Friday, December 16, 2005

‘Tis the season to avoid the multiplex!

Okay, my movie-going friends, the holiday movie season is upon us and with it comes a huge number of winter blockbusters mixed in with a whole whack of Oscar-bait offerings. You’ve been inundated with ads and commercials and merchandising tie-ins for giant gorillas and noble lions and wacky families, and – sometime between December 19th and January 3rd – you’re likely going to find yourself tempted to head to a theater to see what all the fuss has been about.

I’m here with a caveat, dear film lover: don’t. If you love movies and relish the experience of sitting in a darkened theater as magical images unspool before your eyes, stay home. Seriously. Your trip to the local multiplex will, I promise you, be more stressful, irritating and infuriating than humanly tolerable right now. Why? Because this is the prime time of year for everyone and their ill-mannered cousin to pack the kids into the minivan and lumber to the movies with their boorish behavior in tow.

I don’t know why, but it seems that this time of year always brings out the worst in the movie-going public. Or, perhaps, brings out the worst members of the movie-going public. These are the people who see films at theaters only once a year, or who (it seems) have never actually been in public with other people before. How else to explain the stupid things they say and do, and how wildly inappropriate they become once they’ve paid for their tickets and bought their trough-load of concession snacks?

You’re going to get the BFFs. Not the “best friends forever,” the Big Fat Families. You know the ones. It’s usually mom and dad and about four (or more) children ranging in age from 12 down to the newborn who will, without question, scream and cry throughout the film despite its parents’ assurances that their angelic infant always sleeps through everything. They’re the ones where said children are inevitably horribly behaved – and that horrible behavior quickly escalates once the parents decide to leave the kids alone at Harry Potter while they go see something else. The BFFs can be counted upon to engage in ridiculously complex snack-distribution rituals once the movie has actually started. This usually involves assorted rugrats arguing over popcorn and candy while mom and dad try to figure out a diplomatic way to make sure everyone gets his or her fair share. All of this, and much more, will take place in the row directly in front of, or behind, you…guaranteeing that your blood pressure will rise in direct proportion to how moronic the BFFs are. Good luck.

Failing the BFFs are the PALS – the Perpetually Audibly Limited Seniors. They’re the select members of the over-65 crowd whose hearing difficulties result in them talking, loudly, throughout the film in order to get clarification (on character, plot, dialogue, whatever) or voice opinions or complain about how the hard seats are aggravating their bursitis. They usually flock to the theaters at this time of year, either with the kids and grandkids or as an outing with other PALS, and you’re likely to find them at The Serious Oscar Contender films. While not nearly as problematic as the BFFs, you may want to steer clear of the PALS if you encounter them at movies like Brokeback Mountain. Trust me.

In addition to the rest of the usual suspects who can get one’s blood boiling at any time of the year – like the ASKs (Annoying Seat Kickers), LUGs (Large Unruly Groups), ESPs (Extremely Smelly People) and the always exasperating CPUs (Cell Phone Users) – you’ll find no group more hated or more prolific than the FCCs (F**king Chatty Cathies). They’re the ones who talk. A lot. Before the movie starts. During the trailers. During the credits. And then all through the movie. Members of this repellent species are evidently under the assumption that they’re not actually out at a movie, but that they’re really sitting in their massive, 300-seat living room. Alone. So they can talk and talk and talk and talk all they want at completely unacceptable volume levels. Sure, you’ll politely ask them to please keep it down…or to please be quiet…or to please, for the love of humanity, shut their freakin’ pieholes, but it won’t work. And, even if it does, the FCCs are like roaches – where there’s one, there’s many. So you might stomp out a few when you go see The Chronicles of Narnia, but a dozen more will spring up at King Kong or The Family Stone or Rumor Has It.

And, really, God help you if you’re going to see Cheaper By the Dozen 2, where you’re likely to suffer through not only a mediocre movie, but also every single one of the groups listed above.

So, my advice to you? Rent some DVDs. Or, if you really must go to a theater, avoid anything that was released after December 2nd. Check out “smaller” movies – foreign films or stuff you’ve never heard of. Let the uninformed masses queue up for Fun With Dick and Jane while you wander into, say, Down to the Bone or Transamerica or Good Night and Good Luck. Hell, even a matinee of the little-seen Aeon Flux will be emptier, more civilized and more enjoyable than 10 minutes of fighting for peace and quiet at Memoirs of a Geisha.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Narnia, Penguins, and the Christian Right

Going in to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I had some lingering hesitations. The Christian Right, with more than a little help from the media, reminded us all over and over that this movie was probably the most Christian thing since wafers, wine, and The Passion of the Christ. Praise be! Churches are buying out the multiplexes! It is Family Approved! Narnia, before anyone even saw it, had been endorsed by God himself! (At least his self-proclaimed mouthpieces.)

Having the Christian Right endorse something is just about the best way to get me to run the other direction, but I'll admit I was curious. Heck, Tilda Swinton was in it, playing the White Witch!

You see, in my mind, there is a big difference between Narnia and The Passion. One is about kids, a big kitty, and a fantasy world of good and evil. The Passion is about, well, Jesus Christ. Now I know that C.S. Lewis made it no secret that his story was a Christian parable, but it is also an interpretation. I don't remember the talking beavers in the Bible. I could argue just as much about The Matrix (Neo is the chosen one, he had a "virgin" test tube birth, he has been expected by his followers, he dies and comes back more powerful than ever before to lead his people). Heck, I'd almost say that The Matrix is more obviously Christian (despite the black pleather and machine guns) than Narnia.

I have to admit I love it best when the Christian Right bellows something to the masses that doesn't quite make as much sense as they'd hoped. For instance, I had heard that the Christian Right took full credit for the success of the recent crowd-pleasing documentary hit March of the Penguins. "That there penguin movie is a good example of Family Values!" they crowed, encouraging the masses to go see it. After I finally saw the film (and enjoyed it), I was pleased to find that they had endorsed a movie where the dad penguin stays home to birth the baby, mom leave immediately to go and eat non-stop for three months, the parents are monogamous (for a year, then go their separate ways), and sometimes there is carnage where desperate childless penguins try to steal or kill the babies of others. And did you hear the recently revived story about the monogamous gay penguins, Roy and Silo, at the Central Park Zoo? ( They've stuck it out longer than many of their "straight" penguin pals.

Though I hardly ever agree with them, and constantly find them bafflingly infuriating, pushy, bigoted, and small-minded, I have to admit the Christian Right can be unintentionally entertaining. And, because of that, I say to the Christian Right: God Bless 'em! (even if they don't say the same about me).

Sunday, September 18, 2005

TIFF Entry #14: Annnnnnnd…scene.

The red carpets have been rolled up, the velvet ropes are back in storage and the Yorkville area of Toronto is decidedly paparazzi-free today. Me? I spent the day re-entering the real world, sorting accumulated mail and wondering how it is that I managed to accidentally bring home so many of those voting ballots.

But wait. What’s THIS?!? I turned on press conference coverage this morning and who did I see sitting next to Justin Timberlake at the session for Edison?!?


