Weighing in on TIFF 2010



Directed by: Tony Goldwyn

Starring: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Juliette Lewis, Minnie Driver

Considering the Oscar-buzz surrounding both the film and its cast, Tony Goldwyn’s Conviction was slated to be one of the highlights of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

Unfortunately, having one of the most poorly conceived scripts of the last decade at its core, the movie crashes and burns into nothing more than a Hollywood crime drama wet dream.

The film is based on the true story of Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), a rural Massachusetts housewife who decides to pursue a law degree in order to clear the name of her wrongfully convicted older brother (Sam Rockwell).

I was hoping that the movie wouldn’t turn out to be as redundant as it sounded, but alas, I was in for some disappointment.

Try to think of every cliché that you could throw into a crime drama of this nature and run them back-to-back for 90 minutes. You now have the plot of Conviction.

Somewhere amongst the ill-advised yelling and the corny, half-wit dialogue there were some really dignified performances.

Sam Rockwell steals every single moment of screen time that he can, doing everything he can to legitimize the movie, giving the only truly award-worthy performance in the process.

Supporting players, Melissa Leo and Juliette Lewis turn in pretty stellar work in the little time they have on screen, and I couldn’t believe how much this movie made me miss Minnie Driver.

Unfortunately, the talented cast could only do so much with the blatantly bad writing and significantly boring direction of Goldwyn.

At least one thing is clear now though: Conviction will not be a factor come awards season in any category except Best Supporting Actor.

1 and 1/2 out of 4
Wade Thompson


The Town

Directed by: Ben Affleck

Starring: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall

I may be jumping the gun by saying this, but Ben Affleck may have just made the film that will put the 2003 disaster known as Gigli behind him.

The Town may look like a cross between Heat and The Departed from the outside, but given time it reveals itself as a film of its own. The Town refers to Charlestown, a neighbourhood in Boston, Massachusetts infamous for being home to organized crime outfits specializing in bank robberies.

Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is the leader of a four-member team who becomes romantically involved with the manager of the bank that his team robs at the beginning of the film (Rebecca Hall).

Attempting to hunt down the culprits of the initial bank robbery is FBI agent Adam Frawley (Mad Men’s Jon Hamm), hell-bent on finding evidence that can put MacRay and his team in prison.

Affleck flexes his dramatic acting chops as MacRay, Hurt Locker star Jeremy Renner frequently steals scenes from him as the trigger-happy Jem Coughlin, one of the team members with a fairly twisted attitude towards personal safety.

The Town manages to efficiently balance intelligent dialogue with perfectly executed action sequences and some very tense moments of suspense.

The pace of the film is never too slow; the comic relief is never in excess.

While it doesn’t deliver exploding 18-wheelers or monologues packed with Oscarbait drama, The Town is an excellent example of how to make an exciting film with real action, suspense and fully developed characters.

This film shows a lot of promise in Affleck as a director and generates interest in his future career should he continue his efforts behind the camera.

3 and 1/2 out of 4
Shawn Zacchigna


Outside the Law (Hors-La-Loi)

Directed by: Rachid Bouchareb

Starring: Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila

When the plot of your movie revolves around three brothers and the gangster underworld that they are trying to control, it’s rather hard not to draw comparisons to The Godfather.

And if it didn’t lack the needed intensity, it would have come close.

The story concerns an Algerian family living amongst the segregated turmoil in 1950s France. Starting out in the slums, the three brothers of the family take different paths to ultimately try and achieve what they believe to be the perfect life since having their lives uprooted at a very young age.

All three brothers come with equally engaging storylines, but there is a noticeable lack of screen time devoted to evoking empathy from our three anti-heroes.

Instead, the audience is just thrown in to their lives, expected to follow them along without any real connection. Because of this, the intensity of some potentially heartbreaking moments is kind of lost amongst the advancing story.

Overall, the movie met expectations. It was exactly the kind of movie you expect to see when attending this sort of film festival.

