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Toronto International Film Festival 2013 - UPDATE #7

One Chance
Directed by David Frankel

One Chance tells the story of Britain’s Got Talent winner Paul Potts (James Corden), with the movie exploring Potts' childhood, his relationship with Alexandra Roach's Julie-Ann, and his eventual decision to enter the infamous Simon Cowell series. It's a seemingly can't-miss premise that's employed to continuously underwhelming effect by filmmaker David Frankel, as the director proves unable to transform the protagonist into a wholeheartedly sympathetic figure - with Potts, for the most part, coming off as a hopelessly bland individual devoid of compelling attributes. The viewer's subsequent (and ongoing) efforts at working up any interest in Potts' success prove entirely fruitless, with the movie's less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by Justin Zackham's pedestrian, paint-by-numbers screenplay (ie the film often feels as though it's emerged directly from a template for inspirational biopics). It doesn't help, either, that the narrative has been suffused with a number of time-wasting, head-scratchingly irrelevant stretches (eg Potts' mid-movie sojourn to Venice), and it's ultimately clear that there's just not enough story here to justify the movie's often interminable 103 minute running time. The film's final stretch, detailing Potts' Britain’s Got Talent triumph, is admittedly as rousing and crowd-pleasing as one might've anticipated, although, by that same token, the climax's emotional impact is severely diminished by the ineffectiveness of everything that comes prior - which ultimately cements One Chance's place as a disappointingly half-baked true-life tale.

out of

Directed by Derek Lee and Clif Prowse

Afflicted follows close friends Clif (Clif Prowse) and Derek (Derek Lee) as they embark on a trip around the world, with problems ensuing after Derek is attacked by a potential one night stand. Filmmakers Lee and Prowse have employed a fake documentary structure - the movie is laid out as a series of web posts uploaded by Clif - that's initially employed to promising effect, with the movie's appealing, affable atmosphere perpetuated by both the first-person presentation and the personable nature of the two central characters. It's worth noting, too, that the reveal of Derek's medical condition - he's suffering from a brain aneurysm - puts an interesting spin on the proceedings, as the two protagonists are, at the outset, convinced that Derek's odd behavior is a result of the brain condition and not the aforementioned attack. The narrative's transformation into a Chronicle-like look at Derek's emerging powers is, though initially intriguing, increasingly tedious, with the repetitive atmosphere compounded by Lee and Prowse's refusal to introduce other characters into the mix - with the limitations of this format becoming more and more clear as time progresses (ie the film often feels like just another found-footage horror flick). By that same token, Afflicted boasts a handful of surprisingly engrossing first-person sequences - including an impressively conceived and executed sequence in which Derek escapes from the police. The movie admittedly grows more conventional as it begins to wind down, with the inclusion of a tremendously satisfying conclusion ensuring that Afflicted ends on an exceedingly positive note - which finally cements the film's place as an intriguing spin on a familiar genre (and it's not a stretch to imagine that a possible sequel will be even better).

out of

Lucky Them
Directed by Megan Griffiths

Lucky Them casts Toni Collette as Ellie Klug, a veteran rock journalist who reluctantly agrees to investigate the disappearance of a local music legend - with Ellie's companion on the journey an eccentric (and very wealthy) aspiring documentarian named Charlie (Thomas Haden Church). It's an appealing premise that's employed to completely watchable effect by filmmaker Megan Griffiths, with the affable atmosphere heightened by the easygoing narrative and stellar performances - with, in terms of the latter, Church's scene-stealing work standing as an obvious (and ongoing) highlight in the proceedings. (Collette is, of course, as solid as ever here.) And although the movie hits a bit of a lull as Ellie and Charlie first embark on their road trip, Lucky Them eventually settles to become a low-key drama revolving around the relationship woes of its various characters - with the movie containing a number of astute, truthful bits of coupling-related dialogue. (As Charlie astutely notes at one point, love is a "painful process of trial and error and you just go through it again and again.") The watchable vibe of the movie's opening stretch gives way to a second half that's rife with engrossing sequences, and there's little doubt that Lucky Them's final few scenes are far more affecting than one might've initially anticipated - which ultimately cements the film's place as an impressively conceived and executed little drama.

out of

Wild Duck
Directed by Yannis Sakaridis

An absolute disaster of a movie, Wild Duck follows self-employed telecom contractor Dimitris (Alexandros Logothetis) as he uncovers a phone-tapping conspiracy with wide-reaching consequences. Filmmaker Yannis Sakaridis has infused Wild Duck with an excruciatingly deliberate sensibility that's compounded by a hopeless lack of context or character development, with, in terms of the former, Sakaridis' refusal to explain just what Dimitris is up to ensuring that the movie, for a good half hour or so, comes off as an infuriatingly baffling experience. Sakaridis, working from his own screenplay, subsequently pads out the comically spare narrative with long, interminable stretches detailing the protagonist's dialogue-free exploits, and it's hard to deny that, for much of its running time, Wild Duck comes off as a parody of a pretentious art-house foreign film (ie it's just all so meaningless and irrelevant). The inclusion of palpably pointless interludes - eg Dimitris engages in small talk with a woman he's spying on - perpetuates the movie's aggressively uninvolving vibe, while one's hope that all of this is leading to something worthwhile or interesting is fervently quashed by a conclusion that couldn't possibly be more anticlimactic. And although the film's lack of compelling elements affords the viewer plenty of time to daydream, Wild Duck is, of course, as boring and useless a cinematic experience as one is likely to encounter at this year's festival.

