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!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Update: Where I'm Writing Stuff

Hey, just an update to anyone looking in vain for my reviews. I'm working on some, but in the meantime check out my twitter feed, which is where the majority of my writing is right now (you don't have to sign up for twitter to read it). Enjoy!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Capsule Reviews: Nymph & Independencia

Because the wi-fi in Toronto is even more erratic than usual, here are some smaller reviews, with maybe some bigger ones down the line (eventually). Oh, and I guess I should start adding some number or grade to these things. Here ya go:

Nymph (Pen-ek Ratanaruang) - A love triangle of sorts takes a weird turn when a mystical Thai tree nymph enters the picture. But not that kind of weird. The slow, quiet, "I'm-not-sure-where-this-is-headed" kind of weird. This is wonderfully atmospheric for the first two-thirds--a mix between horror tension and arthouse pretension. But the ending totally ruined everything Pen-Ek had built to that point. All the ambiguity he'd carefully set up is thrown aside for an almost shockingly trite message about not ruining marriages. Grade: C

Independencia (Raya Martin) - A technical marvel, but curiously inert. Made in the style of a 1930's studio picture (complete with overdubbed actors and painted backdrops), it depicts the life of two generations of Filipinos, who struggle to survive in the forest after the American occupation of the early Twentieth Century. The look is just right, but the characters are ciphers, pawns in a political allegory that never comes to life. Grade: C

Coming Soon: The White Ribbon, Enter the Void, Valhalla Rising and more...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Days One and Two: I Am the Dogtooth Love Face Antichrist

It's the end of day two, so that means it's time to start tossing out some reviews. You're welcome.

Antichrist (Lars Von Trier) - What better way to kick off TIFF 2009 than with a deeply disturbing Lars Von Trier film! To be honest, I still have no idea what to write about this thing. Is it misogynistic? A provocative prank? A serious descent into one warped man's mind? A metaphor for male/female relationships? A quasi-religious fable? Would you believe all of the above?

The story is simple: He (Willem Defoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are a couple (unnamed for maximum allegorical purposes), who have just lost their one and only child in an accident (thanks to an open window and a passionate and photogenic sex session). A month has passed and She is getting no better, so He (a therapist) decides to treat her himself by taking her back to the cabin they have out in the woods. She deteriorates and things get very nasty, very fast.

I have particularly mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I love the stylization--the way Von Trier manipulates the image in the woods, the use of extreme slow-motion, the chapter breaks that get more and more intense as the film continues. Von Trier might be a seriously depressed man, but he's still got a handle on how to shoot a film.

But despite all the operatic highs and lows, I still found myself at a remove from the film. Most importantly, it just didn't disturb me. Don't get me wrong--it's not as though I went into the film wanting to leave it a broken wreck, trembling, destroyed by what I'd seen. I'm not stupid or masochistic. But the hype made me believe this would really get under my skin and give me troubled thoughts and it just hasn't. It's as though all the "chaos reigns" stuff in the final section, vivid though it is, separates me somewhat from the very real, very horrifying stuff that's happening between the husband and wife.

I don't want to go to a cabin in the woods with my wife anytime soon, though, so I guess that's something. Though I imagine Von Trier wanted a more serious reaction than a dip in cabin rentals.

Day Two:

Face (Tsai Ming-Liang) - Tsai returns with yet another baffling oddity, this time set in and around the Louvre. Though not as provocative or deeply felt as 2005's The Wayward Cloud, this is still a singular experience, if you're willing to take the ride. Since Tsai's films tend to blossom in the mind long after the initial experience, I'm sure I'll have more to say later on.

I Am Love (Luca Guadagnino) - A pleasant surprise: a modern, Douglas Sirk-style melodrama that works. The story is almost obscenely simple--long-suffering wife and mother (Tilda Swinton) finds love in the arms of a young artiste--but Guadagnino directs the hell out of it, by tying the film's rhythms to the mood and desires of its protagonist. As she begins to slowly embrace passion and desire, the film does too, ratcheting up the operatic score, shooting with hand-held cameras, etc. It works because Guadagnino uses these things sparingly at first, deploying them in small, controlled bursts, before finally embracing the melodrama in the delirious final reel. I'll try to expand on my thoughts about it after the festival.

Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos) - A fantastic film. Lanthimos takes his one simple concept (the lengths two parents will go to control their children) and latches onto it with a commitment that has to be seen to be believed. More disturbing (for me) than Antichrist, but with a blackly hilarious edge that keeps the film from becoming too grim. A must-see. (And yes, I'm playing coy with the story. I agree with the critics who say you should see this one coldly for maximum effect.)

Back later with Independencia, The White Ribbon and Enter the Void.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Coming Soon: Reviews!

For anyone following me, let me just re-assure you that yes, I am fine. The festival has begun, films are flying out faster than a pinata, and my ability to create metaphors is officially broken.

Reviews are coming soon, just as soon as I can unpack my feelings about Antichrist. Honestly, I do not have the faintest idea what the hell to think of that movie. I may have to write up something small and do the unpacking when I get home, because that thing is a weird one. The short version? I liked it, but didn't love it. I'll try to get something more substantial later on.

Coming later today? A quick thing about the Lars Von Trier video conference (hopefully) and my quick thoughts on Face, I Am Love and Dogtooth.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Quick One While I'm Away

I'm on the road, cruising the byways and highways, and on course to arrive in Toronto sometime tomorrow. There's something exciting about taking the long way to the festival. Traveling up the highway, inching closer and closer, the anticipation building inside you. The knowledge that in two days, you'll be sitting in the Ryerson theater, watching two people whack away at their genitals, with a sure-to-be appalled audience. Good times...

Of course, there's also something terribly boring about taking the long way to the festival. The endless monotony (especially Pennsylvania, a stretch of desolate nothingness unleavened by anything resembling beauty); the other drivers, who seem to think they're in a new Road Warrior movie; West Virginia, Virginia's freakish conjoined twin; and did I mention the monotony? Oh sweet lord is Pennsylvania a tedious state.

But I love it anyway. As tiring as driving can be, it's still the way I love to travel. You can't see Coal Mining mini-golf from an airplane. You won't see the Greek restaurant / porn shop in the middle of West Virginia. And you certainly won't see the roadkill, splayed across the road in all its crimson glory.

OK, that one you won't miss. But the weird diversity of America is easy to miss when you're traveling high above the earth, so I'm glad I'm traveling the low road right now, soaking in the beautiful and terrifying splendor of this country I call home.

And it's a hell of a lot cheaper. That's a pretty good reason to drive, too, I suppose.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

My Final Schedule (Until I Screw Around With It)

I got my confirmation earlier today and it makes me wanna dance (even though I don't know how and no one would ever want to see that). Unless TIFF is jerking my chain, I got everything I wanted. So, barring some changes (which will inevitably happen, I guarantee), this is my final TIFF 2009 schedule (now with snarky commentary):

Thursday, September 10

Antichrist (the only way to start the festival--with a deeply damaged, deeply depressing Lars Von Trier film! It's all uphill from here, hopefully, with only one, Gaspar Noe-sized speedbump along the way.)

Friday, September 11

I Am Love

Saturday, September 12


The White Ribbon
Enter the Void

Sunday, September 13

Valhalla Rising
Warrior and the Wolf
Police, Adjective

Monday, September 14

Trash Humpers (because that title is so much fun to toss around)
Castaway on the Moon (one of my potential casualties)

Tuesday, September 15

Les Herbes Folles (thought about switching, but only decent choice was Bitch Slap. And I can't see skipping the new Resnais to watch Bitch Slap.)
It's a Gift (presented by Joe Dante!)
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (hoping for prime Herzog/Cage bizarreness)
Vengeance (Johnny Hallyday! In person! My mother will be soooo jealous!)

Wednesday, September 16

Tales from the Golden Age
The Time That Remains
Solomon Kane

Thursday, September 17

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
Air Doll

Friday, September 18

Bunny & the Bull
L'Enfer de Henri-Georges Clouzot

Saturday, September 19

White Material
The Hole
(The other potential casualty. Love Dante, but I'll wait to hear what friends think.)

And that's that. I also intend to catch the 9 am live video conference with Lars Von Trier, because that sounds like a lot of fun (especially post-screening). I also might have to pop over to the Neil Young thing on Dundas Square Monday night. I'm not too big on celebrity chasing, but it's Neil freakin' Young! I'd kick myself if I didn't try to see him.

