Toronto International Film Festival 2014 - UPDATE #5
Welcome to Me
Directed by Shira Piven
USA/88 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Welcome to Me casts Kristen Wiig as Alice Klieg, a mentally unstable woman who wins the lottery and immediately buys her way onto television - with the movie detailing the character's subsequent efforts to transform her self-hosted program into an Oprah-like juggernaut. Director Shira Piven, working from Eliot Laurence's script, has infused Welcome to Me with the feel of an appealing (yet undeniably low-key) comedy, and there's little doubt that the film benefits substantially from Wiig's entertaining, typically quirky turn as the larger-than-life protagonist - with the actress' engaging performance matched by an off-kilter roster of supporter players, including James Marsden, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tim Robbins. The movie's gleefully irreverent vibe paves the way for a number of genuinely hilarious moments in the first half, with the emphasis on Alice's off-the-wall programming choices ensuring that Welcome to Me often feels like cinematic cousin to 1989's UHF. (It never quite reaches the gloriously zany heights of that cult classic, however.) It's just as clear, though, that the film's thin premise is ultimately stretched beyond its breaking point, while Piven's decision to pepper the movie's final third with a host of predictably melodramatic elements wreaks havoc on the narrative's increasingly tenuous momentum (ie the whole thing begins to demonstrably run out of steam as it passes the one-hour mark). The end result is a passable little comedy that's unlikely to win over Wiig's detractors, although it's hard to deny that the actress sporadically delivers a far more raw and naked performance than one has come to expect.
The New Girlfriend
Directed by François Ozon
A typically uneven effort from François Ozon, The New Girlfriend details the unusual friendship that ensues between Anaïs Demoustier's Claire and Romain Duris' David - with complications ensuing as Claire discovers that David likes to dress as a woman in his spare time. Ozon has predictably infused The New Girlfriend with an unapologetically larger-than-life sensibility, with the movie's atmosphere of high melodrama proving effective at initially capturing the viewer's interest. There's little doubt, too, that the film, in its early stages, benefits from a consistently evolving storyline and inclusion of laugh-out-loud bits of comedy, while the friendship that develops between the two central characters is heightened by Demoustier and Duris' genuine chemistry with one another. It's clear, however, that The New Girlfriend begins to wear out its welcome to an increasingly palpable degree, with the movie's uneventful midsection paving the way for a second half that simply isn't all that interesting. Ozon's efforts to keep things moving results in a whole raft of needless, padded-out elements, including a seriously questionable love triangle that seems to exist solely to infuse the proceedings with some late-in-the-game conflict. The progressively tedious vibe ensures that The New Girlfriend alienates the viewer long before the end credits roll, which is too bad, certainly, given the promise of the film's spectacularly entertaining opening half hour.
Directed by Matt Shakman
USA/93 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Generic yet entertaining, Cut Bank follows Liam Hemsworth's Dwayne as he gets drawn deeper and deeper into trouble after witnessing a murder of a local postal employee (Bruce Dern's Georgie). It's interesting to note that Cut Bank improves considerably as time progresses, as filmmaker Matt Shakman, working from Roberto Patino's screenplay, initially offers up a very subdued trip through almost excessively familiar territory - with the less-than-enthralling vibe compounded by Hemsworth's competent yet charmless turn as the movie's protagonist. There's little doubt, then, that the movie doesn't begin to improve until Oliver Platt arrives on the scene as a larger-than-life government official, with the actor's typically engaging performance infusing the proceedings with a much-needed jolt of electricity. From there, Cut Bank morphs into a Fargo-like crime thriller that's been punctuated with a number of unexpected twists and showstopping sequences - with, in terms of the latter, a spellbinding scene involving Dern's character standing as an obvious highlight in the production. The movie is, however, ultimately felled by its pervasively commonplace atmosphere, as Shakman generally finds himself unable to wholeheartedly separate Cut Bank from its myriad of thematically-similar forebears - with the film finally establishing itself as a watchable genre effort that's often heightened by its pleasantly quirky cast (which includes John Malkovich, Billy Bob Thornton, and Michael Stuhlbarg).
