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Toronto International Film Festival 2005 - UPDATE #2

The Squid and the Whale
Directed by Noah Baumbach

Right off the bat, it's clear that filmmaker Noah Baumbach's collaboration with Wes Anderson (the two co-wrote last year's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) has had absolutely no impact on his low-key sense of style. Baumbach imbues The Squid and the Whale with a jittery, documentary-esque vibe that admittedly suits his screenplay quite well, but will undoubtedly disappoint viewers hoping for an ultra-stylized, Anderson-like take on the material. The movie revolves around the crumbling Berkman family; Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) are undergoing a tumultuous divorce, leaving sons Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline) with no choice but to attempt to cope in certain less-than-savory ways. Baumbach packs The Squid and the Whale with overly clever dialogue that's not terribly funny, effectively transforming the majority of these characters into unpleasant jerks (something that's especially true of Eisenberg's Walt). Having said that, there's no denying that the film improves as it progresses; Baumbach's steady focus on the exploits of the Berkman clan ensures that, despite their outwardly disagreeable attributes, they eventually become figures worth caring about. It doesn't hurt that the film is exceedingly well acted, with Daniels and Linney delivering expectedly effective performances (even supporting player William Baldwin does a nice job with his small role). But the bottom line is that The Squid and the Whale just doesn't have enough going for it to warrant a hearty recommendation, and it seems clear that the film would be just as effective on home video as on the big screen (there's nothing terribly cinematic about Baumbach's directorial choices).

out of

Fetching Cody
Directed by David Ray

If Larry Clark were ever to direct a time-traveling comedy/drama, it might look something like Fetching Cody. The film revolves around Art (Jay Baruchel) and Cody (Sarah Lind) - a pair of junkies who seem happy enough despite the seediness of their lives (Cody works as a prostitute, while Art is a shameless hustler). After Cody falls into a coma, though, all seems lost - until Art hooks up with a homeless pal who just happens to own a time machine. Art's plan is to travel back and change the traumatizing events in Cody's past, presumably in an effort to reshape the woman she's become (ie prevent her from ever becoming a crack whore). Fetching Cody isn't necessarily a bad movie - as a time travel adventure, it's actually pretty effective (there's even a cute little Back to the Future reference) - but somehow, the whole thing never quite adds up to much more than an instantly forgettable riff on The Butterfly Effect. Writer/director David Ray imbues the film with a sense of pacing that's best described as wonky, as certain scenes come off as surprisingly entertaining while others just seem to drag on and on. This is despite Baruchel's gritty, thoroughly convincing portrayal of a street hustler - although, admittedly, it takes a good 20 minutes to get used to the idea of that kid from Undeclared swearing like a sailor and behaving like a sleazeball.

out of

Look Both Ways
Directed by Sarah Watt

Look Both Ways is an engaging yet thoroughly innocuous little drama revolving around the lives of several characters over one particularly eventful weekend. Some of the more notable figures we meet are: Meryl (Justine Clarke), an artist who witnesses a man being hit by a train; Nick (William McInnes), a photographer who's just learned he has cancer; and Andy (Anthony Hayes), a journalist whose girlfriend has announced she's pregnant. As expected, some of the characters and their respective storylines come off as more compelling than others - with Meryl and Nick's tentative romance certainly the highlight (it's hard not to wish the entire film had been about them). Filmmaker Sarah Watt imbues Look Both Ways with some exceedingly clever directorial choices (ie after discovering he's got cancer, Nick flashes back on his entire life via still photographs), and keeps the story moving at a brisk clip - although the film never quite has the emotional impact of a Magnolia or a Short Cuts. Still, Look Both Ways is certainly worth a look, particularly for fans of this sort of thing (that Clarke delivers an honest, utterly convincing performance doesn't hurt, either).

out of

Dear Wendy
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

Dear Wendy suffers from the same sort of problems that plagued Lars von Trier's first America-centric production, Dogville (although, at least, there are actual sets this time around). Both films emphasize absurd, thoroughly ridiculous plot developments, as von Trier abandons all sense of reality for the sole purpose of making a point. The filmmaker's target here is America's fascination with guns, as the story details a young man's descent into obsession soon after his first encounter with an antique firearm. Von Trier's fingerprints are all over Dear Wendy, despite the fact that he didn't actually direct it (von Trier cohort Thomas Vinterberg takes the reigns). As expected, there's no sense of reality at work here; we never get the impression that this could ever happen, making it virtually impossible to become invested in any aspect of the story. Exacerbating matters is von Trier's overly talky screenplay, which inexplicably refuses to develop a single one of these characters beyond their most basic attributes. As a result, it's hard to shake the feeling that these people exist for the sole purpose of furthering von Trier's convoluted agenda. It's a shame, really, since the performances are actually quite effective (star Jamie Bell, in particular, is absolutely convincing) and Vinterberg peppers the film with a few intriguing directorial choices - yet it's just not enough to disguise the fact that Dear Wendy is thoroughly and irredeemably dull.

out of

These Girls
Directed by John Hazlett

Try as it might, These Girls just can't hide the fact that it's based on a stage play. Director John Hazlett imbues the film with all the style of a movie-of-the-week, something that's reflected in the routine, predictable storyline. The film revolves around Keira (Caroline Dhavernas), Lisa (Holly Lewis), and Glory (Amanda Walsh), and their summertime exploits with the local hunk, Keith (David Boreanaz). These Girls has clearly been fashioned to appeal to teenaged girls, a demographic that will undoubtedly get a kick out of the empowering shenanigans of Keira and her buddies. Other viewers, on the other hand, will be hard-pressed to find anything here worth embracing, as it's all just so silly and pointless. The film doesn't have anything new or interesting to say about life as a teenager, and although the performances are likeable and engaging (Dhavernas, in particular, is quite good), the bottom line is that These Girls comes off as nothing more than an instantly forgettable piece of work that seems as though it'd be just as effective (if not more so) on the small screen.

out of

Directed by Astra Taylor

It's quite stunning just how dull Zizek! really is, but it also seems obvious that the film has unapologetically been geared towards a very, very specific audience. Slavoj Zizek is an eminent philosopher with some very specific ideas on a whole host of subjects, from political science to modern Christianity to Alfred Hitchcock movies. Zizek, a large, imposing man with an unkempt beard, speaks incredibly fast and has an extremely heavy accent (which is exacerbated by his pronounced lisp), making it virtually impossible to decipher at least half of what he's saying. Director Astra Taylor allows Zizek the opportunity to talk and talk (and talk), giving the film the feel of a particularly boring college lecture. It doesn't help that Zizek essentially comes off as a rambling lunatic, the sort you might find muttering to himself on a random street corner. But somehow the man has become a respected figure, worthy of a 71-minute documentary. Having said that, it's clear that fans of Zizek's work (of which there must be many, judging from the enormous, appreciative audiences Zizek appears before throughout the film) will get a whole lot more out of this than neophytes (a primer to Zizek and his ideals this is not).

out of

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© David Nusair