That about does it. Keep an eye on the site for updates leading up to and during the festival. Also, I have a twitter feed now. It's really boring, but I'll try to get reviews up through it before I write something bigger here. Also, feel free to give feedback, insults, etc. through the comments here. I'll see everyone in a week and one day!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fed Ex Woes and Other TIFF Delights

Originally, this post was going to be a multi-paragraph screed, wherein I railed against TIFF, Fed Ex, God, the Harlem Globetrotters, Mighty Mouse and orphans (word of advice: don't get me started on orphans). But then a few things happened, a few pieces fell into place, and my anger lifted away like a butterfly, floating above the flowers moments before it gets eaten by a roving bird. Which is a shame, because my original post was a masterpiece of uncontrolled bitterness, with TIFF playing the part of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas and me as Bjork in Dancer in the Dark.

But I digress. Here's the gist of my situation: I sent out my Fed Ex package on Thursday. I thought to myself, "If I send this one day early, everything has to work out, right?" So I sent the package out the door, adjusted my smoking jacket (the one I wear when I'm especially self-satisfied) and waited for the heavens to bless my wonderful foresight.

Which naturally did not happen. What did happen is I received a call on Friday morning informing me that Fed Ex had somehow sent my package to California. The California that is not in Canada. In fact, it's nowhere near Canada, Toronto or me. They assured me that the package would arrive later that day, that all was well, and they would clear everything up in due time.

Which naturally did not happen. Instead, I found out my package was set to be delivered on Monday, sometime around 10:30 AM, though where it was at the time I inquired was a point of contention. This did not re-assure me, so I sent off a slightly ticked-off, mostly concerned e-mail to TIFF to let them know this was going on and might be happening to others. I then sat down to write the angry screed referred to above and went to bed, assuming that TIFF would ignore my concerns and do nothing.

Which, surprisingly, did not happen. Rather, I checked my e-mail this morning and found a very welcome message from Mark McGrinder, the Out of Town Service Coordinator, assuring me that they'd made the necessary inquiries and that my package would probably arrive just in time. Going further, they also assured me that if it didn't, they would not hold it against me and would inform me in due time. Which has certainly gone a long way towards making me more comfortable.

I just have to say that I'm very happy with the way TIFF handled this. They could have inquired about the packages and not informed me, but Mr. McGrinder went out of his way to re-assure me about my ticket selections. It was prompt and it went above and beyond, and is worthy of much praise.

I'm still a little ticked-off, since Fed Ex problems seem to plague the festival every single freakin' year, but this appears to have only affected me, and since I sent the package a day early, I've contained the problem. Hopefully. If not, perhaps I'll be pulling that nasty entry I originally wrote out of storage. TIFF made a very good Joe Pesci...

Tentative TIFF Schedule

Hi! I'm back from oblivion to start talking about TIFF, movies, etc. I usually write up a list of the films I'm interested in, some insight into the selection process, etc. but with Twitter and the like, there really didn't seem to be a point.

Well, whatever. Here's the films I've submitted for the ticket lottery:




I Am Love


The White Ribbon
Enter the Void


Valhalla Rising
Warrior and the Wolf
Police, Adjective


Les Herbes Folles
It's a Gift
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans


Trash Humpers
Castaway on the Moon


Tales from the Golden Age
The Time That Remains
Solomon Kane


My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
Air Doll


The Bunny & the Bull
L'Enfer de Henri-Georges Clouzot


White Material
The Hole

I fully expect at least three or four of these to be busts, which is about average for me. I'm hoping it's less, but...well, experience tells me otherwise. I'm especially fond of 9-17, which has a nice "mother" double feature in it (it would have been a triple if J'ai tue ma mere had been aligned just right).

Anyway, these are my first choices, more or less. Here's hoping my package gets there in time and I even get into the stinking lottery (more on that in my next post).

Friday, July 31, 2009

Things are Happening!

The festival's gearing up, announcements are flying left and right, and I'm...not here. Well, I'm obviously HERE, since I'm writing this into Blogger right now. But my mind is definitely somewhere else right now. Somewhere far, far away from here.

You see, life is doing some funky stuff right now--funky in ways both small and enormous--and I just haven't had the desire to plunk down at the computer and write up some dinky report about press releases that every other TIFF blog has nailed already. Add that to the lack of visibility this site gets (what with TIFF not including personal blogs on the site this year) and you get a blogger who is deeply distracted and increasingly disinterested.

