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Toronto International Film Festival 2008 - UPDATE #1

Directed by Atom Egoyan

Though rife with many of the same problems that have plagued Atom Egoyan's recent efforts, Adoration ultimately overcomes an almost disastrously plodding opening half hour to become a slight yet somewhat engaging piece of work. The distinctly fractured narrative - coupled with an exceedingly deliberate pace - does ensure that one's initial impression of the film is that of an art-house mess, yet there reaches a point at which Egoyan's muddled modus operandi comes into focus and one is subsequently drawn into the proceedings. The story followers high schooler Simon (Devon Bostick) as he confronts the mysterious past of his dead mother (Rachel Blanchard's Rachel) and father (Noam Jenkins' Sami) while working on an assignment from his teacher (Arsinee Khanjian's Sabine), which certainly doesn't sit well with his working-class uncle (Scott Speedman's Tom). Egoyan, as expected, has peppered Adoration with relentlessly morose figures whose behavior and motivations often stretch the very limits of credibility, though the superb work of the various actors (Speedman, especially) inevitably proves effective in infusing the broadly-drawn characters with a small degree of authenticity. And while the egregiously lugubrious first reel seems destined to turn off most viewers, the film's late-in-the-game surprises do ensure that one's patience is eventually rewarded (albeit in an awfully mild manner).

out of

Real Time
Directed by Randall Cole

There's little doubt that Real Time's admittedly intriguing premise initially seems as though it's going to be squandered by writer/director Randall Cole, as the filmmaker generally stresses hopelessly quirky situations and conversations that grow increasingly tiresome as the movie progresses. The storyline - which follows a compulsive gambler (Jay Baruchel's Andy) as he's given one hour to live by Australian hitman Reuben (Randy Quaid) - has been augmented with a whole host of gratuitous elements, with Andy's pointless detours (including a visit to a fast-food chicken joint and a quest to find a prostitute that looks like Rosie Perez) certainly ranking high on the list of Cole's unfortunate transgressions. That said, Baruchel and Quaid's downright stellar work ensures that the film does remain fairly watchable even through its more overtly inane stretches - as the actors effortlessly transform themselves into characters that are a far cry from their usual onscreen personas. It's only as Cole takes the emphasis off of Andy and Reuben's relentlessly off-kilter shenanigans that Real Time starts to become as engaging as its performances, with the movie's final half hour affecting and involving in ways that one might not have initially anticipated.

out of

Directed by Mike Leigh

Anchored by Sally Hawkins' absolutely stunning lead performance, Happy-Go-Lucky ultimately comes off as a slightly uneven yet thoroughly engaging slice-of-life effort from writer/director Mike Leigh. Hawkins stars as Poppy, an almost egregiously upbeat and outgoing elementary-school teacher who finds herself forced to sign up for driving lessons after her bicycle is stolen (the discovery of which prompts her to exclaim, "I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye!") Leigh's legendarily free-wheeling sensibilities are certainly on full display here, as the filmmaker generally eschews solid instances of plot and instead emphasizes Poppy's seemingly random day-to-day activities (ie a visit with a physiotherapist and an encounter with a homeless man). It's a choice that proves instrumental in transforming Poppy from an irritatingly gregarious figure into someone that the viewer actively wants to see succeed, with Hawkins' ingratiating, downright immersive turn as the character undoubtedly playing a significant role in the movie's success. There's little doubt, however, that the film's 118-minute running time is a tad longer than the distinctly plotless structure can withstand, and it does become increasingly clear that the proceedings would've benefited from a few judicious edits here and there. Still, based on the strength of Hawkins' work alone, Happy-Go-Lucky - which unexpectedly lingers within one's thoughts long after the end credits have rolled - establishes itself as an indelible entry within Leigh's impressive filmography.

