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Toronto International Film Festival 2011 - UPDATE #1

Take This Waltz
Directed by Sarah Polley

Written and directed by Sarah Polley, Take This Waltz details the turmoil that unfolds for Michelle Williams' Margot after she develops feelings for a new neighbor (Luke Kirby) - with Margot's continued association with the man inevitably threatening her marriage to Seth Rogen's affable Lou. There's little doubt that Take This Waltz gets off to a less-than-promising start, as Polley offers up an opening half hour that is, at times, almost suffocatingly quirky - with the filmmaker's treatment of Williams' character certainly ranking high on the movie's initial list of problems. Margot is, at the film's outset, an egregiously off-kilter figure who possesses few believable attributes - she is, for example, "afraid of connections" at airports and thus has to be wheeled from one place to the next - which does prevent the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting to her ongoing exploits. (It's a vibe that's compounded by Polley's reliance on dialogue that simply doesn't sound authentic or real, as the writer/director generally stresses banter of a decidedly theatrical nature.) It's only as Take This Waltz segues into its deliberately-paced yet comparatively engaging midsection that one is slowly-but-surely drawn into the proceedings, with the easy, palpable chemistry between Williams and Rogen effectively perpetuating (and sustaining) the film's agreeable atmosphere. The inclusion of several admittedly electrifying moments (eg Kirby's Daniel describes exactly what he'd do to Margot given the opportunity) proves instrumental at compensating for the movie's pervasive unevenness, though there does reach a point at which the film's overlength becomes an almost insurmountable issue - as Polley's difficulties in wrapping things up results in an anti-climactic, mostly needless final stretch. The unexpectedly moving final shot ensures that Take This Waltz finally does end on a decidedly positive note, which, when coupled with Williams' consistently captivating performance, cements the film's place as an erratic yet entertaining sophomore effort from Polley.

out of

Amy George
Directed by Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas

It's really rather remarkable just how insufferable Amy George eventually becomes, as the movie initially comes off as a deliberately-paced yet relatively agreeable coming-of-age story that boasts a striking visual sensibility and several strong performances. But the film, which follows 13-year-old Jesse (Gabriel del Castillo Mullally) as he awkwardly deals with a variety of issues, has been infused with a pervasively aimless feel that grows more and more problematic as time progresses, which does ensure that one's efforts at working up sympathy for or interest in the protagonist's meandering exploits fall flat on an increasingly regular basis. Filmmakers Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas' ongoing difficulties in capturing the viewer's interest are exacerbated by an emphasis on scenes and sequences of a decidedly inconsequential nature, with the most obvious example of this an absolutely interminable interlude revolving around Jesse's monotonous attempts at describing everything he sees at a nearby playground. The aggressively uneventful atmosphere slowly-but-surely renders the movie's few positive attributes moot, as there inevitably reaches a point at which the viewer begins to pray that something (anything) of consequence would occur. It is, as such, clear that the central character simply never becomes the wholeheartedly compelling protagonist that Lewis and Thomas want him to be, with the end result an overly avant-garde piece of work that might have worked as a 15-minute short but just feels endless within the context of a feature.

out of

Nuit #1
Directed by Anne Émond

Though there's no mistaking it for anything other than a narrow-minded bit of festival fare, Nuit #1 boasts a pair of striking lead performances that almost - but not quite - manage to compensate for filmmaker Anne Émond's pervasively avant-garde sensibilities. The movie essentially follows two young adults (Catherine De Léan's Clara and Dimitri Storoge's Nikolai) as they meet at a dance club and retreat back to his place for a night of mindless sex, with the catch being that both characters subsequently have a lot to get off their respective chests. Filmmaker Anne Émond does a nice job of immediately capturing the viewer's interest, as the movie opens with a striking sequence in which various revelers dance in slow motion at the aforementioned club. The film segues into a fairly tedious art-house drama, as Émond focuses on Nikolai and Clara's robotic lovemaking vis-à-vis a series of far-from-titillating simulated sex scenes that seem to be occurring in real time. A palpably tedious feel does, as a result, begin to creep into the proceedings, and it's not until the two protagonists begin revealing the contents of their respective personalities that the movie starts to recover. The problem is, however, that Émond forces these two characters to spout dialogue that, for the most part, sounds artificial and forced, with this lack of authenticity effectively canceling out the strength of the stars' gritty performances. (It doesn't help either that Nikolai reveals himself to be an almost epic douchebag with few if any redeeming features.) And although things improve demonstrably as Clara peels back the layers of her impressively damaged psyche, Nuit #1 has long-since established itself as an actor's showcase that never quite packs the emotional punch that Émond has clearly intended - which is a shame, really, given that De Léan delivers a wrenching monologue towards the end that should've been a highlight.

