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Toronto International Film Festival 2014 - UPDATE #10

They Have Escaped
Directed by JP Valkeapää

An offbeat yet not entirely unappealing piece of work, They Have Escaped follows two teenage misfits (Teppo Manner's Joni and Roosa Söderholm's Raisa) as they embark on a fairly epic road trip after running away from a halfway house. That is, for much of the film's first half, pretty much it; filmmaker JP Valkeapää primarily focuses on the protagonists' episodic exploits on the road, with the director, for example, detailing Joni and Raisa's encounter with a warthog, their discovery of a cabin in the woods, etc. Valkeapää's slow-paced, low-key sensibilities generally prevent the viewer from getting too worked up over anything that occurs, and yet the Finnish filmmaker does a nice job of peppering the narrating with unexpectedly striking sequences - with the presence of such moments going a long way towards keeping things interesting. (One of the more memorable scenes details Joni and Raisa's hallucinatory, dialogue-free adventure.) It's equally clear, however, that They Have Escaped's aggressively weird, avant-garde atmosphere grows more and more problematic as time progresses, as it does, as a result, become awfully difficult to work up any real sympathy for the central characters' increasingly perilous plight. By the time the almost astonishingly dark final stretch rolls around, They Have Escaped has certainly established itself as a singular, challenging endeavor that ultimately doesn't entirely work - which is too bad, certainly, given the obvious level of talent possessed by Valkeapää.

out of

Senza Nessuna Pietà
Directed by Michele Alhaique

Though well made and nicely acted, Senza Nessuna Pietà suffers from a pervasive air of familiarity that slowly but surely obliterates one's interest in or sympathy for the central character's exploits. The narrative, which follows a mob enforcer as he begins to question his line of work, unfolds at an almost excessively deliberate pace that is, to put it mildly, problematic, as director Michele Alhaique, working from a script cowritten with Andrea Garello and Emanuele Scaringi, generally emphasizes the protagonist's low-key, protective relationship with a kind-hearted prostitute - with Alhaique's inability (or unwillingness) to infuse the proceedings with an innovative, fresh perspective ultimately proving disastrous. There are, having said that, a handful of admittedly strong sequences that provide a welcome respite from the otherwise stale atmosphere, with certain moments possessing far more tension and suspense than one might've anticipated (including an engrossing interlude in which the central character intervenes in a volatile situation). Senza Nessuna Pietà's positives are, to an increasingly pronounced extent, outweighed by its less-than-enthralling attributes, with the predictably violent conclusion finally confirming the movie's place as a well-intentioned yet entirely by-the-numbers piece of work.

out of

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
Directed by Mark Hartley

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, as one might've surmised, details the rise (and fall) of legendary/infamous low-budget movie studio Cannon Films, with filmmaker Mark Hartley offering up a series of movie clips and interviews to tell the admittedly over-the-top (and frequently outrageous) tale. It's perhaps not surprising to note that Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films has been infused with a lightning-quick pace that eventually grows exhausting, as Hartley employs essentially the same ADD-afflicted style that was equally prominent in his 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! Like that film, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films' propulsive sensibilities ensure that it is, for much of its first half, virtually impossible to resist, with Hartley offering up a number of fascinating anecdotes that are heightened by his stellar choice of scenes and clips from various Cannon productions. (It's hard not to get a kick out of, for example, details of the turmoil surrounding Charles Bronson's Death Wish movies.) The film ultimately does, however, suffer from a too-much-of-a-good-thing type of vibe that dulls the impact of its final half hour, which does, in the end, confirm Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Film's place as an interesting yet supremely overstuffed little documentary.

out of

The Little Death
Directed by Josh Lawson

Written and directed by Josh Lawson, The Little Death follows several Australian couples as they attempt to deal with their respective sexual peccadilloes. Filmmaker Lawson, making his debut here, has infused The Little Death with a consistently irreverent sensibility that proves impossible to resist, with the film benefiting substantially from the efforts of a uniformly stellar cast and inclusion of laugh-out-loud funny scenes and sequences. It is, as a result, quite easy to overlook Lawson's occasional reliance on sitcom-level tropes, and there's little doubt, too, that The Little Death only grows more and more captivating as it progresses - as Lawson does a superb job of taking each of the narrative's plot threads into surprising, emotionally-engrossing directions. (The movie's dramatic moments land equally well, it must be noted.) The Little Death morphs from very good to instant classic in its final stretch, with this portion of the proceedings revolving almost entirely around the hilarious, affecting exploits of a translator for the deaf (Erin James, in a star-making performance) and her client (TJ Power). It's an incredibly romantic and touching climax that ensures The Little Death finishes on as positive a note as one could envision, and it's ultimately clear that Lawson has instantly established himself as an exceedingly promising up-and-coming filmmaker.

out of

Directed by Paul Bettany

Shelter follows a pair of homeless individuals (Jennifer Connelly's Hannah and Anthony Mackie's Tahir) as they meet and eventually fall into a relationship, with the movie primarily detailing the characters' ongoing difficulties at fending for themselves on the mean, unforgiving streets of New York City. For the most part, Shelter comes off as a fairly standard drama that's been designed primarily to highlight the talents of its stars - with, admittedly, both Mackie and especially Connelly delivering top-notch, thoroughly impressive work. The meandering atmosphere results in an opening half hour that's rarely as engrossing as filmmaker Paul Bettany has surely intended, and yet there's little doubt that the movie improves considerably once it passes a certain point - with the increasingly grim trajectory of Bettany's screenplay ensuring that one's sympathy for the protagonists grows more and more acute as the story unfolds. It is, having said that, impossible to deny that Shelter plateaus to a certain degree in its second half, as the film does suffer from a fairly repetitive structure that becomes increasingly difficult to overlook - with the rather predictable finale certainly not helping matters. Still, Shelter is an eye-opening and consistently watchable effort from Bettany, with the film's actor's-showcase vibe not necessarily the dealbreaker one might've anticipated.

out of

The Farewell Party
Directed by Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit

Directed by Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit, The Farewell Party details the efforts of several senior citizens to help one of their own pass away with dignity. Maymon and Granit admittedly do a superb job of immediately luring the viewer into the proceedings, as The Farewell Party opens with a genuinely hilarious opening that sets the stage for a wry yet heartfelt comedy/drama. The balance of laughs and pathos persists for much the movie's brisk running time, with Maymon and Granit's crowd-pleasing sensibilities growing more and more pronounced as the narrative unfolds (ie it's clear that the filmmakers are aiming for a stand-up-and-cheer, feel-good sort of feel here). As watchable as it is, however, The Farewell Party does suffer from a pervasively familiar vibe that's compounded by a lack of innovative/fresh elements - with Maymon and Granit's screenplay containing virtually all of the clichés and character quirks that one might've expected. It's ultimately relatively easy to overlook such issues due to the personable performances and lighthearted atmosphere, to be sure, with the end result a film that seems destined to appeal to fans of such similar fare as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Calendar Girls.

out of

© David Nusair