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Toronto International Film Festival 2007 - UPDATE #5

My Winnipeg
Directed by Guy Maddin

Right from it's opening frames, My Winnipeg establishes itself as a product designed to appeal solely to fans of filmmaker Guy Maddin's admittedly off-kilter sensibilities - as the movie is rife with all the elements one has come to expect from a Maddin picture (including grainy black-and-white visuals, ceaseless narration, and a distinct lack of plot). Ostensibly a documentary about Winnipeg and Maddin's upbringing, the film is really just an excuse for Maddin to revel in the precisely the sort of unpleasant excess he's inexplicably built a career on. As such, My Winnipeg comes off as an almost relentlessly avant-garde piece of work - although the movie does sporadically pick up as Maddin infuses certain sequences with intentionally comedic instances of high melodrama (the re-enactments of his childhood are particularly amusing, admittedly). But Maddin's in-your-face sense of style effectively keeps the viewer at arm's length throughout the entirety of My Winnipeg's mercifully short running time, and it seems highly unlikely that newcomers to the filmmaker's oeuvre will find much of anything worth embracing here.

out of

Directed by Tamar van den Dop

Written and directed by Tamar van den Dop, Blind tells the story of a sightless young man (Joren Seldeslachts' Ruben) who has scared away scores of young women hired to read to him - something that changes with the hire of a fiercely strong-willed albino named Marie (Halina Reijn). The two begin to break down one another's barriers and eventually find themselves falling in love, though - as expected - certain complications threaten their happiness. First-time filmmaker van den Dop does a nice job of infusing Blind with a dreamy, fairy tale-esque sort of vibe, and aside from a few relatively conventional third-act developments, the movie is subsequently rife with off-kilter elements that cement its status as a thoroughly original piece of work. The otherworldly atmosphere, surprisingly enough, doesn't preclude van den Dop from transforming the two central characters into compelling, entirely sympathetic figures, with the stellar work by both Seldeslachts and Reijn playing a crucial role on the movie's success. The undeniably (and expectedly) heartbreaking conclusion ensures that Blind ends on quite a memorable note, and it's ultimately clear that van den Dop possesses ample promise as an up-and-coming filmmaker.

out of

Fugitive Pieces
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa

Based on the novel by Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces tells the time-spanning story of Jakob - who we first met as a small boy during World War II and eventually follow through his tumultuous adulthood. A consistent within Jakob's life is his adoptive godfather (played by Rade Sherbedgia), who takes the boy in after his family is murdered by Nazis. Directed with overt sterility by Jeremy Podeswa, Fugitive Pieces is one of those very slow-paced and very serious efforts that's not quite dull exactly - though the film is almost entirely lacking in compelling sequences. Podeswa's inability to elicit any feelings of emotion within the viewer ultimately ensures that Jakob's plight is awfully hard to connect to, and there's little doubt that the film's deliberate vibe (it just seems to go on and on and on) is exacerbated by the inclusion of several plot elements that feel awfully random (including Jakob's third-act relationship with a museum curator). The downbeat conclusion comes off as flat and needless, while star Stephen Dillane's impenetrable performance makes it exceedingly difficult to sympathize with his character's various problems. Fugitive Pieces might hold some appeal for those familiar with Michaels' novel, but - bottom line - Podeswa's arm's-length modus operandi is sure to alienate the majority of viewers.

out of

The Brave One
Directed by Neil Jordan

Undoubtedly a far more impressive and accomplished piece of work than the similarly-themed Death Sentence, The Brave One casts Jodie Foster as Erica - a New York City radio host whose fiancé (Naveen Andrews) is brutally murdered by a gang of punks. Erica subsequently buys a gun for protection, but soon finds herself using the firearm to cleanse the streets of violent criminals. Director Neil Jordan has infused The Brave One with an exceedingly slow-moving vibe that's initially somewhat off-putting, though it does become clear - as the movie progresses - that the deliberate manner in which the story unfolds is instrumental in ensuring the downright compelling nature of the film's second half. Foster delivers an expectedly electrifying performance, and though her character's association with Terrence Howard's compassionate cop initially seems to be based entirely on coincidence, there does reach a point at which their complex and involving friendship essentially becomes the backbone of the entire film. The surprising conclusion is sure to polarize audiences and it's ultimately clear that The Brave One will fare best among viewers able to seriously suspend their disbelief, as the movie is - for those who embrace its admittedly over-the-top flow - one of the most compelling and flat-out exciting revenge thrillers to come along in quite some time.

