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Toronto International Film Festival 2007 - UPDATE #6

Mother of Tears: The Third Mother
Directed by Dario Argento

Mother of Tears: The Third Mother marks the final installment in filmmaker Dario Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy - following Suspiria and Inferno - and there's little doubt that the movie is just as ridiculous and over-the-top as one might've expected (legendary cult figure Udo Kier has a small role as a priest, if that's any indication). Starring Argento's daughter Asia as Sarah Mandy, the film revolves around the chaos that ensues after a legendary witch is unwittingly awakened from her centuries-old slumber; it's up to Sarah to stop her before she conquers the world with her demon (and monkey) army. Argento - working from a script co-written with Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch - has infused Mother of Tears: The Third Mother with a distinct vibe of campiness that's reflected in virtually every aspect of the film, with the dialogue and death sequences ridiculously broad even by Argento's standards. And while it's not always easy to discern just how much of this stuff is supposed to be funny, there's certainly no denying that the movie is a refreshing change of pace from the dark and relentlessly serious horror fare that seems to be all the rage these days. The prolonged finale is regrettable, however, and the convoluted storyline's not always that easy to follow - yet one can't help but admire any flick that features a baby death count of two.

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Directed by Jason Reitman

Juno certainly marks an impressive step forward for director Jason Reitman, as the movie effectively blends comedy and drama far more effectively than his debut effort - 2005's Thank You For Smoking. The film stars Ellen Page as the title character, a spunky 16-year-old who finds herself pregnant after a single encounter with Michael Cera's Paulie - much to the chagrin of her parents (played by J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney). Though she briefly considers an abortion, Juno decides to give the baby up for adoption and - after placing an ad in the paper - eventually settles on a well-to-do couple from the suburbs (Jennifer Garner's Vanessa and Jason Bateman's Mark). Reitman - working from Diablo Cody's screenplay - initially infuses Juno with an overtly quirky and almost distractingly deadpan sensibility that often threatens to negate its positive attributes. There does come a point, however, at which the filmmaker drops such shenanigans in favor of a far more organic vibe, and it's consequently fairly surprising to note just how involving and downright compelling Juno eventually becomes. Page's phenomenal performance certainly plays a significant role in the film's success, though credit must be given to supporting players Simmons, Cera, and particularly Bateman. And while the movie does feature a blatantly sentimental third act, Juno's myriad of crowd-pleasing and heartwarming elements ensure that it ultimately remains as likeable an effort as one might've expected.

out of

They Wait
Directed by Ernie Barbarash

Though the film kicks off with a relatively promising first act, They Wait quickly devolves into a tedious and downright silly piece of work. The movie - which follows Jaime King's Sarah as she encounters a series of apparitions following a trip to Vancouver's Chinatown - has been peppered with a whole host of superfluous elements, as screenwriters Trevor Markwart, Carl Bessai, and Doug Taylor attempt to compensate for the less-than-enthralling plot by throwing in underdeveloped supporting characters and an eye-rollingly hackneyed backstory for the ghosts. Produced by no less than Uwe Boll, They Wait - quite frankly - has straight-to-video written all over it; everything, from the visuals to the performances, seems to be operating at a sub-B-movie level, and it's consequently impossible not to wonder how the film landed a spot at the festival. The slow-paced atmosphere does the proceedings few favors, and although there are admittedly a few effective "boo!" moments spread thinly throughout the movie's padded-out running time, They Wait ultimately fails to make much of an impact either as a familial drama or as a flat-out horror picture.

out of

The Visitor
Directed by Thomas McCarthy

The Visitor, Thomas McCarthy's follow-up to The Station Agent, certainly proves that the filmmaker's ability in creating authentic, wholly fascinating characters was anything but a fluke, as the movie is (if nothing else) rife with compelling figures that ultimately sustain the viewer's interest even through a few less-than-subtle moments. The story - which follows an emotionally closed-off professor (Richard Jenkins' Walter Vale) as he experiences an awakening after befriending a pair of illegal immigrants - unfolds at an appropriately deliberate pace, with McCarthy slowly doling out key bits of information and backstory about each of the central characters. It's a free-wheeling sort of structure that certainly works; Jenkins, a recognizable character actor, delivers what must be the performance of his career, and the actor does a superb job of transforming Walter into a compelling (and ultimately) surprisingly relatable figure. There's does reach a point, however, at which McCarthy starts to place more of an emphasis on plot than one might've liked, and it's ultimately clear that The Visitor's third act isn't quite as effective as everything that's preceded it. Far more problematic is McCarthy's heavy-handed treatment of an admittedly topical subject; the director's agenda becomes increasingly overt as the movie progresses, ensuring that one can't help but wish that he had just maintained the breezy tone of the movie's first hour. Still, buoyed by Jenkins' eye-opening performance, The Visitor is a worthy second effort from an exceedingly promising filmmaker (and, let's face it, there's virtually no way he was going to top the sublime Station Agent).

