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Toronto International Film Festival 2015 - UPDATE #4

The Wave
Directed by Roar Uthaug

For a while there, The Wave comes off as one of the best and most exciting disaster movies to hit screens in quite some time - as filmmaker Roar Uthaug does a superb job of setting up the many expected elements and placing them all right in harms way. The narrative follows an obsessive geologist (Kristoffer Joner's Kristian) as he becomes convinced a calamitous water-based event is heading to his small village, with the movie, once said event predictably arrives, detailing Kristian's efforts at bringing his wife and two children to safety. It's a fairly hoary setup that's executed by Uthaug to almost perfect effect, as the director transforms the movie's various characters into surprisingly memorable figures and effectively peppers the film's first half with a handful of impressively suspenseful set pieces. (Uthaug even manages to inject tension into smaller, quieter moments, including a fantastic sequence in which Kristian puts the pieces together and figures out what's going on.) And then, of course, there's the disaster itself, which is as exciting and enthralling as one might've hoped - as Uthaug's crisp, clear visuals ensure that the massive extent of the carnage is as coherent as can be (ie Michael Bay could learn a thing or two from Uthaug). It's unfortunate to note, then, that The Wave does suffer from a final half hour that is, to put it mildly, somewhat anticlimactic, as the emphasis shifts to the comparatively snooze-inducing exploits of a few small characters in the wave's aftermath. The disappointing finish can't quite tarnish what's otherwise an above-average disaster flick, and yet it's impossible not to wish that The Wave's second half had been as brilliantly conceived as its first.

out of

Where To Invade Next.
Directed by Michael Moore

A typically erratic Michael Moore documentary, Where To Invade Next. follows the controversial filmmaker as he "invades" a series of countries to discover new ways of doing things in the United States. There is, quite unsurprisingly, little in the way of subtlety contained within the entirety of Where To Invade Next., as Moore cherry picks the best elements of various European societies and compares them to America's handling of the same. (Moore's first country, Italy, offers its workers eight weeks of paid vacation, with the discovery that America has no law in place to offer something similar leaving various Italians shocked and dismayed.) The movie, then, consists of one segment after another of Moore traveling from country to country and consequently expressing surprise at some of the perks inherent within those cultures. (France, for example, offers its elementary students gourmet lunches, while the Norwegians place a stringent emphasis on rehabilitating rather than punishing its prisoners.) It's all pretty interesting stuff and Moore is, as usual, an affable tour guide, but for the most part, Where To Invade Next. feels like a promotional video for countries like Finland, Germany, and Slovenia. There's little doubt, too, that the film goes on much, much longer than necessary, as Moore offers up a final half hour that feels both repetitious and needless (ie the point has long been made) - which, in the end, ensures that Where To Invade Next. fits comfortably alongside Moore's previous documentaries.

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The Final Girls
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson

A seriously disappointing missed opportunity, The Final Girls follows several friends as they're magically transported into a schlocky slasher flick from the 1980s and subsequently forced to fend for their lives against a brutal, masked murderer. Filmmaker Todd Strauss-Schulson has infused The Final Girls with an oddly low-rent feel that's perpetuated by its erratic narrative and tediously broad instances of comedy, and it's clear that the movie's mildly watchable vibe is due mostly to the affable performances and sporadic inclusion of clever plot devices (eg the characters make their getaway by invoking a flashback sequence). It's more and more obvious, though, that there's just not enough story here to sustain a full-length running time, with scripters M. A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller attempting to compensate by offering up several padded-out sequences (eg there's a long stretch set inside a cabin that seems to go on forever). Far more problematic is the movie's total absence of the slasher genre's most prominent staples, gore and nudity, and there's little doubt that Strauss-Schulson's restraint is both baffling and completely inappropriate (ie if anything, the film should contain more instances of gore than a typical slasher). It's ultimately clear that The Final Girls, while basically watchable, would've been more at home within the confines of an anthology film, as there's just not enough here to justify a full-length running time.

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Directed by Lucile Hadžihalilovic

Filmmaker Lucile Hadžihalilovic's first film since 2004's Innocence, Evolution tells the impenetrable tale of a small community that seems to consist entirely of adult women and young boys - with the "narrative" following one such boy as he becomes more and more suspicious of his surroundings. There's little doubt that Evolution fares best in its excessively mysterious first half, as Hadžihalilovic offers up a foreboding atmosphere that's heightened by Manuel Dacosse's moody cinematography and a smattering of oddball elements (eg the aforementioned boy is certain that he saw a dead body in the ocean and yet his mother aggressively insists that he's mistaken). But the movie begins to lose its exceedingly tenuous grip on the viewer as time slowly progresses, with the film's unreasonably deliberate pacing destined to challenge the patience of even the most open-minded moviegoer. The hands-off atmosphere is perpetuated by an ongoing emphasis on cryptic elements, and it starts to become more and more clear that Hadžihalilovic isn't going to explain what any of this means (and so she doesn't). Dialogue-free for the most part, Evolution finally comes off as a too-experimental-for-its-own-good endurance test that would've been better off in the avant-garde Wavelengths program. (On the other hand, Hadžihalilovic does deserve some credit for maintaining the baffling vibe right through to the meaningless conclusion; there have clearly been no concessions made here.)

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Len and Company
Directed by Tim Godsall

Armed with what is possibly the best performance of Rhys Ifans' career, Len and Company manages to overcome a decidedly familiar vibe to become a charming and sporadically engrossing little character study. The movie revolves around Ifans' Len, a grizzled, aging musician whose solitary life is thrown for a loop after his estranged son (Jack Kilmer's Max) and a moody pop star (Juno Temple's Zoe) arrive unexpectedly at his isolated estate. Len and Company doesn't provide any great shakes in terms of plot - everything unfolds exactly as one might've anticipated - and yet the film does manage to consistently hold one's interest due mostly to the increasingly compelling characters (and their growing bond with one another). Ifans' mesmerizing turn as the disgruntled Len is complemented by Kilmer and Temple's affable work, to be sure, while filmmaker Tim Godsall does an effective job of peppering the narrative with a handful of standout sequences. (There is, for example, a showstopping moment in which Len delivers an all-too-honest and profanity-laden speech to a class of stunned high schoolers.) There's little doubt, however, that Len and Company does peter out to rather demonstrable effect, with the inclusion of a bizarre stretch toward the end only heightening the film's running-out-of-steam feel. The movie does manage to recover for a strong finish, though, and it's ultimately clear that Len and Company stands as a fine showcase for Ifans' award-worthy performance.

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© David Nusair