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Toronto International Film Festival 2013 - UPDATE #10

Directed by Tommy Oliver

Written and directed by Tommy Oliver, 1982 follows working-class Philadelphian Tim as he attempts to care for his young daughter (Troi Zee's Maya) and drug-addicted wife (Sharon Leal's Shenae). Filmmaker Oliver has infused 1982 with a low-key feel that often prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting to the plight of the characters, with the arms-length atmosphere perpetuated by a deliberate pace and an almost aggressively spare screenplay. It's clear immediately that the biggest problem here, though, is Tim's less-than-proactive behavior, as the character rarely takes steps to assist his wife and instead seems content to just wait the situation out. The film's subsequent lack of emotional resonance grows more and more problematic as time progresses, and it goes without saying that 1982, which admittedly remains watchable from start to finish, benefits substantially from the periodic inclusion of electrifying moments - with the best example of this Tim's disastrous confrontation with Shenae's vicious drug dealer (Wayne Brady, in an absolutely magnetic and thoroughly eye-opening performance). The middling vibe ultimately cements 1982's place as a well-intentioned yet terminally subdued debut for Oliver, with the gritty, believable atmosphere and uniformly strong performances going a long way towards sustaining the viewer's interest on a (fairly) recurrent basis.

out of

Starred Up
Directed by David Mackenzie

Starred Up follows a young offender (Jack O'Connell's Eric) as he arrives at an adult prison facility for unknown crimes, with the film subsequently revolving around Eric's day-to-day exploits and his ongoing attempts at reconciling with his similarly-imprisoned father (Ben Mendelsohn's Neville). There's little doubt that Starred Up, at the outset, holds a tremendous amount of promise, as filmmaker David Mackenzie, working from Jonathan Asser's script, kicks the proceedings off with a riveting, near dialogue-free sequence detailing Eric's initial intake at the aforementioned prison and his immediate efforts at fashioning a shiv out of a toothbrush. It's fascinating stuff that unfortunately gives way to a storyline that is, more often than not, too uneventful for its own good, with the narrative focused primarily on occurrences and happenings of a decidedly ho-hum nature (eg Eric attends a therapy session, Eric networks with fellow inmates, etc, etc). Far more problematic, however, are the impenetrable accents of the various actors, as the viewer's increasingly exasperating efforts at deciphering what the characters are saying ultimately makes it impossible to connect to anything occurring onscreen. By the time the ineffective finale rolls around, Starred Up has established itself as a disappointing prison drama that rarely lives up to the potential of its opening scenes - with, admittedly, the movie likely to fare better for those who wait for a home-video release (ie one can, at that point, watch the film with much-needed subtitles or closed captions).

out of

Directed by Manuel Martín Cuenca

Directed by Manuel Martín Cuenca, Cannibal follows mild-mannered tailor Carlos (Antonio de la Torre) as he falls for a Romanian immigrant named Nina (Olimpia Melinte) - with the twist being that Carlos is actually a flesh-eating cannibal whose last victim was Nina's twin sister. It's a seemingly electrifying premise that's utilized to hopelessly uninvolving and consistently dull effect by Cuenca, as the filmmaker, working from a screenplay cowritten with Alejandro Hernández, infuses Cannibal with the feel of a slow-moving character study - which, despite the promise of the setup, ultimately proves disastrous. Cuenca spends very little time dwelling on the central character's murderous hobby and instead emphasizes Carlos' thoroughly tedious day-to-day exploits, with the less-than-engrossing nature of such activities (eg Carlos meticulously works on a garment, Carlos goes shopping, etc, etc) compounded by a narrative that's almost shockingly conventional. (The movie is, at its core, about the relationship that forms between a straight-laced, uptight guy and a flighty, impulsive woman.) And although there are a handful of intriguing sequences here and there, Cannibal is ultimately undone by a glacial pace that grows more and more oppressive as time (slowly) progresses (ie it's like watching paint dry, mostly). The inclusion of an incongruously tense moment towards the end can't compensate for what's otherwise an interminable waste of time, and it's finally clear that Cannibal has absolutely no business running almost two hours (ie a 70 minute runtime would've been far more appropriate).

