Toronto Film Fest: ?SPL,? ?Dave Chapelle?s Block Party,? ?Revolver,? and ?Manderlay?

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This last batch of films ends my coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival. They're films of various qualities, starting with "SPL," the Hong Kong actioner that I'm most excited about.

SPL (aka Sha Po Lang)
My main reason for attending the Toronto International Film Festival this year was to watch three Hong Kong movies that will probably not get a theatrical release here in the States ? ?The Myth,? ?Seven Swords,? and ?SPL.? Of the three, the cop thriller ?SPL? is the most satisfying. Fans of mid-80?s and early 90?s Hong Kong cinema will love this film. It looks slick and gritty, with lots of high contrast shots. Director Wilson Yip also makes great and sparing use of the comic book-style editing unsuccessfully used by Ang Lee in ?The Hulk.? Since Yip?s a fan of John Woo, there are a decent number of slow-motion shots of our heroes looking heroic, but they don?t call excessive attention to themselves. Perhaps his best editing achievement in the film is not over-editing the fight scenes, instead utilizing a healthy dosage of wides shots and long takes. During the two climactic battles at the end, Yip allowed three amazingly talented martial artists - Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, and four-time Beijing Wushu champion Wu Jing - to go free-style on each other. The film features great sound editing and a ?Kill Bill? influenced soundtrack. Acting-wise, there?s a little too much shouting and finger pointing, but it?s competent overall. The story features characters, both good and bad, in shades of grey. There?s not much difference between cops and mobsters; both will break the law to get the job done. What?s more important is that the story is simple enough that it doesn?t interfere with the action. ?SPL? was received enthusiastically at the screening I attended. I think an outfit like Rogue Features could do well with this picture, seeing how the Jet Li vehicle ?Unleashed? is their biggest money maker so far.

Dave Chappelle?s Block Party
Those looking to see something new from Dave Chappelle after he ditched his cable show can look forward to this docu-concert-sketch film. Shot by Michel Gondry (?Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?), the film documents a concert party Chappelle put together in a mystery location in Brooklyn to celebrate the $50M contract renewal for his show with Comedy Central. The concert features acts by some of music?s hippest performers - Kanye West, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Dead Prez, Jill Scott, The Roots, and the reunited Fugees. Chappelle is brutally funny when the camera is on him in between those acts.

Guy Ritchie?s latest, starring Jason Statham and Ray Liotta, is a crime thriller about criminals conning each other set in a place with a bunch of casinos. The cat-and-mouse game that Statham and Liotta play with each other is engaging, but all of this is ruined by a twist ending that we?ve seen done several times already in recent years. The four critics in our database who reviewed it so far thought it?s pretentious and incoherent.

This is Lars Von Trier?s sequel to ?Dogville? with Bryce Dallas Howard (?The Village?) taking over Nicole Kidman?s role. I couldn?t get past it?s gimmicky minimalist technique. It felt like watching a staged production, except it?s not live. It?s also not cinematic. At 50% on the Tomatometer so far, critics who can get past the "Dogville" technique don?t think it has anything new to say about slavery and race.

Films I Wanted to See, But Couldn't
- Brokeback Mountain (Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger Directed by Ang Lee)
- Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Directed by "Oldboy"'s Chan Wook Park)
- Mrs. Henderson Presents (Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins Directed by Stephen Frears)
- No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (Directed by Martin Scorsese)
- Breakfast on Pluto (Directed by Neil Jordan)
- Where the Truth Lies (Colin Firth, Kevin Bacon Directed by Atom Egoyan)
- Romance and Cigarettes (James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet Directed by John Turturro)
- Thank You for Smoking (Aaron Eckhart)

Other Toronto International Film Festival Articles:
? Toronto Film Fest: "A History of Violence," "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," "Elizabethtown," "The Matador"
? Toronto Film Fest: Soderberg's "Bublle," "Capote" with Philip Seymore Hoffman
? Toronto Film Fest: Tsui Hark?s ?Seven Swords? starring Donnie Yen
? Toronto Film Fest: World Premiere of "The Myth" starring Jackie Chan
? Toronto Film Fest: Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride" starring Johnny Depp
? Toronto Film Fest: "Flightplan" with Jodie Foster and "Shopgirl" with Steve Martin
? Toronto Film Fest: "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit"