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Toronto International Film Festival 2005 - UPDATE #8

The Shore
Directed by Dionysius Zervos

The Shore is purportedly the first installment in an already-written trilogy, which surely does not bode well for future film festivals. The movie is riddled with problems; there's an unmistakable feeling of amateurishness that permeates every aspect of the production, from the melodramatic screenplay to the lackluster performances to the bland visual style. It's fairly surprising, really, given the potentially electrifying subject matter - a young girl disappears during a trip to the beach, forcing her family to cope in different ways - but writer/director Dionysius Zervos imbues the movie with all the realism of a soap opera. Zervos' overly glossy and distinctly self-indulgent directorial choices effectively prevent the film from achieving any sense of authenticity. The filmmaker's curious obsession with slow-motion eventually becomes laughable, and his use of other equally needless tricks affords The Shore a vibe of tediousness almost immediately. The performances - despite the presence of veterans such as Ben Gazzara and Lesley Ann Warren in the film's cast - come off as either competent (barely) or flat-out terrible, although (to be fair) the actors aren't given a whole lot to work with (ie Warren's character has blocked out the disappearance to such an extent that she freaks out after spotting the little girl on a "missing" poster, which hardly even seems possible). The Shore is a mess, plain and simple (and though the movie ends with a cliffhanger, one can't help but hope that further installments are not forthcoming).

out of

Directed by Bennett Miller

Featuring one of the most effective performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman's career, Capote revolves around the famed author's trials and tribulations while writing his masterwork In Cold Blood. Along with friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), Capote begins investigating the brutal murder of a family of four - which leads him to charismatic murderer Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr). The film essentially plays out like a typical Hollywood biopic, as director Bennett Miller imbues the film with an austere, visually inert sense of style (except in one pivotal sequence towards the end, where he inexplicably breaks out the old shaky-cam). And while it's never boring, Capote never quite becomes the fascinating portrait one imagines it's supposed to be - although Hoffman's meticulous performance goes a long way towards keeping things interesting throughout. Fortunately, however, things start to pick up with Capote finds himself conflicted by his camaraderie with Smith and his need to finish writing the book (which, obviously, can't happen until Smith is executed). In the end, Capote is an effective look at an exceedingly complicated man - yet it's hard not to wish the movie had been as spellbinding as Hoffman's performance.

out of

Everything is Illuminated
Directed by Liev Schreiber

Everything is Illuminated marks the directorial debut of actor Liev Schrieber (who doesn't actually appear in the film), and there's no doubt that the movie is one of the most impressive first efforts to come along in a while. Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated casts Elijah Wood as Foer - a quirky young man who decides to track down the woman responsible for saving his grandfather's life during the Second World War. Assisting him on the quest are Alex Jr (Eugene Hutz) and Alex Sr (Boris Leskin), a pair of native Ukrainians who act as - respectively - Foer's translator and driver. The most striking aspect of Schrieber's directorial choices involves his occasional willingness to allow the visuals to tell the story; there are long stretches here without any dialogue, an effective choice that's assisted by Matthew Libatique impressive cinematography. It's also interesting to note that the film's stark shift in tone - the first half is light and breezy, while the second half is surprisingly dark and dramatic - doesn't feel jarring or off-putting, thanks to Schrieber's seemingly effortless sense of style. That Wood delivers a subtle, thoroughly compelling performance doesn't hurt, while newcomer Hutz comes off as exceedingly likable and charismatic. Everything is Illuminated would appear to mark the arrival of a talented new filmmaker, although one can't help but hope that Schrieber doesn't abandon acting completely.

out of

Directed by Jim McKay

The best way to describe Angel is as a slice-of-life film in the truest sense of the term; the movie follows two characters - a troubled street youth named Angel (Jonan Everett) and Nicole (Rachel Griffiths), a compassionate social worker - over a short period of time that isn't particularly eventful, and ends as abruptly as it started. What the film does have going for it, then, are a pair of exceedingly intriguing performances - as both Griffiths and Everett effectively transform themselves into these incredibly flawed characters. Director Jim McKay imbues the movie with the jittery look of a documentary, a choice that captures the almost mundane reality of his screenplay. In that respect, though, the filmmaker occasionally goes a tad overboard (there are two sequences in which we watch characters literally stand around and eat). Still, there's a palpable feeling of authenticity at work here that prevents the movie from becoming a flat-out bore (there's no denying, though, that Angel has been designed to appeal to a very specific - and very patient - audience).

out of

Citizen Dog
Directed by Wisit Sasanatieng

Visually audacious, Citizen Dog is set in a world where corpses drive taxicabs, fingers are easily detachable, and teddy bears walk, talk, and drink heavily. Director Wisit Sasanatieng is clearly going for a vibe of unabashed fantasy, and on that level, the filmmaker certainly succeeds. The story revolves around Pod (Mahasmut Bunyaraksh), a "country bumpkin" who arrives in Bangkok and finds himself falling for a woman named Jin (Sanftong Ket-U-Tong). Sasanatieng, along with cinematographer Rewat Prelert, imbues Citizen Dog with a bright and colorful sense of style that effectively carries the film through some of the more uneven sections of Sasanatieng's screenplay. And while it's clear that Citizen Dog won't appeal to everyone, Sasanatieng does a nice job of keeping the tone consistent - ensuring that, at the very least, the movie's never boring.

out of

The Myth
Directed by Stanley Tong

That The Myth eventually turns into an almost interminable experience is a shame, given the light-hearted and genuinely entertaining vibe of the film's opening hour. Jackie Chan stars as two characters - an Indiana Jones-esque archeologist and a faithful soldier in the Chinese Royal Guard. Director Stanley Tong makes the astonishingly misguided decision to keep the two timelines separate by having all the scenes in the past look slightly squished, a distracting choice that's entirely unnecessary (even the most moronic viewer would be able to tell the two time periods apart without this silly visual trick). Fortunately, The Myth contains several expectedly impressive action sequences - with a fight set within a rat paper factory an obvious highlight - although it's not long before such moments wear out their welcome. This is particularly true of an unbelievably tedious plot development towards the end, which finds all of the film's central characters forced to duke it out inside some kind of an infinite, gravity-defying mausoleum (!) Chan is reportedly looking to get away from some of the sillier films he's been churning out as of late, but The Myth certainly does not mark a step in the right direction (even some of Chan's mediocre Hollywood product, ie The Medallion, is more effective than this).

out of

© David Nusair