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Toronto International Film Festival 2004 - UPDATE #9

Old Boy
Directed by Park Chan-wook

Despite the massive amounts of praise being heaped on Old Boy by folks like Quentin Tarantino and Ain't It Cool's Harry Knowles, the simple fact is that the movie just isn't that good. It's not bad, exactly, but it's certainly not deserving of all the extremely positive buzz that's been going around. Part of the problem is that director Park Chan-wook complicates what should have been a simple story with an emphasis on a mystery that isn't terribly interesting. The plot concerns Dae-su (Min-sik Choi), a businessman held against his will for 15 years by a shadowy force. Upon his release, Dae-su embarks on a quest of revenge - eventually making his way to the person responsible for his imprisonment. It's impossible to deny the fact that Park is a tremendously talented filmmaker; there are some sequences here that are absolutely spellbinding (particularly one that finds Dae-su dispatching a dozen assailants with a hammer - all in one long take). Ultimately, though, Park spends far too much time on Dae-su's investigation - something that becomes increasingly noticeable as we're presented with fairly dull flashbacks of Dae-su's youth. Admittedly, these elements do come into play as the movie draws to a close - but the damage has already been done. Still, the film's often astounding visuals and Choi's gritty performance makes it easy enough to recommend Old Boy.

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Directed by Dylan Kidd

P.S. marks Dylan Kidd's follow-up to the acclaimed Roger Dodger, and not surprisingly, the film can't easily be classified. On the surface, it's a romance between an older woman named Louise (played by Laura Linney) and F. Scott (Topher Grace), who is almost two decades younger. But Kidd isn't content to allow this to play out as a typical May-December story, and his screenplay has a lot to say about loftier issues such as aging and even the meaning of life. Admittedly, the story is hurt by a bizarre plot device - Louise becomes convinced that F. Scott is her dead lover reincarnated - that doesn't really go anywhere, and seems to exist only to initially bring Louise and F. Scott together. But once you get past that element of Kidd's screenplay (based on the novel by Helen Schulman), there's certainly a lot here worth embracing - particularly Linney's performance, which is incredibly strong (though not entirely surprising, given how effective she's been in films like You Can Count On Me and Mystic River). Grace, on the other hand, sheds all traces of his sitcom persona and proves that he's got what it takes to become a bona fide movie star.

out of

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things
Directed by Asia Argento

Asia Argento seems to have gone to the Harmony Korine school of filmmaking, peppering The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things with unpleasant characters and incoherent sequences. While Argento's style is admittedly the best thing about the film - there are a lot of instances here in which the visuals are far more intriguing than anything else - it's not enough to disguise the inherently repellent nature of this story. The film casts Argento as Sarah, a sleazy former prostitute who has just regained custody of her son Jeremiah - though it's clear that she's in no state to be raising a child (she convinces Jeremiah that he'll be crucified if he attempts to go back to his foster parents). In terms of creating a world that looks convincingly seedy and reprehensible, Argento has undoubtedly succeeded. But there's absolutely no flow to the film's screenplay - which is based on a series of short stories by J.T. LeRoy - as it lurches from one vignette to the next, without any thought to keeping the audience engaged. The many oddball celebrity cameos (Winona Ryder, Peter Fonda, etc) quickly prove more distracting than anything else, while the film becomes increasingly incoherent as it progresses. Argento might one day make a good film - this certainly isn't it.

out of

A Good Woman
Directed by Mike Barker

Based on the play by Oscar Wilde, A Good Woman is chock full of clever dialogue and witty characters - unfortunately, there's not a single character here worth caring about or rooting for. Helen Hunt stars as Stella Erlynne, a trampy socialite who's just been run out of town by the wives of her various conquests. Upon arriving at a remote European villa, she immediately locates her next target - a well-to-do businessman (played by Mark Umbers) who's married to the beautiful Meg (Scarlett Johansson). Also in the mix is a persistent suitor vying for Stella's affections (played by Tom Wilkinson) and Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore), who pursues Meg despite her protests. Aside from a few fairly decent performances (Wilkinson is the clear standout) and some pretty scenery, there's not awful lot going on here. Howard Himelstein's screenplay is peppered with snappy dialogue with an over-rehearsed quality to it (has anyone ever talked like this ever?), while director Mike Barker tries his best to imbue the film with a farcical sort of vibe (it kind of works). In the end, what it really comes down to is the fact that A Good Woman is instantly forgettable; there's nothing here that's going to linger in the viewer's thoughts once the credits have rolled.

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Directed by Yoichi Sai

Quill is an inoffensive yet generally entertaining look at the titular character, a seeing-eye dog who touches the lives of several people. There's not much going on here that most audience members won't see coming miles away - ie the transformation of a crusty old blind character into someone distinctly more kindhearted, thanks to the presence of Quill - but the film nevertheless remains engaging, primarily thanks to director Yoichi Sai's patience in allowing things to play out naturally. As a result, we see Quill mature from a puppy to a grown dog - turning him into more than just a cute animal (he becomes a genuinely compelling figure). And while the movie does occasionally seem to dwell unnecessarily on some of the more unpleasant aspects of Quill's life, this is the sort of movie kids will probably enjoy more than adults (yet grown-ups can easily watch this without checking the old watch every couple of minutes).

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Rahtree: Flower of the Night
Directed by Yuthlert Sippapak

After a fairly promising start, Rahtree: Flower of the Night quickly transforms into an incredibly lame horror/comedy. It's actually quite remarkable how fast the film goes from semi-interesting to all-out disaster. The story follows a young man who convinces a seemingly unattainable girl to sleep with him, thus winning a bet with his frat buddies. Coincidentally, said girl finds herself possessed by the Devil a short time later - and what better time to get revenge than when you've got Satan on your side? It's certainly not a bad setup, and director Yuthlert Sippapak initially imbues the film with a sort of slow-paced sense of dread - something he completely abandons at about the 30-minute mark. It's at that point Rahtree: Flower of the Night becomes an all-out comedy, except there's absolutely nothing here that's even remotely funny. The film's focus on clumsy, inept characters results in a series of jokes that are beyond lame; this is the sort of stuff even Three Stooges fans would have a hard time defending. And Sippapak's predilection for ripping off better movies certainly doesn't help matters; aside from The Exorcist, the latter half of the film owes a heck of a lot to Audition (the above picture perfectly proves that point).

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© David Nusair