So I'm currently in a holding pattern. I intend to get back in the normal swing of things, but I won't even try to say when that will be, as I'm notorious for missing deadlines. Let's just say the site is on a temporary hiatus and leave it at that. Thanks for listening, folks and I'll see you when I see you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We've Got Madness

So the Midnight Madness press release is out and I can assess how well I guessed the films. The answer: poorly. Very, very poorly. Frankly, I sucked.

It's not really my fault. A lot of the films chosen this year are fairly under the radar, which is a good thing, though it does frustrate the amateur prognosticator. This year, despite the presence of two big Hollywood films (Jennifer's Body and Daybreakers) Midnight Madness seems even more low-key than usual, which makes me happy, as that's always more fun. Here are the choices, with commentary:

  • Jennifer's Body (Karyn Kusama) - To quote Stephen Colbert: I CALLED IT!! Yeah! Of course, a blind octogenarian who'd never heard of Midnight Madness could've called this one. I most likely won't be seeing this one, but it should definitely be a hot ticket.
  • A Town Called Panic (Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar) - I CALLED IT!! Strange Belgian animation based on a cult animated television series. The clips I've caught of the show on YouTube haven't exactly wowed me, but I might have to give it a shot anyway.
  • Bitch Slap (Rick Jacobson) - AKA, the most popular movie in Midnight Madness history. A boob-tastic boob-tacular that looks so ridiculously tacky it's not even funny. Or maybe it is. Regardless, this will be Roger Ebert's favorite film of the festival, without a doubt. Bonus points for the sheer kick of seeing that title in the relatively austere online film list.
  • Daybreakers (Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig) - I'm no fan of their last film, the excruciating Undead (think Night of the Living Dead, but now with 90% more pointless bitching), but this one looks like a big step up, at least visually. The trailer gleams with glistening cityscapes and seems filled to the point of bursting with visual panache. Could be fun.
  • George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead (George A. Romero) - I CALLED IT!! A follow-up of sorts to his previous zombie flick, the deeply frustrating Diary of the Dead, this is yet another variation on his beloved zombie themes. The well might be getting dry on the whole zombie thing, but this one at least sounds promising. I'm not as excited as I was for Diary, but Romero's still a horror god, so I might have to give it a chance.
  • The Loved Ones (Sean Byrne) - More teenage blood and angst, this time from Australia. The press release describes it as a cross between Pretty in Pink and Misery, which does sound intriguing.
  • Ong Bak 2: The Beginning (Tony Jaa) - AKA, Tony Jaa's last-ditch effort to redeem his reputation after breaking down while making this movie and running away to live in the jungle for months on end. Seriously, if you haven't read about the Ong Bak 2 saga, I highly recommend pulling up this short article and taking the whole thing in. It's fascinating stuff. As for the movie, it's been seen for months by several folks around the internet, and it's fairly well liked. I'm sure watching it with an enthusiastic crowd will elevate the experience exponentially.
  • [Rec] 2 (Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza) - A first-person horror film follow-up to [Rec], a film I have yet to see, but which gets consistently high praise. This is the serious horror film to beat at this year's festival, no doubt.
  • Solomon Kane (Michael J. Bassett) - A pulpy action extravaganza, or at least that's how TIFF is selling it. It's something of a wild card, since it seems to be off the radar of just about every one of my usual news sources. Could be the find of the festival, or it could be a slightly better Van Helsing. We'll see...
  • Symbol (Hitoshi Matsumoto) - I CALLED IT!! Matsumoto's follow-up to Dainipponjin won a slot in the MM program and it sounds awesomely strange. The teaser caused more than a few people to scratch their heads and wonder aloud if Matsumoto was losing it. I love it, but a lot of people didn't. Check it out here to form your own opinion (trust me, it's not spoiler-ish in the least). One of my must-sees of the festival.
And that's it. I said in my last post that I hoped I'd hit three or four of the ten and I was dead-on. It definitely looks like a diverse selection this year, much more so than the last two. Should be a fun September.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Anticipating Madness

It's July 21st, so you know what that means: lock up the kids, put the chickens to bed and set the house on fire: it's Midnight Madness time!

