Toronto International Film Festival 2010 - UPDATE #4
Directed by Ondi Timoner
USA/87 MINUTES/REAL TO REEL
Cool It is an eye-opening yet uneven and overlong documentary detailing the exploits of an academic scientist named Bjorn Lomborg, with the film primarily following his efforts at downplaying the almost hysterical hullabaloo surrounding global warming. It's worth noting that Cool It gets off to a decidedly uninvolving start, as filmmaker Ondi Timoner ineffectively establishes the credentials of his subject - which essentially forces the viewer to wonder if Lomborg is actually qualified to make his controversial claims or if he's just a guy with an opinion. Exacerbating matters is an early emphasis on big business and political policy, with the inherently dry nature of this stretch provoking a less than enthralled reaction in the viewer (ie one's eyes start to glaze over with all the technical jargon). It's only as the movie segues into its progressively intriguing midsection, which is devoted primarily to Lomborg's efforts at refuting the various claims within Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, that Cool It finally does become a surprisingly enthralling piece of work, as there's something undeniably fascinating about watching the film's subject shut down Gore's points one by one (and, as someone else notes, the best way to capture the public's interest on a political issue is to "scare the pants off them.") Unfortunately, Cool It suffers from a final half hour that is almost exclusively devoted to the various solutions for the global warming problem, with Lomborg relegated to the background and the emphasis once again placed on pervasively dry instances of speechifying. It's an anti-climactic close that can't quite diminish the strength of Cool It's strong, informative midsection, though it's clear that the film would've benefited from some extremely judicious editing.
Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen
Directed by Andrew Lau
HONG KONG/106 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
From Infernal Affairs filmmaker Andrew Lau comes this unapologetically over-the-top actioner revolving around a circa WWI Chinese soldier (Donnie Yen's Chen Zhen) who reinvents himself as a masked superhero after the war, with the movie devoted to, among other things, the character's efforts at exacting revenge on several key Japanese figures. Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen opens with a ridiculous yet spectacularly entertaining sequence in which Yen's character single-handedly takes on a small battalion of enemy soldiers, with the engrossing nature of the sequence effectively drawing the viewer into this larger-than-life landscape. It's unfortunate, then, that the film segues into a dull, unexpectedly confusing story revolving around corrupt generals and political assassinations, and there's little doubt that screenwriters Cheung Chi Sing, Gordon Chan, Lui Koon Nam, and Frankie Tam prove unable to consistently sustain the viewer's interest - with the lack of character development for the protagonist certainly ranking high on the movie's growing list of transgressions. Of course, it might have been easier to overlook this had Lau managed to include any periphery elements worth caring about - yet the filmmaker places a pervasive emphasis on subplots that couldn't possibly be more dull (ie the exploits of three eye-rollingly inept cops). The presence of some unusually melodramatic episodes - ie Shu Qi's character arc as a double agent - only compounds the film's progressively uninvolving atmosphere, and although the movie does close with an admittedly engrossing battle (in which Yen's character fights an entire dojo full of warriors), Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen has long-since established itself as a seriously misguided action epic.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa
Based on the first in a series of best selling novels, Easy Money follows three parallel storylines, all of which eventually converge, revolving around the drug-smuggling scene in Sweden. Director Daniel Espinosa has infused Easy Money with a gritty, down-and-dirty visual sensibility that certainly proves an ideal match for the frequently seedy material, with the admittedly confusing nature of the movie's opening half hour - ie we're not entirely sure who these people are and what they're up to - subsequently not nearly as problematic as one might've anticipated. And though each of the three narratives are quite interesting, it's clear right from the get-go that the highlight here is the subplot detailing a money-hungry college student's (Joel Kinnaman's J.W.) epically disastrous decision to fall in with several seriously shady characters. The convoluted atmosphere ultimately gives way to a vibe of surprisingly taut suspense, with the pieces falling into place on a slow yet sure manner that proves impossible to resist. And although the film does hit a bit of a lull as it passes the one hour mark - it's obvious that some trims here and there would've been beneficial - Easy Money builds to an absolutely electrifying finale that's as exciting and thrilling as anything within the genre (and it's certainly difficult not to wish that the rest of the proceedings had been even remotely as jaw-droppingly exciting).
