The skies finally opened up and the air cooled on this last day of the first fest weekend. All the local papers plastered pics of Pitt and wife, showing that the stars continue to be a big draw at this haven for cinephiles. Walk up to the Four Seasons hotel and you'll note crowds of people behind barriers looking for a small glimpse of a Clooney, Aniston, or Affleck. Then again, if it's Casey instead of Ben that they find, I'm not entirely sure they'd know how to react. Speaking of Ben, he has been spotted being the good dad, wandering the halls of the hotel with child in tow while mommy Garner does her press conference duty. Consider this the local celebrity gossip portion of this year's coverage.

Despite schlepping my camera today, I found little that was photographically interesting, as much of the day was simply shuttling between different levels of the Varsity. By tomorrow things for many will already be winding down, not even at the halfway mark.

Redacted
Redacted is DePalma's oblique take on the Iraq war, fictionalizing the events surrounding the rape of a 15 year old girl by a group of American Marines. The film takes a fairly unique stylistic direction, using shaky handicam "diary" footage mixed with news reports, a French documentary, security cam and YouTube clips to provide multiple angles upon the same story.

Unfortunately, while the underlying desire to expose the dynamics of the current conflict is noble, the execution doesn't live up to the promise shown in the first few minutes. Once it settles into its rhythm, the shortcomings of performance and character are exposed, with stereotyped good ol' boys, angry sergeants, and the bookish, bespeckled conscientious objector telling a fairly dry tale of good guys gone bad.

Despite its many attempts, the film never does feels authentic, the fly-on-the-way style that it's trying to pull off. The performances always feel stagey or forced, the stereotypes just a bit too cut and dry. In other words, while providing details of the moral grey zone of life as a soldier, it tends to break down for simplicity sake to black and white, good vs. evil, the same tired tropes about troops that the film is structured to avoid.

The film does work during a few key scenes - the abduction by the soldier supposedly documenting the events is startling and effective, as is an IED explosion caught on camera. Meanwhile, many of the embedded webclips come off as more scripted performance than authentic, emotional outpourings, save for a tour de force idiotic rant by a perfectly cast angsty teen girl, and a well staged beheading that looks more than a little like the clips of Daniel Pearl played repeatedly on U.S. media. Contrasting these cinematic successes, the "multimedia" look becomes even sillier when the security cam footage has clear dialogue, deep focus and outbursts of soldier-on-soldier violence - clearly somebody should have been noticing this behaviour as abnormal, else why have the camera there in the first place?

These are quibbles about the technique of Redacted, yet its technique is the most compelling and interesting aspect of the film. Like many other DePalma pics, where style overtakes substance and the heart of the picture is lost in a flourish of technical prowess, Redacted falls short of its lofty goals. In the end, it's a pretty tame war pic with a few shocking images, a tale that's hardly a revelation to anyone who has been open to alternative views of the war from the beginning.
Directed by: Brian DePalma
Grade: C-
In The Valley of Elah
Another film about the current Iraq conflict, this one based on a true story of a father, ex Military MP, who sets out to investigate the circumstances surround his son's status as AWOL. Through this crime thriller motif we are introduced to many compelling themes regarding the military code of ethics and brotherhood, the changing disciplines in this modern war, and the pressures and foibles of those fighting men of the U.S. forces.

Tommy Lee Jones once again brings his A-game to the table, with a strong, nuanced performance. The dynamic he holds with his wife, portrayed by Susan Sarandon, is achingly real. Similarly, each of the soldiers seem to bring a truthfulness to their performances lacking in other films (say, a film that I reviewed above). Thus, despite being more overtly a fiction film, there's a greater sense of verisimilitude of this work than many of the documentary-styled Iraq flicks that have emerged of late.

