Movie Talk

Indie Roundup TIFF: Bill Murray depicts a swinging FDR in ‘Hyde Park’ Plus DePalma’s ‘Passion’ and Doc ‘Room 237′

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(Photo: Focus Features)

Toronto International Film Festival, Day-Three Screenings:

From a probable future Oscar nominee to a definite future Razzie nominee, here are highlights from day three at TIFF.

"Hyde Park on the Hudson" —  This biopic has, at first blush, all the hallmarks of a prestige Oscar movie. It stars a beloved veteran actor -- Bill Murray -- playing an even more beloved American legend -- FDR. It's set on Roosevelt's estate in upstate New York, giving the film shades of "Downton Abbey". And it features the same stuttering monarch from Best Picture winner "The King's Speech." Yet beneath all that decorousness and good taste, there's something very perverse about the movie.

[Full Coverage: Yahoo! Movies at the Toronto International Film Festival]

The film opens with Daisy (Laura Linney), a distant relative to the president Roosevelt, getting a call from FDR's mother saying that he needs someone to take his mind off the nation's troubles while he's home from Washington. She arrives in FDR's study looking nervous and insecure but Roosevelt's boundless charm wins her over. Soon she's looking at his stamp collection, going along on meandering drives with him, and eventually, helping him polish the ol' presidential seal, as it were.

As it turns out, FDR was probably our first bohemian president. He had a number of lovers orbiting around him, including his secretary Missy (Elizabeth Marvel), while his wife Eleanor lived in a separate house with a similar number of female admirers, many of whom apparently like to make furniture. Daisy quickly falls in with the Roosevelt household, entertaining the president whenever he's not in Washington.

The story then shifts to King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth venturing to Hyde Park essentially with hat in hand, hoping that America can save Britain from Hitler's growing threat. The young King George arrives in FDR's study looking every bit as nervous and needy as Daisy earlier. While this movie is entertaining and engaging, you're left wondering what in the end is this flick really about. After all, the dramatic tension of "Hyde Park" boils down to whether or not FDR can charm the King of England into eating a hotdog. What's up with that?

Watch 'Hyde Park on Hudson' Theatrical Trailer

[Related: TIFF 2012: 'Cloud Atlas' is too ambitious for its own good]

"Passion" — Brian DePalma has made a career of matching virtuoso filmmaking with an all-consuming obsession to outdo Alfred Hitchcock. Where Hitchcock made do with only one shower scene in "Psycho," DePalma's "Dressed To Kill" had three. When he's on, DePalma can deliver a movie as stylish and entertainingly trashy as "Snake Eyes."  When he's not, you can get an overwrought mess like "Raising Caine." DePalma's latest movie, "Passion," is squarely in the latter category. The movie takes place in a gleaming ultra-modern office in Berlin that crackles with Sapphic sexual tension. Christine (Rachel McAdams) is a sociopathically manipulative, blonde, beauty who flatters, flirts and cajoles her shy-yet-ambitious underling Isabelle (Noomi Rapace). The film opens with them laughing like schoolgirls on Christine's expensive-looking couch. But when Isabelle comes up with a cracker jack of a business idea, Christine takes credit for it. Their relationship quickly sours; soon Christine is setting her underling up for humiliation and blackmail while Isabelle in turn plots bloody revenge. If the plot sounds familiar, it's because this is a remake of the 2010 French thriller, "Love Crimes," starring Kristen Scott Thomas. DePalma uses and reworks the story basically as a means to present his own hoary cinematic ticks -- murderous blondes, unhinged lesbians, canted angles and, of course, his trademark split screen. Defenders will say that the ridiculousness of the plot, the woodenness of the acting and the repeated shots of cameras and monitors all serve to expose the artifice of filmmaking. Whatever.  It's immaterial whether or not DePalma intentionally made a crappy movie. It's still a crappy movie.

[Related: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck reunite at TIFF for 'Argo']

"Room 237" — Stanley Kubrick's classic "The Shining" upon the first viewing is completely terrifying, filled with images that simply brand themselves on the brain: That cascade of blood from the elevator. Those creepy twins. Yet upon a third, fourth and fifth viewing, the movie starts to become really strange. What's the deal with that dude in the penguin suit at the end of the film? And why is Jack Nicholson reading a Playgirl magazine when he's waiting in the lobby? Rodney Ascher's entertaining documentary, "Room No. 237" talks to a series of people who give divergent interpretations of the movie. Is the film a metaphor for America's genocide of Native Americans? Is it about the Holocaust? Is the movie really a coded message that Kubrick in fact shot a fabricated landing on the moon? Some of interviewee's arguments are persuasive — there are a lot of references to Native Americans in "The Shining" — while others are just kind of silly. At the center of the movie, of course, is the almost Mephistophelian figure of Stanley Kubrick who was as famously secretive as he was controlling. Given that he micro-managed every element of the movie, from the font on the opening credits to the design of the poster, it's entirely possible that he did weave a dense web of semiotic meanings that could incorporate some or all of these interpretations. "237" is at its most fun when it points out things that you might not have noticed about the movie, like the completely impossible geography of the Overlook Hotel, the strange continuity errors, or little Danny's "Apollo 11" sweater. Whether or not you completely buy what the interviewees are saying, it will make you want to dust off your "Shining" DVD and give it another watch.

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