Saturday, September 13, 2008

TIFF 2008: Day Nine & Ten

I'll just group these together, since I'm trying to quickly get them on here. We leave the festival Sunday morning and this is my last stab at finishing off these little reviews. It was a great festival for us this year, with nearly every film being at least worth catching. I don't know if I've softened critically, or if I just got lucky, but all the talk about this being a really bad year just didn't pan out for me and my wife. Anyway, I'll put up a proper assessment of the festival in a day or two. Here's how the last two days worked out for us:


Che (Pts. 1 & 2) - 7/10

Tokyo Sonata - 6/10

That grade is deceptive, because this has to rank as the festival's biggest disappointment for me. I'm a big fan of Kurosawa's other films, so I had high hopes for this one. And for a while, my expectations were met. For all the talk of this being his first non-genre film, all the elements of horror and dread were there, only drained of their supernatural explanations. At least that's how I saw it--much of the rest of the audience seemed to find it all hilarious, for some reason. Still, it was compelling and depressing stuff. And then...well, I can't really say. Let's just say that Kurosawa sort of takes one thread of the film into outright comedy, which absolutely deflated me. It's fascinating, but it just doesn't work, and even the sublime ending couldn't shake my frustration with the movie.

Parc - ?/10

Here's a conundrum: this movie was terrible. Absolutely, 100%, top-to-bottom, terrible. It has some beautiful compositions, a great opening, good musical cues, and one of the stupidest freaking stories and executions I have ever seen, festival or not. But: because of this, it is wildly entertaining. I was never bored and by the end, I was enjoying the film a great deal. This is badness on an epic scale. Stupidity so bone-deep it shocks you into submission. This is the real "so bad it's good" that everyone talks about, but never finds. So how do you rate it? All I can really do is separate the rating. It gets a 1/10 for quality, but a 7/10 for misguided entertainment.


The Sky Crawlers - 6/10

Burn After Reading - 7/10

Thursday, September 11, 2008

TIFF 2008: Day 8

Now's the time of the festival where I start to re-think my grades on the previous films. See, let me explain something about my grading system: I don't really have one. Yes, I give a score on a one to ten scale, but it's mostly relative. In other words, these are my grades within this particular festival. If I give something a ten, it's not better than, let's say, The Godfather (Pt. 1 or 2)--it's just the best thing in this particular festival.

I could give you all sorts of convoluted, needlessly drawn-out explanations for why I do that, but it's really simple: I hate grading movies. Hate, hate, hate. I hate trying to sum up the experience of watching a film mere hours (or minutes) after watching it, as though any great film can be properly processed in that short a time span. This isn't to say that some people don't have a knack for using grades to summarize their movie experiences--it's just that I don't, not even a little. Plus, for me, there is nothing more damaging to my film experience than trying to dissect it, chop it up and neatly package it into a grade. I recognize the need for it as a shorthand, but I hate with a passion.

So,'s some grades for today's movies:

Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone) - 7/10

Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufmann) - 10/10

My favorite film of the festival so far and one of the best things I've seen all year. What's weird about it is that I can understand why a lot of people hate it (and a lot of people really hate this thing, if my crowd is any indication). For one thing, it's strange. Very, very strange. And all the strangeness is played perfectly straight, which makes it wildly funny (at times, it's Kaufman's funniest film). But then, as things start to descend further and further into weirdness, it starts to get more serious. All of which leads to an ending that socked me (and everyone else with me) and left me reeling, tears in my eyes. I can't say much more without spoiling it, so I'll leave it there. See it.

Les Plages d'Agnes (Agnes Varda) - 7/10,

35 Rhums (Claire Denis) - 7/10

Tomorrow: Revolutions! Sonatas! Suburbia (maybe)!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

TIFF 2008: Day Seven

Hey, somehow Day seven slipped away from me. Oops...

La Silence de Lorna (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) - 8/10

Un conte de Noel (Arnaud Desplechin) - 8/10

Plastic City (Yu Lik-Wai) - 2/10

I cannot believe the festival found room for this and not...oh, the countless other movies that could have been here. And that this thing was in competition at Venice. It just boggles the mind, since this thing is as inept a movie as I've ever seen at the festival and that's saying something. It's almost as though the director deliberately tried to make the most boring, cliche movie he could about Chinese gangsters in Brazil. And the ending...oh dear lord, the ending. Think Tropical Malady, but really, really stupid.

Tears for Sale (Uros Stojanovic) - 7/10

TIFF 2008: Day Six

Gotta sleep. Early morning. But first, here's some reviews.

