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Toronto International Film Festival 2004 - UPDATE #5

Directed by Frank E. Flowers

Well, there's no point in mincing words - Haven is a complete and utter mess. It's hard to imagine what writer/director Frank E. Flowers had he mind when he concocted this astoundingly dull story involving the hijinks of several characters living in the Cayman Islands. And it's impossible not to wonder what talented actors like Bill Paxton, Orlando Bloom and Agnes Bruckner thought they were getting into when they signed on. Despite their best efforts, there's not a single compelling character to be found in Haven - and as a result, there's absolutely nothing here to hold our interest. Not the plight of Bloom's character, who's had acid thrown in his face for sleeping with a local - and certainly not the complicated Paxton storyline, which has something to do with illicit activities and a cache of cash in a suitcase. Flowers postpones certain revelations presumably so he can have everything come together at the end, a tactic that's more annoying than anything else. Admittedly, the film does start to make more sense once the pieces begin falling into place - but really, it's impossible to care at that point.

out of

Directed by Alexander Payne

Sideways marks the latest collaboration between Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, and though it's overlong by about 20 minutes, the film likely marks their best work to date. The simple premise involves two buddies - a washed out actor named Jack (Thomas Haden Church) and Miles (Paul Giamatti), a struggling novelist - who head out for a week of fun before Jack gets married. It doesn't come as much of a surprise that Giamatti delivers an amazing performance, considering he's been stealing scenes for years. But it really is remarkable just how effective he is in this role; in Giamatti's hands, Miles becomes someone that's far more intriguing and complex than he might've appeared on the page (this is a actor who can say so much with just a raised eyebrow). Likewise, Church (primarily known for his role as Lowell on the sitcom Wings) more than holds his own opposite Giamatti; there's certainly nothing in his body of work indicating this level of talent. But what really makes the film work is the chemistry between the performers, which is evident right from the get-go. As a result, the movie does suffer a little bit when they're separated during the movie's midsection. Still, it's hard to complain given that Giamatti's never been better and Payne's playful sense of direction perfectly complements the droll screenplay.

out of

When Will I Be Loved
Directed by James Toback

When Will I Be Loved gets off to a really bad start - director James Toback seems to have cut corners by not hiring extras, and as a result, we get a long sequence in which random bystanders just stare into the camera while two actors perform an astoundingly bad sequence that's surely been improvised - and never entirely improves. Neve Campbell stars as a flirtatious young woman who finds herself embroiled in a scheme involving an old man, his money, and certain sexual favors. Toback, who also wrote the film's screenplay, forces his characters to spout the most inane dialogue imaginable, which wavers between dull small talk and infuriating conversations in which people dance around the issue ceaselessly (does anybody talk like this?) Campbell is fine, though she's hardly given anything to work with - she was far more effective in last year's The Company. And Fred Weller, so good in The Shape of Things, hits all the wrong notes as an obnoxious hustler. Toback's fluid camerawork is about the only intriguing aspect of When Will I Be Loved, though Mike Tyson's inexplicable cameo as "Buck" has to be seen to be believed.

out of

Directed by Christopher Smith

In Creep, Franka Potente plays Kate - a flirtatious young woman who finds herself locked in the London subway system after hours. After a slimy colleague - who followed her in - is murdered right in front of her, Kate must escape the clutches of a mysterious creature that seems determined to kill anyone in its path. There's nothing terribly original or even scary about Creep and Christopher Smith's screenplay is crammed with some absolutely atrocious dialogue - and yet as a sort of Halloween clone set underground, the film works. Actor Sean Harris does a nice job as the Creep, while Potente has perfected the scream-and-run technique movies like this seem to require. Though Kate does confront the monster towards the end, the majority of the movie finds her playing a typical horror victim (ie she flees after knocking the Creep unconscious, when she should've just finished him off). As far as movie monsters go, the Creep isn't bad - though it doesn't entirely make sense that he's as murderous as he is, particularly in light of certain revelations regarding his origins. Though Creep doesn't re-invent the slasher flick by any stretch of the imagination, it's a fairly well-made variation on the genre that should please gorehounds.

out of

A Hole In My Heart
Directed by Lukas Moodysson

Claustrophobic and unpleasant, A Hole In My Heart follows the plotless adventures of four characters in a tiny apartment - a pornographer, his son, and two actors. The film's been written and directed by Lukas Moodysson, who throws virtually every rule of cinema out the window for the sole purpose of shocking the audience. It's Moodysson's bizarre experimental touches - using Barbie dolls to act out certain sequences, assaulting us with discordant noises, etc - that prevent us from actually becoming involved with the film's events; we're constantly being reminded that this is just a movie, and generally in the most jarring way imaginable. Moodysson doesn't seem to realize the difference between a film that's disturbing yet provocative, and a film that's just amateurish and gross. In terms of the latter, the director repeatedly cuts to extreme close-ups of genital surgery - a baffling decision that even Moodysson himself would be hard-pressed to defend. It's a shame, really; the acting is actually fairly strong, while the film's premise certainly isn't terrible. But instead of focusing on the characters, Moodysson would rather have horribly pointless sequences such as the one that finds someone vomiting into the mouth of another. What's the point?

no stars out of

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© David Nusair