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almost depressing to walk around here as the festival breathes its last.
Yesterday the Manulife Center (where the press and industry screenings largely
occur) was like a ghost town. Today isn’t much better. We’re being fooled into
thinking that there’s more happening, in part because Hostel has been booked
into a huge room featuring digital projection as there’s no film print to run.

long past speculating about the wonders of the festival, which films will be
Oscar bait/shoo-ins (Capote, Brokeback Mountain and Walk
The Line
) and why some distributors were so irritated that the good
films had already been sold. But Oscars are bullshit unless it’s your film
being nominated, and I’m simply too far gone to wax eloquent on any other
topic. Just read about some movies so I can go home, OK?

again, as happens every few days, I feel the need to point out that these
aren’t composed reviews per se. Instead, everything below is some combination
of notes and initial impressions, loosely pasted together so that some sense
can be made of it all.)

[USA; Eli

HostelEli Roth
has said that when he sat down to write Hostel, the idea was to cram as much
of the sickest stuff he could come up with into a single script. After seeing
the film, I can only say that if that’s the case, horror needs a new poster
child. Hostel is pedestrian and surprisingly shock free, at least for
a seasoned horror audience. I was far more put off by the ritual in Drawing
Restraint 9
and the conclusions of Pusher 3 or The Wayward Cloud, none
ostensibly genre films.

But if
something seems too good to be true, it probably is. That applies not only to
the idea of Eli Roth making a credible follow-up to Cabin Fever, but to this

A trio of
boneheaded backpackers — two horny Americans and one swinging Icelander — are
in Amsterdam looking to get laid. A skeevy kid marked by a cold sore the size
of Kansas City directs them to a remote Slovakian village where, he says,
there’s a hostel with the sexiest chicks in Europe. Here’s a tip: avoid banging
people recommended by the guy with visual signs of herpes. But off they go to
sex and mutilation…as if we expected anything else.

Hostel is a paranoid nightmare, generally based
around ideas like (a) Americans really are dicks, (b) Europeans really do hate
them and (c) will take time out to dismember a few when the opportunity arises.
But to be compelling to anyone but the paranoid, the delusion has to be
plausible, and Hostel is just silly. I can’t see fearing a situation
where people are led to their deaths when said people are as dumb as the
ones in this movie.

Anyway, upon
arrival, the trio find themselves sharing a room with two hot and mostly naked
Euro babes. It’s like Logjammin’. Sherri didn’t just come
over to use the shower, but you get the idea. Two of our three heroes gladly
accept the idea that these girls really are just there to fuck and forget. I
already disliked them for their superficial blankness, and now I despised them
for buying into such a stupid plot.

But how
else to lure the kids down into the darkened room where a pool of blood wets
the floor around a torture chair? For that matter, a torture chair? This film
throws in several, plus guys in moderately ominous bibs and masks. Any aspiring
flick revolving around a torture scenario has got to be on par with Mark
of the Devil
, or at least that Nine Inch Nails video with Bob Flanagan.

Even when
circumstances become dire, there wasn’t any tension. Roth eliminates too many
characters too early, until we’re left with only one person who can carry the
movie. How can anything terrible happen? If it does, the movie is over, and my
watch told me the time hadn’t come. Dude, relax — you’re safe. Basic laws of
mediocre screenwriting have saved your unworthy ass.

gore. Some cutting, some snipping, some drilling, much of which takes place off
screen. There’s a nasty bit with a blowtorch, the aftermath of which is the
worst thing in the film. But when a movie supposedly full of sick effects only
contains one truly cringe-worthy scene…well. The hype machine is already working in Hostel‘s favor, and all I’ll advise is: be wary.

the lack of gore, though, was the refusal to really tackle any of the ideas in
the movie. As soon as the obvious aspects of the hostel situation are
exhausted, Roth moves on to a variant on the oldest action movie plot in the
book. Here, there’s the potential for some interesting situations, but again
the movie avoids the chance to entertain some really intense character
showdowns. Meanwhile, he plays with weird tangents like a pack of criminal
children who relent when paid off with bubblegum. Eli Roth is an enthusiastic
filmmaker, and he obviously likes horror. I’m still pulling for him to make an
effective, convincing flick, but this isn’t it.

These Girls
John Hazlett]

These GirlsI just
saw a David Boreanaz movie that almost no one else will ever get to see, at
least until it hits DVD. These Girls is one of the many
Canadian movies at the festival every year. Happy to get the exposure, and
often deserving of it, but just as frequently lost in the shuffle of great and
weird and breathtaking efforts from all over the world. After the
disappointment of Hostel, I wanted something light, and ended up here.

is Keith Clark, 30 year old father of an infant girl, living with his wife in a
small town on the Eastern Canadian coast. Keith is also nailing Glory (Amanda
Walsh), not only because she’s his sexy babysitter, but because she looks kinda
like Michelle Williams circa Dawson’s Creek season 2. But Glory
has two friends, Keira and Lisa (Caroline Dhavernas and Holly Lewis) who also
want some Boreanaz action. Lots of big Angel fans on the Canadian coast,

Soon the
three girls have devised a plan. They’ll share the guy while wifey is off
working nights, each taking their sexual tithe in exchange for keeping mum
about the affairs and the pot growing in the back yard. You might think Mr.
Keith Clark lucky for a few seconds, but the guy has no say in the matter, and
when it comes time to make some changes, things get ugly.

