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TIFF Recap: Day 3

Films seen Saturday, September 6th …

Edison & Leo
This is my biggest disappointment so far. The film is much more lighthearted than I anticipated and the character animation was poor to the extent of distracting. I can understand that in the tedious world of stop-motion that human mouths must be a real chore; it seems here the the mouths were probably separate pieces from the rest of the head and repeatedly swapped out for different shapes to achieve the look of talking. But there’s no attempt to disguise the seams, and the overall effect just seemed like bad dubbing. It’s one thing for the male characters to look this way, it’s kind of a Homer Simpson look going on. But when all the females are like this too, it just looks really weird. And not the interesting kind of weird I was hoping for from this movie. There were a few neat designs, but overall it was fairly simplistic. As for the story, take out a few graphic scenes and some mature dialog and you’ve got a lightweight children’s story.
5/10

Vinyan
How to describe this one? I think the best sequence is early on, as the camera races through a crowded Thai marketplace at night as a husband searches for his wife who has disappeared into the sea of people. The scene is tense, driving by the wife’s desperation to locate a local gangster who can help locate their son who may have been taken in the chaos following the tsunami. The premise is intriguing, as it leads to a dangerous trek through Burmese villages. But there are only so many plausible places for this story to go, and it eventually veers far, far away from any of those. And instead of having the story drive the tension, there are a few occasions where the director has resorted to visual and especially annoying audio effects to assault the system. The last bit of the movie is perplexing, though memorable, seemingly having little to do with where the story started out from. Maybe I’m missing something.
4/10

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
This was a very fun and enjoyable movie. It doesn’t have the same maturity and heart of say, Juno, nor the absolute zaniness and hilarity of Superbad (contemporary films it’s sure to be compared to), but as far as all-night teen adventures go it hits the mark. It’s very funny and believable and will do well with mainstream audiences. As expected, Michael Cera and Kat Dennings were very good; Ari Graynor has a bunch of scene-stealing moments.
7/10

Religulous
I didn’t go into this expecting a philosophical treatise on the world’s religions and the concept of faith … I doubt most people would, but I wanted to get that point out of the way. As a comedy routine at the expense of religion, though, this totally hits the mark. The hypocrisy and illogic of all religions is fertile ground for humor, and Maher mines it well. This film won’t be converting people to actually take a critical look at their beliefs and admit any shortcomings with their chosen religion, but for the skeptics out there who like a good laugh, this certainly delivers. Amen to that!
8/10

A Plus for TLS; No Zack & Miri

One positive for the AMC as a venue … or rather, for Toronto Life Square in which it is located. I’m currently in the food court and there is free wi-fi; this particular network is named “Futureshop”, but there were others available. There are also power outlets to use in strategic locations.

Now, I’m not likely to be here often with my laptop, but I have it with me to help kill some time until my 9:45am showing (it’s currently almost 8am). I got up early and arrived at the Roy Thomson Hall box office a little after 6:30, putting me about 10 people from the front. I was hoping to get some of the Zack and Miri tickets that were available, but unfortunately by the time I got to the head of the line they were sold out. Sven was able to get some for him and Sandra by going online before they left for Toronto. Online is by far the most convenient option, but the unused vouchers from my ticket pass can only be used in person. After spending so much on the pass and having tickets to spare, I’m not about to pay more money to see films at the festival. It would have been nice to grab tickets for Mike and I, but I can certainly wait the few months until the movie has its regular release.

TIFF Recap: Day 2

Films seen Friday, September 5th …

The Sky Crawlers
Anytime the characters take to the skies, this film is just gorgeous. The aircraft look amazingly realistic, and when they engage in dogfights the action is intense and thrilling. Now, I didn’t expect the movie to be all action, but the shift in pace outside the cockpits really slowed things down. It just took too long for bits of story to progess, was at times overdramatic, and my interest waned.
4/10

