TIFF 2013 – Master of Puppets: Nimród Antal’s METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER

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Nimród Antal’s METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER is a lot of different things. It’s a concert film, presented in IMAX 3D. It’s a surreal, post-apocalyptic narrative starring the wonderful Dane DeHaan. It’s a weird, genre-bending hybrid film that strives to do something a little bit different. But more than anything else, it’s just one gigantic mess.

Several years ago, Toronto’s own Broken Social Scenes premiered a film at the Toronto International Film Festival under the name THIS MOVIE IS BROKEN. In a similar fashion to Metallica’s latest foray into cinema, it presented two seemingly-connected ideas: one, a concert film documenting the supergroup’s mid-garbage-strike, free-for-all, lakeside performance, and the other, a surreal fictional element of a few characters who were on their way to (then at, then leaving) the concert.

THROUGH THE NEVER does something similar, though it seems to have missed the memo about that earlier work. Whereas BROKEN put the narrative at the thematic forefront of the project, creating a stirring, compelling story about hedonism in youthfulness, NEVER takes the alternate approach: this is a movie about Metallica, and any experimental ideas that they may have initially wanted to put into the film get left by the wayside in favor of more concert footage. There is no balance between the two sides of the story, and every time you find yourself craving a return to the narrative, you’re treated to three or four more songs in a row (with a shot or two of DeHaan thrown in to remind you that he, you know, exists). In other words, the band (and possibly Natal, as well) consider the band more important than the project itself, and THROUGH THE NEVER suffers for it.

It’s hard to blame Natal for any of this, though. Finding himself in the middle of a self-funded project developed by the world’s leading metal act – after all, they do get story credits – cannot have been the easiest situation to be in. And it’s obvious that this is detrimental to the overall project. He brings a ton of kineticism and visual grandiose to the proceedings – the film looks absolutely beautiful, and he dresses his sets with visually arresting imagery – but wrestling the project away from the metal monsters and towards integrity may have been a bit out of his depth.

DeHaan, in particular, is entirely wasted. Though he brings a powerful and impressive presence to the screen, he never utters more than a word or two throughout the 90-minute runtime. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in another film, it could be a very daring and ambitious choice. But in reality, it just serves to underscore how half-baked the narrative elements of this film are. It’s not just that the “plot” is paper-thin and makes almost no sense – a film with this level of surreality is often better off dealing with narratives in the abstract – it’s that it’s treated as such an afterthought that you never get a chance to be absorbed by or even care about its inclusion in the film.

Which is the film’s biggest sin: the fact that you dread a return to the increasingly shallow and uninteresting narrative they occasionally cut to, as if the incredible concert you’re watching isn’t enough to keep your attention. The story is given such little weight in the runtime that it might as well not even exist. In fact, if this had been a straight concert film, it would have been a wildly superior film: the IMAX 3D visuals make it one of the most intimate and grand concerts ever committed to film, and the band performs at the top of their game. This might be one of those extremely memorable concert movies, if only they hadn’t “tacked on” the narrative.

But the real problem isn’t the narrative’s existence. Antal and the band should be commended for trying to do something a little bit different, and including it was a great idea  – in theory. Whether it was over-inflated egos or poor execution which resulted in cutting the narrative’s presence back to near-irrelevance is something we may never know, but once it became clear that everybody involved agreed that the band would be the focus of the film – rather than equal weight being given to both elements – they ought to have just cut their losses and made it a concert film.

Because the strength of the film is absolutely in the concert. Metallica may be entering their fourth decade of existence, but they’re still fabulous performers and musicians. Their playing is top-notch, their knack for spectacle is first-rate, and Antal commits the whole thing to film in a way that’s engrossing, awesome and, most importantly, a real treat for long-time fans. They ought to have either gone all-in on the performance element, or figured out a way to give the narrative element increased relevance in the feature.

Especially because DeHaan really is quite great. He’s one of our most promising young actors, and as a character who doesn’t get a single line in the entire film, he remains a stoic, engaging presence for every frame he is in. He gives the movie his all – it’s just a shame that the script doesn’t give him the same level of respect.

