Toronto International Film Festival 2016 - UPDATE #10
Directed by Johannes Nyholm
A truly singular piece of work, The Giant details the low-key exploits of an affable yet deformed man named Rikard (Christian Eriksson) - with the movie focused especially on Rikard's passion for a bocce-ball like sport called petanque. Filmmaker Johannes Nyholm has infused the early part of The Giant with the feel of a very subdued, very downbeat character study, as much of the movie's opening half hour is devoted to the central character's depressing day-to-day existence (eg Rikard is kicked off his beloved petanque team, Rikard is bullied by a drunken lout, etc). It is, then, Eriksson's mostly silent yet consistently engrossing turn as the sympathetic protagonist that grabs the viewer's attention and keeps things interesting throughout, with, as well, Nyholm periodic emphasis on Rikard's inner fantasies, in which he's an enormous giant stomping around the countryside, lending the picture an intensely cinematic (and downright surrealistic) vibe. There's little doubt that The Giant progresses from intriguing to engrossing as it moves into its midsection, as Nyholm shifts the emphasis to Rikard's ascent in the ranks within petanque circles - with the movie building to an unexpectedly compelling (and, admittedly, quite conventional) final stretch involving a petanque competition. It's a thoroughly gripping third act within a movie that confounds expectations at virtually every turn, which, in the end, confirms The Giant's place as a fairly stunning debut effort from an exceedingly promising new filmmaker.
Directed by Onur Tukel
USA/96 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
An annoyingly smug, self-satisfied satire, Catfight follows former college friends Veronica (Sandra Oh) and Ashley (Anne Heche) as they run into each other at a party and almost immediately engage in a vicious, brutal fight - with the movie subsequently charting the pair's fortunes as they rise and fall over the next five years. Writer/director Onur Tukel has infused Catfight with a far-from-subtle, aggressively over-the-top feel that grates from the word go, with the inept filmmaker's heavy-handed treatment of the wafer-thin storyline compounding the movie's pervasive atmosphere of high camp. (There is, for example, an eye-rollingly on-the-nose recurring bit involving a late-night talk-show host with a penchant for fart jokes.) And while the title battles between Oh and Heche's respective characters are admittedly quite engrossing (and impressively brutal), Catfight's almost total lack of momentum ensures that it grows more and more insufferable as it progresses - with the movie, which generally feels like a cut-for-time SNL sketch that's been painfully stretched out to feature length, building to a third act that couldn't possibly be less interesting (ie it becomes, predictably, impossible to care about the fortunes of either of the movie's one-dimensional protagonists). It's ultimately rather difficult, to put it mildly, to discern just what Tukel was attempting to accomplish with this mess, and, given the roster of talented performers within the cast, one has to imagine that the script looked a whole lot different than the mostly unwatchable final product.
Directed by John Butler
IRELAND/95 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Handsome Devil, set almost entirely at an all-boys boarding school, details the unlikely friendship that forms between outcast Ned (Fionn O'Shea) and athlete Conor (Nicholas Galitzine), with the movie following the pair as they reluctantly agree, at the urging of their English teacher (Andrew Scott's Dan), to take their burgeoning musical endeavors to a local talent show. It's a relatively familiar premise that's employed to passable yet consistently erratic effect by writer/director John Butler, as the filmmaker's low-key, thoroughly subdued approach to his own screenplay results in a seriously lackadaisical atmosphere - to the point where there's very little momentum for most of the movie's overlong running time. Handsome Devil, then, benefits heavily from the work of its affable leads, with, especially, Scott delivering a commanding and tremendously compelling performance that remains a highlight throughout (ie this is essentially a star-making turn, even though the actor's been working steadily for more than 20 years). And although the film's midsection suffers from a palpably spinning-its-wheels vibe - eg there's a fairly arbitrary subplot involving the disappearance of a character - Handsome Devil admittedly builds to a stirring (and quite rousing) climax that ensures it ultimately does end on a feel-good, positive note.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Directed by André Øvredal
USA/99 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
A fairly thin yet entertaining horror flick, The Autopsy of Jane Doe follows father/son coroners Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austen (Emile Hirsch) as they begin looking into the mysterious death of a young, unknown woman - with the movie detailing the increasingly unusual and creepy happenings that occur as the night progresses. There's little doubt that The Autopsy of Jane Doe fares best in its ominous first half, as director André Øvredal, working from a screenplay by Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing, does a superb job of initially establishing the movie's two central characters and the spooky environs in which they toil - with the film, as a result, boasting an opening stretch that's rife with legitimately frightening images and sequences. It's clear, too, that the movie benefits substantially from Cox and Hirsch's thoroughly personable work here, with the actors convincingly stepping into the shoes of their respective characters and ensuring that both Tommy and Austen become increasingly sympathetic as the story unfolds. The problem, then, is that The Autopsy of Jane Doe is eventually more concerned with loud, over-the-top jump scares than it is with atmosphere and dread, with the progressively silly vibe compounded by a frenetic third act that ultimately concludes with a whimper rather than a bang - which, in effect, cements the film's place as a relatively solid endeavor that can't quite justify its feature length (ie this would've been a heck of an entry within a horror anthology).