Toronto International Film Festival 2013 - UPDATE #2
Directed by Frank Pavich
USA/90 MINUTES/TIFF DOCS
Jodorowsky's Dune is an intriguing and frequently fascinating documentary exploring cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky's efforts at mounting an ambitious adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune back in the 1970s, with the movie fleshing out what could've been through interviews, animated storyboards, and other assorted tools. It's clear immediately that Jodorowsky himself stands as Jodorowsky's Dune's most compelling attribute, as the octogenarian, who's only made seven movies in his lifetime, possesses a boundless enthusiasm for his work that proves impossible to resist. Filmmaker Frank Pavich does a nice job of similarly peppering the proceedings with a handful of other intriguing interview subjects, including H.R. Giger, Drew McWeeny, and Nicolas Winding Refn - with the latter claiming that Jodorowsky's film would've been the "greatest achievement of science fiction." (It's interesting to note, too, that despite his passion for the project, Jodorowsky never actually read the source material and instead based his decision to pursue it on the recommendation of a friend!) And although the picture is occasionally bogged down in the minutia of the aborted production, Pavich generally does a nice job of sustaining the viewer's interest with stories of an impressively fascinating variety - including a tale of Jodorowsky's meeting with legendary special effects guru Douglas Trumbull and his eventual refusal to work with the man because he wasn't "spiritual" enough. Of course, Jodorowsky's Dune wouldn't be complete without some acknowledgement of David Lynch's notorious 1984 adaptation - which Jodorowsky happily calls "awful." It's finally clear that Jodorowsky's Dune stands as a superior making-of documentary, with the surprisingly accessible nature of the movie ensuring that it'll play well with fans and neophytes alike. (And if nothing else, the whole thing is worth a look for Jodorowsky's amazing comparison of adapting a novel to rape.)
Directed by Atom Egoyan
USA/114 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Directed by Atom Egoyan, Devil's Knot explores the real-life case detailed in Joe Berlinger's Paradise Lost trilogy and Amy Berg's West of Memphis - with the emphasis primarily placed on the initial investigation into the murders and the ensuing trial. It goes without saying, of course, that there are few surprises to be found within Devil's Knot, as one can't help but walk into the film knowing most of the major details of this now-notorious case - with the consistently familiar atmosphere compounded by a script that's often painfully by the numbers in its execution (ie there are long stretches in which the movie resembles a run-of-the-mill procedural). And although Egoyan's flat, movie-of-the-week like direction doesn't exactly help matters, Devil's Knot benefits substantially from the efforts of a uniformly impressive cast - with Reese Witherspoon, cast as the mother of one of the victims, delivering a sporadically wrenching performance that infuses the film with much-needed bursts of emotion. (There's little doubt, too, that the inclusion of a few affecting sequences helps offset the otherwise routine atmosphere.) By the time the interesting yet rote courtroom stretch rolls around, Devil's Knot has established itself as a passable primer into the West Memphis Three case - and yet given the calibre of talent in front of and behind the camera, it's difficult not to wish that the film had been able to make a more pronounced impact.
Directed by Teller
USA/80 MINUTES/TIFF DOCS
Directed by Teller (of Penn and Teller fame), Tim's Vermeer documents the efforts of tech inventor Tim Jenison to replicate a famous Vermeer painting using nothing more than strategically-placed mirrors. Though it seems like the sort of premise that would entertain art buffs only, Tim's Vermeer is often far more engaging and fascinating than one might've anticipated - with Teller's easygoing modus operandi ensuring that the movie is, generally speaking, quite watchable. The film is also, as a turns out, an intriguing portrait of obsession taken to its farthest extremes, as Jenison's determination to exactly copy Vermeer's original leads him to go to painstaking lengths to ensure that the set faces the same direction as Vermeer's apartment. One can't, as a result, wonder just what's driving Jenison to do all this (ie what's the point, really?), and it's clear that Teller occasionally gets just a little too specific about some of the details - with the lengthy stretch detailing Jenison's eventual efforts at completing the painting seeming to go on much longer than one might've liked. There are moments of levity here, however, with the best example of this Jenison's decision to use his own daughter as a model - with the process forcing the college student to place her head in a contraption that resembles a vice. (As narrator Penn notes, "few students have ever been happier to go back to school.") It's ultimately clear that Tim's Vermeer doesn't quite have enough material to warrant a full-length feature, but, by that same token, there's little doubt that the film is often much more engrossing and informative than expected.
