Toronto International Film Festival 2007 - UPDATE #3
Closing the Ring
Directed by Richard Attenborough
UNITED KINGDOM/CANADA/119 MINUTES/GALA
Closing the Ring is a relentlessly uneven yet occasionally compelling drama that follows a recently-widowed woman (Shirley MacLaine's Ethel) as she recalls her youth and her relationship with three men, as well as her efforts - in the current day - to placate her daughter (Neve Campbell) and former flame (Christopher Plummer). The inclusion of a seemingly pointless subplot concerning an Irish man (Martin McCann's Jimmy) with a penchant for digging up World War II artifacts sporadically brings the movie to a dead stop, although - to be fair - the significance of such shenanigans does become increasingly clear as the movie progresses. It's clear almost immediately that Closing the Ring works best in its flashback sequences, as stars Mischa Barton, Gregory Smith, Stephen Amell, and David Alpay effectively portray the camaraderie and tragedy inherent within the lives of their respective characters. And while MacLaine and Plummer are admittedly quite good, there's just no denying that they've been saddled with some seriously melodramatic material - with the overlong running time and inclusion of several false endings only exacerbating such problems. Still, Closing the Ring generally comes off as an agreeable, distinctly old-fashioned piece of work that ultimately succeeds in spite of its various deficiencies.
Directed by John Crowley
UNITED KINGDOM/100 MINUTES/VANGUARD
A low-key yet surprisingly moving little movie, Boy A kicks off with the release of a young man (Andrew Garfield's Jack) from prison - where he's just completed a stint for his part in the death of a young girl. Assisted by his compassionate case worker (Peter Mullan's Terry), Jack sets out to build a new life for himself - eventually landing a job, close buddies, and even a girlfriend. Beautifully directed by John Crowley, Boy A is one of those unassuming little movies that somehow sneaks up on the viewer - with the end result a distinctly powerful piece of work that rattles around in one's head long after the end credits have rolled. There's little doubt that Garfield's absolutely riveting performance plays a significant role in the film's success - as the actor effectively transforms Jack into a fascinating, thoroughly sympathetic figure. Crowley's subtle yet stylish directorial choices perfectly complement Mark O'Rowe's screenplay, though there's ultimately no denying that the movie would've benefited from the inclusion of subtitles (the heavy accents occasionally makes it a little difficult to discern all of the dialogue). The mystery surrounding Jack's past adds a level of suspense to the proceedings that one wouldn't necessarily have expected, with the end result precisely the sort of hidden gem that one longs to discover at a film festival.
Directed by Wilson Yip
HONG KONG/CHINA/87 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
Were it not for the inclusion of several jaw-dropping action scenes, Flash Point would hardly be worth mentioning; the film's tedious storyline seems to have been cobbled together from other, better action movies (including, but not limited to, Lethal Weapon 2), while the myriad of characters remain so thinly developed that it takes a good half hour to figure out who's who. One can't help but wish that filmmaker Wilson Yip had devoted even a fraction of his attention to Flash Point's quieter moments, as it's clear that he's channeled all of his energy and enthusiasm into the undeniably amazing fight sequences. The movie - which follows rebellious cop Jun (Donnie Yen) as he breaks virtually every rule in the book to take down a sinister villain (Collin Chou's Tiger) - consequently comes off as a total bore during its non-violent moments, despite the inclusion of a few admittedly effective and downright suspenseful interludes (with a scene featuring a bomb planted inside a cooked chicken the most obvious example of this). The confrontation between Jun and Tiger that closes the film is as spectacular and enthralling as one might've hoped, and there's certainly no denying that Yip could teach contemporary directors such as Len Wiseman and Rob Cohen a thing or two about action - but, bottom line, Flash Point simply possesses too few attributes designed to hold the viewers interest in between moments of mayhem.
Directed by Leonard Farlinger
CANADA/89 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Though All Hat does possess a number of positive attributes - including several genuinely impressive performances and Paul Sarossy's sporadically breathtaking cinematography - the film is ultimately lacking in elements designed to hold the viewer's interest for more than a few minutes at a time. One consequently can't help but spend much of All Hat's running time searching for something (anything) to connect to, and while the film does improve slightly as it progresses, there's simply no overlooking the convoluted storyline and abundance of underdeveloped characters. Luke Kirby stars as Ray Dokes, a soft-spoken cowboy who emerges from a two-year prison stint to a changed landscape - as a callous land developer (Noam Jenkins) is attempting to transform the area into a golf course and Ray's friends are struggling to keep their respective businesses afloat. Director Leonard Farlinger has infused the proceedings with a slow-moving sensibility that only exacerbates the various problems within Brad Smith's screenplay, and the movie remains oddly uninvolving for the duration of its mercifully brisk running time. Kirby's effective work as the film's protagonist is cancelled out by Smith's inability to turn the character into a compelling figure, with the end result a film that - while not bad, exactly - has exceedingly little to offer even the most patient viewer.
