Sunday, August 31, 2008

Schedule (mostly) Confirmed

Sorry for the radio silence. I've been hunkering down in prep for the festival and haven't had a chance to write anything. My schedule got confirmed yesterday afternoon, and it was mostly a success. I did miss out on two screenings--Thursday evening's Tony Manero screening and the screening of At the Edge of the World--which are weird misses, if you ask me (I expected to lose Ashes of Time or The Brothers Bloom, not those two). Anyway, here's my schedule, at least until I find some alternates to shore it up:

Edison and Leo - 7:45 PM
JCVD - 11:59 PM

A Film with Me In It - 2:15 PM
Detroit Metal City - 11:59 PM

Sauna - 12:30 PM
Vinyan - 3:15 PM
Pontypool - 8:00 PM
Deadgirl - 11:59 PM

Wendy & Lucy - 12:45 PM
Mavericks: The People Speak - 6:30 PM

Hunger - 9:00 AM
Ashes of Time Redux - 3:15 PM

Genova - 11:45 AM
Birdsong - 5:00 PM
The Brothers Bloom - 9:00 PM

La Silence de Lorna - 9:45 AM
Un conte de Noel - 12:00 PM
Plastic City - 4:45 PM
Tears for Sale - 9:15 PM

Gomorrah - 9:00 AM
Synechdoche, New York - 12:15 PM
Les Plages d'Agnes - 6:15 PM
35 Rhums - 9:15 PM

Che - 9:00 AM
Tokyo Sonata - 2:15 PM
Parc - 7:30 PM

Achilles and the Tortoise - 9:00 AM
The Sky Crawlers - 12:15 PM

I like my list quite a bit this year, gaps and all. It feels like I've finally hit the proper balance between my serious side and my thrill-seeking side, which is always a challenge for me. I've still got some weirdo midnights in there, but I'm also looking forward to stuff like Wendy & Lucy, which sounds like an incredible movie.

That's it for now. If anybody has some recommendations on what I could use my two extra vouchers on, feel free to pass it along. In the meantime, I've got some packing and preparations to attend to.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Take on the TIFF List (Sort Of)

Warning: What follows is insanely self-indulgent and overlong. Yes, even for a blog. This isn't my actual list, nor does it cover all the films I'm interested in. If it did, it would be twice as long, with me repeatedly saying "I think this looks interesting," followed by useless information you already know. And I care too much about you, the reader, to do that. Ok, it's because I'm lazy.

Umm...I've forgotten what I was gonna say. Anyway, here's some movies I randomly chose to talk about. Enjoy.

Note: This wouldn't have been possible without the following, extremely useful resources: TOfilmfest, 1st Thursday and Twitch. Also, for all the stuff I don't discuss, I recommend visiting The Evening Class, where Michael Guillen is painstakingly giving info on every single film at the festival.


The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson)

Johnson's follow-up to Brick, which I loved. If that one was Coen Brothers influenced, this one has Wes Anderson written all over it: bright colors, oddball art direction, whimsical characters, estranged brother protagonists. As a huge Wes Anderson fan, I can say I'm definitely excited about this one.

Genova (Michael Winterbottom)

Reasons this is on my short-list: 1) My wife needs to restore her Colin Firth-crush after Mamma Mia! nearly destroyed it. 2) Winterbottom's almost always interesting. 3) It's described as a cross between Don't Look Now and Stealing Beauty. What the hell does that even mean? Seriously, where's the connective tissue between those two, wildly different films? So I guess I'm strangely curious about this one.

Me and Orson Welles (Richard Linklater)

I'm a big fan of Linklater, but I only feel half-compelled to see this one, which is odd, since the only film I haven't really liked of his was the Bad News Bears remake from a few years ago. I might have to override my reservations and catch this one.

Still Walking (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

I loved Hana two years ago and I know that Kore-Eda is considered one of the great Japanese fillmmakers. But this might be one dysfunctional family get-together drama too many for this festival, joining as it does A Christmas Tale (must-see), Tokyo Sonata (another must-see), Summer Hours (supposedly excellent), and Service (the chaotic, porn theater variation on the theme). We'll see...

Synechdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman)

Sure to be the most mind-blowing movie of the festival and possibly the year, Kaufman's film has a number of high-profile detractors, but an equal number of defenders. Even if it's terrible, it won't be like anything else at the festival, that's for sure.

Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman)

Unique, absolutely gorgeous animation that looks stunning in stills, but stiff and unconvincing in all the trailers I've seen. It's sure to be interesting, but I'm not convinced, and the fact that it'll be released sometime in the future by Sony Pictures Classics means that I should have plenty of opportunities to catch this later.

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky)

Here's the thing: I don't really like Darren Aronofsky's films. Everybody goes crazy for them, but I just can't get into them. Maybe it's me--I don't know. So I'm not terribly motivated to catch this one, especially since it's going to play the Elgin and will therefore be a very difficult ticket to get. Having said that, I have to also consider this:

Tell me you don't want to see the movie that image comes from. Because, oddly enough, I do. Though probably not here.


PA-RA-DA (Marco Pontecorvo)

I understand that the actual PA-RA-DA troupe is doing good work in getting kids off the street in Europe, so please don't take my following statements the wrong way. But watch this and tell me how I'm supposed to take this seriously. I mean, I know context can change one's perspective, etc, but this clip has to be one of the most mindbogglingly misguided things I've ever seen. As far as I know, this isn't a horror film, so I can't imagine how any sane, rational human being can see this and think "heartwarming." I almost want to see the movie, just to understand how this makes any sense.

Pontypool (Bruce McDonald)

Apocalyptic horror from the legendary Bruce McDonald. I've only seen his last film, The Tracy Fragments, and wasn't terribly impressed (unique editing and use of split-screen notwithstanding), but this one sounds fascinating. It's a horror drama that takes place in a single location (a low-rent radio station), and centers on a zombie-esque uprising that transmits itself not through physical violence, but through language. As someone who's had a long interest in linguistics, the concept alone makes this a must-see.

Sauna (Antti-Jussi Annila)

Finnish horror about two men who do dastardly things and are then haunted (literally) by what they've done. I don't know much else, but at least it looks creepy and very, very atmospheric--some stills and production art can be found here.

Tears for Love (Uros Stojanovic)

There's a promo for this on the Twitch TIFF 2008 Trailer Park (a must-visit for those of us seeking info on these films), but I don't recommend watching the long one, as it seems to reveal far too much. What's there, however, looks a lot like Gilliam and Jeunet (lots of whipping cameras, bright colors, etc.). It also makes the film look very loud and amped-up, but that could just be the way the trailer's put together.


Birdsong (Albert Serra)

The story of the Three Wise Men, shot in black and white, with natural lighting and dialogue entirely in the Catalan language. Looks absolutely beautiful.

The Sky Crawlers (Mamoru Oshii)

Ah, Mamoru Oshii. I remember watching Ghost in the Shell many years ago and being utterly defeated by it. Now, I'm a fairly smart guy. Not brilliant, mind you, but smart enough. And I've watched plenty of out-there animes in my time and enjoyed most of them. But that movie beat me. I understood what was happening, for the most part, but by the end, I was utterly, hopelessly lost. Since most people who watch it seem to love the damn thing, I guess I need to watch it again. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention that day.

Anyway, this new one sounds really interesting, but every trailer I've watched drips with emo melodrama, which isn't automatically a bad thing, just very easy to overdo. But the reviews have been good, and seem to indicate that the sentiments are earned.


Krabat (Marco Kreuzpaintner)

Based on a fantasy novel, this will likely be dismissed as the German Harry Potter, but the trailer looks decent. Plus, the Twitch people have been very positive about it so far.


I'm actually very interested in most of the Reel to Reel program this year, but I don't actually have a lot to say about most of them. Here are the few that I can comment on:

The Dungeon Masters (Keven McAlester)

The story of several adults who play Dungeons & Dragons regularly. As a teenager who dabbled in the game, I'm intrigued, but as an adult who's seen at least a few of these types of movies, I'm worried. Will the filmmakers make fun of these people for our amusement? Or will there be some respect for their eccentricity? It's a fine line, but very few films tread it well. Here's hoping the presence of Richard Linklater's longtime cinematographer will tip it in the right direction.

Food, Inc. (Robert Kenner)

I read Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation a few years ago and nearly became a vegetarian because of it (why I didn't is better saved for another time). I have a feeling this documentary, which takes both it and The Omnivore's Dilemma as its launching point, might do the trick. This is good, important stuff and I hope many people decide to see it. But it's a tight year and I'm not sure I'll be able to work it in.


