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!