The vision, when it comes to filmmaking, is a double-edged sword in many ways. Having a strong vision, for example, can lead to a confident, edgy style that audiences haven't seen, but it can also become a perfectionist's nightmare as a director tries in vain to get exactly what they've always envisioned. Likewise, since they say every story has been told in one way or another, the juxtaposition of visuals and plot might be the key to engaging storytelling, or it might be the prime ingreedient for a formless mess. The Toe Tactic isn't quite a mess, but the various flights of fancy that writer/director Emily Hubley indulges in are more confusing than enlightening.
From what I could gather, the Toe Tactic may or may not be a game (read the title backwards) devised by Mona Peek (Lily Rabe) during her childhood visits to the beach with her father (Xander Berkeley). He died when Mona was young, and she's been drifting ever since, attached to a painted bone chip of his that she flips like a coin to make decisions and filled with memories of the game. It might also be a game played by a series of strange animated characters (voiced by various people, including David Cross and Andrea Martin), which allows them to move from the animated world to the real world and interact with objects and people to change the course of Mona's day. It might also be both. As far as I can tell, the way it all "works" is one of those things that's open to audience interpretation, but I felt like I was missing a few crucial details that might have inspired me to have a stronger opinion.
Also vague is what Mona does for a living. I guess she's a caretaker, but her caretaking is unorthodox. She gets a call and goes to the apartment of Victoria Hadaway (Novella Nelson), an eccentric old woman who has Mona type up little crumpled notes in a back room and assmemble them into some sort of poem. No, I'm not clear on that either. Something strange happened to Victoria's husband, and it has some sort of meaning towards the emptiness Mona feels when thinking about her father, but it's vague and esoteric. Less vague and esoteric and more awesome is the relationship Mona forms with the elevator man (Daniel London) in Victoria's building, conveniently named Elevator Man. Elevator Man sings songs at an open mic at a local bar -- hilarious songs with "lyrics" taken from comments people have made during elevator rides.
One of the animated sprites causes Mona to lose her wallet, which is discovered by a young boy named Wilson (Sean J. Moran). He finds twenty dollars hidden in it and pays a local piano teacher named Hector Freegood (Kevin Corrigan) to try and teach him a song that reminds his mother (Sakina Jaffrey) of her late husband. Mona is also both purposefully and unintentionally ignoring her mother (Mary Kay Place), who is desperate to get ahold of Mona when Mona stops answering her phone calls (a mysterious woman on the bus randomly decides to steal Mona's cell phone).
In a way, I suppose, all of these plots come together, but they collide more than connect, bouncing off one another in a lazy, pinball-like way that feels sort of realistic until you bring in the random ramblings of Victoria Hadaway and the interference of the animated cast. It's hard to go into much critical analysis of The Toe Tactic because the movie is so broadly open to interpretation. Maybe I wasn't paying attention (I thought I was, but given how confused I was, who knows). Maybe that's the idea. Maybe this just isn't the movie for me. They always say, if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. I liked the way the film resolves the issues between Mona and her mother, and I liked the Elevator Man. Does that make this a good movie? I don't know, but at least it's a compliment.
The Toe Tactic is adorned with a cluttered cover that doesn't accurately reflect the tone and style of the movie. Since the film isn't rated, I'd even wonder if someone might mistake this as a kid's movie based on the animated characters and even a key image of young Mona playing on the back cover. By contrast, the disc is a stark black and white, and there is a booklet listing other KINO releases inside the case.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation looks alright, although there's a reasonable amount of grain on display. The movie appears to have been shot on digital cameras, so I also spotted some occasional motion blur or interlacing, and there seemed to be a tiny bit of edge enhancement.
Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is pretty basic. The dialogue isn't always crystal clear (a production-related flaw, not a disc-related one), and it was disappointing that the DVD doesn't offer any subtitles to clear things up. For the most part, though, it's reasonably audible and the score, by Yo La Tengo, sounds alright.
Three short films by Emily Hubley are included: Pigeon Within (4:25), Set Set Spike (6:04) and Octave (7:03). In shorter doses, Hubley's style is much more effective and entertaining. The first two play like little illustrated conversations with the filmmaker (albeit surreal, experimental ones), while most of the last one was used in the the feature presentation, adding a bonus layer of curiosity. I note that one of the production companies of The Toe Tactic is "Chicken & Egg Pictures", and I wonder whether she created Octave with The Toe Tactic in mind or vice versa.
Two deleted scenes called "Play Date" (0:28) and "Flagpole" (4:46) don't add anything particularly notable to the movie (especially not the former).
Two short animatics (1:33 and 0:27) vaguely sketch out some of the animation, but it looks like frames from the finished film, so it's not all that intriguing. A stills gallery with 31 stills in it, mostly caps from the film itself, is the last extra on the disc.
Emily Hubley could be one of the next great filmmakers. Clearly, she's got talent, and some of the movie is engaging, funny and truthful. Still, most of the film was also, for me, emotionally and editorially muddled to the point where determining a thematic point felt like grasping for straws. That said, that's just my take on it -- the curious and those more interested in experimental and surreal might enjoy renting it (and watching the three short films).
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