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Toronto International Film Festival 2012 - UPDATE #8

90 Minutes
Directed by Eva Sørhaug

Directed by Eva Sørhaug, 90 Minutes tracks the exploits of several characters through three completely separate storylines: an elderly man makes final preparations for something, tensions run high between a divorced couple, and a woman and her child are dominated by a vicious drug addict (Aksel Hennie's Trond). It's an unusual setup that does, for the most part, demand an incredible amount of patience from the viewer, as filmmaker Sørhaug has infused 90 Minutes with an exceedingly, almost excessively deliberate pace that's perpetuated by an emphasis on mundane, low-key happenings. It's clear that each story is heading somewhere interesting, however, and it's that knowledge that effectively sustains one's interest even through the narrative's more overtly uneventful stretches. It's just as obvious, though, that Sørhaug's reluctance to offer up much in the way of context or character development proves somewhat problematic, as too many elements here are left frustratingly vague right through to the film's final stretch - with the best example of this certainly the subplot revolving around the elderly couple (ie why is he doing what he's doing?) It goes without saying, then, that 90 Minutes' mild success is due primarily to Sørhaug's solid direction and the uniformly superb performances, with Hennie's riveting turn as the seriously unlikable Trond standing as a palpable highlight within the proceedings. The incredibly grim final stretch is, without question, far more compelling than anything preceding it, to the extent that it's impossible not to wish that the remainder of the movie had been even remotely as engrossing - which ultimately confirms 90 Minutes' place as a sporadically riveting yet all-too-oblique piece of work.

out of

Thanks for Sharing
Directed by Stuart Blumberg

Though it boasts an irresistibly entertaining opening half hour, Thanks for Sharing is ultimately felled by a lamentable emphasis on almost eye-rollingly conventional and hackneyed elements. It's a shame, really, given that there's a lot of promise in the film's setup, as filmmaker Stuart Blumberg explores the lives of three sex addicts (Mark Ruffalo's Adam, Tim Robbins' Mike, and Josh Gad's Neil) and their continuing efforts at remaining on the straight and narrow. Blumberg has populated the proceedings with a number of intensely likeable figures, and there's little doubt that the leads' uniformly charismatic work is matched by a strong supporting cast that includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Joely Richardson, and, in her first film role, Pink. (The latter is actually surprisingly good here, with her tearful speech at an S.A. meeting instantly establishing her as an actress worth watching.) And although Blumberg has peppered the narrative with a few admittedly heartfelt moments (eg Mike's ne'er do well son, played by Patrick Fugit, apologizes for his past transgressions), Thanks for Sharing, perhaps inevitably, slowly but surely succumbs to convention to a degree that's nothing short of disheartening - with the expected things-go-wrong stretch ensuring that the movie demonstrably runs out of steam as it passes the one-hour mark. The progressively tedious atmosphere drains one's interest and renders the film's positive attributes moot, and it's finally impossible to label Thanks for Sharing as anything more than a sporadically watchable yet hopelessly uneven debut effort from Blumberg.

out of

Directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman

Imogene casts Kristen Wiig as the title character, a struggling writer who is forced to temporarily move back in with her wacky relatives in New Jersey - with the film subsequently detailing Imogene's ongoing efforts at adjusting to her new surroundings and also tracking down her presumed dead father. It's not exactly the most promising setup for a film - ie this could very well be the premise for an off-the-wall new sitcom - and it's rather disheartening to note that filmmakers Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman are, for the most part, simply unable to draw the viewer into the hopelessly contrived narrative. Wiig's underwhelming performance - this is the sort of character she could play in her sleep - is ultimately the least of Imogene's problems, as scripter Michelle Morgan employs an episodic structure that results in a whole mess of pointless, desperately unfunny segments (eg Imogene's quirky brother attempts to maneuver his self-made exoskeleton down a New York City street). It's ultimately not surprising to note that the third act's stabs at drama fall completely flat, with the lack of reality to the movie's myriad of characters preventing one from working up any interest in or enthusiasm for their hackneyed exploits. And although the movie boasts an impressively oddball climax that's admittedly a little fun, Imogene is a misfire that's a long way from Pulcini and Berman's debut effort, American Splendor.

out of

The Bay
Directed by Barry Levinson

A cut above most found-footage fare, The Bay details the chaos that ensues within a small East coast town after its residents are infected by contaminated water. it's a fairly typical setup that is, admittedly, employed to less-than-promising effect at the outset, as director Barry Levinson initially emphasizes the exploits of a wide range of characters - with the lack of focus preventing one from wholeheartedly embracing the lightly-plotted narrative. Levinson's decision to insert decidedly cinematic elements into the proceedings - eg Marcelo Zarvos' less-than-subtle score - certainly goes a long way towards separating the film from its copious found-footage brethren, and there's little doubt that the movie, even through its early, underwhelming stretch, manages to hold one's interest thanks for a periodic emphasis on creepy moments and fun jump scares. The increased emphasis on compelling elements - eg a local doctor's ongoing communications with a baffled CDC rep - ensures that the film only grows more and more compelling as it unfolds, with the progressively grim atmosphere ensuring that the film, though never as frightening as one might've hoped, does manage to become an unexpectedly engrossing piece of work. (It's clear, however, that the whole found-footage thing remains just as needless as ever, as it's consistently impossible to overlook the feeling that The Bay would've been much more effective with a conventional approach.)

