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Toronto International Film Festival 2012 - UPDATE #5

Song for Marion
Directed by Paul Andrew Williams

Song for Marion details the relationship between Terrence Stamp's morose Arthur and Vanessa Redgrave's chipper Marion, with the latter's insistence on attending a choir group for seniors rankling the former on a near constant basis - with Arthur forced to change his tune after Marion's health takes a turn for the worse. It's a fairly typical setup that's employed to crowd-pleasing (if far-from-spectacular) effect by director Paul Andrew Williams, with the familiarity of the storyline, for the most part, offset by the cast's uniformly stirring work. Stamp delivers one of the most engaging performances of his career here, and though his character's arc is, to put it mildly, somewhat conventional, the actor does a consistently impressive job of bringing his sporadically unlikable character to life. (Redgrave is just as good, certainly, while Christopher Eccleston and Gemma Arterton, cast as Arthur and Marion's son and Marion's choir teacher, respectively, add a fair amount of color to the proceedings.) The movie's pervasively pleasant atmosphere ensures that it does become more and more difficult to resist Arthur's transformation into a relatively upbeat senior, and it certainly doesn't hurt that Williams has peppered the proceedings with a handful of genuinely moving interludes. The movie does, however, begin to peter out as it passes the one-hour mark, as the thinness of the plot becomes a little too evident and Williams attempts to compensate by padding out the narrative with superfluous elements (including a few too many montage sequences). The stirring finish ensures that Song for Marion ends strongly, at least, and it's ultimately not difficult to envision the film being embraced as a crowd-pleaser along the lines of such similarly-themed fare as Calendar Girls and The Full Monty.

out of

All That Matters is Past
Directed by Sara Johnsen

Though it opens with an attention-grabbing and palpably striking pre-credits sequence, All That Matters is Past ultimately establishes itself as a pointless and hopelessly disjointed mess that boasts few compelling attributes. The time-shifting story, which essentially details the odd relationship between two siblings and a seemingly feral girl, admittedly does hold some promise at the outset, as filmmaker Sara Johnsen effectively establishes a mysterious atmosphere that's perpetuated by somewhat baffling plot twists. (The aforementioned girl, for example, immediately leaves her husband and two children after one of the siblings suddenly reappears in her life.) It's baffling yet relatively interesting stuff that doesn't, at the outset, make a whole lot of sense, as Johnsen holds back the character development and context and instead doles out the various pieces slowly. It is, as such, not surprising to note that All That Matters is Past slowly but surely morphs into a seriously arms-length piece of work, with the progressively uninvolving atmosphere exacerbated by the slow realization that all three protagonists are, to put it mildly, completely inauthentic. (What drives these people? Why are they so inextricably drawn to one another? These are questions that are never answered.) It doesn't help that Johnsen has suffused the latter half of the film with a series of entirely dull tangents (eg a pregnant cop, a barn full of illegal immigrants, etc), and it does become more and more clear that Johnsen simply doesn't have a clear plan for either the characters or the narrative. It's consequently not surprising to note that the movie fizzles out to an aggressive degree as it approaches its anticlimactic conclusion, and it is, in the end, impossible not to wonder just what Johnsen originally set out to accomplish with this debacle.

out of

Thermae Romae
Directed by Hideki Takeuchi

Thermae Romae follows Roman architect Lucius (Hiroshi Abe) as he discovers an ability to travel to the present day via a mysterious, water-bound portal, with the movie subsequently detailing Lucius' ongoing efforts at improving his own society with the discoveries of the future. It's a seemingly can't-miss premise that's employed to seriously, disappointingly underwhelming effect by filmmaker Hideki Takeuchi, with the director's ongoing difficulties in fully exploiting Lucius' fish-out-of-water status certainly ranking high on the movie's list of problems. (There is, having said that, one decent sequence in which Lucius finds himself in an IKEA-like furniture store and is subsequently baffled by the bidet-spraying toilet, but that's the exception rather than the rule.) The movie's nigh unwatchable atmosphere is compounded by an almost total lack of laughs, with Takeuchi's decision to elicit painfully broad performances from most of the supporting cast lending much of the film a grating, irritating feel. Far more problematic is the direction that the storyline ultimately takes, as scripter Shogo Muto places an increasingly infuriating emphasis on Lucius' political exploits back home - with the character's continuing encounters with the powerful Romans of the day perpetuating the movie's hopelessly dull atmosphere. There's an expected lack of momentum here that's nothing short of disastrous, and it doesn't help, either, that much of the midsection follows an eye-rollingly repetitive pattern (Lucius travels forward, returns home and makes the futuristic changes, etc, etc). There's so much talk about bathhouses and the like that it's not surprising to note that the film fizzles out to a seriously demonstrable degree, which is a shame, obviously, given the seemingly infallible nature of the premise.

