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Toronto International Film Festival 2011 - UPDATE #8

Page Eight
Directed by David Hare

Written and directed by David Hare, Page Eight casts Bill Nighy as Johnny Worricker - a stiff-lipped intelligence analyst for the British government who must find his way out of a political controversy with far-reaching implications. Hare initially leaves the plot on the periphery and instead devotes the movie's opening half hour to the central character's day-to-day exploits, with a specific emphasis on Johnny's fractured bond with his daughter (Felicity Jones' Julianne) and his newfound friendship with a friendly neighbor (Rachel Weisz's Nancy Pierpan). It's not until a brilliantly-staged boardroom scene that the plot is plainly laid out, with the film, from there, morphing into what seems to be a slow-moving political thriller - as the narrative details Johnny's efforts at dealing with the increasingly volatile situation. Hare's decision to infuse the midsection with a surprisingly meandering sort of vibe isn't as problematic as one might've suspected, as the viewer is essentially forced to assume that all of this is leading somewhere electrifying. It doesn't hurt, of course, that Hare has peppered the storyline with engrossing sequences, with the most obvious example of this undoubtedly Johnny's quiet yet revealing meeting with the British Prime Minister (a seriously captivating Ralph Fiennes). And though one can't help but wish that Hare would get to the point a little quicker, Page Eight doesn't entirely fall apart until it reaches its anticlimactic final stretch. Without giving anything away, Hare curiously (and frustratingly) doesn't afford the viewer the showdown that's seemingly been promised - as the filmmaker instead chooses to conclude the proceedings on a plausible yet far-from-compelling note. It's a bizarre finale that diminishes the strength of everything proceeding it, thus confirming Page Eight's place as a passable yet disappointing contemporary thriller.

out of

Your Sister's Sister
Directed by Lynn Shelton

Lynn Shelton's follow-up to 2009's Humpday, Your Sister's Sister follows Mark Duplass' Jack as he arrives at his best friend's (Emily Blunt's Iris) remote cabin to relax and recharge - with the unexpected presence of Iris' sister (Rosemarie DeWitt's Hannah) complicated by a surprise visit by Iris herself. As expected, Your Sister's Sister possesses an unapologetically low-key, low-rent visual sensibility that initially proves somewhat off-putting, with the far-from-polished atmosphere ensuring that it does take a while to wholeheartedly warm up to the characters. There does reach a point, however, at which the pervasive honesty within Shelton's screenplay wins the viewer over, and it does become increasingly difficult not to become wrapped up in the subdued exploits of these three figures. The superb performances certainly play an instrumental role in triggering the film's shift from passable to engrossing, with this vibe perpetuated by a series of reveals that prove effective at heightening the drama. The movie does, however, falter somewhat towards the end, as Shelton offers up a long, almost dialogue-free stretch that wreaks havoc on the film's tenuous momentum - though, by that same token, it's worth noting that Your Sister's Sister recovers for a palpably emotional, thoroughly rewarding finish.

out of

Directed by Jim Field Smith

Though it boasts several incredibly entertaining stretches, Butter ultimately comes off as a painfully uneven piece of work that can never quite decide what it wants to be (ie is it a broad, pointed satire? Or is it a straightforward comedy with sentimental elements?) The movie follows two very different competitors (Jennifer Garner's Laura and Yara Shahidi's Destiny) as they compete for a coveted butter-carving title, with the film delving deep into the hoopla that seems to take hold of an entire community as a result. Butter admittedly gets off to a less-than-impressive start, as directorJim Field Smith, working from Jason A. Micallef's screenplay, has infused the proceedings with a painfully over-the-top sensibility that's exacerbated by a reliance on eye-rolling instances of comedy (eg Destiny, a little black girl, refers to her white classmates as "crackers.") There does reach a point, however, at which the movie seems to find its groove, with Olivia Wilde's scene-stealing turn as a foul-mouthed stripper certainly contributing heavily to the film's progressively engaging vibe. The movie subsequently does manage to morph into an unexpectedly entertaining and frequently laugh-out-loud funny piece of work, yet, as one might've feared, Butter can't quite sustain this edgy, hilarious vibe right through to the end - with the slow-but-steady emphasis on needlessly sentimental elements ensuring that Butter suffers from a hopelessly conventional final half hour. The end result is a passably schizophrenic comedy that's never boring, exactly, though the whole thing is rarely as engrossing or biting as its premise might've led one to anticipate.

out of

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding
Directed by Bruce Beresford

