Toronto International Film Festival 2014 - UPDATE #9
The Riot Club
Directed by Lone Scherfig
UNITED KINGDOM/106 MINUTES/GALA
A truly repellent piece of work, The Riot Club follows Max Irons' Miles as he arrives at Oxford and is almost immediately drafted into the exclusive organization of the title - with trouble ensuing as Miles becomes more and more aware of his fellow members' less-than-savory behavior. Director Lone Scherfig manages to alienate the viewer virtually from the get-go, as the filmmaker establishes a set of characters that are uniformly unlikable and/or bland - with this true even of the movie's ostensible protagonist (ie Irons' total lack of screen presence ensures that Miles remains hopelessly one-dimensional). It doesn't help, either, that Scherfig, working from Laura Wade's screenplay, has infused The Riot Club with an eye-rollingly cartoonish feel, with the most apt example of this her ridiculous introduction of one of Miles' cocky cohorts (ie the character is, in a scene that'd be more at home in a Bond movie, seen bedding a coed moments after meeting). There is, for the most part, little more to The Riot Club than douchebags behaving like douchebags; it's a vibe that grows increasingly difficult to overlook as time progresses, as the latter half of the film is devoted to a seemingly endless gathering at a local pub that escalates to the point of absurdity. The stagy vibe exacerbates the pervasively pointless nature of Wade's script, and it's ultimately impossible not to wonder just what the filmmakers were hoping to accomplish when they set out to make this mess (ie it's all just so meaningless).
Before We Go
Directed by Chris Evans
USA/89 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Chris Evans' directorial debut, Before We Go details the friendship that ensues between Evans' Nick and Alice Eve's Brooke after they experience a meet-cute at New York's Grand Central Station. It's clear immediately that Evans, working from a script by Ron Bass, Jen Smolka, Chris Shafer, and Paul Vicknair, is aiming for a Before Sunrise type of feel here, and yet it's equally obvious that Before We Go's pervasive air of artificiality prevents it from even approaching the heights of that 1995 Linklater film. Evans' surface-level sensibilities ensure that both central characters remain one-dimensional and somewhat uninteresting from start to finish, which is a shame, really, given the tremendous charisma that both Evans and Eve possess. (It's worth noting, however, that there's a curious lack of chemistry between the two actors.) The film generally remains trapped at a level of consistent mediocrity, with only a handful of compelling moments able to enliven the otherwise tedious atmosphere - with the best example of this an impressively engrossing scene in which Nick tells a long story about a proposal. It's a heartfelt, honest sequence that stands as a rare exception within the proceedings, as Before We Go primarily comes off as a flat, poorly-conceived idealized romance between two less-than-captivating protagonists. (And what on earth is up with Evans' reliance on needlessly shaky camerawork?)
Not My Type
Directed by Lucas Belvaux
BELGIUM/FRANCE/111 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Not My Type follows Parisian philosophy professor Clément (Loïc Corbery) as he's transferred to a small French town, where he soon falls into a relationship with a sweet yet comparatively superficial woman named Jennifer (Émilie Dequenne) - with the film subsequently detailing the problems that ensue for the couple as their differences become more and more obvious. It's an admittedly familiar premise that's executed to impressively, consistently engrossing effect by Lucas Belvaux, as the writer/director does a superb job of establishing the two central characters and their respective personal lives - with the engrossing atmosphere heightened by the palpable chemistry between Clément and Jennifer. Belvaux, it's worth noting, also infuses Not My Type with sweet moments that are simultaneously honest, with the couple's first kiss (and first intimate encounter) certainly boasting a thoroughly heartfelt feel that proves impossible to resist. Far more impressive is Belvaux's ability to keep things interesting even when the protagonists' relationship (predictably) takes a sour turn, as the filmmaker effectively avoids the various clichés that one might've anticipated - with the movie instead exploring Clément and Jennifer's conflicting views on various subjects in a manner that always feels believable. Not My Type culminates with an absolutely enthralling sequence in which Jennifer confronts Clément over his passivity, and the movie has, by that point, long-since confirmed its place as one of the best romances to come around in ages.
