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Toronto International Film Festival 2012 - UPDATE #3

Directed by Antoinette Beumer

Jackie follows twin sisters Sofie and Daan (Carice and Jelka van Houten) as they learn that their birth mother (Holly Hunter's Jackie) is ill and decide to travel to America to see her, with the film subsequently detailing the road trip that ensues as Sofie and Daan reluctantly agree to drive Jackie to a rehab facility 500 miles away. Filmmaker Antoinette Beumer has infused Jackie with an extremely conventional feel that's reflected in both the narrative and the characters, with, in terms of the latter, the personalities of the two sisters certainly ranking high on the movie's list of hackneyed elements (ie Sofie is uptight and career-oriented while Daan is laid-back and a pushover). The familiar atmosphere is perpetuated by the road-trip midsection, as scripters Marnie Blok and Karen Van Holst Pellekaan pepper the characters' journey with precisely the sort of encounters and occurrences that one might've anticipated (ie there is, in almost equal amounts, an emphasis on the bonding and complications that ensue on the journey). And although the film is often a little too leisurely in its execution, Jackie generally does remain quite watchable from start to finish - with the passable atmosphere due primarily to the stellar performances and to the palpable chemistry between the three leads. (It's worth noting especially that the van Houten sisters are quite good together, and it's not terribly surprising to note that the pair are awfully convincing as siblings.) By the time the upbeat, feel-good finale rolls around, Jackie has certainly established itself as a pervasively pleasant drama that doesn't offer up any great shakes in terms of plotting but succeeds as a showcase for three undeniably superb performances.

out of

Directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel

It's impossible to know just where to begin with Leviathan, as the movie, if it can even be called that, doesn't contain a single element or attribute designed to capture the viewer's interest. The basic idea here is that low-rent cameras have been placed aboard a rundown fishing boat, with the ensuing film consisting of nothing more than entirely random shots that are, for the most part, entirely without coherence. It's worth noting, too, that Leviathan announces its incompetence right from the get-go, as filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel kick off the proceedings with an astonishingly disorienting stretch in which chains are pulled to and fro within an almost absolute darkness. The movie only grows more and more unwatchable from there, with the arbitrary placement of images and total lack of context ensuring that Leviathan is about as pointless and frustrating a cinematic experience as one can easily recall. There reaches a point at which the viewer begins to crave anything even resembling an intelligible shot, and it's worth noting that there is, at the very least, one halfway decent visual sequence wherein a flock of birds fly overhead. Castaing-Taylor and Paravel's almost hilarious refusal to cultivate a watchable atmosphere is impressive in a way, admittedly, yet it's impossible to walk away from the movie without questioning its very existence (ie what, exactly, is the point of all this?) One is, in an effort at staving off the insanity that Castaing-Taylor and Paravel seem intent on foisting on the viewer, forced to retreat inward and spend much of the movie's seemingly endless running time daydreaming (ie much like a torture victim, one must make their way to a happy place), and it's ultimately clear that the only good thing to come out of this abomination is the realization that one has, most likely, just endured what will be the very worst motion picture experience of their lives. So there's that, at least.

no stars out of

The Hunt
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, The Hunt follows small-town daycare worker Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) as he's accused of inappropriate behavior by a little girl - with the film subsequently detailing the fallout that ensues after the community gets wind of the false allegations. It's a fairly familiar premise that's employed to consistently (and distressingly) middling effect by Vinterberg, as the movie boasts a number of hackneyed elements that result in an atmosphere akin to a made-for-television production (eg Lucas meets and falls for a woman at the movie's outset, and it's clear that she's been introduced solely so she can pull away once the bad stuff starts to go down.) (Also: You just know something terrible is going to happen to that dog.) It's worth noting, however, that Vinterberg does an impressively strong job of establishing the community and its various residents, to the extent that the authentic atmosphere goes a long way towards sustaining the viewer's interest through the movie's more overtly familiar stretches. There's little doubt, too, that Mikkelsen's frequently spellbinding performance plays an instrumental role in cementing The Hunt's mild success, with the actor's riveting turn ensuring that his character remains a wholly sympathetic figure from start to finish. The excessively deliberate pace ultimately compounds the film's various problems, however, and it is, in the end, impossible to label The Hunt as anything more than a well-acted yet hopelessly by-the-numbers little drama.

