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    Deborah Harry and JJ Feild in The Moab Story, part one of The Tulse Luper Suitcases. in Toronto Film Festival, Day 2
    Deborah Harry and JJ Feild in "The Moab Story," part one of "The Tulse Luper Suitcases."

    Toronto, Day 2

    A pair of gorgeously clinical works from Peter Greenaway are balanced by a music groupie-mentary from L.A. and a knockout martial-arts picture from Thailand.


    Friday, September 5:

    Includes individual films: "The Tulse Luper Suitcases: The Moab Story" by Peter Greenaway; "The Tulse Luper Suitcases: Antwerp" by Peter Greenaway; "Mayor of the Sunset Strip" by George Hickenlooper; "Ong-bak Muay Thai Warrior" by Prachya Pinkaew; "Matchstick Men" by Ridley Scott.
    Toronto International Film Festival, Toronto, Ontario, Sept. 4-13, 2003.

    Related links: Official site | "Tulse Luper Suitcases" | "Mayor of the Sunset Strip" | "Matchstick Men"

      Festival: Toronto Film Festival, Day 1
    Our correspondent at the Toronto International Film Festival unearths promising new work from Germany and Korea.

      Festival: Toronto Film Festival, Day 3
    Another beautiful film from Korea, Kim Ki-duk's "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter .. and Spring," shares a bill with Errol Morris's timely examination of the Vietnam War and the latest from actress of the moment Scarlett Johansson.

      Festival: Toronto Film Festival, Day 4
    Substantial female roles for adult actresses are among the highlights at the festival, including Cate Blanchett in "Veronica Guerin" and Anne Reid in "The Mother."

      Festival: Toronto Film Festival, Days 5&6
    A documentary that uses the movies to trace the architectural history of Los Angeles is a highlight among the out-of-the-way offerings at the Toronto Film Festival.

    Peter Greenaway cultists are to be commended for their loyalty. His films require unflagging concentration to absorb and process the staggering volume of multi-layered images, texts and tracks. This year the 28th Toronto International Film Festival is showcasing two sections of his ambitious multimedia epic "The Tulse Luper Suitcases," and I caught both in one day.

    "Part I: The Moab Story" introduces the eponymous hero, a young man of such radiant beauty he will later, in the deserts of Mormon Utah, be mistaken for the Angel Moroni. The opening title sequence establishes the deliberately theatrical elements, as credits appear over actors' auditions for parts in the large cast. The character names sound Dickensian, a suggestion that the film aims for the scope of "Nicholas Nickleby" or "Bleak House," novels initially published as serials (just as these films will be released sequentially).

    Art and artifice are familiar Greenaway preoccupations — indeed the formal visual aspects of his work are more memorable than the dialogue, which ranges from the kitschy to the rhetorical. His compositions resemble tableaux, and his figure poses and groupings evoke paintings by Renaissance masters. But with "The Tulse Luper Suitcases" his camera is more dynamic. Computer-generated panels overlay key shots to highlight actors and emphasize developments, as in the scene where a company of Belgian Fascists gather onstage to discuss Beckett and Kafka, thus signaling the influence of these two writers on the story ahead.

    Rodney Bingenheimer and entourage in Mayor of the Sunset Strip. in Toronto Film Festival, Day 2  
    Rodney Bingenheimer and entourage in "Mayor of the Sunset Strip."
    Linear narrative, such as it is, competes with a dizzying barrage of numbered objects, the 92 that represent the world. The broadly sketched plot is advanced — or derailed — by the frequent title cards announcing the contents of the suitcases owned by Luper (JJ Feild). The character has appeared in previous Greenaway films; here he is a self-proclaimed clerk, avid collector, traveler, writer, and occasional spy. Most of the film he spends as a captive, during which he is stripped, debased, seduced or menaced, depending on his jailers' whims.

    "Part 1: The Moab Story" follows Luper from his childhood in Wales up until the onset of World War II, where he is imprisoned in Belgium. "Episode 3: Antwerp" repeats roughly the last forty minutes of "The Moab Story" before continuing to the next cliffhanger. The cinematography by Reinier van Brummelen is extraordinary, the primary reason to seek out these films. As in previous Greenaway works, there is a great deal of full frontal nudity, male and female, which would be erotic if the depiction of sex were not so brutal and gynecological — but that, of course, is the point. Without question Greenaway is a visionary. But the filmmaker's sensibility is burdened by the accumulated evil of world history, and his view of humanity is accordingly dyspeptic. "The Tulse Luper Suitcases" leaves a distinctly sour aftertaste, despite its ravishing imagery.

