TIFF Report: Eros, Zebraman
Well, the Toronto Film Festival is winding down which, at this point, ranks as a pretty good thing in my book. I've done sixteen screenings so far, with tickets for two more in hand, and I'm starting to overload. That said, I did catch two solid screenings today and would have done three if this morning's Kung Fu Hustle screening hadn't been cancelled. Read on for word on the Eros anthology film and Takashi Miike's Zebraman.
Eros is an anthology film made up of three shorts on the topic of love, one each from Wong Kar Wai, Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni.
Wong Kar Wai's film - Hands - stars Gong Li as a high class prostitute whose tailor falls in love with her and quietly watches as her fortunes fade and she eventually is stricken with tuberculosis. This being a WKW film nobody ever speaks their feelings directly - it's all glances from a distance and fleeting touches. Set in the 1950's and shot by Christopher Doyle the film has a feel very similar to In the Mood For Love, a fact one of the people with me cited as a major negative as he'd been hoping for some forward motion from the director. Personally I was quite happy to have more of the same from WKW and Doyle. The film is beautifully lit and shot with Kar Wai repeatedly framing shots within mirrors to show emotional distance and the writing and performances are strong across the board.
Equally as strong is Steven Soderbergh's Equilibrium, a giddy, wordy, high energy piece starring Robert Downey Jr as a man consumed by a recurring dream of an unknown woman and Alan Arkin as his psychiatrist. Largely shot in high contrast monochrome - I'm still not certain if it was black and white or some sort of sepia wash though my gut says sepia - Soderbergh tilts his hat to the noir aesthetic while also stacking up rapid fire dialogue, heavy doses of irony and absurdist humor that marks this purely as a product of our times. Downey reminds us again that he just may be the best actor of his generation when sober and Arkin is his normal dry, genius self.
And then came Antonioni. A few people left after Wong Kar Wai's piece, which I thought was predictable, but a bit sad. Then a good stack of people left after Soderbergh's which I thought was just rude at the time but now I'm wondering if they knew something I didn't. I wish I had been one of those people. Good Lord, how I wish I had been one of those people. Antonioni's piece is absolutely brutal. Horribly, horribly bad. Imagine, if you will, that some sadistic film teacher took a class of first year students and told them to write the most ridiculous, cliche ridden piece of pretentious euro-art film that they possibly could - the more inane the dialogue the better - and what you would get could not possibly reach the depths that this film sinks to. It's horrible. Visually it's essentially a piece of made-for-cable softporn but with an even more inane script. See this film for Wong Kar Wai and Steven Soderbergh, but run like hell once Equilibrium comes to an end.
From Eros it was straight to the Ryerson Theater for Takashi Miike's Zebraman - a film I've had on DVD for a little while now but have refused to watch so my first impression would come on the big screen. Good choice.
Zebraman is a kinder and gentler Miike film - the body fluid quotient is way down - but it's vintage and it's one of his good ones. A love letter to Japan's kaiju shows - think Power Rangers and their ilk - Zebraman stars the always fantastic Sho Aikawa as a lousy elementary school teacher, disrespected by his family, whose one outlet is his secret and enduring love for Zebraman - a kaiju show that ran for only seven episodes when he was a boy. His love for the show runs so deep that he's created his own hand made Zebraman costume that he wears around the house from time to time. Our lonely teacher's life takes a turn for the better when he meets a young, wheelchair bound boy who shares his love for Zebraman. While heading to his young friend's house in full Zebraman gear late one night - he wants to show off his costume to the only other person who may possibly appreciate it - he hears a woman being attacked, intervenes, and realizes that he is actually beginning to take on Zebraman's powers. This is a convenient thing because an alien invasion has already begun.
Anchored by a surprisingly straight performance from Aikawa - there is no mugging for the camera here - Zebraman showcases Miike's bizarre sense of humor, keen visual style and a surprising depth of character. It's campy and fun enough to have an audience cheering and laughing openly from start to finish but also has enough under the hood to merit a return viewing. I'd been a little disappointed with my Madness screenings until tonight but Zebraman was an unqualified success.