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Toronto International Film Festival 2005 - UPDATE #6

Directed by Michael Haneke

Caché undoubtedly marks director Michael Haneke's most accessible and flat-out entertaining movie to date. The filmmaker has finally found a story that's interesting enough to support his always-fascinating sense of style, and though the movie is a tad on the long side, there's no denying that Caché is an intense, suspenseful, and surprisingly gripping little thriller. Daniel Auteuil stars as Georges, a TV talk-show host who receives a mysterious videotape containing two hours of static footage of his house. More tapes follow, and Georges becomes convinced that a pivotal figure from his past is responsible. Caché moves at an expectedly slow pace, though it's never boring (something that generally can't be said of the director's films). Haneke's visual choices - particularly his use of long, uninterrupted takes - effectively imbue Caché with a distinct feeling of dread; the film, as a result, comes off as surprisingly suspenseful and gripping, while there's at least one genuinely shocking moment of violence that sent the festival audience into extremely vocal fits of disbelief.

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Evil Aliens
Directed by Jake West

Evil Aliens is an extremely broad horror comedy that, while not as ineffective as some other examples of the genre, isn't nearly as much fun as director Jake West clearly believes it to be. The story revolves around a schlocky television crew who heads to the countryside to investigate a possible UFO sighting. It's not long before the discover that aliens have indeed landed, and they're far from friendly. West - who also wrote the film's screenplay - imbues Evil Aliens with an extraordinarily hyperactive sense of style, a choice that admittedly suits the material but becomes awfully tiresome almost immediately. It certainly doesn't help that the majority of the story transpires at night, lending the film a dreary, unpleasant visual quality. And as far as movies of this sort go, Evil Aliens is actually quite slow-moving; it takes a good half hour before anything of note happens, although the film does open with an impressively gory sequence. In that regard, at least, the movie succeeds (particularly towards the end) - as West throws in a number of over-the-top instances of violence (a scene involving fleeing aliens and a harvester is clearly a standout). To be fair, Evil Aliens is going for a very specific audience, and viewers who ordinarily enjoy this sort of thing will probably not be disappointed. And hey, where else are you going to see an alien slip on a banana peel?

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Harsh Times
Directed by David Ayer

Harsh Times marks the directorial debut of David Ayer, the screenwriter of flicks like Training Day and Dark Blue, and it's obvious right from the get-go that Ayer is sticking to the sort of territory that he's the most comfortable with. The story revolves around Jim (Christian Bale) and Mike (Freddy Rodriguez), two buddies who spend their days cruising the streets of L.A. on the lookout for trouble. Jim is a war veteran who's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, while Mike wants to straighten up and fly right - if only to prevent his longtime girlfriend (played by Eva Longoria) from walking out on him. Ayer emphasizes an appropriately gritty sense of style, refusing to shy away from some of the more unpleasant aspects of Jim and Mike's tumultuous lives. And though Rodriguez and Bale have an equal amount of screen time, there's absolutely no denying that Bale is the central attraction here. The actor delivers one of his best performances, imbuing Jim with a nervous energy and volatility that's simply breathtaking. Even through some of the movie's occasional lulls, it's virtually impossible not to be entertained by Bale's electrifying and absolutely compelling performance. Unfortunately, Ayer doesn't quite know when to quit, and as a result Harsh Times goes on for a good half hour longer than it needs to. The engaging vibe of the first half is replaced with something far more sinister towards the end, and though it seems logical that these characters would wind up where they do, the film does become somewhat less engaging because of it. Still, there's no doubt that Harsh Times - as a first effort - comes off as uncommonly well, primarily thanks to Bale's pitch-perfect acting.

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The Quiet
Directed by Jamie Babbit

The Quiet is a visually arresting but dramatically inert little film that admittedly boasts several impressive performances - with star Camilla Belle an obvious standout. Belle plays Dot, a deaf (or is she?) teenager who moves in with the Deer family after her mother dies. She's shocked to discover just how screwed up these people are, as mom (Edie Falco) is a compulsive pill-popper, daughter (Elisha Cuthbert) is a rebellious punk, and dad (Martin Donovan) is hiding an explosive secret that just may destroy his family for good. The most obvious problem with The Quiet is the bizarre mystery revolving around Dot's hearing loss, which is essentially superfluous thanks to the presence of a couple of sequences in which we hear what she does (muffled sounds, but not total deafness). Certain revelations that come towards the film's conclusion undermine everything that's come before it, which would be easy enough to overlook if the rest of the film were even remotely compelling. Aside from a few enjoyably trashy plot developments towards the end, The Quiet plays out like a subpar movie-of-the-week (albeit one with above-average performances).

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Someone Else's Happiness
Directed by Fien Troch

Though she's not entirely successful, writer/director Fien Troch deserves some kudos for trying something a little different with Someone Else's Happiness; visually, the film is intriguing and compelling (unfortunately, the same can't be said of the storyline). Like Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia and Rose Troche's The Safety of Objects, Someone Else's Happiness follows several disparate characters over the course of several days. However, unlike those films, Troch isn't quite able to turn these people into figures worthy of our sympathy (primarily because most of them remain sorely underdeveloped). This is particularly true of the film's central character, a department store saleswoman who's clearly depressed about something - what, exactly, we never learn. To Troch's credit, she refuses to pander to her audience - carefully dispensing information over the course of the film's 98-minute running time - but this strategy ultimately does little other than test the viewer's patience. The end result is a movie that, while undeniably well made, just never becomes terribly engaging.

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Directed by Billy O'Brien

If nothing else, you've just got to admire the seriousness with which director Billy O'Brien has chosen to tell this admittedly silly story. Isolation revolves around the consequences that emerge from genetic testing on cows, as the experiments have created a deadly breed of parasite that kills indiscriminately. O'Brien takes his time in getting things going (this is an incredible understatement), forcing the viewer to sit through countless sequences in which characters attempt to figure out what's going on. This strategy works for a while, particularly in terms of creating an atmosphere of dread, though the almost nonsensical elements within O'Brien's screenplay become more apparent as a result. But at a certain point, it's impossible to overlook the feeling that there's just too much buildup and not enough payoff. Still, the whole thing's never boring exactly, and the exceedingly disgusting special effects liven things up every now and then. It would've been nice if there had been more of that, however.

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© David Nusair