Sunday, September 12, 2010

Day Two: Legend of the Married Super Guest Thief

Given my limited internet time and the general suckiness of Toronto open wi-fi, this will be brief.  I hope to later fill this stuff in with better thoughts, but here's my quick takes:


Action "sequel" to the classic Bruce Lee film, FIST OF FURY picks up whenever Donnie Yen starts kicking Japanese ass (or German, as in the instant classic opening sequence), but drags in the middle, where it becomes LUST, CAUTION with ass-kicking fights.  Also, I know it's unavoidable given the subject matter, but does every new Chinese film have to be quite so wildly nationalistic?  It's not as egregious (or frankly disturbing) as CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER, but it's pretty thick. 



Terrific documentary about a middle-class couple in 1960's Toronto coming apart at the seams.  Some amazing footage here.


THE LIGHT THIEF (Aktan Abdykalykov)

Sweet, earnest and seriously bland, this is a Sony Pictures Classics trailer blown up to feature length.   Meh.


GUEST (Jose Luis Guerin)

Beautiful, poetic rumination on life beyond cinema, literally  (Guerin filmed it at various film festivals).  Some of the segments drag a bit, but it's worth a look, definitely.


SUPER (James Gunn)

I'm personally pretty tired of superhero films and the notion of a superhero as psychotic maniac is no longer novel, but this was still pretty fun.  Worth it for Ellen Page's crackling performance as the slightly more unhinged sidekick of Rainn Wilson.  She nails the film's peculiar tone better than everyone else in the cast--shame she's not in it much.


Tomorrow...was yesterday, so I'll forgo the whole preview.   More to come...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Day One: Inside Film Job Socialism

I'm writing this on day two of TIFF, due to the erratic, half-assed nature of Toronto wi-fi.  Thank god there's a Second Cup every block in this city, otherwise, I'd never get anything written.

On to the movies:

FILM SOCIALISM (Jean-Luc Godard)

I toyed with ratings this year--scale of 1-10?  Letter grades?  1-100?  Thumbs-up, thumbs-down?  Well, I haven't the slightest idea what I can possibly grade Godard's latest film.   As a product of a broken American public-school system, I speak one language:  English.  And, like most Americans, I don't even speak that one terribly well most of the time.  So when Godard's film unspooled (digitally), and it became increasingly obvious that it would have no subtitles (not even the fractured Navajo English that graced the Cannes screenings), I knew this was going to be a tough slog.

Strangely enough, I found myself enjoying the opening scenes, all of which are set aboard a particularly garish  cruise ship.   Perhaps it's because I find cruise ships to basically be floating circles of Hell, but I felt the experience of being unmoored from the dialogue while bombarded with the sounds and images of cruise ships to be a pretty accurate rendering of my own cruise experiences.  It's clearly a metaphor for modern existence:  history experienced in snippets;  the intellectual and the anti-intellectual forced to roam the same hellish environments that make real human connection impossible.  And also, cat videos.

So yeah, it's modern life and I really liked it.  Then the action switches to a family working a rural gas station, who are apparently having financial woes and being harassed by a news reporter who mugs ferociously.  At least I think that's what was happening.   Without a better grasp on French, I was left to flounder in the images and they just weren't as memorable in this part of the film (apart from the llama, who I liked).   Godard then wraps it all up with a re-take on the cities visited only tangentially in the first part of the film, but with added commentary on their political meaning.

It's all very heady and maybe if I spoke French, I'd have a stronger opinion on it (or an opinion, period), but I just can't say.  Maybe Godard wants me to feel alienated, maybe he doesn't care if I understand his film, or maybe it's some sort of perverse experiment.  Whatever his intentions, the end result is still the same for me:  I have no idea what to make of it.

1st 3rd:  B+ /  Rest of the film:   No Comment

INSIDE JOB (Charles Ferguson)

 I'm not a fan of talking head, information-heavy documentaries.  I usually prefer the fly-on-the-wall approach preferred by Allan King or Frederick Wiseman, or the personality-driven ones like those of Herzog or Errol Morris (funny, I'm seeing a doc by each one of them this year).  But as far as talking head documentaries go, this one's pretty good.  It's a little over-emphatic at times (the score, especially early on, is overbearing) and it moves perhaps a little too fast for its own good, but it's still a perfectly fine muckraking look at the horrible financial disaster we're all living in these days.  There's nothing here that isn't in the various books and NPR podcasts that have come out recently, but it's still something that more people in the world should be outraged about, especially Americans. 


That's about it for today.  Tomorrow (which is actually today) I'll return with LEGEND OF THE FIST, A MARRIED COUPLE, THE LIGHT THIEF, GUEST, and SUPER.   Bye for now.

Fake celeb of the day:  Paul Giamati, if he was a 1970's roadie.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Current TIFF Schedule, etc.

Thought I'd drop in with a small update.  I sent in my order and got 29/30 of my first picks.   The only casualty, weirdly enough, is the Swedish giallo BAD FAITH, which I only chose as a slot-filler in the first place.  Oh well.  I'll either try for it again, or replace it with something else.  Anyhow, here's my schedule, which will almost certainly change once the festival kicks in:

September 9th

FILM SOCIALISM (intimidated by recent Godard, but feeling adventurous)

September 10th


September 11th

WAVELENGTHS 3: RUHR (dipping my toes in the Wavelengths;  mesmerizing trailer)

September 12th


September 13th


September 14th


September 15th


That's that.  I'm toying with some changes here and there, depending on availability, but that's it for now.  I may write some more stuff before the festival, but since I've got limited internet capabilities and a daughter who I won't see for a little over a week, my priorities may be slightly skewed.   So this will probably be it until the festival itself.    See you there! Unless you're not going, of course.  In that case, disregard that statement...

Monday, July 19, 2010

The New Reality and Other Things

So in my last post I said that lots of things were happening in my life.  Well, this is sort of what I meant by that:

That portly gentleman on the left would be me.   And that lovely young lady on the right just happens to be my daughter, Lyra.   She was born March 10th and she's sort of dominated my life since then, as you can probably guess.  No movies, very little sleep, not a lot of getting out and doing the things that most people do.  That might sound horrible to some, but it's been pretty amazing so far.  I mean, look at that kid.  How could you not want to spend time with that kid?

Anyway, I'll try to keep the gushing about my kid to a minimum, since I rolled my eyes at that stuff before I became a dad and can hear the eyes rolling right now (FYI, they sound like warm gummi bears rolling around in a plastic bag).  But the experience is so overwhelming, so completely a part of my life now that I can't ignore that little 14 lb. bundle of awesome.    So expect to read some really lovey-dovey stuff from here on out.  It's just fair warning, folks.

So on to TIFF.  I suppose there's not much to say, since they've only bothered to announce one movie so far:  Score: A Hockey Musical, which looks like "Glee" as re-imagined by a bored Canadian teenager.  It's not my sort of thing, but eh...  Still, my thing or not, it's sort of sad that the first film announcement from North America's biggest film festival (in size, if not influence) is of something this nakedly commercial.   On the other hand, they have already announced the Future Projections selections, which sound much more interesting.

Or I could just be cranky because I miss poring over the announced films and pre-planning for the festival.  Since I have no interest in Score, I'm reduced to reading lists of potential TIFF entries, which is kind of fun, but not nearly as fun as savoring the films that will be there.  In a future post, I intend to look at some of those possibilities, many of which look flat-out amazing. 

That's about it for now.  I have a new reality to contend with down here in Tennessee and a festival to prepare for in the coming months.  I hope you'll join me on the way.

Oh yeah.  I never finished my TIFF '09 wrap-up.  Well, no one gives a damn about that, much less me, so here are my brief, brief, brief thoughts on the remaining films I never got around to.

