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Toronto International Film Festival 2005 - UPDATE #5

Lie With Me
Directed by Clement Virgo

There's already been a certain amount of controversy swirling around Lie With Me, thanks to its frank depiction of the central characters' sexual misadventures. Director Clement Virgo doesn't shy away from portraying the raw, almost x-rated relationship between David (Eric Balfour) and Leila (Lauren Lee Smith), but comes up short in giving us a single reason to care about them. Leila is a slutty video store clerk who hooks up with David, an equally loose scumbag with a penchant for public displays of lewdness (both characters don't seem to have any interests or hobbies outside of having sex). Admittedly, Virgo does an effective job of developing both Leila and David as emotionally damaged, thoroughly miserable individuals (David is stuck caring for his infirm father, while Leila is attempting to cope with the divorce of her parents). But there's no story here, and that's really the bottom line; stripped of the pointlessly explicit sex scenes and slow-motion shots of Leila wandering the streets of Toronto, Lie With Me would barely qualify as a short. The self-conscious, painfully pretentious voice-over narration by Smith certainly doesn't help matters, and just adds to the distinct feeling of needless artiness (ie "I wish I could ride my bike forever. I wish the sun would never go down"). The bottom line is that it's virtually impossible to discern just what Virgo's attempting to do here; if his goal was to create an annoying, 21st century variation on 9 1/2 Weeks, he's undoubtedly succeeded.

out of

Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company
Directed by Allan King

Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company is an effective but thoroughly depressing documentary revolving around a select group of residents at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto. Filmmaker Allan King followed the lives of eight Baycrest residents for four months, taking the stance of a passive observer (meaning there are no interviews or even onscreen titles). This method allows the viewer to take an objective, up-close look at what day-to-day life is like for these people and the nurses that care for them. On the flipside, though, it prevents us from getting to know them terribly well; because most of these individuals aren't quite all there mentally, we never really get much of an understanding of what they were like in their youth (something that could've easily been corrected by the inclusion of interviews with their children and loved ones). Having said that, there are a number of genuinely affecting moments here, with the most obvious example of this involving the death of a resident named Max. Claire, a close friend, reacts with sadness and regret when informed of Max's demise. But due to her diminished mental state, Claire must constantly be reminded of Max's passing (her shocked reaction each time is heartbreaking). Moments like that make it easy enough to overlook Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company's flaws, and it's easy enough to see why King is considered Canada's foremost documentarian.

out of

50 Ways of Saying Fabulous
Directed by Stewart Main

50 Ways of Saying Fabulous is yet another coming-of-age story revolving around a young boy who's struggling to accept his burgeoning homosexuality. It's the sort of tale that's been told many, many times before, and - as a result - any filmmaker choosing to tackle this well-worn subject needs to infuse their movie with some seriously innovative elements. Stewart Main, the film's writer/director, attempts to liven up the proceedings with an absurdly over-the-top sense of style that involves the relentless use of the camera's zoom function. This is exacerbated by Peter Scholes' incessant, distracting score, which - one would imagine - is meant to evoke a vibe of innocence but instead comes off as annoying. And while the performances are actually pretty decent - stars Andrew Patterson and Harriet Beattie deliver thoughtful, effective performances - they're constantly undermined by the film's various ill-conceived aspects (including a bizarre undercurrent of fantasy that doesn't receive any kind of a payoff).

out of

Shooting Dogs
Directed by Michael Caton-Jones

Though it covers much of the same ground as last year's Hotel Rwanda, Shooting Dogs is an equally effective look at the genocidal events that occurred in South Africa in the mid-'90s. The story revolves around a priest (John Hurt) and a teacher (Hugh Dancy) at a Rwandan secondary school, where hundreds of Tutsis are forced to take refuge after the ruling Hutus declare war. Director Michael Caton-Jones imbues Shooting Dogs with an understated, thoroughly matter-of-fact sense of style that quickly proves to be an ideal match for David Wolstencroft's uncompromising screenplay, which effectively captures the horror and brutality of the situation. However, the film's treatment of Dancy's character - who goes from wide-eyed optimist to grizzled pessimist - comes off as somewhat less-than-subtle, although the same could be said of Don Cheadle's arc in Hotel Rwanda. And while the film's emotional impact is hindered by the familiarity of the story, the strong performances (Hurt, in particular) and heart-wrenching conclusion more than make up for the sporadic deficiencies.

out of

The Proposition
Directed by John Hillcoat

With The Proposition, screenwriter Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat have effectively created an anti-Western; though the landscape is familiar, there's little else here that can easily be associated with the genre (a John Wayne flick this is not). The problem emerges when it becomes clear that Cave and Hillcoat have inexplicably chosen to eschew an actual storyline in favor of ambiance - a choice that only becomes more problematic as the film progresses. The film stars Guy Pearce as an outlaw named Charlie Burns, who is blackmailed by local lawman Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) into bringing his older brother (played by Danny Huston) back from the countryside to face justice. The Proposition is, obviously, extremely stylish and atmospheric, but the bottom line is that the film just isn't terribly interesting. This is despite some awfully entertaining performances, including expectedly effective turns from Pearce, Winstone, and Huston - along with a bizarre cameo appearance by John Hurt. And while there are a few intriguing moments sprinkled throughout The Proposition's running time, this is generally an exercise in frustration (ie by all rights, this should've been an engaging, gritty little flick).

out of

Adam's Apples
Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen

Adam's Apples, the latest effort from prolific Danish filmmaker Anders Thomas Jensen, is - expectedly - an odd, blacker-than-black comedy that's almost impossible to describe. The story revolves around Adam (Ulrich Thomsen), a Neo-Nazi thug who is - as dictated by his parole - forced to live and work at a remote Church alongside a priest named Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen) and several other former inmates. Storywise, that's about it; Jensen, who also wrote the screenplay, places the emphasis on the exceedingly quirky characters and expects their antics to propel the film forward. As a result, the film takes an awfully long time to get going - although there's no denying that the superb performances by Thomsen and Mikkelsen keep things interesting throughout. It also doesn't hurt that Jensen's peppered the film with some genuinely funny moments, the majority of which are destined to offend certain viewers (particularly the unfortunate fate of one character's pet cat). But despite its various positive attributes, Adam's Apples never quite becomes as engaging as one might expect - thanks primarily to the film's decidedly uneven sense of pacing.

out of

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© David Nusair