Toronto International Film Festival 2017 - UPDATE #5
Directed by Xavier Legrand
Custody details the emotional turmoil that ensues when an estranged couple (Léa Drucker's Miriam and Denis Ménochet's Antoine) attempts to work out details of custody surrounding their 11-year-old son (Thomas Gioria's Julien), with the movie, for the most part, coming off as a dry, deliberately-paced drama that benefits from strong performances and a steady directorial hand. Filmmaker Xavier Legrand opens Custody with a simple yet strangely engrossing sequence of the two sides laying out their case to an impartial judge, and there's little doubt that the film, before it arrives at its electrifying third act, seems as though it's peaked in its low-key first scene. The trouble is, as becomes clear, that Legrand delivers a somewhat repetitive midsection devoted almost entirely to Antoine's monstrous behavior, with the movie spending large chunks of time on the degree to which Antoine seems to terrorize and alienate everyone in his life (including his parents!) And although Legrand has sprinkled the proceedings with a handful of tense moments (eg Antoine arrives at his estranged wife's new apartment), Custody doesn't begin to morph into an astonishingly captivating piece of work until it progresses into its mesmerizing third act - with the drastic change in tone paving the way for a final half hour one couldn't possibly have predicted based on the opening hour. It's a remarkable turnabout that ultimately confirms Custody's place as a can't-miss endeavor, with the film expressly designed to be watched by a viewer that has no idea what's coming (ie try to avoid spoilers if at all possible).
Who We Are Now
Directed by Matthew Newton
USA/99 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Written and directed by Matthew Newton, Who We Are Now follows Julianne Nicholson's Beth as she reluctantly agrees to work with an idealistic young lawyer (Emma Roberts' Jess) to regain custody of her young son. It admittedly does take a while for the movie to get to that point, however, and there's little doubt that the film's often needlessly sprawling sensibilities impede one's consistent enjoyment - with Newton's screenplay offering up a whole host of subplots ostensibly designed to flesh out the central characters (but which actually contribute heavily to the erratic atmosphere). There's little doubt, then, that Who We Are Now is at its best when focused on the aforementioned custody issue, as some of the more low-key, character-based digressions simply don't work and serve only to pad out the running time. (This is never more true than in the scenes detailing Jess' contentious relationship with her superficial mother.) And yet it's clear that Who We Are Now benefits from the inclusion of several undeniably powerful sequences, as Newton peppers the latter half of the proceedings with emotional revelations that hit like a ton of bricks - with the most obvious example of this a riveting, jaw-dropping sequence in which Beth details the events that led to the loss of her son (Nicholson delivers what may just be the performance of her career here). The end result is a solid little drama that's often more effective as an actor's showcase than anything else, and yet that's not necessarily a bad thing when work this impressive is on display.
Directed by David Freyne
IRELAND/UNITED KINGDOM/FRANCE/95 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Rarely as interesting as its premise, The Cured transpires in a world where zombies have been cured and are now looking to reintegrate into society - although this turns out to be a prospect fraught with unforeseen complications (eg people don't seem to want former flesh-eaters hanging around). The degree to which The Cured ultimately doesn't work is fairly disappointing, to be sure, as the movie boasts a strong opening stretch that effectively lays out the scenario and establishes the characters - although it's clear right from the get-go that the film has a serious hurdle to overcome in the form of its main character (ie he's simply not a compelling figure, and, worse, he's terminally bland). And although much of the movie's first half is admittedly quite watchable, The Cured's sluggish atmosphere ensures that one's continuing efforts at wholeheartedly embracing the material fall flat. Far more problematic, however, is the growing emphasis on an entirely needless human villain, with, eventually, the mere presence of this ill-conceived character essentially bringing the narrative to a complete halt (ie he's just that dull and pointless). It's likewise clear that the action-packed climax just doesn't work - the viewer has virtually nothing invested in any of this - which finally does confirm The Cured's status as an underwhelming and rather palpable misfire.
Directed by David Bruckner
UNITED KINGDOM/95 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
Based on a book by Adam Nevill, The Ritual follows four friends as they decide to commemorate a dead pal by embarking on a hike through the woods of Sweden - with terror ensuing as it becomes clear that they're not alone out there. Filmmaker David Bruckner, making his debut here, delivers an engrossing pre-credits sequence establishing the tragic backstory of one of the men (Rafe Spall's Luke), with the movie, from there, segueing into an overly familiar and rarely interesting midsection devoted to the protagonists' increasingly perilous forest-set exploits. It's not necessarily the well-worn nature of the material that ultimately sinks The Ritual, however; rather it's Bruckner's rather sluggish take on Joe Barton's disappointingly uneventful screenplay, as the film moves at a glacial pace and boasts few interludes designed to perk up one's waning interest. Bruckner's heavy emphasis on hollow jump scares doesn't exactly help matters, nor does his bizarre choice to keep much of the horror away from the camera. (There are sure a lot of gross-sounding things happening offscreen, though.) And although the climactic stretch seems to hold promise, The Ritual closes with a dimly-lit third act that's just as ineffective and underwhelming as everything preceding it - with the film ultimately unable to justify its full-length running time (ie it may have worked as one of Bruckner's V/H/S shorts).
Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle
Directed by Mike van Diem
NETHERLANDS/ITALY/CANADA/90 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
A forgettable crowdpleaser, Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle follows Ksenia Solo's Anna as she travels to Italy to dispose of her mother's ashes and subsequently makes a series of discoveries about her lineage. It's clear immediately that filmmaker Mike van Diem isn't looking to deliver a serious, intense family drama here, as Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle, by and large, comes off as an often excessively lighthearted romp with few elements designed to capture and sustain one's interest - which is a shame, certainly, given that Solo manages to deliver a tremendously charismatic performance as the affable protagonist. The problem is, however, that it becomes increasingly clear that Anna isn't actually the central character; rather, the bulk of the narrative revolves around the set-in-the-past exploits of Anna's birth father (Gijs Naber's Gauke), with the bulk of these needlessly comedic scenes falling flat and perpetuating the far-from-engrossing vibe (ie Gauke just isn't a compelling figure, ultimately). There's little doubt, then, that van Diem's ongoing (and progressively desperate) efforts to cultivate a breezy atmosphere prove fruitless, while the emotional beats contained within the third act are hardly able to pack the punch van Diem has clearly intended. It's ultimately not difficult to envision certain viewers immediately latching onto Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle's unique wavelength and going with the flow, so to speak, but the movie is, for those that don't, a tough slog indeed.