The title refers to the story of David, where a righteous underdog defeats the militarily superior opponent. Hardly the most subtle of metaphors (nor the upside flag motif, signifying a county in distress), but effective. For all those that though Crash lacked subtlety will surely find the same complaints here, but I for one found it an enjoyable flick with enough politics, suspense, and fine performances to keep it interesting.
Directed by: Paul Haggis
Grade: B
Across the Universe
A psychedelic, bubble-gum scented love poem to the Beatles' oeuvres by visionary director Taymor. Giant marionettes cavort in fields, while businessmen clatter in unison using their briefcases as percussion instruments. Strawberries become fine art, and a loose tale of love, loss, and redemption is told with a great deal of fun and frolicking.

In short, many will hate it.

Still, if you give into it, Across the Universe is quite beguiling, with only a few missteps (Eddie Izzard is particularly wasted, due in no small part due to an insistence on "rapping" the lyrics to "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite". The musical arrangements are fresh, and some (a gospel "Let it Be" and a superb instrumental "A Day in the Life") are particularly stunning representations of the fab four's work.

A guest appearance by Joe Cocker is particularly well handled, while Bono's appearance leaves much to be desired, with a fairly flaccid reading of "I Am the Walrus" while he prances Ken Kesey-like in his bus that journeys on magical, mysterious tours.

Across the Universe is hardly deep or original - a plot borrowed almost fully from Hair, for one. There were also a few places where they could have let the references speak louder for themselves, such as the sequence where she, uh, "came in through the bathroom window". Still, this film is by no means the disaster that it could have been, and for a Technicolor few hours it's a dreamy music video to a re-imagined Beatles universe. In the end, if you sit back and just enjoy the show, all you need is this.
Directed by: Julie Taymor
Grade: B+
Erik Nietzche The Early Years
Lars von Trier was a precocious film student? Who knew?

This loosely autobiographical tale, written and narrated by Lars himself, is certainly the most lighthearted of the films he's been associated with. That's not to say, of course, that this film is free from a certain sardonic edge that we've all come to know and love.

By the conceit of the film, young Erik is admitted to the prestigious film program due to an accident during the act of coitus, clearly a metaphor for the existential angst that permeates the entire tale. As gratuitous and arty films are created by the students under the watchful tutelage of the school's hapless has-been filmmakers, Erik finds his niche as he crawls, scratches and fights his way for his vision to get on screen.

If this is what passes for Danish light hearted comedy, I'm all for it. Some glorious and humorous photography (a tour-de-force crane shot in particular is extraordinary), sly performances and a great sense of fun make this one of the most accessible yet still compelling of the wonderful works that escape from the Zentropa studio.
Directed by: Jacob Thuesen
Grade: B
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Kapur has done a tremendous thing with The Golden Age - he created a sequel that's a worthy successor to his much beloved earlier work about the virgin queen, one that may even be the better of the two films. Of course, the continuation is helped tremendously by the two main returning performers, namely the incomparable Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett.

It's Cate's show, of course, and she's simply magical. With the added confidence of years, she embodies perfectly Elizabeth's own maturation. Ever confident yet with astonishing range and subtlety, her performance in this will in some ways be overshadowed by the fact that we by now expect such work from her.

Set during the period where Elizabeth's confrontation with the Spanish Armada would lead to her essentially solidifying England's position for the next half-millennium, it is an epic full of intrigue and grand-scale conflict, perfect for plussing the plot of the first film. With the wider canvas politically, the setting itself is in turn almost claustrophobic, as almost the entire film takes place within the castle walls with brief excursions to the outside for bursts of intrigue. It's this balance, between the parlour politics and grand events that sent the tone for the film, and it's a remarkable feet that it works as well as it does.

Aside from the political and military machinations, the major character introduction this time round is that of Walter Raleigh, played with a dashing smirk by Clive Owen. In fact, it's an incredible ensemble indeed when the shine of Emily Watson and Mary, Queen of Scots is masked by the likes of her co-actors.

As the story unfolds and Elizabeth's challenges result in her once again reigning in her outward passions, we see a continuing transformation of this queen from rarified icon to genuine, complex character. As this is the middle of a planned trilogy, the scene is now set for this remarkable series to effectively tell a tale truly larger than life, yet one shaped by the smallest of gestures by one of the finest actors of this or any other age.
Directed by: Shekhar Kapur
Grade: A-