Piers Marchant at TIFF, Day Five

September 12, 2017

TIFF 2017: Day 5

Films: 3
Vibe: Ground Down

Chappaquiddick: For a film that could have gone absolutely, terribly wrong, John Cullen’s examination of the infamous Ted Kennedy incident that left a young woman drowned and his political career in tatters is almost shockingly compelling. Behind a strong performance from Jason Clarke (weird, made-up Kennedy accents are easier, it would seem, than an actual New England variety), and a resolute screenplay by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, the film is haunting and appropriately elegiac, both for Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara), the poor woman killed, and the horrific way in which politics in this country is performed (generally, by a bunch of older white men in dark suits, who play all the angles, and leave the actual truth in a ditch by the side of the road). There is, perhaps, no more telling a moment than when Kennedy first speaks of the accident, he doesn’t even acknowledge his role in the death of an innocent woman, instead, the first words to come out of his mouth are “I’m not going to be president.” It’s unclear how accurate it is in terms of historic accuracy (is it really true that the only word Joe Kennedy Sr. repeatedly told his son on the subject was “alibi”?), but as a treatise on the awful PR tactics of the rich and powerful, it’s still a stinging indictment.

The Shape of Water: A great number of film critics were left ravished after seeing Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, a ghost-laden love story that I must say I just found ludicrous and greatly over art directed. His new film – another love story, this one involving a mute woman (Sally Hawkins), and a merman (Doug Jones) imprisoned for study by a cruel government operative (Michael Shannon) – will likely cause those same critics to squeal, but left me just as incredulous. At his best (Pan’s Labyrinth) del Toro’s romantic style, and slightly comic book sensibilities can create genuine wonderment and emotional involvement, but here, he pushes the boundary of common sense so far, it’s impossible to let go your disbelief. Of course, the film looks fantastic – the woman lives in a stunning, round-window apartment above a huge, beautiful movie palace – and of course del Toro is too talented a visual stylist to produce something dull and inanimate, but he goes so over the top, it seems, you either buy in and swoon, or stand there shaking your head. The ideas and art direction are there, I just wish he took half as much care of his scripts as he does his set design.

I Love You Daddy: An interesting assortment of ideas from Louis CK, shot on 35mm black and white and featuring a very cosmopolitan New York and a sweeping, old-timey musical score by Robert Miller and Zachary Seman, the film is obviously homage to many things, but mostly Woody Allen’s Manhattan, only from a decidedly different perspective. CK plays Glen Topher, a very successful TV writer and producer, who has just been informed that a new series he’s proposed is going into production. Rather than work on the scripts for the show, to the consternation of his producer (Edie Falco), however, he gets embroiled in a love affair with an actress (Rose Byrne), whom he unthinkingly promotes to be the lead in his series; and worries himself greatly over his 17-year-old daughter, China (Chloe Grace Moretz), who begins some sort of relationship with the brilliant filmmaker Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), a 68-year-old with a pederast interest in much younger girls. As with many CK productions, certain elements are standard to keep things real, including a pure-Id character (here played with comic deftness by Charlie Day), who gets to vocalize – loudly – all the outrageous sexual energy crowding his head; some sort of role for Pamela Adlon, who here plays an ex-girlfriend, constantly calling him out for his many moments of weakness; and a growing litany of other characters who all scream and yell at Glen for his various emotional infractions without Glen able to defend himself in any way. It also not-so-covertly addresses the rumors about CK’s own inappropriate behavior towards women (message: you don’t ever know what the truth is between two people), that could certainly be taken as self-serving, but by and large the film is indeed funny, and Malkovich leers with a sublime amount of self-aggrandizement.

Tomorrow: We start with one of the surprising darlings of the festival, I, Tonya, a bio-pic of sorts about the infamous Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding; check out Scott Cooper’s Hostiles; jump into the Jane Goodall documentary Jane; and close with another well-received historic drama, Darkest Hour.

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