Monday, September 08, 2008

Day 3 of TIFF Reviews

My day 3 is TIFF's day 4, but I believe that if I'm not attending the festival for a day, it must obviously be put on hold across the board.

$5 a Day

Flynn (Alessandro Nivola) loses his job and his girlfriend. Then his father Nat (Christopher Walken) sends him a plane ticket to Atlantic City, with a message that he's dying. The thing is, Flynn hasn't wanted anything to do with his dad since Flynn took the fall for one of Nat's schemes and spent 11 months in jail.

Nat's been grifting his way through life, living on less than $5 a day. Naturally, Flynn shows up at his dad's place and gets talked into driving him to New Mexico for some new-age treatment for his inoperable, terminal, brain tumour.

They climb into Nat's pink Sweet N' Low ad-covered car (free use and gas for a year as long as he drives it 1000 miles a month) and head off on a circuitous route with a Chevron (free gas) and IHOP (free meal on your birthday, and every day is Nat's birthday) every 300 miles. Along the way, Nat tries to win back his girlfriend (Amanda Peet) by telling her the truth about his life over phone messages left via the free-trial cell phones dad has in the glove box.

It's a pretty standard father-and-son road movie, with one exception - Walken. Walked MAKES this movie, without him, it's absolutely nothing special and totally generic. Alessandor Nivola could have been any actor in this role (although discussing it later with my friend, Sam Rockwell would have been AWESOME there), Amanda Peet is generic disenfranchised girlfriend, etc.. Sharon Stone plays a great cougar though. But Walken? Great. Goofy, pathetic, scheming, heartfelt, and the perfect con man. Lucky for us, he's in just about every scene.

So it was a worthwhile film, even if I did have to get up at 7:30 on a Sunday to see it, all because of Walken. Which is good, since he's the reason I chose it.


What a kick to the heart. The kind of film that makes you want to go home, tell your wife you love her, call up your mom just to see how she's doing, and find any friend you've ever wronged and apologize for past transgressions.

John Malkovich is Kay, "messenger". A person who can tell when someone is going to die, and tries to prepare them for the inevitable. He brings loved ones back together, helps people face their fears and mortality, and does what he can to ease the transition. He's also a doctor in a palliative care unit.

Then there's Nathan, a very busy lawyer. One day, Kay comes into his office and tells him he should cut back on the sugar, because it's not helping his hypoglycemia. Kay is cryptic, angering Nathan, but then starts to show him some things he can't deny, and tells him who he is. Nathan refuses to accept his death, getting a full checkup and finding nothing wrong (other than a little hypoglycemia), and lashes out against Kay. More signs come though, and Nathan finally turns back to the doctor in desperation.

This movie starts with a shot to the gut, and then keeps laying them on whenever you start to relax again. Over half a dozen deaths can really bring down a mood.

But everyone is solid in this. Malkovich is Malkovich. It's not his most ranged performance, but he does it well. Romain Duris is good as Nathan, as is Evangeline Lily as his ex-wife. The direction is quite nice at times, and there are more than few times when the tension is high without any seeming effort from the director (ie.- Nathan walks a few feet away from his car, and you're convinced something bad is going to happen, but it's just a standard shot). When you have a cinematographer from the Wong Kar Wai world, you know it will be beautifully shot.

There were times when I scratched my head about why certain discussions were happening (can a 6 year-old really understand an existential discussion about death?), and motivations were sometimes foggy, but it all became acceptable by the end.

This isn't a happy movie, but in its way, it's a life-affirming one.

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