no stars out of

All Cheerleaders Die
Directed by Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson

Directed by Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson, All Cheerleaders Die follows high-school outsider Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) as she sets out to bring down a clique of popular cheerleaders - with the film detailing the chaos that ensues after said cheerleaders are unwittingly given supernatural powers by a wiccan student (Sianoa Smit-McPhee's Leena). It's a relatively intriguing premise that's utilized to pervasively underwhelming effect by filmmakers McKee and Sivertson, as the directors offer up a generic storyline - ie there's nothing less interesting than the conflict between popular and unpopular students - that's compounded by a proliferation of hopelessly bland figures. The film, which often feels like a second-rate CW drama, contains an ongoing emphasis on the characters' melodramatic squabbles that's nothing short of disastrous (ie there's just so much bitchiness here), and the viewer's assumption/hope that things will improve once the horror elements kick in proves hopeless (and frustratingly) false. It's worth noting, too, that All Cheerleaders Die only grows more and more uninvolving as it progresses, with the uninspired opening stretch giving way to a second half that's often nothing short of incoherent and interminable. By the time the loud, seemingly endless third act rolls around, All Cheerleaders Die has definitively established itself as an unwatchable horror effort that's just never as fun as its title might've indicated.

out of

Sunshine on Leith
Directed by Dexter Fletcher

Armed with well over a dozen songs by Scottish band The Proclaimers, Sunshine on Leith is a magical and absolutely engrossing musical revolving around the comings and goings of several Edinburgh-based characters - including two friends just back from serving in Afghanistan (George MacKay's Davy and Kevin Guthrie's Ally), a couple (Peter Mullan's Rab and Jane Horrocks' Jane) on the verge of their 25th wedding anniversary, and an affable nurse (Freya Mavor's Liz) who is forced to make some hard choices about her life. Filmmaker Dexter Fletcher, working from Stephen Greenhorn's screenplay, does a superb job of immediately drawing the viewer into the larger-than-life proceedings, as the movie opens with a striking musical number detailing Davy and Ally's war-based exploits - with the intensely lush visuals instantly ensuring that the movie possesses a far more cinematic feel than one might've anticipated. And although the actors' Scottish accents are occasionally a little problematic, Sunshine on Leith's completely (and compulsively) watchable atmosphere compensates for a few missteps along the way (ie there is, for example, a bit of a lull in the buildup to the film's final stretch). The almost insanely catchy musical numbers are heightened by Fletcher's energetic visuals and the uniformly affable performances, with, in terms of the latter, Mullan and Horrocks offering up standout work as a married couple forced to confront long-buried secrets. (The notoriously grizzled Mullan does an impressively effective job with his sole musical number, surprisingly enough.) By the time the showstopping climax, featuring "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)," rolls around, Sunshine on Leith has unquestionably established itself as the best jukebox musical to come around in ages - with the movie's proliferation of almost insanely memorable songs setting it apart from such similar fare as Mamma Mia! and Across the Universe.

out of

Life of Crime
Directed by Daniel Schechter

Based on Elmore Leonard's novel The Switch, Life of Crime follows small-time crooks Ordell Robbie (Yasiin Bey) and Louis Gara (John Hawkes) as they kidnap the trophy wife (Jennifer Aniston's Mickey) of a wealthy developer named Frank Dawson (Tim Robbins) and hold her for a hefty ransom - with the movie detailing the many, many problems that inevitably ensue. The almost ridiculous familiarity of the premise is, initially, not as troublesome as one might've feared, with the novelty of the movie's '70s atmosphere, coupled with several standout performances, going a long way towards keeping things (relatively) interesting. It's just as clear, however, that the far-from-fresh storyline becomes more and more oppressive as time progresses, as filmmaker Daniel Schechter otherwise proves unable to infuse the proceedings with elements of an intriguing or compelling nature (ie the death of surprises here ultimately highlights the narrative's various deficiencies). The bland and hopelessly forgettable atmosphere is compounded by a lack of standout sequences, and it's clear that the movie's barely-passable nature is due almost entirely to the strong performances - with Bey and Hawkes' solid work matched by a quirky supporting cast that includes Isla Fisher, Mark Boone Junior, and Will Forte. (Aniston, on the other hand, is as grating and disagreeable as ever, unfortunately.) And although things inevitably begin to escalate past a certain point, Life of Crime fizzles out to a distressingly lamentable degree as it limps into its inert final stretch - with the movie ultimately unable to establish a place for itself alongside such stellar Leonard adaptations as Out of Sight and Jackie Brown.

out of

© David Nusair