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Toronto International Film Festival 2014 - UPDATE #7

Directed by Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel

Directed by Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel, Musarañas depicts the chaos that ensues after a mentally-unbalanced agoraphobe (Macarena Gómez's Montse) abducts and holds captive a handsome neighbor (Hugo Silva) in her small apartment. It's a fairly simple premise that doesn't entirely make itself clear until about halfway into the proceedings, with the film, up to that point, coming off as a deliberately-paced mystery that boasts a number of head-scratching elements (ie it does seem, at the outset, that there's something supernatural going on here). There's little doubt, too, that Musarañas' initial inability to sustain the viewer's interest is compounded by a slow, stagy atmosphere, as Andrés and Roel spend far too much time dwelling on matters of an either uninteresting or needless variety (eg Montse experiences recurring visions of her abusive father). The film does, however, begin to demonstrably improve once it passes a certain point, with the narrative, which doesn't, it turns out, possess a single otherworldly element, adopting an increasingly bonkers feel that proves more and more difficult to resist. It's clear that the Misery-like vibe contributes heavily to Musarañas shift from underwhelming to astonishingly engrossing, while Andrés and Roel's willingness to take the proceedings into progressively brutal directions ultimately confirms the movie's place as an erratic yet rewarding little horror flick.

out of

The Cobbler
Directed by Thomas McCarthy

Thomas McCarthy's fourth (and worst) film, The Cobbler follows Adam Sandler's Max, a depressive shoemaker, as he finds a magical heirloom that allows him to literally become anyone else as long as he's wearing their shoes. It's a striking premise rife with comedic possibilities that is, at the outset, employed to breezy, entertaining effect by McCarthy, with, especially, Max's initial discovery of said heirloom resulting in a number of laugh-out-loud moments and set pieces (eg Max, disguised as an older Indian man, strikes up a conversation with his unsuspecting neighbor). There's little doubt that McCarthy, in the movie's first half, also does a nice job of peppering the proceedings with the sort of heartwarming elements he's become known for, with Max's decision to adopt the persona of his long-departed father (Dustin Hoffman) to cheer up his mother certainly ranking high on the film's list of appealing sequences. The Cobbler's sharp downward trajectory, then, is triggered by the introduction of a subplot involving a villainous real-estate tycoon (Ellen Barkin), with the ineffectiveness of these scenes growing more and more problematic as time progresses (ie it's hard to work up an ounce of interest in or enthusiasm for anything involving Barkin's less-than-subtle character). There's some nice father/son business towards the end that, at the very least, ensures The Cobbler ends on a somewhat positive note, but the damage has been done by that point and it's ultimately impossible not to label the movie as a rare failure from an otherwise reliable director.

out of

Frailer: Til death do us part
Directed by Mijke de Jong

Directed by Mijke de Jong, Frailer: Til death do us part follows Mouse (Leonoor Pauw), a middle-aged woman dying of lung cancer, as she spends her final days with her three best friends (Marnie Blok's Ted, Adelheid Roosen's Carlos, and Lieneke le Roux's Lian). Filmmaker de Jong has infused Frailer: Til death do us part with an almost unreasonably low-key sort of feel, with the uneventful atmosphere generally holding the viewer at arms length and, for the most part, making it impossible to wholeheartedly sympathize with the central character's plight. There's an authenticity to the proceedings that sporadically does temper the pervasively uninvolving vibe, to be fair, as de Jong has elicited thoroughly impressive work from her four primary actresses - with, of course, Pauw's searing turn as the protagonist standing as a consistently highlight. (Pauw herself was evidently battling cancer during filming, which undoubtedly heightens the realness of her work here.) The viewer's inability to connect to anything within the narrative results in an almost total lack of emotional resonance, and although de Jong has included a handful of engaging sequences (eg a montage Mouse's husband bringing her breakfast in bed), Frailer: Til death do us part is ultimately unable to become anything more than an experimental, art-house misfire.