Detroit Metal City (Toshio Lee)

I missed last year's Dainipponjin, so this looks like my chance to compensate. Though likely wackier than that film, this one looks like a lot of fun.

JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri)I haven't quite been sold on the trailers (too much of that now-cliche washed-out cinematography for me, I suppose), but I'll still probably try to catch this, if only to see if it lives up to all the buzz.

Not Quite Hollywood
(Mark Hartley)

I'm not sure I want to use a festival slot to catch this one, but it does look like a lot of fun. Plus, as someone who's fascinated by exploitation cinema, it's nice to see someone shining a light on a new facet of it (Bonus points for the fun website).

Eden Log (Franck Vestiel)

Positive: I like science fiction and this looks like a unique take. Negative: It's French sci-fi, which is very hit or miss. Positive: Many reviews are very impressed by its look and non-conventional take on familiar themes. Negative: Many reviews find its conventional aspects too familiar. Plus, the word 'boring' is tossed around a lot. Diagnosis: Probably better than its reputation, but not likely to wow the Midnight Madness crowd, who tend to prefer more visceral fare. Maybe worth a non-MM slot, though I'll likely just skip it altogether.

Martyrs (Pascal Laugier)

Absolutely the movie of the year in horror circles, though everyone else should definitely proceed with caution, as this one takes the torture cycle to new extremes. What makes the difference, at least with its early defenders, is that it's much, much smarter than usual, and uses its extreme violence to explore controversial ideas. At least, that's what they say. I have no idea, nor am I likely to see this at the festival, since my wife would likely never speak to me again if I subjected her to it. Gotta think about the big picture...


Achilles and the Tortoise (Takeshi Kitano)

The annual film from Office Kitano, and the final one in his trilogy of self-absorption (after '05's Takeshis' and last year's batshit insane Glory to the Filmmaker!). This one's about a man who takes up painting late in life and brushes against the world's indifference. I'm sure I'll end up slotting it somewhere, but I'm much less enthusiastic than I have been in the past.

Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

Kurosawa made Pulse, the rare horror film more frightening for its ideas than for what actually happens in it (though that's not too shabby). So any film by him is worth scheduling, in my view. It doesn't hurt that this one's considered one of his best, a domestic drama where the horror is completely non-supernatural in nature.


$9.99 (Tatia Rosenthal)

Stop-motion animation, focused on the odd happenings of an Australian apartment complex. I'm primarily interested due to the writing involvement of Etgar Keret, who co-wrote and co-directed last year's standout, Jellyfish. That film wasn't perfect, but I really enjoyed its odd blend of darkness and whimsy. This clip, which may or may not be from the film, is a good example of that particular tone.

Parc (Arnaud des Pallieres)

This might be a great film. I don't know. What I do know is that the two main characters are named Mr. Nail and Mr. Hammer. Seriously, those are the surnames of the film's antagonists. No film that's not a comedy or a bad 80's action movie should have characters named Hammer and Nail and expect me to take it seriously.

Tony Manero (Pablo Lorrain)

Bizarre-sounding story of a sociopath in 1970's Chile, who worships Tony Manero, John Travolta's character from Saturday Night Fever and will do anything to win a look-alike contest. I know, it sounds boringly cliche.


A Film With Me In It (Ian Fitzgibbon)

Irish black-comedy in the vein of The Ladykillers, as two screenwriters attempt to pitch their way out of a sticky predicament. Early word is good, but I'm mostly interested because it co-stars Dylan Moran, one of the funniest people on the planet.

That's it for now. I'll probably throw up another post Tuesday or Wednesday to add anything that stands out when the full descriptions get released (there's usually a handful). See you until then.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

TIFF List Drops, Frustrating Many

The final list of films dropped today, along with a couple of frustrating bombshells. I wasn't expecting anything spectacular, but I assumed TIFF saved some unexpected announcements for the end. Apart from Burn After Reading and the Mavericks presentation with Howard Zinn, there isn't anything that catches the eye. Of course, it could be because they haven't even put out the full announcement online for the Contemporary World Cinema additions. Still, the list of films announced prior to today is good enough to moot my concerns.

