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Toronto International Film Festival 2010 - UPDATE #5

Never Let Me Go
Directed by Mark Romanek

Undoubtedly a considerable improvement over Kazuo Ishiguro's nigh unreadable novel, Never Let Me Go follows three friends (Carey Mulligan's Kathy, Keira Knightley's Ruth, and Andrew Garfield's Tommy) as they attempt to deal with their respective fates (which have been set in stone since birth). Director Mark Romanek has infused Never Let Me Go with a striking, downright meticulous sense of style that proves effective at initially capturing the viewer's interest, with the impressively (and fully) realized atmosphere heightened by the uniformly stirring performances (Garfield is especially strong here). The film's unapologetically deliberate pace is ultimately the most overtly problematic element within the proceedings, as the thin narrative unfolds at a speed that some viewers might find oppressive (but to be fair, the novel was a far, far worse offender of this). It's also worth noting that the entirely illogical nature of the book's premise is just as troublesome here, and there's little doubt that one's enjoyment of the movie is directly related to one's ability to overlook the characters' stubborn refusal to rebel against their situation (ie there's not a single person in this universe who has ever tried to escape?) Once you get past that aspect of the story, however, Never Let Me Go admittedly does become an engaging and frequently moving drama that's sure to provoke post-movie arguments among viewers.

out of

It's Kind of a Funny Story
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

It's Kind of a Funny Story follows depressive and suicidal teen Craig (Keir Gilchrist) as he checks himself into a mental ward at a local hospital, with the movie subsequently detailing Craig's encounters with the ward's various residents and doctors. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have infused It's Kind of a Funny Story with an easy-going and light-hearted sensibility that generally proves impossible to resist, and it's worth noting that the filmmakers manage to elicit engaging performances from even the most minor of supporting players. There's little doubt, however, that it's Gilchrist's easy charm that generally sustains the viewer's interest, as the actor does a superb job of transforming Craig into a likeable figure that generally feels real. (And it also goes without saying that Zach Galifianakis, cast as a charismatic patient, delivers his finest screen performance to date.) The movie's dramatic aspects have been integrated surprisingly well into the otherwise comedic narrative, while Boden and Fleck's sporadically overt instances of style generally fare a whole lot better than one might've expected (ie an impromptu performance of Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure") There's little doubt, however, that the unabashedly conventional nature of the narrative does become increasingly troublesome as time passes, with the inclusion of a few eye-rollingly melodramatic elements (ie was the love triangle really necessary?) ultimately diminishing the movie's overall impact. Still, It's Kind of a Funny Story is generally a breezy piece of work that does what it sets out to do with charm and aplomb.

out of

Everything Must Go
Directed by Dan Rush

Based on a short story by Raymond Carver, Everything Must Go casts Will Ferrell as Nicolas Halsey - an alcoholic executive who arrives home after losing his job to discover that his wife has locked him out of the house and thrown all his stuff on the lawn. Nicolas subsequently spends the next several days on the lawn trying to make sense of his life, with his efforts assisted by a number of curious neighbors and passers by. Director Dan Rush has infused Everything Must Go with an extremely low-key sensibility that's certainly reflected in the film's consistently deliberate pace, with Ferrell's personable and charismatic performance certainly proving instrumental in initially capturing the viewer's interest. Ferrell's surprisingly strong work ultimately anchors the entirety of the proceedings, and it's worth noting that the actor never shies away from portraying his character's alcoholism and sporadically mean-spirited personality. The decidedly (and unapologetically) uneventful vibe - Nicolas really does spend the majority of the proceedings on that lawn, after all - is punctuated by the presence of a few compelling stand alone interludes, with Nicolas' visit with an old high school friend (Laura Dern's Delilah) undoubtedly standing as the movie's emotional high point. Despite the meandering narrative, however, Everything Must Go does remain surprisingly watchable for the most part - with the film's only real misstep a final 15-minute stretch that ultimately feels a little needless (ie the movie reaches a point where it could logically, and satisfactorily, end, and yet it keeps chugging along). In the end, Everything Must Go is far more effective as a showcase for Ferrell's surprising and engrossing performance - as the film proves that he can be quite effective when he's not acting like an over-the-top buffoon.

