Going to a film festival involves risk. Specifically, the risk of seeing bad films. It’s going to happen. If you’re doing more than just a few films you can’t avoid it. My first bad film of TIFF’12 was Hellbenders, but I suppose going into that one I knew the risk of badness at Midnight Madness would be higher than normal, and honestly I didn’t go to that film expecting it to be any good.
It’s always more disappointing when you expect a film to be good and it ends up not only disappointing, but being outright terrible. A good example for me would be Tyrannosaur last year. I went in fully expecting to like it, and considering the huge standing ovation the film got i suppose most people felt it delivered. I, on the other hand, hated the film. I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t believe the positive reaction the film was garnering around me. But that’s the risk. You can’t enjoy every movie. Sometimes there will be bad ones. Sometimes you will come out of a movie loathing it. That’s what happened to me on Day 5.
At Any Price
I’d never seen any of Ramin Bahrani’s features until At Any Price. My only exposure to him beyond his short film, Plastic Bag, was the constant praise his films got from friends and critics I respect. I do plan on going back and watching his previous efforts. I hear they’re great. Unfortunately, in moving towards more mainstream fare with At Any Price, all I can say is that I’m not exactly looking forward to future films from Bahrani.
At Any Price is terrible. It’s terrible on multiple levels. In fact, it’s terrible on just about every level. It’s about a farming family headed up by Dennis Quaid, who is trying to stay afloat in a tough market. Zac Efron stars as his son, a bit of a rebellious kid who mostly wants to become a famous Nascar driver.
The problems begin with the acting. It’s awful. Quaid seems to have no clue what he’s doing. Zac Efron is bland. Everyone else oscillates between hammy awfulness and boring. Then there’s the visual direction, which is a generous term considering the visuals hardly seem directed. This is a movie that’s bad from just about frame one. But the worst part of it all is the screenplay. It’s not just bad, it’s insulting. Apparently both Bahrani and his screenwriter, Hallie Elizabeth Newton, have utter contempt for mainstream audiences. Their assumption is that regular people can’t put two and two together. Everything is heavily telegraphed. The exposition drops in like an atom bomb. There are lines of dialogue so tone deaf that I’m left to wonder if these writers have ever actually heard a human being speak. It’s incredible and easily the worst film I’ve seen this year (and I’ve seen some pretty bad ones.)
Well, following the travesty that was At Any Price I was primed and ready to be disappointed by the new Michael Winterbottom film. The UK’s version of Soderbergh, Winterbottom has a tendency to make every film a completely different thing, and the results are often wildly mixed. Walking into his latest was going to be a crapshoot…
Not one to turn down an opportunity to experiment, Michael Winterbottom shot his new film, EVERYDAY, over the course of five years. No, it’s not a documentary. This is a fiction feature, shot in bits and pieces over five years, with John Simm and Shirley Henderson in the lead roles, as well as four children who actually grow up on screen. It’s about a family where the father, Simm, has been incarcerated and sentenced to five years in prison. The film then charts the course of the family through the five years, mostly showing us scenes of family visitation either in the prison or on specially sanctioned days outside.
There’s not much of a plot to speak of except for the premise. Instead of narrative, Winterbottom focuses on the simple influence of time. We get to see the difficulties for Henderson as she attempts to raise her children without their father around. We see how the children, particularly the two boys, deal with the situation. We also see Simm as the father trying to cope with being separated from his family, as well as his infrequent opportunities to see them. EVERYDAY is built on small moments, routines, and a building of emotional understanding. The passage of time is crucial to understanding these emotions, and as such the decision to film over a space of several years actually adds to the thematic resonance of the film in a way that simply recasting the children wouldn’t have. This isn’t gimmickry, it’s finely tuned humanist observation. It’s also beautiful, right down to the digital cinematography that actually improves as the camera tech gets better over time.
And so the day was saved by Mr. Winterbottom. From there it was off to the Bloor to check out one of my most anticipated films of the fest, Berberian Sound Studio.
Berberian Sound Studio
I don’t care for the Italian horror genre known as Giallo. I appreciate certain aspects of its expressionistic style, but it’s never really got my blood flowing. Not even Suspiria could really do it for me. Berberian Sound Studio is something of a love letter to Giallo, but it’s even more a love letter to analog technology. It stars Toby Jones as a sound engineer who goes to work in Italy on a horror film. Ever so slowly, Jones’ character begins to go mad, until the final act when the whole film breaks with reality to present his onset insanity.
The plot isn’t too involved, but then this is a film about mood in much the same way that last year’s Drive was. Of course, in this case the mood is one of terror. Director Peter Strickland achieves this horror by focusing on the analog aspects of the filmmaking process in the 70s. We never get to see the film Jones is working on, but through the vocal dubbing and sound design work the character does we get to hear it. And oh how we hear it. All those sound effects are horrific, but Strickland goes one step further by visualizing what we hear. Often it’s by showing how the sound effects are created through things like crushing watermelons, but sometimes it’s through more abstract means, including cutting to Jones’ sound charts and timelines that describe the sounds as they’d appear in a film. It’s ingenious, and between those amazing sounds and the dark visual style, Berberian Sounds Studio works as a truly exemplary expression of mood, tone and horror.
After sitting through the film at the Bloor it was time to head over to the blogger meet-up at the Duke of York pub. I spent a good number of hours there talking to folks like Ryan McNeil, Bob Turnbull, Titania Plant, James McNally and even the guys who created the absolutely essential site for TIFFgoers, TIFFr. Of course, I got home super late.