  • I Am Love - Swoony melodrama, with a modernist kick.  Not a masterpiece, but gotta love Tilda Swinton.
  • Face - Grows better in my mind every single day.  Breathtaking set-pieces and surprisingly funny at times.
  • Enter the Void - Can a movie be amazing and deeply stupid at the exact same time?  Oh god, yes.
  • The Time That Remains - Favorite film of the festival.  I'm a sucker for filmmakers who traffic in heavily stylized tableaux, for some reason.
  • Valhalla Rising - Weird drone-metal science fictiony mythological awakening arthouse awesomeness.
  • Lourdes - Magnetically slow film about faith and miracles and whether either one really exist.  
  • Some other stuff I can't remember right now...
That's it.  If I've forgotten something important I'll write it up later.  For now, I'm just gonna let that stuff go and start thinking about TIFF '10 and all the exciting, exhausting things that await me there.  Bye for now!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

It's Alive!!

Hi!   I don't know if anybody cares or not, but the blog's back and so am I.  Lots of things are happening in my life this year and I wasn't sure if I was going to make it this year, but I definitely am.  More to come later.... (this time I mean that).

Thursday, October 01, 2009

TIFF 2009 Roundup - Pt. 2 of 3

Hey! This was supposed to go up almost a week ago, but since I'm a lazy, lazy man, I've tinkered and procrastinated. Oops. Anyway, here's some more of my exciting trip to TIFF, now two weeks late! Enjoy!

BEST TIFF GOOF-UP: Scotiabank plays opening of REC [2] instead of Les Herbes Folles

One of the nice things about digital distribution is the ease with which one can screen a film. Very no muss, no fuss. And one of the bad things about digital distribution is the ease with which one can screw this up. I saw this first-hand at TIFF this year when the 9:30 AM second screening of Les Herbes Folles began playing. The usual production credits came up and they seemed sort of odd--the sound of radio static, some panicked voices--but I thought, 'Well, I've heard the Resnais is pretty strange, so maybe this is just a weird start.' Then the first image comes up and it's of a woman, illuminated in night vision with a terrified, panicked expression on her face. And then I think 'Wow, this Resnais is even stranger than I imagined. He's starting it like a straight-up horror film!' And then it hits me. This is a straight-up horror movie. This is freakin' REC [2]! And this audience was definitely not prepared for REC [2]. Thankfully, my friend figured it out before I did and was already out the door and telling a volunteer before anyone was traumatized by the film. And oh dear lord, would these people have been traumatized by that film. I didn't even see it, but its reputation as a pants-wetter extraordinaire definitely preceded it.

In truth, while I'm mostly glad no one in that audience was subjected to REC [2], a small part of me wishes that at least one horrific image had hit the screen before they switched it over. A small, very nasty part of me.

WORST TIFF GOOF-UP: First five minutes of White Material out-of-sync.

Claire Denis is a filmmaker who does not screw around. She starts from frame one setting a mood and god forbid you miss any of it. Which is why I'm still a little pissed that the first five minutes of her latest, White Material, was out-of-sync. I know it was the last day of the festival and the volunteers were in short supply. But the sound was out-of-sync for all of the TIFF shorts and there were multiple volunteers walking up and down the aisles seating rush-line folk, so you would think one of them, any of them would catch the problem. But no, it didn't get fixed until several people in the theatre angrily explained the situation to the nearest volunteers they could find. The majority of the film played just fine, but I do wonder if some of the mood was killed by that false start.


I don't usually seek out celebrities at TIFF, nor do I usually care much if one crosses my path. But almost every year, there's something celebrity-related that amuses me a great deal. In 2006, I nearly got run over by Morgan Freeman, who was racing out of a screening of Shortbus as if to save his life. In 2007, the Brangelina train rolled into the Elgin and caused the most havoc I've ever seen at any TIFF (and also detained TIFF CEO Piers Handling at a roadblock at his own festival). And last year I almost got run over by Erik the Viking (aka, Tim Robbins).