out of

Love is All You Need
Directed by Susanne Bier

Love is All You Need marks a rather dramatic departure for filmmaker Susanne Bier, as the movie ultimately stands in sharp contrast to the less-than-lighthearted bent of the director's recent output (including 2010's brilliant and downbeat In a Better World). The movie, which follows several characters as they converge on an Italian villa for a wedding, has been infused with a bubbly, easygoing feel that does, at the outset, prove impossible to resist, with the familiar yet watchable atmosphere heightened by the efforts of a talented cast that includes, among others, Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm, and Paprika Steen. (It doesn't hurt, either, that the actors are able to infuse their respective characters with an irresistibly vivid and thoroughly lived-in feel.) And although Anders Thomas Jensen's screenplay is, at times, far more predictable than one might've liked (ie certain elements and revelations are telegraphed long in advance), Love is All You Need benefits substantially from the chemistry between the characters and from the inclusion of several admittedly engrossing sequences (Sebastian Jessen's Patrick delivers a heartfelt speech to his future bride). It's equally clear, however, that the movie begins to demonstrably run out of steam as it passes the one-hour mark, with the good vibes afforded by the cast virtually cancelled out by Bier's meandering sensibilities and a seriously overlong running time. There's subsequently a lack of emotional resonance that is, to put it mildly, somewhat disappointing, and it's finally impossible to label Love is All You Need as anything more than a mildly diverting yet palpably underwhelming effort from the otherwise rock-solid Bier.

out of

I Declare War
Directed by Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson

I Declare War follows a group of neighborhood children as they participate in a stringent game of war in a local forest, with the film subsequently detailing the chaos that ensues after one participant goes rogue and starts making up his own rules. It's a rather oddball premise that is, at the outset, employed to better-than-expected effect by filmmakers Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson, as the directors have infused the proceedings with an impressively gritty feel that belies the almost kid-friendly nature of the setup. The compulsively watchable vibe allows one to overlook the low-rent atmosphere, and there's little doubt that, for example, the uniformly amateurish performances aren't quite as problematic as one might've feared. It doesn't hurt, either, that scripter Lapeyre does a nice job of spoofing the various conventions of the war genre, including the various character tropes (eg the anxious, chatty grunt) and the clipped, hardened dialogue (eg "I kill people. I have killing techniques.") Not all of Lapeyre and Wilson's choices fare quite so well, however, with the filmmakers' decision to use real sound effects from the kids' fake weapons, presumably a manifestation of their collective imaginations, ensuring that the viewer is ultimately not sure what's actually occurring and what's just in the characters' minds. Far more problematic is the increasingly meandering nature of I Declare War's slight narrative, with the viewer's patience tested by a second half that's rife with palpable lulls and it does, as a result, become awfully difficult to overlook the feeling that there's just nothing real at stake here (ie despite Lapeyre and Wilson's best efforts, the film comes off as an inconsequential drama revolving around a bunch of kids and their weekend exploits) - which finally cements the movie's place as a promising yet disappointing piece of work.

out of

Berberian Sound Studio
Directed by Peter Strickland

Set in the 1970s, Berberian Sound Studio follows a timid sound engineer named Gilderoy (Toby Jones) as he arrives in Italy to work on a lurid horror movie by well-known genre filmmaker Gianfranco Santini (Antonio Mancino) - with problems ensuing as the violent material begins to wreak havoc on Gilderoy's fragile psyche. It's an intriguing premise that's initially employed to near spellbinding effect by filmmaker Peter Strickland, as the writer/director has infused the proceedings with an irresistibly ominous feel that's heightened and perpetuated by Nic Knowland's hypnotic cinematography. There's little doubt, too, that the movie benefits substantially from the ongoing emphasis on the behind-the-scenes look at the unseen horror film's post-production phase, with the inherently fascinating nature of such scenes, coupled with Jones' captivating turn as the meek protagonist, initially compensating for Strickland's plotless, deliberately-paced sensibilities. Berberian Sound Studio's success proves to be lamentably short lived, however, as Strickland's efforts at transforming the film into a slow-burn horror film fall hopelessly flat - with the creeping inclusion of head-scratching elements ensuring that the movie becomes more and more uninvolving as it progresses (ie even the most astute viewer will be hard pressed to explain what the heck is going on here). By the time the incoherent, David Lynchian final stretch rolls around, Berberian Sound Studio has definitely established itself as a missed opportunity of nigh epic proportions - which is a shame, really, given the strength of the premise and of Jones' typically immersive performance.

out of

© David Nusair