Saturday, September 11, 2010

TIFF Review: "Passion Play"

Friday night at the Toronto International Film Festival saw the world premiere of Passion Play; the directorial debut of Mitch Glazer (writer of Scrooged) starring Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray, Megan Fox and Glazer's wife, Kelly Lynch. The red carpet featured all of the above at the Ryerson Theatre. I'm reviewing all the movies I see at this year's TIFF under the moniker of Loved / Liked / Lacked. I'll post pictures, discuss the scene at the showing, and then share what I loved about the film in question, what I liked about it, or what I thought it lacked.

Photos from the premiere
  • Click here to see what was happening outside and inside the theatre.
  • Scroll down to the bottom of this post to watch the trailer.
  • Follow me on Twitter @blake_bell for more TIFF quick hits.
The scene at the premiere
  • You wouldn't think it by looking at it but the Ryerson Theatre lends well to intimacy on the red carpet.
  • Executive Producer Rebecca Wang arrived first, followed by Glazer, then Rourke, then Murray, then Fox.
  • Murray apparently has more balls than men twice his size, coming up from behind Rourke and rubbing his head profusely til Rourke caught on.
  • The cast was introduced on stage before the movie but, like seemingly all of Rourke's pictures, he vacated the theatre. He still doesn't like to watch himself on the big screen.
  • The crowd reacted well to the movie throughout at the end. As much love as there was for Mickey Rourke in the theatre, people really love Bill Murray. Not too many more likable gentlemen in the history of the medium.
  • Glazer came up on stage at the end for a Q&A, relating how he and Rourke went to high school together and that it was Glazer's mother who showed them their first films; "A Place In The Sun" with Montgomery Cliff making a huge impression on Rourke.
  • The screenplay was written 20 years ago and is almost now as it was then.
  • Spoke to Kelly Lynch afterwards about one of my favourite roles of hers: Connie the Dyke from the 1993 movie Three of Hearts (which Glazer wrote). She had met Glazer during her Drugstore Cowboy era and told me that Glazer was the "secret director" of Three of Hearts because the original director had a nervous breakdown and Glazer had to step in.
The Review (spoilers)
  • Passion Play features Rourke as a down-on-his-luck trumpeter who is dragged into the desert to receive his just desserts for unknowingly sleeping with gangster Bill Murray's wife. Not much of a spoiler to say he escapes his death sentence, and wanders the desert until he comes across a freak-show circus that has Megan Fox as a "bird woman" but those wings are real. A love triangle ensues between Rourke, Fox, and Murray.
I Loved:
  • Glazer's balls. Slap wings on your lead actress and then cast Megan Fox as an angel, putting her up against Mickey Rourke and Bill Murray? Few people in North America are likely to pay money en masse to see a modern day fairy tale.
  • Mickey Rourke's performance. Rourke can infuse any line with whatever the moment requires, and there were numerous scenes where he made the most of the material. It's rare to see him play a character who takes joy out of the little things in his life, and I think Rourke smiled genuinely more times in this movie then in all his combined.
  • Bill Murray's performance. Much like Rourke, Murray is living large in the second phase of his career and every role he touches, he turns to gold. His physical appearance alone in this movie took the audience back for a moment but they loved it immediately. He's always been so a great ad-libber that you think he's creating the dialogue as he goes along, the character comes so natural to him.
  • Glazer's ability to shatter the fairy tale veneer. Numerous times in the movie the audience was jolted back to the reality that there were darker elements to this fairy tale.
I Liked:
  • The fact that there were two or three times when I thought the movie was going to end and it didn't.
  • The writing for Murray's character. You don't leave an actor like Murray with one note, and Glazer gave a little more depth to Murray's gangster than he could have settled for, but it was required to make the story go.
  • Glazer's concept that, in the last moment of your life, your mind can't handle the enormity of what's occurring, so your mind crafts its own ending. The "big reveal" at the end worked.
It Lacked:
  • Stronger dialogue. It had moments from Murray and Rourke but overall, it needed to be taken to another level. Fox's scene when she first opens her trailer to Rourke is an example. If you're going to pull off a character-driven love story, you'd best have those characters' dialogue rise above that which simply moves the plot forward, as it did here a few too many times.
  • More reason to believe these characters would actually fall in love beyond initial fascination. The greatest challenge of any love story is to create belief that two characters could fall in love with each other in a relatively short span of time. A writer has to craft specific events and made them unique and believable within the context of the characters to convince the viewer that there's a reason for the characters' connection. More efforts needed to be invested in this regard. The writing for Murray had more of this than did Rourke's, although Rourke played the scene extremely well when he came to Murray's house to retrieve Fox, as he did when they all happen to meet at the Museum benefit. Still, this is all after the fact; after those important initial moments that set the foundation.
  • A stronger female lead. It was going to be easy to take shots at Megan Fox in a dramatic role. And I do emphasize the word "stronger" because she wasn't horrible by any stretch, but if you're going to make me believe Mickey Rourke and Bill Murray would fall in love with your character, and that you are going to effectively convey that love back, you need more tools in your kit than Fox has at this moment in her career. You can't just look sad or mournful, it has to radiate right out of your eyes, and with every facial expression or change in your voice's tone. Fox certainly has the look down for an angel, but it's that frozen-face beauty that also limits her. If she's ever going to be taken seriously as an actor, she needs to work harder behind the scenes to get beyond what she's exhibiting so far in her career. I'm not suggesting that Helen Mirren would have been the replacement, but I worry that Glazer fell in love with that look of Fox as the angel and was not as focused on what she could do.
  • Enough Kelly Lynch. I suspect you may have had more of a story if Kelly Lynch had been tied to Rourke's character more throughout, that some kind of longing for him was presented in her (at least an awakening of this in the face of an angel from heaven making her realize what she would lose), and that she'd have to battle that within as Rourke grew closer to Fox. Plus Rourke may have had more to work off of if Lynch had been present on more of his journey.
Final Analysis: B- (or 3 stars out of 5)
  • Enjoyable, a strong concept, but didn't get to the top of the mountain for the reasons mentioned above, all of which land at Glazer's feet. Surprisingly, he showed more acumen than you'd expected from a first time director than he did as a writer on this particular project. Perhaps he was a bit to close to the material to see that mountain top.
  • A jaded North American audience will likely have three concerns: they won't buy Fox as an angel; they're likely to take pot shots at the CGI effects in the final sequence; and they're just not whimsical enough in nature to be sold on a gritty modern day fairy tale.
  • From a non-financial perspective, credit, though, goes to Glazer and the cast for committing to such a film. More films that make attempts like this with well-known casts are needed to diversify an entertainment landscape dominated by Megan Fox's other projects.

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