Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Big Stars, Bigger Messes at TIFF

by Odienator
(click here for all TIFF pieces) 

Big stars were not immune to big messes here at TIFF. Several major stars appeared on screen and proceeded to make my hair look like Buckwheat’s. (Ed. Note: Odie’s normally nappy head is bald nowadays) Celebrities like Bill Murray and Tom Hanks made TIFF stand for Totally Incompetent Feature Failures. Let’s start with that gopher’s nemesis as the Reagan of the Democrats.

They must have paid Laura Linney beaucoup dollars to say the shit that passes for narration in Hyde Park on Hudson. This year’s My Week With Marilyn makes the same mistake that film did: It allows the least interesting character to control the story. Marilyn’s take would have been more interesting, as would FDR’s take on the visits of his fifth or sixth cousin once removed. When a larger-than-life figure is involved in the story, one should either let them do the talking or allow them to walk off with the picture despite the film’s gaze. Me and Orson Welles does the latter, with Christian McKay looming over the film even when he’s not onscreen. Hyde Park on Hudson has Bill Murray’s FDR, but I would have expected Laura Linney to carry the film on her own. She’s a fine actress and a welcome presence. Instead, Linney fails miserably, and it really isn’t her fault.

The screenplay, by Richard Nelson, reads like a failed writing workshop class project. The structure is clunky, and it has the misfortune to be populated with the same characters as Oscar winner, The King’s Speech. Here, Bertie is no Colin Firth, (though Samuel West gives it a game, respectable try) and this film’s Queen Elizabeth freaks out over a goddamn hot dog. In fact, a major plot point in Hyde Park on Hudson has to do with serving hot dogs at a picnic! There must be 15 minutes of dialogue, most of it arguments, about wieners. The plot itself is also about wieners, with FDR putting his every place except Mrs. Roosevelt cooter. Linney’s character, the appropriately named Margaret Suckley, is just the latest in a long line of trysts FDR conducted practically in plain sight. “Everyone has secrets,” narrates Linney dramatically before pausing for even more goofy effect, “FDR was mine!”

I can’t complain enough about the groan worthy dialogue. Wait’ll you hear the line Linney is forced to utter after, um, giving FDR a hand in the front seat of his car. Even worse, one feels sorry for the actors forced to utter it. Bill Murray, whom I’ve always adored, fares no better when trying to spit out these lumps of coal. He’s just not believable as FDR. Ralph Bellamy’s ghost can sleep easily—hell, Edward Herrman’s warm body can sleep just as easily. Granted, Anthony Hopkins looked nothing like Nixon in Ollie Stone’s biopic, but Hopkins evoked Nixon. Murray is FDR like I am Andrew Jackson. I didn’t buy him for a minute, and Roger Michell’s direction aims for high prestige when it should be aiming far, far lower. After all, this is a movie about a President’s mistress recounting her days fucking the President of the United States. And it’s a drab, hot dog-filled affair. I sure hope no one involved with this movie tackles the Monica Lewinsky story, Diddle In a Blue Dress.

 I don’t want to waste more than 300 words on Cloud Atlas. Easily the worst film I’ve seen at the Festival, Cloud Atlas turns an unfilmable novel into an unwatchable movie. I have not read the novel, so I’ve no idea how closely the cinematic version hews, but I am hoping no one sounds like hated Star Wars characters or has an accent as bad as most of Tom Hanks’ incarnations. Everyone involved plays multiple roles, and perhaps the only fun in Cloud Atlas comes at the end when the credits reveal who was who. Even that is tempered by bad ideas, as it made me a bit itchy seeing Caucasian actors in Asian makeup. The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer must have been channeling Charlie Chan serials from the 30’s or Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Hugo Weaving, who must owe the Wachowskis money, even shows up as a Nurse Ratched-style head of an old folks’ home, and his makeup would have gotten him run over by Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

In fact, the makeup is dreadful on everybody, but it’s no match for the plot and the acting. Everybody ranges from passable to outright embarrassing. Cloud Atlas also hops from story to story, and across timelines both past and future. Unlike other films of this ilk, none of the stories is any good. Usually, one can find a tale that holds one’s interest, and bide time until the filmmakers return to it. Here, it’s like watching 6 bad movies at once, each one more agonizing than the former. Since it feels edited with a roulette wheel, one never knows which tale will follow which scene. There’s no real logic to placement until the film’s climax, which is an unmitigated disaster with one bright spot. That spot is in the guise of Keith David, whose 70’s set interactions with Halle Berry provide Cloud Atlas with its rare moment of suspense.

Berry and Jim Broadbent probably fare best in the actor pool, with Berry almost making the absurd Jar-Jar Binks dialogue of her future story work. Paired with Tom Hanks in numerous story lines, she steps up her acting against the veteran. Unfortunately, Hanks steps down—waaaaay down—into the depths of Razzies territory. His acting is as bad as his hair in The Da Vinci Code, and when one of his characters is blown  up by a suitcase, I was happy Hanks was gone. Then I remembered that he was 7 other characters. Doona Bae from The Host seems to exist only to spout the film’s dreadful new-agey mythology, show her tits and play a Mexican who bashes one of Hugo Weaving’s characters' heads in with a pipe. There are also plotlines about slavery, homosexual composers and the world’s worst old folks home. Nothing works.

At 163 minutes, Cloud Atlas is a root canal of a movie, interminable and incredibly painful. I don’t know who directed what, and I really don’t care. I can assume that the Wachowskis directed the scene where Forrest Gump, now reimagined as a George Michael lookalike with the shittiest accent since the Lucky Charms leprechaun tosses a snooty critic off a building. The camera follows the critic down to the street, where he splatters in what passes for this film’s humor. This happens about 10 minutes into Cloud Atlas, earning its R rating. I felt envious of that guy. At least he didn’t have to sit through the other 153 minutes of this garbage. And I spent 593 words on this. Damn you, Cloud Atlas! Damn you to Hell!

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