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Toronto International Film Festival 2003 - UPDATE #5

Rick
Directed by Curtiss Clayton
USA/100 MINUTES/DISCOVERY

This year's film festival had a lot of mediocre and even bad movies, but Rick stands apart as the absolute worst. Though it's got a talented cast and a famous screenwriter (Daniel Handler is the man responsible for the ridiculously successful Lemony Snicket series of children's books) behind it, the movie just doesn't work at all. Bill Pullman stars as the titular Rick, a beleaguered businessman dealing with various irritations. His daughter (played by Agnes Bruckner) is involved in a cyber-sexual relationship with his sleazy boss (Aaron Stanford), and it becomes clear that Rick doesn't approve at all. He meets a contract killer named Buck (Dylan Baker), and the two conspire to eliminate Rick's employer. Almost immediately, Rick adopts an unappealing tone of smugness - as though Handler's written the script as a private joke that the uninitiated will be unable to penetrate. Not a single character behaves the way a normal person would; the film seems to transpire in some kind of alternate version of our reality, where manners and other typical forms of conduct no longer exist. Rick's oddball sense of humor - Buck's character mentions that he has his own company, and his card says "My Own Company" on it - is essentially the opposite of funny, to the point where you have to wonder what kind of drugs Handler was on when he wrote it. Add to that an obnoxious and distracting accordian score (no, really), and you've got a recipe for a film that's thoroughly unpleasant on so many levels. What a waste.

no stars out of


Tom Dowd and the Language of Music
Directed by Mark Moormann
USA/90 MINUTES/REAL TO REEL

After the success of Standing in the Shadows of Motown was such a huge hit after playing at last year's festival, it was inevitable that similar flicks would beginning trickling down. But Tom Dowd and the Language of Music, while not quite as effective as Standing in the Shadows of Motown, never seems derivative of that film, mostly because the man at the center of the movie is such a compelling figure. Tom Dowd was a music engineer who worked with several pivotal artists in the '60s and '70s (including Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton), and though interviews with Dowd himself and other figures that were there, we're given a guided tour of the burgeoning rock 'n roll music scene. The most obvious difference between this and Standing in the Shadows of Motown is the lack of musical performance, which went a long way in making that movie memorable. Still, Dowd proves to be an incredibly engaging figure, and his various stories are undeniably fascinating (especially if you're a fan of this sort of music, but even if you're not, Dowd's ingratiating personality should win you over). The film does lag a bit towards the beginning, though, as director Mark Moormann explores Dowd's involvement with the creation of the atom bomb. But since Moormann doesn't push Dowd to discuss his feelings on being associated with an invention that was subsequently used to kill thousands of people, what's the point? The movie is also occasionally a little too technical, dealing heavily with the difference between four-track and eight-track recording - which admittedly might thrill technophiles, but comes off as gobbledygook to the rest of us. When you get right down to it, however, Tom Dowd and the Language of Music is very entertaining portrait of a man that obviously made quite an impact on the music industry. And hey, if you've ever wondered the inspiration behind that classic riff from Cream's Sunshine of your Love, look no further.

out of


Cheeky
Directed by David Thewlis
UNITED KINGDOM/FRANCE/94 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATION

Cheeky, an unabashedly sentimental comedy/drama, is surprising in that it's been written and directed by outwardly non-sentimental actor David Thewlis (this is, after all, the same man who inhabited the skin of an abusive drifter in Mike Leigh's Naked). In Cheeky, Thewlis stars as an agreeable toyshop owner who loses his wife in a house fire. After discovering that his late wife wanted him to appear on a game show called Cheeky, the object of which is to first answer a series of trivia questions and then berate the opposing contestant in as colorful a manner as possible. Though it's fairly easy to see where all this is going (Thewlis' character and his son haven't gotten along since the death), Cheeky remains entertaining because of Thewlis - both as an actor and a filmmaker. His script often walks a fine line between wacky hijinks and searing family drama, but it works (and there's not too many directors that could pull that combination off, certainly). And he does a nice job of portraying this damaged character, and turns him into a figure that we're really rooting for. Cheeky probably won't appeal to more jaded viewers, but really, there's nothing wrong with a sweet and tender movie every now and then (especially when it's done this effectively).

out of


Mayor of the Sunset Strip
Directed by George Hickenlooper
USA/94 MINUTES/REAL TO REEL

Mayor of the Sunset Strip celebrates the career of disc jocky Rodney Bingenheimer. Never heard of him? Few people outside of the music industry have, which is why this film proves to be an invaluable resource. As the movie explains, through Bingenheimer's job at noted rock station KROQ-FM, he was instrumental in introducing America to pivotal musical acts including The Sex Pistols, Nirvana, and The Ramones. Back in the '70s, he was quite a celebrity within the Los Angeles party scene and even owned his own disco at one point (where folks like Andy Warhol and David Bowie were regulars). But as the '80s and '90s arrived, Bingenheimer found that he was becoming increasingly less relevant - to the point where he's now stuck with a graveyard shift at KROQ once a week. Director George Hickenlooper knows that Bingenheimer is a fascinating subject, and does a nice job of detailing the various successes of his life - but he devotes quite a bit of time on Bingenheimer's less successful later years as well. The film's most poignant moment - which sees Bingenheimer angrily confront a protege that essentially stole his style - is made all-the-more devastating because it comes at a point where we've really gotten to know and like this man. And that's exactly what makes for a good documentary; if the film can get you to a place where you become that familiar with its subject, the movie's done its job.

out of

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© David Nusair