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Operation Filmmaker
Directed by Nina Davenport

Operation Filmmaker is the cinematic equivalent of spending 90 minutes in the company of a really unpleasant, unlikable figure, as director Nina Davenport follows Iraqi film student Muthana Mohmed as he bungles his way through one golden opportunity after another. Mohmed's problems start after filmmaker Liev Schrieber, having watched the would-be director on an MTV documentary, agrees to put him to work on the set of Everything is Illuminated, though it's not long before Mohmed (whose every move is documented by Davenport) reveals himself to be a lazy, self-centered, and flat-out incompetent worker. Mohmed is consequently not a sympathetic figure in the slightest; while there's admittedly something kind of fascinating about the way he uses his sob story to bamboozle a succession of people (including The Rock!) into giving him money, Mohmed is precisely the sort of would-be celebrity who hardly deserves even a fraction of his 15 minutes of fame (this guy is essentially Paris Hilton's male counterpart). Davenport's lack of focus certainly doesn't help matters, as the filmmaker augments Mohmed's story with footage of the ongoing war in Iraq (for what purpose and to what end is anybody's guess). Operation Filmmaker is ultimately an entirely needless piece of work that succeeds only in feeding Mohmed's enormous ego, and it's hard to imagine what kept Davenport going through the months (and years!) of filming.

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The Jane Austen Book Club
Directed by Robin Swicord

A chick flick if there ever was one, The Jane Austen Book Club follows several characters whose lives start to echo that of the various heroes and heroines within Jane Austen's novels. The film's reliance on some of the hoariest cliches of the genre - which is to be expected, really, given the source material - is initially somewhat off-putting, as the viewer is subjected to a series of plot twists that couldn't possibly be more obvious. But there's just no denying that the characters become increasingly compelling as the film progresses, ensuring that - by the time the almost ridiculously happy conclusion rolls around - one can't help but feel some kind of emotional catharsis. The uniformly likeable performances - the cast includes, among others, Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, and Jimmy Smits - certainly go a long way towards perpetuating the exceedingly agreeable atmosphere, and though it'll never be mistaken for anything more than a breezy diversion, The Jane Austen Book Club is ultimately far more engaging and entertaining than one had any right to expect.

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Directed by Xavier Gens

Relentlessly uneven and hopelessly derivative, Frontière(s) is nevertheless an entertaining horror flick that benefits from the inclusion of several gleefully over-the-top kill sequences. The movie follows four rebellious youths as they take refuge from the police at a country inn, where the overtly sinister nature of their Germanic hosts quickly becomes evident. Filmmaker Xavier Gens has infused Frontière(s) with a whole host of undeniably needless elements, with the gun battle/car chase that kicks things off certainly the most apt example of this. Likewise, Gens' screenplay is essentially a patchwork of familiar contemporary horror-movie moments - to such an extent that even casual fans of the genre will be able to recognize sequences and kills cribbed from flicks like The Descent, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and High Tension. There does reach a point at which Gens begins to forge his own path, however, and Frontière(s) becomes as gripping and brutal as one might've hoped (and if nothing else, the movie probably features the most memorable death involving a table saw in cinematic history).

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Encounters at the End of the World
Directed by Werner Herzog

Filmmaker Werner Herzog's first documentary since the masterful Grizzly Man, Encounters at the End of the World follows the acclaimed director as he heads to Antarctica - where he meets a variety of quirky scientists and films the admittedly impressive vistas of the continent. Encounters at the End of the World instantly establishes itself as a far more standard piece of work than Grizzly Man, as the film is generally lacking in the sort of poetic grace and engrossing nature of its predecessor. There's little doubt that one's appreciation for the movie is directly related to one's fascination with Antarctica's barren landscape, though it's certainly worth noting that Herzog has effectively peppered the proceedings with a number of genuinely compelling moments and encounters. His expectedly light-hearted narration (ie he cuts off one long-winded subject by remarking that her "story goes on forever") proves instrumental in holding the viewer's interest even during some of the film's less-than-enthralling moments, and there's ultimately little doubt that Encounters at the End of the World deserves to be seen on as large a screen as possible. (Also worth noting: the story about a wayward penguin, which must be one of the most depressing moments in recent documentary history.)

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© David Nusair