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Toronto International Film Festival 2006 - UPDATE #10

Day on Fire
Directed by Jay Anania

Stripped of its various superfluous elements, Day on Fire would surely sport a running time of about five minutes - as filmmaker Jay Anania has infused the bulk of the proceedings with a nonsensical, thoroughly pretentious vibe. There's no actual plot here; Anania instead offers up a series of barely-developed figures and forces them to spout dialogue that doesn't sound even remotely authentic (ie nobody talks this way). Exacerbating matters is Anania's penchant for placing his characters into increasingly mundane situations, with a long sequence in which Martin Donovan's Walter admires his reflection a particularly apt example of this. And although the performances are decent and there's a third act twist that's admittedly pretty nifty, Day on Fire is - for the most part - a thunderously boring endeavor that generally serves as solid proof that Anania flat-out hates his audience.

no stars out of

Day Night Day Night
Directed by Julia Loktev

Day Night Day Night follows Luisa Williams' unnamed protagonist as she's meticulously armed with a bomb by faceless men and sent out onto the streets of New York City. Writer/director Julia Loktev quickly proves to have little interest in offering up a traditional narrative; with the emphasis placed on a series of seemingly mundane events involving Williams' character, it's not difficult to imagine most viewers checking out early. But even through the Day Night Day Night's less-than-eventful sections - including the opening half hour, which essentially revolves around Williams' efforts to kill time in a hotel room - there's something strangely fascinating about all of this, and it's clear that Williams' striking, thoroughly authentic performance plays a key role in the film's success. The actress ensures that even trivial moments - ie she eats a candied apple from start to finish - are infused with a palpable feeling of suspense, and it's ultimately quite difficult not to sympathize with her character's plight (even if we never learn all that much about her or the cause she's willing to die for). Loktev does an effective job of maintaining the tense atmosphere for virtually the entirety of Day Night Day Night, although - admittedly - the movie does start to run out of steam as it enters its third act (a problem that's exacerbated by the frustratingly open-ended conclusion).

stars out of

The Last Winter
Directed by Larry Fessenden

Although infused with random bursts of style by director Larry Fessenden, The Last Winter's effectiveness is ultimately hampered by an egregiously slow build-up and a resolution that's overly vague and flat-out laughable. The story follows several characters - including Ron Perlman's Ed Pollack, James Le Gros' James Hoffman, and Connie Britton's Abby Sellers - as they attempt to determine whether or not a shadowy corporation should be allowed to drill for oil within a barren Arctic landscape. Fessenden - along with cowriter Robert Leaver - does a nice job of establishing the various rivalries within the group and the paranoia that sets in after unexplainable things start to occur. Having said that, the filmmaker proves unable to offer up a single reason to care about any of this; despite the inclusion of several superb performances, the characters are uniformly uninteresting and it's consequently impossible to sympathize with their increasingly precarious plight. The baffling conclusion certainly doesn't do the film any favors, with the end result a piece of work that's sporadically intriguing but mostly dull.

stars out of

Rescue Dawn
Directed by Werner Herzog

Based on the real-life story that inspired Werner Herzog's Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Rescue Dawn casts Christian Bale as Dieter - an American fighter pilot who is captured by the enemy after being shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War (Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies costar as fellow prisoners-of-war). Herzog (who also wrote the film's screenplay) has infused the proceedings with an old-fashioned sensibility that undeniably serves the material quite well - though there's little doubt that the movie is ultimately far grittier than one might've expected (ie it may be old-fashioned but it's certainly not conventional). Of course, it's clear immediately that - in addition to the sporadically indelible imagery (ie a scene featuring Dieter on the run from shirtless Viet Cong in a field of tall grass) - much of the film's success is due primarily to Bale's captivating, flat-out astounding performance as the actor becomes Dieter to an almost ridiculous degree (in addition to his dramatic weight loss, Bale eats live grubs in one particularly effective scene). The increasingly suspenseful vibe - coupled with the uniformly superb supporting performances - ensures that Rescue Dawn remains a cut above like-minded films, and the end result is a piece of work that's entertaining and consistently engaging (although, admittedly, the whole thing's not quite as memorable as Herzog has surely intended).

stars out of

Directed by John Jeffcoat

Outsourced stars Josh Hamilton as Todd Anderson, an affable salesman who is forced to train his replacement after his entire department is outsourced to India. Director John Jeffcoat - along with co-screenwriter George Wing - has fashioned a conventional fish-out-of-water tale that's initially far more entertaining than one might've imagined, with much of the film's success due in no small part to Hamilton's effortlessly charismatic performance. Likewise, Jeffcoat and Wing have infused the early part of Outsourced with a number of genuinely funny cultural misunderstandings (including Todd's suggestion that India start branding their cows). Problems emerge as the lightweight vibe eventually becomes oppressive; despite a relatively short running time of 98 minutes, the film starts to wear out its welcome somewhere around the one-hour mark. Jeffcoat's inability to end the movie on a high note becomes increasingly problematic, as the entire thing just goes on and on (and on) until it finally peters out with a whimper. It's too bad, really; there's certainly plenty within Outsourced to enjoy, and the movie's amiable vibe is - at the outset - virtually impossible to resist.

stars out of

© David Nusair