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Toronto International Film Festival 2014 - UPDATE #2

In Her Place
Directed by Albert Shin

Saddled with an egregiously deliberate pace, In Her Place ultimately comes off as a well-intentioned yet hopelessly uninvolving drama that squanders a promising opening half hour. The film, which details the exploits of an affluent woman (Yoon Da-kyung) as she arrives in a small South Korean village, does a nice job of slowly drawing the viewer into the proceedings, with filmmaker Albert Shin cultivating an atmosphere of mystery that is, at the outset, rather difficult to resist (ie what exactly is said woman up to here?) Shin's decision to delay any kind of explanation for the protagonist's presence proves instrumental in sustaining the viewer's interest, with the emphasis instead on Da-kyung's character's attempts at adjusting to a decidedly rural lifestyle (ie the movie is, for a while, a pleasant fish-out-of-water story). It's only as In Her Place progresses into its palpably meandering midsection that one's attention begins to flag, as Shin offers up a series of seemingly random sequences that are both far-from-engrossing and kind of pointless (eg Da-kyung's character gets drunk with a friendly local). There's little doubt, then, that the film's second half struggles mightily to keep the viewer engaged, and it's worth noting, too, that the inclusion of a shocking third-act development isn't able to pack the punch that Shin has clearly intended (ie the viewer is long past the point of genuinely caring by then). The end result is a well-crafted yet mostly uninvolving drama that's too long and too slow for its own good, and it's ultimately obvious that the movie would've benefited from several more passes through the editing bay.

out of

Directed by Fabrice Du Welz

Fabrice Du Welz's first movie since 2008's Vinyan, Alleluia follows Gloria (Lola Dueñas) and Michel (Laurent Lucas) as they embark on a journey of escalating violence after meeting on an internet dating site. Du Welz eschews the slick visuals of his first two films, Calvaire and Vinyan, in favor of a far grittier sort of atmosphere here, with the fly-on-the-wall feel certainly proving an effective complement to his and Vincent Tavier's off-kilter screenplay. And despite the decidedly salacious nature of the movie's setup, Alleluia, for the majority of its first half, feels like a slow, uneventful character study of two seriously unhinged figures - with the film's watchable vibe cemented mostly by the stellar work of both lead actors. (Dueñas is especially impressive as a woman willing to sacrifice everything, no matter the cost, for her significant other.) It's ultimately the familiarity of the narrative that prevents Alleluia from becoming anything more than passable, as the movie's lovers-gone-haywire storyline is the sort of thing that's been done many, many times before. Du Welz's gonzo sensibilities admittedly do prove effective at periodically injecting the proceedings with much-needed bursts of electricity, with the movie's highlight undoubtedly the craziest, most unexpected musical number in recent years. (The capper to said sequence is nothing short of jaw-dropping, too.) But there's a repetitive feel here that grows more and more insistent as time progresses, and it's clear that the violent climax is, as a result dulled of its impact - which ultimately does cement Alleluia's place as a striking yet thoroughly erratic piece of work.

out of

Directed by Joel Lamangan

An astonishingly inept endeavor, Hustisya follows Nora Aunor's Biring as she's forced to reevaluate her allegiances after her shady boss (Rosanna Roces' Vivian) frames her for murder. It's clear right from the get-go that filmmaker Joel Lamangan isn't looking to cultivate an aura of authenticity, as Hustisya suffers from a pervasively amateurish atmosphere that's reflected in virtually every aspect of the production - with the substandard visuals, community-theater-level performances, and laughably on-the-nose dialogue ranking high on the film's list of incompetent elements. (The movie, by and large, boasts the feel of an especially low-rent soap opera.) Lamangan's ongoing efforts at exposing the less-than-savory conditions within the Philippines - the movie is rife with images of immense squalor and poverty - fall completely flat, of course, and the movie's arms-length vibe is perpetuated by Aunor's hopelessly uninvolving turn as the central character (ie it's difficult to recall a more off-putting, unlikable protagonist). And while the surprisingly dense storyline at least ensures that the movie contains a fair amount of forward momentum, Hustisya, saddled with an unreasonably overlong running time, becomes more and more interminable in the buildup to its forgettable, anti-climactic finale. The earnestness of Lamangan's approach is just not enough to compensate for what is pervasively a misbegotten piece of work, and it's fairly obvious that one would be far better off checking out a documentary that covers similar ground.

no stars out of

1001 Grams
Directed by Bent Hamer

1001 Grams follows Marie (Ane Dahl Torp), a thirtysomething scientist, as she travels to an important conference in France, with the journey coming at a point of great upheaval in Marie's life. Filmmaker Bent Hamer has infused 1001 Grams with the feel of an off-kilter, low-key character study, and the movie benefits substantially from Torp's immediately ingratiating and thoroughly captivating turn as the subdued central character - with the actress' striking presence ensuring that Marie is, virtually from the get-go, a figure that the viewer can't help but root for and sympathize with. The movie's enthralling atmosphere is heightened by Hamer's heavy emphasis on Marie's often baffling profession, as the writer/director explores the minutia of her scientific world to a degree that's occasionally overwhelming but mostly fascinating. Really, though, 1001 Grams succeeds primarily as an intimate look at the inner life of a closed-off individuals - which, of course, ensures that the film only grows more and more compelling as Marie slowly-but-surely starts to emerge from her self-imposed shell. It's ultimately clear that one of the movie's more engaging narrative threads involves Marie's friendship with a scientist-turned-gardener, with the bond that forms between the two seemingly disparate figures paving the way for a far more emotionally affecting finale than one might've anticipated - which does, in the end, confirm 1001 Grams as a special little film that's well worth seeking out.

out of

Directed by Bennett Miller

Inspired by true events, Foxcatcher follows wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) as he's invited to train at the enormous estate of Steve Carell's eccentric John du Pont - with the film detailing the unhealthy bond that slowly-but-surely forms between the two men. It's an intriguing premise that's employed to typically lackluster effect by filmmaker Bennett Miller, as the director, working from a script by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, has infused Foxcatcher with a deliberate and pervasively somber feel that generally prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the narrative. The quiet, methodical atmosphere is, for the most part, alleviated by the various actors' often stunning work, with, especially, Carell's eye-opening turn as du Pont certainly standing as an ongoing highlight within the proceedings. (This is assuming one can look past the distracting artificial nose the actor dons for the film's entirety.) It's worth noting, too, that Foxcatcher does improve somewhat as it progresses, with the narrative adopting an increasingly dark tone that paves the way for a handful of admittedly engrossing sequences (eg du Pont angrily dismisses the many horses on his farm). Despite the growing atmosphere of unease, however, Foxcatcher nevertheless comes off as a particularly handsome bit of Oscar bait - with the movie, it often seems, designed to impress more than entertain.

out of

© David Nusair