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Toronto International Film Festival 2017 - UPDATE #7

Never Steady, Never Still
Directed by Kathleen Hepburn

Featuring an impressively immersive performance by Shirley Henderson, Never Steady, Never Still details the hardscrabble existence of a woman (Henderson's Judy) suffering from Parkinson's disease and the impact her disease has on her husband (Nicholas Campbell's Eddie) and rebellious teenaged son (Théodore Pellerin's Jamie). Filmmaker Kathleen Hepburn has infused Never Steady, Never Still with the feel of a fairly typical low-budget kitchen-sink drama, as the movie, for the most part, boasts an exceedingly gritty sensibility that's reflected in its various attributes (ie there's a distinctive documentary-like feel at work here). And although the uneventful vibe is initially a little stifling, it's clear that Never Steady, Never Still grows more and more absorbing as it progresses - with the movie benefiting substantially from its trio of stellar lead performances. (Henderson's superb work is matched by her two costars, to be sure.) Hepburn, it becomes increasingly apparent, pulls no punches with the grim subject matter and has sprinkled the picture with a number of impressively powerful moments, including a quick yet heartbreaking scene in which Judy is pulled over by a sympathetic police officer and encouraged to stop driving without her medication. It's obvious, however, that Never Steady, Never Still is ultimately too long and too slow for its own good, as the overall impact of the picture is diminished by the second half's meandering, somewhat sluggish feel - with Hepburn needlessly inflating the running time by offering up scenes that wear out their welcome (eg Jamie's painfully drawn out conversation with a perky grocery clerk). The end result is a movie that could've used more focus in the editing room, and yet it's impossible to entirely discount the more overtly powerful elements contained throughout.

out of

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond
Directed by Chris Smith

Employing footage shot during the making of 1999's Man on the Moon, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond details Jim Carrey's immersive attempts at getting into the skin of notorious performance artist/comedian Andy Kaufman (and also Kaufman's abrasive alter ego, Tony Clifton). Filmmaker Chris Smith intersperses the surprisingly in-depth behind-the-scenes footage with a new Carrey interview, and the combined effect of the two is an impressively unvarnished look at an artist gone off the rails, as Carrey spends the entirety of the Man on the Moon shoot in character as either Kaufman or Clifton - with this decision transforming the production into an obvious ordeal for all involved. (This is never more true than in Man on the Moon director Milos Forman's continued exasperation with Carrey's antics.) It's all very amusing stuff that's heightened by Carrey's completely frank appraisal of his behavior at the time - the actor notes that he was "on a vacation from Jim Carrey" - and the movie likewise boasts a number of tales from the actor about his early life and his various projects (eg Carrey tells a funny story about working with Michel Gondry on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). And although Smith occasionally dwells a little too fiercely on Carrey's oddball musings, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond primarily comes off as an uncommonly intimate peek behind the curtain and certainly remains a cut above most similarly themed fare.

out of

The Lodgers
Directed by Brian O'Malley

Pretentious and pointless, The Lodgers follows 1920s siblings Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner) as they attempt to cope with the various rules laid on them by their remote mansion's ghostly inhabitants. Filmmaker Brian O'Malley employs a paint-by-numbers sensibility that ensures The Lodgers looks and feels like countless other similarly-themed chillers, with the movie's pervasively uninvolving atmosphere perpetuated by an insanely deliberate pace and total lack of compelling characters - with, in terms of the latter, both Vega and Milner trapped in the confines of morose, one-note horror-movie victims (and neither actor possesses even an ounce of onscreen charisma). Far more problematic is the uneventful bent of David Turpin's tedious, padded-out screenplay, as large swaths of The Lodgers is devoted to the protagonists' aimless exploits within the aforementioned mansion and their dull discussions of their silly predicament. O'Malley's ongoing refusal to punctuate the thin narrative with genuinely scares certainly doesn't help matters, nor does the entirely ineffective trajectory of the film's noisy yet hopelessly meaningless third act. It's ultimately impossible to recall a more misguided and misbegotten ghost story, and one can't help but wonder if O'Malley himself would be able to wholeheartedly recommend this interminable ordeal.

no stars out of

Loving Pablo
Directed by Fernando León de Aranoa

Based on a book by Virginia Vallejo, Loving Pablo details the tumultuous relationship between Pablo Escobar (Javier Bardem) and an ambitious journalist (Penélope Cruz's Virginia) - with the movie also devoting plenty of time to Escobar's infamous rise and fall. It's due to the heavy emphasis on the latter that Loving Pablo ultimately fails to make much of an impact, as there's a pervasive familiarity to Fernando León de Aranoa's screenplay that grows more and more oppressive as things unfolds - with de Aranoa seemingly culling the movie's structure from a template for Scorsese-like narratives. De Aranoa's persistently slick direction doesn't really alleviate the often punishingly uninteresting atmosphere, while the heavy accents ensure that far too much of the dialogue is impossible to comfortably decipher. (This is especially true of Bardem's mumbling, indistinct manner of speaking.) Its clear, too, that the intense emphasis on the plotting and scheming by both sides grows progressively tough to take, especially given that the movie suffers from an almost total lack of compelling characters (ie there's nobody here to root for or sympathize with, for the most part). And although the copious violence does alleviate ones crushing boredom from time to time, Loving Pablo, which closes with a completely anticlimactic final stretch, ultimately squanders a strong premise and typically effective Bardem performance to become a seriously irrelevant waste of time.

out of

High Fantasy
Directed by Jenna Bass

A well-intentioned sketch of a movie, High Fantasy follows four friends as they head into South Africa's outback for a weekend camping trip and eventually discover that they've all swapped bodies. (Why or how is never revealed.) Filmmaker Jenna Bass has seemingly shot High Fantasy entirely on cellphone cameras and the movie's shoestring budget is never not completely apparent, with the decidedly low-rent atmosphere paving the way for an opening stretch that's both amateurish and off-putting (ie the whole thing feels as though it were hastily knocked out over a weekend). The somewhat affable performances prove effective at staving off one's complete boredom, admittedly, and it's difficult not to initially get a kick out of the inherently entertaining bent of the high-concept premise. The novelty of the latter quickly wears off, though, and it soon becomes apparent that Bass doesn't really have anywhere for the non-existent storyline to go, as much of High Fantasy follows the thinly-drawn characters as they squabble and argue with one another over their oddball situation. (It's not even always completely clear who has switched bodies with whom.) Even worse, Bass' growing attempts at dealing with issues of race fall hopelessly flat, as such moments are handled with all the grace and subtlety of a sledgehammer (ie it's all just so heavy-handed). There's ultimately little doubt that the movie feels much, much longer than its scant 71 minute running time, and yet it's equally obvious that Bass' possesses potential that will hopefully be put to more entertaining use in a future endeavor.

out of

© David Nusair