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Toronto International Film Festival 2013 - UPDATE #3

Burt's Buzz
Directed by Jody Shapiro

Directed by Jody Shapiro, Burt's Buzz details the unusual life and career of Burt Shavitz - a cantankerous old coot who inadvertently found himself the face of a multimillion dollar company called Burt's Bees. It's clear immediately Burt's Buzz benefits substantially from the mere presence of its central figure, as Shavitz comes off as an endlessly fascinating figure who clearly and unabashedly dislikes being in the spotlight (eg he remarks at one point, "a good day is when no one shows up and you don't have to go anywhere.") And although the film seems to be heading towards an atmosphere of extreme repetition - much of the early part of the proceedings is devoted to Shavitz's day-to-day comings and goings - Shapiro wisely jumps back in time and offers up a full history of his subject's past exploits. It's clear that this is where Burt's Buzz fares best, as there's certainly something inherently compelling about Shavitz's mishaps within the company that bears his name (ie it sounds like if it were up to him he wouldn't even have a company). The movie doesn't, otherwise, seem to have enough material to sustain a feature-length running time, and Shapiro attempts to compensate for this by padding out the proceedings with a handful of fairly underwhelming stretches (eg Shavitz's promotional journey to Taiwan). The inclusion of a few unexpectedly emotional moments (eg Shavitz's dealings with and remembrances of his dogs) elevates the film on a sporadic basis, which ultimately confirms Burt's Buzz as an uneven yet entertaining little documentary.

out of

Directed by Alex van Warmerdam

Undoubtedly the nadir of this year's festival, Borgman details the off-kilter chaos that ensues after a crafty homeless man (Jan Bijvoet's Borgman) insinuates himself within the household of a wealthy Dutch family. Borgman, before it transforms into an absolutely interminable experience, holds a fair amount of promise, as the movie, directed by Alex van Warmerdam, opens with a rather captivating sequence in which several transients are forced to quickly flee their remote, underground cubbies. From there, the movie adopts a curiously deliberate tone that's hardly reflective of that oddball opening - as van Warmerdam places an emphasis on the impact that Borgman's presence begins to have on the lives of everyone in the aforementioned household. It's only as van Warmerdam's screenplay begins incorporating needlessly surreal elements that Borgman takes a sharp nosedive, with, for example, the family matriarch's head-scratching attachment to the title character ranking high on the film's list of frustratingly underdeveloped, context-free attributes. The movie is unable to recover from its disastrous turn for the weird, as the preponderance of illogical, unexplained plot developments proves effective at holding the viewer at arm's length through the progressively endless second half. By the time a little girl inexplicably murders an innocent bystander, Borgman has definitively established itself as an incredible waste of time that deserves to sink into total obscurity - with the film's surplus of unanswered questions (eg do Borgman and his cohorts have mind-control powers or what?) ensuring that it remains astonishingly infuriating for much of its absurdly overlong running time.

no stars out of

Like Father, Like Son
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-Eda

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Like Father, Like Son follows two families - one upper class, one lower - as they discover that their sons were mixed up immediately after their births. It's an inherently engrossing premise that's established and developed with great promise by Kore-Eda, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with a heartfelt atmosphere that's awfully difficult to resist - with the engrossing performances by the four leads perpetuating the movie's completely passable vibe. Kore-Eda, working from his own screenplay, does have a tendency to bog the proceedings down in superfluous matters (eg the technical aspects of the aforementioned mixup), and it's worth noting, too, that the film is predominantly lacking in the emotion that one might've anticipated. (There are, of course, certain exceptions to this, including a moving sequence in which one of the mothers expresses her desire to simply run away with her son.) And while the film remains basically watchable from start to finish, Kore-Eda's extremely subdued sensibilities, coupled with a frustratingly overlong running time, ensure that Like Father, Like Son tests the viewer's patience to an increasingly palpable degree as it progresses - which does, as a result, mute the emotional impact of the film's final stretch. The end result is a decent yet unspectacular effort from Kore-Eda, with the movie's less-than-successful atmosphere surely paving the way for a much-improved American remake.

