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Toronto International Film Festival 2003 - UPDATE #3

The Mother
Directed by Roger Michell

Among older women, The Mother will likely wind up a classic of self-empowerment. The film stars Anne Reid as May, a woman in her sixties that's rocked by the sudden death of her husband. Unwilling to return to an empty home, she moves in with with her daughter, Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw). Paula's dating a married man named Darren (Daniel Craig), and asks her mother to speak to the man to find out what his intentions are. May does speak to Darren, and a friendship (which eventually turns into a relationship) is formed. It's the early scenes in The Mother that are the film's most effective, as May and her husband first arrive at their son's house for a visit. With characters speaking at once and the elderly couple struggling to keep up with everyone, the sequence feels like an authentic look at a small family gathering. It doesn't hurt that director Roger Michell has peppered the cast with above-average actors - with the exception of Road to Perdition's Craig, there's not a familiar face to be found - that seemingly inhabit their roles with ease. But the film's lack of plot eventually catches up with it, and though it's never boring, The Mother finally becomes somewhat tedious. Still, as a portrait of old age, the movie excels; May is a fully developed character that refuses to give into her status as a senior. And Craig nearly steals the show as a salt-of-the-earth type that may not be as centered as he initially seems.

out of

The Saddest Music in the World
Directed by Guy Maddin

The Saddest Music in the World represents Guy Maddin's most mainstream effort, but don't be fooled; the film is just as obtuse and impossible to penetrate as his earlier, more experimental works. Shot in maddeningly grainy black-and-white, The Saddest Music in the World is set in Winnipeg during the Great Depression. Lady Port-Huntly (Isabella Rossellini), a powerful beer magnate, has decided to hold a contest in search of the saddest music in the world - a competition open to every nation on earth. A down-on-his-luck businessman named Chester (Mark McKinney) decides to enter, along with his amnesiac girlfriend Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros), hoping to cash in on the $25,000 prize. Watching the movie, it's impossible not to wonder just what the point of all this is. Maddin's crafted a film that's undeniably unique on a visceral level, but even that aspect of The Saddest Music in the World wears thin awfully quickly. Everything's played far too broadly, from the dialogue to the performances, preventing the audience from ever connecting with anything onscreen. Worse than that, Maddin never gives us a reason to care about a single character; they're either parodies (McKinney's Chester is clearly a riff on the '30s shyster) or impossibly over-the-top concoctions (Rossellini's Lady Port-Huntly, with her beer-glass legs and gaudy wig, represents the actress' most jarring performance to date). Maddin proves to be adept at creating a convincing atmosphere - the film actually looks as though it was filmed in the '30s - but completely out of his league when it comes to crafting a story worth following. And by playing a piece by Beethoven in the film, Maddin makes the mistake of evoking Irreversible - a movie with style to spare and an engaging storyline. It's hard to imagine who The Saddest Music in the World is meant to appeal to; aside from viewers that demand something different and arty out of a movie, it's unlikely the film will mean much to a contemporary audience.

out of

The Fog of War
Directed by Errol Morris

It never would have occurred to me that a documentary about politics (a subject I generally find as appealing as a wet dog) could be so engaging. Former Secretary of State William McNamara (he toiled under Nixon's administration) allowed noted non-fiction filmmaker Errol Morris to interview him for several hours, and The Fog of War is the result of their conversation. Morris doesn't allow any other voices to be heard; McNamara is the sole speaker in the film. And though it might seem as though that'd lead to a rather one-sided interpretation of the facts, that seems to essentially be the point. The movie never purports to be a neutral recollection of history; rather, this is a look back from one man's point of view (it's certain events the way McNamara remembers them, which doesn't necessarily mean that's exactly what happened). McNamara, sharply dressed in an expensive-looking suit and filmed against the backdrop of an oddly futuristic looking set, proves to be a fascinating speaker - full of interesting anecdotes and keen insights into his own career. And though it was forty years ago, McNamara becomes choked up when talking about the assassination of J.F.K. The bulk of the film's running time is devoted to Vietnam, an ill-conceived war that McNamara claims he was against from the start. There's no denying that McNamara's refusal to accept blame for the infamous war will anger those with a more intimate knowledge of the facts, but still, the man does make a compelling argument for his case. Morris has designed the film in such a way that it should appeal to history buffs and neophytes alike, which had to have been one heck of a task.

out of

Directed by Bronwen Hughes

Though the film contains a fantastic performance by Thomas Jane (no surprise there), Stander is nevertheless a dull and overlong heist flick. Jane plays Andre Stander, a South African cop who becomes so disillusioned with his job that he robs a bank one afternoon for kicks. After he gets away with it, Stander discovers that being a bank robber pays pretty darn well and keeps at it - while also staying at his job as a police officer (and even investigating his own crimes). The main problem with Stander is that we never find out what motivates the man to abandon his straight-laced life. It's fairly obvious that he's fed up with the red tape that goes along with being a cop, but that's really not enough to convince us that he'd be willing to sacrifice his freedom (not to mention his relationship with his wife, played by Deborah Kara Unger). But beyond that, aside from an atypical setting, the movie eventually becomes just another standard movie about a bunch of quirky and likeable criminals. But the movie remains semi-watchable if only for Jane's incredibly charismatic performance, though his South African accent does take a while to get used to.

out of

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© David Nusair