Toronto: Rolling with a new Bad Lieutenant, plus some final thoughts

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If the eyes are the windows to the soul, does that mean Nicolas Cage has a pair of bay windows? Here he is, bugging out in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Werner Herzog's antisequel that's way too histrionic not to enjoy immensely. I'm suspicious of anyone who takes the movie all that seriously. Abel Ferrara wrung nervous laughs from his viewers in 1992, while Herzog elicits campy, silly giggles. Despite some post-Katrina nods, he works largely in a nonrealistic vein. (Perhaps you've heard about the iguanas. If not, I'll leave you with the pleasant surprise.) And still, the film somehow connects—think Wicker Man—so who cares if its director, so rigorous as a documentarian, seems wildly out of control when handed a script? There has to be room for fun, and such movies often get short shrift in festival write-ups. Let's rectify that.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Toronto Film Festival

Toronto, increasingly warm to cult films in the making (this year also saw a berth for Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void), spans high and low better than any other festival. It doesn't have a celeb-packed jury bestowing awards like at Cannes or Venice, but there are a handful of audience picks, tabulated by public balloting at screenings. Yesterday, it was announced that the Sundance fave Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire won a nod, as did feel-good lesbifolk doc The Topp Twins. Still, the best place to get the tenor of the fest's dorky enthusiasm is at the midnight screenings, almost always sold out and packed with viewers ready to laugh at silliness. The Blair Witch--like Spanish horror sequel [Rec] 2—the first entry got remade in Hollywood as Quarantine—triggered constant shrieks followed by long, lusty stretches of applause as possessed demons erupted from dark hallways and even the ceiling (a brilliant gag worthy of Sam Raimi). Thailand's fearless Tony Jaa returned with Ong Bak 2, which features stunningly dangerous scenes of the martial artist running over the backs of stampeding elephants. Every bone crunch and leg twist drew a spasm from the crowd, even if the movie ultimately feels too tricked up for its own good.

"You read my blog?" asks a stupefied Japanese salaryman of his inflatable sex toy (not your typical exchange) in Air Doll—a line of dialogue that killed. This otherwise somber fairy-tale romance from Hirozaku Kore-eda, the master behind the recently released Still Walking, strains for significance in the same way that Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence did, as if to convince us that our toys are people too. They're not, however, and the metaphor is a clumsy, unworkable one; abundant nudity and little-girl cute outfits distract as well. (The doll comes to blinking life in the form of the physically blessed Bae Du-na.) It was almost a certainty from the second reel that Air Doll would one day attract a following of rabid fans. Please keep these people away from my toys.

As ever, Toronto offered an embarrassment of riches, and if this year's edition didn't seem to yield an immediate stunner like The Hurt Locker or I'm Not There, many of the highlights could easily grow in stature, especially the Coens' A Serious Man. Perhaps we critics were too busy laughing—not a bad way to spend ten days.


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