out of

Top Five
Directed by Chris Rock

Written and directed by Chris Rock, Top Five follows comedian-turned-actor Andre Allen as he agrees to a day-long interview with a New York Times journalist (Rosario Dawson). Much of Top Five revolves around that conversation between Rock and Dawson's respective characters, with writer/director Rock offering up a whole host of digressions and cut-aways that, perhaps predictably, wreak havoc on the movie's momentum. Problems ensue as it becomes increasingly clear that most of these digressions are, to a progressively wearying extent, underwhelming and tedious, and it does, as a result, become more and more difficult to work up any real interest in the characters or their relationships. And although there's certainly some genuine chemistry between Rock and Dawson - no small feat, certainly, given the massive age difference between the two - Top Five is consistently hindered by Rock's inability to wholeheartedly step into the shoes of his affable character (ie the erstwhile comedian remains a horrible, unnatural actor). The somewhat watchable vibe lasts up until the movie enters its hopelessly misguided third act, as Rock devotes much of this portion to clichéd and needlessly melodramatic occurrences - which ultimately does, unsurprisingly, ensure that Top Five ends with a whimper (to put it mildly). The final result is a thoroughly mediocre endeavor that could (and should) have been so much better, with the movie's few pleasures are lost beneath a sea of superfluous, hackneyed elements.

out of

Good Kill
Directed by Andrew Niccol

Good Kill casts Ethan Hawke as Thomas Egan, a US Air Force officer stationed in Las Vegas who spends his days spying on (and firing missiles at) overseas enemies via advanced drones. It's compelling stuff that is, at the outset, employed to engrossing effect by writer/director Andrew Niccol, as the filmmaker wrings a great deal of suspense from sequences detailing Egan and his cohorts' surveillance of Middle Eastern targets. It's just as clear, however, that Good Kill suffers from a deliberately-paced feel that's exacerbated by an overly talky screenplay, with Niccol's almost comically unsubtle modus operandi ensuring that certain figures come off as mouthpieces more than fleshed-out characters. (This is especially true of the relentless speechifying from Bruce Greenwood's commanding officer.) The hit-and-miss vibe that ensues is perpetuated by Niccol's thoroughly subdued approach, and it does become more and more obvious that the filmmaker is looking to cultivate a character-study sort of atmosphere here - with the growing emphasis on Egan's crumbling mental state certainly confirming this feeling. Hawke's typically superb performance goes a long way towards keeping things interesting, while virtually all of the drone-specific sequences possess an undeniable air of tension. Ultimately, however, Good Kill could've used more conflict and drama sprinkled throughout the narrative - with the film's pervasive arms-length vibe preventing the viewer from completely embracing the central character's plight.

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Directed by Daniel Barnz

Featuring Jennifer Aniston's best performance in years, Cake details the low-key exploits of a woman (Aniston's Claire) attempting to get on with her life in the aftermath of a near-death experience. It's immediately clear that filmmaker Daniel Barnz is in absolutely no hurry to tell this laid-back story, as the director has infused Cake with a deliberate, slow-moving feel that's reflected in the relatively uneventful narrative - with the movie, for the most part, exploring Claire's inevitable transformation from a bitter curmudgeon into a comparatively healthy figure. (It's almost impressive just how antisocial and bitchy Aniston's character is; for much of the movie's running time, Claire comes off as a seriously unlikable, unsympathetic figure.) There's little doubt, too, that the film benefits from the ongoing mystery behind Claire's condition, while the character's friendship with Sam Worthington's Roy proves effective at slowly-but-surely endearing Claire to the viewer. The problem is, however, Barnz generally proves unable to elevate above the level of a well-crafted actors' showcase, which ensures that the film is often watchable but rarely affecting. (This is especially true of Barnz's failed efforts at eliciting an emotional reaction from the viewer as the movie draws to a close.) The end result is a passable effort that succeeds most keenly as a platform for Aniston, as the actress steps into the shoes of her thoroughly damaged character to an often revelatory extent.

out of

© David Nusair