Directed by Baran bo Odar
GERMANY/105 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Fast-paced yet hopelessly generic, WHOAMI follows a young computer geek (Tom Schilling's Benjamin) as he joins a crew of daredevil hackers and sets out to affect radical change within corporations and the government. There's nothing especially fresh or innovative about WHOAMI, but filmmaker Baran bo Odar initially compensates for this familiarity by infusing the narrative with an energetic, fast-paced feel - with the movie's relatively watchable vibe perpetuated by a handful of admittedly engrossing early sequences (including the protagonists' attack on a white-supremacy rally). Odar's pervasively slick sensibilities, perhaps inevitably, do begin to grow tiresome past a certain point, however, and WHOAMI suffers from an episodic midsection revolving primarily around the gang's various escapades (most of which simply aren't all that compelling). The inclusion of a tedious romantic subplot doesn't help matters, nor does a concluding stretch that just feels endless. (In terms of the latter, Odar spends a good chunk of time explaining just how the film arrived at its big twist ending, which is, to put it mildly, a completely anticlimactic way to end the proceedings.) The final result is a contemporary spin on Hackers that simply doesn't deliver, with the movie sure to test the patience of most viewers over a certain age (ie it's not difficult to envision teenagers going nuts for this).
Directed by Jalmari Helander
FINLAND/GERMANY/UNITED KINGDOM/90 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
It's ultimately clear that Big Game has been designed to come off as a fun, over-the-top spectacle geared towards large crowds, as filmmaker Jalmari Helander has included a number of elements shamelessly meant to elicit applause and cheers from audience members. (It's just as clear, however, that very few of these things actually work.) The storyline details the chaos that ensues after the President's (Samuel L. Jackson) airplane goes down over the Finnish countryside, with the character forced to accept help from a young boy (Onni Tommila's Oskari) as he's pursued by a gang of ruthless terrorists. Helander's decision to spend a marked amount of time focused on the exploits of the aforementioned boy proves disastrous, as Tommila's lack of acting prowess ensures that scenes featuring his character, of which there are plenty, are as interminable and tedious as one could possibly have imagined. The movie is otherwise unable to make the kind of crowd-pleasing impact that Helander is obviously striving for, with the filmmaker's increasingly desperate attempts thwarted by a palpably low-rent, low-budget atmosphere. Big Game's proliferation of stand-up-and-cheer moments become, as a result, more and more difficult to stomach (ie there are just so many one-liners here), which finally does confirm the movie's place as a thoroughly disappointing endeavor that could (and should) have been so much better. (Jackson's incongruously subdued performance is just the tip of the icebergs in terms of the film's problems, ultimately.)
Directed by Matthew Kennedy and Adam Brooks
CANADA/102 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
The Editor is essentially a feature-length parody of '70s giallo flicks, and it's clear that, on that level, the movie generally works. Filmmakers Matthew Kennedy and Adam Brooks have effectively captured the low-budget, amateurish feel of many efforts from that era and very specific horror subgenre, with the movie's dogged insistence on hewing almost unreasonably closely to the long-since established formula ultimately cementing its downfall (ie many giallo movies are legitimately terrible and, naturally, so is this). Far more problematic, however, is Kennedy and Brooks' ongoing, relentless emphasis on jokes and gags of an aggressively unfunny nature, as the filmmakers' disastrously over-the-top sensibilities ensure that virtually everything here falls completely flat. (Where's the comedic value in, for example, a recurring bit involving a certain character's oddball sexual peccadilloes?) It doesn't help, either, that The Editor runs out of steam almost as quickly as it starts, with the meandering atmosphere compounded by the inclusion of scenes and sequences designed solely to pad out the interminable running time (eg dream sequences, pointless subplots, etc). And although Udo Kier's brief appearance provides the viewer with a rare respite from utter tedium, The Editor is ultimately a tedious disaster that's consistently unable to justify its feature-length running time (ie this might have worked as a five-minute short).