Still, when all is said and done, this is a pretty great showcase for Metallica, and fans are definitely going to find a lot to love here. The audio track and the visuals are unparalleled, and fans are likely going to be cheering their seats. Anybody looking for something more than that, however, should steer clear of the whole affair.

Better yet, they should rent THIS MOVIE IS BROKEN instead.

[D+]

d.a. garabedian

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TIFF 2013 – My Home’s Here at the Jersey Shore: Harvey Weinstein’s 12.12.12.

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Every year at the Toronto International Film Festival, I go looking for a certain kind of film. It’s not always there, and even when it is, it often tends to get lost amongst the shuffle of all of the usually more-high-profile selections. It’s the sort of film whose sole purpose is to express pure joy; pure, positive emotion. It’s the sort of film where the usual method of analysis and categorization are irrelevant, because the overwhelmingly positive vibe which it emits trumps all other sense of reason.

This year, 12.12.12. is that film.

The movie follows the exploits of three producers  – James Dolan, John Sykes and the ever-compelling Harvey Weinstein – in the aftermath of the devastation which Hurricane Sandy wreaked on America’s east coast last year. Through candid interviews – though, notably, never as talking heads – the documentary observes as a top force of Hollywood’s elite assembles one of the most impressive concert fundraisers of all time – in less than four weeks, to boot.

12.12.12. is not a documentary in the traditional sense. It has no official “director”, though a conversation with Weinstein after the film suggests that producer Meghan O’Hara may unofficially fill that role. In reality, it’s more of a showcase for the charitable spirit and good will that these filmmakers bestowed upon the devastated regions in the wake of a tragedy. It wouldn’t be surprising in the least if a fair number of people found the entire affair to be a bit self-congratulatory, a little self-serving, and more than a little pompous.

But it’s not. The filmmakers do everything in their power to properly contextualize the narrative, and it offers a great glimpse into what it was like around that time. Not only do we get pristine concert footage of some of the greatest living musical legends on the big screen, we get to see them behind-the-scenes at their most intimate, we get to see every detail (and hiccup) involved in making such a large-scale production work, and we get to see actors and celebrities from all walks of entertainment life come out to support the cause.

But much, much more importantly, we get a sense of the people. The film is filled with nearly as many shots of crowd members as band members, and we spend almost as much time amongst the heroes of the tragedy as we do with the performers. The filmmakers do a great job of splicing in footage, statistics and interviews with people who were directly affected by the storm: cell phone footage of a devastated boardwalk, news footage of cars floating down streets, casual conversations with nurses, firefighters, police officers and even local community leaders who helped control the chaos when things were looking their bleakest.

And it is this human element that makes the film such a success. The filmmakers know that a series of powerful, emotional and legendary performances was not enough for a film like this. East-coasters deserve better, and they get it. One of the most striking sequences in the film involves a handful of locals at a Brooklyn bait and tackle shop / bar, where they watch the concert on television. At one particular moment, a sanitation worker cheers loudly at the TV when Steve Buscemi congratulates his branch of civil workers. Cheers all around, some pats on the back, and his beaming face up at the TV. Nothing more is required.

The film boasts some terrific performances from some of the most popular musicians of all time: The Rolling Stones, Sir Paul McCartney, The Who, Billy Joel, Roger Waters, Eddie Vedder, Bon Jovi, Alicia Keys, Kanye West… The list goes on. But as the film opens on a shot of Bruce Springsteen’s face as he croons melancholically about being raised in the swamps of Jersey, you recognize that this is not just a big party for celebrities; it’s about the people, and about the places. And that makes it a very special concert film, indeed.

12.12.12. is alternately beautiful and awesome. The cinematography is wonderful, the concert and its behind-the-scenes access are unparalleled and its cause is indisputable. Maybe it is all a little bit self-absorbed, but if it is, it’s deservedly so: these producers did a great thing with this fundraiser, and though they could have chosen to make the film entirely about their own importance, they turn the cameras onto the people who really matter. And as an East-coaster myself, I truly appreciate that.

I hope that everybody in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and all of the places afflicted by the storm get a chance to see this film. It’s all for them.

