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Toronto International Film Festival 2014 - UPDATE #3

Directed by Jacob Tierney

Written by and starring Sonja Bennett, Preggoland follows sardonic, cynical thirtysomething Ruth (Bennett) as she inadvertently begins pretending that she's pregnant - with the ruse spiraling out of control as Ruth discovers the benefits of expecting a (fake) child. Filmmaker Jacob Tierney has infused Preggoland with a watchable vibe that does, for the most part, compensate for the less-than-inventive narrative, as the movie contains a proliferation of hackneyed elements that often threaten to overwhelm. It's to the credit of the various actors, especially Bennett, that Preggoland generally remains passable, although it's just as clear that the movie's erratic vibe grows more and more problematic as time progresses. The exceedingly thin plot is stretched way past its breaking point by Tierney, and it does become increasingly clear that the film should've topped out at 90 minutes. The inclusion of a few agreeable elements within the film's final stretch - Ruth's relationship with her boss is cute and charming, for the most part - are overwhelmed by a needless emphasis on melodramatic plot developments, which ultimately does ensure that Preggoland wears out its welcome long before the end credits roll. It's a shame, certainly, given the potential of the pleasantly larger-than-life premise, and it's finally clear that Bennett, a prolific character actress, deserves a much better starring vehicle than this.

out of

Sunshine Superman
Directed by Marah Strauch

An agreeable documentary, Sunshine Superman details the exploits of noted daredevil Carl Boenish - with the film specifically concerned with his role in creating the popular BASE jumping movement. Filmmaker Marah Strauch does an effective job of peppering Sunshine Superman with a number of absolutely enthralling stretches, with the filmmaker nicely incorporating footage shot by Boenish himself (the man was an amateurish filmmaker in his own right, evidently). The heavy emphasis on Boenish's daredevil antics results in several jaw-dropping moments, including his efforts to set up a camera on the edge of an incredibly high cliff face. The movie also boasts a compelling human element, with, specifically, the love story between Boenish and his girlfriend-turned-wife providing the movie with its most heartwarming stretches. it's worth noting, too, that Sunshine Superman benefits from the undercurrent of suspense running through the proceedings, as Boenish is nowhere to be seen in the modern-day interviews and is constantly referred to in the past tense (ie we know something terrible happened to him, but we're just not sure what). The movie does begin to stumble once it enters its final stretch, admittedly, as Strauch emphasizes a trip to Norway to an almost unreasonably prolonged degree - although, to be fair, the footage that ensues is awfully impressive. The end result is an entertaining, informative documentary that could (and should) have been shorter, which finally does confirm the film's place as a passable yet erratic peek into the life of a remarkable individual.

out of

Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere
Directed by Diep Hoang Nguyen

It's ultimately somewhat astonishing to note just how ineffective and how thoroughly tedious Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere becomes, with the movie, which follows an impoverished young girl as she must decide whether or not to get an abortion, suffering from a pervasive lack of ambition that confirms its failure right from the get-go. Filmmaker Diep Hoang Nguyen proves utterly unable to draw the viewer into the leisurely-paced proceedings, and it's clear that the absence of an entry point tarnishes everything that occurs over the the course of the movie's interminable running time. Nguyen does, admittedly, provide an interesting look at life within a seriously seedy section of Hanoi, but the director proves utterly unable to place any of this stuff in a compelling context (ie it's just images for images' sake). There reaches a point at which it seems as though the film is going to improve slightly, as the central character explores her options in terms of procuring an abortion, and yet this promising vibe dies almost as quickly as it begins - with Nguyen infusing this stretch with precisely the same sort of prolonged, uneventful feel that dominates the remainder of the proceedings. By the time the absolutely endless final stretch rolls around, Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere has unquestionably established itself as a misguided, incompetent mess that doesn't belong anywhere near a film festival (or even a movie screen period, really).

no stars out of

Two Days, One Night
Directed by Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne

Directed by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Two Days, One Night follows Marion Cotillard's Sandra as her job is put at risk after management decides to either fire her or eliminate her coworkers' bonus - with the movie subsequently following Sandra as she tracks down and attempts to convince said coworkers to side with her. It's a rather unusual premise that's employed to impressively watchable effect by the Dardennes, as the sibling filmmakers abandon the aimlessness of their previous efforts for a narrative that possesses a fair amount of momentum. It's clear immediately that Two Days, One Night receives plenty of mileage out of Cotillard's almost remarkably captivating performance, as the actress steps into the shoes of her mentally unbalanced character to a degree that's nothing short of mesmerizing. It doesn't hurt, either, that the Dardennes have peppered the proceedings with a number of arresting sequences, including, for example, an early scene in which Sandra meets with a male coworker who almost immediately bursts into tears. The nature of the setup, however, ensures that the movie's midsection occasionally feels somewhat repetitive, as Sandra visits a coworker, discusses things with her patient husband, visits another coworker, etc. It's just as clear, though, that the film does manage to build up a fair bit of suspense in its final stretch, as the viewer's rooting interest in Sandra's success ensures that the climactic vote is far more nail-biting than one might've anticipated. The affecting, satisfying conclusion ultimately confirms Two Days, One Night's place as a better-than-average gritty drama, with Cotillard's masterful work here often elevating the film above its sporadically simple narrative.

out of

Wild Tales
Directed by Damian Szifron

Produced by Pedro Almodovar, Wild Tales consists of six short films that all seem to revolve around normal folks that are pushed to exceedingly violent limits. There's little doubt that Wild Tales gets off to an impressively electrifying start, as filmmaker Damian Szifron opens the proceedings with a jaw-droppingly audacious and thoroughly entertaining story involving unexpected connections aboard an airplane. Szifron's extremely confident filmmaking ensures that this first segment, along with the five that follow, boasts an irresistibly stylish feel that heightens the movie's watchable atmosphere, with the propulsive momentum persisting right through to the third story - which, revolving around a roadside confrontation that hilariously escalates, stands as an obvious highlight in the proceedings. From there, however, Wild Tales begins to adopt a progressively erratic vibe - with the movie's fourth interlude suffering from a palpably overlong feel that's compounded by a payoff that's just underwhelming and ineffective. The film is subsequently unable to shake the padded-out, needlessly prolonged atmosphere, and although there's certainly a lot of fun, brutal stuff contained within the film's second half, it's ultimately clear that Wild Tales could've used some serious trimmings in the editing bay. Still, as far as contemporary anthologies go, Wild Tales does stand as a slight cut above the rest - with the astoundingly entertaining nature of the movie's first half generally compensating for the disappointment of the second.

out of

© David Nusair