Toronto International Film Festival 2017 - UPDATE #9
The Price of Success
Directed by Teddy Lussi-Modeste
FRANCE/92 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
The Price of Success casts Tahar Rahim as Brahim, a successful performer whose tempestuous relationship with his volatile older brother (Roschdy Zem's Mourad) threatens to undo everything he's accomplished. It's almost remarkable just how uninvolving The Price of Success is right from the get-go, as director Teddy Lussi-Modeste's bland sensibilities are compounded by a generic, cookie-cutter script that often makes Entourage look edgy - with the pervasively surface-level approach preventing the viewer from working up any interest in or sympathy for the central character's exploits. It's clear, as well, that the tedious dynamic between the two brothers plays a significant role in the movie's downfall (ie Mourad comes off as so comically thuggish that it's impossible to believe Brahim wouldn't have cut him loose years earlier), as Rebecca Zlotowski and Lussi-Modeste's screenplay is focused so intently on the protagonists' dull bond that he narrative is scarcely about anything else. And although Lussi-Modeste has admittedly elicited strong performances from his two leads (which is no small feat given that Brahim's onstage material is laughably bad), The Price of Success builds to a bizarre final stretch that's both completely ludicrous and hopelessly convenient - which undoubtedly confirms the film's place as a rather palpable misfire.
Directed by Coralie Fargeat
FRANCE/108 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
A tough, admittedly ridiculous thriller, Revenge follows party girl Jen (Matilda Lutz) as she’s whisked away to a remote estate with her married boyfriend (Kevin Jannsens) for a weekend of bawdy shenanigans – with the plot kicking into gear after Jen is raped by one of her beau’s friends and essentially left for dead in the middle of the desert. Filmmaker Coralie Fargeat generally does an effective job of establishing the spare scenario and central characters, with the languidly-paced opening stretch, while not exactly enthralling, peppered with bursts of unexpected suspense and tension (ie we know something terrible is going to happen, but what will it be and when?) It’s not until the aforementioned left-for-dead occurrence that Revenge begins to morph into a seriously engrossing little thriller, as Fargeat delivers a midsection that’s rife with appreciatively brutal sequences and almost hilariously over-the-top instances of self-preservation (ie that Jen is alive and fully mobile after her ordeal is nothing short of absurd and yet, because of the larger-than-life tone, one is more than willing to go with it). And although the film suffers from a decidedly overlong running time (ie there’s absolutely no need for this thing to run a minute over an hour and a half), Revenge climaxes with a stellar and impressively violent final stretch that confirms its place as a superior vengeance-themed actioner.
Directed by Limor Shmila
Written and directed by Limor Shmila, Montana follows Noa Biron's Efi as she returns to her hometown of Acre and soon begins involving herself in the problems of various figures from her past. Filmmaker Shmila has infused Montana with a low-key, deliberate sensibility that’s keenly reflected in the somewhat uneventful narrative, as much of the film details the central character’s subdued exploits in and around this small-town environment - with Efi, for example, discovering an illicit affair and eventually falling for a married woman. (The latter ultimately takes up most of the film’s scant screen time, and yet the entire relationship feels unconvincing throughout.) The less-than-electrifying atmosphere never quite becomes as problematic as one might’ve suspected, at least, due mostly to Shmila's solid direction and a raft of strong performances - with, especially, Biron delivering strong work as the mysterious, conflicted protagonist. It’s just as clear, however, that the big revelations of the film’s final stretch aren’t as impactful as Shmila has obviously intended, and the movie’s conclusion, as a consequence, doesn't quite pack the punch one might’ve anticipated (ie the whole thing just kind of fizzles out until it abruptly ends). Still, Montana is a decent little drama whose positive attributes are strong enough to just warrant a mild recommendation.
Mom & Dad
Directed by Brian Taylor
USA/83 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
The degree to which Mom & Dad ultimately disappoints is nothing short of staggering, as the movie’s can’t-miss premise and typically stellar Nicolas Cage performance are slowly but surely squandered by filmmaker Brian Taylor. The over-the-top narrative details the chaos that ensues after parents mysteriously find themselves compelled to murder their offspring, with the emphasis placed on one particular family and how the crisis affects their lives. It’s clear immediately that Mom & Dad's biggest hurdle to overcome is Taylor's aggressively ostentatious sense of style, as the filmmaker pummels the viewer with a whole host of less-than-subtle elements - with the headache-inducing vibe perpetuated mostly by the jittery, rapid-fire visuals (ie one just wishes that Taylor would just settle down, if only for a few minutes at a time). There is, as such, very little here that wholeheartedly works; Taylor's screenplay offers a handful of minor pleasures and Cage is at his scenery-chewing best (even if his role amounts to an extended cameo), but the decision to mostly relegate the action to a single household is ultimately just as disastrous as it sounds (ie this is exactly the sort of setup that’s crying out for a large-scale execution). By the time the catastrophically abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion rolls around, Mom & Dad has certainly confirmed its place as a distressingly underwhelming endeavor that probably would've worked much, much better as a short.
Love Means Zero
Directed by Jason Kohn
USA/89 MINUTES/TIFF DOCS
An interesting yet not entirely successful documentary, Love Means Zero details the exploits of well-known tennis instructor Nick Bollettieri and his relationships with such famous students as Andre Agassi and Boris Becker. Director Jason Kohn admittedly does an effective job of immediately drawing the viewer into the proceedings, as Bollettieri comes off as a fascinating figure who rarely hides his undeniably horrible nature (eg he pushes his kids to the point of tears). The film is, as such, at its best when it approaches its subject matter with a less specific, more general sensibility, with the day-to-day operations of the institute far more intriguing and compelling than one might’ve anticipated (eg a former student notes that “in some ways, it was like a minimum security prison.”) Kohn slowly but surely does begin narrowing in on certain elements to an occasionally oppressive degree, however, with this never more evident than in the movie’s almost obsessive exploration of Bollettieri's tumultuous relationship with Agassi. Some of this stuff is undoubtedly quite interesting, to be sure, but there’s ultimately an inside baseball feel to much of Love Means Zero’s protracted midsection (ie the movie often seems to be geared exclusively towards ardent tennis fans). There are small pleasures throughout that compensate for the erratic vibe - Bollettieri's ongoing arguments with Kohn about what the movie should be are pretty great, for example - but it’s ultimately difficult to wholeheartedly recommend Love Means Zero to tennis neophytes (although the film does stand as a pretty decent primer on the sport, to be sure).