My morning started off early with a pair of awards hopefuls at the lush and beautifully designed Princess Of Whales theater in downtown Toronto. With grand vaulted ceilings and two balcony levels, the place is like a church for cinema. Sadly, today, the venue had more artistry than the works being presented in it.
Lacking subtlety or depth, Tom Hooper’s (King’s Speech) listless The Danish Girl (6/10) is stunning to look at but rarely powerful to behold, technically accomplished yet also dramatically inert. With prominent dark blue shades and transitional shots inspired by landscape paintings, almost every frame is sumptuously lensed by director of photography Danny Cohen, yet rarely do any of these formal flourishes contribute to any impact beyond their superficial beauty. Hooper’s arty style rarely materializes into thoughtful storytelling.
Based on the fascinating life of Lili Elbe, a transgender woman who passed away in the early 20th century, Hooper adapts this story into Oscar-bait with a showy but mostly strong lead performance by last year’s Best Actor winner, Eddie Redmayne. Where the first two acts depict Elbe’s slow transition into adopting an externally female identity and the impact it has on her marriage and career as a painter, the final thirty minutes are plodding, preachy, but worse yet, cheesy and naïve. You could say the dramatic choices are on-the-nose only if you presume said nose sticks out as far as a pelican’s beak. Danish Girl is like a decorative painting you hang in your house, not one conceived by an artist and placed in a gallery. Both may require a level craft but the latter has ideas; it engages with deeper subtext.
Alicia Vikander may give another amazing performance this year as Elbe’s wife and the production design might gorgeously recreate the interiors of upper-class Copenhagen in the 1900s but The Danish Girl still remains an artless arty film with music, dialogue, and a lead performance from Eddie Redmayne that are playing more for awards than emotional impact.
After the drab Danish Girl press screening, which caused me to see more films than number of hours I’ve slept in the last couple of days, I was hoping to be exhilarated by a new Tom Hardy gangster flick about London’s infamous twin criminals Ronnie and Reggie Clay. Where Danish Girl’s final act succumbs to conventional award season pandering, Legend (4/10) is almost entirely emulating (or ripping off) Scorsese crime masterpieces like Goodfellas or Casino. Other than an inspired dual performance by Hardy as both twins, the film is surprisingly boring as it checks off all the usual clichés associated with this kind of rise and fall arc.
The Krays front as club owners to disguise their money laundering and smuggling just as Legend disguises its lack of entertainment value in a mirage of cinephilic references. A long tracking shot, like the famous sequence in Goodfellas, weaves through a night club as Ronnie, the more competent and intelligent of the two twins, shifts between violent upheavals against an incompetent lacky and gentle flirting with a date. Similar to Casino and many other gangster movies, Legend is framed by voiceover narration from Frances Shea (Emily Browning) who tells us the story about her marriage with Ronny.
It tries to emotionally ground the energetic tonal shifts in Frances’ story as the neglected and abused wife, but the film seems uninterested in character. She is a prop, a clichéd rich crime wife who can’t stop popping pills or purchasing luxurious goods. Frances is the Karen Hill from Goodfellas, the Ginger McKenna from Casino, and Legend is just another insipid and overlong entry in the genre. Although there are a few instances with some virtuoso camerawork, Legend is all outer shell. If it were a box of eggs at a store, you would take it back immediately.
The most rewarding moment of the day was when I discussed the festival with a friendly woman in a line up. We shared the same opinion on The Danish Girl, and so when she recommended that I see an obscure French film called Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (3/10), I took her advice. Going into a film completely blind at a festival can be rewarding but other times you just wish you were actually blind. Bang Gang, a film that is about exactly what you think it is, inspires the latter.
Allegedly based on a true story, according to the closing credits, Bang Gang centers on a group of lame teenagers who start having casual orgies. If this is in fact based on reality, I still strongly object to the condescending and ill-advised portrayal of modern teenagers. Painted as quintessential millennials who are in-touch with modern values, a group of friends get together during one summer day and suddenly begin playing an edgier variant of Spin The Bottle. An underground movement is spawned where hundreds of teenagers begin hedonistically joining this “game” and posting videos of it on a private site. I think you know how this goes: STIs, leaked videos etc..
Two thirds of this infuriating film are devoted to soft-core gratification. Regardless of how well Bang Gang is shot and scored, the fact remains that the camera moves like another voyeur or participant in the orgy. In its third act there is an attempt to justify the distastefully graphic sexual images of high-schoolers (presumably played by adults) by showing the consequences of their recklessness but it’s far too little and far too late. By having a large outbreak of syphilis and video leaks, there is a sense that such behavior isn’t acceptable but it’s far less observational than it thinks it is, merely a predictable conclusion to a film that is horrifying for all the wrong reasons.
The subtitle, A Modern Love Story, hints at a kind of cultural analysis that is flimsy at best. Moment to moment, as the entire situation escalates, it’s hard to swallow that such a large group of everyday suburban teenagers would be so naïve. Again, even if this did happen in reality, my problem is with how the teens are portrayed. They’re never given characters. There is never an attempt to find out what tragedy or environment caused such an intense shift in values. It’s merely an exercise in pornographic exploitation disguised as some comment about millennials.
At least the local Blue Jays, who might make the playoffs for the first time in over twenty years, are doing better than I am. That’s 0/3, folks – a strike out.
Tomorrow: Anomalisa, Maggie’s Plan, The Assassin