Genova (Michael Winterbottom) - 6/10

Understated and subtle, and therefore really easy to get lost in the festival shuffle, which favors the bold and straightforward. It's a good film, with every actor doing excellent work, but at first glance it seems so slight. I appreciate the lack of histrionics, but the movie is almost all a slow burn that builds up to nothing much.

Birdsong (Albert Serra) - 7/10

Absolutely beautiful and often very funny, but for some reason my screening had a weird alternate soundtrack, with ambient noise replaced by the sound of people shoveling fistfuls of popcorn into their mouths and chewing loudly, and others coughing loudly for minutes on end. Oh wait...that wasn't the soundtrack, that was the freaking audience. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING kills a serious, nearly silent film like a roomful of people making obnoxious noises. So take the above rating with a grain of salt, since it's likely to go up when (or if) I get to see the film again.

SIDE NOTE: This had the most walk-outs I have ever personally seen at any of my four TIFFs. Just a steady stream of people bolting as the characters wandered and wandered across the screen. I guess it takes a certain kind of filmgoer...

The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson) - 9/10

Positively the most charming film I've seen in ages. Less controlled than a Wes Anderson film, and often less emotional, but every bit their equal in terms of charm and wit. And I had no idea Rachel Weisz could be this great--she completely nails indie cinema's most overused, underdeveloped character types (the manic pixie dream girl), and makes it look easy. It's messy and often very goofy, but loads of fun. Highly recommended...

Tomorrow: Algerian brides, French dysfunction, Brazilian Chinese, and Serbian fairy tales!

Monday, September 08, 2008

TIFF 2008: Day Five

Hunger (Steve McQueen) - 9/10

Phenomenal. I went into this one with slight reluctance and a slight shrug, but found it compelling from frame one. Ostensibly the story of Irish Republican Bobby Sands and the hunger strike that took his life in 1981, it's really the story of bodies--how easily they damage, how they can be used and abused, and how they can also be a battleground. My favorite film of the festival and probably the year, hands down.

Ashes of Time Redux - 7/10 (though this will probably change)

Review coming soon

Tomorrow: Italian hauntings, the three wise men and con artists...

TIFF 2008: Day Four

Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt) - 8/10

Unsentimental and honest, this is a fantastic film. Reichardt takes a simple story--poor woman loses her dog in a small town in Oregon--and drains it of all sentimentality, leaving only the harsh, unforgiving reality of being penniless in America, and all without the use of explicit politicizing (that would come later in the day). Heartbreaking and beautiful.

The People Speak - No rating

Not a movie, sort of, thus no rating, but my wife and I just had to see Howard Zinn in person, as he's one of the genuine great American historians. Then we found out Matt Damon was going to be hosting the talk, and suddenly realized that this was going to be one of those "mobbed" screenings, which can be really annoying (though the girl with the poster asking Matt to be her prom date was kind of funny). Thankfully, we entered before the stars, so we missed the excitement (though I did nearly get run over by Tim Robbins entering the theater, which wasn't actually his fault)

(SIDE NOTE: Is anyone else fascinated by celebrity heights? Tim Robbins was freakishly tall, while Ron Perlman, two years ago, was exactly my height, which is only about 5'10". Which is weird, 'cause that guy's Hellboy. Sorry for the digression...)

Anyway, the thing started super-late, so we probably got robbed of about ten minutes of further discussion, but it was excellent and slightly more star-laden than anticipated, as Marisa Tomei and Viggo Mortensen showed up as well. The footage they showed of the documentary was a mixed bag. The first bit peppered history lessons on the American Revolution with brief snippets of readings of letters and speeches by Hollywood stars. Their performances looked decent, but were too brief, with the film falling all over itself to present as much material as possible at the expense of interesting material. The second set of footage was considerably better, as it focused on longer performances and more immediately relevant issues (labor, equal rights, racism, sexism, etc.). It needs work, but it looks like it could molded into something interesting and timely.

Of Time and the City (Terence Davies) - 6/10

I know that score is some kind of critical blasphemy, but I'm standing by it. The film is at its best when Davies gets angry, such as when he rants about Betty (Queen Elizabeth) or the Beatles (who he hates). Much of the running time is taken up by documentary footage of Liverpool past and present, with classical music and the occasional pop song playing over it. Some of this is intoxicating, but often, I felt the images and music failed to coalesce into something grander than themselves. Many will find this film astounding (many already have), but I can't shake the feeling that it's missing something vital that keeps it from greatness. (I should also say that the Q&A slightly skewed my views, as it made me wish that Davies had spoken for the entire film--his Q&A was absolutely charming, the best of the fest so far).

Next: Hunger strikes and flying swordsmen...

