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Toronto International Film Festival 2013 - UPDATE #8

Night Moves
Directed by Kelly Reichardt

A marginal improvement over Kelly Reichardt's last film, the nigh unwatchable Meek's Crossing, Night Moves follows three radicals (Jesse Eisenberg's Josh, Dakota Fanning's Dena, and Peter Sarsgaard's Harmon) as they conspire to perpetuate an act of eco-terrorism - with the film detailing the long, slow buildup to said act and its predictably disastrous aftermath. It's certainly not surprising to note that Night Moves, as per Reichardt's head-scratching modus operandi, has been infused with as deliberate a pace as one could possibly envision, with much of the movie's opening hour devoted to the central trio's methodical preparations for the aforementioned act of eco-terrorism. The film's first half is, as a result, suffused with rather mundane sequences of the protagonists, for example, buying fertilizer and working their day jobs, and it's clear that such interludes are made all-the-more tedious by Reichardt's unwillingness to provide any character development for these people (ie it's subsequently impossible to work up a hint of interest or sympathy in their exploits). There's little doubt, then, that Night Moves' mildly watchable vibe is due mostly to the mystery surrounding the heroes' endeavors and the sporadic inclusion of admittedly engrossing scenes, with, in terms of the latter, a striking moment involving a road block standing as an exciting (and all-too-rare) highlight within the proceedings. By the time the almost hilariously anticlimactic finale half hour rolls around, Night Moves, which is ultimately minimalist to the point of non-existence, has definitively established itself as an irrelevant endeavor that squanders its promising setup and stellar performances.

out of

Dom Hemingway
Directed by Richard Shepard

Dom Hemingway follows Jude Law's title character, a brash criminal, as he attempts a fresh start after a 12-year prison stretch, with Dom's efforts complicated by a wide variety of outside forces. Filmmaker Richard Shepard does a superb job of immediately luring the viewer into the briskly-paced proceedings, as Dom Hemingway opens with an irresistibly over-the-top stretch detailing the central protagonist's prison-based exploits - with the movie's effectiveness heightened considerably by Law's magnetic and gloriously scene-chewing work here. (It's ultimately difficult to recall a more entertaining performance from the always-reliable actor.) The film remains engrossing through to Dom's arrival at his former boss' (Demian Bichir's Mr. Fontaine) lavish home, with the proliferation of memorable sequences and laugh-out-loud bits of comedy perpetuating the movie's easygoing atmosphere. It's only as Shepard begins emphasizing more traditional plot elements that Dom Hemingway begins to lose its grip on the viewer, as the film's second half has been suffused with developments of a disappointingly hackneyed nature (eg Dom attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Dom tries to find a legitimate job, etc, etc). The sentimental and episodic third act compounds the movie's progressively uninvolving atmosphere, and it's disappointing to note that the film has, by the time the abrupt conclusion rolls around, squandered most of the good will generated by its opening stretch - which ultimately confirms Dom Hemingway's place as little more than a showcase for Law's consistently engaging performance.

out of

The Sacrament
Directed by Ti West

Inspired by the Jonestown massacre, The Sacrament follows three reporters (Kentucker Audley's Patrick, AJ Bowen's Sam, and Joe Swanberg's Jake) as they arrive at a mysterious commune in an unnamed country - with the movie detailing the chaos that eventually (and inevitably) ensues. Filmmaker Ti West offers up an opening half hour that essentially plays like a straight documentary, as The Sacrament initially details the protagonists' arrival at the aforementioned commune and their exploits within (eg Sam chats with several longtime residents, Patrick reunites with his sister, etc). It's intriguing stuff that's heightened by one's anticipation of something very, very bad on the horizon, and although West occasionally pushes the movie's subdued feel too far (eg there's an interview with Jim Jones-esque founder Father that just goes on and on), The Sacrament builds to a second half that is, while not exactly horrifying, quite intriguing and awfully fast paced. It is, as a result, relatively easy to overlook the one-note atmosphere and proliferation of idiot characters (eg the heroes ignore several opportunities to escape), with the rampant silliness generally allayed by the inclusion of several rather striking moments (eg the self-immolation of a resident). The end result is a passable thriller that could (and should) have been so much better, with the less-than-novel premise, unfortunately, negatively coloring everything that transpires over the course of the film's slightly overlong running time.

