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Toronto International Film Festival 2010 - UPDATE #10

Henry's Crime
Directed by Malcolm Venville

An affably low-key comedy, Henry's Crime follows a sad-sack tollbooth worker (Keanu Reeves' Henry) as he decides to rob a local bank - which he plans to accomplish by digging through the theater next door. In its initial stages, Henry's Crime boasts as off-kilter and consistently surprising a storyline as one can easily recall - as filmmaker Malcolm Venville effectively toys with the viewer's expectations by changing the narrative's direction on an impressively consistent basis (ie the film at first appears to be about a guy trapped in a dead-end existence, then it segues into a prison-themed story, etc, etc). And while it is subsequently a little disappointing to note that the film ultimately does settle into a rather conventional groove, Henry's Crime remains perfectly watchable from start to finish due primarily to the uniformly agreeable performances. Reeves' expectedly stirring turn is matched by his various costars, with James Caan's impressively loose work as Henry's shady (yet weary) partner undoubtedly a standout (and there's little doubt that Vera Farmiga, cast as Henry's brassy love interest, is quite good, too). Having said that, Henry's Crime does run into some trouble as it approaches its expectedly hackneyed conclusion - as the movie suffers from a stagnant atmosphere that's exacerbated by an emphasis on almost eye-rollingly stale elements (ie a fake break-up). It's a shame because the movie is otherwise quite enjoyable and entertaining, as the strength of the opening hour, coupled with the charismatic performances, ensures that Henry's Crime is, more often than not, an undeniably worthwhile piece of work.

out of

The High Cost of Living
Directed by Deborah Chow

The High Cost of Living casts Zach Braff as Henry Welles, a scuzzy drug dealer who accidentally hits a pregnant woman (Isabelle Blais' Nathalie Beauchamp) while driving drunk. Henry immediately flees the scene, yet he finds himself curious about his victim's fate - which eventually leads him to strike up a friendship with Nathalie (although, of course, she has no idea that he's the one that hit her). It's a decidedly off-kilter premise that's utilized to pervasively agreeable effect by filmmaker Deborah Chow, as the director does a nice job of establishing the two central characters and their respective problems. There's little doubt that the strength of the two central performances goes a long way towards cementing The High Cost of Living's mild success, with Braff's ingratiating turn ensuring that the viewer is ultimately willing to sympathize with Henry despite the seediness of both his occupation and his choices. And although the ongoing friendship between Henry and Nathalie inevitably stretches the very limits of credibility - especially once the pair begin to skate on the edge of a romantic association - The High Cost of Living nevertheless comes off as a solid drama that bodes well for first-timer Chow's future endeavors.

out of

Rio Sex Comedy
Directed by Jonathan Nossiter

An interminable, flat-out unwatchable piece of work, Rio Sex Comedy follows a series of characters through their respective misadventures within Rio de Janeiro. Director Jonathan Nossiter has infused Rio Sex Comedy with a freewheeling sense of style that initially seems rather promising, with the film's opening credits sequence, which follows Charlotte Rampling's Charlotte as she dances her way to work, setting a tone of lightheartedness that would appear to mirror the exotic nature of the story's locale. It's not long, however, before Nossiter's decidedly aimless modus operandi becomes an obvious impediment to one's enjoyment of the film, as the director's obvious reliance on improvisation results in a frustratingly meandering atmosphere that only grows more and more problematic (and annoying) as time progresses. There are simply too many scenes within Rio Sex Comedy that ramble on and on without any real point, with Nossiter's reluctance to offer up instances of exposition or character development ensuring that the viewer has absolutely nothing invested in the exploits of these hopelessly underwritten figures. The film's ongoing problems are exacerbated by Nossiter's frequent emphasis on elements of an aggressively heavy-handed nature, as the filmmaker ultimately resorts to speechifying in his efforts at making a series of eye-rollingly obvious points (ie poverty is bad!) The final result is a thoroughly (and consistently) irrelevant piece of work that often feels much, much longer than its absurdly inflated 125-minute running time, and it's inevitably impossible not to wonder just what Nossiter originally hoped to accomplish here (ie whatever he was trying to do didn't work in the slightest).

