com­pas­sion. Allen’s third con­sec­u­tive movie to be shot and set in Lon­don (af­ter Match Point and Scoop) fea­tures Ewan McGre­gor and Colin Farrell as work­ing-class brothers Ian and Terry. Their un­cle (Tom Wilkin­son) lures them into a mur­der scheme when Ian seeks to fund his prop­erty-deal­ing dreams and gam­bling-ad­dicted Terry is heav­ily in debt to money­len­ders.

Allen’s screen­play point­edly quotes a line be­tween the Bar­row brothers in Bon­nie and Clyde: “Isn’t life grand?” “Yeah, but look what hap­pened to them.” There are few flashes of hu­mour – and some sur­pris­ingly ris­i­ble di­a­logue – in this flatly disap- point­ing Allen movie. It is se­ri­ous in in­tent, but dif­fi­cult to take se­ri­ously given how fre­quently it strains the will­ing sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief.

Allen stays be­hind the cam­era for Cas­san­dra’s Dream (the ti­tle refers to the name of a boat, by the way), as does Sean Penn for Into the Wild, his fourth fea­ture as a di­rec­tor. Penn adapted his screen­play from Jon Krakauer’s book, which charts the ex­pe­ri­ences of the ul­ti­mate dropout, Christo­pher McCand­less, a West Vir­ginia stu­dent who, in 1990, em­barks on a quest for utopian sim­plic­ity. He do­nates his sub-

Bat­tle in Seat­tle pin­points trou­ble­mak­ers on both sides: demon­stra­tors who break ranks and smash shop win­dows, and ba­ton­happy cops out to get “tree hug­gers”. Townsend ex­tends his brief to fo­cus on a Medicine With­out Fron­tiers rep­re­sen­ta­tive (Rade Sherbed­gia) whose pleas for cheaper drugs in the de­vel­op­ing world are stonewalled by the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try.

When events spi­ral out of con­trol, the movie is at its most ef­fec­tive, as Barry Ack­royd, Ken Loach’s reg­u­lar cin­e­matog­ra­pher, makes grip­ping use of hand­held cam­er­a­work to cap­ture all the chaos, fear and vi­o­lence.

He­len Hunt, an­other ac­tor turn­ing wri­ter­di­rec­tor with a movie pre­miered at Toronto this week, pro­duces gooey bland­ness in Then She Found Me. In the whirl­wind early scenes, April (Hunt), a 39-year-old New Seat­tle with fel­low ide­al­ists protest­ing York school­teacher, mar­ries a col­league against the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion (Matthew Brod­er­ick). They break up with­meet­ing there in Novem­ber 1999. Mak­ing in a year and April’s adop­tive mother dies. an im­pas­sioned de­but as screen­writer and En­ter her birth mother, a day­time TV di­rec­tor, Ir­ish ac­tor Stu­art Townsend chat show host played by Bette Mi­dler. She takes the viewer inside both sides of the claims that April’s fa­ther was a movie star con­flict in Bat­tle in Seat­tle. (Steve McQueen, no less), al­though this is

Townsend him­self is heard but not seen, con­tra­dicted af­ter a Google search by nar­rat­ing a suc­cinct his­tory of glob­al­isaApril’s new suitor, an English sin­gle par­ent tion over news­reel footage that sets the played by an un­com­fort­ably mis­cast Colin con­text for the drama­ti­sa­tion to fol­low. Firth in a role that cries out for Hugh Grant. While po­lit­i­cal agen­das are to the foreHunt came to fame in the long-run­ning front inside and out­side the meet­ing, he siTV sit­com Mad About You, which pep­mul­ta­ne­ously ad­dresses the per­sonal dipered more wit and in­sight into a half­men­sion, pop­u­lat­ing his pic­ture with fi­chour episode than her movie achieves at tional char­ac­ters, some fac­tu­ally based. more than three times that length. It may They in­clude the lead­ers of the protest play well with the so-called chick flick au(Martin Henderson and Michelle Rod­di­ence, but some of the chicks sit­ting near rigeuz), whose avowed credo is non­viome at this flick were too busy tex­ting to lent ac­tion; the city’s be­lea­guered mayor care. (Ray Liotta); and a po­lice of­fi­cer (Woody Har­rel­son), and his preg­nant wife (Char­lMichael Dwyer con­cludes his re­ports from ize Theron) who ven­tures into the wrong the 2007 Toronto fes­ti­val in The Ir­ish Times place at the wrong time. next Wed­nes­day stan­tial col­lege fund to Ox­fam Amer­ica, de­stroys all forms of ID, changes his name to Alexan­der Su­per­tramp, and heads north to Alaska.

As is de rigueur for the road movie genre, McCand­less has sev­eral en­coun­ters along the way, with a post-hip­pie cou­ple (Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker), a jovially feck­less farm worker (Vince Vaughn) and in the most touch­ing scenes, a lonely re­tired army vet­eran beau­ti­fully played by Hal Hol­brook. Emile Hirsch, who is on screen through­out, por­trays McCand­less with an en­gag­ing blend of de­ter­mi­na­tion and vul­ner­a­bil­ity in a phys­i­cally de­mand­ing per­for­mance for which he clearly did most of his own stunts.

Penn’s leisurely telling of the story never drags as it moves back and for­ward in time, and the film is hand­somely pho­tographed by Eric Gau­tier against strik­ing, chang­ing land­scapes.

Had McCand­less re­turned home, he may well had been out on the streets of

the Wild

Hit: East­ern Prom­ises (above left). Miss: Cas­san­dra’s Dream (above right). Sean Penn’s Into

(be­low left) and Stu­art Townsend’s (be­low right)

Bat­tle in Seat­tle

Ewan McGre­gor and Colin Farrell and ar­rive at the pre­miere of Cas­san­dra’s Dream in Toronto

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