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Toronto Day 10: Mopping Up

Posted by Ty Burr  September 14, 2013 04:37 PM

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lovepunch.jpgToronto odds and ends, some of them gratifyingly odd and some that just make me glad the festival is ending:

"Fat" -- From Boston-bred comedian/debut filmmaker Mark Phinney comes a low-budget, Boston-filmed labor of love that does exactly what it sets out to do: Provide a sympathetic but brutally honest portrayal of what it's like to love food more than life. Having dealt with his struggles with obesity in essays and onstage, Phinney fictionalizes them as the story of Ken (an excellent Melvin Rodriguez), a smart, sensitive guy from Arlington who, in the wake of his girlfriend leaving him, just can't stop eating. "Fat" has its humorous moments but it is relentless in the details -- the indignities of getting dressed in the morning, the constant fast-food drive-throughs, the diabetes -- and relentless as well in showing what a slippery slope self-loathing can become. And props to Phinney for making a Boston-set film that doesn't oversell its Boston-ness: There are a lot of good local bands on the soundtrack but only one accent to be heard (it belongs to Ken's jackass office co-worker) and the locations will have meaning only to those who've been there: Arlington's Regent Theatre, TT the Bear's Place, various stoops and storefronts. Visually, geographically, and emotionally, it's a movie that knows its turf. No distributor yet, to my knowledge, but I'm sure "Fat" will be playing in the Boston area at some point -- keep an eye on the film's website for details -- and it deserves to be seen everywhere else.

"Midway" -- I went to this screening because I'm a closet birder (if it's good enough for E., it's good enough for me) and because the idea of getting a close-up look at the Laysan Albatross in its breeding grounds on one of the most remote spots on Earth -- the Pacific island of the title -- rang my geek bell. Also, the idea of a collaboration between photographer Chris Jordan and "March of the Penguins" editor Sabine Emiliani sounded inspired, especially given Jordan's work documenting the effects of human consumption and waste. But while "Midway" is staggeringly beautiful as both a visual portrait of a majestic animal and testimony to our propensity to leave ruinous crap behind us wherever we go, the film's hyper-lyrical narrative track -- ostensibly the "voice" of the island itself -- actively cripples the experience. If Terrence Malick made a National Geographic animal doc, we might get something like this: Hushed, whispered pensees like "the seabirds mate for life, their love a promise to the future, to each other..." Meanwhile, the dire ecological point -- that 40 percent of albatross chicks on Midway die each year from ingesting plastic trash -- is obliquely visualized but never stated. (You'll get a more direct sense of what's going on here or here.) "Midway" has a bad case of poetry -- up to and including repeated appearances by the White Tern of Death -- when prose would have served the audience better. The movie's certainly worth seeing, but only with the sound turned off.

"The Love Punch" -- One that Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan should and probably will leave off their resumes: An inane bit of slapstick about a divorced British couple who team up to steal a diamond from the evil young businessman who stole the husband's company. It's larks all around as Pierce and Emma drive a car down stone steps, crawl along a building ledge and -- along with friends Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie -- disguise themselves as Texans to break into a wedding in the South of France (yes, that's them in the photo above). The older audiences that turned out in droves for "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" might enjoy this hoary farce, blandly directed by Joel Hopkins ("Last Chance Harvey"), and at least the cast seems to be having a good time. But they got a vacation in the South of France. And all we got was this lousy T-shirt.

"Palo Alto" -- A strong first outing for director Gia Coppola, the first representative of her family's third generation to make a movie (Francis Ford is her grandfather; her father, Gian-Carlo, died in a boat crash before she was born). Adapting celebrity-polymath James Franco's 2010 short-story cycle of the same name, Coppola delivers a movie that stays well within the troubled-modern-youth genre as it has been circumscribed by everything from "Kids" to Aunt Sofia's own "The Bling Ring". But the sympathy she extends to her characters feels fresh, and "Palo Alto" captures the lush, bruised vibe of growing up in a place that only looks like Paradise. Good work by Emma Roberts as a high school kid trying to stay good (if that even means anything here), from Nat Wolff as the requisite psycho best friend, and, in the main role, newcomer Jack Kilmer, who looks like a lost blond version of his father Val. The latter turns up as Roberts' dope-smoking stepfather, and we're also treated to appearances by Chris Messina as Wolff's ambiguously gay dad, Don "Father Guido Sarducci" Novello as a hippie art teacher, and Franco himself as Mr. B, a predatory girls' soccer coach. (Look fast, too, for a glimpse of great-aunt Talia Shire as a college counselor.) "Palo Alto" is almost eerily good at defining the great divide between the way teenagers experience the world and the way their parents do, but it does leave me wondering (as many movies in this genre do): If all the kids are damaged angels and all the adults are monsters, where and when and how does one become the other? Maybe someone should make a movie about that.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

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