What the…?! She has a small supporting role in Edison, but shows up for that and NOT for Imagine Me & You where she’s the STAR?!


Such is the lure of a high-profile project I guess and, I would assume, free travel from the fest for its closing-night extravaganza.


The film festival handed out its official awards last night, and the winners are as follows:

Audience Award: The UK/South Africa drama Tsotsi

Discovery Award for Best First Feature: The Australian film Look Both Ways

The FIPRESCI Prize: Sa-kwa, from South Korea

Best Canadian First Feature: A tie between Familia and The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico

Best Canadian Feature: The sexually confused-teen movie C.R.A.Z.Y.

Personally, TIFF 2005 will always remain the year of Imagine Me & You. Most of the rest of the films I saw were good, but nothing could compare to Imagine’s magic and wonder in my eyes. I was right – seeing it so early in the festival kind of took some of the shine of the rest of the week. Thankfully, I didn’t see too many duds, and even enjoyed some unexpectedly affecting films like Sorry, Haters and Runaway.

But, as I mentioned yesterday, the festival as a whole was somehow less impressive overall than it has been in past years. I didn’t really find any new talent to rave about, and even wound up being underwhelmed by an actress I loved and lauded in the past (Maggie, I’m looking at you).

The smell of cedar will always remind me of the freshly mulched gardens around the Ryerson Theatre and cute line wranglers with clipboards. I’ll think fondly of discovering a new set of secret washrooms (!) there, and cringe when I recall the coughing woman perpetually over my right shoulder in the dark. I’ll reminisce about wandering the empty streets of the club district to get to crack-of-dawn screenings at the Paramount, awaiting dimly lit anarchy during screening malfunctions and learning the perils of caffeinated Frappucinos (consume at your own risk if you’re planning on standing in line for any extended amount of time).

TIFF 2005 came to a quiet, unassuming, Ebert-free end. It was good, but not great, this year. Here’s hoping 2006 will return the fall spectacular to its rightful spectacularity.

Fingers crossed!

TIFF Entry #13: Phoning It In…And the Rigging of the Audience Award!

As predicted, today was a somewhat melancholy and lethargic day. It’s like everyone’s stopped trying – the fest organizers and the audiences. Screenings were marginally full, introductions were half-hearted and in-line chatter was minimal. People are just going through the motions and everybody looks kind of dazed and confused. We’re all phoning it in at this point.

Another interesting note: none of the screenings I attended today featured the Audience Award ballots. Apparently, none of the films showing today had them, either. That seems kind of unfair and suspicious – there were a good 50+ films showing today, so…what? Those films aren’t eligible for voting? What if the whole audience at Mrs. Harris (or any other film) LOVED the movie and wanted to vote for it? Has the Audience Award winner already been pre-selected? Are today’s films somehow unworthy of winning? It just seems a little strange, and kind of short shrifts the filmmakers unfortunate enough to have their films’ repeat screenings on the last day of the fest. (I won’t even get into the fact that films with three screenings will have a much better shot at winning, just based on the increased audience size and potential for votes.)

I’m pleased to report that my final day of fest-going featured a good selection of films. First up was Winter Passing (6/8), a quasi-drama starring Zooey Deschanel as a struggling NYC stage actress and daughter of two famous writers, who uncovers secrets from her family’s past when she goes home to visit her increasingly unstable father (Ed Harris, in a very bad wig and cursed with some very over-the-top acting). It’s a nice little character study, and features Will Ferrell in what can, I think, be called his first official “dramatic” role…even though he’s still kind of funny. I referred to the film as being like a “nice warm cup of cocoa” when describing it afterwards.

A special treat was the woman who came into the movie just as it was starting, sat down next to my friend Heather, and promptly slumped over and went to sleep. For, literally, the entire film.

I followed that up with Mrs. Harris (6/8), Annette Bening’s official Oscar Bait 2005 offering, wherein she stars as real-life husband killer Jean Harris, who shot Dr. Herman Tarnower (Ben Kingsley) in March of 1980. She says it was an accident, the prosecution said it was premeditated murder…and the film – which revels in its early-‘80s art direction – presents a darkly comic account of what happened from both points of view. Bening and Kingsley are very strong, and the movie has a sort of Drop Dead Gorgeous tone to it – “interviews” with various parties (played by the likes of Cloris Leachman, Frances Fisher, Mary McDonnell, Philip Baker Hall and Brett Butler!) related to the story are interspersed with its retelling. It’s cheeky.

Movie #3 was unexpectedly good. Runaway (7/8) is a dark and sombre tale of a mentally unstable young man (Aaron Stanford, Tadpole), who’s on the run from the law after a violent act forces him to flee an abusive home. He changes his name, hides out in a hotel and befriends a convenience store worker (Robin Tunney), who becomes his confidante. I went into the film with no expectations – I just figured it would be a decent drama and something to fill the afternoon-movie slot. But the performances were riveting, the storytelling sharp, and the story itself thoroughly engrossing. Even better, the director, Tim McCann, was in attendance and stayed for a lengthy post-film Q&A. He explained that the film will likely have a difficult time finding distribution, due to its subject matter, so if you see it playing at a festival near you…check it out! You may have a long wait to see it otherwise.

Last up, a late-night screening (okay, 9pm, but that’s late!) of the documentary Pick Up the Mic (6/8), which examines the world of gay hip-hop artists. (Or, as my friend Heather misheard, “gay hippopotamuses.”) Lively, funny and spirited, the film turns the spotlight on an as-yet untapped (by mainstream media, anyway) culture of gay men and women stepping up and speaking out through “homohop” music. I expect this one to be a hit on the film festival circuit, and the filmmakers should probably monitor the websites of the artists featured to see if their hit count spikes after each screening.

And that, friends, is all there is. The festival has ended, let us go in peace.

Tomorrow, some final thoughts on TIFF 2005, plus the festival’s official award winners.

Celebrity Sightings: On day ten? Surely you jest.

Roger Ebert Sightings: I’m weeping copious tears for back-to-back Ebert-free festivals. :-(

Line Buzz: You know, I honestly wish I could remember what the one or two people I talked to today had to say. But everything is a blur.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

TIFF Entry #12: The Good, The Bad and The Ennui

As much as I would love to blame Margaret Cho for tonight’s abbreviated diary entry, I can’t. She had nothing to do with it. I’m just plain pooped. Earlier tonight I told my friend Heather that today’s entry would wind up being a haiku. (It’s not, but it’ll be close.)

Tomorrow is the final day of TIFF 2005, and I can’t say I feel anything, really. I’m not sure what it is, but a number of film fest pals and I have all said the same thing: something’s off this year. We can’t put our collective finger on what it is, but the festival feels different somehow. Less exciting. Fewer outstanding films on our rosters. Absent regulars. Dunno.

I think this year will be the very first year that I won’t immediately answer “AMAZING!!!” when people ask me how the festival was. I fear that my response will be along the lines of, “Meh.”


