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Toronto International Film Festival 2013 - UPDATE #5

I Am Yours
Directed by Iram Haq

I Am Yours is, for the most part, a fairly run-of-the-mill character study that's elevated by star Amrita Acharia's spellbinding performance, with the progressively downbeat narrative ensuring that the movie grows more and more intriguing as it progresses. The film, which follows Acharia's Mina as she attempts to carve out some semblance of happiness for herself, unquestionably moves at a deliberate pace that can, from time to time, feel somewhat stagnant, as writer/director Iram Haq's efforts at cultivating an authentic and gritty atmosphere results in a film that is, from time to time, too subdued for its own good. There is, however, no denying that Haq does a superb job of establishing and developing the central character - ie it's impossible to deny that Mina becomes an absolutely sympathetic figure - and yet the movie's low-key, uneventful atmosphere ensures that certain stretches simply aren't as engrossing as the filmmaker has obviously intended. This proves to be especially true of Mina's mid-movie trek to Sweden to be with her newfound lover (Ola Rapace's Jesper), with the effectiveness of these scenes hampered by the predictable trajectory of the pair's coupling. It's not until I Am Yours rolls into its incredibly downbeat third act (ie things just keep getting worse and worse for poor Mina) that the viewer's interest is wholeheartedly piqued, and there's little doubt that the wrenching finale, which is admittedly just a little too ambiguous, packs an unexpectedly emotional punch - thus cementing the movie's place as a well-made yet erratic little drama.

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Directed by Beeban Kidron

Directed by Beeban Kidron, InRealLife is a documentary exploring the degree to which technology - specifically the internet - has impacted our lives on a day-to-day basis. Filmmaker Kidron does a nice job of initially drawing the viewer into the proceedings, as InRealLife opens with a look at how online pornography has affected the lives of two British teenagers - with the pair noting that their ease of access to porn has skewed their perspective on relationships (ie they're looking for girlfriends that will behave as submissively as the women in porn). The movie subsequently details the history of the internet and its growing effect on contemporary society, and it's worth noting that Kidron has peppered the proceedings with a number of interesting tidbits - including the revelation that 90% of the world's data has been generated over the last two years. And although the film contains a number of similarly intriguing factoids, InRealLife, as it progresses, loses its focus and becomes a repetitive catch-all for anything internet-related - with Kidron tackling everything from the terms and conditions on most websites to the rise of the ubiquitous cloud. It is, as a result, not surprising to note that the film is increasingly rife with lulls of a disappointingly palpable nature, and there's little doubt that the padded-out atmosphere is compounded by an emphasis on elements that just aren't that compelling (ie it's difficult to work up any real enthusiasm for or interest in the exploits of video bloggers, for example). It's ultimately clear that InRealLife is at its best when focused on the human stories established at the outset (ie those aforementioned teenagers), as the film is otherwise a relentless information dump that's rarely able to live up to the promise of its initial setup.

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Directed by Zack Parker

Proxy follows Alexia Rasmussen's Esther as she joins a support group in the wake of a brutal attack, with the film subsequently charting her slow recovery and eventual friendship with Alexa Havins' mysterious Melanie. Filmmaker Zack Parker does a fantastic job of ensuring that Proxy opens with an incredible amount of promise, as the movie kicks off with an impressively shocking sequence that grabs the viewer's interest right from the get-go. From there, however, Proxy morphs into a slow-moving drama devoted primarily to Esther's ongoing attempts at coping with her far-from-insignificant trauma - with the palpably uneventful atmosphere testing the viewer's patience on an increasingly prominent basis. (And it doesn't help, either, that the film's shoestring budget could hardly be more obvious, with the pervasively low-rent feel reflected in the visuals, sets, and other assorted elements.) Parker's oddball sensibilities, admittedly, go a long way towards keeping things at least partially interesting, and there's little doubt that the film benefits substantially from the inclusion of a very unexpected twist at around the halfway mark. And while said twist is accompanied by a showstopping, De Palma-esque slow-motion sequence, Proxy quickly (and perhaps inevitably) resumes its sluggish feel straight through to its (appreciatively salacious) finale - which ultimately does confirm the movie's place as a sporadically electrifying yet hopelessly padded-out horror effort.

