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Toronto International Film Festival 2008 - UPDATE #7

The Burrowers
Directed by JT Petty

It's hard to deny that The Burrowers comes off as something of a disappointment, as the movie boasts a premise that almost seems to guarantee a fun and thrilling spin on the creature-feature genre. Set in the old West, the film follows several characters as they embark on a mission to rescue the kidnapped members of a local family - though it eventually becomes clear that there's something far more otherworldly about the threat than they could have possibly anticipated. Director JT Petty admittedly does a nice job of establishing the familiar territory of a typical Western, yet the almost egregiously slow pace with which the filmmaker has infused the proceedings does become increasingly tough to take. This deliberateness is undoubtedly exacerbated by an overt lack of compelling characters; though not bland exactly, the film's heroes (portrayed by familiar faces like Clancy Brown and William Mapother) are simply not vivid enough or enthralling enough to ensure that the viewer has any real interest in their continued survival. It's also worth noting that The Burrowers hardly improves once the threat is revealed, as there's just nothing here most jaded horror fans haven't seen countless times before. Petty's overuse of computer effects certainly doesn't help matters, and one ultimately can't help but label the movie a sporadically entertaining yet thoroughly ineffective misfire.

out of

The Other Man
Directed by Richard Eyre

Following the unusually salacious Notes on a Scandal, The Other Man pretty much cements Richard Eyre's status as a high-brow purveyor of trashy fare - with his arty directorial choices and penchant for working with A-level actors the only thing keeping him from movie-of-the-week territory. This time around, Eyre - working from his and Charles Wood's screenplay - offers up the sordid tale of a man (Liam Neeson's Peter) who discovers that his wife (Laura Linney's Lisa) has been having an affair with a fiery Spaniard (Antonio Banderas' Ralph) - but rather than confront him, Peter decides to befriend the man and learn more about his relationship with Lisa. Aside from the baffling decision to withhold a crucial bit of information regarding Linney's character until around the 70-minute mark, The Other Man generally comes off as a straight-forward drama that benefits from an expectedly riveting performance from Neeson. Though the actor is occasionally slightly more intense than he needs to be ("Gucci shoes!"), Neeson does a superb job of holding the viewer's interest even through some of the film's more languid stretches. The remarkably simplistic storyline - there's really nothing much to the film beyond that premise - does ensure that it's rarely as electrifying as Eyre clearly wants it to be, and it's ultimately impossible to label The Other Man as anything but an exceedingly tawdry endeavor that's been filtered through an art-house sensibility.

out of

Is There Anybody There?
Directed by John Crowley

Given that John Crowley's last film was the masterful and thoroughly compelling Boy A, Is There Anybody There? subsequently can't help but come off as a slight disappointment - as the movie, though entertaining and exceedingly well acted, is simply unable to impact the viewer with the same sort of emotional resonance as its predecessor. The film tells the awfully slight story of a young boy (Bill Milner's Edward) who comes to befriend a grumpy old magician (Michael Caine's Clarence) over the course of a few eventful weeks, with Clarence's penchant for dropping pessimistic nuggets ("you accumulate regrets and they stick to you like old bruises") proving instrumental in Edward's journey from child to adult. There's nothing particularly innovative or unexpected within Peter Harness' screenplay, as the writer offers up a pretty standard coming-of-age story - though the film's locale of a house-turned-old-age home does provide the proceedings with sporadic doses of freshness. And while the relatively plotless nature of the script does ensure that one is never entirely riveted to the screen, it's impossible to understate the effectiveness of Caine's work here - as the actor, in addition to perking up the movie with his mere presence, offers up an affecting, flat-out mesmerizing performance that's as strong as anything he's done in the past. The inclusion of a few tear-jerking elements within the movie's third act does assure that the whole thing ends on a positive note, yet it's ultimately impossible to overlook the feeling that Is There Anybody There? would hardly be worth mentioning were it not for Caine.