Movie #1! The White Masai (7/8), which tells the true story of a Swiss woman (the striking Nina Hoss) who married a Masai warrior (the superb Jacky Ido, who got a standing ovation after the film) and moved from Europe to his remote Kenyan village to live as a tribeswoman. To say that she experienced culture shock would be an understatement, and the duo’s attempts to bridge their differences prove frustrating and increasingly problematic.

Not quite as problematic as they were for the woman sitting in the seat next to me, though, who evidently thought we were looking through an enormous pane of glass and watching real events happen before our eyes. She was SO invested in this movie that she gasped, sighed, talked to the screen and had physical reactions to what she was watching. I thought she might actually run from the theater when we hit a scene involving (shudder) female circumcision.

Movie #2! Twelve and Holding (5/8), a drama following the lives of three 12-year-old friends: Malee (Zoe Weizenbaum), who’s infatuated with a tormented fireman; Leonard (Jesse Camacho), an overweight boy who launches a weight-loss regime; and Jacob (Conor Donovan), who’s coping with the accidental death of his twin brother. The movie was engaging and the performances from the young actors are all very strong.

Not quite as strong as the potential for in-theater anarchy during the screening, though. At one point, very very late in the film, the screen suddenly went black. We could still hear the audio, but no picture. Somewhere, a voice boomed, “BOOOOOOOO!” There was a small twittering of giggles. But then the same voice bellowed, “WAKE UP AND DO YOUR JOB, YOU WANKER!!!!” Evidently, that went too far. Numerous voices piped up – “Hey, that’s outta line!” “Take it easy!” “Relax!” Then the first voice yelled, “OH SURE, JUST BE GOOD LITTLE CANADIANS AND TAKE IT!!!!”

A small bit of advice: it’s probably best not to insult a theater full of Canadians in the dark, in Canada.

There was an immediate flurry of shouts and hollers and Mr. Big Voice didn’t say another word. It took all of about five minutes before the movie started up again.

Movie #3! Transamerica (6/8), which starts Felicity Huffman as a pre-op transsexual, who embarks on a cross-country road trip with her long-lost son (Kevin Zegers). Huffman is almost unrecognizable, yet totally recognizable at the same time. She looks and sounds like a man in a woman’s body, and her performance makes the film. I’m going to avoid saying any more because our webmistress Linda is planning on seeing this film in a few weeks and wants to remain unspoiled.

[Dear Lord, I’m watching the press conference for Pride & Prejudice and some Canadian reporter just told Keira Knightley that she has magnificent breasts. Yup, we Canucks ask all the good questions!]

Movie #4! Brothers of the Head, a mockumentary about a pair of conjoined twins (Luke & Harry Treadaway) who become rock stars. I was bored, the movie was late (a 9:20pm start time) and I could barely stay awake. So…walkout number three of the fest!

I have four films on the sked for tomorrow, and I’m hoping to make it through all of them. The weather is supposed to improve, but I suspect the festival will be going out like a lamb. With a limp. And bad hair.

Celebrity Sightings: Jacky Edo was in attendance at his screening; Felicity Huffman (Greg, she looked great!), William H. Macy, Kevin Zegers, Graham Greene and Shawn Ashmore at Transamerica; and director Jamie Babbit (what a trooper!) was loitering outside the Varsity, alone and wearing bright blue shoes, waiting for the final screening of her film, The Quiet.

Roger Ebert Sightings: Pffffffffft.

Line Buzz: A lone voice of dissent that the much-maligned Caché is actually very good.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

TIFF Entry #11: When Being Chatty Pays Off – An Observational Tale

Today, boys and girls, we’re going to learn a lesson about why adopting a friendly, conversational approach to fest-going can land you a world of rewards!

This morning, as I queued up for my first film, In Her Shoes, I met a lovely older woman from Santa Barbara (by way of NYC), and we had a very nice chat about the festival, which movies we’d seen, what we’d loved and hated, and whether the odd man screaming at passersby across the street would come over to us at some point. During the course of our discourse, she said that today was her final festival day, and that this film was her last. She went on to say that, because she was heading home, she just GAVE AWAY her Festival Pass to someone she met before a movie yesterday.



This is a pass that’s worth several hundred dollars, and with a good two and a half days of festivalling yet to fill!

She said that she’d been sitting next to a young college student who’d been lamenting about the price of fest tickets making attending the event somewhat cost prohibitive. So, the SB lady took this girl’s phone number, then called her that night and said, “I’ve left an envelope for you at the front desk of my hotel. Enjoy!”

So this girl can now see a good ten to twelve movies (or more, depending on her stamina) for free!

And the nice SB woman said her son had done the exact same thing a day earlier. The way they see it, the pass is already paid for, so why not let someone else enjoy it?

That, friends, is why I *love* TIFF audiences! (For the most part, I mean. I don’t love the ones who are rude, inconsiderate or smelly.)

Back to the movie…

In Her Shoes (6/8) tells the story of sisters Rose (Toni Collette) and Maggie (Cameron Diaz), who are vastly different on every level – social, professional, economic and aesthetic. When screw-up Maggie screws up once too often, she high-tails it outta town and heads to Miami to find their long-lost grandmother (Shirley MacLaine). What follows is the story of how each sister reorganizes and improves her life, and how their broken relationship is slowly mended. I enjoyed the film very much, and thought Toni Collette was superb, as usual.

But remember the coughing woman who sat behind me yesterday for Where the Truth Lies? Well, she sat down right behind me AGAIN this morning. This time, she excused herself from the theater whenever her incessant hacking became too much for her (and us) to bear.

Next up was the impressive basketball documentary The Heart of the Game (6/8), which chronicles seven years in the lives of the members of a Seattle-area girls’ high-school basketball team. Tracking several team members and their struggles on and off the court, the film is sort of like a Hoop Dreams for women that’s as inspiring as it is poignant and frustrating. Director Ward Serrill and the coach from the film, Bill Resler, were in attendance, and said they’d only finished the final cut of the film two weeks ago.

But because the film started a little late, and the Q&A session ran a little long, I didn’t have much time between that screening and the next – Noah Baumbach’s “yuppies and their kids” drama The Squid & the Whale. I weighed my options: run like mad across town to try to make it to the film, or head home for a good, two-hour food-and-rest break.

I opted for the latter. There’s nothing like a good, sit-down, real-food dinner to re-energize and revitalize a weary filmgoer as she creeps up on movie #26!

Sadly, not even the heartiest of meals would have given me enough energy to get through my last film of the day. Frankie is a French drama starring Diane Kruger as a model who’s convalescing in some kind of psychiatric hospital and reflecting on her career. Shot in a hazy, dreamy, increasingly frustrating fashion, the film played out like an extended Calvin Klein ad…with some American Apparel or Ambercrombie & Fitch thrown in for good (or, in this case, bad) measure.

I was BORED SILLY. As I sat there in the near-empty theater (there couldn’t have been more than 50 or 60 of us in there) and tried my best to stay awake, I asked myself how long I’d sit there before leaving. I decided to give it until the 45-minute mark, simply out of respect for the director, who was sitting a few rows up. At about minute 39, the first person to walk out of the movie walked out. Then another. Then another. Then another. By the time I got to my (apparently) generous cut-off time, at least eight other people had already packed it in before me.

