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Toronto International Film Festival 2014 - UPDATE #6

Hungry Hearts
Directed by Saverio Costanzo

Written and directed by Saverio Costanzo, Hungry Hearts details the progression of a relationship between an affable New Yorker (Adam Driver's Jude) and a neurotic Italian (Alba Rohrwacher's Mina) - with the movie concerned especially with Mina's radical change in personality after the birth of a son. Hungry Hearts kicks off with an absolutely spellbinding sequence detailing Jude and Mina's initial meet-cute within a restaurant restroom, with the scene unfolding in a single shot and certainly proving effective at immediately luring the viewer into the proceedings. The movie does, past that point, establish itself as a slow-moving drama revolving around the various stages in Jude and Mina's coupling, with Costanzo cultivating an increasingly claustrophobic vibe that's perpetuated and heightened by his use of certain less-than-subtle visual tricks (eg there's an entire interlude that unfolds through a fish-eye perspective). And although the movie's deliberateness does hold one at arms length to a certain degree, Hungry Hearts benefits substantially from the absolutely enthralling work of its two leads - with Driver effortlessly abandoning his oddball persona to become a comparatively normal guy. (Likewise, Rohrwacher is quite good as a woman whose sanity seems to be crumbling by the second.) The indie, '70s feel proves effective at heightening the character-study vibe, although, by that same token, it's hard to deny that Hungry Hearts often boasts the feel of a well-made actor's showcase. The final stretch does pack an unexpected emotional punch, however, and it's ultimately clear that Hungry Hearts stands as a sporadically potent examination of a volatile relationship.

out of

The Forger
Directed by Philip Martin

The Forger follows John Travolta's Ray Cutter as he essentially buys his way out of prison and is subsequently forced to forge a Monet painting as payment, with the character eventually enlisting his crusty father (Christopher Plummer's Joseph) and terminally-ill son (Tye Sheridan's Will) in the scheme. At the outset, however, The Forger comes off as a slow-moving drama revolving around Ray's efforts at reconnecting with his surly offspring - with the almost watchable atmosphere due in no small part to the film's uniformly engaging performances. (Travolta, saddled with ridiculous facial hair, delivers a subtle, restrained performance that probably ranks among his best.) It's increasingly difficult, however, to overlook the lethargic nature of the film's pacing, as director Philip Martin has infused The Forger with a seriously deliberate feel that grows more and more problematic as time progresses. The inclusion of uninvolving elements within the movie's screenplay only exacerbates the hands-off vibe, while the pervasive lifelessness results in an almost total lack of tension in the film's final stretch. The anticlimactic finish ultimately confirms The Forger's place as a misguided piece of work, which is too bad, really, given the promise of the film's early scenes.

out of

American Heist
Directed by Sarik Andreasyan

An almost prototypical example of a straight-to-video actioner, American Heist details the chaos that ensures after two brothers (Hayden Christensen's James and Adrien Brody's Frankie) find themselves drawn into an increasingly dangerous criminal endeavor. It's a well-worn premise that's executed to slick, mostly entertaining effect by filmmaker Sarik Andreasyan, with the movie's watchable atmosphere certainly heightened and perpetuated by Brody's electrifying, live-wire performance - as the actor steps into the shoes of his less-than-subtle character with a gusto that is, more often than not, completely hypnotic. (It's worth noting, too, that Christensen delivers a surprisingly charismatic turn as the movie's ostensible protagonist.) And although Andreasyan does a nice job of peppering the movie's initial stretch with exciting action sequences, American Heist, perhaps inevitably, segues into a midsection that's suffused with needless, time-wasting elements - with the best and most cogent example of this everything involving James' relationship with a former flame (Jordana Brewster's Emily). The narrative does, as expected, pick up when the heist itself rolls around, as Andreasyan infuses this stretch with a panache that proves awfully difficult to resist - even if large swaths of the crime have been lifted directly from Michael Mann's Heat and other similarly-themed films (eg there's even a "where's the van!?" moment). It's ultimately impossible to label American Heist as anything more than a barely-passable thriller, which, to be fair, isn't necessarily a bad thing in this day and age (ie Christensen's Takers was nigh unwartchable, for example).

