Toronto International Film Festival 2006 - UPDATE #1
Everything's Gone Green
Directed by Paul Fox
CANADA/95 MINUTES/CANADA FIRST
With its abundance of quirky characters and emphasis on distinctly Canadian elements, Everything's Gone Green is instantly recognizable as a product of novelist-turned-screenwriter Douglas Coupland's fertile imagination. And although the movie eventually abandons its free-wheeling, off-kilter tone in favor of something that's far more conventional, there's simply no denying the effectiveness of this decidedly unconventional world (ie asked what she'd like to be when she grows up, a little girl replies, "a trophy wife"). The storyline revolves around a likeable slacker (played by Paulo Costanzo) who's having problems finding his place in life, and discovers temporary respite in a purely platonic friendship with a personable set dresser named Ming (Steph Song). For a while, Everything's Gone Green feels like Canada's answer to Garden State; both films share a similarly quirky vibe and follow an aimless yet unusually introspective protagonist as he attempts to make sense of his life. Director Paul Fox does a nice job of infusing Coupland's script with appropriate bursts of style, while the film's various performances are engaging and charismatic (Costanzo is just about perfect in the central role). But there comes a point at which the plot becomes a bit more intrusive than one would like, as Coupland stresses a whole host of unusual elements - ie a lottery scheme, marijuana grow-ops, etc - and essentially relegates the easy charm of the film's opening hour to the backburner. But that's an awfully minor complaint for a movie that is otherwise thoroughly engaging and distinctly truthful.
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
It's virtually impossible to envision Shortbus appealing to anyone outside of an extremely specific demographic, as the film has little to offer in terms of even the most basic cinematic requirements (ie plot, character development, interesting visuals, etc, etc). Writer/director John Cameron Mitchell has compiled an astounding assortment of unpleasant characters and thrown them into a story that couldn't possibly be less compelling. Set in and around New York City, the movie follows couples therapist Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) as she attempts to experience an orgasm for the first time in her life. Also thrown into the mix is a gay couple (played by Paul Dawson and PJ DeBoy) that wants to spice up their relationship with a new partner and a lonely dominatrix (Lindsay Beamish) who lives in a storage unit. Mitchell infuses Shortbus with an off-putting, distinctly low-rent sensibility that's echoed in the almost uniformly amateurish performances, something that's undoubtedly due to the inclusion of hardcore sex scenes within the film's script (one would imagine it's quite difficult finding actual actors who are willing to fornicate on camera). The final straw comes with the Magnolia-esque conclusion in which the various characters descend on the titular sex club and experience a simultaneous catharsis that comes off as utterly meaningless and kind of desperate, as the film hasn't earned the right to include such a sequence. There's no authenticity to anything within Shortbus; Mitchell's interest seems to lie solely in pushing his own agenda, with the end result a movie that has little to offer all but the most avant garde viewer.
Directed by Serge Elissalde and Gregoire Solotareff
FRANCE/71 MINUTES/SPROCKETS FAMILY ZONE
While there's certainly no denying that U is awfully impressive in terms of its visuals - the animation has seemingly been rendered entirely via paintbrushes - there's simply not a whole lot here to hold the interest of older viewers. Set in a mystical land populated with strange creatures, U follows a Princess and her unicorn-like companion as they encounter a group of nomadic critters known as Yeah-Yeahs. The Yeah-Yeahs bring with them music and a free-wheeling sense of fun, elements that are practically alien to the Princess. U has been directed by Serge Elissalde and Gregoire Solotareff (with the latter penning the screenplay), and while the two men do a fantastic job of creating a distinctly unique and thoroughly captivating world, they're not quite as adept in giving the audience a palpable reason to care about any of this. As such, the movie is sporadically compelling but ultimately tedious - though there's little doubt that younger viewers will thrill to the colorful antics of these admittedly memorable characters.
Directed by Martin Lavut
CANADA/90 MINUTES/REEL TO REAL
Arthur Lipsett was a Canadian filmmaker who came to prominence in the 1960s, and is still best known for his early shorts which were - to put it mildly - extremely experimental and (according to his colleagues and admirers) flat-out revolutionary. Directed by close friend Martin Lavut, the film documents Lipsett's career and life, with a particular emphasis on his tragic later years. While it seems obvious that Lipsett's films have influenced a whole host of contemporary moviemakers (George Lucas sings his praises early on), it's virtually impossible to completely grasp what made his work so indelible. Lavut offers the viewer less-than-impressive bits and pieces of his films, and as such, one can't help but walk away with the feeling that Lipsett swindled his followers into believing that was some kind of an innovative genius. But the reality is that Lipsett's distinctly avant garde sensibilities are very much a product of its time; there's virtually nothing within his work for contemporary viewers to embrace (although, admittedly, his use of rapid cuts and spatial disorientation have clearly influenced the modern music video). Lavut's closeness to his subject becomes increasingly problematic as the movie progresses, as the filmmaker dwells on some of the less interesting aspects of his life and simply doesn't know when to stop. As a result, Remembering Arthur goes on for at least a half hour longer than it needs to - although there's no doubt that, as a primer on Arthur Lipsett and his work, the film succeeds (it's just as clear, however, than fans of the filmmaker will undoubtedly get a whole lot more out of this than neophytes).
Directed by Andrew Currie
CANADA/91 MINUTES/CANADA FIRST
Distinctly silly but generally entertaining, Fido transpires within an alternate universe in which the zombie menace has been contained to such an extent that the undead have become our servants. The story revolves around the Robinsons - dad Bill (Dylan Baker), mom Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss), and son Timmy (K'Sun Ray) - a prototypical 1950s family who slowly but surely discover that their zombie helper (nicknamed Fido by Timmy and played by Billy Connolly) actually has a personality of his own. Director Andrew Currie infuses Fido with an exceedingly bright, Douglas Sirk-esque sensibility, a vibe that's certainly reflected in the performances (Baker and Moss perfectly capture the glossy superficiality of a stereotypical '50s couple). Elements of dark comedy are evident right from the get-go (a top-ranking official asks a room full of school children, "how many of you have had to kill a zombie?"), and - for a while - the movie skates by on the sheer novelty of its premise. But the lack of any real depth within the screenplay ultimately prevents Fido from becoming anything more than a mildly-engaging romp (the lack of any parallels to slavery, for example, seems like quite a missed opportunity).
Directed by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth
Before Khadak takes a sharp left turn into abstract, distinctly bizarre territory, the film is a sporadically compelling but far-too-slow look at the attempts of a small Mongolian sheep herding family to cope after being forced out of their home. Filmmakers Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth infuse Khadak with a thoroughly memorable sense of style, punctuating the proceedings with a variety of starkly photographed shots. And for a while, it's kind of interesting; Brosens and Woodworth's complete confidence in their material results in an unmistakable feeling of authenticity (although one can't help but wish that the two would've included something - anything - to draw the viewer in). But at a certain point, the movie firmly drops any pretense of realism and adopts a vibe of utter strangeness; it's an exceedingly jarring shift in tone that literally comes out of nowhere, given the almost documentary-esque opening half hour. The avant-garde nature of the movie's latter half is kind of intriguing but mostly interminable, and there's simply no denying that Khadak generally feels like a film school experiment gone horribly wrong.