There’s nothing like a symphony of seats flipping up to get the ball rolling on a mass exodus, I tell ya.

As the final two days of the fest approach, I’m very near to hitting the wall. My eyes are struggling to stay open during most movies, and I find myself tuning out as I very nearly drift off to sleep. I’m hoping that my comparatively early night tonight will give me a chance to catch up on some much-needed rest. If not, I may have to start bringing a pillow to screenings.

Celebrity Sightings: Director Curtis Hanson appeared briefly to introduce In Her Shoes, but that’s about it.

Roger Ebert Sightings: The management regrets to inform you that Mr. Ebert was not available today.

Line Buzz: More crapping all over Caché, good buzz for Richard E. Grant’s Wah-Wah, huge amounts of praise for the Indian telemarketing documentary John & Jane, and some thumbs down for the Thai film, The Masseur.

(A short commercial break from TIFF blogging)

Life imitates art! Or art imitates life?

Whatever it may be, in the last couple days, in my obsessive checking of the Moviepie page view stats, I noticed a curious spike in the page hits for a little American indie movie that played a couple years ago.

"Huh!" I thought... until I looked at the major breaking international news headlines splashed across the front pages of websites like CNN, MSNBC, and Yahoo!...

The movie? Britney, Baby, One More Time!.

So, congratulations the new mom Britney, and new dad (again, and again) Kevin! May you run off to your isolated mansion and never make another UPN reality TV series! Mwah!

(But even bigger congratulations to the cast and crew of this little indie film that most people have never heard of... you guys have hit keyword search gold!)

TIFF Entry #10: Evading the Sleep Monster

Ladies and gentlemen, my lack of sleep is starting to catch up with me. Staying fully awake and alert during screenings is getting increasingly difficult, and my internal body clock has somehow adjusted itself to allow me no more than about five hours of sleep a night. It appears that I may have to crack open the fest’s complimentary can of caffeine-heavy Sobé sooner than I thought.

Thankfully, my first film of the day was rather loud and spirited. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (5/8), directed by Michel Gondry and presented as a “work in progress,” chronicles the comedian’s efforts to put together a hip-hop concert in a Brooklyn neighborhood. It was kind of choppy and jumped all over the place (perhaps more editing is still to be done), but was entertaining overall.

What was not so entertaining were the young Hollywood jerks who sat next to me. In fact, the exact same guys sat next to me last night at Bam Bam and Celeste. I know because I vividly recall the hipster running shoes and complete disregard for personal space on the part of the twit directly adjacent to me. These guys (and one girl) are totally unable to speak at normal volume, presumably because they assume that we all want to hear what exciting lives they lead, what fancy parties they attended and which L.A. A-listers they work for. (One guy repeated several times that he works for Plan B, Brad Pitt’s production company.) We get it! You’re super important! Now shut yer pieholes and watch the movie, or leave.

Movie #2 was Where the Truth Lies, the controversial new film by Atom Egoyan about a 1950s entertainment twosome (Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth), the mysterious death of a hotel employee (Rachel Blanchard) they both knew, and the intrepid young reporter (Alison Lohman) writing a book about the crime some 15 years later. Right about now is when the Sleep Monster launched a sneak attack. I could barely keep my eyes open for this film, and the only thing keeping me awake was the INCESSANT COUGHING of the woman sitting directly behind me. I regret to report that, between her coughing and my drowsiness, there was no way I could complete my viewing of this film. I left after about an hour. The movie just wasn't the right one to see at that moment.

My public service announcement: Folks, if you have pneumonia or malaria or any other illness that results in loud, grotesque, unstoppable hacking, do us all a favor and STAY HOME. Seriously. These theaters aren’t roomy and you’re almost always shoulder to shoulder with your fellow audience members. No one needs festival cooties! We’ll all get sick on our own, thank you very much!

Speaking of getting sick, that’s part of the plot of the third movie I saw, One Last Thing (5/8), which follows a terminally ill teen (Michael Angarano), whose dying wish is to spend the weekend alone with a supermodel (Sunny Mabrey). It’s a comedy (sort of) and is directed by Alex Steyermark, who previously helmed Prey For Rock & Roll. I was kind of torn over seeing this one – I knew it would be sad and was hesitant about voluntarily submitting myself to the possibility of embarrassing in-theater bawling. But I’m glad I went – it was actually a very sweet movie with only mild whimpering on my part.

Then I rushed home before my final film because I remembered I needed to buy milk. So I did.

Last up was a German film called Summer in Berlin (5/8), which centers on the friendship between two thirtysomething women (Nadja Uhl, Inka Friedrich) as they cope with personal and professional angst. There was no Q&A at this film, but I sure wish there had been…because all through the movie, it seemed as if the women were in love but suppressing their emotions. At one point, they’re even in bed together, kissing. But that’s never really explored or addressed, so I had no clue what we (the audience) were supposed to glean from the story.

What I did glean, though, is that friendly film festival audience members you don’t know will sometimes share their candy with you if you’ve been having a good pre-screening conversation.

I swapped out my morning movie for tomorrow – I was going to see Thumbsucker, but traded in my ticket for one to In Her Shoes instead. And the weather is cooling back down to normal, so audiences should be far less ripe than they have been these past few days.

Celebrity Sightings: Kind of slim pickins today, with only Atom Egoyan and Michael Angarano kicking around.

Roger Ebert Sightings: Whatever.

Line Buzz: Fairly consistent disappointment with the French film Caché, but some good buzz for A Little Trip to Heaven.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

TIFF Entry #9: Stars at Large!

Today’s minimalist approach to festival journaling is brought to you courtesy of Margaret Cho and her hilarious (but really long!) Q&A session. I didn’t get home until after 11pm, and I’d like to be in bed around midnight, so this is going to have to be shorter than usual.

As such…

Movie one! North Country (5/8), starring Charlize Theron in an Oscar-bait role as a Minnesota miner who leads her fellow women-miners in a precedent-setting class-action, sexual-harassment lawsuit against the boorish owners of the mine. It’s based on a true story, it was well done (if a bit slow in sections) and director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) gave a very sweet introductory speech. She said she’d only finished the film a few days ago!

Movie two! Proof (6/8), starring Gwyneth Paltrow in an Oscar-bait role as the brilliant daughter of a recently deceased, brilliant-but-insane mathematician (Anthony Hopkins), who falls for one of her father’s former students (Jake Gyllenhaal), copes with her overbearing sister (Hope Davis) and claims to be the author of a groundbreaking mathematical proof no one believes is hers. It, too, was very well done, but based on a play and not on a real event. No one showed up for the screening, but actor Mark Feuerstein was there, standing in line alone with the rest of us, just checking out the movie. He was very tan.

Movie three! Backstage (5/8), a French drama about a teenage fan (Isild Le Besco) obsessed with a pop singer (Emmanuelle Segnier), who gets an eyeful of the harsh truths of celebrity (and, more specifically, the insecurities of same) when she finagles a way into the singer’s inner circle. Segnier and the director were in attendance, but so were some other famous folks. Gabriel Byrne wandered in, alone and looking for a seat, and sat behind me. Singer Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo sat a couple of rows ahead of me, and director Jason Reitman and his posse came in…played with their cell phones and Blackberrys, and then left before it was over.

