Toronto International Film Festival 2008 - UPDATE #10
Control Alt Delete
Directed by Cameron Labine
CANADA/93 MINUTES/CANADA FIRST!
As befits its place as a low-budget Canadian comedy, Control Alt Delete has been suffused with a host of increasingly off-the-wall elements that slowly but surely negate the film's few positive attributes (ie star Tyler Labine's surprisingly layered performance). The storyline follows young computer programmer Lewis Henderson (Labine) as he attempts to solve the Y2K problem for his company, though this proves to be far less problematic than his newfound penchant for having sex with computers. Writer/director Cameron Labine does a nice job of establishing the off-kilter day-to-day shenanigans of the central character, with his blossoming relationship with a pretty coworker (Sonja Bennett's Jane) certainly the movie's most promising aspect. There quickly reaches a point, however, at which Control Alt Delete is irredeemably consumed with off-kilter attributes, as the film's unreasonably over-the-top premise - a guy becomes obsessed with screwing computers? Really? - has been augmented with several eye-rollingly silly subplots and interludes (ie one of Lewis' coworkers is slowly losing feeling in his whole body). The tedious atmosphere forces one to search desperately for something of interest to latch onto, with star Labine's oddly-configured facial hair inevitably becoming a focal point for one's progressively wayward attention. The end result is a misguided effort that essentially represents everything that's wrong with Canada's movie scene, as filmmaker Labine's quirky-for-quirky's-sake modus operandi ultimately lends the proceedings a distinct vibe of needlessness.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
USA/105 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Armed with Mickey Rourke`s eye-opening, downright fascinating performance, The Wrestler ultimately establishes itself as a deliberately-paced yet consistently compelling character study that undoubtedly marks the high point of Darren Aronofsky's career. The movie follows has-been wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke) through the day-to-day minutia of his struggling existence, with a particular emphasis placed on his travails within the underground fighting circuit and also on his attempts at forming connections with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood's Stephanie) and a lonely stripper (Marisa Tomei's Cassidy). Aronofsky, working from Robert Siegel's low-key screenplay, has infused The Wrestler with a gritty fly-on-the-wall sensibility that's certainly a far cry from the hyper-stylized landscape of his earlier efforts, with Rourke's immersive turn as the film's increasingly tragic figure proving effective in establishing (and maintaining) the story's unexpectedly authentic atmosphere. The inclusion of several crowd-pleasing interludes - ie Randy's light-hearted stint at a deli counter - efficiently provides The Wrestler with bursts of levity amidst the almost relentlessly downbeat vibe, yet there's little doubt that the movie is at its best in its more unapologetically emotional moments (ie Randy's heartfelt tête-à-tête with Stephanie instantly establishes itself as a highlight within the proceedings). Siegel's penchant for falling back on overtly familiar plot elements remains the film's only real misstep, as the trajectory of the storyline will likely come off as easy to anticipate for viewers with even a marginal knowledge of similarly-themed fare (ie Siegel often seems to be relying on a character-study template). Still, this is an awfully minor complaint for an endeavor that is otherwise brilliantly acted and genuinely moving - with the effectiveness of Rourke's engrossing performance ultimately impossible to overstate.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
UNITED KINGDOM/94 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Genova marks the latest effort from prolific filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, and it hardly comes as a shock to discover that the movie has virtually nothing in common with his prior efforts. Winterbottom's fly-on-the-wall modus operandi notwithstanding, Genova ultimately comes off as a fairly straight-forward familial drama - yet it's worth noting that the movie has been stripped of the sentimental undertones one generally expects from such an endeavor (ie there are no climactic revelations or cathartic moments for any of the characters). The storyline follows grieving widower Joe (Colin Firth) as he moves his two daughters (Willa Holland's Kelly and Perla Haney-Jardine's Mary) to Italy following the death of their mother, with the bulk of the proceedings revolving around their collective efforts at adjusting to their new surroundings. It's interesting to note that Winterbottom (along with co-writer Laurence Coriat) has infused the early part of Genova with a palpable vibe of suspense, as the filmmaker consistently leaves the viewer with the impression that something awful is about to happen to either Kelly or Mary - with the former's predilection for going off with strange boys and the latter's guilt over her mother's death certainly leading the pair into a series of increasingly precarious situations. Yet there's little doubt that Genova is, for the most part, an exceedingly low-key and downright uneventful piece of work; Winterbottom's willingness to allow the plotless story unfold at a snail's pace does take some getting used to, admittedly, but it's just as clear that the superb work by Firth, Holland, and Haney-Jardine effectively sustains one's interest from start to finish.
Directed by François A. Velle
USA/106 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Awfully familiar yet superbly acted, The Narrows follows sensitive bad boy Mike Manadoro (Kevin Zegers) as he reluctantly takes on a job delivering packages for a shady mobster (Titus Welliver's Tony) in an effort to pay for college tuition - much to the chagrin of his connected father, Vinny (Vincent D'Onofrio). Mike's relationship with a pretty fellow student (Sophia Bush's Kathy) only complicates matters, and it's not long before the aspiring photographer finds himself caught between two worlds. It's a pretty standard storyline that's consistently elevated by the uniformly compelling performances, with Zegers' strong work certainly matched by the efforts of his various costars (D'Onofrio's expectedly idiosyncratic turn remains a highlight). Director François A. Velle - working from Tatiana Blackington's screenplay - generally does a nice job of capturing the almost small-town feel of Mike's insular neighborhood, though the filmmaker's penchant for punching up certain sequences with needlessly ostentatious visual choices becomes increasingly distracting as the movie progresses. It's also worth noting that The Narrows suffers from a third act that's far more plot-heavy than one might've liked, which ultimately ensures that the movie fares best in its smaller, distinctly low-key moments.
What Doesn't Kill You
Directed by Brian Goodman
The directorial debut of character actor Brian Goodman, What Doesn't Kill You follows lifelong friends Paulie (Ethan Hawke) and Brian (Mark Ruffalo) as they attempt to navigate the treacherous world of South Boston's lawless underground. Though the pair have been content running small-time criminal endeavors - ie they agree to kidnap a poodle for $5,000 - Paulie and Brian's eventual efforts at going straight prove to be fair more difficult (and flat-out dangerous) than they ever could have imagined. Filmmaker Goodman - working from a script co-written with Donnie Wahlberg and Paul T. Murray - generally does a nice job of infusing the proceedings with a gritty sensibility that feels authentic, yet it's hard to deny that there's just something egregiously familiar about the whole thing. The uniformly superb performances notwithstanding - Ruffalo and Hawke's expectedly stellar work is matched by a supporting cast that includes Wahlberg and Amanda Peet - What Doesn't Kill You primarily unfolds in a manner that's often just a little too reminiscent of other efforts set within South Boston's rough streets. That being said, there's no denying that the film improves considerably once it hits the one-hour mark - as Goodman's decision to take the proceedings into an entirely unpredictable direction proves effective at resuscitating the viewer's dwindling interest. The end result is a sporadically stirring endeavor that undoubtedly benefits from Ruffalo's electrifying turn as Brian, and it's consequently not a stretch to label What Doesn't Kill You the best of Ruffalo's three film fest flicks (after Blindness and The Brothers Bloom).
Directed by Gilles Bourdos
Though it boasts an intriguing premise and a typically idiosyncratic performance from John Malkovich, Afterwards suffers from a dull, downright plodding sensibility that ultimately renders its few positive attributes moot. The progressively abstract storyline follows successful lawyer Nathan Del Amico (a hopelessly ineffective Romain Duris) as he encounters a mysterious figure known only as Dr. Kay (Malkovich), with the bulk of the proceedings revolving around Nathan's efforts at determining the validity of Kay's supernatural claims. Director Gilles Bourdos - working from a script co-written with Michel Spinosa - has infused Afterwards with an art-house sensibility that inevitably becomes oppressive, as the viewer's efforts at connecting with the material are consistently thwarted by Bourdos' relentless use of superfluous cinematic tricks (with the almost painfully deliberate pace only exacerbating such problems). It subsequently goes without saying that one's patience grows increasingly thin as the movie stumbles towards its anti-climactic conclusion, which effectively ensures that Afterwards - despite the presence of Malkovich and Lost's Evangeline Lilly within the cast - possesses few elements designed to capture (and sustain) the interest of most viewers (ie this is virtually the very definition of a pretentious mess).