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Toronto International Film Festival 2003 - UPDATE #1

Directed by Jan Schutte

SuperTex is a bit of an oddity. Following the exploits the Breslauer family, who've made their fortune selling cheap clothes to third-world countries, the film often operates on the same level as a soap opera. But it mostly works, mostly due to some better-than-expected acting and a steady sense of direction. The film stars Stephen Mangan as Max, the eldest son in this textile dynasty - his father Simon (Jan Decleir) and brother Boy (Elliot Levey) are also involved with the company - who's recently begun questioning his role within both the family and the business. He feels that he's not being taken seriously by his father, and eventually decides to quit - but Max soon begins to see past his own self-interest. Though SuperTex often borders on melodrama, the film remains an entertaining look at a family in crisis. And it's worth noting that the central character, Max, is often quite unlikeable; he's short-tempered with everyone he supposedly cares about, including his devoted girlfriend. It's the chemistry between the two brothers, though, that propels the story forward. Their relationship is a poignent one, and it's that aspect of the film that's the most effective. But the movie occasionally seems to be implying that if Max would just embrace his Jewish roots, it'd essentially be a cure-all for everything that ails him. It's an absurd and heavy-handed suggestion to say the least, exacerbated by a third-act that's completely ludicrous (involving Boy's complete change of lifestyle that happens way too quickly to be convincing). Had SuperTex remained focused on Max's struggle to accept his place within this family and business, there's no doubt it would've been far more entertaining (and instances of eye-rolling among audiences would have been eliminated).

out of

The Event
Directed by Thom Fitzgerald

The interesting thing about The Event is that it stars the quintessentially Canadian Don McKellar as a lifelong New Yorker, an odd casting choice to say the least. But it works, mostly because McKellar gives a performance that's far better than anything he's done before (the guy can act). The "event" refers to a party being given by Matt (McKellar), who's dying of AIDS, as he commemorates his own suicide. The film's told mostly in flashback, as an Assistant District Attorney (Parker Posey) investigates the suspicious circumstances surrounding Matt's death (was it really a suicide or did someone help him?) We meet the various figures in Matt's life, most notably his loyal mother (Olympia Dukakis) and former lover (Brent Carver), while the A.D.A. digs deeper into the facts. The Event likely marks Thom Fitzgerald's most accessible work, especially when you consider a film like The Hanging Garden (calling that flick obtuse is putting it midly). Though there are a number of quirky plot interruptions that are more distracting than anything else (a sequence involving preperations for Matt's party is the most glaring example of this), the movie works best during instances of dialogue between the characters. And while Posey tries awfully hard to come off as a tough-as-nails lawyer, she never quite pulls it off (not to mention the fact that her character arc feels incredibly forced). But the other actors fare much better, especially Dukakis. She takes a character that could've been a stereotypical Jewish mother and turns her into someone that's far more intriguing. It's because of Dukakis' sturdy performance that certain cloying moments never come off quite as badly as one might expect - such as the sequence in which she bakes marijuana-laced cookies for Matt. On the whole, The Event is worth a look for the performances; the storyline doesn't have much in the way of innovation to offer.

out of

A Problem with Fear
Directed by Gary Burns

Here's an odd one. A Problem with Fear marks Gary Burns' follow-up to waydowntown, a quirky Canadian film about a group of co-workers that bet to see who can stay indoor the longest. Like that film, A Problem with Fear relies more on inexplicably odd behavior among its characters than anything else to propel the story forward. But Burns keeps the audience in the dark as to what's really going on for so long that when the pieces finally do begin to fall into place, it's almost impossible to care. Our hero, Laurie (Paulo Costanzo), is afraid of virtually everything - making him a prime candidate for a new product that's somehow able to warn him of imminent danger. Still, his struggle getting through even simple everyday tasks (he forces his sister to walk him to work) is beginning to wear thin on his loyal girlfriend, Dot (Emily Hampshire). But when a "fear storm" hits the city, causing the worst fears of its citizens to come true, Laurie is finally forced to confront his demons. It's certainly a unique premise for a film, and Burns should be applauded for trying to do something different. But the obtuse nature of Burns' screenplay (which he co-wrote with Donna Brunsdale) makes it impossible for the audience to make any kind of connection with the characters. Even if you're willing to overlook Laurie's increasingly bizarre conduct, practically every other character in the film acts just as oddly. Dot's a perfect example of this; her goofy appearance (she sports a '50s hairstyle, braces, and enough lipstick to keep a dozen drag queens in business for a good long while) complements her weird school project, which requires her to question various bystanders on where they get their look from. The whole film has an air of smugness about it, as if Burns has created this 92-minute joke which either you get or you don't. And the resolution, involving the origins of the "fear storm" and Laurie's connection to it, is just plain silly. Having said that, the film is almost always interesting just to look at, with Burns using a wide variety of filters and cinematic tricks to keep things visually intriguing. It's not enough, however, to elevate A Problem with Fear to anything more than an oddball curiosity.

out of

Directed by Greg Marcks

11:14 is a gimmicky but ultimately enjoyable little film involving several characters whose lives intersect one fateful night. An impressive list of actors - including Henry Thomas, Patrick Swayze, Rachael Leigh Cook, Shawn Hatosy, and Hilary Swank - make their way through this story featuring a chain reaction of events that leads to death. Director Greg Marcks doesn't quite have the talent of a Paul Thomas Anderson, but he does a nice job of toying with the audiences' expectations. Since the film kicks off with a pivotal moment, we know exactly where things are going - but Marcks proves to be effective at keeping us in suspense. And though the motivations of Swayze's character are never made entirely clear, 11:14 is a fun little movie that never really amounts to much.

out of

© David Nusair