This year's sighting wasn't quite as high-profile as those, but it was still unexpected. At my screening of Police, Adjective, the actor Michael Lerner (much beloved for his role in Barton Fink) was sitting just behind me in the reserved row, a bag with two foot-long Subway sandwiches at his feet. I don't know whether he liked the movie or not, but I sure hope he enjoyed his sandwiches. They looked and smelled delicious.


At last year's TIFF, the festival seemed to revolve around family, with nearly every film exploring the testing of familial bonds in trying times. At TIFF 2009, chaos reigned, and not just because an animatronic fox tearing away at its own flesh told me so. Chaos infected the family unit, romance, police officers, puritan warriors, mexican wrestlers, and Japanese men trapped inside white rooms. It's not hard to understand why--just one look at the news is enough to make most of us want to crawl into a bunker and wait out the next twenty years or so. I mean, a single father killed because he's a census worker? Calling for secession because the president wants to spend money? And what's up with the Obama pictures with the Hitler mustache? What the hell does that even mean? He's Hitler because he wants to make health care affordable for everyone? Holy hell in a handbasket, what is wrong with these people? anyway, it was a good year for chaos, that's what I'm trying to say, I think. Thanks.

REAL THEME FOR TIFF 2009: Year of the Penis

Penises were everywhere at TIFF '09, just hanging around, swinging to and fro, jutting out of walls, etc. It was a penistastic year, especially in the first few days, when we went from hardcore penetration (Antichrist) to mutual masturbation (Face) to the family perversities of Dogtooth. The opening penis salvo climaxed--pun definitely intended--with the enormous CGI penis at the conclusion of Enter the Void, an image likely to be forever emblazoned in my mind. The penis action was light for the next few days, but it hit a crescendo with Symbol, which is so penis-oriented, it makes every other penis-related movie seem downright G-rated. After that, I sort of lost track of the penises, but I'm sure there were some more. Bottom-line: TIFF 2009 was a total sausage-fest.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans was actually good

When the Bad Lieutenant: POCNO trailer came out this summer, it generated a fair amount of buzz, mostly of the "WTF" variety. The film looked like a direct-to-video effort with sub-par acting and cinematography, but with the bonus of a completely unhinged Nicolas Cage performance. It also was highly quotable, with such memorable lines as "Shoot him again. His soul is still dancing." and "You don't have a lucky crack pipe?" I pretty much assumed the film would be good, trashy fun, but about as substantial as pound cake. Add to that the insanity of re-making Abel Ferrara's most personal film in the first place and you have the ingredients for disaster (or at least so-bad-it's-good territory).

So imagine my surprise when the damn thing actually turned out to be pretty good. I haven't seen Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant in a long time, so I can't really compare the two, but Herzog's take on the material was a load of fun. It still looks like a direct-to-video movie at times, but in a weird way that actually makes it more, not less, subversive. Nicolas Cage's performance is unhinged at times, yes, but it's more controlled than it looks, especially the physical aspects of the performance, where he manages to elicit both sympathy and laughs from the pained way his character moves. There's a lot more to say about this one, but I'll wait for a later time for that.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke)

I normally love Haneke's films, though "love" seems like a weird word to use for such grim, grim movies. His view of human nature is thoroughly pessimistic, yet in films like Code Unknown or Cache, he makes his case in a way that is hard to dismiss. His view of humans might be deeply unpleasant, but as much as I want to deny it, I have to admit it feels dead-on. Depressing, but dead-on. The White Ribbon is another in Haneke's "we're all screwed" filmography and its messages are the same as ever. So why does this one just not work for me? I haven't the slightest idea, frankly. While the film played, I remained engrossed by the story and the characters and thought the slowly developing "Village of the Damned" vibe it built from frame one was extremely effective. The acting was uniformly excellent and there was actual humor in it, a rarity for Haneke (at least of the non-pitch-black, skin-crawling variety). But for some reason, when it was all over, I didn't feel as though Haneke had actually made his points effectively. More to the point, I don't know why he needed to tell this story in particular. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for a slow-burn period piece, but there was nothing in the execution that chilled me, nothing that gave me pause, nothing that made me reflect on the world we live in now. And what good is a Haneke that doesn't crawl under your skin?


