Toronto Film Fest, Day 2: Reviews of Rendition and Alexandra

Toronto coverage continues with globally minded flicks.

I mentioned yesterday I was expecting to post a Juno review, but I was also expecting for something at some point to go wrong. What went right: I saw Juno. What went wrong: I was rather underwhelmed. But don't take that as ill omen; I'm apparently a bad judge at these indie coming-of-age comedies. I thought Eagle vs Shark was going to set the world on fire, while the Certified Fresh Rocket Science didn't elevate me.

However, the people I saw Juno with are head over heels for it (and the festival crowd, who mostly refuse to register emotions, cheered and applauded with reckless abandon), including RT editor Jen Yamato who has also graciously volunteered to later review the movie. I will say this: Kimya Dawson, Cat Power, Kinks, and two (!) songs from Belle & Sebastian? Killer soundtrack, man.

In the meanwhile, I caught some screenings for Rendition and Alexandra.

Rendition is generating buzz as a groundbreaking Toronto film, showing waterboarding and electric torture in full detail. But call me desensitized: that stuff didn't nearly shock as much as, say, the ball-busting scene in Casino Royale. Director Gavin Hood was recently announced to helm Wolverine, and it's easy to see why: after nabbing the foreign film Oscar for Tsotsi, Hood gives in to his Hollywood impulses completely for Rendition, a polished-to-a-shine thriller in the vein of Babel. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Peter Sarsgaard (I wanted those two to have a poker face-off, but, alas, they never meet), Rendition follows half a dozen storylines across two continents, each peripherally revolving around one's man secret detainment and torture in South Africa. Each actor gets their moment to shine and clever editing creates an intriguing late-game plot twist, but it's a relatively simple movie whose message isn't anything you haven't already read in a New York Times op-ed.

You know how Nick Drake songs are so depressing they sort of cheer you up? Alexandra is so awful that I was floating out of the theater, congratulating myself for having made it all the way through. Playing less like a foreign film and more like a spoof of a foreign film in an episode of Seinfeld, Alexandra follows the cranky titular character as she visits her grandson at an army base whilst complaining to the camera for 90 straight minutes. Extreme close-ups, washed out cinematography, pointless shots of nature -- director Alexander Sokurov leaves no principle of obnoxious art cinema unemployed. Shockingly, this is the same Sokurov who created 2002's Russian Ark, the hypnotic historical drama famously shot in only one take. Here, Sokurov films like he's painting a bedroom wall: patient, even scenes of absolutely nothing interesting at all.

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