ALEX RIDER: OPERATION STORMBREAKER
FAM D: Geoffrey Sax w/ Alex Pettyfer, Mickey Rourke. UK. 93 min. Sunday, September 10, 11:30 AM ISABEL BADER THEATRE; Tuesday, September 12, 5:30 PM ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM Rating: NNN
It's hard to reinvent the wheel when it comes to spy movies, but you're doing something right when you can secure comedic talent like Bill Nighy, Stephen Fry, Andy Serkis and Robbie Coltrane. It doesn't hurt that this film has a built-in audience all those young adult boys currently making the Alex Rider teen spy series a best-selling enterprise. If the film itself is low on substance, it's long on action and style, and parents will appreciate the way director Sax keeps all the violence out of the forefront. What he really did right, though, was find Pettyfer to play his leading, uh, boy. With his attitude and Tiger Beat-approved sex appeal, he might get girls excited about the franchise, too.
RTR D: Gary Burns, Jim Brown. Canada. 86 min. Sunday, September 10, 2:15 PM ISABEL BADER THEATRE; Tuesday, September 12, 8:45 PM CUMBERLAND 2 Rating: NNNN
Co-director Burns is well-qualified to make this doc about suburbia, having captured the boredom and anomie of the Calgary suburbs in fictional features like The Suburbanators and Kitchen Party. Here, with journalist Brown, he provides an entertaining and informative look at the history of suburban growth, focusing on one very divided family and featuring an assortment of experts, from bitterly sarcastic social critic James Howard Kunstler to a perky real estate agent. The directors know exactly what they're doing with each beautiful image captured by cinematographer Patrick McLaughlin to illustrate what the subjects are saying. The Moss family smug mom, distant dad, alienated kids are often filmed separately to suggest their isolation. The information is always revealing, and the film's climax will make you reconsider what goes on behind those two-car garage doors.
SPEC D: Guillermo del Toro w/ Ivana Baquero, Sergi López. Spain. 112 min. Sunday, September 10, 3 PM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN); Wednesday, September 13, 11:45 AM VARSITY 8 Rating: NNNNN
Criminally overlooked by the jury, Pan's Labyrinth was the best film I saw in this year's Cannes Competition. Veering between fairy-tale delicacy and vicious political melodrama, as if Arthur Rackham had painted Guernica, it holds together remarkably well.
Like del Toro's other "serious" film, The Devil's Backbone, Labyrinth is set during the Spanish Civil War. Ofelia (Baquero) arrives at an outpost in the Basque country with her mother, who has come to live with her new husband, the local commandant. Her new stepdaddy is a jackbooted fascist thug (L-pez in a superb performance). Ofelia descends into a subterranean world that may be a fantasy projection but may be genuinely supernatural.
PARIS, JE T'AIME
SPEC D: Joel and Ethan Coen, Gus Van Sant and others w/ Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe. France. 120 min. Sunday, September 10, 3 PM RYERSON; Saturday, September 16, 6 PM RYERSON Rating: NNNN
Eighteen short films about love in distinctive neighbourhoods of Paris by 20 high-calibre international directors make up this collective, multi-lingual but by no means corny ode to the City of Light.
The segments venture off the beaten Parisian track to explore the many and sometimes unexpected facets of love, from whimsy to tragedy, with incursions into the absurd and the supernatural. The Coen brothers' hysterical take on Steve Buscemi's American tourist in the Tuileries Metro station is a miniature classic on its own. As in all vignette movies, some segments are weaker than others, but the overall result has such charm, it easily transcends the few uneven patches. The perfect festival film.
CWC D: Reg Harkema. 75 min w/ Don McKellar, Tracy Wright. Canada. Sunday, September 10, 6 PM VARSITY 8; Tuesday, September 12, 2 PM PARAMOUNT 3 Rating: NN
Originality, talented actors and a kick-ass soundtrack (the Fugs, Leonard Cohen) aren't enough to keep Harkema's film from meandering into third-act dullsville. The laid-back plot spins randomly from secretive loners Dan (McKellar, again playing oddball with panache) and Linda (Wright, master of the one-liner) smoking pot and scavenging through garbage for hidden treasures, to the sudden danger presented by Dan's encounter with less-innocent-than-she-seems Susan (Nadia Litz). Still, you gotta give Harkema his due: this is the first film to combine a morality tale on revolutions and middle-class guilt with a beautifully shot bike-fetish montage.
CWC D: Jafar Panahi w/ Sima Mobarak-Shahi, Shayesteh Irani. Iran. 93 min. Sunday, September 10, 6:30 PM PARAMOUNT 2; Tuesday, September 12, 11:45 AM PARAMOUNT 1 Rating: NNN
This is Iran's unexpected contribution to the soccer comedy genre. Panahi (The Circle, Crimson Gold) turns his hand-held camera on a group of feisty Tehran teenage girls who, in defiance of the law barring women from attending, disguise themselves as boys to get into Azadi Stadium to watch Iran's qualifying match for the 2006 World Cup against Bahrain. Shot on location during the actual match, Offisde offers a spontaneous and heartening portrayal of rebellious Iranian youth as well as a priceless scene highlighting the absurdities of the regime in the stadium's men's toilet. A refreshing change for those of us growing weary of deliberately paced, metaphor-ridden Iranian cinema.
VAN D: Geoffrey Wright w/ Sam Worthington, Victoria Hill. Australia. 109 min. Sunday, September 10, 7 PM PARAMOUNT 1; Tuesday, September 12, 1:30 PM PARAMOUNT 2; Saturday, September 16, 7:45 PM ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM Rating: N
People who turn Macbeth into a gangster movie and this Australian version is the third don't understand the play. Macbeth is about royal succession, a favourite Shakespearean subject and an issue of cosmic order. Dropping Macbeth into the modern gutter of the crime film essentially excises its meaning, because criminals killing criminals is inconsequential. That said, director Wright has a queasy shaki-cam style and a barely adequate cast, though you have to feel sorry for Worthington, who has to play a Macbeth stripped of the character's tortured poetry.
CWC D: Alex van Warmerdam w/ van Warmerdam, Jaap Spijkers. Netherlands/ Belgium. 97 min. Sunday, September 10, 7 PM VARSITY 2; Tuesday, September 12, 9:45 AM CUMBERLAND 2 Rating: NN
Life is wretched on all fronts for career waiter Edgar, who is a character in a story. He pleads with the writer for a better life, but the writer doesn't care, doesn't know what he's doing and either can't or won't help. While this gives a mild effect of both comedy and tragedy, it mostly allows writer/director/star van Warmerdam to crank out scenes with little narrative through-line and no concern for the philosophy inherent in the premise. Which leaves us with little to do but watch the moody visuals and van Warmerdam's appealingly craggy face.
CF D: Patrice Sauvé. 104 min w/ Patrice Robitaille, François Létourneau. Sunday, September 10, 8:30 PM PARAMOUNT 4; Tuesday, September 12, 12:30 PM CUMBERLAND 2 Rating: NN
This intricately plotted dark comedy set in and around a small-time Montreal escort agency isn't as clever or entertaining as first-time feature director Sauvé obviously thinks it is.
After depressed agency owner Ron (Robitaille, looking like a forgotten Ramone brother) gets his book of escort portfolio pics stolen, he suspects the thief was the owner of a rival agency. Soon he, his assistant, a couple of his working girls and one sheepish client (played amusingly by writer Létourneau) get mixed up in a series of interconnecting narratives that all involve loneliness and depression. Bookended by two clever scenes, the film stumbles over its own bad jokes. The incongruous Philip Glass-like score tries to add weight to a story and characters that are paper-thin.
DISC D: Sean Ellis w/ Sean Biggerstaff, Emilia Fox. UK. 90 min. Sunday, September 10, 8:45 PM VARSITY 1 or 6; Tuesday, September 12, 2 PM PARAMOUNT 4; Saturday, September 16, 12:45 PM VARSITY 5 Rating: NN
Developed from the director's short film, this romantic comedy focuses on a young arts student plagued by insomnia after a breakup who takes a job on the graveyard shift in a large grocery store, where he discovers that he can apparently stop time. (Nicholson Baker, call your lawyer.) Great potential, though I wish Ellis were half as clever as he thinks he is.
VAN D: John Cameron Mitchell, w/ Sook-Yin Lee, PJ DeBoy. U.S. 102 min. Sunday, September 10, 9 PM RYERSON; Tuesday, September 12, 2:15 pm PARAMOUNT 1 Rating: NNNN
See cover story review, page 71.
EVERYTHINGÕS GONE GREEN
CF D: Paul Fox w/ Paulo Costanzo, JR Bourne. 95 min. Sunday, September 10, 9:30 PM PARAMOUNT 2; Tuesday, September 12, 11:30 AM PARAMOUNT 3 Rating: NN
A promising opening and a well-chosen cast (Costanzo, villainous Bourne and lottery manager Aidan Devine are standouts) are sabotaged by a movie that would rather make us laugh than say something important. Sadly, it doesn't do enough of either. Screenwriter Douglas Coupland has long been known for his canny ability to write 20-something angst, but perhaps he's a little past his prime; his observations now feel forced, or maybe they just aren't meant for the big screen. We're supposed to be moved by a scene with a giant beached whale, but it's as hollow as the overdone message that everybody in this world is greedy.
CWC D: Stefan Krohmer w/ Martina Gedeck, Robert Seeliger. Germany. 97 min. Sunday, September 10, 9:30 PM CUMBERLAND 2; Tuesday, September 12, 8:45 AM PARAMOUNT 4; Saturday, September 16, 3 PM VARSITY 5 Rating: NNNN
Chabrol meets Rohmer in this superb psychological study of the shifting relationships between five people on summer vacation. Mostly Martha's Gedeck plays a sexually free, morally ambiguous married woman who steps out of bounds when her teenage son's precocious and perceptive 12-year-old girlfriend seems to be on the verge of becoming involved with an older man. The finely drawn characters evolve through sharp dialogue, but what makes the film special are the unexpected plot turns. Unusual and subtle, this is an old-fashioned art house sleeper hit.