As someone who primarily loves Dante for his subversive take on American society, this one's a bit of a let-down. The story is Goosebumps-level horror for young kids, and nothing more. But it manages to be more fun than it should be due to Dante's high level of craftsmanship and keen sense of how to use 3-D wisely. There are plenty of "it's-so-close-I-think-I-can-touch-it" scenes, but only one is gratuitous (and I'm pretty sure it was deliberately so). Mostly, The Hole made me wish I was a 12 year-old again, watching it for the first time and discovering the pleasures of a well-tooled movie. Dante understands better than most that the best kids' films aren't the ones that pummel the audience into submission. Rather, they're the ones that activate the imagination and give a kid something more to think about than the usual pithy lessons.


I get it. I really do. It's billed as a viking movie and that sets up certain expectations: blood, disemboweling, rape, pillage, etc. So when said movie fails to deliver the goods (well, except the disemboweling and blood), it kinda upsets people. But I found the actual movie here really interesting--sort of like Terence Malick remaking Aguirre, the Wrath of God from a script by Joseph Campbell. It's pretentious as hell at times, but I found it to be bracing stuff, especially when the drone-metal soundtrack kicked in and tore through the Ryerson. Plus, I think there's actually some really interesting things going on here, ideas about the mysteries of mythology that really got me thinking. Plus, did I mention the drone-metal soundtrack? That kicked ass.

MOST BAFFLING MOVIE OF THE FESTVIAL: Les Herbes Folles (Alain Resnais)

In any normal year, Symbol would fill this category, since a movie about a man who strokes cherub penises to make things happen in the world seems like a shoo-in. But thinking back on Symbol, what resonates is how normal penis-stroking becomes once we've accepted the film's logic. It's bizarre, but nothing like the constantly shifting logic of Resnais' film. Les Herbes Folles looks and plays like a fairly straightforward comedy-romance, but something's a little off about it from the very beginning. Characters seem to change their behavior on a whim and what begins as a strange romantic comedy soon becomes...well, an even stranger romantic comedy. There's a false ending, out-of-place musical cues, a narrator who seems to be making the story up as he goes along, and a major character who is introduced about halfway through the film. On top of this are the Bunuelian touches--the 70-ish Andre Dussolier playing a man in his 50's, his wife of 30 years who is clearly in her 30's, an aviation team straight out of a cornball 40's war movie. And topping it off is an ending so out of left field I'm still laughing almost two weeks later. I'm not sure what all of it means, but it was certainly unlike anything else at the festival.


Castaway on the Moon was the most mainstream film I saw at TIFF this year, and since I often enjoy mainstream movies, this isn't necessarily a complaint. It has romance, a lightly absurd premise, some timely social commentary, and lots of big laughs. And if the screening I attended was any indication, it works its audience like crazy--it easily got the most joyous audience response I saw at TIFF this year. But it will sadly never be a big hit in North America. It probably won't even get distributed into theaters and a DVD is most likely a few years in the future, if ever. Why? It's Korean and it's not a genre film (misleading title to the contrary). And even then, it would never, ever be mainstream, especially in the US, where subtitles are the kiss of death at the box-office (this despite the recent success of Inglourious Basterds, which had subtitles galore).

Sorry for the rant. It's just that something as charming as Castaway on the Moon deserves better than to be shunted off to the margins. The story is simple: Kim, a young man in deep financial and personal straits, hurls himself off a bridge into the Han river in Seoul. When he regains consciousness, he finds himself stranded on a deserted island about a hundred feet from the shore. Surrounded by the city, yet completely isolated from it, he begins to rebuild his life from the debris around him. It's basically Robert Zemeckis' Cast Away recast as a weird, gentle comedy, but it works because the situation, as absurd as it is, is an immediate and affecting metaphor for modern living and the desire in all of us for meaning in our lives. Plus, it's very, very funny. As of right now, this has no distribution lined up, but keep an eye out for it just in case. It's highly recommended.