out of

Directed by Peter Landesman

Parkland is a multi-character drama revolving around the leadup to and aftermath of John F. Kennedy's infamous assassination, with the movie detailing the exploits of various figures associated with the shocking crime - including Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), FBI agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton), and Lee Harvey Oswald's brother, Robert (James Badge Dale). Writer/director Peter Landesman has infused the early part of Parkland with a blisteringly-paced feel that proves impossible to resist, and it's worth noting, too, that the filmmaker manages to wring suspense out of an almost excessively familiar scenario. (This proves especially true during a riveting stretch in which several determined doctors attempt to save the President's life.) The inclusion of fascinating little tidbits in the film's narrative (eg Air Force One is jury-rigged to accommodate JFK's coffin) goes a long way towards perpetuating Parkland's compulsively watchable atmosphere, while the cavalcade of familiar faces within the supporting cast - Zac Efron! Tom Welling! Colin Hanks! Ron Livingston! etc, etc - initially compensates for Landesman's sporadically superficial approach to the material. There does reach a point, however, at which Parkland attempts to shift from a catch-all portrait of JFK's assassination into a deliberate and decidedly low-key character study, with the emphasis slowly-but-surely placed on the impact that the killing has on the movie's various inhabitants. It's a decision that ultimately wreaks havoc on the film's momentum, as some of these stories fare much, much better than others. (It is, for example, difficult to work up any real interest in the exploits of Oswald's insane mother.) The jarring shift in tone finally confirms Parkland's place as a passable piece of work, which is disappointing, to say the least, given the effectiveness and sheer entertainment value of the movie's first half.

out of

Empire of Dirt
Directed by Peter Stebbings

Peter Stebbings' first film since 2009's Defendor, Empire of Dirt follows Cara Gee's Lena as she's forced to return home with her daughter (Shay Eyre's Peeka) after suffering a series of setbacks. It's clear immediately that Stebbings, working from a script by Shannon Masters, is going for a low-key, character-study sort of vibe, with the movie's atmosphere of authenticity, in its early stages, compensating for the narrative's decidedly familiar bent. There's little doubt that Empire of Dirt benefits substantially from star Gee's consistently engrossing performance, as the actress inhabits her downtrodden character with a ferocity and intensity that's often nothing short of astounding. The movie's perfectly watchable atmosphere persists right up until Lena and Peeka depart the city for Lena's hometown, as Stebbings' relaxed approach does, past that point, become more and more problematic - with the less-than-eventful nature of Masters' script only exacerbating the movie's excessively subdued feel. It's consequently not surprising to note that the viewer is, to an increasingly prominent degree, prevented from wholeheartedly connecting to the characters' plight, which does, as a result, dull the emotional impact of some of the movie's climactic revelations and resolutions. The inclusion of needless, time-wasting elements within the film's final half hour confirms that Empire of Dirt would've been better off as a short, and it's obvious that the movie is ultimately most successful as a showcase for Gee's thoroughly impressive turn as the central character.

out of

iNumber Number
Directed by Donovan Marsh

iNumber Number follows Sdumo Mtshali's ambitious cop Chili Ncgobo as he's cheated out of a major cash reward by his corrupt superior officer, with Chili's financial difficulties prompting him to participate in a lucrative heist alongside a gang of vicious criminals. There's little doubt that iNumber Number fares best in its opening half hour, as filmmaker Donovan Marsh kicks the proceedings off with an impressively engrossing and propulsive action sequence that recalls Robert Rodriguez in its execution - which effectively captures the viewer's interest and sets the stage for a better-than-average cop thriller. The promising atmosphere doesn't last long, however, as the narrative subsequently moves into almost excessively familiar territory - with Marsh's screenplay offering up a perfunctory and thoroughly routine storyline that's been augmented with an assortment of cookie-cutter periphery characters. And although the film does, past that point, contain a handful of gripping interludes (eg the aforementioned heist is actually quite exciting), iNumber Number has been saddled with a repetitive midsection that wears its low-budget origins on its sleeve - as the majority of the film transpires in a remote warehouse in which the characters, for the most part, scheme and bicker. The progressively stagnant atmosphere is compounded by Marsh's reliance on needless, time-wasting elements, and there's little doubt that the film peters out significantly in its post-heist stretch - which follows the surviving characters as they chase (and hide from) one another around that endless warehouse. The rather interminable nature of iNumber Number's third act ultimately cements its place as a disappointing actioner, although, having said that, it's certainly not difficult to envision Marsh moving onto bigger and better things.

out of

© David Nusair