out of

The ABCs of Death
Directed by lots of people

True to its title, The ABCs of Death consists of 26 separate short films revolving around horrific happenings and occurrences (eg "A for Apocalypse). Though the film admittedly kicks off with some promise, Nacho Vigalondo's short is brisk, bloody, and surprising, The ABCs of Death suffers from an almost disastrously uneven feel that results in an opening hour that's often interminable. There's a pointlessness to many of the shorts that's nothing short of disastrous, as many of the filmmakers have decided to eschew storytelling in favor of atmosphere and/or silliness. (In terms of the latter, "F for Fart" is as self-explanatory and horrible as one might've surmised.) The pervasive absence of clever twists or intriguing setups exacerbates the low-rent nature of many of these segments, and it's impossible not to wonder what a filmmaker like Ti West was hoping to accomplish with his utterly underwhelming installment. The film does, however, improve slightly as it passes the one-hour mark, with the presence of comparatively striking shorts from folks like Ben Wheatley and Xavier Gens alleviating the movie's otherwise interminable atmosphere. The end result is as uneven a compilation as one can easily recall, and it's certainly impossible to envision mainstream audiences embracing this narrow-minded piece of work.

out of

Baby Blues
Directed by Kasia Roslaniec

From the director of 2009's Mall Girls comes this persistently dull drama revolving around a teenager (Magdalena Berus' Natalia) who is struggling to raise a small baby by herself, with Natalia's far-from-mature personality ensuring that said baby rarely receives the attention that he deserves. For the most part, Baby Blues is concerned with the rambling day-to-day exploits of the central character - with the admittedly authentic atmosphere consistently undermined by a lack of plot that only grows more and more problematic as time progresses. There's just never a point at which the viewer is able to work up any interest in Natalia's subdued activities, and it's certainly not surprising to note that the narrative's pervasive uneventfulness eventually results in a palpably oppressive feel. It doesn't help, either, that the central character comes off as a seriously unlikable and unsympathetic figure (eg when a friend asks why she had the baby pierced, Natalia responds that it's "more fun to look at him"), and while writer/director Kasia Roslaniec's refusal to infuse Natalia with even a single positive attribute is impressive, she's hardly the sort of figure one wants to spend 100 minutes with. And because Roslaniec makes her point immediately - ie Natalia is irresponsible and should absolutely not be caring for a kid - Baby Blues, after a certain point, simply has nowhere to go and becomes an increasingly episodic (and increasingly interminable) look at the protagonist's low-key comings and goings. The palpably endless feel persists right up to the film's final stretch, which is, admittedly, more harrowing than one would've predicted (ie the baby is shamelessly placed in extreme jeopardy). But the emotional impact of the conclusion is non-existent because the viewer has long-since tuned out, and it's ultimately clear that, between this and Mall Girls, Roslaniec would be far better off bringing her gritty sensibilities to the world of short films.

out of

Directed by Nicolás López

Aftershock details the chaos that ensues after a massive earthquake hits a small Chilean town, with the devastating effects forcing a group of friends (including Eli Roth's Gringo) to run for their lives. Before it gets to that point, however, Aftershock places a heavy, heavy emphasis on the characters' fun-loving antics - with the almost relentless footage of the friends' partying and frolicking ensuring that the movie begins to seriously drag long before it reaches even the half hour mark. Exacerbating the stagnant atmosphere is the film's complete lack of compelling or sympathetic figures, as the actors are essentially trapped within the confines of eye-rollingly one-dimensional stereotypes (eg there's the responsible one, the aggressively horny one, etc, etc). The off-putting, underwhelming atmosphere is not helped by a lengthy stretch involving the aforementioned earthquake's destruction, as filmmaker Nicolás López has infused such scenes with a jittery, chaotic feel that effectively drains the thrills and excitement from the proceedings (ie it's exceedingly difficult to even tell what's going on). It doesn't help, either, that scripters Guillermo Amodeo, López, and Roth have lamentably eliminated any traces of momentum by stressing an episodic structure, as this decision results in far too many scenes that are either overlong or flat-out needless (eg there's an incredibly anticlimactic stretch revolving around the characters' efforts to get their injured friend a spot on a lift to safety). Aftershock's place as a hopelessly misguided horror effort is cemented by a final third devoted almost entirely to the tedious game of cat-and-mouse that ensues between the survivors and a gang of nefarious rapists, and it's ultimately impossible to shake the feeling that a major opportunity has been squandered here.

out of

© David Nusair