out of

I Am a Good Person/I Am a Bad Person
Directed by Ingrid Veninger

The latest effort from Toronto-based do-it-yourself filmmaker Ingrid Veninger, I Am a Good Person/I Am a Bad Person follows fledgling director Ruby White as she and her 18-year-old daughter Sara (Hallie Switzer) head to Europe for festival screenings of Ruby's latest movie - with complications arising as Sara decides to go to Paris rather than to Berlin with her mother. Veninger does a nice job of immediately establishing the off-kilter dynamic between the protagonists (eg after arriving at a hotel room, Ruby announces "I get the big bed!"), and it does become clear that Sara has essentially been forced to become the parent in their relationship. And though it initially seems as though the film is going to chart Ruby's efforts at becoming more responsible and Sara's efforts at becoming more spontaneous, Veninger offers up a surprisingly (and disappointingly) uneventful midsection that revolves primarily around the characters' aimless exploits in their respective cities (eg Ruby wanders through train stations and parks attempting to recruit audience members for her movie screening, Sara hangs out with a relative in Paris, etc). The incredibly subdued nature of this stretch is ultimately more than a little wearying, and it does become impossible not to wish that Veninger would include one or two plot developments of a substantive nature. Having said that, the writer/director does a nice job of portraying the individual dilemmas faced by both characters - with the compelling, travelogue-like visuals perpetuating the movie's affable atmosphere. The inclusion of a few standout sequences towards the end - eg Ruby delivers a hilariously honest introduction for her movie - confirms I Am a Good Person/I Am a Bad Person's place as an uneven yet watchable piece of work, though one ultimately can't help but wish that Veninger would attempt something with a little more plot and purpose.

out of

The Odds
Directed by Simon Davidson

Conventional yet entertaining, The Odds follows Tyler Johnston's Desson as he attempts to navigate the world of underground gambling - with the film detailing Desson's efforts at figuring out just why his best friend killed himself after supposedly winning big during an illicit game. Filmmaker Simon Davidson kicks off The Odds with a slick and irresistibly captivating opening sequence in which several teens place bets on a high-school wrestling match, with the initial emphasis on the aforementioned underground gambling scene leading the viewer to expect a fairly typical rise-and-fall, Scorsese-like crime drama. It inevitably becomes clear that Davidson has something far more low-key in mind, as the film segues into a fairly subdued midsection revolving around Desson's investigation - with the ongoing inclusion of needlessly melodramatic elements (eg Desson's crumbling relationships with both a fellow gambler and his flighty father) wreaking a fair amount of havoc on the movie's tenuous momentum. It's also worth noting that The Odds, for the most part, suffers from a lack of stand-out scenes that ultimately prevent it from ever really taking off, although there's little doubt that the film benefits substantially from Johnston's almost ridiculously charismatic central performance. (This is despite the actor's often creepy resemblance to a young Tom Cruise.) The middling atmosphere persists for much of the running time, yet it's impossible to downplay the effectiveness of an exciting third-act foot chase - which, when coupled with an entertainingly over-the-top climax, cements The Odds' place as a consistently passable piece of work.

out of

I'm Yours
Directed by Leonard Farlinger

Saddled with as idiotic a premise as one can easily recall, I'm Yours quickly establishes itself as an uncommonly interminable moviegoing experience that boasts little in the way of compelling or authentic attributes. The storyline follows New York-based investor Robert (Rossif Sutherland) as he drunkenly hooks up with Karine Vanasse's Daphne one night and awakens to find himself en route to Canada in a car driven by Daphne. As it turns out, Daphne has essentially abducted Robert and is blackmailing him into meeting her parents and pretending that the two are a happy couple. It's an unreasonably absurd setup that might have been okay within the context of a Sandra Bullock comedy but absolutely does not work in a straight-faced drama, with the quirkiness of both the premise and Vanasse's character setting the viewer's teeth on edge virtually from the get-go. (It doesn't help, either, that Robert doesn't ask why Daphne is doing this until somewhere around the one-hour mark, which is nothing short of ridiculous.) The movie's pervasive absence of realism colors everything that follows, and there's subsequently little doubt that the emotionally-charged moments that have been sprinkled into the narrative - eg Daphne tearfully reminisces about her past - fall completely and utterly flat. Filmmaker Leonard Farlinger's frequently obnoxious visual choices - eg choppy slow motion, weird superimposed images, etc - exacerbate the movie's already-underwhelming atmosphere, and it's ultimately difficult to view I'm Yours as anything more than a consistently misbegotten piece of work.

out of

The Cat Vanishes
Directed by Carlos Sorin

A subdued drama disguised as a Hitchcockian thriller, The Cat Vanishes details the turmoil that ensues after a stocky professor (Luis Luque's Luis) is released from a mental hospital after supposedly being cured of his violent tendencies - with the film subsequently (and primarily) detailing Luis' wife's (Beatriz Spelzini's Beatriz) attempts at accepting her husband back into their home. Filmmaker Carlos Sorin kicks off The Cat Vanishes with a thoroughly bizarre pre-credits sequence in which a roomful of doctors and officials dryly discuss whether or not to release Luis, with the movie segueing into a fairly tedious domestic drama that seems concerned mostly with Beatriz's growing concerns over Luis' mental state - with the disappearance of the family cat only exacerbating Beatriz's suspicions. And although Sorin does an effective job of peppering the movie with a few ominous moments and images - eg Beatriz's recurring nightmares - The Cat Vanishes boasts an almost extraordinarily slow-paced midsection that tests the viewer's patience on an increasingly prominent basis. The uneventful atmosphere certainly makes it more and more difficult to wholeheartedly care about what's really going on, and it's impossible not to wonder just what Sorin originally set out to do here. (If he was hoping to craft a Hitchcockian thriller, he's unquestionably failed.) And while the film does feature a remarkably tense stretch towards the end, The Cat Vanishes concludes with a twist that unfortunately doesn't make a lick of sense (eg whose glasses are those? How did they get there?) - which cements the movie's place as a watchable yet thoroughly misguided bit of filmmaking.

out of

© David Nusair