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Toronto International Film Festival 2012 - UPDATE #6

John Dies at the End
Directed by Don Coscarelli

Based on the book by David Wong, John Dies at the End follows two friends (Chase Williamson's Dave and Rob Mayes' John) as they unwittingly gain the ability to travel through time and alternate dimensions after consuming an illicit drug known as Soy Sauce. There's no denying that John Dies at the End, for the most part, comes off as a perfectly watchable piece of work, as the film boasts a relatively propulsive feel that ensures it is, at the very least, never boring. Williamson's erratic yet charming performance goes a long way towards perpetuating the movie's pleasant atmosphere, and it's worth noting, too, that the obviously miniscule budget isn't quite as problematic as one might've feared. (It is, however, obvious that the film could've used a lot more cash for many of its more overtly fantastic sequences, especially its special-effects-heavy climax.) Filmmaker Don Coscarelli isn't quite able to maintain a consistent level of quality from start to finish, though, and there's little doubt that the movie's decidedly erratic feel prevents one from wholeheartedly connecting to the protagonists' off-the-wall exploits (ie there just doesn't seem to be much at stake for the wisecracking heroes). The end result is a passable yet unspectacular horror effort that could (and should) have been much better, with the movie destined to fare better among fans of the (admittedly superior) source material.

out of

What Maisie Knew
Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel

A progressively heartbreaking piece of work, What Maisie Knew explores the impact that a couple's (Julianne Moore's Susanna and Steve Coogan's Beale) split has on their open-hearted little girl (Onata Aprile's Maisie). It's an admittedly conventional premise that is, at the outset, employed to fairly run-of-the-mill effect by directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel, as the movie progresses at a deliberate pace that initially highlights the less-than-eventful nature of Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne's screenplay. The believable yet repetitive atmosphere is consistently alleviated by McGehee and Siegel's strong direction and by the uniformly compelling performances, with Moore and Coogan's expectedly solid work matched by an absolutely revelatory turn by Aprile. (The kid is in virtually every scene of the film and she acquits herself beautifully at every turn.) There's little doubt that the movie only grows more and more involving as it goes along, with the creeping realization that both Susanna and Beale are completely unfit as parents certainly adding an unexpected texture to the second half of the proceedings. (It's worth noting, too, that Moore and Coogen display absolutely no qualms in portraying increasingly unlikable figures.) The progressive emphasis on affecting moments (eg Maisie comforts Beale's neglected new wife) results in a final third that is affecting and engrossing in a manner not indicated by the opening hour, and there does reach a point at which the viewer begins to crave a happy ending for that poor little girl. What Maisie Knew finally manages to establish itself as a heartwrenching look at the impact a fierce custody battle has on the figure at its center, with the unabashedly moving final stretch cementing the film's place as a seriously impressive drama that packs one hell of an emotional punch.

out of

Everybody Has a Plan
Directed by Ana Piterbarg

It's difficult to know just what to make of Everybody Has a Plan, as the film, which follows Viggo Mortensen's Agustín as he impulsively decides to drop everything and assume his dead brother's life, progresses at an unreasonably deliberate pace that's compounded by a laughably uneventful narrative and an incongruously dull performance from Mortensen. The movie's completely uninvolving atmosphere, which persists virtually from start to finish, certainly isn't helped by an odd lack of context or character development, as the viewer is never quite sure just what's driving Agustín forward or why he does the things he does. (Why, for example, does he casually leave his wife and successful job to live like a hobo in the middle of nowhere?) There's subsequently a lack of momentum here that proves disastrous, and it's certainly not surprising to note that the movie's midsection, which seems to consist of nothing more than scene after scene of Agustín exploring his new environs, will leave even the most patient viewer checking their watch on an all-too-frequent basis. Filmmaker Ana Piterbarg attempts to compensate for the uneventful atmosphere by emphasizing a series of time-wasting subplots and elements, with the most obvious example of this the utterly tedious relationship that forms between Agustín and a local (Sofía Gala's Rosa). And although the film admittedly does improve slightly in its final stretch (ie it finally becomes about something), Everybody Has a Plan has long-since established itself as a blatant misfire that's sure to disappoint even the most ardent Mortensen fan (ie one would never know that the actor possessed an ounce of charisma based on his aggressively subdued work here).

out of

Directed by Rowan Athale

Wasteland follows Harvey Miller (Luke Treadaway) as he's released from prison after a one-year stint for heroin possession, with the movie detailing Harvey's efforts at seeking revenge against the sinister thug (Neil Maskell's Steven) responsible for his arrest. Given that much of Wasteland revolves around Harvey's preparations for the almost excessively complicated heist, its not surprising to note that the movie boasts, for the most part, an incredibly familiar feel that's initially compensated by filmmaker Rowan Athale's dynamic visuals and several impressively strong performances. (in terms of the latter, Maskell is palpably menacing as the vicious antagonist.) And although the heavy, heavy accents often make it difficult to decipher all the dialogue, Wasteland is, in its early stages, an agreeable thriller that never quite becomes the stale endeavor one might've feared. It's only as the movie progresses into its distressingly meandering midsection that one's interest begins to flag, as there are simply far too many lulls and instances of padding in the buildup to the big heist. It's during the climactic stretch that Wasteland finally completes its transformation from passable to misfire, as Athale holds off on revealing what actually happened simply so he can "surprise" the viewer with an Ocean's Eleven-like last-minute turnaround. It's unfortunately neither as unexpected nor as clever as Athale has clearly intended, and the viewer can't help but feel that their time has been wasted by the writer/director's misdirecting shenanigans (ie what was the point of showing us a fake reveal? Why not get straight to the reality of the situation?) - which finally cements the film's place as a sporadically engaging yet wholly misguided piece of work.

