Toronto International Film Festival 2004 - UPDATE #1
Directed by Istvan Szabo
CANADA/UNITED KINGDOM/HUNGARY/105 MINUTES/GALA
Though Being Julia is set in London, there's an unmistakable Canadian feel to it. The movie's been produced by Canadian-by-default uber-producer Robert Lantos, and features a whole host of Canucks in supporting roles (Bruce Greenwood, Maury Chakin - heck, even television mogul Moses Znaimer makes a cameo appearance!) Annette Bening plays Julia, a British stage actress who's at the top of her game. But when she begins seeing a much younger man - even though she's married to a successful producer (Jeremy Irons) - Julia's seemingly perfect life begins to crumble around her. Though Being Julia is an undeniably lush and expensive-looking production, the film never manages to step beyond the realm of over-the-top campiness. This is primarily due to Ronald Harwood screenplay, which owes a lot to All About Eve (the film's second half is devoted almost exclusively to a scheming actress who tries to steal the focus from Julia) - though the comparisons end there. The biggest problem with Being Julia lies in the character of Julia herself, a woman who simply isn't all that interesting. Bening's broad performance seems like it'd be more at home in a 40s melodrama; this is the sort of role one can imagine Joan Crawford playing back in the day. Julia's unlikeable nature is what eventually sinks Being Julia, and it does seem curious that such a mediocre film has been given the plush Opening Night slot.
Directed by Amanda Micheli
USA/81 MINUTES/REAL TO REEL
Double Dare is a highly entertaining documentary that shines the spotlight on two Hollywood stunt women, Jeannie Epper and Zoe Bell. Epper has been in the business for almost fifty years (she was Lynda Carter's double on Wonder Woman), while Bell is fairly new to the game - having worked alongside Lucy Lawless on Xena: Warrior Princess. The film follows both women as they go through their day-to-day lives, and even offers up some genuine suspense as Bell vies for a career-defining job as Uma Thurman's double in the Kill Bill movies. In addition to the day-to-day stuff featuring Bell and Epper, Double Dare also features a brief look at the history of women stunt doubles in the movies (ie men generally filled such roles in the past). Part of what makes the film so enjoyable is the student/teacher relationship that begins to form between Epper and Bell. As we learn fairly early on, Epper's family has been involved in the stunt business for years (Steven Spielberg reveals that on the set of 1941, "there were Eppers flying everywhere"), and Jeannie spends a lot of time helping Zoe out - even in the realm of training, as Zoe learns how to properly do a stunt dive. Double Dare shines the spotlight on a mostly unacknowledged but pivotal aspect of the movie industry, and director Amanda Micheli does a nice job of keeping the tone light and the pace quick.
Directed by Mark A. Lewis
CANADA/96 MINUTES/CANADA FIRST
Ill Fated is a thoroughly bizarre yet strangely compelling film featuring a plot that occasionally seems as though it'd be more at home in a trashy soap opera. The story follows a young man named Jimmy (Paul Campbell) who wants nothing more than to leave his small town behind and attend college. His friends think he's abandoning them, while Barb (Nicki Clyne) has just announced that she's pregnant with his baby. Complicating matters is the fact that Jimmy's biological father (played by Paul Outerbridge) has just rolled into town, and doesn't want Jimmy to make the same mistakes he did. It's clear that director Mark A. Lewis (who co-wrote the film's screenplay with John Callander) has talent - he imbues the film with a tangible sense of style - but there's no denying that the various over-the-top elements in the story do more damage than good. The character of Jimmy's grandfather (played by John F. Parker) is a perfect example of this, as he seems to have wandered in off the set of a '40s Western. Certain oddball plot twists are enjoyable - in a Melrose Place sort of way - but they don't really jive with some of the more serious aspects of the story.
Directed by Konrad Niewolski
Here we have a tedious, monotonous prison drama that doesn't have a single interesting thing to contribute to this well-worn genre. The story revolves around Lukasz (Arek Detmer), an innocent man wrongly imprisoned for assaulting an old lady. He is quickly placed into a crowded cell with four other inmates, and as the movie progresses, we begin to learn about the circumstances that brought each of them to this place. Director Konrad Niewolski imbues the film with an intriguing sense of style that echoes no less than Kubrick, but fails to offer us a compelling storyline or even interesting characters. Lukasz is particularly guilty of the latter, as he doesn't even seem to care that he's been thrown into jail for a crime he presumably didn't commit. Niewolski, who also wrote the script, peppers the dialogue with prison slang that's virtually impossible to penetrate - and as a result, a lot of the film's mini-dramas become exceedingly difficult to follow. Finally, towards the end, Niewolski starts fleshing out some of the characters, but it's far too late to care by then.
Directed by Zola Maseko
SOUTH AFRICA/94 MINUTES/NATIONAL CINEMA
Drum tells the true story of a South African reporter named Henry (Taye Diggs) who works for a magazine called Drum (the film is set in 1955, the height of Apartheid). Though Drum shies away from political articles, Henry tires of writing fluff pieces (a local boxing match, for instance) and starts tackling more socially important stories. Drum is an engaging look at an important moment in history, anchored by a fantastic lead performance by Diggs. Supporting roles have been filled by equally competent actors, with Jason Flemyng an obvious standout as Drum's loyal and slightly awkward editor. Director Zola Maseko effectively tells this story without too many superfluous elements; as a result, the film goes by fairly quickly. Though the screenplay occasionally simplifies things - ie we know exactly who we're supposed to root for, with no middle ground - and the conclusion is far from surprising, the solid performances and steady direction from Maseko ensures Drum's place among better-than-average true-life tales.