C’est pas moi, je le jure!
Other problem kids have nothing on the one in this story. Fond of suicide attempts, colorful lies, and breaking into neighborhood homes and stealing things … at the tender age of 10. Yet Léon’s behavior isn’t particularly malicious, there’s still a childish quality to it as he gets himself in over his head. And it’s all absolutely hilarious, with a bit of heartbreak thrown in. I laughed loudly and often, and the performance of Antoine L’Écuyer as Léon was fantastic. The standing ovation from the 800+ audience members was well-deserved for pulling off such a mature, charming, humorous, and believable performance.
8/10

Derrière moi
I didn’t know much about this one going in, as it was a pretty last-minute selection to fill an empty spot in my schedule; Mike was already going, so I decided to join him. It was a nice surprise, although you need patience for a film that moves at such a deliberate pace. In the developing friendship between a small-town girl (Léa) and a big-city partier (Betty), you first worry about corruption of the innocent and naive teen. There’s the usual drugs & alcohol. But Betty’s intentions often veer towards other unsettling territory … but as you’re expecting it and nothing materializes, you wonder if you’re imagining something that isn’t there. Then it turns out worse than you thought. Fine performances from both of the lead actresses.
6/10

TIFF Recap: Day 1

Films seen Thursday, September 4th …

Zift
An interesting mix of characters populate this gritty story covering all the sweet spots: crime, sex, revenge, betrayal. Key parts of the story are somewhat predictable, but the time-shifting structure and the great visual look keep things moving along nicely. I was surprised to hear this was the director’s first film, coming from a background in stage theater. But the camera work was really well done, and I’d watch this film again for the fun experience.
7/10

Waltz with Bashir
A very engaging and troubling personal exploration of repressed memories and the realities of war & the young soldiers put on the front lines. The film does not approach things from the bigger political POV, so I think it works quite well despite whatever thoughts you already have about the Lebanon war or the Middle East in general. The animation is not ’slick’, but it is very well done, particularly a few neat techniques that make things stand out. Soundtrack was also quite good — the director mentioned it was actually completed first and the animators worked while listening to it. Overall a very gripping film and recommended viewing.
8/10

JCVD
Jean-Claude certainly does give a great performance as himself. He’s very weary of how’s he’s been typecast, and his frustration and other emotions ring very true. I was very impressed. The story to showcase this side of the action star is pretty good, with plenty of humorous moments. It works well precisely because of the impression we have formed of JCVD over the years and turns them upside down.
7/10

Some Early Notes from TIFF

Some disappointment with the AMC as a venue: there is one lineup outside for all films, starting at the corner of Dundas-Victoria and then extending along Victoria. I hadn’t been here before, so I was hoping it would be like Scotiabank where you can wait indoors (particularly important on those rainy days). Once it’s time for you to enter, there’s a bit of chaos as you have to walk around the corner to Dundas, into the building, then up three escalators to the AMC lobby. All the while, mixing in with regular pedestrian traffic. For the unscrupulous, there are plenty of places to hang out along this route, then just jump in once you see the horde of people making their way in.

As seen on ticket pick-up day, the line to the Toronto Life Square box office starts outside. You’re handed a voucher/bookmark (let’s see if it changes day to day) to prove you were in line once you’re let up. At 5pm on Monday, the wait was 60-90 mins … too long for me to exchange some vouchers and still make my 6pm showing.

But speaking of box offices, I visited the one at Roy Thomson Hall for the first time today. At 10:30 am it was totally a breeze, no lineup at all. I wonder how this compares to the other two at this time? But based on this experience and what others have said, if you’re in the area of RTH and need anything ticket-related, be sure to try there.

TIFF 08 – Chasing the Buzz

Each year, Toronto Star movie critic Pete Howell takes a poll of critics, programmers and regular film buffs to see what they’re most looking forward to at this year’s Film Festival. And for the third year, I’ve been lucky enough to participate in this! Check it out. Also on the panel is Ray Yick, host of the ever-useful tiffreviews.com, which I’ve been able to help contribute to a little bit this year. Be sure to check out that site for lots of TIFF info, and also the forums for discussion and ticket trading/buying/selling.

As for the buzz … surprisingly Che received the most mentions, but I have a feeling it won’t be the most talked about film once the festival is over. It was nice to see that one of my picks, Pontypool, received the second most votes. I had Bruce McDonald’s The Tracey Fragments on my list last year, which ended up being somewhat disappointing. Hopefully this year he has a stronger showing. My other two picks — Nick & Norah and New York, I Love You — also got multiple votes.

TIFF 08 – Updated Selections

The results of the advance draw didn’t turn out too badly, after all. I received my confirmation email at about 11:30am on Sunday and got 30 of my 37 selections. As expected, some of the more recognizable titles didn’t make it (Zack and Miri, Synecdoche, Adoration, Pontypool). It seems that earlier screenings, even for lower profile films, are more likely to sell out: I didn’t get Zift, Afterwards, nor Uncertainty which were all scheduled during the first few days; yet The Wrestler and RocknRolla on the last day of the festival were available.

Today, Sakina and I ventured downtown for ticket pick-up and exchange. I did this two years ago when Mike and I were in a similar poor spot in the draw. Expecting similar lines, we arrived around 8am which was two hours before the box office opened. In 2006, arriving just after 8am, it took less than 4 hours from that point to pick up tickets, then join the following line for those making exchanges (that’s pretty much everyone who bothers to get there that early), and then get everything sorted out. This year it took closer to 5.5hrs! For an excellent breakdown of the process, check out TIFF Talk (Firefox isn’t always liking this URL … if you get error, just go to address bar and hit enter, the page will load fine). In fact, the guy who runs that site must have been right behind us, because in the last picture you can see the back of Sakina’s head in the bottom left!

Despite the brutal lines, I think the trip was a success. By the time we got to the box office proper, the original screening of Zift that I selected was back on sale. I was able to get Pontypool at a different time, which involved shifting my screening of Cooper’s Camera to another day and dropping One Week altogether. I also added Lost Song and Maman est chez le coiffeur (more about those later). With Mike’s pass, I secured 4 alternate films he wanted and got a couple of things for Sven & Sandra as well.

I still have a bunch of extra vouchers from my pack. We’ll see what Sakina might be interested to see, and I’ll also try to slot in some additional films. There are some that are off sale that I’ll keep my eye on, plus some others that I’m awaiting further info (i.e., more reviews) before committing. As of now, my schedule is looking like this.

TIFF 08 Selections – First Draft

Alright, here are the films I’ve included in my Advance Order, sorted by programme. My top picks are shown with a *. As posted below, I’m not sitting in a great spot in the draw so I fully expect there to be changes, particularly for higher profile selections.

You can see the actual schedule of these films by clicking here.

Canada First!

  • *Borderline: stars Quebec actress Isabelle Blais who’s been in some great movies: Sur la trace d’Igor Rizzi (TIFF 06), Saints-Martyrs-des-Damnés (TIFF 05), The Barbarian Invasions, Québec-Montréal; this one is “an erotic drama about a woman facing her 30th birthday who looks back at her life growing-up with her grandmother, crazy mother and her over-indulgence with men, sex and alcohol.”
    Borderline
  • Control Alt Delete: a guy addicted to online porn takes his relationship with his computer to the next level; plot sounds about right for a Canadian film, although this looks more silly rather than disturbing.
  • Cooper’s Camera: a Christmas comedy about a dysfunctional family (is there any other kind?) set in the 80s; co-written by Jason Jones (of The Daily Show), and starring him and his wife Samantha Bee (also of The Daily Show).
  • *Edison & Leo: the country’s first stop-motion feature film opens the Canada First! programme (as did the enjoyable Fido [2006] and Young People Fucking [2007]); fantasy/fairy-tale set in an alternate 19th century; co-written by George Toles, who co-wrote Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg and Brand Upon the Brain!, which rank high on my list of TIFF favorites from the past two years.
    Edison & Leo

