Toronto International Film Festival 2013 - UPDATE #6
The F Word
Directed by Michael Dowse
CANADA/IRELAND/99 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Directed by Michael Dowse, The F Word follows Daniel Radcliffe's Wallace as he attempts to maintain a platonic friendship with a girl (Zoe Kazan's Chantry) to whom he's intensely attracted. (Complications, of course, ensue.) It's an appealing premise that is, at the outset, employed to exceedingly watchable effect by Dowse, as the filmmaker, working from a screenplay by Elan Mastai, has infused the proceedings with a lighthearted, easygoing feel that's heightened by the stars' affable work - with both Radcliffe and Kazan transforming their respective characters into thoroughly engaging and sympathetic figures. (And it doesn't hurt, either, that the chemistry between the two actors is often palpable.) There does reach a point, however, at which The F Word's lack of plot becomes more and more difficult to overlook, as the movie, which is based on a stage play by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi, adopts an increasingly talk-heavy vibe that progresses from intriguing to exhausting - with the meandering atmosphere paving the way for an uneven second half that is, generally speaking, not quite as compelling as it should be. The viewer subsequently can't help but wish that the characters would actually do something instead of talking everything to death, and it's not surprising to note that The F Word improves substantially once the protagonists, in the movie's final stretch, begin to confront the various issues they've been chatting about - which ultimately cements the film's place as a decent romantic comedy that could (and should) have been so much better.
You Are Here
Directed by Matthew Weiner
USA/112 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
You Are Here follows mismatched buddies Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) and Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis) as they return to Ben's childhood home after the death of his father, with the movie detailing both the inevitable culture clash and the legal battle for the estate. Filmmaker Matthew Weiner, making his debut here, establishes an atmosphere of middling mediocrity right from the get-go, as the writer/director places Wilson and Galifianakis in familiar roles that both have essentially cornered the market on (ie Wilson's Steve is likeable and charismatic, while Galifianakis' Ben is weird and antisocial). And although the movie is basically watchable for a little while, You Are Here, saddled with a script that's entirely devoid of laughs or compelling situations, slowly-but-surely morphs into a seriously underwhelming endeavor that, more often than not, feels like the cinematic equivalent of elevator music (ie there's just nothing engaging or interesting about any of this). It's clear, too, that Weiner's ongoing problems in sustaining a consistent tone - ie is the film meant to operate as a comedy or a drama? - perpetuates You Are Here's less-than-engrossing vibe, and there's little doubt that the movie grows increasingly irrelevant and pointless as time progresses. By the time the interminable and absolutely endless final stretch rolls around, You Are Here has certainly established itself as a misfire of almost epic proportions - which is particularly disheartening given the calibre of Weiner's small-screen work.
The Green Inferno
Directed by Eli Roth
USA/103 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
Directed by Eli Roth, The Green Inferno follows several college students as they travel to the Peruvian jungle to protest illegal clearcutting, with problems (and carnage) ensuing as said students find themselves captured by a tribe of blood-thirsty cannibals. Before it reaches that point, though, Roth, working from a screenplay cowritten with Guillermo Amoedo, offers up an opening half hour devoted entirely to the underwhelming antics of the almost uniformly one-dimensional characters - with the less-than-engrossing nature of this stretch certainly requiring a fair amount of patience from the viewer (ie one can't help but wish Roth would just get on with it, already). There's little doubt, then, that The Green Inferno receives a palpable shot in the arm from the characters' initial arrival into the tribe's primitive camp, as that sequence, which is admittedly far more engrossing and tense than one might've anticipated, paves the way for a midsection that generally lives up to the setup's promise. (It's disappointing to note, however, that Roth seems to be restraining himself in terms of gore.) And although the latter half of the movie has been peppered with a number of compelling sequences - eg one of the female characters is methodically prepared for an elaborate (and cringeworthy) ritual - The Green Inferno sustains its uneven feel right through to its almost laughably unconvincing conclusion. The end result is a horror effort that fares about as well as 2005's Hostel (ie both films share a strikingly similar structure), and it's clear that the movie, fun as it often is, simply doesn't bring anything new to the well-worn genre.
Directed by Yuval Adler
The first effort from Yuval Adler, Bethlehem details the uneasy relationship between a Palestinian informant and an Israeli soldier - with the movie following the characters as they attempt to balance both their personal and professional lives. There's little doubt that Bethlehem, at the outset, comes off as a muddled and downright confusing endeavor that's rife with half-baked elements, as writer/director Adler essentially dives right into the proceedings with little in the way of character development or context (ie a lot of stuff happens but most of it just feels random). It is, as a result, not surprising to note that little in the film's first half wholeheartedly works, with the arms-length atmosphere preventing the viewer from connecting to either the characters or the various set pieces. (ie there is, in terms of the latter, a lengthy pursuit and firefight sequence that feels as though it should be gripping and exciting). And although the relationship between the aforementioned informant and soldier admittedly does grow more and more intriguing as time progresses, Bethlehem suffers from an overstuffed vibe that's compounded by the almost continuous addition of new characters (ie enough is enough, already). The narrative thankfully does simplify towards the end, which ensures the film's final few minutes pack a palpable punch, but the damage has long-since been done and Bethlehem ultimately comes off as a hopelessly unfocused debut that could (and should) have been much better.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
CANADA/SPAIN/90 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Based on José Saramago's The Double, Enemy follows Jake Gyllenhaal's bored college professor as he discovers the existence of an exact double one fateful evening - with the movie subsequently detailing the weird and sometimes inexplicable relationship that ensues between the two men. Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, working from Javier Gullón's screenplay, makes his less-than-coherent intentions clear right from the get-go, as Enemy opens with a striking yet baffling sequence that effectively (and efficiently) sets a tone of oddly-engrossing confusion that persists from start to finish. The movie's compulsively watchable vibe is heightened by both Nicolas Bolduc's dark, Fincheresque visuals and Gyllenhaal's impressively subtle performance, with, in terms of the latter, the actor doing a superb job of stepping into the shoes of two vastly different characters. And despite Villeneuve's decision to employ as deliberate a pace as one could envision, Enemy's grip on the viewer doesn't begin to falter until around the halfway mark - as the film is, past that point, increasingly suffused with elements of a head-scratching and downright nonsensical nature. (It is, for example, awfully difficult to accept or make sense of the protagonist's easy acceptance of his doppelganger's malicious actions.) The movie's lack of context, coupled with an ongoing emphasis on oddball images (ie what's with all the spider stuff?), ultimately confirms its place as an art-house thriller that's often too off-the-wall for its own good, although, by that same token, it's hard to deny that the film, which boasts an impressively memorable final few minutes, lingers in one's consciousness long after the end credits have rolled.
Beneath the Harvest Sky
Directed by Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly