Toronto International Film Festival 2005 - UPDATE #3
A Simple Curve
Directed by Aubrey Nealon
CANADA/92 MINUTES/CANADA FIRST
Set in the remote mountains of British Columbia, A Simple Curve tells the earnest yet engaging story of Caleb (Kris Lemche) - a young man who's arrived at a crossroads in his life. He can either follow in the footsteps of Jim (Michael Hogan), his father, and become an old-fashioned woodworker, or he can step out on his own and do something completely different. Complicating matters is the arrival of Matthew, an old family friend (played by Matt Craven), who has a lucrative offer for Caleb and Jim - though Caleb soon realizes that Jim's decades-old rivalry with Matthew could threaten the deal. Written and directed by Aubrey Nealon, A Simple Curve emphasizes atmosphere and character development over plot - a choice that absolutely works, thanks primarily to the better-than-expected performances and David Geddes' vivid cinematography (the film is packed with breathtaking shots of the B.C. landscape). There's a real sense of authenticity at work here, as Nealon nicely captures the vibe of small-town life. And though the film loses some of its focus towards the end with the emergence of a few predictable and overly melodramatic plot developments, there's absolutely no denying the effectiveness of Lemche's sincere, honest performance.
Imagine Me & You
Directed by Ol Parker
UNITED KINGDOM/GERMANY/93 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATION
It almost comes as a shock to discover that Richard Curtis has absolutely nothing to do with Imagine Me & You, as the film plays out like just the sort of British romantic comedy that Curtis has cornered the market on (ie Love, Actually, Notting Hill, etc). The movie has instead been written and directed by Ol Parker, a filmmaker who packs the story with all the expected cliches of the genre (ie the bumbling character who produces some unexpectedly appropriate advice at just the right moment, the fake break-up, the chase sequence in which a spurned lover attempts to win back their beloved, etc). And yet it's easy enough to overlook such things, thanks to several exceedingly charming performances and Parker's bright, colorful sense of style. The story revolves around newly-married couple Rachel (Piper Perabo, sporting a surprisingly convincing British accent) and Heck (Matthew Goode), who encounter a stumbling block when Rachel finds herself falling for another woman (played by Lena Headey). Parker also throws in several likeable supporting characters, including Rachel's well-meaning father (Anthony Stewart-Head) and Heck's playboy friend - all of whom, as expected, receive happy endings of their own. Imagine Me & You doesn't really bring anything new to the genre - well, except for the whole lesbian thing - but this is the sort of movie that's almost impossible to all-out dislike (provided one approaches it with the appropriate mindset).
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Directed by Shane Black
USA/103 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATION
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang marks the directorial debut of Shane Black, the screenwriter who essentially invented the contemporary buddy action flick with 1987's Lethal Weapon. It comes as no surprise, then, to discover that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang features many elements that one might expect from the man behind films such as The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight - ie tough guys, beautiful girls, unflinching violence, etc - but it's clear almost immediately that Black isn't looking to create a carbon-copy of some of his earlier successes. The film, for the most part, refuses to take itself seriously, with the central character and narrator - Robert Downey Jr's Harry Lockhart - occasionally stopping the film to point out how ridiculous it is and, at one point, even asking extras to step out of the way so we can get a better look at something on screen. Harry is a petty criminal who unexpectedly finds himself living in Los Angeles as a struggling actor, where he quickly becomes embroiled in an exceedingly complicated mystery revolving around a dead girl. Black sets the mood early on with a hilarious sequence in which Harry literally stumbles into an audition after being shot, and proceeds to knock out the producers with his "method" performance of a lowlife. Though Kiss Kiss Bang Bang starts out as a biting satire of Hollywood and action movies, it eventually becomes something far more conventional - particularly as the mystery takes over and Black abandons the snarky tone. Still, there's no denying that the movie remains awfully entertaining throughout - something that's due primarily to Downey Jr's exceptionally engaging performance (as well as his genuine chemistry with co-star Val Kilmer).
Directed by Anand Tucker
USA/106 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATION
Shopgirl is based on the novella of the same name by Steve Martin - who also wrote the film's screenplay - and it's certainly an effective and faithful adaptation of the source material. Director Anand Tucker infuses the film with the same kind of whimsical melancholy that defined the book, while the movie's three stars do a wonderful job of stepping into the shoes of their respective characters. Claire Danes stars as Mirabelle, a lonely department store clerk who finds herself torn between two very different men: Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), an impulsive, fun-loving sort, and Ray Porter (Martin), a rich, elegant businessman. Right from the film's opening moments, it's clear that Danes is a perfect fit for the character of Mirabelle, effortlessly shedding her persona and becoming this damaged yet hopeful figure. Martin and Schwartzman are just as effective, with Martin delivering one of his most impressive non-comedic performances to date. The film's only problem, then, is a slight case of overlength; at a running time of around 106 minutes, there's no denying that the movie goes on longer than it needs to (there's a wacky misunderstanding towards the end that's enjoyable enough but entirely superfluous). Having said that, when Shopgirl works, it really works; were it just a little shorter, it seems highly likely that the film would've ranked among the best of the year.
Directed by Pierre Morel
FRANCE/85 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
Luc Besson is single-handedly reinventing the action genre, with several audience-pleasing, larger-than-life productions under his belt (including The Transporter and Kiss of the Dragon). This is despite the fact that Besson hasn't helmed a film since 1999's The Messenger, although the filmmaker seems to have an inordinate knack for picking suitable directors to helm his projects. This time around it's Pierre Morel, a man who's no stranger to the genre - having served as cinematographer on such films as Unleashed and The Transporter. Banlieue 13 tells the futuristic story of two men - a good-hearted criminal (David Belle) and a streetwise cop (Cyril Raffaelli) - who must infiltrate a walled city before a nuclear bomb goes off. Comparisons to Escape from New York are inevitable, although the similarities end with the basic premise. Banlieue 13 eschews Escape from New York's gritty, unsympathetic vibe in favor of a more sleek and fast-paced sensibility (no surprise there, given Morel's background). Morel gets things moving almost right away with an amazing foot chase in which Belle leaps from building to building with shocking ease, and the film barely pauses for brief instances of exposition during the remainder of its appropriately short running time. As effective as Morel's direction is, much of the film's success must be attributed to the often jaw-dropping physical ability of both Belle and Raffaelli. The two display some seriously impressive feats of agility, and though they may not be master thespians, there's no denying that these guys have what it takes to carry a contemporary action flick.
Directed by Sophie Fillières
FRANCE/102 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Gentille gets off to a fantastic start, opening with a hilariously absurd sequence in which Fontaine (Emmanuelle Devos) accuses a man on the street of following her and then - after discovering that he was, in fact, not following her - asking the guy out to coffee. This is followed by further evidence that there's something seriously off about Fontaine (ie she climbs a fence to get to work, despite the fact that there's a normal entrance), and though the film's nonsensical nature is initially charming, it's not long before all this insanity becomes overwhelmingly irritating. Up to a certain point, though, Gentille is basically entertaining (provided the viewer is willing to overlook the fact that most of this makes absolutely no sense); Fontaine is a fairly intriguing character, and Devos does a nice job of portraying her rampant wackiness. The problem emerges when it becomes clear that writer/director Sophie Fillières isn't going to answer the majority of the film's questions, including the most obvious: is Fontaine crazy or not? As a result, the ludicrous vibe quickly goes from charming to annoying, and it eventually reaches a point where the only way any of this could possibly make sense is if the film turned out to be a French variation on The Truman Show (with Fontaine the unwitting participant in a bizarre reality program). But since that never happens, all we're left with is an experimental, self-serving exercise in abject pointlessness.