Managed to catch a couple of films at TIFF this last week. Some good, some not so good...
Ford v Ferrari
Not quite the thriller that the trailer promised. It's your average, sentimental sports flick, just with fancy cars and Christian Bale. It's perfectly watchable and handsomely produced but pretty vanilla. Bale's quirky performance and some fun race sequences make it a decent ride.
Shia LaBeouf's semi-autobiographical screenplay brought to life with director Alma Har'el's restrained, slightly impressionistic touch. It's a little unfocused but it casts a sympathetic light to LaBeouf's public meltdowns by dramatizing his childhood trauma. And it works, largely because of the brilliant kid who plays a young LaBeouf (he also stars in Ford v Ferrari). That kid is going to be a star. LaBeouf is also quite excellent as his father. I'm not sure if it works as a way to validate his past behaviour, but hopefully it allows him to do more good work.
Every now and then, the industry comes up with an excuse to remind us why Adam Sandler is a brilliant actor. The Safdie brothers live up the task with their follow-up to their smash indie-darling Good Times, following a wickedly funny series of mishaps by an all-too ambitious jewellery vendor. It's dark, anxiety-inducing and laugh-out funny. Hope Sandler gets some well-deserved Oscar buzz with this.
Lucy in the Sky
What a strange strange film. Noah Hawley, whose gift for witty visual storytelling (re: Fargo), seems to stumble awkwardly around putting together a feature film based on what's essentially a tabloid piece. Somewhere in this mess of overcooked visuals (drawing on what he played with in Legion, but with less logic - Sam Esmail was way better at this stuff in Homecoming), kitschy dialogue and half-assed metaphors (prepare for lots of eye rolling at the butterfly stuff) is a good Portman performance. But it's hard to tell when the film can't quite make up its mind between being an absurdist, over-the-top satire and earnest psycho-drama. Jeff Russo's score is basically First Man-lite. Part of me still likes some of the more ridiculous parts (like the ending), but it's a half-hearted mess with an identity crisis.
A Hidden Life
Hallelujah! This film is proof that Malick and his mythos thrives best in nature, as his last few duds can attest. Returning to a coherent narrative structure, and a more grounded setting, Malick returns to form with this moving portrait of a man facing a crisis of faith. This is what he's best at. All his familiar questions and lines of inquiry return, but is made all the more potent by August Diehl and Valerie Pachner as the leads. This might be the first romance that Malick has successfully sold to me.
A Hidden Life is not as obviously flashy as Tree of Life and other Lubezki-driven works with its visual beauty. It aims for a far more pensive quality, and plays with darkness and light in wonderful ways, especially for a film where the protagonist is essentially locked up in a chamber for half of its duration. But don't let that fool you, there are some gobsmacking gorgeous shots.
Of course, Malick cynics will not have their minds changed here. Expect plenty of montages of airy, swooning shots galore. He’s not really doing anything new. But A Hidden Life just validates for me, that the more expansive, "non-linear" quality to Malick's storytelling cultivates an extraordinarily emotional experience in the right room. The powerful scenes and ruminations near the film's end were accompanied by much sniffling and man-tears in the cinema. A Hidden Life is Malick's Silence, just with a more humanist lens. If he only had the guts to cut about 30-40 min from the anemic first act, this could have been a truly brilliant film. But as it is, it's very good stuff.
Oh and James Newton Howard's score is rather lovely, and from what I could tell, largely preserved in the film. It's led by his familiar Village-esque violin writing and a lovely motif that sounds like something out of Kung Fu Panda. The rest of the film was scored with Pärt, Gorecki and some choral hymns I couldn't recognize. I look forward to hearing it on album.