Toronto International Film Festival 2008 - UPDATE #6
Directed by Fien Troch
A serious contender for one of the slowest movies of all time, Unspoken follows married couple Grace (Emmanuelle Devos) and Lukas (Bruno Todeschini) through the minutia of their day-to-day lives - with their morose actions stemming from the absence of their young daughter. Filmmaker Fien Troch doesn't spell out just what's happened to Grace and Lukas' kid until the very end, which does ensure that the film never quite becomes the trenchant look at grief Troch has clearly intended (ie the lingering questions regarding just what happened prevent one from genuinely connecting with the material). There's little doubt, however, that Unspoken's painfully deliberate pace stands as its most overt failing, as Troch devotes long stretches of screentime to some of the most insignificant occurrences imaginable (ie characters just stare off into space for minutes on end). And while the strong performances prove effective in sporadically holding one's interest - Devos' haunting work is especially captivating - Unspoken's exceedingly uneventful modus operandi ultimately dulls the impact of its few overtly positive elements.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Directed by Kevin Smith
USA/102 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
While there's little doubt that Kevin Smith's frustrating penchant for sentimentality is in full-force here (particularly in the film's almost laugh-free third act), Zack and Miri Make a Porno does possess more than enough genuinely hilarious one-liners and sight gags to warrant a hearty recommendation for fans of the filmmaker. The storyline follows longtime friends Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) as they decide to collaborate on a porn film after falling into dire financial straits, with the bulk of the movie revolving around their efforts to motivate their ragtag crew (which includes Jason Mewes' Lester, Craig Robinson's Delaney, and Traci Lords' aptly named Bubbles). It's an admittedly irresistible premise that's generally used to positive effect by Smith, as the writer/director does a nice job of setting up not only the two central characters but also the myriad of periphery figures (ie Rogen and Banks' expectedly solid work is certainly matched by the superb supporting cast, though it's Justin Long's scene-stealing cameo appearance as a gay porn star that inevitably stands as the film's highlight). It's only with the increasingly prominent instances of melodrama that one's interest starts to wane, as Smith has infused such scenes with an eye-rollingly predictable sensibility that almost derails the entire production. And while Smith does tend to punctuate such sequences with hilarious bits of nonsense - ie one particularly egregious argument is followed by a brilliantly conceived gross-out gag - Zack and Miri Make a Porno ultimately does feel as though it would've fared a whole lot better had the sentimental shenanigans been kept to a minimum.
Directed by Nik Fackler
Given that Lovely, Still spends the majority of its running time a sweet, almost fairy tale-esque love story between two seniors, there's little doubt that certain revelations towards the end subsequently leave the viewer reeling. The film, which casts Martin Landau as a lifelong bachelor who finally finds love with the kindly widow (Ellen Burstyn) across the street, has been infused with an almost egregiously ostentatious sense of style by filmmaker Nik Fackler, and it's hard to deny that his less-than-subtle choices do mute a few of the film's emotional moments. Yet it's impossible to deny that his approach makes a lot more sense following the aforementioned third-act shift, as the viewer is essentially forced to reconsider the importance and meaning of everything that preceded it (ie a second viewing would certainly be apt). And as uneven as the whole thing generally is, Lovely, Still is anchored by Landau's absolutely spellbinding and unexpectedly layered performance - as the actor's stirring portrayal is ultimately the most consistently captivating element within the proceedings.
My Mother, My Bride and I
Directed by Hans Steinbichler
GERMANY/95 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
My Mother, My Bride and I tells the low-key story of a shy and lonely middle-aged German man (Matthias Brandt's Erwin) who decides to purchase a bride from Romania, which - after an expected montage of underwhelming candidates - leads him to a sassy farm girl named Irina (Maria Popistasu). The tentative nature of their relationship is initially hampered by Erwin's mother (played by Monica Bleibtreu), as their relationship remains that of a parent and her child (she still bathes him, if that's any indication). Filmmaker Hans Steinbichler offers up an exceedingly unassuming tale that's generally enjoyable enough, with the stellar work by the two leads certainly proving effective in capturing one's interest. The tumultuous, love-hate nature of their relationship initially carries the proceedings and propels it forward, and yet there inevitably does reach a point at which the various complications thrown in their way become contrived and feel as though they've been included only to pad out the running time. The fake break-up that dominates the majority of the film's third act is as needless as one might imagine, and it consequently goes without saying that My Mother, My Bride and I is ultimately unable to live up to the easygoing charm of its opening half hour.
Nothing But the Truth
Directed by Rod Lurie
Featuring a revelatory, Oscar-worthy performance from Kate Beckinsale, Nothing But the Truth comes off as a sporadically riveting yet undeniably uneven drama that fits comfortably within Rod Lurie's politically-themed filmography. Beckinsale stars as Rachel Armstrong, a tenacious reporter who comes upon the story of her career after she learns the identity of a covert CIA agent (Vera Farmiga's Erica Van Doren). Rachel's refusal to name the source of her article lands her in hot water with the government, and the bulk of the movie subsequently follows the efforts of her lawyer (Alan Alda's Alan Burnside) to secure her release from prison. There's little doubt that Nothing But the Truth is at its best in its opening half hour, as Lurie offers up a blisteringly paced political drama that's certainly as compelling as anything within this woefully underused genre. Beckinsale superb work is undoubtedly matched by her various costars, with Alda, Noah Wyle, and Matt Dillon providing able support (Dillon's sketchy Southern/New Orleans accent notwithstanding). Once Beckinsale's character lands in jail, however, the movie becomes a much more low-key affair, with the emphasis placed on her efforts to cope with her perilous new surroundings and the continuing happenings on the outside world (including the fact that her husband, played by David Schwimmer, has started seeing another woman). It's also difficult to deny that the movie essentially morphs into an actor's showcase as it heads into its final stretch, with the lack of narrative momentum exacerbated by a string of speeches from all the major players - yet this is a fairly minor complaint for an effort that is otherwise quite engaging and sporadically stirring.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
USA/SPAIN/FRANCE/262 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
At a running time of about four-and-a-half hours, Che undoubtedly possesses the feel of an overlong and distinctly self-indulgent piece of work - yet it's hard to deny that the film generally manages to hold one's interest thanks primarily to Steven Soderbergh's steady directorial hand and Benicio Del Toro's downright spellbinding performance. There's little doubt, however, that the two movies contained within Che's 262 minutes - The Argentine and Guerrilla - possess only Del Toro's Che Guevara as a common element, and it's subsequently worth noting that the former ultimately fares a whole lot better than the latter. The Argentine, which follows Guevara and his cohorts as they attempt to violently enter Havana, generally feels like a fairly typical origin story, with the emphasis placed on Guevara's transformation from thoughtful intellectual to rugged fighter. Del Toro's magnificent work does prove instrumental in allowing the viewer to overlook the film's various flaws, including the almost egregiously repetitive nature of Peter Buchman's screenplay (ie Guevara's men travel to a village, a fight ensues, they travel to another village, another fight ensues, etc, etc). It's only as The Argentine wraps up (rather abruptly, admittedly) and the action shifts to Guevara's ill-fated Bolivia escapades that one's interest starts to wane, as Guerrilla essentially comes off as a downbeat carbon-copy of its predecessor whose events could've been covered in a pre-credits bit of text at The Argentine's conclusion. And while it's not difficult to see what Soderbergh is attempting with Guerrilla - the film, a clear companion piece to The Argentine, presents the darker side of Guevara's storied saga - Che is never entirely able to justify its epic running time and it ultimately does seem obvious that the film wouldn't come off nearly as well as it does were it not for Del Toro's Oscar-worthy turn as the title character.