out of

Captain Mike Across America
Directed by Michael Moore

Following in the footsteps of such polarizing documentaries as Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko, Michael Moore's Captain Mike Across America instantly establishes itself as a far breezier (and admittedly one-sided) affair that ultimately feels as though it'd be more at home within the supplemental materials section of one of his DVDs. The film follows Moore as he travels from state-to-state during the 2004 presidential election, with his goal being to encourage more young people to get out and vote. Captain Mike Across America initially plays out as a standard tour/concert film, with Moore's short rah-rah speeches followed by a performance by a left-leaning musician (ie Eddie Vedder and Steve Earle). It's not until the filmmaker begins to include the sort of political content he's become famous for that the movie finally becomes as sporadically engaging as one might've hoped, and there's certainly no overlooking the poignancy of some of these interludes (with the sequence in which Moore encourages a stadium full of people to applaud for a special forces vet certainly a key example of this). Ultimately, however, Captain Mike Across America is simply too long and too repetitive to make any real impact - though Moore's fans will undoubtedly find more value here than casual viewers.

out of

Michael Clayton
Directed by Tony Gilroy

The directorial debut of noted screenwriter Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton stars Gorge Clooney as the title character - a "fixer" for a prestigious law firm who finds himself in a whole mess of trouble after a colleague (Tom Wilkinson) puts a lucrative case in jeopardy. Gilroy has infused Michael Clayton with a complex, almost impenetrable sensibility that admittedly demands an awful lot of patience from the viewer - as the entirety of the movie's opening hour is virtually impossible to comfortably follow. But as the story unfolds and the pieces start to fall into place, there's no denying that Michael Clayton starts to morph into a surprisingly involving little drama/thriller. Clooney delivers as superb and fascinating a performance as one might've expected, and it's to his credit that the movie remains watchable even through some of its more baffling stretches. The incredibly effective finale undoubtedly bumps Michael Clayton up several notches, and although it's clear that the film doesn't possess much in the way of mainstream appeal, it's certainly a very effective first effort from a promising new filmmaker.

out of

Directed by Nadine Labaki

Barbershop for the Middle-Eastern set, Caramel follows the day-to-day shenanigans of several closely-knit friends - all of whom happen to work at a beauty salon. First-time filmmaker (and star) Nadine Labaki has populated Caramel with characters that are either underdeveloped or flat-out unpleasant - with a self-centered, would-be actress easily the most obvious example of the latter. Labaki's propensity for unreasonably broad instances of comedy is lamentable, and there's ultimately little here that the average viewer will be able to relate to. And while the movie is sporadically an eye-opening look at a culture that possesses more than a few backwards elements - ie there's a character who goes under the knife in an effort to convince her future husband that she's still a virgin - Caramel is a tedious, virtually interminable effort that surely doesn't bode well for Labaki's future cinematic efforts.

out of

The Counterfeiters
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky

Well made but utterly routine, The Counterfeiters revolves around a master forger who finds himself sent to a concentration camp during the Second World War - where his unique skills are quickly put to work by the Nazis. There's exceedingly little within The Counterfeiters to set it apart from its similarly-themed brethren (ie 2001's The Grey Zone), and it's consequently impossible to overlook the pervading sense of familiarity inherent within virtually every aspect of the film (the inclusion of such stock characters as the Sadistic Nazi and the Pathetic Prisoner certainly doesn't help matters). It's a shame, really, as there's little doubt that the true story at the heart of director Stefan Ruzowitzky's screenplay is an interesting one, though it's ultimately clear that only WWII junkies will find much of anything worth embracing here.

out of

© David Nusair