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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

September 12, 2010 at 10:33 PM

At TIFF: “127 Hours,” “Conviction”

I’ve seen, oh, six movies since midday yesterday (and it’s now past 1 a.m. in Toronto), so forgive me if this post is a little short and a little muddled. But the best film I saw today, and the worst film I saw yesterday, reminded me of two things: a) This world is full of fascinating, admirable individuals who have accomplished impressive feats, and b) not all of these feats, however remarkable, necessarily need to be translated into a movie. “Conviction,” which stars Hilary Swank, is a perfect illustration. It’s the true and undeniably inspiring story of Betty Anne Waters, a working-class Massachusetts single mom who, devastated when her brother was convicted of murder, put herself through a G.E.D. program, a college degree, and law school in order to defend him and overturn his conviction. The movie isn’t terrible — it’s very well-acted, particularly Swank and Sam Rockwell as the brother — but there’s nothing cinematic about this story (watching someone go to law school hasn’t been interesting since “Legally Blonde”), and nothing fresh that the director or screenwriter can bring to the material. We know exactly where it’s going, and it goes there; there are moments when you can practically recite the dialogue along with the actors. I left thinking I’d rather have read a book by Waters about her story than watched this well-meaning yet flat movie.
franco127hours.jpg
And then Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” blew me away. In this true story, climber Aron Ralston gets trapped under a boulder in a remote Utah canyon and has to, over several days, do something unimaginable to save himself. I’d heard what that was, and I was thinking I didn’t even want to see this movie — and have to confess to a few moments of staring down at my lap, reminding myself that James Franco, as Ralston, was just acting. It’s an intense, wildly creative 90 minutes of adrenaline, with an ending that brought tears — happy ones — to my eyes. (And to the real Ralston’s, who was at the screening and who at first couldn’t even speak about the film. Composing himself, he spoke briefly and movingly about what it meant to watch the film with his family and friends surrounding him.) Like “Conviction,” we pretty much know how this movie will end (who would have wanted to make the film if it had ended differently?), but it doesn’t matter a whit. Boyle, who ruled TIFF with “Slumdog Millionaire” two years ago, has another winner; go, even if you think you don’t want to (it opens in Seattle in November), and you’ll be thrilled.
1:30 a.m., dear readers. I’m off to bed. More tomorrow.
(Photo: James Franco in “127 Hours,” by Chuck Zlotnick.)

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