The most surprising thing about "The Martian" is how relaxed and funny it is.
TORONTO--At the end of the 27th Toronto Film Festival, six films in six paragraphs, alphabetically:
"Antwone Fisher," directed by Denzel Washington, tells the true story of a fight-prone young Navy sailor who is guided by a psychiatrist into understanding his past. Newcomer Derek Luke is powerful and assured in the title role, Washington is calm and insistent as the shrink, and the ending had audiences tearful. The story behind the film is astonishing: Fisher was a security guard at Sony when he showed his autobiographical screenplay to producers; Luke was working in the store on the lot when Washington cast him from among hundreds of auditions. Fisher's success as a writer has continued with a best-selling book and a $1 million screenplay sale. There could be a sequel to this film, although it's unlikely the ending could have such an uplift and impact.
"Femme Fatale" is Brian de Palma's high-style new thriller, a deceptive labyrinth that also sinks through lies and deceptions to get to the truth of the story. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is a sexy member of a theft ring who daringly seduces a diamond costume off the model wearing it, before a screening at the Cannes Film Festival. Antonio Banderas is the photographer drawn into her web, in a film of relentless sex, spectacular sequences without dialogue, plots within plots, and payoffs after payoffs. De Palma is in form.
"The Man on the Train" is the latest by Patrice Leconte, whose films are an elegant mixture of sadness and wit. Remember "Monsieur Hire," "The Hairdresser's Husband," "Ridicule," "Girl on the Bridge" and "The Widow of St. Pierre." Here he tells of an unlikely friendship between a leather-clad bank robber (Johnny Hallyday) and an elegant patrician (Jean Rochefort). Both sense they are at the end of their lives, each rather envies the life of the other, and Leconte avoids all temptations toward the mawkish in telling a story of wisdom, age and acceptance. Hallyday has been a legendary French pop star for 40 years; casting him opposite Rochefort is the equivalent of pairing Johnny Cash and Tony Randall.
"Moonlight Mile," written and directed by Brad Silberling, is another film that had the audience weeping, but it's more an astringent social comedy than a tear-jerker and has Oscar-caliber performances by Jake Gyllenhaal, as a young man whose fiancee has been killed, and Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon as her parents. The film is wise and unsentimental about the grieving process, and touching in the way both parents try in different ways to connect with the young man. Newcomer Ellen Pompeo radiantly co-stars as a local woman who feels for the young man but has issues of her own. Silberling's story is somewhat autobiographical; his direction refuses to fall into comforting patterns of cliches but always sees the characters sharply, with sympathy but also with amusement.
"Phone Booth," by Joel Schumacher, centers on Colin Ferrell, who was discovered in Schumacher's "Tigerland" at Toronto two years ago and has since become a star; Steven Spielberg used him in "Minority Report." Here he plays a hustling Broadway press agent who picks up the receiver in a pay booth and finds himself talking to a psychopath with a rifle. Forest Whitaker is the police captain who takes command of the situation and somehow has to communicate without words to the man in the booth, and the vocal talent of Kiefer Sutherland is hard-edged and menacing.
"Punch-Drunk Love," written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is notable for being the first Adam Sandler film I've admired, although "Little Nicky" came close. You'd think Sandler ("Big Daddy") and Anderson ("Magnolia") would be an unlikely match, but Anderson essentially deconstructs the Sandler screen persona, revealing the madness and anger that seem to lurk just below the surface. The comedian stars as a strange, mannered auto shop owner, bullied by seven sisters, who falls in love with Emily Watson and manages to charm her despite his peculiarities, in a plot involving phone-sex crooks in Utah and an unexpected beach idyll in Hawaii. Unsettling, how his sweetness and his violent outbursts coexist beneath the passive-aggressive facade.
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