OK, maybe
it’s not so light, even with a healthy dose of comedy. What I liked about These
was the film’s way of creating selfish, predatory personalities
without resorting to any intricate plotting or teen machinations. There’s no
elaborate trap to be laid for Keith; he’s snared by the simple laws of desire
and sexual politics.

director John Hazlett manages to keep a precise tone throughout the film,
balanced on the line between black comedy and romantic drama. With engaging
performances from Boreanaz and all three girls, Hazlett’s film never becomes
terribly weighty, but it is quirky and entertaining, and a more naturalistic
approach to teen sex comedy than you’re likely to see out of Hollywood.

Nicolas Winding Refn]

at festivals, attendees are exposed to films supposedly part of an ‘audacious
series’ or some other rote PR bullshit. When presented with that rhetoric, it’s
easy to wonder why, if the films are so important, no one has heard of them.
Typically that cynicism is well placed. But once in a while — and these are
the good experiences — we’re forced to recognize that there’s always great
stuff out there waiting to be recognized. Pusher has been in that category,
and with the release of the second and third films, hopefully more people will
get a chance to see this great crime series.

More than
in any other portrayal of crime I’ve seen, Pusher and its two sequels expertly
demonstrate how little it takes for things to go wrong, and how impossible it
is to put a bad situation right when you’re already under the legal radar. In
contrast to American gangster flicks, these aren’t movies about guns or cruelly
imaginative killers. Instead they explore a lifestyle ruled by businessmen who
will use those two tools and many others to gain the upper hand, no matter

It’s an
environment where oaths and bonds are gravely important and easily broken. One
where a single dishonorable act can turn friend into nemesis. With a roving
camera and sharp, rhythmic dialogue, Nicolas Winding Refn (Fear X) defines the
underbelly of Copenhagen, populating it with more than a dozen memorable
characters. Tense situations keep the pace quick, and a memorable slate of performances elicits complex reactions to characters most would like simply to write off as scum.

In Pusher,
the object of attention is Frank, a mid-level dealer. As played by Kim Bodnia,
Frank is a pretty typical guy on the wrong side of the law. He tries to climb
the ladder of success and stay one step ahead of the competition. But a bad
deal and betrayal by his right hand man Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) forces Frank to cut
one emergency deal after another in order to survive. This first film is part
pilot, part thesis in which Refn’s vision of crime is elegantly laid out. It’s
concise, exciting and melancholy, and a solid film in its own right. I would
have been happy to see only this first effort, but with so many interesting
characters left over (and a production company to finance) the Copenhagen of Pusher
was ripe for further exploration.

With Blood On My Hands – Pusher II
Nicolas Winding Refn]

Pusher IIThe first
sequel finds Tonny about to be released from prison. Now bearing extensive
scars from a beating taken in the first film, Tonny isn’t quite the tough guy
he initially seemed to be. His tattoos (including the word ‘respect’ in large
letters across his skull) are almost ironic. In actuality, he’s a pretty dim
bulb, full of good intentions meant to please all the wrong people.

One of
those people is his father, owner of a profitable chop shop. Dad is
unsympathetic to Tonny’s efforts, and lavishes attention on an unrelated minion
who he proclaims is like a son to him. Another is Kurt the Cunt, an aspiring
gangland dealer who lays claim to Tonny as an assistant, and pins even more
failure on the poor sod when things go south.

With Blood On My
even further into the day to day life of Refn’s characters. Instead of watching
Tonny establish some new criminal empire, we observe as he fails to do almost
everything offered to him. Ironically, each failure makes him less criminal and
more human. That humanity, or Tonny’s effort to attain it, is the most unexpected
novelty in the film. In making Tonny an almost gentle and sympathetic character
(with respect to what’s around him) Pusher II plays with common conventions
of the crime genre, and stands out as the most interesting — and optimistic —
chapter in the series.

I Am The Angel of Death – Pusher III
Nicolas Winding Refn]

Pusher IIIHere’s a
festival first: I saw something twice. (Read my first take on Pusher
here.) Seeing this again
wasn’t my original intention. But I had to buy a public screening ticket to get
into the first film, and it was booked as a triple feature. Everyone I knew had
gone home already, so there wasn’t any reason not to sit back and watch once
more, especially since I was already immersed in the characters of Refn’s
vision of Copenhagen.

revised take isn’t much different. It is much more successful with the
experience of the previous two flicks, however. Quite a few characters wind
through these films, and the changes from one episode to the next add a
significant amount of background detail to each story. So when Kurt the Cunt
shows up looking haggard, it really means something, especially as another
dealer seems to be wearing the gold Kurt pawned to him in Pusher II.

Refn also
displays a much improved technical command. Pusher III is confident
and almost calculated, where the previous two episodes were shot from the hip. Dialogue
and non-verbal interactions are far more complex, and the stew of languages
represented in the film adds extra layers of meaning to each scene. It’s also
simultaneously the funniest and sickest film in the series. For a crime saga,
the violence and darkness in Refn’s previous films is fairly moderate. Here,
things get a little out of hand.

only fitting, though, as the series comes to a quietly apocalyptic conclusion.
Milo, the film’s central presence, has survived the entire series, but I Am
The Angel of Death
is no whimsical subtitle. It’s meant to show that his
survival may be due not to his garrulous charm, but to a willingness to go as
far as necessary to stay a step ahead of everyone else. The events of the
single night depicted here may have long-standing repercussions, but we’ve now
seen Milo’s true nature, and even in desperation he may remain the last man
standing. For a while.

And as
Milo looked warily out on the sunrise, the 2005 Toronto Film Festival came to a
close, at least for me. This was a great year. In the next day look for an
index to all the films I’ve covered, as well as a list of ten (or so) picks
which will highlight the best of the fest as seen through these eyes.

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