We’re getting down to the end of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and we have just a few days left and things have slowed down incredibly with many of our colleagues already having left Toronto. Here are some quick thoughts on the movies we saw on Days 7 and 8 – basically three movies, Henry Alex-Rubin’s Disconnect, Barry Levinson’s The Bay and Brian De Palma’s Passion. The first two have distribution and we expect the third to follow suit soon.
Murderball co-director Henry Alex-Rubin’s dramatic debut Disconnect (Lidell Entertainment) has a deliberately ironic title for a movie that falls into the same format as Crash, Magnolia and others in telling three interconnected stories of people whose lives are greatly affected by being online. Max Thierot plays a young man who has been roped into the world of online porn who meets a reporter (Andrea Riseborough) who befriends him and gains his trust to write a story about his situation. Jonah Bobo plays a high school outcast named Ben who is pranked by two fellow students pretending to be a girl on a social network who likes him, something which goes horribly wrong leading to him trying to kill himself. The strongest story of the three has Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton as a married couple who lost their baby and become the victims of identity theft when their bank account is cleaned out by someone she met online.
Alex-Rubin proves to be a fine dramatic director, although the film feels long since none of the three stories feel like they warrant as much time that’s spent on them and it really doesn’t try too hard to connect the three stories as one might expect. It does feature a great cast doing strong dramatic work with the biggest surprise being Frank Grillo playing the father of one of the troublemaking boys. It’s such a different role for him that you almost have to do a double-take and Riseborough also does a good job disguising herself in a really difficult role.
Although Jason Bateman and Hope Davis get top billing–the credits may have been alphabetical–playing Ben’s parents means they barely appear in the first half of the movie and it only starts following Bateman when he tries to find out what happened to his son. The results are a strong drama that works better than these things normally do, but those looking for something a little deeper about the internet may as well stick with “The Social Network.”
We also watched two movies by well-established filmmakers, each of whom could be considered a filmmaking legend from their past work. One of them was doing something completely different from everything they’ve done before while the other was returning to somewhat familiar territory.
First up is Barry Levinson’s The Bay (Roadside Attractions November 2), his foray into found footage horror, and it couldn’t be more different from everything else he’s done. It follows a reporter named Donna Thompson who is on-hand as a viral outbreak terrorizes the small Chesapeake Bay community of Claridge, Maryland on the 4th of July. Kether Donohue, the actress who plays Donna Thompson is cute but it’s not exactly a breakout role and a lot of the rest of the cast of unknowns just aren’t very good as they try to act like real people. Levinson finds interesting ways of using the pseudo-doc format that’s been overused in the past few years, but the movie doesn’t really break that much new ground. There are some solid scares, some great make-up and CG FX that are effectively disturbing, and maybe you can learn a thing or two about the ocean parasites known as “Isopods.” It’s also a perfectly fine midnight popcorn movie but like the “Paranormal Activity” movies, it’s not likely to have that much repeat entertainment value once you’ve seen it.
Brian De Palma would seem like the perfect fit for an erotic thriller like Passion, a remake of the French workplace thriller Love Crime, this one starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace as Christina and Isabel, the boss and underling at a major cell phone corporation. It follows their relationship as they create a bond which is broken when Christine steals her employee’s idea and takes credit for it herself and Isabel returns the favor by sleeping with her boyfriend (Paul Anderson). Rapace probably comes off the best of the relatively weak European cast that De Palma assembled and McAdams just isn’t very good in the role previously played so well by Kristen Scott Thomas. To be honest, the original movie wasn’t that great, but De Palma’s remake is just terrible because it keeps all the lame plots twists that never really worked and then adds even more craziness like dream sequences, dead twins and other ridiculous ideas. It then tries to mask how silly it all is with gorgeous cinematography (by José Luis Alcaine, the man behind the camera of some of Almodovar’s greatest thrillers) and a bombastic score, but it never lives up to the shocks of some of De Palma’s sexier thrillers like Body Double, Dressed to Kill and even Femme Fatale. It’s fairly disappointing to see an often original filmmaker like De Palma making a movie that’s literally beat for beat the exact same movie we’ve seen before, which is why Passion was probably one of the biggest disappointments of TIFF after Neil Jordan’s Byzantium.
We have roughly a day and a half more of TIFF and four more movies, so look for one more recap and our normal “Best of the Fest” wrap-up sometime early next week.