Toronto International Film Festival 2006 - UPDATE #3
A Stone's Throw
CANADA/98 MINUTES/CANADA FIRST
Though well acted and competently directed, A Stone's Throw suffers from an oddly detached vibe that ultimately cements the film's status as a sporadically intriguing but mostly interminable piece of work. Kris Holden-Reid stars as Jack Walker, an American photojournalist who arrives at his sister's Nova Scotia home after an absence of many years. Though he quickly bonds with his nephew and starts a tentative relationship with a local schoolteacher (played by Lisa Ray), Jack soon finds himself forced to confront the demons of his mysterious past. Writer/director Camelia Frieberg infuses A Stone's Throw with an exceedingly deliberate pace that admittedly sets a very specific mood, but without any real entry point into the film's story, there's virtually nothing here to hold the viewer's interest. The inclusion of several undeniably melodramatic elements surely doesn't help matters, and there's simply no overlooking the distinct lack of authenticity within Frieberg's screenplay. It's a shame, really, given that Holden-Reid has long-since established himself as one of Canada's most talented up-and-coming performers (he surely deserves better than this).
The White Planet
Directed by Thierry Ragobert and Thierry Piantanida
Though it has the misfortune to come after the similarly-themed March of the Penguins, The White Planet is a more all-encompassing look at the animals and creatures that live around the Arctic region. Directors Thierry Ragobert and Thierry Piantanida follow a wide variety of different species - including seals, caribou, and foxes - as they attempt to survive the extremely harsh conditions of their surroundings. And while it's all very interesting for a while - fascinating, even - the novelty ultimately wears off and the movie essentially adopts the characteristics of a run-of-the-mill wilderness documentary (Ragobert and Piantanida's questionable directorial choices, including POV shots (!), doesn't help matters). That being said, there's no denying the inherently compelling nature of some of this stuff - ie the film virtually justifies its existence with a sequence in which two ridiculously cute polar bear cubs emerge from their den after a long hibernation - and this is certainly the sort of movie that demands to be seen on as large a screen as possible.
Directed by Reg Harkema
CANADA/75 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Low-key yet strangely compelling, Monkey Warfare revolves around the exploits of Dan (Don McKellar) and Linda (Tracy Wright) - a pair of quasi-hippies who live off the grid in a small Toronto house and earn money by scavenging through the garbage and selling their discoveries. Their precarious lifestyle is thrown into disarray after Don befriends a young pot dealer named Susan (Nadia Litz), whose rebellious ambitions threaten to expose the couple's past transgressions. Writer/director Reg Harkema has clearly been inspired by the French New Wave movement, as the filmmaker infuses Monkey Warfare with a free-wheeling, distinctly avant-garde sensibility (ie he'll flash the lyrics of whatever song happens to be playing on the soundtrack). It's a vibe that's reflected in the uniformly-effective performances, with McKellar particularly strong as a slightly dim-witted anarchist. And although the movie can't quite sustain its slightly absurd tone for its entire running time, there are certainly enough positive elements within the production to warrant a mild recommendation.
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
Directed by Spike Lee
When the Levees Broke is precisely the sort of angry and polarizing piece of work one might've expected from filmmaker Spike Lee - yet there's simply no denying the fact that the movie is ultimately hurt by an egregiously overlong running time (four hours!) and Lee's unmistakably self-indulgent directorial choices. Documenting virtually every aspect of the New Orleans hurricane disaster of 2005, When the Levees Broke consists mainly of interviews with folks from the area and various experts and specialists - as Lee paints a portrait of the damage done by Katrina on both a financial and human scale. Although the film is rife with genuinely emotional moments, Lee's propensity for going off on completely unrelated and downright pointless tangents (ie the history of jazz within the city) lends the proceedings a distinctly uneven feel. As a result, what should have been a searing, powerful documentary generally comes off as a rough cut that's desperately in need of some judicious editing.
Dans Les Villes
Directed by Catherine Martin
One can't help but wonder just who Dans Les Villes has been crafted to appeal to, as writer/director Catherine Martin has infused the movie with an unreasonably slow pace and an underlying sense of pointlessness. The story revolves around several thoroughly miserable characters as they attempt to get through their day-to-day lives. Martin kicks the proceedings off with an interminable sequence set inside a museum, and it's all downhill from there. The filmmaker seems to have a certain amount of disdain for her audience, as she's clearly not even remotely interested in offering up an entertaining or even interesting cinematic experience. As such, Dans Les Villes contains a surfeit of long, relentlessly tedious sequences that go absolutely nowhere - ie characters walk aimlessly, ride the subway, go shopping, etc - leaving the viewer with little to do other than daydream and count the reel changes. It's a shame, really, as the movie is actually fairly well made and nicely acted - though some of these characters are somewhat lacking in authenticity (the blind guy who takes pictures is a fairly good example of this). It's apparent right from the get-go that Martin is going for a Magnolia-esque portrait of loneliness, but since every one of these characters remains sketchily drawn (at best!), the film is distinctly lacking in the sort of emotional impact that Martin must have been striving for.
EMPz 4 Life
Directed by Allan King
EMPz 4 Life is the latest fly-on-the-wall documentary from filmmaker Allan King, and follows a dedicated volunteer named Brian Henry as he attempts to steer several "high risk" teenagers away from various illegal pursuits (ie he signs them up for math lessons). King's expected hands-off approach - used to exceedingly positive effect in festival favorites such as Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company and Dying at Grace - doesn't fare all that well this time around, as the majority of these teens remain unsympathetic and flat-out disagreeable (Henry is a rare exception to this, and it's difficult not to empathize with his uphill battle). The movie's unclear and hollow sound design certainly doesn't help matters (additionally, ambient noises often drown out the dialogue), nor does King's incessant use of a grating hip-hop tune throughout EMPz 4 Life's overlong running time. With the exception of one or two genuinely compelling sequences (ie one of the kids visits his brother in prison), there's little within EMPz 4 Life to appeal to the casual viewer (those with a vested interest in Henry's plight will probably find something here worth embracing).