Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

The Master dominates our festival round up.

Christmas comes earlier and earlier every year. There’s no way around it. Oscar season kicks off with the twin whammy of the Venice and Toronto film festivals. Let’s pretend that’s not the case and just talk about the movies (almost …

Mon, Sep 10, 2012, 13:26

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Christmas comes earlier and earlier every year. There’s no way around it. Oscar season kicks off with the twin whammy of the Venice and Toronto film festivals. Let’s pretend that’s not the case and just talk about the movies (almost none of which I’ve seen). Expectations have been indecently high for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Happily, reports from the Venice Film Festival, which closed this weekend, suggest that PTA’s follow-up to There Will be Blood is worth the wait. Our friends at The Guardian managed to award the film not one, but two 5-star reviews. Take that, other films. That’s 10 stars in total. As you will be aware, the picture stars Joaquin Phoenix as an ex-sailor who falls under the spell of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s cult lunatic in post-war America. There are allusions to Scientology. But the film is, reports tell us, far from a full-out assault on L Ron Hubbard.

Strange events occurred at Venice. The word on the street is that Michael Mann’s jury wanted to hand virtually every gong in the cupboard to The Master, but the rules prohibit such a sweep. As a result, they felt forced to award the Silver Lion for best director to Anderson and share the best actor award between Hoffman and Phoenix. The Golden Lion went to Kim Ki Duk’s modestly well reviewed Pieta. It’s an odd business. But these sorts of conventions afflict other festivals. Many of us felt that Michael Haneke’s Amour deserved an acting prize at Cannes, but, having won the Palme d’Or, it was not allowed to pick up any more gongs. Bad news for Emmanuelle Riva and Jean Louis Trintignant. Good news for Mads Mikkelsen.

The latest film from Terrence Malick, To the Wonder, did not fare so well with critics. There were a few raves, but the general consensus was that the great director’s mix of nature imagery and vague poetry is beginning to look ever-so-slightly self-parodic. We await it with great interest. Other films attracting comment were Spring Breakers, the latest queasy entertainment from Harmony Korine, Bernard Rose’s Boxing Day, another Tolstoy adaptation from the reat English eccentric, and Sarah Polley’s slippery memoir Stories We Tell.

The Toronto International Film Festival always overlaps with the Venice event. There are already too many hurrahs and raspberries on the wires to allow any reasonable summary, but we’ll mention a few of the early unveilings. J. A. Bayona, director of The Orphanage is turning heads with The Impossible, his movie concerning the 2004 tsunami. Naomi Watts already seems inked-in for a best actress Oscar nod. Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths is doing well enough with the critics. David O Russell is keeping his head above water with the Silver Linings Playbook.

But the picture everybody (for various reasons) is intrigued about is Cloud Atlas. Co-directed by the Wachowski siblings (as, following Lana’s sex change, we must now call them) and Tom Tykwer, this adaptation of David Mitchell’s much admired book spans decades, continents and planets. It features an A-list cast — Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Susan Sarandon are on board — and asks many of them to take on several roles. The trailer (see above) suggests a folly of outrageous proportions. Given that the siblings’ last film, Speedracer, was a spectacular flop they really need this independent production to make some sort of splash. It’s hard to read the runes to date. Variety rather liked it. The Guardian did not. A mixed response may not be good enough. The Wachowskis need to get back to the top table soon. It’s a long, long time since The Matrix.

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