Sunday, September 07, 2008

TIFF 2008: Day Three

Day three was a good day. I had a mild stomach sickness on day two, but it passed; I got plenty of rest after the previous night's midnight; and the movies were all uniformly interesting (though not uniformly good, unfortunately). Let's dive in:

Sauna (Antti-Jussi Annila) - 7/10

Bleak, existential horror films seem to be the black sheep of the horror community, but I'm a pretty big fan of them. This one, from the director of the much-loathed Jade Warrior, is a good solid one from start to finish. Some have said it too closely resembles the endlessly recycled J-Horror films, but this has an undercurrent of sadness and remorse that is all its own.

Vinyan (Fabrice du Welz) - 9/10

Much to say, but must process...

Pontypool (Bruce McDonald) - 5/10

Despite its initally exciting premise, this bizarre linguistic zombie movie never quite finds a focus. Taking place almost entirely in a radio station in the basement of a church, the film starts well, with the minor and sometimes funny workings of small-town radio giving way to more sinister events. But there's no build, and no time for the actors to find their footing as the world slips into chaos around them. Side note: Stephen McHattie is amazing in this, reminding me of Lance Henriksen before he descended into straight-to-DVD hell. Why isn't this guy given more starring roles?

Deadgirl (Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel) - 5/10

Surely the most instantly controversial film I've ever seen in the Midnight Madness category, and not always in a good way. Two teenagers stumble upon the dead body of a beautiful, naked woman in the basement of an abandoned asylum. Upon realizing that she's not dead (and can't be killed), one of the teens decides to...ahem...take advantage of the situation. If you can't tell, this is definitely not a film for everyone. My wife, normally a pretty serene go-with-it filmgoer has ranted for two days about how much she hates this thing. Some people are going to find it extremely offensive. There's more than meets the eye here, however, and some of it is very interesting, especially what it has to say about the male psyche. But I'll save that for a later review...

Next: Missing dogs, Howard Zinn and Liverpool.

Friday, September 05, 2008

TIFF 2008: Day Two

I seem to finally be in the groove of this, since it took me forever to find decent wi-fi this year. Thankfully, Starbucks has been very, very good to me. Now, on with the reviews:

A Film with Me In It (Ian Fitzgibbon) - 7/10

Good black comedy is extremely hard to get right--see Edison & Leo in the previous post--but this one is an exception. On occasion, the film's dark sensibility threatens to overwhelm its funny side, but the filmmakers somehow keep the balance straight. They're greatly helped by the two leads, Mark Doherty (who also wrote the film) and Dylan Moran, whose contrasting reactions to the increasingly absurd situation ground the film. Good nasty fun...

Tony Manero (Pablo Larrain) - 8/10

The story--about a man whose attempts to win a Tony Manero look-alike contest grow increasingly disturbing--could almost be the basis for the next Will Farrell film, all slicked-back hair and bad seventies fashion. It almost sounds fun. Transfer that story to late seventies Chile, however, and it becomes something entirely different--a bleak, mean dissertation on the soul-destroying effects of American pop culture. More later...

Detroit Metal City (Toshio Lee) - 5/10

I generally prefer my comedies more deadpan than wacky, so I may not be the target audience for this mugging, flailing comedy of extremes. Still a lot of fun at times, especially when it ventures into more absurd territory (nothing made me laugh harder than the "Metal Buffalo" bit).

Tomorrow: Horror day with Finnish ghosts, creepy children, linguistic nightmares and necrophilia. Fun, fun, fun!

TIFF 2008: Day One

Hello all! The festival has begun and its as great as expected. Lots of stuff to talk about, but I'll keep to the plan. Here's Thursday's reviews:

Edison & Leo (Neil Burns) - 5/10

A weird, gothic stop-motion animated film, the first ever funded entirely in Canada, best described as Guy Maddin by way of Tim Burton. But with only half the wit and wonder of those two. The problem is that the film never finds a solid tone, lurching from wild flights of fancy to sub-kids' flick romance and back again. Though on paper it sounds like prime melodrama, with lost mothers, distant fathers and remorseless enemies, it never finds the tone that would make those elements cohere into something solid. Still, there's some worthwhile touches here and there.

JCVD (Mabrouk El Machri) - 8/10

I was worried about this one since I saw the first footage online. My concerns were entirely unfounded. This is easily one of the wittiest, most assured films I've seen in quite some time. The premise is simple: During the course of a very bad day, Jean-Claude Van Damme finds himself embroiled in a real-life robbery. From there, El Machri finds several quite clever wrinkles in the meta-fiction genre, mainly by allowing his star to be the quiet, put-upon center of an increasingly absurd situation. Not to be missed.

Tomorrow: Dylan Moran! Tony Manero! And Japanese death metal!