out of

Let Me In
Directed by Matt Reeves

Matt Reeves' controversial remake of Tomas Alfredson's brilliant Let the Right One In, Let Me In follows a bullied young boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee's Owen) as he befriends a mysterious young girl (Chloe Moretz's Abby) - with complications inevitably ensuing as it becomes clear that Abby is, in fact, a vampire. Reeves has mimicked Alfredson's incredibly distinctive sense of style to such an extent that Let Me In's very existence quickly becomes a question mark, as the filmmaker's stubborn refusal to take the material in a new or innovative direction ultimately lends the proceedings a distinctly superfluous sort of vibe (ie why watch this when you could just watch or rewatch the vastly superior original). Having said that, Let Me In is nevertheless a very strong piece of work that generally succeeds in all the ways that its predecessor succeeded - with Moretz's consistently enthralling turn as Abby undoubtedly matching (or even exceeding) Lina Leandersson's stellar performance in Alfredson's 2008 original. And although the strength of the movie's positive attributes are generally hindered by a pace that's often excessively slow (ie the movie somehow feels slower than the original), Let Me In comes off as a respectable remake that ultimately loses points for omitting its predecessor's most memorable and flat-out compelling sequence (ie the "cat" interlude).

out of

127 Hours
Directed by Danny Boyle

Based on a true story, 127 Hours follows James Franco's Aron Ralston as he embarks on a routine trip through some isolated mountains and is subsequently forced to resort to extreme measures after he's trapped beneath an immobile rock within an especially desolate part of the rugged terrain. There's never a point at which127 Hours doesn't feel like an almost prototypical Danny Boyle effort, as the notoriously flashy filmmaker has punctuating the proceedings with all of his expected stylistic flourishes - including split screens, rapid-fire editing, and copious use of flashbacks and cutaways. It's clear that Boyle's in-your-face directorial choices are meant to compensate for the decidedly stagy nature of the film's storyline, as the movie is, when you get right down to it, primarily about a man waiting to be rescued. And although the build-up to Aron's perilous situation is admittedly quite engrossing - ie when's he going to get trapped, anyway? - 127 Hours suffers from a midsection that is, despite the best efforts of both Boyle and his incredibly talented star, hardly as engrossing as one might've hoped. This is despite the inclusion of several thoroughly compelling interludes - ie Aron goes off on a long, fascinating tangent about how the rock has been waiting billions of years for him - and an overall atmosphere of impressive authenticity. The film's watchable yet far from enthralling vibe persists right up until Aron takes matters into his own hands, with the ensuing sequence just as graphic and difficult to watch as anything within contemporary cinema (ie it's so unflinching that even veterans of the Saw and Hostel series will find themselves growing queasy). The movie is capped off with an undeniably powerful finale that isn't quite enough to compensate for the uneven nature of everything preceding it, which unfortunately cements 127 Hours as a technically impressive piece of work that simply isn't as consistently engrossing as one might've expected.

out of

Beautiful Boy
Directed by Shawn Ku

Beautiful Boy follows a married couple (Michael Sheen's Bill and Maria Bello's Kate) as they're forced to cope with the shocking suicide of their teenage son (Kyle Gallner's Sam), with his death compounded by the eventual revelation that he executed several students and teachers in a deadly school shooting. Director Shawn Ku has infused Beautiful Boy with an incredibly low-key sensibility that's heightened by both Sheen and Bello's raw, consistently engrossing work, and it's certainly worth noting that Ku deserves credit for avoiding the temptation to pepper the proceedings with melodramatic confrontations and episodes. Ku instead keeps the focus squarely on Bill and Kate's ongoing efforts at dealing with the horrific situation, which ensures that the movie isn't always as engrossing as one might've expected (ie Ku's approach is just so subdued). It's worth noting that the movie rarely packs the emotional punch that its subject matter seems to have promised, and there's little doubt that the film's meandering narrative ultimately does become something of a problem. (To be fair, Beautiful Boy is quite compelling right up until about the one-hour mark, after which point the whole thing begins to feel more like an actor's showcase than anything else.) In the end, Beautiful Boy is a well-intentioned effort that deserves praise for its refusal to rely on salacious elements, yet it's finally difficult not to wish Ku had included a few elements designed to consistently hold the viewer's interest.

out of

The Conspirator
Directed by Robert Redford

Directed by Robert Redford, The Conspirator details the aftermath of Lincoln's infamous assassination - with the story primarily revolving around the trial of one of John Wilkes Booth's supposed conspirators (Robin Wright's Mary Surratt). Redford's expectedly deliberate sensibilities ensure that The Conspirator does take a while to get going, with the viewer's interest initially held by the impressively familiar roster of starring and supporting performers. (The cast boasts appearances by, among others, Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, Justin Long, Alexis Bledel, and Stephen Root.) There reaches a point, however, at which the trial becomes the film's primary focus and one can't help but be drawn into the real-life story, with the movie's courtroom scenes ultimately standing as a highlight (and there's little doubt that James McAvoy delivers a riveting turn as Mary's reluctant attorney). Redford's reliance on a slow-moving pace actually works quite well here and proves instrumental in establishing an atmosphere of convincing authenticity, with the consistently watchable vibe often heightened by the inclusion of several downright enthralling interludes - with the unexpectedly moving finale cementing The Conspirator's place as a solid, unapologetically old-fashioned courtroom drama.

out of

© David Nusair