out of

Who Do You Love
Directed by Jerry Zaks

An unapologetically old-fashioned music biopic, Who Do You Love tells the story of Leonard Chess (Alessandro Nivola) - a Jewish nightclub owner who became a pioneer within the music industry after establishing Chess Records and discovering such legendary names as Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. Director Jerry Zaks - working from Peter Wortmann and Bob Conte's screenplay - has infused Who Do You Love with an exceedingly familiar sensibility that contains all of the tropes and cliches one has come to associate with the genre, including the opening that segues into a flashback (Leonard Chess evidently can't listen to one of his acts without first thinking back on his life) and the expected downfall that dominates the proceedings' third act. Yet the film is generally elevated by the fantastic music and Nivola's charismatic, commanding performance, although - in terms of the latter - there's little doubt that Chi McBride steals every one of his scenes as Chess' self-described "guide into the exotic negro world." And although one's interest does start to dwindle once Chess' success starts to overwhelm him - ie his marriage, already on shaky ground, takes a seemingly fatal hit after Leonard starts sleeping with a drug-addicted protege - Who Do You Love primarily comes off as a personable, downright irresistible endeavor that's sure to leave viewers humming its various ditties long after the credits have rolled.

out of

Directed by Pascal Laugier

Though almost maddening in its unevenness, Martyrs ultimately comes off as an unusually provocative horror effort that's sure to leave viewers thinking and talking about it long after the end credits have rolled. Filmmaker Pascal Laugier has infused the proceedings with an almost schizophrenic sensibility that certainly proves a test to one's patience, with the dull and surprisingly pointless nature of the movie's first half hardly indicative of the far more compelling story that inevitably occupies the third act. The erratic storyline - which essentially follows two young women (Morjana Alaoui's Anna and Mylene Jampanoi's Lucie) as they seek revenge against their childhood tormentors - initially possesses few elements designed to capture and hold the viewer's interest, with the flat visuals and head-scratching plot developments essentially highlighting the film's various flaws. There does reach a point, however, at which Laugier takes the proceedings in as unpredictable a direction as one could possibly imagine, as Martyrs' relatively tedious set-up paves the way for an audacious and downright jaw-dropping climax that effectively justifies the movie's entire existence. And while the end result isn't quite the genre-reinventing endeavor its been hyped up to be, Martyrs certainly deserves credit for its challenging, thoroughly uncompromising modus operandi.

out of

Adam Resurrected
Directed by Paul Schrader

Though it boasts one of the most compelling performances of Jeff Goldblum's career, Adam Resurrected ultimately comes off as a colossal misfire that simply isn't able to hold one's interest for more than a few minutes at a time. Goldblum stars as Adam Stein, a Jewish entertainer who finds himself forced to become a Nazi officer's (Willem Dafoe's Commandant Klein) pet during the Second World War - though the bulk of the film revolves around Stein's egregiously quirky modern-day escapades within a hospital for mentally-unstable Jewish war survivors. There's little doubt that the scarce flashback stuff quickly proves to be the highlight within Adam Resurrected, as director Paul Schrader - along with cinematographer Sebastian Edschmid - does a nice job of bringing a unique spin to the exceedingly familiar terrain of a Nazi concentration camp. But such sequences form a very small part of Adam Resurrected's plodding run-time, with the dominant mental-hospital stuff striking all the wrong notes right from the get-go. The inherently stagy nature of such scenes is exacerbated by the increasingly quirky and downright surreal nature of Noah Stollman's screenplay. It's subsequently impossible to care at all about Stein's plight within the institution, despite the presence of such talented supporting performers as Derek Jacobi, Moritz Bleibtreu, and Ayelet Zurer. The inexplicable, almost surreal conclusion doesn't do the movie any favors, and it's finally impossible to view Adam Resurrected as anything other than a wrong-headed and surprisingly interminable failure from prolific filmmaker Schrader.

out of

© David Nusair