September 7, 2008

Festival Showcases Familiar Themes New Films Stay True to Winning Genres


Toronto -- The genre film is alive and well and living at the Toronto International Film Festival.

For reasons having to do with good things enduring -- or a shortage of fresh ideas -- filmmakers with films showing here have flocked to familiar forms like comfort food.

And while each adheres to aspects of their respective genres, none of them renews them beyond recognition.

Spike Lee's "Miracle of St. Anna" is a World War II picture from the rarely seen perspective of an all-black unit, with the romanticized camaraderie and frictions among the usual cast of battlefield stereotypes.

Pewaukee native and screenwriter David Koepp's comedy "Ghost Town" is his third film as a director, each of which has been a ghost story of a sort. In "Ghost Town," which opens nationwide Sept. 19, he uses or ignores supernatural rules of the road as needed.

"Appaloosa" -- directed by Ed Harris, who stars with Viggo Mortensen -- has the open skies and stoic characters of every Western ever made.

At a news conference Friday, Harris and Mortensen discussed the vast library of Hollywood Westerns they consulted in making their film.

"A lot of them I'd seen before but started to look at in a different way," Harris said. " 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,' 'High Noon,' 'The Ox-Bow Incident,' 'My Darling Clementine.' Some of Clint (Eastwood)'s stuff. 'The Wild Bunch.' (Directors Edward) Dmytryk, Howard Hawks, Anthony Mann. Just really immersed myself.

"Because one of my intentions . . . was not only to be authentic to the period, but to be authentic to the genre in terms of its classicism. I wasn't trying to modernize anything. Or make it exciting for anybody."

Mortensen, who wears the genre like a second skin, said most Westerns "are terrible."

"But the ones that are good are really good."

Among the latter, Mortensen cited Mann's "Man of the West," with Gary Cooper "when he's older," and "Missouri Breaks," with Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson.

And 2003's "Open Range," with Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner, which, like "Appaloosa,""has at the heart of it a relationship between two men."

And, like Harris and Mortensen's film, the violence and gun- fighting are "messy, direct and quick."

"It didn't glamorize the violence. It was, 'This is what happens. We'll either live or we won't. And you don't always hit someone when you shoot.' "

As a director, Mortensen said, Harris "was trying to respect the genre. You do see the great landscapes, the design of the clothes and the design of the town. Then the trick was for him to put it all together in the editing room so that it wasn't a slow-paced movie. . . .

"Because it does have a lot of dramatic tension as you go along. But somehow, he also kept that leisurely pace that harkens back to those great old movies."

Keep up with the latest in movies -- and the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs through Sept. 14 -- on Duane Dudek's blog, Dudek on Film:

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