Directed by Carl Bessai
CANADA/100 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Normal clearly marks filmmaker Carl Bessai's stab at a multi-storied drama, somewhere along the lines of Magnolia or Short Cuts, but unlike those efforts there's never the feeling that the various plotlines are building towards something spectacular. Instead, the director has populated Normal with a series of characters and arcs that would seem more at home within a soap opera - ie a troubled youth has an affair with his stepmother, a grieving mother can't let go of her dead son, etc - and there's consequently a vibe of randomness that pervades throughout the majority of the film's overlong running time. And while some of this stuff is admittedly kind of interesting - Kevin Zegers' turn as the aforementioned troubled youth is clearly a highlight - it becomes increasingly difficult to care about the overwrought problems of these broadly-conceived characters. The performances are fine, undoubtedly, but it's ultimately impossible to view Normal as anything other than a well-intentioned misfire (the finale, presumably meant to provide a cathartic release for both the characters and the viewer, is particularly disappointing).
The Stone Angel
Directed by Kari Skogland
CANADA/115 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
An adaptation of Margaret Laurence's acclaimed novel, The Stone Angel does manage to touch on many of the more noteworthy plot points within Laurence's work - yet there's simply no denying that much of the film comes off as flat and artless. Ellen Burstyn stars as Hagar Shipley, a strong-willed 90-year-old who spends her final days reminiscing on the past - with a particular emphasis on her marriage to a farmer named Bram (alternatively played by father-and-son actors Wings and Cole Hauser) and her tumultuous relationship with her sons. Filmmaker Kari Skogland initially infuses The Stone Angel with an unmemorable sense of style that only exacerbates the film's various problems, and there's just no denying that Hagar is consequently not quite as compelling a figure as she was in the book. It's not until the focus shifts to Hagar's later years that things finally start to get interesting, although - admittedly - Christine Horne does an awfully effective job of stepping into the character's shoes as a young adult. The strength of Burstyn's subtle, thoroughly engaging work here carries the film through some of its less-than-effective sequences, and there's certainly no overlooking the palpable emotional punch of the movie's final scenes.
Directed by François Girard
CANADA/ITALY/JAPAN/112 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATION
Silk, based on a 91-page novella by Alessandro Baricco, casts Michael Pitt as Herve Joncour - a 19th century silkworm smuggler who finds himself caught up in an obsessive relationship with a Japanese concubine (Koji Yakusho). Director François Girard admittedly paints an evocative picture of a very specific time and place, but his decision to infuse the film with an oppressively deliberate pace proves to be disastrous. Though there's initially something kind of fascinating about all of this, there comes a point at which one's patience starts to wear awfully thin - with Girard's increasing reliance on long, dialogue-free sequences surely playing a significant role in Silk's inevitable downfall. Pitt's typically impenetrable performance doesn't help matters, as the actor transforms Herve into a decidedly unsympathetic figure whose motivations remain muddled throughout the movie's overlong running time (ie why does he become so fixated on the aforementioned Japanese concubine in the first place?) The lack of overt instances of exposition consequently ensures that one's enjoyment of the movie is directly related to one's familiarity with Baricco's book, and - although there's certainly no denying the effectiveness of Alain Dostie's lush visuals - Silk is ultimately the sort of film that's easier to admire than it is to enjoy.
Directed by Florent-Emilio Siri
FRANCE/105 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Set against the backdrop of the Algerian War, L'ennemi intime follows a group of almost comically stereotypical characters - including a grizzled vet (Albert Dupontel's Sergeant Dougnac) and a wide-eyed neophyte (Benoît Magimel's Lieutenant Terrien) - as they attempt to combat an enemy that clearly has a homefield advantage. L'ennemi intime never comes off as anything other than a standard, hopelessly routine war flick, and there's ultimately little doubt that - stripped of its R-rated attributes - it'd feel right at home alongside a '60s John Wayne effort (even the sets look low-rent and artificial). Director Florent-Emilio Siri has infused the proceedings with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, with Patrick Rotman's screenplay adopting increasingly overt anti-war tendencies as the movie progresses (we get it; war is eeeeevil). Rotman's reliance on speechifying to get his points across essentially drains anything even resembling authenticity from the film, and although the performances are fairly adept, L'ennemi intime has virtually nothing of interest to say about the Algerian War (and, on a totally unrelated note, it's 2007: can we please stop with the white-on-white subtitles?)