8/10

d.a. garabedian

TIFF 2013 – Love is Stupid Monkeys: Michael Dowse’s THE F WORD

THE F WORD

Michael Dowse is on a roll. After knocking it out of the park with the viciously goodhearted GOON, the Canadian filmmaker returns to the Toronto International Film Festival with THE F WORD, a romantic comedy about the dreaded and much-debated “friend-zone”. Starring Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver and none other than the boy-wizard himself, Daniel Radcliffe, the film is one of those rare treats that manages to be the “good” installment in a genre which is rarely taken seriously.

Because, in the words of Radcliffe himself, the romantic comedy genre is one which is occasionally great, but rarely done right. And THE F WORD – which was written by Elan Mastai and based on the play Toothpaste and Cigars by Michael Rinaldi – gets it right.

Overflowing with sincerity, honesty and constant laughs, Dowse’s latest works on every level imaginable. Not only is it powerfully funny, it has the heart to back it up. It’s filled with sweet, very real-feeling moments which should be instantly identifiable to members of both sexes, as well as those on both sides of the “can men and women be friends?” argument. Notably, the film very, very wisely refuses to indulge either side of the argument: at times, both sides are right, and both sides are wrong. This isn’t the story of a boy trying to win the girl – this is the more nuanced story of both a boy and a girl who come together and the ramifications that their meeting has on their lives.

Nearly every step of the way, the film indulges then subverts elements of the genre, to powerful and realistic effect. It very consciously dictates the line between the truth of love in the real world and the fairy tale of love in the movies, then seeks to tread that line expertly. Yes, all of those cliché things that you imagine will happen in a romantic story are going to happen in this movie, but they happen because the characters are themselves aware of those clichés. The truth and result of those actions are never how we expect them to turn out, and the film uses that reality to create drama, comedy and, above all else, a real truth about the relationship between men and women.

It’s rare to find a film which so perfectly captures the moments that happen between two people who feel an instant connection. Each scene of the film is like a tiny time capsule, a memory, a moment frozen in time. Those vivid, powerful flashes that you remember for years: the sight of a tattoo the first time you see a person in a state of (semi-) undress, the flashing of the lights while dancing at a club, the way they materialize in your mind and dictate your decisions.

Though we initially see the story more from the side of Wallace (Radcliffe), the story quickly opens up to show us Chantry’s (Kazan) side of things. Both characters have agency, both are the victims of circumstance, and both of their situations are unique. Chantry’s boyfriend is not some jerk which Wallace must overcome and rescue her from – he’s an impressive, honest and extremely nice person who does not deserve to be hurt. There is no “winning” in THE F WORD. As Adam Driver’s Allan so eloquently explains, there are only five options: be sleazy, be conniving, be pathetic, be honest or move on. Any way you cut it, somebody gets hurt, and not only does the film not shy away from that fact, it openly embraces it as an inevitable outcome to any conclusion.

THE F WORD occupies that contemporary, comedic space where banter is king, and it surpasses many of its peers in that regard. While many have seen the relaxed editing style which Judd Apatow has introduced to the comedy community as something that has gotten out of hand, Dowse (along with his editor, Yvann Thibaudeau) knows better. At a perfect 99 minutes, the film never has a chance to overstay its welcome, and the long scenes of bickering and bantering are pitch perfect no matter who is on the court: Radcliffe and Driver, Radcliffe and Kazan, Mackenzie Davis and Driver, Megan Park and Radcliffe, Park and Kazan… You get the picture. If there is one single thing that this film does flawlessly correct, it is the casting. Every actor is unique, memorable, and given ample room to play and shine. Every line gets a laugh from every character, and that is a rare and special thing.

Ultimately, THE F WORD is one of the sweetest, funniest films of the year, and a showcase for all of the talent involved: Park and Davis both have great careers ahead of them, Kazan is well on her way to being a household name and Radcliffe proves that he can shake the Potter legacy and forge a path all his own – one with legitimate staying power. And Michael Dowse continues to impress, elevating himself from one of the best Canadian comedy directors to one of the best period.

8/10

d.a. garabedian