Toronto International Film Festival – Day Nine: Back to the Minors

As the TIFF winds down, smaller films take over. Most of them are vying for distribution or at the very least, lock video release. It’s a mixed bag in which quality doesn’t necessarily equal success.

Sensation: This bucolic Irish comedy has a fundamental flaw: It’s a bucolic comedy. Donal, the underachiever son of a deceased farmer discovers he has an affinity for business, but not the education or any social skills. Easy to predict, he becomes a pimp and falls in love with his only working girl (it’s like Napoleon Dynamite, only Irish and rated R). There is a sweetness to the procedures, which goes to the dogs as the business unexpectedly begins to prosper. If there is anything to rescue from Sensation is the protagonist, Domhnall Gleeson (son of Brendan), soon to bring his amazing blank-piece-of-paper charisma to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Two Prairie Dogs. Distribution? Not a chance.

Conviction: Hilary Swank, who despite winning two Oscars before hitting 40, still has serious problems to land worthy roles. In Conviction, Swank turns stubborness into a virtue, like in every other movie she has been. The movie is a completely average courtroom drama saved by the acting. Based on a real-life travesty of justice, Betty Ann Walters had to put herself through law school and beat the legal system in order to reverse her brother’s conviction for murder in the first degree. Swank and the always watchable Sam Rockwell make the close ties between the Walters kids believable, but there is nothing remarkable about this flick. Two and a half Prairie Dogs. Distribution? Mainstream release, but I would wait until premieres in cable.

Dirty Girl: This day would be a write-off if it wasn’t because of this teenage comedy set in the Eighties. Danielle (Juno Temple, Atonement), the most “popular” girl in school, ends in the special-ed class because of her promiscuous behavior. She is matched with overweight, nerdy Clarke (promising newcomer Jeremy Dozier) for one of those “maternity” projects that are supposed to teach kids responsibility. A predictable Hollywood sex romp would have them fall in love despite appearance and reputation. But Dirty Girl throws a curve ball by making Clarke gay and turning the parents into villains. With solid supporting performances by Milla Jovovich (finally!) and the reliably scummy Dwight Yoakam, Dirty Girl is a complete blast. Three and a half Prairie Dogs. Distribution? Just locked, thankfully.

Repeaters: Canadian filmmaker Carl Bessai brought to Toronto the least “Carl Bessai” movie ever (i.e. character-heavy, pretentious). Repeaters is a cheap thriller that borrows heavily from Bill Murray masterpiece Groundhog Day. Up-and-commers Dustin Milligan, Richard De Klerk and the very cute Amanda Crew (Charlie St. Cloud) are three drug addicts in rehab who find themselves reliving the same day, over and over (Groundhog Day!) The threesome goes through the same stages than Phil Connors: fear, wonder, abuse, despair, redemption (Groundhog Day!), but one of them gets stuck in the hedonistic part of the process. Only when the group splinters Repeaters develops its own identity. Too little, too late. Even the moral of the story is identical: Only good deeds will set you free. I have another one: Cheaters never win. Two Prairie Dogs. Distribution: In Canada.

That’s it from me at TIFF. For what it’s worth, it was worth all the while. See you at the movies.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.

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