The foreign language factor, the tragic innocence lost, the ensemble cast.

Outside the Law was by no means a disappointment, it just seemed to have its sights set a little higher than it should have.

2 out of 4
Wade Thompson


At Ellen’s Age

Directed by: Pia Marais

Starring: Jeanne Balibar, Georg Friedrich

This German film follows a woman named Ellen on a journey of self-discovery.

Down and out, and flitting between social groups and housing arrangements, Ellen becomes involved in a larger movement.

Heavy overtones of animal liberation and the need for personal freedom permeate At Ellen’s Age, though the storyline is often convoluted and difficult to follow due to its extreme and peculiar twists.

Speaking with the audience after the screening, director Pia Marais explained that her character Ellen was “lacking stability” and “looking for identity” throughout the movie.

She attributes this instability to a “redundant lifestyle” that Ellen wants to break out of, as well as the loneliness that air stewardesses experience as a result of constantly being surrounded by strangers.

Marais also claimed that the project was a reflection of “how people build families for themselves,” especially when faced with crippling loneliness.

Jeanne Balibar gives an admirable and intriguing performance as the title character though the storyline renders the audience frustrated, leaving questions totally unanswered and loose ends far from tied up.

Despite watching Ellen for an extended period of time, the audience learns very little about her.

Marais explained that she wanted to keep the ending ambiguous, but At Ellen’s Age could definitely have benefited from a little bit more clarity.

2 out of 4
–Sarah Murphy

Red Nights

Directed by: Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud

Starring: Carrie Ng, Frédérique Bel

A sadistic French thriller set in Hong Kong, this film depicts a salacious murderer named Carrie (Carrie Ng) who suggestively tortures her victims to death. The TIFF Midnight Madness program is always filled with curious, yet awe-inspiring eccentric films, and Red Nights definitely fits this bill.

The film, directed by Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud, is premised on Carrie’s pursuit of a white jade artifact that holds the poison serum of China’s first Emperor’s executioner, which possesses the power to paralyze. This poison is protected by Catherine (Frédérique Bel) and audiences get to watch a bloody battle between these two femme fatales.

The narrative relies heavily on long animalistic torture scenes. The film’s concept of torture was indisputably original, and although disturbingly graphic, the stylized violence looks great on screen.

Nevertheless, after constant repetition of similar scenes depicting gruesome fights, the effect seemed rather redundant.

Simultaneously seductive and repulsive, this film will doubtlessly intrigue its audience as the plotline and characters descend into perverse levels of gore.

Jessica Howell

L’Amour Fou

Directed by: Pierre Thoretton

Starring: Yves Saint-Laurent, Pierre Bergé

Pierre Thorreton’s L’Amour Fou is a retrospective of Yves Saint-Laurent from the eyes and in the words of his former lover and business partner Pierre Bergé.

The documentary is set in the wake of Saint-Laurent’s 2008 passing and the ensuing sale of the extensive Saint-Laurent/Bergé art collection.

Fond memories of the fashion designer’s career are explored, from his succession to the head of Dior’s couture house at the age of 20 up to his retirement in 2002.

Recollections of these milestones are interspersed with darker reflections of his personal turmoil that culminated in long periods of seclusion and substance abuse.

Saint-Laurent changed the face of fashion, introducing the first ready-to-wear line from a haute couture designer and his landmark collections like the Mondrian dresses (1965) and Russian-inspired attire (1976)are beautifully documented in L’Amour Fou.

The film is informative and gorgeous to look at.

Old photographs and video footage show Saint-Laurent in all his fabulousness of the 1950s and 60s, through until 2002.

Despite the abrupt and seemingly rushed ending, this film manages to present Yves Saint-Laurent as an intriguing figure without demanding previous knowledge of the designer from the audience.

Beautiful and captivating, though at times disjointed, L’Amour Fou is still worth watching 2 years on from the fashion mogul’s death and the couple’s art sale (which, by the way, raked in $484 million).

3 out of 4
Sarah Murphy

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