Yup, the films are about to be announced and the excitement is palpable. This year, just for fun, I'm going to make a completely wild, non-educated, only half paying attention guess at the lineup for the programme. Why? Because I have no life, folks. That's why. So, take that, non-existent audience!

Anyway, here are my guesses for tomorrow's announcement:


Jennifer's Body (Karyn Kusama)

WHY? It's a trashy b-movie with a high profile, thanks to it being Diablo Cody's follow-up to Juno. Plus, it stars Megan Fox, who seems to be some sort of actress, I'm not sure. I guess I'll have to look her up or something. Anyway, this one gets a wide release on the last Friday of the festival, so the TIFF premiere will get it tons of publicity.
WHY NOT? Can't think of one.

Doghouse (Jake West)

WHY? This one's a horror-comedy from the director of 2005's Evil Aliens, so he's a TIFF legacy, which is always a bonus. Its mix of Maxim-style "guy humor" and horror should go over well with the Midnight Madness crowd. Frankly, I'm kind of getting sick of "guy humor" these days, especially after The Hangover. Regardless of how I feel, I'd say it's a solid bet to be one of the ten films.

The Horde (Yannick Dahan)

WHY? It's got zombies, guys with guns, exploding heads, gore, gore, more gore, and gangsters. It's also French, which seems to be the home of serious horror these days (see also, Inside, Martyrs, Frontieres, etc.). It's got Midnight Madness written all over it, frankly.


Town Called Panic (Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar)

WHY? It's the requisite crazy film (unless Symbol finds a place in the line-up), an animated film from Belgium about three friends (an Indian, a cowboy and a horse) who have wacky adventures. Wild comedies are a standard for MM and this one, based on a cult television show, looks like a shoo-in.

Banlieue 13 Ultimatum (Patrick Alessandrin)

WHY? There's always an action film or two in the Midnight Madness and this one looks like the most likely. As a bonus, it hasn't played at any of the major festivals yet (it will appear at the Fantastic Film Festival in Austin, but that's after TIFF). I have no other reason to suppose it'll be there--just a hunch.

The Pack (Franck Richard)

WHY? Another French horror film, filled with gore and crazy monsters. Seems like a no-brainer, except for the fact that it might get confused with The Horde, which seems like a more likely pick for the fest. My only complaint: ideally, any film called The Pack should have either wild packs of evil, roaming dogs or Joe Don Baker. Or both.

House of the Devil (Ti West)

WHY? I don't know, since I haven't actually read much about this one. All I know is that it's being talked about a lot on the internet and...well, that's about it. I never said all of these would be winners, folks.


RoboGeisha (Noboru Iguchi)

This one's pretty crazy. It has something to do with fighting geishas, a deadly robot, and buckets of blood and viscera. And fried shrimp. As a weapon. The director was responsible for the equally insane Tokyo Gore Police from a few years ago and this looks like more of the same. It seems perfect for a slightly buzzed midnight crowd, but it might be a little too crazy for the festival. Then again, they have played a lot of Miike films and this doesn't look any wilder than Ichi the Killer or Gozu.

Symbol (Hitoshi Matsumoto)

I'm not sure about this one. Matsumoto's last film, Dainipponjin (released as Big Man Japan), played the festival in 2007, to much acclaim. This one might be perfect midnight material as well, but I can't say, since I don't know anything about this film. The only information that's leaked out is a seriously whacked-out teaser and something about the film utilizing hundreds of extras. Is it a comedy? Drama? Fantasy? Nobody knows. If it doesn't end up here, keep an eye on the Vanguard and Visions programmes, where it might find a home.


Untitled George Romero Film (Currently listed as ... of the Dead on IMDB)

This seems like a no-brainer, since any new Romero film would seem to be a shoo-in. But I haven't heard anything about this film for months, ever since a promo reel showed up at the beginning of the year and promptly vanished. All that's known at this point is that it might or might not be a follow-up to his lackluster Diary of the Dead, and that it's set on an island, a la Zombie (which was an unofficial sequel to Romero's Dawn of the Dead). It's likely that the film is finished and ready to go, but the silence on this one is deafening, so I wouldn't be surprised if it failed to show.


Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese)

I would love dearly if Martin Scorsese would release his latest in the Midnight Madness programme, especially since it appears to be an unabashed genre film. But Scorsese doesn't usually do the festival and even if he did, it would definitely be a Gala, not a lowly midnight movie.

Antichrist (Lars Von Trier)

As a straight-up genre film with copious gore, this would definitely be a good fit at midnight. But would Colin Geddes program such a high-profile film for his wonderfully disreputable corner of the festival? I'd love it if he did, but I don't see the film getting anything less than a Special Presentation showing at the Elgin. Which amuses me to no end, when you consider how unprepared most of that audience will be for this one.

And that's about it. I'm hoping I'm right about four or five of these, but we'll see. Some other possibilities include: The Box (the new one from Richard Kelly); Raging Phoenix (martial arts meet hip-hop dancing); Zombieland (the big-budget, Woody Harrelson-starring zombie comedy); [Rec] 2 (the follow-up to the well-regarded [Rec.]; Splice (Canadian horror, likely to be in the Vanguard programme); Cargo (Swedish science fiction/horror); Chaw (Korean monster film, with effects by the people who brought us The Host); Stingray Sam (the follow-up to the bizarre The American Astronaut); and Hiss (the latest from Jennifer Lynch).

See you some time later today, when I've assessed how I did!

Thursday, July 09, 2009


(Apologies for the lame-ass title. I'm so ashamed...)

Now that I'm done with the obligatory 2008 wrap-up, I can get to the good stuff. A few weeks ago, the good people of TIFF released a couple of interesting press releases, naming the first films and detailing some changes to the festival itself. I'll get to the films eventually, but what I really want to talk about here are the changes (quotes directly from the press releases):
  • "Availability of repeat Gala screenings to ticket package-holders" (thus avoiding last year's Elgin debacle, where several screenings weren't available to package-holders).
  • "Increased access to the Visa Screening Room at the Elgin Theatre for ticket-package holders"
  • "reduction of wait time for advance order pick-ups"
  • "improvements to the single ticket sales process"
  • An earlier release of the Festival Programme, "allowing six days for festivalgoers to drop off their selections"
  • "A clear criteria for premium-priced screenings" (translation: genuine premieres with genuine celebrities)
  • A new programme, CITY TO CITY, which will screen 10 films from and about a chosen city each year, alongside special panels and discussions. This year's city will be Tel Aviv.
The information about galas and the like don't really interest me, since I never attend those anyway, but the other details are definitely interesting developments. For the first time in a few years, I have absolutely nothing to complain about regarding the festival's decisions. A quick glance at some of the entries from the last two years will reveal a world of whining and moaning about the direction the festival was heading. This year, nothing. These are all good changes, especially the increased time for choosing films. In the past, nothing was more frustrating than trying to make a schedule for thirty to fifty films in one day. A festival this big and this complex requires a fair amount of time to properly assess, so it's nice to have a couple extra days to compile a schedule (yes, I'm aware this might be a bad thing, especially for us obsessive types. Let me have my momentary victory).

As for the Elgin stuff, I'm happy they made it more prole-friendly this year, though I'm not sure I'll even take advantage of the new screenings. It's dependent on what plays and how willing I am to give up a slot for something that's likely to play nationally in the coming months. As for the new programme, it certainly sounds intriguing, though a lot depends on what they screen.

So kudos, TIFF! I have nothing to complain about this year. You've killed about half my potential blog entries in one fell swoop. Thanks, guys.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Super-Spectacular, Super-Belated Round-up of TIFF 2008

Do you remember 2008? If you're like me, recalling this distant past is an arduous process. We were so young and innocent then, weren't we? A crazy old man ran for president with a mentally-ill woman--and scared the hell out of the world for a few months. Feral children rode aligators like horses through our city streets. And Keyboard Cat had yet to soothe us with his haunting melodies.

In that glorious past, there was a film festival--a glorious, glimmering film festival, which shone like a beacon in the night. And I forgot to write about it, like I do every damn year. Oops. Well, it doesn't matter now, so here's a bunch of stuff about last year's TIFF, so I can get this over with. Enjoy.

First off, I won't actually discuss any of the big films, since those films have been talked to death in the last year. You really don't care about that stuff, and I don't really want to write about it. So there.