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
A typically divisive effort from Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan stars Natalie Portman as Nina - an ambitious ballerina who has been angling for a lead role under director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) for years. Her chance finally arrives as Thomas decides to stage an audacious retelling of Swan Lake, with Nina's efforts at mastering the difficult "black swan" component of the ballet hindered by some seriously oddball occurrences. On the one hand, Black Swan plays out like a Wrestler-esque look at the cut-throat ballet world - as Aronofsky stresses the backbiting and fierce competition that occurs within the company's ranks. On the other hand, the film comes off as something... else; Aronofsky has sprinkled the proceedings with a number of exceedingly weird happenings, as Nina seems to be suffering either from otherworldly attacks or delusions of an increasingly terrifying nature (ie her reflection seems determined to do her harm). Aronofsky's downright masterful directorial choices go a long way towards creating a surprisingly compelling atmosphere, yet there's little doubt that Black Swan's success is due mostly to Portman's striking, flat-out incredible turn as the central character. The actress' tour-de-force performance anchors the proceedings on a thoroughly consistent basis, and it's worth noting that much of the suspense that ensues in the film's final half hour is heightened by Portman's flawless work. Unfortunately, Aronofsky's decision to remain vague on certain elements ultimately effects Black Sawn's overall impact, as the viewer is forced to leave the proceedings with far too many questions. (Admittedly, this aspect of the movie might wind up being appreciated by certain viewers.)
Directed by David Schwimmer
Directed by David Schwimmer, Trust details the fallout that ensues after the teenage daughter (Liana Liberato's Annie) of Clive Owen's Will and Catherine Keener's Lynn is sexually assaulted by a middle-aged man she meets online. It's clear right from the outset that Schwimmer isn't exactly going for a gritty, realistic sort of vibe, as the central characters' existence is, in the movie's early scenes, portrayed as almost absurdly idyllic (ie they're all just unreasonably happy and content). Things do improve following the aforementioned sexual assault, however, as Schwimmer does a nice job of capturing the anguish that both Owen and Keener's respective characters go through (and it's also worth noting that Annie's blasé reaction to the whole thing, ie she believes it was consensual, is certainly an interesting twist). Schwimmer's respectful reverence for the material unfortunately does result in an atmosphere of oppressive deliberateness, with the less-than-enthralling vibe exacerbated by the decidedly movie-of-the-week bent of Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger's screenplay. Even at its worst and least subtle, however, Trust benefits substantially from the uniformly impressive performances - with Owen's consistently engaging and frequently stirring work undoubtedly standing as a highlight (something that's especially true of the big speech he delivers right at the end of the picture). Trust is, in the end, a passable piece of work that might just stand as a promising new direction for Schwimmer's post-Friends career (and, if nothing else, the film is a considerable improvement over his debut, Run Fatboy Run).
Directed by Denis Côté
An oppressively slow and downright pointless piece of work, Curling follows a socially inept man (Emmanuel Bilodeau's Jean-François) as he attempts to raise his daughter (Philomène Bilodeau's Julyvonne) with absolutely no interference from the outside world - with the film largely devoted to increasingly random episodes involving the two characters. Director Denis Côté has infused Curling with a relentlessly oddball sensibility that certainly proves effective at holding the viewer at arm's length from the material, with the ongoing emphasis on random interludes - ie Jean-François and Julyvonne listen to Tiffany's cover of "I Think We're Alone Now," Jean-François destroys a kid's snow fort, etc - certainly perpetuating the movie's aggressively meaningless atmosphere. And while there are a few compelling moments sprinkled throughout the proceedings - ie the two central characters visit her mother (and his ex-wife) in jail - Curling is first and foremost destined to put most viewers to sleep. In the end, it's impossible not to wonder just what Côté originally set out to do with this mess - ie perhaps the whole thing is meant to come off as a portrait of a colossally horrible parent - yet by the time the movie reaches its random and (this goes without saying) anti-climactic conclusion, it's become impossible to care.