Ahoy, squirts! Quint here to present Batphantom's newest batch fo kick-ass reports from Toronto! Let me state for the record right now that my heart will be broken if John Turturro's ROMANCE & CIGARETTES is a failure. Broken into itty bitty pieces. The musical with Christopher Walken, Kate "Put your Willy Wonka between my Oompa-Loompas" Winslet, Eddie Izzard and James Gandolfini is one of my most anticipated films of the year, especially after seeing a fantastic clip of a trailer-trash looking Winslet singing a filthy song to half naked Gandolfini during a tribute to Winslet at this year's Santa Barbara Film Festival. I want this movie to be as awesome as it can be... but the word from Batphantom below isn't very good. Anyway, enjoy the batch of reviews! It sounds like Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung have all done some top notch work! Hooray!
LIE WITH ME
Clement Virgo is trying to become Canada’s answer to Zalman King with his second sexually charged film in a row. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. Still, from the poster complete with nudity they could have called it “Fuckin’”. It’s not that bad though, it’s actually rather poetic in its depiction of a nymphomaniac who doesn’t believe love really exists until she discovers it for herself. It was a collaborative work with novelist Tamara Berger, who was involved every step of the way, and it shows in the flowery narration and erotic cinematography. Hell, the opening shot is a slo-mo zoom out of the lead character masturbating to porn. Lauren Lee Smith (“The ‘L’ Word”) plays Leila, the nympho in question, and she’s stunning. On the surface, it’s hard to sympathize with her character since she comes off as a horny hot chick who can have any man she wants, and does, but her performance marries well with the narration, letting us really get inside her head. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s stunning. And naked. A lot. The man who ends up consuming her life is played by Eric Balfour (Milo from “24”), who does a solid job in what could have been a terrible role. You can see that he’s not just a great lover, he really cares for her, despite the “intimacy issues” he seems to have.
In the end, it’s a quiet rumination on the nature of love and relationships, with some great cinematography and great performances from the leads. Virgo keeps getting better with each film, his next one could be a classic.
ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES
If it weren’t for “Revolver”, this would be my biggest disappointment of the festival. John Turturro directs a musical set in New Jersey, featuring an amazing ensemble led by James Gandolfini and Susan Sarandon, who play a married couple split apart by his infidelity. The story is pretty basic stuff, but the musical numbers are cute, if unspectacular. The characters start singing over classic soul and rock numbers, eventually overtaking the original, while background performers break into choreographed routines. Do you want to know how bad it gets? CHRISTOPHER FUCKING WALKEN has a dance number, and the movie STILL sucks. I was able to look beyond the terrible sound and some really shrill performances, but at the two thirds mark, the film turns into a bad tearjerker and completely abandons the musical numbers. I can’t accept that. The audience was pissed off too. It’s as if Turturro decided that the musical numbers weren’t working, and just cancelled the rest of them. Baffling.
Sadly, the performances are good, especially Kate Winslet as the foul-mouthed temptress and Walken as Sarandon’s Elvis worshipping cousin. Other characters are bizzarely overdone (Mary-Louise Parker as the daughter, who seems to be playing a 16 year old) or underdone (Eddie Izzard, wasted as a church pianist, Steve Buscemi as a worldly bridge worker, and Mandy Moore, similarly wasted as another daughter). Gandolfini and Sarandon are fine, but they’re let down by the weak script. Turturro is capable of much, much better. This needed some extensive rewrites.
What could cleanse the palate better than a little old-fashioned Hong Kong detective martial arts action? Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung go head to head in this ripper directed by Wilson Yip. It’s got some great fight scenes, especially those involving wushu champion Jing Wu, playing a knife wielding psycho. Yen is the new addition to a group of four detectives sworn to take down Hung’s character at any cost. Most of the action takes place over one day, which makes for a fast moving but predictable plot. What makes it unique are the characterizations of both sides, the cops break the law to get the job done (including killing a witness), and Hung is humanized through his and his wife’s attempts to have a child. It’s always nice to see more shades of gray in films like this. Lots of moral dilemmas here, and the action makes it all the sweeter.
I wouldn’t expect more than an art house release, but it’s certain to get a proper DVD release, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried to remake it in America. The ending is unbelievable, and that’s all I’ll say.
PAVEE LACKEEN (THE TRAVELLER GIRL)
I had plenty of time to kill until the last film of the day, so I checked out this Irish slice-of-shitty-life drama, featuring a family of Travelers (or Pikers, as we’ve learned from Snatch). The film looks and feels like a doc, but director Perry Ogden decided to write a script and cast actual Travelers in the roles for authenticity. This backfires in tense scenes, where the actors tend to smile when they should be getting angry, but it does make the whole film much more realistic. They’re a confusing bunch, with social workers doing all they can to get them stability and real homes, but they seem to sabotage the attempts so they can maintain their “freedom”, which involves being moved constantly, without access to running water or electricity. The children are drawn to fighting and committing petty crimes until they get older and commit greater ones. The main thirteen year old girl seems to have trouble thinking let alone reading and writing, which is explained later in the film when you see her huffing gas with a nine year old. It’s a tragic life, made more tragic by their inability to let themselves get away from the lifestyle. Don’t expect to see this one on the big screen, but I’m sure IFC will air it some day.
Jackie Chan returns to his classic formula in this action adventure epic spanning the ages. He plays a dual role as General Meng-Yi of the Qin dynasty and Jack, archeologist and adventurer in the present day. Jack’s been having dreams about Meng-Yi, and is drawn into a search for a hidden temple with holds the secret of levitation, and perhaps immortality itself. Stanley Tong (“Rumble In The Bronx”) directs the action, which is Chan’s best work since “Legend Of Drunken Master”, but it doesn’t meet that high standard. The battle scenes in the past are large scale featuring huge armies, and feature the most blood I’ve ever seen in a Chan film, whereas the present day action is more typical of his theatrical style, with several great scenes involving rat trap paper and weightlessness.
There was plenty of derisive laughter from the jaded audience, especially towards the villain of the piece, but Chan fans used to his style will enjoy the film. I’m confident this will get a decent release, so be sure to check it out on the big screen.