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Directed by Alexandre Aja

Based on the book by Joe Hill, Horns follows small-town slacker Ignatius "Ig" Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) as he wakes up one morning to discover horns protruding from his forehead - with the film subsequently detailing the character's efforts at coping with the unusual growth and solving the murder of his beloved girlfriend (Juno Temple's Merrin). Horns is, in its early stages, just about as much fun as its premise might've indicated, with the film's compulsively watchable atmosphere perpetuated by an initial emphasis on Ig's discovery of his powers. (The character learns that he can use his horns to control the behavior of others, which leads to, for example, a tremendously entertaining sequence wherein he encourages a one-night-stand to eat an entire box of donuts.) Like Hill's novel, however, Horns' narrative has been suffused with a number of flashbacks revolving around Ig's childhood and his relationship with Temple's character - which ultimately ensures that the film, at a running time of over two hours, often feels much, much longer than necessary (ie there's an erraticness here that's palpable). The movie has, fortunately, been packed with a number of engrossing sequences (eg a riveting confrontation with David Morse's bereaved character), and there's little doubt that Horns is at its best when focused on Ig's investigation into his girlfriend's death - although, by that same token, the film does falter in its padded-out final stretch. The end result is a decent adaptation that benefits from Aja's slick direction and Radcliffe's tremendously charismatic performance, with the movie's mild success admittedly somewhat disappointing given the promise of its over-the-top setup.

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Bad Words
Directed by Jason Bateman

Jason Bateman's directorial debut, Bad Words follows fortysomething misanthrope Guy Trilby (Bateman) as he enters a spelling bee geared towards elementary-school children - with the film detailing the character's ascension through the ranks and his reluctant friendship with a plucky fellow contestant (Rohan Chand's Chaitanya). It's an irresistible premise that's employed to consistently watchable effect by Bateman, with the film benefiting substantially from the actor/director's thoroughly engaging turn as the foul-mouthed protagonist - with Guy, admittedly, possessing more than a passing resemblance to Billy Bob Thornton's Bad Santa character. What the movie lacks in originality it more than makes up for in charm and laughs, as Bateman, working from Andrew Dodge's screenplay, heightens the compulsively watchable atmosphere by employing a refreshingly brisk pace and suffusing the supporting cast with a whole host of likeable performers (including Allison Janney, Phillip Baker Hall, and, especially, Kathryn Hahn). It's worth noting, too, that unlike many movies of this ilk, Bad Words manages to sustain its tone virtually from start to finish - with the lack of cheap sentimentality in the film's final stretch certainly an impressive (and increasingly rare) feat. And given that it doesn't overstay its welcome, Bad Words ultimately manages to establish itself as a better-than-average modern comedy that bodes well for Bateman's directorial career - with the less-than-fresh storyline, for the most part, overcome by the first-time filmmaker's palpable enthusiasm for the material.

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Labor Day
Directed by Jason Reitman

Based on Joyce Maynard's 2009 novel, Labor Day follows a mother (Kate Winslet's Adele) and her young son (Gattlin Griffith's Henry) as they reluctantly agree to hide an escaped convict (Josh Brolin's Frank) over the eponymous holiday weekend - with the movie detailing the illicit relationship that eventually ensues between Adele and Frank (and Henry's reaction to said relationship). It's clear immediately that Labor Day marks a significant departure for filmmaker Jason Reitman, as the director, working from his own screenplay, has jettisoned the comparatively easygoing feel of his earlier work in favor of a far more deliberate and subdued vibe - with the shift, more often than not, generally working far better than one might've anticipated. (It's not quite smooth sailing all the way through, however, as Reitman occasionally seems to be straining to sustain the film's understated atmosphere.) And although the narrative has been peppered with a few overtly needless elements - eg Henry's tentative friendship/relationship with a new girl in town - Labor Day, which benefits substantially from its uniformly captivating performances, grows more and more compelling as it progresses and builds to a palpably tense final stretch that's capped off with an emotionally devastating conclusion. The movie's slow pace ultimately proves an ideal match for Reitman's leisurely screenplay, and it's finally clear that Labor Day stands as an intriguing (and promising) first step in an entirely new direction for the Juno and Young Adult filmmaker.

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© David Nusair