Movie four! Bam Bam and Celeste (5/8), Margaret Cho’s self-described “fag and his fag-hag road movie” about a pair of misfit best friends (Cho and real-life good pal, Bruce Daniels), who flee Dekalb, Illinois, for the Big Apple and a shot on a TV makeover show. Almost all of the cast (the two leads + Alan Cumming, Elaine Hendrix and John Cho) showed up for the screening and, as mentioned, the post-film Q&A was delightful. Funny people generally make for more spirited sessions and having Cho (Margaret, not John) open the floor by saying, “Ask whatever the f**k you want!” set a lively tone.

The end! And a heads-up that tomorrow’s entry may be equally abbreviated – I have another late movie that will leave me pooped by the time I venture home.

Oh! And one correction to yesterday’s diary entry: I mistakenly said that Jake Gyllenhaal didn’t attend the Proof premiere, but he did. My apologies.

Dammit! It’s now after midnight and I still have teeth to brush! Ah well.

Celebrity Sightings: Niki Caro, Mark Feuerstein, Gabriel Byrne, Jim Cuddy, Jason Reitman, Margaret Cho, John Cho, Alan Cumming and Elaine Hendrix.

Roger Ebert Sightings: Yeah, we’re at the festival halfway mark and I have absolutely nothing to report.

Line Buzz: Mediocre buzz on The Mistress of Spices, some thumbs up for Opa! and good word of mouth for One Last Thing?.

Monday, September 12, 2005

TIFF Entry #8: Maggie!

Today was the day.

Today was the day when, at long last, Maggie Gyllenhaal and I would meet.

Okay, maybe we didn’t meet, but we were in the same theater at the same time and, after all these Maggie-free years, I say: close enough!

In fact, today brought with it a veritable CAVALCADE of celebrities at Maggie’s film’s world premiere! I’ve never been to a more star-studded screening at the fest before…like, ever.

More on that later.

I kicked off today with The Quiet (5/8), a rather dark drama about a deaf teenager (Camilla Belle), who goes to live with a foster family after the death of her father. The parents (Martin Donovan and Edie Falco) welcome her, but their angry-cheerleader daughter (Elisha Cuthbert) does not. She treats her new “sister” like an emotional punching bag, but it’s not long before we find out why. I won’t spoil the movie by revealing much more, but suffice it to say that behind every angry young teen lies a reason for the anger.

The film was directed by Jamie Babbit, whose work I love and who’s directed, among other things, But I’m a Cheerleader, episodes of Gilmore Girls and a good chunk of the now-defunct but no-less-brilliant series, Popular. On my way into the screening, I saw a woman sitting on the floor outside the theater entrance and thought to myself, “That kind of looks like Jamie Babbit.” But I wasn’t sure, since I’ve only ever seen her from really far away before. Turns out I was right, because a few moments later my film festival friend Ann (who’d gone out to get a coffee) sat down and told me she’d just overheard Jamie being introduced to someone.

Anyway, this screening marked a Film Festival First for Vickie: I asked my very first EVER post-screening Q&A question! It was a monumental moment. Of course, me being me, it had to be twinged with comedy. See, we were in a big theater and I was sitting near the back. So, when I raised my hand (and mine was the only one raised) in the semi-dark, the moderator turned in my direction, pointed in my general vicinity and said…

“Yes. You sir!”


I looked around. Was she talking to me? She kept pointing at me. “Sir, go ahead!”

I pointed at myself and made the universal “ME???” face. Jamie, at the microphone, said re: me, “I think that’s a ma’am.”

(cue riotous laughter)

I yelled out, “Yeah, I’m a ma’am!” then asked my question.

Now, for those of you who don’t know me or what I look like, I’d like to assure you that, in actual fact, I look nothing like a man. I did, however, have my hair pulled back into a chignon (thanks, Tyra!), so maybe the moderator just thought I was a tall, skinny guy from that far away.

But my question incident wasn’t even the highlight of that particular Q&A. A few people later, this disembodied voice from somewhere in the middle of the theater piped up with the longest, most incoherent question in film festival Q&A history. One of the (completely unknown) supporting actresses was also in attendance, and this woman began her rambling incoherence by saying, “I have a question for the actress.”

The woman then launched into this soliloquy about how she knows the actress was just playing a role, but the emotions were so painful and real that they must be rooted in personal experience…and did she have personal experience with her character’s issues because she (the woman asking the question) had a similar history to that of the character and blah blah blah blah blaaaaaaaagh. It seriously felt like she was talking for a good five minutes straight. Now, the actress’s character was a complete beee-YOTCH cheerleader who taunts another girl she believes is gay…because of her own internalized homophobia.

So I thought to myself, “Is this woman asking if this actress is gay in real life?!?! That’s kind of nervy!”

The actress made her way to the microphone and very politely replied, “I’m sorry. I don’t really know what you’re asking.” No kidding. Neither did anyone else in the theater. Unfortunately, the woman then re-asked the entire question in a relatively un-altered way that was no less vague or confusing. The actress tried her best and actually offered a very thoughtful, eloquent answer about finding some ounce of humanity in her character and expanding on that kernel of truth. She ended by saying something about believing that her character was just confused and lashing out.

The disembodied voice in the audience then said, I kid you not, “Ohhh. I’m actually a little confused I think because I thought you were the actress who played Nina.” Elisha Cuthbert. She thought this tall brunette – who was specifically introduced by name – was short, blond-haired Elisha Cuthbert. So this woman had rattled off her epic question to the wrong actress. (cue more riotous laughter)

My second film of the day was the wildly erratic and mildly crazy drama Sorry, Haters (5/8), starring Robin Wright Penn as a woman who is, to say the least, totally bat-shit crazy. Insane. Off her rocker. Unbalanced. She takes a cab one night and slowly involves its unsuspecting driver (Abdellatif Kechiche) in the twisted reality of her life, intertwining her problems with his in increasingly dramatic and frightening ways. I had no idea what to make of this movie as I watched it – it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Very raw and gritty, shot on DV and laced with a sense of forboding and rage. It has an ending that left the audience slack-jawed and stunned, but that ending actually made me like the movie more, simply because it was so completely unexpected and dark. The post-film Q&A also helped me understand the movie better, which is nice. But the director said the film had been rejected by other festivals and, after watching it, I can see why. It’s some challenging material.

Number three for the day was Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (6/8) which, I’ll admit, was making me drowsy. Not because it was boring, but because I didn’t sleep well last night and the theater was kind of cold. It was relatively empty, too, which meant I had lots of room to relax. The film itself was very well done and wonderfully whimsical. It tells the story of a nebbish young man (voiced by Johnny Depp) who accidentally marries a dead woman (voiced by Helena Bonham-Carter) and who tries to choose between the worlds of the living and the dead. It’s fun, it’s cute and it’s even kind of moving. I cried at the end…but that may have more to do with my sleep depravation and hormones than anything else. Still, I enjoyed it immensely.