out of

The Attack
Directed by Ziad Doueiri

The Attack follows Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman), an Arab doctor living and working in Tel Aviv, as he learns that his wife (Reymond Amsalem's Siham) has been killed in a suicide bombing, with complications ensuing as it becomes increasingly clear that Siham was, in fact, the perpetrator behind the attack. It's a stirring premise that is, for the most part, employed to watchable yet far-from-engrossing effect by filmmaker Ziad Doueiri, as the director, working from a script cowritten with Joëlle Touma, has infused the proceedings with a deliberately-paced, matter-of-fact sensibility that prevents one from wholeheartedly embracing the material. There's a conventional feel running through the entirety of The Attack that proves somewhat problematic, as the narrative generally unfolds in a manner dictated by the familiar premise - with the movie, as expected, eventually detailing Amin's investigation into his wife's secret life. It doesn't help, either, that much of the film's second half details Amin's efforts at piecing together the various clues left behind, and while there are a few admittedly compelling sequences sprinkled here and there, The Attack's emphasis on the procedural-like exploits of the central character stifles its emotional impact. The movie ultimately does improve as Amin begins to get his answers and there's no denying the strength of the final few minutes, yet it's impossible not to walk out of The Attack feeling somewhat disappointed by the been-there-done-that atmosphere.

out of

Spring Breakers
Directed by Harmony Korine

An almost indescribably weird little movie, Spring Breakers follows four friends (Ashley Benson's Brit, Selena Gomez's Faith, Vanessa Hudgens' Candy, and Rachel Korine's Cotty) as they rob a restaurant and head to Florida for a week of fun in the sun - with the film detailing the problems that ensue after the girls reluctantly fall in with a shady gangster known only as Alien (James Franco). Filmmaker Harmony Korine has infused Spring Breakers with precisely the sort of off-the-beaten-path feel one might've anticipated, although it's immediately clear that the movie, in sharp contrast to his low-rent and nigh unwatchable Gummo, at least boasts an intensely cinematic feel that's reflected primarily in Benoît Debie's lush visuals and Cliff Martinez's haunting score. Korine proves unwilling to entirely drop his notoriously avant-garde aesthetic, however, as the film, though peppered with a handful of engrossing sequences (eg that aforementioned robbery), progresses at a snail's pace that's compounded by a distinctly light-on-plot first half (ie there are an almost unreasonable number of slow-motion, lingering shots of people partying; it gets to be rather exhausting, quite frankly). The meandering atmosphere persists until the proper introduction of Franco's unabashedly over-the-top character, with the actor's consistently entertaining and frequently hilarious performance instantly injecting the proceedings with a burst of much-needed energy that persists right through to the comically broad finale. The end result is a pervasively weird yet oddly compelling effort from a filmmaker that clearly has no interest in going mainstream, although, if past efforts like Julien Donkey-Boy  and Trash Humpers are any indication, this is probably as close as Korine will ever get to a movie made for the masses.

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Directed by Andrzej Jakimowski

Imagine follows sightless teacher Ian (Edward Hogg) as he arrives at a picturesque school to help fellow blind individuals get by on a daily basis, with Ian's unconventional methods (eg he refuses to use a stick and he relies on sounds to direct him) eventually raising the ire of the institute's top dog. Directed by Andrzej Jakimowski, Imagine progresses at an almost excessively deliberate pace that does, for the most part, hold the viewer at arm's length, with the movie's episodic structure ultimately ensuring that certain sequences fare a whole lot better than others. By that same token, Hogg's captivating performance admittedly goes a long way towards smoothing over the movie's erratic atmosphere - with the periodic inclusion of engrossing sequences (eg Ian, employing his Daredevil-like skills, goes for a walk in the busy city with a blind love interest) buoying the viewer's dwindling interest on a fairly regular basis. The increasingly meandering vibe does, however, grow more and more problematic as time progresses, and it's hard to deny that the movie palpably fizzles out as it passes the one-hour mark. (There is, for example, a whole subplot detailing Ian's last-minute attempts at proving the existence of a cruise ship that's nowhere nearly as enthralling as Jakimowski clearly believes it to be.) Imagine is, in the end, a passable drama that benefits from Hogg's consistently stirring turn as the central character, and it's ultimately impossible not to wish that the film had managed to elevate itself up to his level.

out of

Directed by Ben Wheatley

Directed by Ben Wheatley, Sightseers follows British couple Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram) as they embark on a tour of England's picturesque countryside - with Chris' confrontation with an inconsiderate litterer triggering a spree of brazen violence and murder. Wheatley, working from a script by Lowe and Oram, admittedly gets Sightseers off to a promising start, as the film opens with an irresistibly off-the-wall sequence that seems to promise a loopy and irreverent road-trip narrative. And although there's certainly palpable chemistry between the two leads, Wheatley has infused much of the film's midsection with a meandering feel that only grows more and more problematic as time progresses. (It doesn't help, either, that the director's fixation with '70s era British horror is in full effect here, as several sequences seem as though they could've been pulled directly out of, say, The Wicker Man.) The progressively dark bent of Lowe and Oram's screnplay - the movie is, more and more, simply about the exploits of two unabashed sociopaths - contributes heavily to the movie's increasingly oppressive atmosphere, and it does become awfully difficult to buy into the protagonists' ongoing exploits (ie they're just not believable as characters). And although the movie concludes with an admittedly amusing gag, Sightseers is, arriving just a year after the similarly underwhelming Kill List, further proof that perhaps Wheatley should try his hand at a different genre.

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© David Nusair