no stars out of

Love Crime
Directed by Alain Corneau

French director Alain Corneau's final film, Love Crime details the chaos that ensues after a cold, calculating executive (Kristen Scott Thomas' Christine) effectively declares war on a well-meaning underling (Ludivine Sagnier's Isabelle). There's little doubt that Love Crime gets off to a rather underwhelming start, as Corneau places the emphasis on characters that have absolutely no basis in reality (ie Isabelle inexplicably sleeps with Christine's boyfriend). The movie's typically French atmosphere of relentless chatter certainly doesn't help matters, with the aggressively talky vibe exacerbated by a storyline that's almost absurdly stale (ie it really doesn't get more hackneyed than backbiting in the business world). And while the movie does improve temporarily as Isabelle begins to embark on a promisingly elaborate campaign of revenge, Corneau squanders this aspect of the proceedings by offering up an absurdly prolonged stretch in which Isabelle goes to prison for her misdeeds and the truth about what she really did comes out over the course of the movie's interminable second half. The delay in revealing just what Isabelle did is nothing short of infuriating, and the viewer ultimately can't help but wish that Corneau would just get on with it already - which effectively cements Love Crime's place as an utterly misguided (and surprisingly unwatchable) piece of work.

out of

Janie Jones
Directed by David M. Rosenthal

Janie Jones casts Abigail Breslin as the title character, an affable teen who is sent to live with the father she's never met after her mother (Elisabeth Shue's Mary Ann Jones) checks herself into rehab - with the twist being that Janie's father (Alessandro Nivola's Ethan Brand) is actually a temperamental musician in the midst of a make-it-or-break-it tour. Storywise, Janie Jones doesn't exactly break new ground or possess too many elements viewers haven't seen before - yet the movie boasts a pervasively likeable atmosphere that's frequently heightened by the uniformly charming performances. (In addition to Breslin and Nivola's stirring work, the film boasts scene-stealing appearances from eclectic supporting players like Peter Stormare, Frank Whaley, and Brittany Snow.) It's a testament to the chemistry between Ethan and Janie that Janie Jones remains compelling even when it segues into its road-trip midsection, as the characters' admittedly hackneyed journey - ie Ethan attempts to reconcile with his standoffish mother - is undoubtedly exacerbated by an emphasis on repetition (ie how many times can Ethan drunkenly fight someone at a bar?) Still, Janie Jones is a watchable, sporadically moving drama that benefits substantially from the ongoing emphasis on both Breslin and Nivola's impressive musical skills (ie the songs here are actually quite good).

out of

Griff the Invisible
Directed by Leon Ford

A likeable (if uneven) little comedy, Griff the Invisible follows oddball office worker Griff (Ryan Kwanten) as he attempts to keep his neighborhood safe by becoming a masked crime fighter during his off hours. It's clear almost immediately that Griff the Invisible receives a lot of mileage out of Kwanten's incredibly strong performance, as the actor effortlessly sheds his True Blood persona to convincingly become this low-key, decidedly antisocial character. And while the stuff revolving around his homemade-superhero alter-ego is fairly compelling, there's little doubt that the film's most rewarding aspect is the tentative relationship between Griff and an almost equally quirky neighbor (Maeve Dermody's Melody). The two share a genuine chemistry with one another that ultimately proves impossible to resist, and it's subsequently not surprising to note that the movie does begin to lose the viewer's interest whenever the focus is taken off their exploits (which unfortunately does happen more and more as the film progresses into its strangely sci-fi-oriented final half hour). The end result is a film that's more effective as a portrait of social misfits in love than as an over-the-top action comedy, yet Griff the Invisible, which certainly has its moments, remains worth a look if only for Kwanten's almost revelatory performance.

out of

Directed by Max Winkler

Max Winkler's directorial debut, Ceremony follows an extremely loquacious young man (Michael Angarano's Sam) as he crashes the wedding party of a former girlfriend (Uma Thurman's Zoe) - with the film subsequently detailing the interludes and episodes that ensue over the course of one very long weekend. Winkler does a fantastic job of initially luring the viewer into the proceedings, as Sam comes off as a singularly captivating figure that almost feels like a riff on Jason Schwartzman's Rushmore character. Angarano's fast-talking, exceedingly quirky performance goes a long way towards establishing the movie's pervasively irreverent atmosphere, with problems only ensuing once the novelty of the character slowly but surely starts to wear off. Winkler's unabashedly plotless modus operandi - the filmmaker seems to be going for a vibe akin to Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game - inevitably becomes somewhat oppressive, as the supporting characters are never quite developed to the extent that one might've liked and, far more problematic, there's simply no real chemistry between Sam and Zoe. Winkler's decision to hold off on revealing just how the two characters know each other proves disastrous, as it's virtually impossible to work up any real interest or sympathy in Sam's ongoing efforts at winning her back (and without a rooting interest in their coupling, the movie does start to adopt a rather interminable vibe as it progresses). It's finally impossible to label Ceremony as anything more than an ambitious failure, although, to be fair, Winkler does seem to possess a fairly distinctive point of view that will hopefully be put to better use in future endeavors.

out of

© David Nusair