    George Hickenlooper's documentary "Mayor of the Sunset Strip" was a welcome palate cleanser, as I saw it sandwiched between the two parts of "Tulse Luper." I bet I'm not alone in never having heard of Rodney Bingenheimer, although he has been a fixture on the Los Angeles music scene since the early Seventies. He ran away from home to become one of the most ubiquitous teen groupies of The Beatles, Sonny & Cher, The Beach Boys, and David Bowie, for whom he landed a record deal at RCA. He was a rock columnist in the heyday of music magazines, doubled for Davy Jones on "The Monkees," and went on to open a weird but happening club on Sunset, Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco. But it was in 1976 when he became a DJ at KROQ that he began to hit his stride, being the first to spin Adam and the Ants, The B-52s, Blondie, The Clash, The Cure, Duran Duran, The Go-Go's, Joan Jett, The Ramones, Tom Petty, and The Sex Pistols, to name but a small fraction of the bands he championed.

    Many of those fabled musicians are on hand to share memories of that wild scene and acknowledge Rodney's place in it. Affection is mixed with nostalgia and amusement over the extent of Rodney's fixations. Much sadder is the visit home after years of estrangement with his parents. The irony is painful: the man who was photographed with every rocker who was anyone isn't visible among the dozens of portraits in the family room. "Mayor of the Sunset Strip" is both a celebration of rock before it became all business, and a poignant look at the vicissitudes of fame. What's original is the perspective of an eccentric supporting player.

      Ong-bak Muay Thai Warrior. in Toronto Film Festival, Day 2
      "Ong-bak Muay Thai Warrior."
    Prachya Pinkaew's "Ong-Bak Muay Thai Warrior" heralds the arrival of a new action star. The movie unfolds in the rural hamlet of Nong Pra-du, where an annual contest is underway. The village men race to the top of an ancient tree and then back again, kicking many competitors off during the scramble. The winner is a young monastic candidate named Ting (Panom Yeerum), who has been schooled by his mentor in the discipline called Muay Thai, which means "nine body weapons." Ting has promised not to use this knowledge improperly, but his resolve will be tested when a statue in the local temple is desecrated. A punk steals the head of the Ong-Bak Buddha for the black-market trade in antiquities, and Ting must journey to Bangkok to retrieve it.

    Panom Yeerum is a true discovery. His body is perfectly chiseled and his athletic prowess is eye-popping, not only in the impressive fight sequences, but also in chases where he dodges all kinds of obstacles while defying gravity. Pretty amazing, given that none of the action scenes employ special effects. One particularly ingenious bit of stunt choreography starts with a fight match on the lower level of a club. The camera follows the combatants up the stairs, through a wall into another room, then out through a window to the ground again. "Ong-Bak Muay Thai Warrior" is the kind of festival movie that's here to show what's commercial in an industry overseas. The only thing that would consign this film to an American arthouse is its subtitles. It really belongs in the multiplex.

    Its inverse is "Matchstick Men," which is a multiplex movie that's here because it has artistic pretensions and Oscar aspirations, and Toronto is an important launching pad for award campaigns. Nicolas Cage elevates the slender material with another virtuoso performance: he plays a con man who has so many tics and phobias his future earning power is being compromised, a situation that does not go unnoticed by partner in crime Sam Rockwell. Entertaining complications arise, but this is the kind of territory films like "The Spanish Prisoner" and "Nine Queens" have already explored, and with greater skill. Sir Ridley Scott directs, and, as always with his work, the look is great. Cage will possibly get another Academy Award nomination because he carries this high-profile film, but Robert Downey Jr. in "The Singing Detective" is a worthier candidate.

    On the slate for Toronto, Day 3: Errol Morris' "The Fog of War," Stephen Fry's "Bright Young Things," Peter Webber's "Girl with a Pearl Earring," and Kim Ki-duk's "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring."

    Festival articles



    Mayor of the Sunset Strip

    Diminutive Rodney Bingenheimer hangs out with a lot of big-time musical icons in "Mayor of the Sunset Strip," a documentary that overrelies on his pixie-ish proximity to fame and his quizzical personality.


    Memories of Murder

    A constantly deceptive detective story in which bad cops who think they're doing good work look for a serial killer in all the wrong places.

    SEPTEMBER 10, 2003

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