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Toronto International Film Festival 2006 - UPDATE #6

Directed by Christopher Smith

Severance has been labeled a cross between The Office and Deliverance, though - as far as the latter goes - a more apt comparison would probably be Just Before Dawn or Wrong Turn; all three films revolve around a group of characters that find themselves at the mercy of bloodthirsty maniacs in the middle of the jungle. Cowritten and directed by Christopher Smith, Severance is a definite cut above its forebearers - as the filmmaker has imbued the movie with memorable characters, an emphasis on surprisingly dark bits of comedy, and a surfeit of gleefully over-the-top kill sequences. The storyline follows several employees of an international arms corporation as they head into the woods for a "team-building weekend," which quickly transforms into something far more sinister. Smith - along with co-writer James Moran - is clearly under no illusions as to the sort of movie he's making, and subsequently pokes fun at the genre at every opportunity (one character even says, "I'll be right back"!) This is essentially the ideal Midnight Madness flick, as it's not difficult at all to imagine audiences going crazy over some of this stuff (the "bear trap" sequence is an obvious highlight). And although the movie kind of runs out of steam as it progresses, there's simply no denying that Severance is one of the most flat-out fun movies to play the festival.

out of

My Best Friend
Directed by Patrice Leconte

Lightweight but generally engaging, My Best Friend stars Daniel Auteuil as François - a successful art dealer who comes to the abrupt realization that he doesn't have any real friends. Spurred on by a bet, François sets out to prove that he has at least one close confidant - a quest that leads him straight to likeable cabbie Bruno (Dany Boon). Director Patrice Leconte has essentially crafted a heterosexual romantic comedy, complete with the requisite fake break-up towards the film's conclusion. On that level, the movie basically works; the third act is much longer than it needs to be and riddled with needless instances of sentiment, but it's difficult not to get caught up in François' plight. Auteuil's effective, engaging performance certainly goes a long way towards ensuring the film's success, something that's equally true of the inclusion of several genuinely hilarious sequences (including François' fruitless efforts to ingratiate himself to complete strangers). Leconte's jittery camerawork seems incongruous with the breezy tone, and although there are few surprises to be had within My Best Friend's running time, the movie is rarely boring.

out of

A Good Year
Directed by Ridley Scott

That powerhouse figures like Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe would agree to participate in as cliched and thoroughly predictable a film as A Good Year is baffling, although - that being said - the movie is certainly well made and sporadically entertaining (it should've been so much more, though). Crowe stars as Max Skinner, a high-powered stockbroker who starts questioning his superficial existence after flying to France to settle his recently-deceased uncle's estate. It's the sort of story we've seen countless time before, and although A Good Year's never quite as overly familiar as it could've been (ie Crowe's character doesn't start out with slicked-back hair, at least), it's hard not to feel a twinge of disappointment as the film quickly reveals itself to be an innocuous and ultimately forgettable piece of work. Crowe delivers an expectedly strong performance, though he's generally undercut by the engagingly quirky supporting cast (which includes Marion Cotillard, Abbie Cornish, and Tom Hollander). The gorgeous scenery is, of course, a highlight, and it's worth noting that the film's players are generally upstaged by the striking, sun-drenched vistas.

out of

Directed by Johnnie To

As was the case with filmmaker Johnnie To's previous action-oriented efforts - including PTU and Fulltime Killer - Exiled is heavy on style but disappointingly low on substance. This time around, the director has taken things a step further by eschewing character development and plot to an almost absurd degree. Instead, To - clearly inspired by old-school Westerns (particularly Sergio Leone's Man With No Name trilogy) - emphasizes long, drawn-out standoffs, most of which come to a predictably violent head. There are consequently no characters here worth sympathizing with, a situation that's exacerbated by To's reluctance to offer up any expository interruptions. And although there are a number of genuinely exciting action sequences spread throughout Exiled's far-too-long running time - with the final confrontation an obvious highlight - the overtly uneven vibe ensures that To neophytes will find little here worth embracing.

out of

Directed by Murali K. Thalluri

Inspired by Gus Van Sant's Elephant to an almost absurd degree, 2:37 consequently comes off as a pale shadow of its progenitor. The movie, which follows several high school students over the course of one particularly eventful day and culminates in a grisly death, marks the directorial debut of Murali K. Thalluri, an exceedingly young filmmaker who admittedly has a good eye for compelling visuals. Along with cinematographer Nick Matthews, Thalluri has infused 2:37 with a rich, deeply textured sense of style that initially alleviates some of his screenplay's more derivative elements (of which there are many). But there reaches a point at which the film's aimlessness becomes overwhelming; with no characters worth caring about and the inclusion of a distinctly inconsequential and random vibe, there's little within 2:37 to hold the viewer's interest.

out of

Chacun sa nuit
Directed by Jean-Marc Barr and Pascal Arnold

It's almost inexplicable just how bad Chacun sa nuit quickly reveals itself to be, as the film immediately adopts a senseless and distinctly pointless aura that persists throughout its running time. Revolving around the interminable exploits of five French friends - four guys and one unusually slutty girl - the movie boasts several unimpressive performances, though the actors are hardly at fault for the myriad of problems here. Directors Jean-Marc Barr and Pascal Arnold deserve the lion's share of the blame, and their choice to employ a time-shifting structure proves to be a disastrous one. Rather than play around with time in an interesting or artful way, the filmmakers have instead infused the movie with a baffling, thoroughly frustrating sort of vibe (ie it generally feels as though the reels are playing out of order). Difficulties in telling the various characters apart only adds to the feeling of ineptness, although every one of these figures generally comes off as unreasonably obnoxious. Chacun sa nuit is as bad as film festival movies get, devoid of anything even resembling competence.

no stars out of

© David Nusair