Contemporary World Cinema

  • *Revanche: an errand boy and a prostitute attempt to escape their life in a brothel; looks like an engaging drama.
    Revanche
  • Un été sans point ni coup sûr: a coming-of-age story in the Montreal suburbs back when the Expos were new to town and kids were trying to play their way onto neighborhood teams; Roy Dupuis (The Rocket, Shake Hands with the Devil) is the ‘evil’ local coach.
  • Wendy and Lucy: said to have a great performance by Michelle Williams, whose struggling character is the focus of the entire movie.
  • *White Night Wedding: from the director of 101 Reykjavík and Jar City (an impressive film from last year’s TIFF). The plot seems less offbeat than those, but IMDB rating is quite good so far.
    White Night Wedding

Discovery

  • Gigantic: a mattress salesman hoping to adopt a Chinese baby falls for a rich-girl he meets at the store; a romantic comedy starring Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will be Blood) and Zooey Deschanel.
  • *Hunger: rave reviews from Cannes where first-time director Steve McQueen was awarded the Camera d’Or; in brutal detail, tells the story of IRA prisoners and their hunger strike in the early 80s.
    Hunger
  • *Medicine for Melancholy: stellar reviews from SXSW; after a one-night stand, two African-Americans explore their place in San Francisco and the city itself.
    Medicine for Melancholy
  • *Zift: a Bulgarian film-noir; cinematography looks great.
    Zift

Gala Presentations

  • One Week: from the writer-director of Saint Ralph; a very Canadian road trip, starring Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek); will see the regular screening, rather than the gala; also features Emm Gryner, who I’ve seen playing as part of Danny Michel’s band.

Masters

  • *24 City: a huge factory makes way for luxury apartments in this examination of changes taking place in China; highly anticipated by many in the doc circuit (see TIFF blogs), although technically only half the interviews in this are real — others are provided by actors (including star Joan Chen); intriguing mash-up of reality and fiction.
    24 City
  • *Tokyo Sonata: about Japanese family that’s dysfunctional and slowly getting worse; the director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, is highly regarded and early reviews for the film have been very good.
    Tokyo Sonata

Midnight Madness

  • Deadgirl: in an abandoned boiler room, two sketchy teens come across the body of a bound and naked women … and let’s say the intentions of one of the guys aren’t exactly pure; controversial premise, to say the least.
  • JCVD: it stands for Jean-Claude Van Damme! Plays himself, but shows it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, especially when he’s implicated in a robbery; currently my only MM selection scheduled to be watched at midnight.
  • *Martyrs: the controversial, disturbing, graphically blood-soaked thriller-horror from Cannes; sure to polarize, but will likely be a huge crowd-pleaser for the MM set; said to be even more of a shock to the system than last year’s gory À l’intérieur (which was a lot of fun).
    Martyrs

Short Cuts Canada

  • *Programme 3
    • Bedroom: a long-married couple discuss their issues while in bed.
    • Forty Men for the Yukon: doc about two guys who reminisce about what brought them to live in the Yukon.
    • *Green Door: stars Canadian favs Tracy Wright and Don McKellar;
      Green Door
    • Midi: “a couple dealing with immigration, language and love.”
    • Passage: “four friends on a road trip discover the complicated arena of unforeseen desire”.
    • Pat’s First Kiss: shot on cell phone; “true story of the filmmaker’s first kiss with an undesirable stranger he meets overseas.”
    • Sunday: “The final days of a relationship’s collapse are seen from a suspicious ex-boyfriend’s perspective.”

Special Presentations

  • Adoration: directed by Atom Egoyan; I’ve missed his last few movies, and even though they haven’t received great reviews (including this one), there’s usually at least something thought-provoking from this Canadian director; cast includes Scott Speedman and Rachel Blanchard.
  • Ashes of Time Redux: new cut of 94’s Ashes of Time, from the director of In the Mood for Love and 2046; cast incudes Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung.
  • C’est pas moi, je le jure!: the clincher summary: “Set in 1968, the film focuses on ten-year-old Léon (Antoine L’Écuyer, in an amazing debut), an inveterate hellion whose favourite hobbies include failed suicide attempts, vandalism, theft, running away and breaking and entering.” Canadian, of course.
  • Gomorrah: interconnected stories set in modern-day Italian crime families; epic and violent, it is receiving very good reviews.
  • Inju, la bête dans l’ombre: a good-looking thriller/drama; a French author in Japan is set against a colleague known for his own violent and disturbing novels.
  • *New York, I Love You: same deal as Paris, je t’aime: a silly-long list of talented directors (and Brett Ratner) and actors bring us a bunch of short (& sometimes interconnected) stories set in one of the world’s great cities; apparently only an in-progress cut (release isn’t until next February).
    New York, I Love You
  • *Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist: Michael Cera comedy? I’m there. Also with with Kat Dennings (40 Year Old Virgin, Charlie Bartlett). Two showings at the Ryerson — hopefully this signal of buzz is well-earned and not just being manufactured.
    Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
  • Religulous: directed by Larry Charles (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Borat); Bill Maher interviews people all over the world about religion; how could they edit all the hilarity that must ensue into a mere 101 minutes?
  • RocknRolla: it’s a Guy Ritchie film, so I think we know just what kind of mayhem we can expect; cast includes Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson and Thandie Newton.
  • *Synecdoche, New York: first directing effort from Charlie Kaufman, who wrote some of my favorite films (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich); you just know it will be twisted, and weird, and wonderful … a man tries to create a life-size replica of New York inside a warehouse; check out the cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dianne Wiest, Hope Davis.
    Synecdoche, New York
  • *Waltz with Bashir: an Israeli veteran digs into his repressed memories of the Lebanon War; distinctive animation style; said to be this year’s Persepolis.
    Waltz with Bashir
  • *The Wrestler: director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) tackles the world of professional wrestling? Sure, ok, I’ll give it a whirl.
    The Wrestler
  • *Zack and Miri Make a Porno: by Kevin Smith, with Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks. Need to say more? Was initially hit with NC-17 rating, so that’s a good sign.

Vanguard

  • Afterwards: a thriller featuring the always great John Malkovich as a mysterious doctor who can apparently tell when people are about to die; also has Evangeline Lilly (Lost).
  • *Pontypool: from Canadian director Bruce McDonald (TIFF 07’s The Tracey Fragments, Highway 61, Hard Core Logo), taking on the thriller/horror genre for the first time.
    Pontypool

Visions

  • The Sky Crawlers: impressive-looking Japanese animated film; set in a reality where never-aging young pilots fight in a war that continues endlessly for the benefit of TV viewers; from the director famous for Ghost in the Shell (not that I’ve seen it).
  • Uncertainty: I’ll give just about any Joseph Gordon-Levitt film a chance; alternate & parallel stories of the consequences of a young couple’s decision; also has Olivia Thirbly (Juno).
  • Vinyan: the mystery of a tourist couple’s child washed away by the 2004 tsunami looks like it takes a creepy turn.

Box #9 It Is

Unfortunately the draw resulted in Box #9 (out of 78). The person I talked to said there are also about 3-5 boxes worth of donor packages, and they get to go first. So about 55 boxes will get processed before ours. :(

I’ll still post my selections for the advance draw in a bit, but certainly for the higher profile selections I imagine some modifications are going to be in order.

TIFF 08 Advance Draw Selections Now In

It took a 90 mins round trip, $2.25 for 16 mins of parking, and 30 seconds in line … but selections for the advance ticket draw are now submitted! Think good thoughts about Box 58. Sven & Sandra and Mike would also appreciate it, since I dropped theirs off, too.

I’ll have a post listing my selections in a bit.

Yet Another Year, Yet Another TIFF

Looks like I almost made it a full year without posting. But with the 2007 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival right around the corner, it seems appropriate to start back up about where I ended last year.

Instead of working on my own database to plan for the festival, I’ve been helping out over at tiffreviews.com. It’s much better having someone to split the research and data entry with, plus the site is a great resource for all the other news surrounding the festival, as well as connecting with other fans on the message boards.

Each film entry there contains a brief description, director and cast credits, a link to the official TIFF website summary, showtimes & venue info, as well as links to IMDB, official sites, and trailers where available.

There’s also a handy feature where you can directly add showtimes to your Google calendar via the individual film pages. Check out my (tentative) schedule here. These entries also include venue and specific theater info, as well as a link back to the film’s profile at tiffreviews.com.