While in line for Corpse Bride, I realized that watching the demographics of festival lines is a fun pastime. The audience for Mrs. Henderson Presents was a sea of white hair, the audience at The Mistress of Spices was made up of a strong Indian contingent, and all the Goths were out for Corpse Bride.

Then…Maggie time.


And, with her, the aforementioned bonanza of celebrities! The ENTIRE CAST of Trust the Man (4/8) showed up for its world premiere! I mean, EVERYBODY! Maggie, Julianne Moore, David Duchovny, Billy Crudup, Ellen Barkin, Eva Mendes and James LeGros! PLUS, all the celebrity boyfriends, girlfriends and siblings!

That means Claire Danes, Peter Sarsgaard and Jake Gyllenhaal were also there! (Oddly enough, Jake came to support Maggie but didn’t go to his own premiere for Proof later this evening.) And while it was kind of exciting to see the tall, lithe Maggie in person, it was a bit anticlimactic. Like, oh look! There she is! OMG! And then, nothing. Does this mean I'm over Maggie? I wonder.

Unfortunately, the film – directed by Bart Freundlich and chronicling the ups and downs in the relationships of two couples – was kind of meh. It had a number of funny moments, but it felt too busy…like there were so many little things going on but nothing terribly memorable. Ellen Barkin basically had a cameo, and Eva Mendes was barely there. On some level, I think it wanted to be a romantic comedy, but it didn’t win me over and was rather long and rambling. I have no idea why I continue to see Bart Freundlich movies, either, because I seem to have the same reaction to them all.

Bart also proved to be a bit of a Q&A mic hog. He and the cast went onstage to answer questions after the film, but he was doing all the talking. It wasn’t until Maggie (yay!) actually physically took the mic away from him and said something like, “I have something to say!” that anyone else had a chance to speak. Other cast members offered comments, but it was kind of the Bart Freundlich Show…which was kind of too bad, since I think most people wanted to hear from the actors.

The weather today was bearably hot and humid, but it’s supposed to be even hotter tomorrow…which means a mid-afternoon trip back home to change clothes may be in order.

Celebrity Sightings: A TON! Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, David Duchovny, Eva Mendes (!), Ellen Barkin, James LeGros, Peter Sarsgaard, Claire Danes, Billy Crudup and Jamie Babbit.

Roger Ebert Sightings: In what can only be described as a truly surreal moment: no Roger Ebert, but I did see Leonard Maltin!

Line Buzz: Negative buzz for Stoned, middling opinions of Be With Me, and good buzz for Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist, Manderlay and Adam’s Apple.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

TIFF Entry #7: Imagine Déjà Vu!

There’s nothing like trying to navigate Toronto’s transit system at 7:45am on a Sunday. Subways don’t start running until 9am, so those of us commuting to the fest are stuck riding the surface routes…a colorful experience, to say the least, when you’re trucking along with folks still buzzed from their late-night out. Walking is an option, sort of, depending on where you’re early-morning screening is taking place, but the people you run into on foot are even sketchier than those using “the better way.”


I started the day with the comedy Thank You For Smoking (7/8), the directorial debut of Jason Reitman (son of Ivan). Aaron Eckhart stars as Nick Naylor, a tobacco lobbyist and “Sultan of Spin,” who fronts the Academy of Tobacco Studies and is the spokeman for a smoke-full America. Based on the novel by Christopher Buckley, Smoking skewers the ideology at its core and makes for a biting satire that has a distinct anti-smoking undertone. The supporting cast includes Maria Bello and SNL alum David Koechner (he’s the guy I saw on the street yesterday!) as, respectively, a liquor lobbyist and gun-toting NRA type; William H. Macy as Nick’s nemesis, a flustered senator from Vermont; and (gag) Katie Holmes as a libidinous journalist profiling Nick in an article and nailing him at home.

The movie is sharp, smart and very funny. Jason Reitman arrived to introduce the film (no small feat for a 9:15am screening on a Sunday!), and returned afterwards for a Q&A…with Aaron Eckhart! They were both entertaining, and I think everyone in the audience was pleasantly surprised that they both showed.

I had a two-hour gap between movies, so I went home to eat, check email and watch a few press conferences. I tuned in for Brokeback Mountain, which was plagued by horrible sound – I had to crrrrrrank the volume on my TV and Jake was still barely audible. No doubt terrifying the cast was everyone’s favorite troll-like moderator, who’s returned for another year with longer hair and an even surlier mood. Thankfully, TIFF is spreading out moderator duties amongst several people, so at least Henri won’t be tormenting all the visiting glitterati.

My second film was…Imagine Me & You. Yes, again. I couldn’t resist. And I’m glad I saw it a second time. It was worth the effort and it gave me a chance to watch the film through less manic eyes. Happily, it was just as good the second time around.

I high-tailed over to the Ryerson afterwards for my final film of the day, The Mistress of Spices (4/8), an ethereal British film co-starring Aishwarya Rai and Dylan McDermott. It’s the big-screen adaptation of the novel of the same name, and centers on a magical woman (Rai), who runs an Oakland spice shop where she dispenses advice, guidance and essential spices to an array of local customers while adhering to the strict “rules” set out by her mentor (namely: don’t ever set foot outside the store and don’t ever touch the skin of another person). But things change when she meets Doug (McDermott), becomes distracted by budding feelings and copes with the consequences of both. The film is gorgeously shot and nice enough, overall, but was a little dull.

A somewhat sluggish Dylan McDermott was among the players who attended the screening (along with the director, the novelist and co-producer Gurinder Chadha), but it was explained that his wife had just had a baby several days ago. So perhaps he’s a little tired.

Tomorrow, the four-movie days begin (and don’t end until the fest is over)…along with a mini-heatwave that will send temperatures into the high-80s and low-90s at least until Wednesday. Time to break out the flip-flops!

Celebrity Sightings: Aaron Eckhart, Jason Reitman, Gurinder Chadha, Dylan McDermott and Padma Lakshmi.

Roger Ebert Sightings: I promised myself I wouldn’t panic if I didn’t see him over the weekend… *gulp*

Line Buzz: Mediocre reviews for Neverwas, so-so buzz for Seven Swords and a couple of people crapping all over Shadowboxer, which I’ll be seeing on Friday.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

TIFF Entry #6: The First Walk-Out of the Fest...And It’s Only Day Three!

Yes, that’s right. I walked out of my first TIFF 2005 film this afternoon! But before details on that, I must announce some exciting (fest-wise) news: the Ryerson Theatre has been renovated and now has BRAND NEW SEATS and fresh new carpeting! Gone are the decades-old seats of last year, which were poorly padded (if at all), held together with duct tape and completely uncomfortable. Now: cushy, unscathed, Cineplex-quality red seats! It was all anyone in the theater could talk about!

