A fairly conservative day, with big Hollywood flicks to kick off the fun. They've rejigged the way that press and industry screenings work, making it far more challenging to attend films with a paying audience. Other than a few first day bumps and some very long lineups, everything went reasonably smoothly.

Alas, Midnight Madness was again marred with a technical malfunction, this time a fire alarm amidst Dario's latest opus. For a while the beeping of the alarm seemed at home with the post-Goblin score, but it did get annoying after more than a few seconds. Things got straightened out, but that's two years in a row with tech issues at the Ryerson venue - at least this time we got to see the end of the film!

The crowd was sizeable and fairly enthused, but unfortunately it lacked the punch of other opening flicks. Asia's arrival in shoes that seemed like stilts and a slinky but elegant dress did much to make up for any lack of buzz.

The Brave One
The television commercials make this look like some Jodi Foster as Batwoman, kicking ass and taking names as a rabid vigilante out for justice in the modern Gotham of New York. In fact, the film starts out quite quietly, with Jodi as a radio jock doing a "sounds of the city" schtick, referencing the crumbling infrastructure of the old city as it's replaced by the new and the fashionable.

This streak of conservatism is taking to its extreme when her partner (hey, it's Sayid from Lost!) gets pummeled by members of the YouTube generation. Jodi awakes with a strong sense of fear that feeds a stronger sense of vengeance, prowling her sleepless nights looking to wreak justice on bad guys.

The downfall of The Brave One can be tied directly to its maudlin script and cheap ending. While the performances from the leads are quite good, with kudos to Terence Howard as the token good cop. He does much with little from the written page and a two dimensional character. Additionally, though it felt tacked on from another (better) film, Nicky Katt nailed the noir detective sidekick thing cold.

In the end it's a film that doesn't know what it wants to be - on the one hand it's visceral entertainment (B-thriller?), and on the other hand it tries for some arch conservative, Reaganesque view of conflict resolution. Panic Room was all the more remarkable as it took a B-movie premise and elevated it to art film prowess, a Touch of Evil for the trapped-in-your-house-with-the-badguys sort of thing. The Brave One, alas, is far more cowardly in execution, too long to be a fluffy entertainment, and too ambivalent in its moral message to be taken seriously.
Directed by: Neil Jordan
Grade: C
Lust, Caution
Ang Lee's latest is certainly his most "foreign" film, more so than his other non-English films like Crouching Tiger, un-appologetically demanding a sensitivity to Shanghaisese culture during the Japanese occupation. I must admit to feeling a bit lost with much of the characterization early on the film being drawn out of subtle Mahjong plays, and the fast dialogue and circular camera movement made for following the quickly moving subtitles a chore. Still, these are my issues, not the film's. Consider this simply as a notice to those already sensitive to such issues.

The film certainly takes a while to get off the ground, and the first hour and a half or so involves quite subtle shifts in tone and character. Once all the pieces are in place, the film does flow quite elegantly. The sex scenes are far from ribald, and while the rating will certainly keep many away, they are shot in provocative rather than titillating ways, and do serve the story very effectively. The violence and coercion of love is a central theme, as well as notions of loyalty and sense of country in a time of great turmoil.

Wei Tang is absolutely riveting, and the film rightly centres on her subtle performance. Tony Leung's quite menace is downright chilling, almost unmoving with outbursts of violence and passion that are shocking in their intensity.

Still, in the end, the story seems a bit of a hit and miss, and the overlong running time mars the effectiveness of the fine performances and production values. It's a film to admire, but not an easy one to fall in love with alas.
Directed by: Ang Lee
Grade: B-
Michael Clayton
I must admit I'm getting pretty tired of the intro conflict/flashback to show the setup/conclusion through flashfoward structure that many films and TV shows are making use of (seeing this right after Lust, Caution didn't help either). Clooney, excellent as always, plays a "fixer" for a high powered law firm, someone who cleans up the messes. As his police officer brother points out, "the cops think you're a lawyer, and the lawyer thinks your a cop".

The story is a complicated one involving class action litigation, bankrupt restaurants, gambling addictions and murder plots. It takes a while to find its feet, but the ending is earned, and the tendency to fly into melodrama is mostly kept in check by fine performances. I don't think it favourably compares to his more recent outings, including even the popcorn fun of the Oceans series, but it's a story rich in ideas that doesn't blow valuable time proselytizing its message.
Directed by: Tony Gilroy
Grade: B
The Mother of Tears
Take a dash of porn acting, add some "After School Special" plotting and excruciating exposition, and coat with about 10 minutes of styilin' old school gore and you have the mess that you'd expect from the latest Argento oeuvre.

The "story" is the third part of the "Mamma" trilogy (as Dario described it), this time set in Rome while the tear mom gets resurrected to wreck havoc. Young Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) must get her stuff together to go kick black witch ass.

There's quite a few booby shots, gratuitous lesbian scenes, and buckets of blood, but it's bookmarked by scene after scene of Asia wandering around greater Rome looking for someone to add to her retinue of Yoda-like masters (each, of course, killed after she shows up). It gets tired quick, but Claudio Simonetti's progalicious gothrock-meets-gothic choir goodness elevated even the more silly scenes.

Directed by: Dario Argento
Grade: C-