Friday, September 05, 2008

TIFF 2008: Day 1

A couple early reviews from TIFF!

RockNRolla (Guy Ritchie, 2008, UK)
After torturing audiences with unnecessary remake of Swept Away and metaphysical mobster flick Revolver, some feared that Guy Ritche's once-promising career had nose-dived into the shitter. Recently removed from his creative albatross, a Madonna-free Ritchie appears to be back on his game, exerting his master once again over the London Underworld story.

The perfect companion to Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch (some would claim they're fairly much the same film), RockNRolla is a fast-paced journey down a swirling drain. The murky bathwater of classic London gangsters flowing out of the pipes to make way for a new breed of criminal; the cruelly calculating and seemingly unstoppable Eastern Bloc. Told as a series of spirally deals, bargains, and double-crosses, all roads lead to the titular “Rock and Roller,” Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), a free-floating bit of anarchic flotsam that gums up the works of his father's formerly flawless reign.

Johnny's daddy, mob king Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson), is the Old Guard. He's the top dog in pack of thieves. He keeps things running smoothly by fucking over anyone that might get uppity. Despite his hatred of “immigrants” (a term for anyone not WASP enough for him), he becomes bedfellows with Uri (Karel Roden), the Russian real estate mogul hoping to build in Lenny's London.

Also dragged into the depths are “The Wild Bunch,” a loose group of ankle biters lead by One Two (Gerald Butler). Looking for the quick buck when their plans for the long dollar go south (thanks to Lenny), they become mired in the machinations of Uri's lovely accountant, Stella (Thandie Newton). An art lover with a sweet tooth for subterfuge, Stella is another wild card in Lenny's last hand.

The only sour note of the film stems from its apparent protagonist, Archie (Mark Strong). Sporadically narrating the tale, it often feels like this role was written for Jason Statham. Perhaps the actor was still stinging from Revolver and refused to wear any more bad hair pieces (as Strong does throughout RockNRolla).

Otherwise, the cast is superb, gnawing through Ritchie's philosophical tough guy patter with style. It's ironic to see Jeremy Piven along for the ride as Johnny Quid's former music producer. Piven's presence seems an acknowledgment of a film that sated Ritchie fans while the auteur was in his slump, Joe Carnahan's Smokin' Aces.

Ghost Town (David Koepp, 2008, USA)
The dead have great careers. Popularized by the Topper films/television series and regaining new ground with Ghost, lingering spirits have flourished over the last decade. Owing a debt to The Sixth Sense, television (Dead Like Me, Six Feet Under, Dead Last, The Ghost Whisperer, Medium, Raines) and films have been frequently playing hosts to ghosts, as if to remind we, the living, to stop and smell the roses. Or, perhaps they're reminders of history not yet understood and wrongs not yet righted.

Ghost Town is filled with such armchair psychology and patently predictable moments. The story of misanthrope dentist Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais), his brief experience with death leaves him able to see ghosts. Pincus is a modern day Ebeneezer Scrooge, beset by an undead Greg Kinnear – could there be a worse fate?

Kinnear plays Frank Herlihy, a two-timing bastard who hopes to break up his widow's new relationship. Fate has placed Gwen Herlihy (Tea Leoni) in the same apartment building as Pincus in a script rife with such coincidences. Soon Pincus and the Herlihys are acting out scenes from Ghost and The Frighteners (with a little The Man with the Screaming Brain thrown in for good measure).

If not for the blithe delivery of Gervais, the film would shatter into the pieces from which it was pilfered. As it stands, he keeps this Frankenstein Monster shambling around for its 103-minute run time, despite Kinnear's wry grin and a plague of montages set to sappy folk songs

1 comment:

Michael Guillen said...

Hey Mike, we completely missed at TIFF08. Sorry about that! I was kept pretty busy with 33 films and 10 interviews, plus pub crawls, sit down publicist brunches and dinners, and Finnish barbecues. And I'm only now catching up to the various round-ups of writers whose opinions I trust; yours included.

Though I must admit I'm shocked you even bothered with Ghost Town! What on earth possessed you to choose it among the line-up of 300?

I just watched RocknRolla last night here in San Francisco at a press screening for the Mill Valley Film. I was thoroughly swept away (har har) by the film's raucous style. I love how you describe The Wild Bunch as "ankle biters"! Wilkinson, I think, steals the show.

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