I’d also like to take this opportunity to appeal to someone…anyone…working at the fest that they PLEASE inform Noah Cowan that the word is “confiscated,” not “CONSFIcated.” He keeps publicly mispronouncing it and he’s the co-boss of the entire festival! Twice he’s introduced films I was seeing, and twice he said “consficated” when rattling off the pre-screening list of rules. (Context: anyone caught recording a pirate copy of any movie will have it confiscated.)

So, please, someone gently pull him aside and whisper the correct pronunciation in his ear. He already has to struggle to tone down his ADHD and apparent caffeine addiction, so why should he shoulder the burden of, you know, not knowing how to say hard words right?

Okay, movies.

I started the day still basking in the afterglow of the magnificent Imagine Me & You (yes, I found out it should be “&” not “and”), despite being groggy because I was so W-I-R-E-D last night that I barely slept. I tried to focus on the proceedings at hand this morning, but my mind kept reverting to thoughts of “should I skip the Cate Blanchett movie tomorrow and see Imagine… again?” (I think this might actually happen. Yes, I know, I’m a nerd.)

My first film today was Mrs. Henderson Presents (6/8), a comedy-drama set in pre-WWII London and directed by Stephen Frears. The film stars Judi Dench as the titular wealthy widow, who’s bored and decides to buy a theater. She hires a theater manager (Bob Hoskins) and the two butt heads repeatedly as they prepare and execute a vaudeville show. But when ticket sales start to drop, they devise a new plan: nudity! That’s right, in the tradition of several fest films so far this year, clothes come off and everybody’s soon naked! (This includes Hoskins.) I must say, the penis is making quite a spectacle of itself at TIFF 2005. This is the third film so far where it makes an appearance.

Mrs. Henderson Presents starts off riotously funny, and I thought for a while that it might wind up being a delightful theater farce…but then it gets more poignant about 2/3 of the way through, and soon enough I was all teary. But I enjoyed it very much. Dench and Hoskins have AMAZING chemistry and comedic timing, and I’ll be buying the film’s supremely boppy soundtrack the minute it hits stores.

Up next was L’Enfer, the new film from Danis Tanovic (No Man’s Land). Now, I’m partly to blame for my inability to understand what the hell this movie was about because I forgot to refresh my memory by reading the program book before leaving my apartment this morning. So I arrived at the screening unable to remember anything about this movie other than the fact that it co-stars Emmanuelle Béart. Tanovic attended the screening and told the audience (in his brief intro) that he hoped we were all still there by the end, because the film was, and I quote, “difficult to watch.” I immediately wondered what kind of depravity or violence would ensue, and assumed that, at some point, a penis would probably appear onscreen.

Not so much. Turns out, the film is “difficult to watch” because it’s incredibly BORING. And overwrought. And plagued by an overwhelming musical score that becomes almost comical in its efforts to set the tone. Based solely on the music, I kind of think this might have been a horror movie. Or a thriller. Or a tragedy. I really have no idea. It has something to do with four women (turns out, it’s a mother and three grown daughters) all coping with bad relationships (with a parent, with an unfaithful spouse, with a creepy professor). Why? Couldn’t tell you. I sat through an hour of the movie and, when I realized I could not name a single character, didn’t know who was related to whom or how, and didn’t care at all how the movie would end, I decided to pack it in. Festival walk-out number one! L’Enfer? This movie should have been called L’Ennui! (insert rimshot!)

As a result of my premature departure from that film, I had a little extra time before the next, and unwisely opted for a Happy Meal at McDonald’s en route. It was filling enough, but not something I want to have again anytime soon. I did save the cookies for later, though.

Then…Catherine Keener time! That’s right, baby, live and in person! I queued up for my last film of the day, Capote, which was making its world premiere at…three in the afternoon?!?! Yep. But I didn’t care, as long as Catherine and I were in the same space!

And we were! (OMG!!) These filmmakers knew how to pull out all the stops for their world premiere, and brought along a HUGE gaggle of participants. Several producers, screenwriter (and actor) Dan Futterman, the cinematographer, the composer and all three principal actors – Philip Seymour Hoffman (looking adorable!), Clifton Collins Jr. (who plays killer Perry Smith), and…*sigh*…Catherine Keener, looking stunning! Sadly, no comments from the cast on stage, just a smile and a wave before being ushered to their seats. Alas.

The movie itself was okay, if a little sterile and slow. It tracks Truman Capote through the process of writing In Cold Blood, and examines his relationship with Smith as he looks for information on the killings. But that’s about it. Hoffman makes a great Capote, but the story didn’t grab me. Catherine Keener’s supporting role, as Harper Lee, is key but relatively small. I liked it, I guess, but was kind of underwhelmed overall.

That was it for movies today. Every screening for tonight was sold out, so I called it a day at a pathetic 5:30pm. Before heading home, though, I decided to make a pit stop in the Four Seasons area again. There were a number of Big Fat Premieres tonight (including Brokeback Mountain, A History of Violence and Elizabethtown), so I thought mayhaps some celebs might be lingering in the vicinity. And they were! I was walking along Yorkville Avenue when I heard a small crowd start screaming, and I turned in time to see Ed Harris getting into his car.

“OMG!” I thought. “He’s in Viggo’s movie! Maybe Viggo’s leaving for the premiere, too!” This was going to be my chance to stalk Viggo for Jennifer, for SURE! But no. He’d already left, or left through the hotel’s other exit while I was looking at Ed. So no Viggo.

Tomorrow…well, tomorrow I might just see Imagine Me & You again. February is still really far away, and I need some feel-good moviegoing right now. We’ll see.

And what’s THIS???? Jodie Foster is in Toronto?!?! She was on the cover of the Toronto Star today, and it seems the junket for her upcoming film, Flightplan is taking place *here*, right now. Freaky.

Celebrity Sightings: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Ed Harris, Dan Futterman, director Bart Freundlich (I *think*…it sure looked like him!) and this guy who used to be on Saturday Night Live, but whose name escapes me right now. (He was a bit player, not a main cast member.)

Roger Ebert Sightings: Adding insult to injury, as I waited for a possible Viggo sighting, I stood next to this guy on his cell phone, who said, “Yeah! I just saw Orlando Bloom! And Roger Ebert! And I think Carmen Diaz!” (Yes, folks, he called her “Carmen.”)

Line Buzz: Some good buzz for a film from Singapore called Be With Me. So-so chatter about Takeshi Kitano’s Takeshis’, and a lot of pre-screening advance buzz for Mistress of Spices, which I’m seeing tomorrow night.

Friday, September 09, 2005

TIFF Entry #5: The Best Movie of the Fest…And It’s Only Day TWO!!

Today I saw the film that will, without question, be my favorite movie of the festival and one of the best movies I’ll see all year. I LOVED LOVED LOVED LOVED LOVED LOVED it. I could not have loved it more. If I could, I would marry this movie. I sat through the whole thing with a huge smile slapped across my face. I laughed a lot (and loudly) and even cried at the end because it was that good.

The movie was called Imagine Me and You and I will continue to lavish praise upon it later in this entry. I just had to get some of my immediate post-screening euphoria out before proceeding to the recap of the rest of day.