That's it for part 2. In my last installment, I'll lay down my favorites, least-favorites and everything else I couldn't fit into this one. Coming as soon as I can get my lazy ass to finish this...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

TIFF 2009 Roundup - Pt. 1 of 3

Well, the festival’s over. I’m well-rested, well-fed for the first time in weeks and totally back in my normal routine. I guess that means it’s time to talk about writing a festival roundup, which I will end up writing sometime in the waning weeks of June of 2010. See you then!

Ha ha, I’m just kidding. This year I thought I would try something radical–actually writing a rundown of TIFF within a week or so of the actual festival. I know, it’s a crazy idea, but I’ve got a good feeling that it’s actually going to work this year.

So, strap yourself in, tie down your socks (so I don’t knock them off), and return all seats to their upright positions folks, because here’s Crunchy Squirrel’s Super-Excitement Fun-Time TIFF 2009 Hoe-Down and Festival Round-up Part 1!

In this entry, my Best of the Best (non-film division):


Sure, it’s a multiplex, which I should hate on principle, but it’s got comfy seats, excellent screens and no weird smell to make eating a quick meal unpleasant (I’m looking at you, Scotiabank). Plus, since there are no bad seats (thank you, stadium seating), you can get here with minutes to spare and still get a decent seat.


I didn't have any screenings at the Elgin this year, but I thought I'd kick it around a little more, because that's what I do. The Elgin is a lovely theatre to see a big premiere, so long as you ignore the uncomfortable seats, the so-so sound and picture, or the frustrating lines, volunteers and unfettered elitism. Seriously, I think it's great that you guys with Visa Gold cards get to jump to the front of the line and snatch up all the best seats in the house before us poor schlubs do. Thankfully, I avoided the Elgin like mad this year and didn't regret it for an instant. My blood-pressure is still thanking me.

NOTE: I'm not saying every volunteer at the Elgin is a problem. There was an extremely nice elevator operator last year and many of the volunteers are pretty decent. But I've had more bad volunteer experiences at this theatre than any other, so read that as you will.


Very plush, very comfy.

WORST SEATS: Isabel Bader

I don’t know if I just chose terrible seats this year, but every screening here (save one) was an exercise in misery, which I never understood. The chairs look comfortable, but every time I'd sit in one, it would slowly cause my knee to hurt and my legs to cramp up, forcing me to shift every few minutes. Which is not fun.


Yes, it’s a food court, but it’s better than most. The Italian place was especially good and relatively inexpensive, but every meal I've eaten there was pretty tolerable (which is about the best you can do at a film festival).


The Burger King Veggie Burger is alright (at least up in Canada), but the selection is pretty awful here. And there's so much grease. So, so much grease.

BEST STREET: Bloor (Annex district)

I love the eclectic mix of shops and restaurants on Bloor and wish I could spend more time here.

WORST STREET: Queen Street

Actually, Queen isn’t really that bad, but Pages went out of business, so it gets my scorn. Seriously, how can that place go out of business? Thanks a lot, gentrification!

BEST STREETCAR: King Street 501

King Street rules! Woooo!


Note to woman on the cellphone behind me: No one on this bus cares about your romantic failings. If you’re going to talk loud enough for people three streets over to hear, talk about aliens or the shadow government or about the cheese demon that lives in your little toe. Not boring stuff about your feelings. Thank you.

And now for the short films:


"Santa’s Parade", which wouldn’t be out of place in a Guy Maddin film.


Bollywood/Hollywood. The awful lip-syncing of the lead actor drove me crazy.

BEST RBC SHORT: (All of which can be watched via this site, if you're curious)

"Afterparty". Genuinely funny, even the tenth time. The studio exec taking his wedding ring off never failed to make me chuckle.


"Chick Chicken". At least it’s really, really short.


The volunteer in the “Applaud our volunteers” short, applauding himself. (Hat tip to whoever it was who pointed this out to me).

Up next: The films themselves!