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Toronto International Film Festival 2016 - UPDATE #3

Mostly Sunny
Directed by Dilip Mehta

A predominantly ineffective documentary, Mostly Sunny follows pornstar-turned-Bollywood-actress Sunny Leone as she goes about her daily life and attempts to resolve a variety of personal and professional complications. There's a lack of cohesiveness to Mostly Sunny that grows more and more problematic as time passes, as filmmaker Dilip Mehta's haphazard approach to his subject results in a decidedly unfocused structure and overall everything-and-the-kitchen-sink atmosphere. It's consequently no surprise that Mostly Sunny comes off as an erratic endeavor that's often as tedious as it is intriguing, with Mehta essentially flooding the movie's first half with one fairly tedious sequence after another. (This is especially true of Leone's rather uneventful visit to her Canadian hometown of Sarnia.) There's little doubt, as well, that Mehta's inability to capture a more authentic side of his subject proves disastrous, with the pervasively surface-level portrait ensuring that Leone never becomes the wholeheartedly compelling figure that Mehta has surely intended. Mostly Sunny's failure is especially disappointing in light of a better-than-expected final stretch, as Leone finally drops down her guard long enough to tearfully discuss the deaths of her mother and father - with the strength of this portion standing in sharp contrast to a movie that's otherwise about as revealing and authentic as a generic Lifetime reality series.

out of

Personal Shopper
Directed by Olivier Assayas

Personal Shopper casts Kristen Stewart as Maureen, a young American living in Paris who makes her living selecting and procuring clothes for her wealthy boss (Nora von Waldstätten's Kyra) - with the slow-moving narrative following Maureen as she completes a series of tasks for Kyra and, in her spare time, attempts to communicate with her dead brother. There's little doubt that Personal Shopper gets off to a less-than-engrossing start, as filmmaker Olivier Assayas' decidedly deliberate sensibilities are compounded by Stewart's strong yet completely closed-off performance - with the actress' inward turn generally preventing the viewer from connecting to (and sympathizing with) her sullen character. The arms-length vibe is certainly perpetuated by a lackadaisical narrative that's focused on Maureen's uneventful antics, with the sporadic emphasis on the figure's ghostly encounters resulting in a few much-needed jolts within Personal Shopper's otherwise sedate first half. It's clear, then, that the movie improves considerably once Maureen begins receiving mysterious, ominous text messages from an unknown person, as the back-and-forth conversation, which continues as Maureen travels to and from England, paves the way for a surprisingly mesmerizing stretch culminating in a tense sequence involving missed texts. The somewhat isolated nature of this stretch ultimately confirms that Personal Shopper would've worked better as a short film, as the movie is, for the most part, a listless drama that ends on just about as anticlimactic note as one could envision.

out of

The Girl with All the Gifts
Directed by Colm McCarthy

Based on Mike Carey's book, The Girl with All the Gifts transpires in a world that's been ravaged by a fungal infection that basically turns its victims into zombies (called "hungries" here) - with the narrative detailing the violence that ensues after Sennia Nanua's Melanie, who is immune to the virus, is forced to flee the only home she's ever known. It's a fairly unique take on the zombie genre that's executed to watchable, occasionally exciting effect by director Colm McCarthy, with the movie's striking (and compelling) opening stretch paving the way for a first act that's riddled with engrossing images and interludes. (The movie's showstopper comes fairly early on, as Melanie and others are beset on all sides by hungries in a single, astonishing take.) The captivating vibe takes a bit of a hit as The Girl with All the Gifts progresses into its meandering midsection, as scripter Carey suffuses the narrative with a number of padded-out, time-wasting sequences - which ultimately does ensure that the movie's second half can't quite live up to everything preceding it. By the time the somewhat head-scratching conclusion rolls around, The Girl with All the Gifts has confirmed its place as a decent yet hopelessly erratic horror effort that could've used a few more passes through the editing bay.

out of

Directed by Fernando Guzzoni

The kind of movie one only ever encounters at a film festival, Jesus follows Nicolás Durán's title character, an aimless teenager, as his partying lifestyle comes to a crashing halt after an act of meaningless violence. There are ultimately few surprises to found within Jesus' padded-out and occasionally interminable running time, with filmmaker Fernando Guzzoni emphasizing and employing some of the hoariest conventions associated with movies of this ilk - including jittery, handheld camerawork, an aimless, uneventful narrative, and a troubled, less-than-sympathetic central character. The movie's punishingly meandering atmosphere grows more and more problematic as time slowly progresses, as the hands-off atmosphere ensures that one's efforts at sympathizing with Jesus' eventual plight fall hopelessly flat. And while there's certainly an authenticity to the production - this could easily be mistaken for a documentary - Jesus' pervasively minimalist vibe holds the viewer at arms length throughout and ultimately dulls the impact of the central character's increasingly grim trajectory. (The ending, for example, possesses none of the power that Guzzoni has surely intended.)

out of

Directed by Adrian Sitaru

Fixer follows the title character, Tudor Istodor's Radu Patru, as he agrees to help two journalists break a story involving underaged prostitutes, with the movie detailing the character's attempts to secure an interview with one of the girls (while also maintaining his own personal integrity). Though it contains a somewhat underwhelming opening half hour, Fixer benefits substantially from a storyline that grows more and more compelling as time progresses - with Radu's ongoing efforts at making the aforementioned interview happen paving the way for a number of impressively compelling sequences. (The best and most obvious example of this involves Radu and the journalists' conversation with said girl's emotional mother.) Istodor's strong performance goes a long way towards perpetuating the film's watchable atmosphere, and it's worth noting, too, that the actor's character doesn't always come off as the likable protagonist one might've anticipated. (He is, for example, not exactly kind to his young son.) Scripters Claudia and Adrian Silisteanu's penchant for oddball digressions does wreak havoc on the movie's momentum, however, as the screenwriters offer up a series of scenes presumably meant to add color but that instead, generally speaking, merely pad out the running time - with, ultimately, the subtle note on which Fixer concludes confirming its place as a minor realist procedural.

out of

© David Nusair