Directed by Josh C. Waller
USA/96 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
McCanick follows the title character (David Morse), a grizzled, obsessive cop, as he attempts to track down a criminal (Cory Monteith's Simon
Weeks) that he sent to prison seven years ago, with the battle of wills that ensues between the two disparate characters paving the way for a series of shocking revelations. It's a far-from-fresh premise that's employed to consistently underwhelming and often laughable effect by filmmaker Josh C. Waller, as the movie has been saddled with a hopelessly hackneyed feel that's reflected in its various attributes - with the most apt example of this the almost hilariously over-the-top, clichéd dialogue (eg a perp, roughed up by McCanick, exclaims, "all you cops are the same; dirty, like an asshole.") Waller's increasingly frantic efforts at cultivating a gritty atmosphere fall uniformly flat, and it becomes, as a result, impossible to ignore the raw desperation that's been hard-wired into virtually every second of the proceedings. The obvious (and ensuing) lack of momentum ensures that the viewer never has anything invested in the central character's progressively questionable antics, while Waller remains hopelessly unable to establish the film as either a character study or a French Connection-like cop thriller. It's a shame, really, given that both Morse and Monteith are quite good here, but the two actors are all-too-often left floundering with nothing interesting or compelling to do. (And let's not even get started on the groan-worthy climax.)
Directed by Ritesh Batra
The Lunchbox details the unlikely friendship that ensues between a frustrated housewife (Nimrat Kaur's Ila) and a depressed accountant (Irrfan Khan's Saajan) after a mixup involving his lunch order, with the film following the two characters as they begin to make changes in their lives as a result of their daily letters to one another. It's an immensely appealing premise that is, at the outset, employed to thoroughly engrossing effect by director Ritesh Batra, as the movie, once it becomes clear just what's going on (ie it takes a while to get a handle on India's weird lunchbox system), embraces its conventional elements to such an extent that it quickly becomes impossible not to root for and sympathize with the two protagonists. It is, as such, hard to deny that the movie only grows more and more involving as it progresses, with the completely affable atmosphere heightened by the stellar work of both Kaur and Khan. It's rather unfortunate to note, then, that The Lunchbox does begin to falter as it passes the one-hour mark, as Batra begins devoting too much time to elements that simply aren't all that compelling (ie it's ultimately clear that the movie is about 20 minutes longer than it should be). By the time the disappointingly ambiguous, non-feel-good finale rolls around, The Lunchbox has established itself as a a missed opportunity that will most likely fare better when Hollywood inevitably remakes it.
The Face of Love
Directed by Arie Posin
USA/92 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
The Face of Love follows Annette Bening's Nikki as she loses her husband (Ed Harris' Garrett) in a tragic waterbound mishap, with the movie picking up five years later and detailing Nikki's efforts at wooing a man who just happens to look exactly like her dead hubby (Harris' Tom). It's interesting to note that filmmaker Arie Posin initially manages to accomplish quite a bit without using much dialogue, with the movie's opening stretch immediately luring the viewer into the proceedings and effectively setting up the admittedly out-there premise. And although Nikki's decision not to tell Tom about his resemblance to Garrett is worrisome - ie it's impossible not to have visions of a silly fake break-up after Tom inevitably learns the truth - The Face of Love effectively sidesteps such concerns by focusing on the captivating, heartwarming romance that ensues between Bening and Harris' respective characters. The movie's engrossing atmosphere is undoubtedly heightened by Bening's impressively subtle performance, as the actress drops the over-the-top schtick that's come to plague most of her work as of late and instead imbues her damaged character with an appropriately nuanced, low-key feel. To that end, The Face of Love ultimately proves itself to be a much more subdued film than its setup might've indicated - with, especially, the movie's resolution handled maturely and without any hackneyed histrionics. (The conclusion also, as a result, manages to pack a fairly pronounced emotional punch.) The end result is an uncommonly adult romance that hits more than it misses, with the movie certainly marking an impressive effort from director Posin.