out of

Greetings from Tim Buckley
Directed by Dan Algrant

Set just a few years before Jeff Buckley's tragic drowning death, Greetings from Tim Buckley follows the famed folk singer's son (Penn Badgley) as he reluctantly agrees to participate in a concert honoring his late father - with the film detailing the buildup to said concert and Jeff's growing bond with a friendly intern (Imogen Poots' Allie). Filmmaker Dan Algrant has infused Greetings from Tim Buckley with an incredibly low-key feel that proves an effective complement to his loose screenplay, with the movie's decidedly freewheeling narrative concerned primarily with capturing the mood and atmosphere of the impending concert (and the concert itself). It's a choice that, generally speaking, works quite well, and although the movie is consequently not engrossing on a consistent basis, Algrant has effectively peppered the storyline with a number of stand-out sequences. (This is especially true of a showstopping interlude in which Jeff essentially serenades Allie in an indie record shop.) It's ultimately clear that Greetings from Tim Buckley benefits substantially - and this is a tremendous understatement - from Badgley's immersive and consistently electrifying turn as the late Buckley, and there's little doubt that the actor, who does much of his own singing in the film, becomes Buckley to a degree that's often nothing short of astonishing. (The flashback sequences of Tim and his exploits don't fare quite as well, as such moments ultimately wreak a fair amount of havoc on the movie's tenuous momentum.) The end result is a stirring (if far from cohesive) effort that will appeal to Buckley fans and neophytes alike, with Badgley's star-making turn undoubtedly ranking as the film's most potent weapon/attribute.

out of

The Color of the Chameleon
Directed by Emil Christov

An incoherent disaster, The Color of the Chameleon follows Batko Stamenov (Ruscen Vidinliev) as he's recruited to become an informant for the secret police and the degree to which he essentially loses his mind as a result. There's little doubt that filmmaker Emil Christov, right from the outset, cultivates a baffling, impenetrable atmosphere that proves disastrous, with the head-scratching narrative compounded by a continuing emphasis on needlessly oddball elements and moments (eg many of Batko's problems apparently stem from an addiction to masturbation). There's simply never a point at which the viewer is able to work up the slightest bit of interest in Batko's excessively dull exploits, with Christov's efforts at padding out the running time resulting in scene after scene of Batko working as an etcher and his day-to-day minutia within the secret police's offices. (Who cares, though?) There's a senselessness here that only grows worse as time progress, with the most obvious example of this a mid-movie twist in which Batko is fired from his role as an informant and the character immediately turns around and passes himself off as an actual agent (but why? And to what end?) The film meanders and meanders and inevitably morphs into an incomprehensible ordeal, with the growing emphasis on surreal and nonsensical elements paving the way for a final half hour that's nothing short of baffling and infuriating. It's ultimately impossible to label The Color of the Chameleon as anything more than an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions, and one can't help but marvel at its presence within the festival's ranks.

no stars out of

Directed by Brian De Palma

Though not quite the return to form one might've hoped for, Passion nevertheless stands as a marked improvement over filmmaker Brian De Palma's last two efforts - 2006's The Black Dahlia and 2007's Redacted. The movie, based on 2010's Love Crime, details the increasingly acrimonious relationship between an executive (Rachel McAdams' Christine) and her ambitious underling (Noomi Rapace's Isabel), and it's worth noting, for its first half, that Passion primarily comes off as a watchable yet utterly generic story about corporate backstabbing. De Palma's decision to rein in his notoriously over-the-top directorial sensibilities does the movie no favors, certainly, and it initially does seem as though the film is going to fare just as poorly as its thoroughly tedious predecessor. There reaches a very specific point, however - that being an irresistibly De Palma-esque music cue - at which Passion begins to become the garish, trashy piece of work one might've hoped for, with the tediousness of the storyline generally alleviated by De Palma's increasingly broad directorial choices (eg a striking SteadiCam shot, a breathtaking split-screen sequence, etc). On a purely cinematic level, Passion boasts more than enough elements to hold the viewer's interest - though it's worth noting that the plot, despite De Palma's best efforts, is simply never able to become as engaging or engrossing as one might've liked. By the time the gloriously over-the-top (and decidedly nonsensical) final stretch rolls around, Passion has certainly established itself as a partially-successful throwback to the type of thrillers that De Palma used to specialize in.

out of

© David Nusair