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Toronto International Film Festival 2011 - UPDATE #10

Burning Man
Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky
AUSTRALIA/109 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

Though it boasts what is clearly the best performance of Matthew Goode's career, Burning Man's effectiveness is consistently (and ultimately) diminished significantly by its continuously ostentatious structure. The movie, which basically follows Goode's Tom as he attempts to raise his son in the wake of his wife's death, has been infused with as needlessly fractured a narrative as one can easily recall, and it generally does seem as though the film would've been far better served with a traditional, linear execution. There is, for example, a stretch early on in which several characters react to the death of a character, but the jumbled atmosphere ensures that it doesn't become entirely clear just who passed away until much later. Likewise, it does become difficult to easily identify all the protagonists - something that remains true right through to the very end. By the time the movie morphs into a depressing tearjerker, it's become impossible to work up any real sympathy for any of these people - which is especially disappointing given the strength of Goode's work in the movie's final stretches. The viewer's disconnect from the proceedings is ultimately what sinks Burning Man, as the film is otherwise quite well made and, as mentioned, exquisitely acted.

out of


Superclásico
Directed by Ole Christian Madsen
DENMARK/99 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA

An almost excessively lighthearted comedy, Superclásico follows Anders W. Berthelsen's Christian as he arrives in Buenos Aires hoping to win back his wayward wife (Paprika Steen's Anna) - with complications ensuing as it becomes clear that Anna has taken up with a very popular, very handsome soccer star. There's little doubt that Superclásico fares best in its opening half hour, as filmmaker Ole Christian Madsen has infused the movie with an irresistibly easygoing feel that's heightened by a blistering pace and uniformly charismatic performances. And while some of the comedic elements here occasionally border on the unreasonably broad - eg was the wacky maid really necessary? - Superclásico does manage to cultivate an atmosphere of unabashed entertainment. It's only as the movie progresses into its increasingly meandering midsection that one's interest begins to wane, as filmmaker Madsen attempts to compensate for the decidedly thin storyline by offering up a number of underwhelming subplots. (The most obvious example of this is surely everything revolving around Christian and Anna's morose teenage son, as the kid finds himself falling for a beautiful tour guide with a hot-tempered father.) It is, as such, not surprising to note that Superclásico peters out to an increasingly demonstrable degree, as Madsen plum runs out of things for the characters to do and the movie eventually limps to its expectedly upbeat conclusion.

out of


Violet & Daisy
Directed by Geoffrey Fletcher
USA/96 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

Though it features an admittedly captivating hook - two young girls (Alexis Bledel's Violet and Saoirse Ronan's Daisy) work as gun-toting assassins - Violet & Daisy has been saddled with a consistently underwhelming execution that inevitably drains all of the life and energy from the proceedings. It certainly doesn't help that writer/director Geoffrey Fletcher has concocted an almost astonishingly stagnant narrative that transpires primarily within the confines of a single dingy apartment, with the majority of the movie detailing the friendship that ensues between the title characters and their latest mark (James Gandolfini's sadsack Michael). Before it gets to that point, however, Fletcher tests the viewer's patience by suffusing the movie with a quirky sensibility that proves tremendously off-putting. The egregiously stylized atmosphere is reflected in everything from the dialogue to the actions of the characters, and there's consequently never a point at which either protagonist becomes more than just a one-dimensional cartoon character. (Gandolfini has a few nice moments as Michael, admittedly, but that's hardly enough to compensate for the otherwise pervasively artificial atmosphere.) Fletcher's increasingly desperate attempts at prolonging the running time (eg a pointlessly silly dream sequence) confirm Violet & Daisy's place as a consistently misbegotten piece of work, and it's clear that all three actors deserved a whole lot better than this.

out of


Smuggler
Directed by Katsuhito Ishii
JAPAN/115 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS

Though it's basically watchable for its first half hour, Smuggler eventually becomes an almost impressively tedious piece of work that's sure to leave even the hardiest of genre fans rolling their eyes and shaking their head. The movie, which follows a series of reprehensible characters as they do bad things to one another, certainly takes its time in getting things going, with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by filmmaker Katsuhito Ishii's reliance on unreasonably over-the-top instances of humor (eg a spastic crime lord warns his underlings of the dangers of second-hand smoke even though he himself smokes). There is, however, an action sequence at around the half hour mark that temporarily buoys the viewer's dwindling interest, as Ishii offers up an impressively staged showdown between armed thugs and a nunchucks-wielding maniac that's actually quite well done and exciting. The thrilling vibe proves to be quite short-lived, though, as the movie segues into its meandering midsection that boasts as many subplots as it does characters. The complete absence of interesting or intriguing elements ensures that Smuggler inevitably becomes a seriously interminable experience, with the movie's final half hour - which seems to revolve solely around the never-ending torture of a character - actively encouraging the viewer to throw their hands up and just walk out. It's ultimately difficult to recall a more objectionable cinematic experience, and one can't help but wonder just what the Midnight Madness team was thinking when they programmed this mess.

