Toronto International Film Festival 2009 - UPDATE #8
Directed by François Ozon
A typically slow-paced drama from François Ozon, Le Refuge follows an ill-tempered Mousse (Isabelle Carré) as she learns that she's pregnant and subsequently heads to an old friend's beachfront home to kick her addiction - with her solitude interrupted by the arrival of her dead boyfriend's homosexual brother (Louis-Ronan Choisy's Paul). There's little doubt that Le Refuge improves marginally as it progresses, with the far-from-likeable nature of the central character initially preventing the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting with the material. Though Carré offers up a stirring performance, Mousse remains entirely unsympathetic for much of the film's opening hour - which isn't terribly surprising, admittedly, given her prickly demeanor and penchant for saying the absolute wrong thing at any given time. And although there inevitably does reach a point at which Mousse becomes a relatively compelling figure, the relentlessly uneventful nature of Ozon and Mathieu Hippeau's screenplay - coupled with the movie's slow-moving sensibilities - ensures that Le Refuge, even when it does improve, never becomes anything more than a mildly watchable drama (with Carré's affecting work ultimately setting the movie apart from its similarly-themed brethren).
The Disappearance of Alice Creed
Directed by J Blakeson
UNITED KINGDOM/98 MINUTES/DISCOVERY
Though it transpires primarily within the confines of one small location, The Disappearance of Alice Creed has been infused with a cinematic and surprisingly expansive sensibility that ensures it never quite becomes either as stagy or as claustrophobic as one might've assumed. The movie follows a pair of criminals (Eddie Marsan's Vic and Martin Compston's Danny) as they kidnap a young college student (Gemma Arterton's Alice) and hold her for ransom, with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently revolving around the three characters' ongoing efforts at one-upping each other. Director J Blakeson does a superb job of instantly luring the viewer into the proceedings, as the movie opens with a fantastic (and dialogue-free) stretch in which the two thugs make their various preparations for the upcoming abduction (ie they ready the van, soundproof the room, etc). It certainly doesn't hurt that Blakeson has cast a trio of fantastic performers in the movie's only roles, with Marsan delivering another in a long long of stellar and downright hypnotic performances (Compston and Arterton more than hold their own opposite Marsan, as well). And although screenwriter Blakeson
does offer up an almost incredible amount of twists, The Disappearance of Alice Creed does begin to demonstrably run out of steam somewhere around the one-hour mark - with the disappointingly conventional finale ultimately ensuring that the movie concludes on a fairly underwhelming note.
Directed by Aaron Schneider
Get Low casts Robert Duvall as Felix Bush, a grizzled old coot who spontaneously decides to throw himself a "funeral party" wherein his various enemies will be afforded the opportunity to tell whatever tall tales they've amassed over the years. The movie, which also stars Bill Murray as a struggling mortuary proprietor and Sissy Spacek as a woman from Felix's past, has been infused with as leisurely an atmosphere as one could possibly envision by director Aaron Schneider, with the ongoing emphasis on the small-town shenanigans of the central characters certainly proving effective in establishing (and sustaining) a distinctly evocative feel. The less-than-propulsive narrative eventually comes to adopt an almost episodic sort of sensibility, as screenwriters Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell stresses a series of character-based revelations in the buildup to Felix's controversial shindig. It's consequently not surprising to note that while the film is amiable and entertaining from start to finish, there's never a point at which one is thoroughly wrapped up in this subdued tale. There's little doubt, however, that Get Low ultimately does fare better than one might've anticipated due primarily to Duvall's expectedly stunning performance, with the strength of the actor's climactic speech - in which his character tearfully recounts a shameful event from his past - deftly ensuring that the movie ends on an admittedly high note. The end result is an affable piece of work whose individual elements are often more engrossing than the whole, which effectively cements Get Low's place as low-key yet thoroughly watchable actor's showcase.
Directed by Joe Dante
USA/98 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Joe Dante's first film since 2003's Looney Tunes: Back in Action, The Hole follows squabbling siblings Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) as they and a perky neighbor (Haley Bennett's Julie) discover a mysterious pit in the middle of their basement (horror, obviously, ensues). Filmmaker Dante does a superb job of instantly luring the viewer into the proceedings by evoking the feel of its similarly-themed '80s counterparts (including Dante's own Gremlins), and there's little doubt that the almost hoary nature of the setup plays an instrumental role in The Hole's ultimate success (and it certainly doesn't hurt that the movie boasts a uniformly likeable assortment of characters). The inclusion of several distinctly creepy interludes - ie Lucas' run-in with a demonic clown doll - perpetuates the film's ambiance of amiable terror, while Dante effectively balances the more overtly horrific elements within Mark L. Smith's screenplay with light-hearted bursts of humor (ie Dick Miller's silent yet thoroughly hilarious cameo appearance). As expected, however, the movie's 3D elements, impressively conceived and rendered as they are, add exceedingly little to the proceedings and ultimately serve only as a consistent distraction (this is to say nothing of the 3D glasses' penchant for needlessly darkening the image). Despite this rather serious deficiency, The Hole's effectiveness doesn't seriously waver until it reaches its almost obnoxiously frenetic finale - with the anti-climactic nature of the film's final 20 minutes undermining the strength of everything preceding it. This isn't quite enough to negate the movie's otherwise affable atmosphere, with the end result an agreeable throwback to the family-friendly scarefests of yore.
