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Toronto International Film Festival 2015 - UPDATE #10

Girls Lost
Directed by Alexandra-Therese Keining

Based on Jessica Schiefauer's young-adult novel, Girls Lost follows three high schoolers as they impulsively decide to drink from a mysterious flower and subsequently wake up in new, male bodies. It's a decidedly off-the-wall premise that's utilized to pervasively middling effect by filmmaker Alexandra-Therese Keining, as the director, working from her own screenplay, employs an aggressively deliberate pace that holds the viewer at arms length right from the outset - with the strong performances and stylish visuals, as well as the inherently compelling setup, going a long way towards initially compensating for the less-than-engrossing vibe. And while Keining handles the girls' first transformation relatively well (though she hardly exploits it to the degree one might've expected and hoped for), Girls Lost segues into a midsection that's rife with long, pointless sequences that do, for the most part, feel absolutely arbitrary. There is, for example, a heavy emphasis on one of the girls' continuing friendship with a local bad boy, with the character's transformation into a douchebag landing with a distinct thud and ultimately indicative of Keining's lack of a clear direction. Adding insult to injury is the eye-rollingly heavy-handed bent of the movie's third act, as Keining clumsily attempts to draw a parallel between one character's newfound comfort in their male body and the plight of transgendered teens - with the less-than-subtle nature of this particular story element paving the way for a nigh endless final stretch that confirms Girls Lost's place as a tedious misfire.

out of

Men and Chicken
Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen

A major disappointment, Men and Chicken follows oddball siblings Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) as they reunite to bury their father and subsequently embark on a trip to an isolated island to meet their three previously-unknown brothers. The degree to which Men and Chicken ultimately fizzles out is nothing short of heartbreaking, as filmmaker Anders Thomas Jensen initially does an effective job of establishing the almost excessively off-the-wall central characters - with, especially, Mikkelsen's hypnotic and thoroughly insane turn as the perpetually horny Elias standing as a consistent highlight. Jensen's slow-paced sensibilities become more and more problematic as time progresses, however, with the stagnant nature of the midsection only exacerbating the increasingly less-than-compelling atmosphere. There's really nothing here pushing the story forward once Gabriel and Elias arrive at the aforementioned island, and it is, as a result, awfully difficult to work up any interest in the characters' continuing exploits alongside their even weirder siblings. The unexpectedly sci-fi bent of the film's third act proves unable to lift Men and Chicken out of its depressing doldrums, and it's ultimately impossible to label the movie as anything more than a strong premise (and stunning lead performance) in search of a compelling narrative.

out of

A Month of Sundays
Directed by Matthew Saville

A Month of Sundays casts Anthony LaPaglia as Frank Mollard, a middle-aged realtor who strikes up an unusual (and unexpected) friendship with an elderly woman (Julia Blake's Sarah) - with the movie detailing the growing bond between the two disparate figures and the impact it has on the various figures in both characters' lives. It's immediately clear that filmmaker Matthew Saville is going for the vibe of a low-key character study, as A Month of Sundays has been saddled with an uneventful, slow-moving narrative that relies primarily on the performances to keep things interesting. And for a while, it kind of works; LaPaglia is at his charming, ingratiating best here, while Blake does an effective job of stepping into the shoes of her maternal yet sharp character. But there's a lack of cohesiveness to Saville's screenplay that grows increasingly problematic as time progresses, with the writer/director packing the proceedings with a series of oddball, time-wasting scenes and sequences (eg Frank pretends to be a safety inspector on the set of his wife's television series). It begins to feel as though Saville is putting up roadblocks designed to prevent the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting with the material, and it does, as a result, become awfully difficult to work up any genuine interest in the relationship between LaPaglia and Blake's respective characters. A Month of Sundays' failure is especially disappointing given the strength of Saville's last effort, the comparatively masterful Felony, and one can only hope that this marks a temporary stumble for an otherwise talented filmmaker.

out of

The Ardennes
Directed by Robin Pront

Robin Pront's directorial debut, The Ardennes details the strife that emerges between two brothers (Jeroen Perceval's Dave and Kevin Janssens' Kenny) after Kenny is sent to prison in the aftermath of a criminal endeavor - with complications ensuing as Dave's decision to embark on a relationship with Kenny's girlfriend during his stint in prison. It's an almost excessively familiar premise that's employed to consistently lackluster effect by Pront, as the director, working from Jeroen Perceval's by-the-numbers screenplay, proves hopelessly unable to infuse the proceedings with attention-grabbing moments of electricity - which, given the gritty storyline, certainly plays an integral role in cementing The Ardennes' downfall. The pronounced lack of panache is compounded by an ongoing emphasis on less-than-captivating sequences, with the narrative suffering from a proliferation of interludes that seem to have been included for no other reason than to pad out the running time. (There is, for example, a completely pointless scene involving a trip to a wrecking yard.) It is, as a result, not surprising to note that Pront's efforts at cultivating tension fall hopelessly flat, while the action-packed (and surprisingly grim) finale is simply unable to pack the visceral punch that Pront is surely aiming for - which, in the end, makes it impossible to deny that there's just not enough here to warrant a feature-length running time.

out of

© David Nusair