Toronto: Dark Horse, Paradise Lost 3 and more

At Toronto, it's hard to tell if the filmmakers are kidding

Jordan Gelber and Donna Murphy in Dark Horse

Jordan Gelber and Donna Murphy in Dark Horse

Todd Solondz, still most famous for his 1998 toxic family bonbon, Happiness, is always going to be a tricky case for me. His cynical movies feel like sophomoric gut punches, falsely provocative, yet they unspool in a dream logic that's unshakable (Palindromes); plus, no other director seems as satirically attuned to the specifics of self-hating Jews. (I thrill to his banal comments about Israel.) Dark Horse meant a lot to me coming into this year's TIFF, because Solondz's previous film, Life During Wartime, was a real breakthrough, a perverse statement on post-9/11 fear culture. Todd, baby, now's not the time to get soft. The new film, while certainly bleak, bears a disappointing resemblance to chubster comedies starring Kevin James; it's about a sour 35-year-old wisenheimer (Jordan Gelber) stilll living at home with his overindugent parents. Amazingly, he scores an alluring if somnambulent girlfriend (Storytelling's Selma Blair) and even as the movie spins into hallucinations, it never makes more of a sharper point than Failure to Launch.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Toronto Film Festival

On to another horse of the same color: Hungary's severe Bla Tarr introduced his The Turin Horse with the depressing comment, "This is really not a movie." He's right, of course: It's either a hilarious self-parody of his own tedious tendencies or a tombstone. (Tarr has said he's finished with filmmaking.) A single piece of seesawing, dirge-like chamber music repeats ad infinitum as we watch a limb-challenged man eat a hot potato with his shaking hand. Elsewhere, a rural woman swaddles herself in multiple layers against the wind. Gypsies show up on the unspecified landscape, then leave. If this film is really about a random horse that Nietzsche once hugged before retreating into a ten-year silence, then you have to wonder if that stated context means anything whatsoever. Bereft of pace, incident, characterization or even beauty (Tarr's b&w seems less luscious than usual), The Turin Horse gave me tons of laughs until its two-hour mark, when the prospect of seeing the ultimate pretentious art film got tired. You can catch it in this year's New York Film Festival, if you've got a masochistic streak.

And did Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, the hotly anticipated follow-up doc about the recently released West Memphis Three, actually sport a bizarre sense of black humor? Essentially, we're supposed to forget the previous installments' pinning of a Bible-spouting wacko for the perp—forget everything you recall about bite marks and dentures and precision jewelry cutting and whatever. Nope. Now lawyers like a different parent for the triple murder, someone who actually fled town but was seen with the murdered boys mere hours before their abduction. (HBO is lucky not to be sued for defamation.) A new chapter requires more insight than what's here: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, talented co-directors, are finishing up an epilogue that will debut at NYFF, presumably about post-prison life for the released Three. But until that material's added, they've made a strangely glib movie: half rehash and half jerk-around.

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