out of

Le Silence de Lorna
Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

It's virtually impossible to mistake Le Silence de Lorna as anything other than the latest effort from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, as the film is rife with precisely the sort of elements that one has come to associate with the brothers' body of work (ie low-key storytelling, shaky camerawork, etc). The movie - which follows a young Albanian woman (Arta Dobroshi's Lorna) as she attempts to cope with a sham marriage designed to make her a Belgian citizen - unfolds in a manner that's admittedly impossible to anticipate, as the filmmaking siblings essentially drop the viewer into Lorna's life with a bare minimum of exposition or set-up. There's little doubt that the Dardenne's penchant for doling out information in deliberate increments proves crucial in sustaining the viewer's interest, although one can't help but question their decision to omit a fairly significant occurrence within Lorna's life at around the one-hour mark (we only learn about it afterwards and subsequently can't help but fleetingly wonder if a missed reel is the culprit). Dobroshi - whose resemblance to Ellen Page borders on distracting - offers up a masterful performance that generally proves effective in smoothing over the film's deficiencies, and while there's ultimately not a whole lot distinguishing Le Silence de Lorna from the Dardenne's previous kitchen-sink dramas, it's certainly difficult to overlook the almost uncomfortably authentic vibe that's been hard-wired into the proceedings (the strangely abrupt conclusion does leave something to be desired, however).

out of

One Week
Directed by Michael McGowan

One Week casts Joshua Jackson as Ben Tyler, an elementary school teacher who learns that he has stage four cancer and subsequently embarks on a cross-country trip across Canada. Writer/director Michael McGowan has fashioned a road movie that packs an unexpected emotional punch, as the filmmaker places as much of an emphasis on Ben's emotional journey as his physical one. And while McGowan occasionally skirts the line of egregious quirkiness - ie Ben's encounter with the Stanley Cup itself - it's hard to deny that such interludes ultimately fit into the film's overall modus operandi. The movie - which is steeped in a myriad of references that only a Canadian crowd will fully be able to appreciate (ie Tim Horton's "roll up the rim to win" promotion, a cameo appearance by The Tragically Hip's Gord Downey as a pot-smoking cancer survivor, etc) - certainly benefits substantially from Jackson's unexpectedly layered and downright immersive performance, as the actor generally does an effective job of ensuring that the proceedings stay grounded even through its more overtly off-kilter moments. The end result is an effort that one can easily envision certain viewers finding intolerable, admittedly, yet for those willing to go with it, One Week ultimately comes off as a moving and tremendously involving piece of work.

out of

Plus tard, tu comprendas
Directed by Amos Gitai

While undoubtedly a substantial improvement over filmmaker Amos Gitai's 2005 effort, the nigh unwatchable Free Zone, Plus Tard, tu comprendas ultimately suffers from a cold, almost clinical sensibility that effectively leaves the viewer at arm's length for much of the proceedings. The exceedingly spare storyline - which follows a middle-aged man (Hippolyte Girardot's Victor) as he attempts to unravel his family's secrets, specifically his mother's (Jeanne Moreau's Rivka) actions during the Second World War - has been peppered with a number of seemingly insignificant sequences, as Gitai's penchant for going off on head-scratching tangents is certainly in full force here. And though Gitai does eventually offer up a few intriguing interludes - including one in which a fast-talking appraiser calculates the worth of an apartment's worth of knickknacks - the almost uniformly underdeveloped characters make it awfully difficult for one to work up any enthusiasm for their respective foibles. This is despite performances that are probably better than the film deserves, with Moreau's subtle yet powerful turn periodically infusing the proceedings with some much-needed depth.

out of

Down to the Dirt
Directed by Justin Simms

Though set within the unfamiliar cinematic terrain of Newfoundland's seedy underbelly, Down to the Dirt's egregiously plotless sensibilities eventually transform it into a surprisingly off-putting and downright dull piece of work. The film primarily follows a poetry-writing bad boy (Joel Hynes' Keith Kavanagh) as he embarks upon a relationship with the equally rebellious Natasha (Mylene Savoie), with the bulk of the proceedings devoted to their attempts at finding a better, more prosperous life for themselves. There's little doubt that Down to the Dirt does hold some promise in its early scenes, as filmmaker Justin Simms paints an admittedly vivid portrait of the exceedingly dingy landscape within which Keith exists. It becomes clear fairly quickly, however, that Keith simply isn't interesting enough a character to sustain one's interest for the duration of the film's sporadically interminable 110-minute running time, and the increasingly unpleasant bent of Simms and Hynes' screenplay does become awfully tough to take - particularly once the action shifts to Halifax, where Keith encounters a vicious pimp (Hugh Dillon's Renny) and Natasha dates an eye-rollingly superficial businessman. By the time the drawn-out cat-murdering sequence rolls around, Down to the Dirt has certainly established itself as an uncommonly disagreeable effort that's destined to turn off most mentally-stable viewers.

out of

© David Nusair