As for the rest, my thoughts on many of these films have changed in retrospect. 35 Rhums was a lightly intriguing puzzle at the fest, but has blossomed into a fascinating film as I've mulled it over in the months since. I also need to re-watch Vinyan. The first viewing was a dazzling, disorienting experience, so I'm curious to see if the film holds up. On the opposite side, while I still respect Tony Manero's commitment to its grim perspective, all I remember is the toad-like performance of and how much it infects the film. It's a good film, but not quite up to the praise I gave it at the time. And there are many films I'd love to catch a second time, to see if they hold up or improve: Genova, which seemed so light at the festival it simply floated away from me; or Birdsong, which might improve when one can appreciate its delicate ambient soundscape, which was overwhelmed by the theater's own ambient sounds (namely chewing and coughing); or perhaps Pontypool, a film I probably misjudged because of my own preconceptions.

And then there's Parc, which might have been the most entertaining film I saw at last year's festival, for all the wrong reasons. Austere, sincere, and seemingly devoid of intentional humor, it was nonetheless hysterical, the sort of boondoggle that inspires cults. Inspired by Lynch, Haneke and any number of suburban malaise films, it's so misguided it's virtually a parody of that genre, missing only a cameo from Leslie Nielson for the process to be complete. My wife and I chuckle heartily when we discuss it, especially its highlights: the world's worst dinner party (where one characters sexual kinks are discussed in agonizing detail); the moment where the film's antagonist sneaks around a trendy house, attempting to evade two bodybuilders; and the finale, which ups the silliness to near operatic heights. It's not remotely successful as a serious film, but there's still something about it that has stuck with me since watching it.

Not every bad film was as memorable. Plastic City aimed for greatness, but missed it by a wide margin, coming across as terribly amateurish. Detroit Metal City was a huge disappointment, taking a potentially killer premise (sensitive singer fronts grotesque heavy metal band), then never finding anything remotely funny to do with it. And then there was Deadgirl, also known in my house as "That Film We're Never Talking About Again, Because I Want to Strangle Everyone Who Made The Film With My Bare Hands" (my wife's name, not necessarily mine). I think it's an occasionally interesting and honest look at the mindset of far, far too many men, undone by the filmmakers' inability to understand the tricky material they're working with. My wife disagrees, often vehemently. Seriously, it genuinely angers her, more than anything we've seen.

Other decent to good films from 2008: Edison and Leo, an uneasy mix of kids film banality and Guy Maddin-esque strangeness; The Sky Crawlers, which is never as profound as it wants to be; Sauna, a potent and often transfixing horror film with an interesting moral edge; A Film with Me In It, a seriously dark black comedy with an entertaining performance from comic Dylan Moran; Gomorrah, a film I wanted to like considerably more than I did; the heartbreaking Wendy & Lucy; the gorgeous but disappointing Ashes of Time Redux; the ridiculous but super-fun adult fantasy Tears for Sale; Of Time and the City, which failed to engage me for some reason; its twin, the equally personal Les Plages D'agnes, which was considerably more engaging than Davies' film; The Brothers Bloom, the best Wes Anderson film not directed by Wes Anderson; the frustrating Tokyo Sonata, which squanders its expertly established first half by devolving into downright wacky comedy in its latter stages; the Dardenne brothers' devastating Le Silence de Lorna; and the amusing JCVD, which nears (but never reaches) greatness.

Whew. That's it, I'm done with 2008, apart from an occasional thing about it from here on in. On with 2009!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Re-Booting for 2009

Hello! It's 2009 and you know what that means: blowing the dust off this old contraption and seeing what she can do! That's right, it's TIFF time again and yours truly is (hopefully) going to be there for every exciting moment. Or at least the exciting moments I can afford or prop myself up to enjoy. Seriously, 30 films in 10 days takes a wee chunk out of your time and energy.

I'll get to the good stuff down the line, but while I work on it, here's some other sites and such for anyone reading this (and yes, I know nobody's reading this):

  • Darren Hughes has re-started his invaluable blog here. He does what I do, but successfully, so be sure to bookmark him.
  • TIFF Talk is chock full of useful info about the festival. A must-read for newbies.
  • The TIFF site, of course, which has the current press releases, which I'll tackle soon.
That's it for now. I'll be back soon with my usual very, very belated rundown of last year's films. And some other stuff. Stay tuned.