One of the quietest buzzes coming into TIFF this year was for Neil Jordan’s “Greta,” which one would presume would have been a highly promoted and anticipated title given who was involved. Yes, Jordan may not quite be the director he once was, but I personally have found something interesting even in recent perceived misfires like “Ondine” and “Byzantium,” and he always struck me as a filmmaker who could have another masterpiece in him. Add his direction to a cast that includes Maika Monroe, Chloe Grace Moretz, and the legend who is Isabelle Huppert, and the lack of buzz becomes even more confusing. Sadly, seeing the film explains a little bit of it. It is far from a complete disaster, but it only becomes the film you really want it be after about an hour of flat dialogue and convoluted behavior. That the last third nearly save it is a testament to Huppert’s ability once Jordan finally lets her off the leash.
Huppert plays the title character, a woman who leaves her purse on a New York train one day, found by a sweet young woman named Frances, played by Moretz. She decides to bring Greta’s purse to her personally, and the two form a friendship. Frances has recently lost her mother; Greta says her daughter is studying in Paris—they fill a need for each other. Well, that is until Frances discovers something truly upsetting at Greta’s house, and tries to break off all contact. Greta doesn’t take this well and Jordan’s film basically turns into “Single White Mommy Dearest.”
Well, I should say it eventually turns into that. If you’re thinking that a crazy Huppert sounds like some awesomely GIF-able material, the movie does eventually scratch that itch, but it takes too long to become the B-movie you want from the beginning. Too much of this is flat, and I couldn’t shake the sensation that watching a movie about a mother-daughter bond written and directed by men hampered the final product. There’s something just slightly off about these characters, as if Jordan never quite figured them out, or why they need each other. Maybe he was too excited to get to the “good stuff” to bother with the set-up.
There’s a fascinating performance near the center of "The Hummingbird Project," but director Kim Nguyen never finds the urgency in his feels-true-but-isn't narrative. It’s a movie about people trying to do something faster than anyone else that can’t match that forward momentum. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I could have learned as much about this specific story and even the human conditions reflected in it from a “60 Minutes” segment (were it true), and this one runs 111.
Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) and Anton Zalesky (Alexander Skarsgard) were tired of merely working for the system and decided to try and beat it. The cousins quit their day jobs, stole a bit of coding from their ruthless boss (Salma Hayek), and set off to do what most would considering impossible—build a thousand-mile-long, four-inch-wide tunnel from Kansas to New Jersey. What could that possibly do, you ask? Lay a fiber wire that would transport information one millisecond faster than the competition between the two city’s stock exchanges. Believe it or not, that one millisecond—the flap of a hummingbird wing—could mean millions of dollars in profit.
Eisenberg does well with Vincent's no-nonsense and determination, but Skarsgard is fascinating playing against type as the balding, potbellied, egghead Anton, the kind of guy who has panic attacks on planes and holes up in his hotel room to shave off milliseconds from their plan. Everything else about “The Hummingbird Project” doesn’t feel fresh in any way. We may not have seen this specific story before, but we’ve seen Eisenberg’s driven-to-the-point-of-danger guy and definitely Hayek’s underwritten ruthless boss. The movie deflates every time that Skarsgard is off screen, and his work alone can’t keep this bird airborne.
For every film that comes to TIFF with paparazzi trailing its stars to the red carpet, there are at least two with no one whom you’ve ever heard of before. One such film is the winner of the Best Irish Feature at the 2018 Galway Film Fleadh, Andy and Ryan Tohill’s “The Dig,” a flick that starts with a fantastic premise, but ends with a twist that feels more like a cheat than a revelation.
15 years ago, Ronan Callahan (Moe Dunford) went to prison for murdering his girlfriend, getting something of a shorter sentence because they never found the body. Her skin was under his fingernails and he was so blackout drunk he couldn’t remember what happened … or where he buried her. He comes home to find his victim’s father on the big, boggy property behind Ronan’s home. And he’s digging. Ronan figures out that the only way to make him go away is to pick up a shovel and help.
You can feel the dirt and grime in the best parts of “The Dig,” when it’s focusing purely on trauma and what people need to get past it. Sean (Lorcan Cranitch) will never stop digging until he’s found his daughter, and Ronan even realizes that he too could use the closure. This dramatic, character-driven aspect of the film works, but “The Dig” (written by Stuart Drennan) devolves into too much of a mystery until it gets to a disingenuous twist. Dunford is very good and the brothers have an ability to convey mood through use of setting, but the journey of a movie like this is often more interesting than its destination.