An often oppressively by-the-numbers comedy, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding follows uptight New York lawyer Diane (Catherine Keener) as she decides to visit her hippie mother (Jane Fonda's Grace) in Woodstock after her marriage breaks down - with the film subsequently detailing the culture shock that inevitably impacts Diane and her two city kids (Elizabeth Olsen's Zoe and Nat Wolff's Jake). It's clear right from the outset that filmmaker Bruce Beresford isn't looking to reinvent the wheel here, as the filmmaker offers up a selection of familiar characters and throws them into as hackneyed a scenario as one could possibly envision. There's little doubt, though, that the movie is initially not as intolerable as its setup might've indicated, with the charismatic work from the stars perpetuating the film's laid-back, feel-good atmosphere. And though there are a few missteps here and there (eg a tedious scene in which Zoe and Jake get high with their grandmother), Peace, Love & Misunderstanding actually manages to come off as a perfectly watchable piece of work. (For a little while, anyway.) It's not until around the halfway mark that the film begins to wear out its welcome, with an absolutely atrocious and interminable sequence revolving around a howling-at-the-moon-type ceremony triggering the movie's transformation into a progressively dull bit of filmmaking. The expectedly melodramatic turns within the third act (eg two fake break-ups!) are, as such, nothing short of intolerable, and it's also worth noting that Fonda's over-the-top turn as a stereotypical hippie becomes more and more grating as time progresses - with the end result a fairly needless endeavor that diminishes Beresford's otherwise solid body of work.

out of

Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

It's impossible not to walk away from Intruders feeling slightly disappointed, as the movie is ultimately far from the taut, visceral thriller promised by its gripping setup. The film, which follows Clive Owen's John Farrow as he attempts to deal with the revelation that his daughter (Ella Purnell's Mia) is being pursued by a mysterious creature known as Hollowface, admittedly boasts an absolutely enthralling opening that effectively sets the stage for an atmospheric chiller, as director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo kicks off the proceedings with a striking sequence revolving around a little boy's battle with the aforementioned monster. (Fresnadillo subsequently does a fairly decent job of cutting between the two story threads, although it's clear that the Owen subplot is much more compelling.) From there, Intruders segues into exactly the sort of slow-moving horror picture one might've expected, with the periodic inclusion of palpably creepy bits of imagery (eg characters without faces) sustaining the viewer's interest and perpetuating the movie's promisingly spooky atmosphere. (It doesn't hurt, either, that Fresnadillo offers up a genuinely thrilling set-piece about halfway through involving John's first encounter with Mia's pursuer.) But there eventually does reach a point at which the whole thing begins to run out of steam, with the presence of a fairly stupid twist late in the proceedings compounding the movie's padded-out atmosphere. It's the inclusion of another twist a little bit later that resuscitates the viewer's dwindling interest, although the movie's anticlimactic finish ensures that the whole thing ends on a decidedly underwhelming note (ie I'm still not entirely sure what happened).

out of

Monsters Club
Directed by Toshiaki Toyoda

An absolute chore of a film, Monsters Club details the low-key and consistently pointless exploits of a Unabomber-type (Eita's Ryoichi Kakiuchi) who spends his days mailing explosives to executives and engaging in circular conversations with the ghosts of his dead relatives. (Oh, and he's frequently visited by a humanoid figure with a shaving-cream-covered face.) Admittedly, Monsters Club gets off to an almost passable start - as filmmaker Toshiaki Toyoda offers up an opening 15 minutes devoted mostly to the central character's paranoid voice-over narration. It's relatively interesting stuff that is unfortunately not at all indicative of everything that follows, with Toyoda's eye-rollingly avant-garde sensibilities slowly-but-surely destroying any good will that the movie might have built up. There's consequently little doubt that Monsters Club, for the most part, comes off as an utterly unwatchable disaster that doesn't have a single compelling or intriguing thing to say about anything, with the senseless atmosphere heightened by Toyoda's sporadic emphasis on elements of an entirely nonsensical nature. (There is, for example, a sequence wherein Ryoichi slowly, methodically smears shaving cream on his face that's ultimately emblematic of everything that's wrong with the film.) The end result is a laughably incompetent, consistently irrelevant piece of work that feels like a parody of a pretentious student film; the only thing that's missing is a "Fin" title card at the very end.

no stars out of

Hotel Swooni
Directed by Kaat Beels

Hotel Swooni details the comings and goings of several characters over the course of a few eventful days, with the catch being that the film does, for the most part, transpire entirely within the title establishment. Filmmaker Kaat Beels admittedly does a nice job of initially establishing the three primary subplots, with the decidedly soapy nature of these stories - ie a man fears that his wife is having an affair- proving effective at initially hooking the viewer's attention. Beels' fluid camerawork and the stellar performances go a long way towards perpetuating the movie's watchable atmosphere, though there does reach a point at which stagnancy does begin to set in - with the occasionally unreasonably deliberate pace certainly compounding this feeling. The viewer's waning interest isn't resuscitated until just past the one hour mark, with the inevitable converging of the storylines injecting the proceedings with some much needed drama and excitement. (This includes an impressively captivating Gone Baby Gone-type plot twist.) It's finally impossible to label Hotel Swooni as anything more than a well-intentioned yet consistently uneven endeavor, although one could certainly do worse as far as movies of this ilk go.

out of

© David Nusair