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Toronto International Film Festival 2006 - UPDATE #8

Love and Other Disasters
Directed by Alek Keshishian

Love and Other Disasters is an unabashedly cliched and lighthearted romantic comedy that seems to thrive on the conventions of the genre (the ubiquitous fake break-up and a mad dash to the airport both make appearances). Starring Brittany Murphy as Jacks, the movie revolves around the misadventures of several unlucky-in-love figures - including a would-be suitor for Jacks, who unfortunately finds himself pegged as gay and set up with her homosexual roommate. Writer/director Alek Keshishian initially populates Love and Other Disasters with a series of overly quirky characters and generally forces them into overly quirky conversations (the therapist that espouses her pro-farting views is undoubtedly a superb example of this). But as the film progresses and Keshishian zeroes in on the complications within the various relationships, it's difficult not to be drawn into the admittedly predictable shenanigans of these people. The uniformly likeable cast certainly goes a long way towards ensuring the movie's success, with Murphy particularly effective here (she's bright and personable and probably deserves better material than this). Cameo appearances by a pair of bonafide stars towards the film's conclusion leaves the film with an upbeat and feel-good vibe, and it seems likely that Love and Other Disasters is destined to join the ranks of other set-in-London romcoms (prime example Notting Hill is actually referenced by one of the characters).

out of

Directed by Katherine Dieckmann

Diggers is a low-key yet thoroughly entertaining drama revolving around the residents of a small fishing community, the majority of whom earn a living working as clam diggers. Director Katherine Dieckmann - working from Ken Marino's screenplay - generally doesn't concern herself with plot, choosing instead to emphasize the lives and foibles of the film's central characters. As such, Diggers is the sort of slow-going movie that essentially demands a patient viewer; the characters ultimately become vivid and real, and one can't help but sympathize and empathize with their respective problems. With a cast that includes Paul Rudd, Ron Eldard, and Josh Hamilton, the film is teeming with superb performances - though screenwriter Marino deftly steals each one of his scenes and consequently establishes himself as a charismatic and talented performer in his own right. Dieckmann's eye for detail results in a distinctly authentic vibe, and although the inclusion of so many characters ensures that some get the short shrift in terms of satisfying arcs, there's simply no denying the overall effectiveness of the film.

out of

10 items or less
Directed by Brad Silberling

Featuring an extraordinarily loose performance from Morgan Freeman that's just as effective as anything he's done before, 10 items or less is a slight yet thoroughly satisfying comedy/drama revolving around the one-day relationship that forms between a Hollywood star (Freeman) and a scrappy supermarket clerk (Paz Vega). Writer/director Brad Silberling (Moonlight Mile, Lemony Snicket) has shed his glossy tendencies in favor of a distinctly indie vibe, infusing the film with a free-wheeling and jittery sensibility that generally matches the lighthearted tone of his screenplay. But really, it's Freeman (and to a lesser extent Vega) who deserves most of the credit for the movie's success; the lack of plot never becomes the distraction that one might've anticipated primarily due to the enthusiasm with which Freeman tackles his apparently semi-autobiographical character (there's a recurring joke involving Double Down, an Ashley Judd thriller that keeps popping up in clearance bins). 10 items or less is ultimately nothing more than a fun, 82-minute slice of escapism, which can certainly be a welcome change of pace when trapped within the confines of downbeat festival fare.

out of

Kurt Cobain: About a Son
Directed by AJ Schnack

It's clear almost immediately that Kurt Cobain: About a Son has little to offer detractors of the deceased Nirvana singer, though AJ Schnack's directorial choices admittedly lend the proceedings a surprisingly artful sort of vibe. The filmmaker, working from over 25 hours worth of interviews conducted by music journalist Michael Azerrad, generally does an effective job of matching Cobain's musings with visuals that are often stunning - though it's clear early on that a little of this goes a long way. The film follows a linear path through Cobain's life and career, starting with his traumatic upbringing (his father was abusive, he was a loner in high school, etc) and eventually winding up at his wild success with Nirvana. There are a number of genuinely poignant moments here - Cobain's desire to watch his daughter grow up is surely the most obvious example of this - and the film ultimately offers an extremely rare glimpse into the mind of one of rock and roll's most notoriously tortured figures.

out of

The Pleasure of Your Company
Directed by Michael Ian Black

Though it becomes more and more conventional as it progresses, The Pleasure of Your Company is initially an irreverent, sporadically hilarious romantic comedy that boasts fantastic performances from stars Jason Biggs and Isla Fisher. The admittedly ludicrous storyline revolves around the exploits of Anderson (Biggs) and Katie (Fisher), a pair of total strangers who agree to get married after Anderson - who's stuck in a rut after the death of his last girlfriend - proposes within minutes of their first encounter. Written and directed by Michael Ian Black, The Pleasure of Your Company clearly aspires to be nothing more than a breezy romcom - though the filmmaker's inclusion of distinctly gross-out bits of humor might turn off certain viewers. This is probably as close to another American Pie flick as Biggs is going to get, and there's no denying that the movie is far funnier than any installment of that overrated trilogy. And although the film starts out a whole lot stronger than it ends (it's not terribly difficult to figure out where this is all going), The Pleasure of Your Company remains an affable and thoroughly entertaining piece of work for the majority of its running time.

out of

Directed by Sean Ellis

Expanded from filmmaker Sean Ellis' short film of the same name, Cashback revolves around the exploits of Ben (Sean Biggerstaff) - a morose college student who, following a particularly painful break-up, discovers that he no longer requires sleep to function. After subsequently taking on an overnight job at a local supermarket, Ben is stunned to learn that he also has the power to literally stop time. Right off the bat, Ellis leaves little doubt as to his abilities; the filmmaker has a real eye for effective composition and framing, and infuses the movie with a visual sensibility that's often unusually striking. The strangely mesmerizing vibe certainly goes a long way towards alleviating the overall lack of plot, and Ellis generally does an effective job of disguising the film's truncated origins (there are a few needless sequences, however, with a second-act soccer game the most obvious instance of this). The inclusion of a genuinely sweet romance between Ben and a coworker proves to be irresistible, and there's little doubt that the film heralds the arrival of a fiercely original cinematic presence.

out of

Black Sheep
Directed by Jonathan King

Though the film doesn't quite live up to the promise of its admittedly irresistible premise, Black Sheep nevertheless possesses enough positive attributes to warrant a mild recommendation. First-time filmmaker Jonathan King wisely resists the temptation to infuse the movie with an over-the-top sensibility (ie last year's disastrous Evil Aliens), and instead emphasizes the inherently horrific consequences of such a storyline. Set in the mountains of New Zealand, Black Sheep follows several characters as they're forced to battle bloodthirsty sheep after a genetic experiment goes horribly wrong. King's tendency for bogging the proceedings down with needless subplots becomes a problem early on, as it's generally impossible to care about most of this stuff and one can't help but wish that the director would've just focused on the killer sheep. That being said, there's a fantastic sequence that comes about midway through involving a gleefully brutal attack on a group of business executives that's probably worth the price of admission.

out of

© David Nusair