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Toronto International Film Festival 2005 - UPDATE #4

The French Guy
Directed by Ann Marie Fleming

Undoubtedly one of the worst films to play at this year's festival, The French Guy is a tedious, interminable, and flat-out awful black comedy that strikes all the wrong notes right from the get-go (the movie opens with an extreme close-up of a wound being stitched, if that's any indication). Elizabeth (Babz Chula) has just undergone brain surgery to remove some kind of cancerous growth, and though she's convinced that she needs more time in the hospital, she finds herself discharged mere hours after the anesthesia has worn off. It becomes clear almost immediately that something's gone terribly wrong - as Elizabeth finds herself suffering from uncontrollable bursts of murderous rage every time she sneezes.The French Guy's been written and directed by Ann Marie Fleming, who is clearly going for an absurd, off-the-wall, this-could-never-happen-anytime-anywhere sort of vibe; on that level, she certainly succeeds. But the problem is that Fleming clearly intends for the majority of this to come off as funny and clever, two adjectives which absolutely do not apply to even a split-second of The French Guy. The film's many problems are exacerbated by Chula's irritating, unreasonably over-the-top performance; the actress doesn't chew the scenery so much as she devours it. Add to that a pointless subplot involving a stereotypical French character (he even wears a beret!) and a truly disgusting tongue-dismemberment sequence which seems as though it'd be more at home in a Takashi Miike flick, and you've got a recipe for a thoroughly unpleasant experience.

no stars out of

Mrs. Henderson Presents
Directed by Stephen Frears

Mrs. Henderson Presents is an innocuous and oh-so-British comedy that's clearly been designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible (this is precisely the sort of film that Miramax - now The Weinstein Company - trots out around Christmastime). As a result, while it's essentially entertaining throughout (though it does go on a bit longer than necessary), the film just never becomes terribly compelling. Judi Dench stars as the titular Mrs. Henderson, a widow who decides to purchase a rundown theater house. She hires the crusty, curmudgeonly Vivian van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to run it, and it's not long before the theater is running round-the-clock nude revues (a first for London). Mrs. Henderson Presents has been directed by Stephen Frears, who imbues the movie with a light-hearted touch - even through some of the story's darker moments. Dench delivers exactly the sort of performance that one might expect from her, and admittedly does a nice job of stepping into the shoes of this comedically out-of-touch snob (she refers to the homeless as "delightful creatures"). Hoskins is clearly the most effective aspect of the film, stealing scenes to such an extent that we begin to miss him when he's offscreen (which is, unfortunately, more and more frequent towards the end). But at a certain point, Mrs. Henderson Presents can't help but feel like Oscar bait (there are even two separate sequences in which both Dench and Hoskins are allowed to deliver rousing speeches, with Dench literally standing atop a soapbox during hers) - ensuring that viewers who dug fluff like Chocolat and Shakespeare in Love (both of which, not-so-coincidentally, featured Dench) will undoubtedly have a ball with Mrs. Henderson Presents.

out of

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic
Directed by Liam Lynch

It's clear almost immediately that director Liam Lynch and star Sarah Silverman aren't looking to convert non-fans with Jesus is Magic, as the film pulls absolutely no punches in presenting Silverman's unique brand of comedy. As a result, it's fairly obvious that unless one is already a follower of Silverman's work, Jesus is Magic isn't going to come off as anything other than a very long 72 minutes. The film combines Silverman's stage show with a series of skits and musical numbers, to mostly underwhelming effect; the skits are generally tedious and silly, while Silverman's act consists almost entirely of jokes that aren't terribly funny (which is the bottom line, really). Silverman's often seems more interested in provoking the audience than making them laugh, a choice that becomes tiresome almost immediately. And while Jesus is Magic doesn't become flat-out dull until about halfway through, there's no doubt that it would've been far more effective as a 22-minute Comedy Central special.

out of

Directed by Jeff Stanzler

Featuring one of the best performances of Robin Wright Penn's career (which is no small feat, given the sort of exemplary work she's done in the past), Sorry,Haters tells the intriguing story of an accountant named Phoebe and her relationship with a Muslim taxi driver (played by Abdellatif Kechiche). While the film initially seems like its going to be a deceptively simple look at the tentative friendship between these two disparate characters, it becomes clear soon enough that writer/director Jeff Stanzler has something far more sinister up his sleeve. It takes an awfully long time for the viewer to come to that realization, though, thanks primarily to Wright Penn's grounded, thoroughly convincing performance (the gritty, low-budget vibe doesn't hurt, either). As a result, the film works as both an examination of post-9/11 relations between Muslims and everyone else, as well as a trippy, mess-with-your-head sort of thriller. And then there's the conclusion, which is destined to leave audiences thinking and talking about it for hours after everything's said and done.

out of

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Bubble likely marks Steven Soderbergh's least accessible and most lethargically-paced film to date, which is no small feat considering the sort of work the filmmaker has produced in the past (ie Full Frontal, Solaris, etc). And though the mundane vibe takes a while to get used to, there's absolutely no denying that Bubble is - on the whole - an absolutely mesmerizing piece of work. With a cast comprised entirely of unknowns, the film revolves around three employees of a doll factory. There's Kyle (Dustin James Ashley), an apathetic young man who lives in a trailer with his mother; Martha (Debbie Doebereiner), a friendly middle-aged woman who is stuck caring for her infirm father; and Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins), a newcomer to the factory who takes an immediate shine to Kyle. Bubble feels more like a debut film rather than the latest effort from an accomplished director, due primarily to Soderbergh's incredibly low-key stylistic choices and the absence of professional actors (the movie is filled with weird, emotionless performances). Yet despite the film's obvious deficiencies, there's something strangely hypnotic about all this; Soderbergh's gift for storytelling has never been more evident, and the striking visuals and memorable score (by Robert Pollard) lend Bubble an unforgettable sort of quality (ie this is the kind of movie that rattles around in your brain long after the end credits have rolled).

out of

Metal: A Headbanger's Journey
Directed by Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen, and Jessica Joy-Wise

Metal: A Headbanger's Journey is an engaging, entertaining little documentary revolving around lifelong metalhead Sam Dunn's efforts to determine why the genre has never fully been embraced by the mainstream. The movie also acts as a primer on metal's history, and features interviews with dozens of well-known (and not-so-well-known) figures - including Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, Rush's Geddy Lee, and Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson (no, not the Bruce Dickinson). Dunn - along with co-directors Scot McFadyen and Jessica Joy-Wise - effectively covers a plethora of heavy metal-related matters, including a profile of a few hardcore fans, a look at metal's struggles with censorship, and even a visit with a scary, church-burning Norwegian musician. The first half of Metal: A Headbanger's Journey is far more effective than the second, as it's at that point the film begins to explore some decidedly obscure facets of the genre (including its most extreme variation, Norwegian Black Metal). The uneven vibe is exacerbated by the inclusion of certain topics which feel out of place in the grand scheme of things, something that's particularly true of Dunn's interview with a famous groupie. Still, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey is generally entertaining and occasionally informative; if nothing else, the film's worth checking out for the sporadic interview footage of Rob Zombie and Dee Snider (two prominent metal musicians who come off as far more intelligent and well-spoken than their over-the-top personas might have suggested).

out of

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© David Nusair