No, the real bombshell today is the release of the VISA Screening Room and Gala schedule. I'm not too put out by it, but I think a lot of pass-holders are going to be pretty pissed. For those who haven't read my previous post, the VISA Screening Room will no longer be part of the ticket lottery, which sets a whole lot of films off-limits for the rest of us. Here are the affected films from the Special Presentations and Gala programs (note: 'second screening' refers to Gala presentations)

Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique
Blindness (two screenings)
Burn After Reading (second showing)
Burning Plain
Che (Part 1 and Part 2) (two screenings apiece)
The Duchess (second showing)
Easy Virtue (two screenings)
Empty Nest
Fauborg 36
Flash of Genius
Ghost Town
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (second screening)
Heaven on Earth
Inju (two screenings)
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (second screening)
The Lucky Ones (second screening)
Miracle at St. Anna (two screenings)
Nothing But the Truth (second screening)
Rachel Getting Married (second screening)
Woman in Berlin
The Wrestler
Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Now, it's entirely possible that TIFF intends to screen all of these films at least once outside of the VISA screenings. But if they get only one screening, expect those showings to be very difficult to attend. I would pay particular attention to The Wrestler, in that regard. The two screenings of Aronofsky's The Fountain, two years ago, were some of the hardest tickets to score at that TIFF.

As I said, I'm not too angry about it this year, since two of my most anticipated--The Brothers Bloom and Synechdoche, New York--will both premiere somewhere else (most likely the Ryerson). But I am angry about this in general, because it's yet another step towards further undermining the egalitarian nature of the festival. Frankly, I'm not too confident about that.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Random Pre-TIFF Thoughts

So the festival is less than a month away (!!) and the announcements have been dribbling out ever so slowly. That means it's time to start compiling some thoughts on the current state of TIFF 2008. Or maybe it means it's time to shave my head, stuff eggplants in my pants and dance like an 8-year old on a sugar rush. I'm never sure about these things.

Anyway, here's some thoughts:

  • The Elgin (a.k.a. the Visa Screening Room) is ineligible for the ticket lottery this year, which leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it was the home of my first TIFF experience, Terry Gilliam's Tideland, and it screened a number of my subsequent highlights, including Pan's Labyrinth, Brand Upon the Brain!, and No Country for Old Men. On the other hand, the theater has become a real pain in the ass to attend, especially for those of us without Visa Platinum cards. Without access to the Visa lounge (which allows Platinum members to get early access to the theaters), it's been almost impossible to find a decent seat. Add to that the lack of Q & A's, the poor sound and the fact that most of the films shown end up in first-run theaters within months anyway, I suppose it's not much of a loss after all. Never mind...
  • Much more frustrating is the news that festival donors will have their tickets processed before the non-donors, with priority given to the highest donors. For the festival, it's win-win: happier donors, more money, all good. And since festivals are notorious money pits, who can blame them for wanting to increase the cash flow. Unfortunately, it's lose-lose for those of us on the low-end: less chances to get into the popular films and all the while, the festival takes another step towards becoming a glorified trade show (Cannes with a handful of public screenings, or a slightly less obnoxious Sundance). The festival's not that bad, yet, but every time I see something like this (or the Elgin situation), a part of my love for the festival starts to wither away...
  • Of course, my class-based agitation might just be a cover for the realization that my three-year lucky streak in the lottery (90 for 90) might be about to crash and burn, thanks to the donors. No, it couldn't be something that petty...
  • As an inveterate and often impatient follower of the yearly announcement trickle, I can't help but notice that this year's film announcements have seemed unusually slower and more...trickly (yeah, it's a word). But then when I went to the press releases from 05, 06 and 07, I was surprised to see that it's always been like this. So now I wonder why I feel this way. I suppose it's the lack of an instant must-see in the announcements thus far. By this point in '05, I knew about Tideland; '06 was particularly front-loaded: Pan's Labyrinth, The Host, Rescue Dawn, and The Brand Upon the Brain!; and '07 was even more so: No Country for Old Men, Diary of the Dead, Mother of Tears, The Orphanage, and Encounters at the End of the World. This year...well, I'll save that for another entry.
  • I don't really have a fourth thought. Why is that? Do I not have enough ideas to sustain a single blog post? Are my weak concepts a microcosm of the general weakness of the TIFF slate thus far this year? Or is this post simply circling the drain, seeking an exit, unable to break free...
Well, that's it for this round. Coming soon (I hope): a piece by piece look at the TIFF programmes and the films in them that interest me so far. Should be delightful.