The Last Five Years
Directed by Richard LaGravenese
USA/94 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Based on the off-Broadway musical, The Last Five Years charts the beginning and end of a relationship between aspiring actress Cathy Hyatt
(Anna Kendrick) and up-and-coming novelist Jamie Wellerstein (Jeremy
Jordan). There's little doubt that The Last Five Years takes its time in winning the viewer over, as writer/director Richard LaGravenese makes little effort to ease one into the movie's atmosphere of nonstop singing - with the relentless crooning ensuring that the film is, at the outset, somewhat weird and off-putting. It's just as clear, however, that the movie does improve considerably as time progresses, with the inclusion of a few admittedly catchy tunes triggering The Last Five Years' shift from tedious to entertaining. The watchable vibe is undoubtedly perpetuated by the efforts of the film's affable stars, with, especially, Kendrick delivering a knockout performance that's made all-the-more-impressive by the realization that she sings almost all of her dialogue. (Jordan does possess a fair amount of charisma, admittedly, but the actor's overly theatrical turn pales in comparison to the stellar work by his costar.) The Last Five Year's consistently erratic feel ultimately prevents it from hitting the heights that LaGravenese has obviously intended, with the end result a passable musical adaptation that seems geared more towards fans of the source material than to neophytes.
Directed by Sion Sono
JAPAN/116 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
A persistently oddball piece of work, Tokyo Tribe is a full-fledged rap musical that details the brutal war that breaks out amongst several Japanese gangs. Filmmaker Sion Sono kicks Tokyo Tribe off with a seriously striking opening sequence, with the director's camera weaving through a gang-infested neighborhood in a single, captivating shot. The initial emphasis on dialogue that's almost entirely rapped is jarring yet hypnotic, and it's clear that the movie's engrossing vibe is heightened by the blistering pace with which it unfolds. Sono's West Side Story approach ensures that the movie remains entertaining even during its more overtly baffling stretches, as one isn't quite sure what exactly one is watching but it's clear that it's certainly different. It's obvious, however, that Sono simply cannot maintain the pace of the movie's opening half hour and Tokyo Tribe, perhaps inevitably, segues (and settles) into a midsection that's often as tedious as it is electrifying. (It doesn't help, certainly, that there's a palpable lack of plot here.) Tokyo Tribe's consistently audacious vibe is ultimately rendered moot by its growing lack of substance, with the unreasonably overlong running time exacerbating the film's increasingly exhausting atmosphere. There is, as such, little doubt that the movie runs out of steam long before it arrives at its bloody, action-packed climax, which finally does confirm Tokyo Tribe's place as an ambitious misfire that's nevertheless worth a look for Sono's completely off-the-wall modus operandi.
Directed by Kevin Smith
USA/102 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
Famously inspired by a (fake) wanted ad, Tusk follows American podcaster Wallace (Justin Long) as he travels to Canada to meet up with Michael Parks' Howard Howe - an eccentric old coot who's looking to reconnect with his seafaring youth by transforming a human male into a bona fide walrus. As was the case with filmmaker Kevin Smith's last horror effort, 2011's Red State, Tusk boasts a striking premise that's consistently undermined by a seriously erratic execution - as Smith, working from his own screenplay, is simply unable to build up even an iota of tension or dread. There's nevertheless little doubt that Tusk fares best in its first half, with Long's affable performance ensuring that his hapless character becomes an object of the viewer's growing sympathy and concern. (It's just as clear, too, that Parks' sinister turn infuses the proceedings with its few instances of suspense.) And although the movie's horror elements generally fall flat, Smith does an admittedly superb job of handling the initial reveal of Wallace's grotesque transformation - although, on the other hand, there's a palpable lack of terror in the subsequent sequences of Howard's interactions with his horrible creation. It doesn't help, certainly, that Smith keeps cutting away to other, less interesting matters, with the most obvious example of this a heavy emphasis on an oddball French-Canadian detective's efforts at locating Howard's lair (ie the hopelessly over-the-top character comes off as a rejected Mike Myers creation and essentially stops the movie dead in its tracks). The somewhat underwhelming climax ensures that Tusk ends on a disappointing note, for sure, and yet the movie, which is never boring, deserves some credit for going places that one might not have expected it to go.