Toronto Day 8 - Farewell Film Festival

Eight days is a long time to be spending watching movies, and I saw a respectable 24 films in that time frame. A little lighter than previous years, but I am getting older, and there were people to see and hang out with (far more important to me). Even though we were leaving Friday evening, we did manage to squeeze in two more films, and while we started the day with something of a dud, we did end the festival on a high note.

PHILIPPINE SCIENCE (The Philippines; 118)

director: Auraeus Solito

cast: Elijah Castillo, Gammy Lopez, Eugene Domingo, EJ Jalorrina, Shayne Fajutagana

Drawing on his own experiences as a science geek in high school, director Auraeus Solito draws a sweet film about an accelerated science and math high school in the Philippines. Solito caught my eye at 2006's Provincetown International Film Festival with his film about nascent gay desire, THE BLOSSOMING OF MAXIMO OLIVEROS which maintained a facade of innocent even when exploring the gritty streets of Manilla. In PHILIPPINE SCIENCE, Solito jettisons the grit (despite the inclusion of the atmosphere of martial law of the time) and the result is very similar to an after school special.

Like FAME, PHILIPPINE SCIENCE is broken up into four parts, freshman, sophomore, junior and senior. There's a core group of students, and each year focuses on a different set. The issues that arise vary: Freshmen, don't waste your time on a girlfriend if you want to be in the Top 5; Sophomores, just because you can't cut it at Philippine Science, doesn't mean you're still not a winner... etc. Unfortunately, while the screenplay is a little clumsy, much of the acting is incapable of lifting the film higher. There are a few good performances, especially the woman who plays the freshman year science teacher, but many of the actors playing the students seem fairly amateurish. Still, I always enjoy seeing films from The Philippines, the country where my mother was born and raised.

I'M NOT THERE (USA; 135 min.)

director: Todd Haynes

cast: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Julianne Moore, David Cross

There's been a lot of buzz about Todd Hayne's Bob Dylan biopic, especially after it's debut in Venice. Those who know me know that I am not a fan of the biopic, but ever the experimenter, Haynes turns the life of Dylan into something magical, complex, and mind-boggling. In I'm not there, seven stages of Dylan's is portrayed by six different actors, including a woman (Cate Blanchett) and a young, African-American boy (Marcus Carl Franklin). The different Dylans aren't literal representations of the legendary singer/songwriter, but representative of his persona at the time. Haynes offers scenarios that attempt to give some possible insight into a celebrity whose evolution challenged everyone, especially his truest fans.

I'm not sure if being a fan of Dylan, or knowing next to nothing about him will serve you better at this film. I knew next to nothing and I loved the film. I don't feel I know all that much more about Dylan after seeing the film, but that's not why I went to see the film. As a film, Haynes challenges the viewer visually, aurally, and through the intricate screenplay he co-wrote with Owen Moverman. There are touches of his earlier films peeking through in I'M NOT THERE, in fact, with this film it seems that Haynes wanted to correct the missteps he took with VELVET GOLDMINE.

A word about the acting. The hype is true. Cate Blanchett is simply phenomenal. As Haynes said in his introduction, Blanchett took a bit of stunt casting and elevated it to such heights that you can't imagine anyone else playing the part. She's that good. Franklin is also terrific as the young, rail-traveling Dylan, and Christian Bale gives an astonishingly strong performance as the man-of-the-people Dylan of the early 60's. British actor Ben Whishaw captures his part well, and Heath Ledger does a pretty good job with one of the lest interesting incarnations of Dylan. The weak link, both performance-wise and screenplay-wise is Dylan the legend as played by Richard Gere. Gere just doesn't have the complexity or range to pull off the role. Other actors put in great turns in supporting roles. These include the divine Charlotte Gainsbourg as Dylan's wife, Julianne Moore as the folksinger (re: Joan Baex) who discovered him), Bruce Greenwood as a British journalist, and Michelle Williams as Coco (Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick.

Technically and artuflly, Haynes wins all the way through. His use of music, both Dylan's and others complements the film marvelously. After such stellar films as POISON, SAFE, VELVET GOLDMINE, and FAR FROM HEAVEN, I'M NOT THERE is a natural and accomplished progression comining an ambitious stretch and a prodigious talent. While I don't think I'M NOT THERE is going to be a universal crowd-pleaser, it's a strong piece of cinematic art that shouldn't be missed.

After the movies wrapped, Scot, Beth and I met Tracy Wright for one last farewell dinner. We spent a lovely late afternoon chatting and reminiscing about the festival. This year's festival was certainly the most stress-free and relaxed festival for me, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I will post pictures from the Q&A's that I attended soon.