out of

Adult Beginners
Directed by Ross Katz

An affable (for the most part) little comedy, Adult Beginners follows Nick Kroll's Jake as he loses all of his money (and the money of many investors) and is forced to move in with his sister (Rose Byrne's Justine), her husband (Bobby Cannavale's Danny), and their young son. Adult Beginners gets off to a blisteringly fast-paced and impressively hilarious start, as filmmaker Ross Katz initially emphasizes Jake's exploits as a cocky, high-rolling businessman. Kroll's energetic and irresistibly snarky performance certainly goes a long way towards perpetuating the movie's thoroughly watchable atmosphere, so it's somewhat disappointing to note that Adult Beginners switches gears dramatically once the action shifts to Justine and Danny's suburban home. The Mr. Mom-like narrative is admittedly fun for a while - eg Jake takes the kid to the park in a suitcase - while the engaging banter between Kroll and Byrne's respective characters perpetuates the movie's easy-going, breezy vibe. There does, perhaps predictably, reach at point at which scripters Jeff Cox and Elizabeth Flahive begin weaving dramatic elements into the storyline, with the screenwriters' less-than-seamless efforts paving the way for a final third that's simply not all that compelling. It's clear, too, that the film suffers from a growing emphasis on almost eye-rollingly hackneyed elements - eg Jake must choose between his family and his work - which finally does cement Adult Beginners' place as an entertaining yet thoroughly erratic piece of work.

out of

A Second Chance
Directed by Susanne Bier

A Second Chance marks Susanne Bier's first film since the watchable yet completely forgettable Love Is All You Need, with the movie returning the Oscar-winning director to her depressing, downbeat roots. The film, which details Danish police officer Andreas' (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) personal and professional exploits, immediately establishes itself as an almost prototypically intense drama from Bier, with the gritty vibe perpetuated by a series of thoroughly engrossing performances - including, of course, Coster-Waldau's often spellbinding turn as the conflicted central character. The inclusion of a fairly shocking twist early on proves effective at infusing the proceedings with a jolt of welcome energy, with the majority of the film playing out at a deliberate clip and essentially following the characters as they deal with the ramifications of said twist. It is, as such, not terribly surprising to note that A Second Chance, for the most part, suffers from a decidedly erratic feel, with the film's midsection suffused with a handful of lulls that are, to say the least, regrettable. There's little doubt, however, that Bier does an effective job of peppering the narrative with unexpectedly engrossing moments, with the most obvious example of this an absolutely enthralling scene in which Andreas makes a key discovery (Coster-Waldau's searing work in this interlude alone is deserving of awards recognition). And although the story's conclusion isn't terribly satisfying, A Second Chance does at least end on a note that will surely provoke debates among viewers - which ultimately does confirm the movie's place as a worthy entry in Bier's strong body of work.

out of

99 Homes
Directed by Ramin Bahrani

Though almost entirely lacking in subtlety, 99 Homes ultimately establishes itself as a perfectly watchable drama that benefits substantially from the stellar efforts of its two stars. The storyline follows Andrew Garfield's Dennis Nash as he and his family are evicted from their house by a ruthless realtor (Michael Shannon's Rick Carver), with the movie subsequently exploring the ramifications of Dennis' reluctant decision to become Rick's right-hand man. Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani kicks 99 Homes with an absolutely electrifying interlude that unfolds in a single, uninterrupted take, with the effectiveness of this pre-credits sequence paving the way for a first half that's often far more entertaining and engaging than one might've anticipated. The engrossing vibe certainly extends to the absolutely riveting sequence in which Rick forces Dennis to leave his home, and it's clear that the impact of this scene is heightened considerably by Garfield and Shannon's incredibly intense work here. From there, 99 Homes transforms into a Scorsese-like rise-and-fall type of endeavor - with the emphasis placed on Dennis' ascension through Rick's ranks and his inevitable crisis of conscience. Although Bahrani sprinkles the latter half of the proceedings with several stand-out sequences - eg Rick delivers a somewhat heavy-handed yet undeniably riveting speech about his modus operandi - 99 Homes isn't quite able to entirely recover in the buildup to its rather predictable conclusion. It's nevertheless clear that the movie accomplishes what it sets out to do, and there's little doubt that the film's entirely relevant storyline can only help improve its chances at box-office success.

out of

© David Nusair