Another Year, Another TIFF

As expected, I didn’t have much time to update on my TIFF adventures during the week. In the past I thought it was odd they didn’t have films on the Sunday to fill out the final weekend, but I can definitely appreciate the breather after a busy week before returning to the usual routine. So, recaps & such will all be happening after the fact.

TIFF Lineup : Day 2

Brand Upon the Brain!

I happened to be awake right at 7 this morning, when new batches of tickets are available. I decided to check the status of Brand, and it was available! This is probably the film that most intrigued me in this year’s lineup, so I immediately ordered a ticket even though it meant spending more $$ since my vouchers can only be exchanged in person. But there’s no way any tix would be left by the time I got downtown, plus it saves me the uncertainty of the Rush line.

Honestly I’ve never seen a Guy Maddin film, but he seems to be held in high regard. There was just something about the footage for this movie and the description of a warped story that grabbed my attention. Then there’s the fact that it’s a silent movie that will be accompanied by live music — how retro and unique nowadays! Should be a very interesting experience.

Candy

Heroin, love, tragedy. This raw-looking Australian movie starring Heath Ledger will probably be a disturbing and sombre life lesson.

The Host

The Host has apparently been smashing all kinds of records at the Korean box office. I don’t really know much about it, but I kept seeing samplings of reviews along the lines of “despite the massive hype, it really is that good”. Plus it has the coveted first Friday night Midnight Madness showing of the Festival. IMDB has it categorized as action, comedy, drama, fantasy, horror, sci-fi and thriller. Looks like there will be something for everyone tonight.

Fido

What’s wrong boy? Is Timmy in trouble?

An excellent start to the Film Festival! Fido proved to be a hilarious satire with an enjoyable story. If there was one worry I had going in, it was that it would turn out to be a funny premise stretched too far. But that wasn’t an issue, as the movie moves along nicely while packing in the laughs. Also an impressive amount of gore/violence; not necessarily Shaun of the Dead level here, but it didn’t back away at times when you thought it might … probably expectations set by Hollywood fare. There were also more than a few instances of “Oh no, that’s so wrong! But so funny!”.

Billy Connolly was great as the title zombie, an impressive performance through grunting, acting with the eyes, and zombie mannerisms. Carrie-Anne Moss nicely pulled off the slightly twisted, 50s-era housewife, a much different role than I’m used to seeing her play.

The crowed really seemed to enjoy it and was generous with the applause. Great show!

As for Borat … we knew that when we were an hour early for Fido and the rush line for Borat had apparently already formed hours earlier, there was no shot. Oh well, I’ll catch it later. As it turned out, the poor folks who did get in only saw about 20 minutes of the movie before the projector broke down. In a strange twist, Michael Moore was in the audience and even tried fixing it since he used to work as a projectionist! The showing has been rescheduled to tonight at midnight, which probably doesn’t please fans who also planned on seeing The Host.

Today's TIFF Lineup

Before each day’s showings, I’ll try and give a little background as to why I selected the films I did. I may not get around to writing up actual reviews afterwards – the sheer volume would overwhelm my output capabilities – but I’ll try and indicate whether the movies lived up to expectations or not.

Fido

The latest in alternative takes on the zombie genre, and it’s Canadian to boot! The funny premise — zombies as “house pets and domestic workers” in a ’50s suburban setting — sounds like an extension of the final bit of Shaun of the Dean mixed with Leave it to Beaver. Cast includes Carrie-Ann Moss.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

I obviously didn’t know what I was getting into when I added this to my list. I’m aware of Da Ali G Show, but have never seen it … and in particular, the character of Kazakhstani reporter Borat Sagdiyev. The trailer was LOL funny, so I thought this would be perfect to see with the Midnight Madness crowd! But it seems like Borat is some sort of phenomenon, and showings for this movie were some of the first to sell-out. I didn’t have any luck with the advance draw, so Mike and I are planning on trying the Rush line tonight after Fido. But with so many people out there pleading for Borat tickets, I don’t think an hour before showtime (which is when Fido ends) will be good enough to get a decent spot in the Rush line. We shall see.