out of

Witching and Bitching
Directed by Álex de la Iglesia

Though it kicks off with an impressively exciting and engrossing opening scene, Witching and Bitching, which follows a band of robbers as they encounter a coven of witches, contains a terminally meandering midsection that ultimately drains the film of its energy and renders its positive attributes moot. It's a shame, really, as it's impossible to downplay the effectiveness of that initial stretch, which follows those aforementioned robbers as they pull off a brazen heist in the middle of a busy metropolitan street. And although there's some promise in the protagonists' first encounters with the titular witches, Witching and Bitching suffers from a disastrously overlong running time that's compounded by a screenplay that's rife with superfluous elements - with the best (and most problematic) example of this an ongoing subplot featuring two bickering cops. It doesn't help, either, that de la Iglesia and Jorge Guerricaechevarría's screenplay is rife with eye-rollingly broad instances of comedy, and it does, as a result, become increasingly difficult to work up any real sympathy for the central characters' progressively perilous exploits. By the time the frenetic, special-effects-heavy (and thoroughly endless) third act rolls around, Witching and Bitching has unquestionably established itself as a missed opportunity of nigh epic proportions - with the film's place in the festival's Midnight Madness program ultimately somewhat baffling.

out of

Directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg

Based on true events, Pioneer follows circa 1970s deep-sea diver Petter (Aksel Hennie) as he attempts to uncover corruption within Norway's oil-pipeline industry. The movie, which is essentially (and ultimately) Silkwood for the deep-sea diving industry, initially focuses on the behind-the-scenes efforts to lay down pipe 500 meters below the North Sea, with the majority of these scenes possessing a meticulous intensity that is, for the most part, impossible to resist. It's only as Pioneer morphs into a whistleblowing thriller that one's attention begins to flag, as filmmaker Erik Skjoldbjærg, working from a script cowritten with Hans Gunnarsson, Cathinka Nicolaysen, Kathrine Valen Zeiner, and Nikolaj Frobenius, offers up a midsection that feels like it's been pulled from a template for these kinds of stories - with the narrative, for the most part, following Petter as he evades company goons and skulks around looking for clues. The degree to which the movie ultimately spins its wheels is, to put it mildly, somewhat disappointing, and there's little doubt that Pioneer peters out substantially in the buildup to its rather obvious conclusion. (And it doesn't help, either, that the score, by AIR, is never not completely distracting.) Hennie's typically strong work and a smattering of engrossing sequences ensure that Pioneer just squeaks by, and yet it's impossible to walk away from the film without feeling as though it could (and should) have been so much better.

out of

Directed by Mike Flanagan

A bracingly original horror flick, Oculus follows siblings Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan) as they attempt to unravel a traumatic event from their childhood that's seemingly linked to a centuries-old mirror. Director Mike Flanagan does a superb job of immediately drawing the viewer into the surprisingly complicated proceedings, with the affable work of the movie's stars going a long way towards initially capturing one's interest and attention. (It doesn't hurt, either, that Flanagan has packed the supporting cast with strong, compelling performers, including Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane.) The rather confusing nature of the film's premise isn't as off-putting or disorienting as one might've feared, and it's worth noting that a series of (admittedly talky) expository sequences ensure that the various pieces slowly-but-surely fall into place. Before it even gets to that point, however, the movie's watchable vibe is perpetuated by an emphasis on intriguing elements - including a time-shifting narrative and an assortment of impressively tense moments. And although the premise ultimately doesn't stand up to close scrutiny (and the running time is probably just a little too long), Oculus is, for the most part, one of the more impressive horror efforts to come around in some time - with the post-credits promise of a sequel certainly quite welcome.

out of

We Gotta Get Out of This Place
Directed by Simon and Zeke Hawkins

The degree to which We Gotta Get Out of This Place eventually peters out is, to put it mildly, rather disappointing, as the movie boasts an engrossing opening half hour that's rife with compelling elements - including striking visuals, captivating dialogue, and an assortment of stirring performances. The familiar setup - three friends are drawn deeper and deeper into a small town's criminal underbelly - is initially employed to an impressively captivating effect by filmmakers Simon and Zeke Hawkins, with the writer/director siblings' confident, assured sensibilities proving instrumental at instantly drawing the viewer into the proceedings. The movie's better-than-average atmosphere is perpetuated by the inclusion of several standout sequences (eg an encounter with Jon Gries' shady police officer), and it's not until We Gotta Get Out of This Place moves past its midway point that one's interest begins to flag - as the Hawkins brothers, to an increasingly distressing degree, pad out the narrative with elements of a decidedly underwhelming nature (eg there's a silly love triangle subplot that seemingly exists solely to prolong the proceedings). By the time the ineffective (and surprisingly obvious) climax rolls around, We Gotta Get Out of This Place has confirmed its placed as a stylish, sporadically invigorating, yet ultimately disappointing debut for the Hawkins siblings - although, by that same token, the two men possess plenty of potential that will hopefully be harnessed to more positive effect in their next feature.

out of

© David Nusair