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits
Directed by Don Roos
Based on the novel by Ayelet Waldman, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits casts Natalie Portman as Emelia Greenleaf - a successful thirtysomething attorney who attempts to cope with a staggering personal loss while also attempting to mend her fractured relationship with her precocious stepson (Charlie Tahan's William). Filmmaker Don Roos does a consistently superb job of adapting Waldman's book for the big screen, yet there's little doubt that the writer/director's reliance on flashbacks initially wreaks a fair amount of havoc on the movie's momentum. It's not until the backstory has been dealt with that Love and Other Impossible Pursuits really gets going, with Portman's affecting and downright compelling performance ensuring that Emelia inevitably becomes an undeniably sympathetic figure - which, given the character's prickly demeanor at the outset, is certainly no small feat. And although Roos has effectively peppered the proceedings with a host of intriguing supporting characters - including Scott Cohen's patient Jack and Lisa Kudrow's icy Carolyn - there's little doubt that the heart of the film remains the love/hate relationship between Emelia and William (with the actors' palpable chemistry together playing an instrumental role in cementing the success of their scenes). The end result is a shamelessly manipulative and melodramatic drama that's nevertheless often quite moving, with the film's myriad of positive attributes ultimately making it easy enough to overlook its few flaws.
Same Same But Different
Directed by Detlev Buck
103/103 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Sporadically intriguing yet mostly underwhelming, Same Same But Different follows a German tourist (David Kross' Ben) as he finds himself falling for a friendly prostitute (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk's Sreykeo) while on vacation in Cambodia - with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently detailing the couple's inherent difficulties at sustaining a relationship (as well as the problems that ensue after it's revealed that Sreykeo has contracted HIV). There's little doubt that Same Same But Different's initial difficulties in luring the viewer into the storyline stem primarily from one's ongoing efforts at deciphering Sakuljaroensuk's dialogue, as the actress' almost unreasonably heavy accent - coupled with her penchant for speaking in broken English - renders much of her speech unintelligible and ensures that one is generally only able to follow the story in broad strokes. Beyond that, however, the novelty of the movie's locale can only carry it so far - after which point the aimless narrative and hopelessly bland characters slowly but surely infuse the proceedings with a relatively oppressive sort of vibe. This is despite the inclusion of a few admittedly intriguing stretches - ie Ben returns to Germany to procure medicine for Sreykeo - and Detlev Buck's impressive directorial choices, with such positive attributes eventually rendered moot by the tedious and needlessly melodramatic nature of the movie's third act (ie the dreaded fake break-up makes an appearance). Screenwriter Ruth Toma's failure to give the viewer any solid reasons to care about Ben and Sreykeo's plight ultimately cements Same Same But Different's failure, although some folks might be more willing to overlook the movie's deficiencies based solely on its impressive visuals.
Up in the Air
Directed by Jason Reitman
USA/108 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Jason Reitman's third feature, Up in the Air follows a slick business executive (George Clooney's Ryan Bingham) as he comes to re-evaluate his comfortable yet superficial existence in light of several personal developments (including the marriage of his younger sister). It's a familiar premise that's generally employed to better-than-average effect by Reitman, as the writer/director instantly lures the viewer into the proceedings by emphasizing the central character's rather unique career and his unabashedly freewheeling lifestyle. Clooney's effortlessly charismatic, thoroughly impressive performance perpetuates the affable atmosphere, yet it's not until J.K. Simmons delivers another in a long line of scene-stealing cameos that Up in the Air first starts to become something more than just an agreeable comedy. The increasingly heartfelt nature of Reitman's screenplay - which has been adapted from Walter Kirn's novel - ensures that the film becomes more and more compelling as it progresses, although it's just as clear that the conventional trajectory of the central character's arc ultimately dulls the impact of the unabashedly dramatic third act. It's subsequently clear that Up in the Air is at its best in its quieter, more character-based moments, as Reitman has peppered the proceedings with a host of memorable periphery figures - with Anna Kendrick's stirring work as Ryan's reluctant protégé standing as an obvious highlight (which, given the presence of familiar faces such as Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, and Danny McBride within the supporting cast, is certainly no small feat). The end result is the most mature and fully-realized endeavor of Reitman's short career, with the unexpectedly downbeat conclusion ensuring that the film ultimately closes on a more resonant note than one might've anticipated.