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Toronto International Film Festival 2015 - UPDATE #7

The Family Fang
Directed by Jason Bateman

Jason Bateman's second directorial effort, after 2013's Bad Words, The Family Fang follows siblings Baxter (Bateman) and Annie (Nicole Kidman) as they're forced to deal with their estranged parents (Christopher Walken's Caleb and Maryann Plunkett's Camille) - with the rift between the characters stemming from a childhood in which Caleb and Camille forced their kids to participate in a series of experimental, Punk'd-like scenarios. The Family Fang is, unfortunately, a picture-perfect example of the sophomore slump, as the movie, which is more drama than comedy, trudges along at an often unbearably deliberate pace - with the film's admittedly agreeable performances unable to compensate for a narrative that is, for the most part, hopelessly tedious (ie there's just no hook here to initially grab the viewer). Bateman's strong abilities behind the camera are, it would seem, a poor fit for David Lindsay-Abaire's screenplay, as the material virtually demands a much lighter touch than Bateman is willing to deliver (ie the director wants this to be a Franzen-like look at a fractured family, but Lindsay-Abaire's script just isn't going for that kind of depth). It's disappointing to note, too, that The Family Fang takes a notable turn for the worse as it passes the one hour mark, with the narrative subsequently focused on the "mystery" surrounding Caleb and Camille's sudden disappearance - with the tedious investigation that ensues ensuring that the movie peters out to an almost incredible degree. Bateman's stumble here is hopefully a temporary thing, as it's impossible to write the filmmaker off completely given the strength of his comparatively stellar debut feature.

out of

Directed by Drake Doremus

Set within an unspecified future, Equals transpires within a society that has inexplicably eliminated emotions from its citizens - with the narrative detailing the problems that ensue for two such citizens (Nicholas Hoult's Silas and Kristen Stewart's Nia) as they begin experiencing emotions and, eventually, fall for one another. It's an almost absurdly familiar storyline that's employed to pervasively lackluster effect by director Drake Doremus, as the filmmaker, working from a script by Nathan Parker, proves reluctant to offer up even the most minimal exposition regarding how this society works (ie why have people chosen to live this way? when did it happen? etc, etc). The viewer is, as such, required to demonstrate a tremendous amount of patience, which, given the admittedly impressive set design, one is willing to provide in the movie's early stages. There reaches a point, of course, wherein it becomes impossible not to wish that Doremus would just get on with it already, with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by a shocking absence of narrative momentum (ie there is absolutely nothing propelling any of this forward). Compounding the tedious vibe is the palpable lack of chemistry between Hoult and Stewart's respective characters, and it's clear, too, that Doremus' head-scratching decision to drown out large chunks of dialogue with Dustin O'Halloran and Sascha Ring's aggressive score contributes heavily to the movie's arms-length vibe. And while the script does contain a handful of interesting ideas and moments, Equals is, by and large, an absolutely disastrous young-adult knockoff that builds to an action-packed yet wholly uninvolving finish - thus confirming its place as a seriously misguided trainwreck.

out of

The Clan
Directed by by Pablo Trapero

Inspired by true events, The Clan details the 1970s-set exploits of the Puccio family - with the patriarch Arquimedes (Guillermo Francella) and his brood earning their living (and notoriety) by kidnapping (and murdering) wealthy individuals for ransom. The Clan, for the most part, comes off as a deliberately-paced domestic drama with a smattering of tense, thriller-like sequences, which ultimately does ensure that the movie, though consistently watchable, rarely manages to enthrall. Filmmaker Pablo Trapero devotes the lion's share of the picture's first half to less-than-engrossing sequences involving the various family members' activities (eg the eldest son plays soccer), and it's not until a stretch detailing the kidnapping of one of the kids' friends that The Clan begins to wholeheartedly improve (ie this sequence infuses the proceedings with a much-needed jolt of energy). It's in its dealings with the aforementioned eldest son (Peter Lanzani's Alejandro) that the film generally fares best, with the narrative benefiting from a minor yet engaging love story between Alejandro and Stefanía Koessl's Mónica (ie this subplot helps alleviate the increasingly repetitive nature of Trapero's screenplay). The biggest issue here is, for the most part, the lack of backstory contained within the script, as it's impossible not to wonder why Arquimedes' wife and children have gone along with the murderous scheme for so long without complaint. The rather electrifying conclusion ensures that, at least, The Clan ends on a positive note, and yet there's no denying that the movie could (and should) have been so much better.

out of

Mr. Right
Directed by Paco Cabezas

Mr. Right details the whirlwind romance that forms between two almost uncomfortably off-kilter individuals, Anna Kendrick's Martha and Sam Rockwell's Francis, with problems ensuing as Martha discovers that Francis is actually a stone-cold, untouchable hitman (a revelation that's compounded by the increasingly bloody battle between Francis and a series of aggressive pursuers). It's clear immediately that scripter Max Landis isn't going for an atmosphere of grounded reality here, as Mr. Right's narrative is chockablock with less-than-subtle and outrageously quirky elements that are, for the most part, the cinematic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard - with the two central performances, charming as they sporadically are, veering more towards obnoxiously broad than comedically endearing. (This is especially true of Kendrick's larger-than-life, over-the-top turn as the eye-rollingly nutty Martha.) Far more problematic, however, is Landis' relentless emphasis on the oddball antics of even the most minor of periphery figures, with the pervasively cartoonish vibe drowning out the few positive attributes contained within. (There is, for example, an impressive sense of chemistry between Kendrick and Rockwell's respective characters, and it's not too difficult to envision a storyline revolving around two socially-awkward misfits taking on the world.) The action-packed closing stretch fares just about as poorly as one might've feared, and it's finally clear that Landis' decision to completely eschew instances of recognizable reality firmly sinks Mr. Right.

out of

© David Nusair