out of

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
Directed by Ned Benson

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, subtitled Him and Her, follows a pair of damaged figures (Jessica Chastain's Eleanor and James McAvoy's Conor) as they attempt to repair their fractured relationship, with the movie unfolding in two separate, full-length parts from the perspective of both characters. It's an intriguing experiment that, while not always successful, makes for an admittedly compelling cinematic experience, with the first half, the aforementioned Her, ultimately faring better than the second mostly due Chastain's typically stunning performance. (McAvoy is quite good here, no doubt, yet it's ultimately clear that Conor's struggles just aren't as compelling as Eleanor's.) Filmmaker Ned Benson's decision to employ as deliberate a pace as one could possibly envision proves an effective match for his introspective screenplay, with the laser-like focus on the characters ensuring that Eleanor (and, to a lesser degree, Conor) becomes an intensely sympathetic figure over the course of the movie's 190 minutes. It's worth noting, too, that Benson does a superb job of developing the world around the protagonists, with the movie's palpably authentic New York-based atmosphere heightened by an eclectic supporting cast that includes, among others, Bill Hader, William Hurt, Ciarán Hinds, and Viola Davis. It's ultimately clear, however, that The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby could (and probably should) have been edited down to a single, much tighter movie, as much of McAvoy's portion is simply unable to reach the heights attained by Chastain's frequently riveting stretch.

out of

Directed by Matthew Saville

Written by Joel Edgerton, Felony follows Sydney detective Malcolm Toohey (Edgerton) as he attempts to cover up a hit-and-run accident with the assistance of a fellow cop (Tom Wilkinson's Carl Summer) - with problems ensuing as up-and-coming police officer Jim Melic (Jai Courtney) begins to suspect that Toohey isn't quite as innocent as he insists. It's a solid setup that's employed to consistently engrossing effect by director Matthew Saville, as the filmmaker does a superb job of establishing the various characters and setting the familiar yet compelling storyline into motion - with the movie's compulsively watchable vibe heightened by a string of stellar performances. Edgerton's typically captivating turn is matched by a flawless supporting cast that includes Melissa George and Sarah Roberts, and yet it's clear right from the get-go that Wilkinson turns in the picture's most impressive and flat-out engrossing work - with the actor's scene-stealing performance standing as a consistent (and virtually undeniable) highlight within the proceedings. And although the movie does slow down considerably as it progresses, Felony benefits substantially from an influx of surprising plot twists throughout its midsection - as scripter Edgerton peppers the narrative with unexpected occurrences that effectively perpetuate the film's forward momentum. The end result is a better-than-average thriller that bodes well for Edgerton's future endeavors as a screenwriter, with Felony's palpable success cemented by a final shot that couldn't possibly be more perfect.

out of

The Husband
Directed by Bruce McDonald

The Husband follows the title character, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos' Henry, as he attempts to cope with his wife's (Sarah Allen's Alyssa) imprisonment, with the movie detailing Henry's day-to-day exploits and his initially baffling pursuit of a young high schooler. Filmmaker Bruce McDonald has infused The Husband with a subdued character-study sort of vibe that initially holds some promise, as the movie benefits from McCabe-Lokos' memorable turn as the beleaguered protagonist and from the ongoing mystery of Henry's interest in that aforementioned teenager. (It doesn't hurt, either, that McDonald does a nice job of establishing the movie's Toronto-based atmosphere, with the characters hitting such memorable landmarks as Honest Ed's and the Art Gallery of Ontario.) It's only as the movie progresses into its palpably uneventful midsection that one's interest begins to wane, as McDonald, working from a script by McCabe-Lokos and Kelly Harms, has infused the proceedings with an increasingly episodic feel that slowly-but-surely wreaks havoc on the film's tenuous momentum. The narrative's compelling moments (eg Alyssa tearfully calls Henry from prison) are increasingly outweighed by episodes and sequences of a disappointingly irrelevant variety, and it is, as a result, disappointing to note that The Husband peters out rather demonstrably in its second half - which ultimately does confirm the movie's place as a sporadically compelling yet thoroughly underwhelming little drama (and it's worth noting, too, that the film often feels much, much longer than its 80 minutes).

out of

Directed by Brillante Ma Mendoza

An uncommonly inept and unwatchable cinematic experience, Sapi follows two competing television news teams as they attempt to cover an impending storm and a series of unusual, possibly demonic happenings. Filmmaker Brillante Ma Mendoza does a fantastic job of alienating the viewer right from the get-go, as Sapi kicks off with a series of hopelessly uninvolving sequences set within a television station - with the emphasis placed on such mundane events as a meeting over ratings and a tour for important guests. It's subsequently impossible not to wish that Mendoza, working from Henry Burgos' screenplay, would just get on with things already, as the filmmaker devotes far too much time to the various reports sent in by the dueling news crews (ie the movie spins its wheels to a progressively interminable extent). Mendoza exacerbates the movie's less-than-engrossing atmosphere by employing an almost impossibly off-putting visual sensibility, while the total lack of momentum, coupled with an increasingly incoherent narrative, ensures that the viewer has checked out long before the laughably nonsensical conclusion rolls around. And although Mendoza has admittedly peppered the narrative with creepy images (eg a woman covered in boils makes a brief appearance), Sapi does, in the end, suffer from a paucity of compelling (or even competent) elements that ultimately cements its place as an aggressively worthless piece of work.

no stars out of

© David Nusair