no stars out of


Kill List
Directed by Ben Wheatley
UNITED KINGDOM/95 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS

Directed by Ben Wheatley, Kill List follows a pair of assassins (Neil Maskell's Jay and Michael Smiley's Gal) as they come to regret taking on several assignments from a shady figure. Filmmaker Wheatley gets Kill List off to an almost astonishingly underwhelming start, as the director offers up a bizarre, low-key opening 20 minutes revolving around a couple's relentless squabbling and their subsequent efforts at holding a dinner party. It's initially impossible not to think that this is some sort of pre-credits teaser, and that something horrible is going to happen to all the participants. This turns out not to be the case, however, as the characters turn out to be Kill List's protagonists, which certainly exacerbates the already-uninvolving atmosphere and ensures that the film's slow pace often feels glacial. The subdued-drama-type vibe persists until around the 40-minute mark, after which point Jay and Gal embark on their series of executions - with the narrative's continuing deliberateness finally offset by the inclusion of a few remarkably brutal instances of extreme violence. Even so, Kill List suffers from a complete absence of dread and suspense that diminishes the effectiveness of the movie's climactic stretch - with the ridiculousness of some of this stuff admittedly injecting the proceedings with some much-needed energy. (It's a little too late to make any real difference in the film's overall impact, though.) The intriguing yet somewhat baffling conclusion confirms Kill List's place as an oddly undercooked bit of genre filmmaking, and it's not difficult to envision the movie working a whole lot better as a short.

out of


Goodbye First Love
Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
FRANCE/GERMANY/110 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA

Unquestionably the slowest movie of the festival, Goodbye First Love essentially follows Lola Créton's Camille as she spends a solid decade attempting to get over the loss of her teenage boyfriend (Sebastian Urzendowsky's Sullivan). It's clear right from the get-go that filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve is more interested in establishing a very specific mood than in capturing the viewer's interest, as Goodbye First Love boasts an oppressively plotless narrative in which absolutely nothing of consequence ever seems to occur. The adolescent relationship between Camille and Sullivan is initially kind of interesting, admittedly, as it's instantly clear that Sullivan isn't even remotely as into Camille as she is to him. (It is, as a result, not surprising to note that Sullivan can't help but come off as a bit of a douchebag, which certainly colors the impact of the movie's later scenes.) The uneventful atmosphere becomes more and more problematic as time progresses, with a good chunk of the midsection devoted to countless, pointless sequences in which Camille attempts to get on with her life. By the time the character embarks on an affair with her college professor, Goodbye First Love has morphed into as aggressively dull and abstract a work as one can easily recall - which effectively does ensure that the viewer has absolutely nothing invested in Camille's ultimate happiness.

no stars out of


The Incident
Directed by Alexandre Courtes
FRANCE/85 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS

Despite its seemingly can't-miss premise, The Incident never quite becomes anything more than a sporadically watchable yet consistently disappointing horror effort - which is fairly upsetting, to be sure, given the strength of the movie's opening half hour. The storyline follows several cooks at an isolated mental institution as they're forced to fend for their lives during a power outage, with the movie, for the most part, detailing the game of cat-and-mouse that ensues between the protagonists and a horde of violent nutcases. Filmmaker Alexandre Courtes does an effective job of initially establishing the various characters and the appropriately claustrophobic central locale, with the deliberateness of the film's first act proving effective at building a palpable air of tension and suspense. It's only as things begin to go haywire that The Incident slowly-but-surely loses its hold on the viewer, as there's simply never a point at which one is wholeheartedly able to work up any real interest in or sympathy for the heroes' ongoing efforts - with the gang's penchant for behaving idiotically certainly not helping matters. The less-than-engrossing atmosphere is compounded by the ceaseless darkness in which much of the movie transpires, as the murky visuals perpetuate the film's hands-off feel and effectively transforms the whole thing into a seriously oppressive piece of work. The inclusion of a few admittedly grisly instances of gore towards the end arrive too late to make a positive impact, while the headscratching conclusion finally does ensures that The Incident ends with a whimper.

out of