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Toronto International Film Festival 2006 - UPDATE #7

Copying Beethoven
Directed by Agnieszka Holland

That Ed Harris actually makes a fairly convincing Ludwig van Beethoven is undoubtedly a testament to his ample abilities, and it's his electrifying performance that keeps the viewer engaged throughout Copying Beethoven's admittedly erratic running time. Set in the days leading up to and following the first public performance of the Ninth Symphony, the movie revolves around Beethoven's effort to break in comely new assistant Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger, who more than holds her own opposite Harris). Director Agnieszka Holland effectively infuses Copying Beethoven with a distinct feeling of authenticity, a vibe that's cemented by the impressively low-key sets (the majority of the movie transpires within Beethoven's shabby flat) and uniformly convincing supporting performances. And although there's no real arc propelling the movie forward, there's just something strangely compelling about the initially antagonistic relationship between Beethoven and Holtz. The film's centerpiece - a truncated performance of the Ninth - is so impressive that everything that comes after kind of feels superfluous, but that's a relatively minor complaint. And if nothing else, the entire movie may just be worth a look for the amazingly entertaining sequence in which Beethoven - after receiving a copy of Anna's own symphony - mocks the girl by comedically playing her piece whilst blowing raspberrys.

out of

Directed by Mark Palansky

One wouldn't have imagined that a film featuring Christina Ricci as a woman cursed with the snout of a pig would rank as one of the most interesting and flat-out entertaining films to play at this year's festival, but there you have it. An unabashed fairy tale from the word go, Penelope stars Ricci as the title character - a young woman whose porcine features have keep her a prisoner in her own home (a decision that's courtesy of her mom and dad, played by Catherine O'Hara and Richard E. Grant). After suffering through an endless parade of would-be suitors, Penelope finally tires of her shielded lifestyle and surreptitiously heads out into the world (resulting in several very funny fish-out-of-water episodes, including an encounter with a pair of harmless joggers). Penelope has been beautifully directed by first-time filmmaker Mark Palansky, who does a superb job of infusing the proceedings with a bright, thoroughly vivid sense of style that ensures the film is always compelling on a purely visual level. But really, it's Ricci who deserves most of the credit for the film's success; the actress deftly sheds her sardonic persona and completely becomes this innocent, utterly personable figure. It's consequently very difficult not to root for Penelope through her many misadventures over the film's running time. And as uniformly strong as the supporting cast is, it's Peter Dinklage - playing a one-eyed photographer with a grudge - who deftly steals every one of his scenes and proves once again that he's one of the most charismatic and talented performers of his generation.

out of

The Fall
Directed by Tarsem

The Fall marks director Tarsem's first film since his striking 2000 effort, The Cell, and to call it a disappointment is an understatement of epic proportions. The movie essentially follows the same formula as The Cell - ie there are scenes set within both a real world and an imaginary one - but this time around Tarsem has failed to include a single element or character worth caring about (as weird as The Cell was, for example, it was at times a compelling serial killer movie). Set in the 1920s, The Fall follows an injured stuntman as he regales a scrappy little girl with an epic tale of revenge. The most obvious problem with the film is that neither of the film's two storylines are even remotely interesting, with both plagued by unreasonably amateurish performances and lackluster scripting. Tarsem's oddly restrained directorial choices lend the proceedings a static, distinctly underwhelming feel, and one can't help but wish the filmmaker would've infused the film with the same sort of over-the-top sensibility that was hard-wired into his debut.

out of

For Your Consideration
Directed by Christopher Guest

For Your Consideration will surely thrill fans of Christopher Guest's prior improvisational comedies - including Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show - though it seems doubtful that the filmmaker is going win over detractors with this frustratingly one-note effort. The story essentially revolves around the cast and crew of a would-be epic called Home for Purim, and the shenanigans that ensue after Oscar buzz begins to mount. As expected, For Your Consideration is primarily a hit-and-miss affair - with an inordinately large number of the film's jokes falling completely flat. The distinctly freewheeling tone wears out its welcome almost immediately, and there's simply no denying that the movie often feels improvised. And unlike Guest's last effort - the genuinely hilarious and compelling A Mighty Wind - For Your Consideration is generally lacking in mainstream appeal, ensuring that all but the most ardent Guest fan will find little here worth embracing. That being said, Fred Willard's ridiculously entertaining performance as a vacuous, Pat O'Brien-esque television personality is certainly a highlight, and it's ultimately difficult not to wish that Guest had given the actor more (much more) to do.

out of

Shot in the Dark
Directed by Adrian Grenier

Shot in the Dark is a low-key, distinctly heartfelt documentary from Entourage star Adrian Grenier, and follows the actor as he attempts to reconnect with his absentee father. Primarily shot in 1999, the film starts out as an all-encompassing look at fatherhood and eventually becomes an extremely intimate diary of Grenier's quest (which also involves - among others - his mother, quirky grandparents, and sardonic best friend). Grenier has infused Shot in the Dark with an unpolished sort of feel that admittedly reflects the film's gritty vibe, but ultimately lends the proceedings a hit-and-miss quality that's impossible to overlook. That being said, Grenier is an utterly charismatic figure that one can't help but root for; the inclusion of several genuinely compelling sequences (particularly one in which Grenier calls his grandparents but instead finds his father) ensures that Shot in the Dark remains an agreeable - albeit forgettable - piece of work.

out of

The Host
Directed by Bong Joon-ho

Similar in a lot of ways to Steven Spielberg's recent War of the Worlds update, The Host follows a dysfunctional family as they band together to save one of their own from the clutches of a bloodthirsty monster. The film also features a fairly ludicrous subplot about the South Korean government's efforts to contain the scare by blaming it on a virus, going so far as to isolate anybody who's come into contact with the beast. While there's certainly a lot within The Host to admire - the creature's initial attack is as thrilling and exciting as one might've hoped - filmmaker Bong Joon-ho bogs the proceedings down with an egregiously overlong running time and an unwarranted (and unwanted) emphasis on the political ramifications of the monster's existence. By including such blatant parallels to SARS and other similar crises, Bong all but ensures that virtually none of these characters behave realistically (ie there's a bonafide monster running around, and we're supposed to believe that people would more concerned with some made-up virus). It just comes off as a desperate attempt by the filmmaker to shoehorn his own agenda into the proceedings, which is a shame given the effectiveness of certain portions of The Host.

out of

Directed by Debbie Isitt

Confetti - like the majority of its mockumentary brethren - doesn't have a whole lot to offer in terms of laughs or even character development, and the film consequently can't help but come off as an exercise in pointlessness (ie we know none of this is real, so why should we care?) The film follows three unreasonably quirky couples as they attempt to win a splashy grand prize by designing increasingly over-the-top marriage ceremonies, much to the amusement/horror of two stereotypically homosexual wedding planners. Though there are a few funny bits spread very thinly throughout Confetti's running time, the film generally feels as though it's trying awfully hard to elicit laughs from the viewer (how else to explain the inclusion of a ridiculous sequence towards the end involving a tennis-themed ceremony?) And while the majority of the performances are surprisingly effective - special mention must go to Robert Webb and Olivia Coleman, both of whom spend most of the movie completely naked - there's simply no denying that Confetti often feels like a short that's been unnaturally expanded to feature length.

out of

© David Nusair