Toronto Wrap-Up, Part Two
The Kid Detective
Abe Applebaum was the smartest kid in town, an Encyclopedia Brown-type who took on all manner of petty crimes and minor mysteries and solved them all — until a girl disappeared, never to be heard from again. Decades later, Abe is a grown up P.I. in the same small town when another real mystery rears its head. Working in the vein of Brick or Veronica Mars, Evan Morgan’s The Kid Detective is an impressive exercise in tonal control, combining wry humor with some truly dark subject matter and cannily clever cynicism, but the biggest draw may be star Adam Brody. Though he’s been steadily turning out some rock-solid supporting performances, The Kid Detective gives Brody a chance to flex his muscles in an impressively nuanced manner that sits with you long after the credits roll.
The first act of Michel Franco’s New Order had me readying my Parasite comparisons — taking place at an upper-class wedding detached from the civil unrest in the surrounding city, Franco’s roving camera and darkly comic script led me to believe that we might be in for a sharply drawn social satire. Alas, this all goes out the window fairly quickly as New Order devolves into brutal sadism that shifts the film from engaging to barely watchable. There are some interesting ideas here about state oppression, but the effectiveness of any cultural commentary is muddled by the sheer unpleasantness on display — New Order has the bleakest ending I’ve seen this year and I’m still struggling with the question of whether that nihilism is truly earned.
Good Joe Bell
Good Joe Bell is a bit of an enigma. Empathetically directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, the film is genuinely affecting, imbued with real emotional weight, and features a moving (and often surprisingly unsympathetic) performance by Mark Wahlberg and a breakout by Reid Miller at the film’s core. But despite this, the film’s script — written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana — lacks much nuance (especially when compared to their previous effort, Brokeback Mountain), and ultimately suffers from being a story of LGBTQ tragedy reflected through a straight lens. Even with Wahlberg’s impressive portrayal, it’s hard to see much growth in Joe Bell over the course of the narrative, leaving the film emptier than you would expect from the talent on display.
The revenge thriller is a fascinating horror sub-genre, one that often walks the line between empathy and exploitation to mixed results. Violation does an admirable job of navigating that passage, and is in many ways an ambitious and unflinching entry, with particularly excellent work from star and co-writer/director Madeleine Sims-Fewer. Unfortunately that same ambition hobbles Violation, as Sim-Fewer and co-director Dusty Mancinelli make use of a fractured narrative that, though conceptually intriguing, ends up more confusing than effective, undercutting the film’s power. Even so, the film’s willingness to force the audience to reckon with the cost of revenge — this is not a movie for the faint of heart — makes it worth a look.
Shadow in the Cloud
Let’s get this out of the way first: Shadow in the Cloud features some of the most truly atrocious dialogue I’ve ever heard in a movie, but given the circumstances of the film’s production I’m willing to give writer-director Roseanne Liang the benefit of the doubt and attribute those flaws to disgraced original writer Max Landis (who retains a writing credit here). If you can get past the writing though, there’s fun to be had with Shadow of the Cloud, which essentially repurposes The Twilight Zone’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” to ludicrous effect — particularly in the film’s back half, which makes the most of its limited budget to deliver some bonkers B movie fun.
Similar to Beans, Ricky Staub’s Concrete Cowboy hits some fairly standard coming-of-age beats, but is elevated by the fresh context in which it’s presented. The always reliable Idris Elba may be the above-the-title draw here, but Concrete Cowboy belongs to young stars Caleb McLaughlin and Jharrel Jerome, both of whom turn in excellent performances as youth trying to find their way amidst circumstances that set the odds against them. Inspired by Philadelphia’s Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club (and featuring seamless amateur performances by some real-life members of said Club), Staub’s film is at its best when it lets the plot lie and takes the time to spend a few moments with the riders — their joy and camaraderie is infectious and highlights the movie’s heartwarming center.