Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Six

DR. PLONK (Rolf De Heer, 2007, Australia)

This comedy from Australia is set in 1907 where Dr. Plonk (Nigel Lunghi), resident genius, becomes convinced that the world is doomed to end in 101 years. When the small minds of Parliament refuse to heed Dr. Plonk’s claims, the good doctor takes it upon himself to build a time machine in order to visit the world during the End of Days.

Plonk and his deaf assistant, Paulus (Paul Blackwell) travel to and fro the temporal flow in hopes of acquiring the evidence needed. What adds to the hilarity of Rolf De Heer’s work is that the entire piece is shot as if it were from Dr. Plonk’s era. The black and white film is silent (save for a quaint score by Graham Tardif). The acting is broad and the comedy would feel at home in a Mack Sennett work.

While some may complain that the silent film conceit is a cheap stunt to make up for a thin storyline or that the work didn’t look primitive enough, I felt that it all came together nicely. The physicality of the actors (especially Lunghi) and roughness of effects / stage settings (the time travel machine is a wooden box) lent themselves to the cinematography of Dr. Plonk’s era. Quite nice.

MAD DETECTIVE (Johnny To & Wai Ka-Fai, 2007, Hong Kong)

While I like the name “MAD DETECTIVE,” due to the double meaning of “made,” I think that this HK film should bare a more classic HK title such as “MY PARTNER SEES GHOSTS” (since HAUNTED COP SHOP was taken). MAD DETECTIVE is a parboiled supernatural police thriller starring Lau Ching-wan as Inspector Bun, a brilliant detective who went a little over the edge when presenting his retiring boss a present that only Vincent Van Gogh could have appreciated.

Years later, Ho (Andy On) visits his spiritual sifu in an attempt to break the case of Wong (Lee Kwok Lun), a cop who went missing when he and his partner, Chi-Wai (Lam Ka Tung) were in pursuit of a suspect. It doesn’t take long for Bun to come out of retirement and see that something is very wrong with Chi-Wai. Rather than being one man, Chi-Wai is a seven spirit collective (with each perhaps representing an aspect of the Seven Deadly Sins). Ho doesn’t know whether to buy into Bun’s sixth sense or simply watch in awe and hope that there’s more than madness to Bun’s method.

Unfortunately, the “secret” of the case isn’t very difficult to discern and the audience can most likely beat Ho and Bun to the punch (especially as Ho gets more dense as the film goes on). The addition of a “B Storyline” or even simply more of the better elements of the main storyline would have reduced the muddled feel of the film’s second act. Too often MAD DETECTIVE feels like a rejected pilot from the makers of “Medium” or “Ghost Whisperer.”

A fairly enjoyable bit of HK fluff, don’t be surprised when the U.S. remake is announced.

JUST LIKE HOME / HJEMVE (Lone Scherfig, 2007, Denmark)

This quaint little film managed to hold my interest and put a faint smile on my face. It’s one of those small city films filled with eccentric characters (a la YOU, THE LIVING). I won’t bother to list out the archetypes or their city’s problem. The only thing of note about this film is that it’s Danish when the Brits are usually responsible for this kind of quirky small town fare.

EX DRUMMER (Koen Mortier, 2007, Belgium)

Remember how depressing Danny Boyle’s TRAINSPOTTING gets near the end? The dead baby, AIDS, addition. Imagine a movie that starts with that dark tone and goes on from there and you’re thinking of a film similar to EX DRUMMER.

What starts out like a fun-filled lark about three societal rejects starting up a band with writer Dries (Dries Van Hegen) on drums turns ash black before the credits are even over. As soon the band’s singer brains a woman with a brick (for fun), we know that the good times are over. Sodomy, rape, and homophobia are used as punchlines in Koen Mortier’s distasteful work. I was often curious if Mortier’s script was collecting highlights of Herman Brusselmans’s novel as the storyline often felt disjointed, giving the film the feel of driving down an unpaved road. Despite the subject matter and the “shocking for shock’s sake” story, EX DRUMMER was visually interesting and managed to keep me in my seat (and my lunch in my stomach) for the entire duration.

FRONTIERE(S) (Xavier Gens, 2007, France)

To say that this French thriller is derivative would be a compliment. FRONTIERES follows a road map of other previous films. It travels from RESERVOIR DOGS Place down PSYCHO Lane as five (soon to be four) friends escape Paris with a duffel bag full of cash. There’s a signpost up ahead. It reads “FRONTIERES” with an arrow pointing right to HOSTEL and one pointing to the left to TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (in little letters below that it says “the remake”). A little on up the road there’s a detour marked THE DESCENT. All of these places are in the idyllic French countryside in the county of HAUTE TENSION.

Throw in a Nazi war criminal as a patriarch, some terrifically hot girls, and a few thuggish brutes and you’ve got all the makings of the next Rob Zombie film. I was casting the American remake in my head as the events of FRONTIERES predictably unfolded. The joke, of course, is that the film is named FRONTIERES but it doesn’t boldly go into any territory that horror fans (especially those enthralled with torture porn horror) haven’t been to before.

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