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#TIFF15 Reviews: London Road, Black, We Monsters, Legend, She Stoops to Conquer

September 11, 2015

By John Corrado

#TIFF15The 40th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival kicked off last night, and will be going strong in the city until September 20th.

My first batch of reviews from yesterday are right here, and below are my thoughts on five more films that I had the chance to screen in advance.  As always, please come back tomorrow and throughout the rest of the festival for my thoughts on many more films.

More information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here, or through the links in the film titles, which are arranged in order of when they first screen.  Enjoy!

London Road: Adapting an award-winning stage show for the screen, London Road crafts an emotional musical out of the most unlikely subject matter, taking the exact words spoken by witnesses and locals after five sex workers were murdered in a small English suburb, and setting them to music.  Although some of these melodies work better than others, and the film can feel a little stretched at 92 minutes, the genuinely intriguing nature of the concept, and great sympathy behind what could have felt like exploitation, help make this bold experiment remain successful at what it sets out to do.  Yes, London Road will surely be an acquired taste, but this is an admirably unique production that has enough solid performances and emotionally affective moments to make it worth seeing.  Tom Hardy fans should note that the actor is only in it one scene, but we do get to hear him sing, and it’s one of the more memorable moments.

Thursday, September 10th – 9:30 PM at Visa Screening Room (Elgin)
Friday, September 11th – 12:30 PM at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Sunday, September 20th – 6:00 PM at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Black: A modern reimagining of Romeo & Juliet, Black charts the forbidden romance between Marwan (Aboubakr Bensaïhi) and Mavela (Martha Canga Antonio), a pair of teens from warring and culturally different street gangs in Brussels, who fall for each other after getting arrested and struggle to keep their relationship going amidst increasing racial tension.  Although there is some flashy camerawork and energetic editing here, the thoroughly predictable story and brutally violent content quickly grow tedious, even at a brief but exhausting 91 minutes.  This is an often nasty piece of work, that becomes borderline racist and exploitative in its all too graphic depictions of violence and rape, with the thumping rap soundtrack threatening to romanticize the gang life seen within.

Thursday, September 10th – 9:00 PM at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Sunday, September 13th – 10:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 2
Saturday, September 19th – 3:15 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 3

We Monsters: Themes of how far parents would go to protect their children are explored in the German family drama We Monsters.  When their teenaged daughter Sarah (Janina Fautz) confesses to killing her best friend (Marie Bendig), divorced parents Paul (Mehdi Nebbou) and Christine (Ulrike C. Tscharre) are forced back under the same roof, determined to protect their offspring from the police.  There is some interesting camerawork here, and the central trio of performers often do their best with the material.  But We Monsters never builds enough tension or suspense to really work as a thriller, instead leaving us with ample time to question the many poor choices made by the characters.  With the obvious subtext of the title is brought to light in overly literal ways.  This murderous melodrama simply isn’t as interesting or compelling as it could have been, falling firmly in the mediocre middle ground of foreign cinema.

Friday, September 11th – 10:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 2
Saturday, September 12th – 9:30 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 11
Saturday, September 19th – 12:15 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 9

Legend: Back in the 1960s, the Kray brothers owned the crime-riddled streets of London, and these notorious gangster twins are given the glossy biopic treatment in Legend, both portrayed by Tom Hardy in a dual role.  Reggie is a slick negotiator who knows his way around the family business, and is trying to pursue a relationship with Frances (Emily Browning), who also serves as our narrator.  Ronnie is a raging sociopath with brutally violent tendencies, who has just gotten out of a mental institution, and happens to “prefer boys.”  These two wildly different personas allow Tom Hardy to explore his impressive range, seamlessly switching modes between the tough but polished Reggie, and doing something much more over the top as the often caricatured Ronnie, in a compelling acting exercise that can be quite fun to watch.  Emily Browning is also solid, working with some nicely worded voiceover, and breathing a little more depth into what is otherwise an underwritten role.

Director Brian Helgeland has crafted a stylish period piece overall, with some pleasing tracking shots and an appealing soundtrack of classic tunes.  But the film itself is somewhat less compelling, with a loose plot structure that unfolds in a series of often sporadic moments over the sprawling 130 minute running time, never quite nailing its tone between dark comedy and glossed over crime saga.  Although Legend ultimately can’t live up to the great Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola films that it so clearly tries to emulate, this is still a pretty good gangster epic, that offers enough small pleasures and entertaining scenes to make it mildly worth seeing.  And chief among these pleasures is the solid double whammy of a performance from Tom Hardy, who admirably gives this otherwise uneven film his all.

Saturday, September 12th – 9:30 PM at Roy Thomson Hall
Sunday, September 13th – 11:00 AM at Visa Screening Room (Elgin)
Saturday, September 19th – 9:15 PM at Princess of Wales

She Stoops to Conquer: Playing in Shorts Cuts Programme 5, She Stoops to Conquer follows a woman (Kayla Lorette) who puts on prosthetics and makeup to perform as a man, only to meet the doppelgänger of her masked character (Julian Richings) in a nightclub.  At 16 minutes, this is an odd but interesting little film from first time director Zack Russell, that has fun playing around with gender roles, and is worth seeing for the makeup and performances of Kayla Lorette and Julian Richings, who was persuaded to appear in the film after seeing a picture of the young actress disguised as him.

Sunday, September 13th – 7:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 10
Saturday, September 19th – 12:45 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 11


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