Toronto International Film Festival 2016 - UPDATE #6
Directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg
NORWAY/98 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
A decent movie foiled by an unreasonably deliberate pace, Pyromaniac follows Trond Hjort Nilssen's Dag as he helps his firefighter father extinguish the very conflagrations he himself has started. The fairly promising setup is employed to consistently middling effect by Erik Skjoldbjærg, as the director's continuing attempts at cultivating a character-study-type vibe are thwarted by an almost total lack of momentum (ie it's all just so slow). It is, as a result, not surprising to note that Pyromaniac feels like a short that's been clumsily expanded to feature length, with Skjoldbjærg accomplishing this, it often seems, by including rather pointless interludes and by adding a few minutes to each and every scene. The hands-off atmosphere is compounded by a distressing lack of development for the central character, as scripter Bjørn Olaf Johannessen makes few efforts at getting inside Dag's head and figuring out what makes him tick (ie there's just no real progression for this obvious sociopath). Pyromaniac fares especially poorly as it moves into its tediously repetitive midsection (eg Dag starts a fire, helps his dad fight it, starts another fire, etc, etc), although, at the very least, Skjoldbjærg does offer up a handful of unexpectedly engrossing moments during this otherwise uninvolving stretch (including a fairly electrifying sequence in which Dag smugly returns to the scene of one of his fires). And although Skjoldbjærg does manage to infuse the movie's latter half with desperately-needed instance of depth, Pyromaniac's protracted third act, which reaches a solid finishing point but frustratingly continues a few minutes more, ultimately feels right in line with everything that came before and confirms the film's place as a missed opportunity.
Directed by Vikram Gandhi
USA/104 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
A low-key and ultimately unsatisfying character study, Barry follows the title character (Devon Terrell) as he embarks on a journey of self-discovery after arriving in New York City for his first year of university. Filmmaker Vikram Gandhi has infused Barry with an incredibly subdued feel that does, admittedly, complement Adam Mansbach's muted screenplay, as much of the movie's first half is devoted to Barry's exploits in and around campus - with a particular emphasis on the figure's newfound relationship with a fellow student named Charlotte (Anya Taylor-Joy). And while nothing here is particularly engrossing or groundbreaking, Barry boasts (and benefits from) a charismatic, star-making performance by Terrell that heightens the proceedings on an ongoing basis. The rather generic bent of Mansbach's script prevents one from wholeheartedly connecting with the material, however, while the heavy-handed bent of the movie's second half ensures that Barry slowly-but-surely runs out of steam. (There is, for example, an eye-rollingly unsubtle scene in which Barry and Charlotte, while walking through a black neighborhood, receive stares from literally every person they pass.) The far-from-engrossing vibe persists through the movie's Barry-gets-in-touch-with-his-blackness final stretch, and although the climactic reveal of Barry's true identity (ie a famous politician) is interesting, Barry is ultimately a half-baked drama that fails to make the impact that Gandhi is obviously striving for.
Directed by Adam Leon
USA/82 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
A delightful little picture, Tramps follows Callum Turner's Danny and Grace Van Patten's Ellie as they're unwittingly thrown together on an illicit job involving a missing briefcase. It's an all-so-slight premise that filmmaker Adam Leon employs as a jumping-off point for a charming road-trip/romantic-comedy hybrid, and there's little doubt that Tramps benefits substantially from the almost impossibly affable work of its two stars - with both Turner and Van Patten transforming their characters into compelling and sympathetic figures. (It doesn't hurt, certainly, that there's a tremendous amount of chemistry between the two actors.) And although the film's opening stretch is perhaps a little too loose and freewheeling, Tramps admittedly does grow more and more involving as it progresses and it becomes, as a result, impossible not to root for the protagonists' success (both in terms of their objective and their possible romance). The increasingly captivating vibe also prevents Leon's periodic reliance on hoary conventions (eg the fake break-up) from faring as poorly as one might've feared, while the uplifting yet appropriately ambiguous conclusion ensures that Tramps ends on a tremendously satisfying note - which does, finally, confirm the movie's place as an impressive sophomore effort from a promising new director.
Directed by Walter Hill
CANADA/FRANCE/USA/95 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
A misguided and derisible mess, Re(Assignment) follows feared assassin Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez) as he's surgically transformed into a woman by an unhinged doctor (Sigourney Weaver) upset over the death of her brother. The absurdity of the premise is certainly echoed in the downright laughable execution, as filmmaker Walter Hill, employing a somewhat head-scratching comic-book sensibility (complete with illustrated scene fades!), places a consistent emphasis on garishly over-the-top elements that establish (and perpetuate) an atmosphere of high camp - with the most obvious example of this everything involving Rodriguez's sex-changing character. Armed with a hilariously unconvincing beard (and an Austin Powers-like expanse of chest hair), Frank comes off as a cartoonish figure that only grows more ridiculous as he's transformed into a woman - with Rodriguez's trying-too-hard performance compounding the movie's less-than-convincing vibe. It's clear, too, that Re(Assignment) suffers from a rather leaden pace as a result of Hill and Denis Hamill's talky and repetitive screenplay, as the film suffers from a midsection that gracelessly lurches from one poorly-conceived, underwhelming sequence to the next - with the only real respite from the tedium an ongoing subplot involving conversations between Weaver's character and a skeptical psychiatrist (Tony Shalhoub, wasted here). It's ultimately impossible not to wonder what Hill was thinking when he conceived of this trainwreck, with the movie's fairly massive failure dashing any hope one might've had for a long-awaited Walter Hill renaissance.
The Belko Experiment
Directed by Greg McLean
USA/88 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
The Belko Experiment follows the employees of a not-for-profit company as they're trapped inside their office building and forced to participate in a deadly game, with the movie, subsequently and for the most part, detailing the surviving characters' efforts at staying alive in the face of progressively dire odds. It's a larger-than-life setup that's employed to decidedly erratic effect by director Greg McLean and scripter James Gunn, as the movie, though appropriately short and relatively fast paced, suffers from a predictable midsection that's rife with lulls and needless instances of padding. Gunn's inability to infuse the narrative with surprising elements certainly plays a key role in furthering the uneven vibe, with the viewer, once the premise is fully laid out, essentially able to predict exactly where the narrative is going to go (and how it's going to get there). It is, as such, not surprising to note that The Belko Experiment's midsection adopts an increasingly repetitive feel, as certain characters break off and form factions while others vacillate between hiding and attempting to find a peaceful solution to the situation. There's little doubt, then, that the movie improves immeasurably once it passes a certain point, with the high point coming in the form of an impressively grim sequence involving a series of reluctant executions - which paves the way for a final stretch that fares better than expected (although the good-guys-vs-bad-guys atmosphere is a little on the familiar side). The Twilight Zone-like conclusion is satisfying, certainly, and the movie, anchored by its affable cast and emphasis on bloody kills, ultimately comes off as a relatively fun effort that works best when viewed with a large, enthusiastic crowd.