[calmly breathing in and breathing out…calmly breathing in and breathing out…]

Okay, so I started the day with a quick promenade around the Four Seasons area to see if there was anyone strolling about. I had seen (attention Jennifer! attention Jennifer!) Viggo Mortensen being interviewed live at the hotel on a local TV morning show an hour earlier, so I thought he might still be around. Sadly, he was not. And neither was anyone else. But fear not, Jennifer, for I will not give up until he hops a plane outta here!

My first movie of the day was Douches froides (5/8), a French film whose title translates to Cold Showers, but a film which was promoted in such a way as to make it sound much steamier than it actually is. (Dial it down a few notches, hyperactive programmer and fest co-head, Noah Cowan.) The film tells the story of three teenagers: Mickael (Johan Libéreau), his girlfriend Vanessa (Salomé Stevenin), and the new kid on the judo team (Pierre Perrier), who enters into a curious and ultimately problematic love triangle with them. The film is a tiny bit racier than the standard North American teen films – and there are PLENTY of naked young men running around with their genitalia on full-frontal display – but overall it proves to be more of a chaste character study than a shocking sex drama, which was totally fine.

I followed that with a fantastic documentary called The Devil & Daniel Johnston (6/8), about the career of the titular, little-known but cult-superstar American singer-songwriter…whose talents were (and still are, to some extent) eclipsed by his mental illness. Tracking his life and musical endeavors from the early 1980s to present day, the doc paints a moving portrait of a troubled artist plagued (quite literally) by his inner demons. It reminded me a LOT of Mayor of the Sunset Strip, which played TIFF a few years ago and which I also loved. Both films are set in the music world, both are excellent and both made me cry. It repeats tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon, so if you’re in Toronto, reading this and pondering what to see on a Saturday afternoon at the festival, give this one some serious consideration.

Afterwards, I had a craving for ice cream, so I bought what turned out to be the most expensive ice cream cone ever (for what I got, I mean). I’d like to give a shout out to Laura Secord, for their ridiculously overpriced cones – which are TINY and which ring up at a hefty $2.66 for a miniscule single scoop! No more ice cream for dinner.

And then…The Best Film of the Fest.


I had a feeling about Imagine Me and You (8/8…a FULL PIE!) when I read about it in the program book. The cast looked good, the story looked fun, and it’s always nice to throw a romantic comedy into your festgoing mix. It was one of my must-see movies this year and one I was really looking forward to.

Oh, how right I was!

It was so funny, so sweet, so romantic, so pitch-perfect in all the right ways! Piper Perabo stars as Rachel, who’s newly married to Heck (Matthew Goode), a fantastic guy who’s like the love child of Hugh Grant and Rupert Everett. But, on their wedding day, Rachel locks eyes with the florist, a gay woman named Luce (Lena Headey, in a role that will steal the hearts of gay women everywhere!), for a brief but life-changing moment. For reasons she can’t explain, Rachel finds herself drawn to Luce in a powerful, soulmates-forever, completely confusing (for Rachel) way. For her part, Luce is wildly attracted to Rachel, but does her best to quash her feelings since Rachel is, you know, apparently straight and very clearly married.

Superbly paced, wonderfully acted and cleverly sidestepping so many rom-com clichés, the film does everything right (that’s right, I said it, EVERYTHING!) and is easily one of the best lesbian movies I’ve ever seen…and it’s written and directed by a straight man! (Ol Parker, aka: Mr. Thandie Newton.) The chemistry between Headey and Perabo is so powerful and intense that it practically leaps off the screen and smacks you in the face, and the supporting cast (including Celia Imrie and Buffy’s Anthony Head as Perabo’s parents) is divinely hilarious. Imagine Me and You is this year’s Love, Actually or Four Weddings and a Funeral.

It repeats Sunday afternoon at 3:15, and I cannot recommend it enough. If I haven’t made it clear by now: Go. See. It.

And while I’m elated to have seen it, I’m a teensy bit bummed that I saw it so early in the festival. It’s now set the bar SO high that I fear it may force me to compare all future TIFF ’05 films to its heartwarming magnificence. “Well, that was good, but it was no Imagine Me and You!”

But, man. I loved it so very much.

Tomorrow, three movies and (fingers crossed!) Catherine Keener!

Celebrity Sightings: Zero. Much to my EXTREME dismay, neither Headey nor Perabo showed for their film’s WORLD PREMIERE!!! I mean, come ON! I thought they’d sure things! It’s the first time their movie was being shown, EVER. But no. Dammit.

Roger Ebert Sightings: Nope, not yet. But I just saw some entertainment reporter on TV gushing about having just run into him. WhatEVER.

Line Buzz: My line-mates were somewhat quiet today. There was some less-than-glowing chit-chat about Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic, the comedian’s one-woman show. And the funniest “review” I heard was actually while I was in my seat, waiting for Imagine… to begin. Two women were discussing what they’d seen the previous day, and one of them had seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the new Val Kilmer/Robert Downey Jr. movie. When asked what she thought, the woman said, “Val Kilmer is FAT! And he’s FAT in real life, too!” Hee. And tomorrow, I’m planning on launching my own line-buzz PR assault for Imagine Me and You -- everyone I meet is getting an earful about how great it is! So there.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

TIFF Entry #4: The fest is starting…let the moviegoing begin!

It’s here! Day one of the film festival has finally arrived and, with it, a mélange of excitement, frustration, last-minute tips and an underlying urge to dig in my heels and slow down the process so that the whole extravaganza might be savored for as long as possible. It always flies past in the blink of an eye and always seems like it’s over much too quickly.

In the meantime…

As press coverage for the fest begins, it seems more and more outlets are echoing some of the sentiment I expressed in my Open Letter to Piers Handling from TIFF 2004.

There was a GREAT letter to the editor in today’s print issue of the Toronto weekly NOW (alas, their letters aren’t available online) that essentially criticized the fest for its high ticket prices and shameless disregard for the audiences that have, over the years, made it great. Amen to that, I say!

There was also a small item in the Saturday Star’s A&E section (Sat. Sept. 3rd), pointing out the precise amount that prices have risen – a whopping $3.75 PER TICKET since 2003!!! (again, can’t find a link!) Single tickets are now more than $18, not including taxes!

Today’s Globe & Mail tackles the ticket-pricing issue, as well, but their story makes it sound like fest-goers don’t really seem to mind the increase. HUH??? Which film-going fans did they talk to??? ‘Cause all of the folks I know would rather see a more reasonable inflation rate…more like a quarter (25 cents, that is) a year, not $2.50.

Oh how I wish CityTV’s kick-ass consumer specialist, Jee-Yun Lee, would do a story on the economics of attending the festival as a “civilian.” I suspect, though, that most news media are hesitant to be critical of the fest in any way, lest their credentials be revoked. Ah well.

I packed my festival bag today, and thought it might be helpful for fest newbies to list a few key items that no festival attendee should be without. There seem to be two schools of thought with regard to fest preparedness – those who believe they should bring along everything they own, and those who adopt a more minimalist, only-the-necessities packing process. I fall somewhere in the middle. My own personal belief is that, aside from your tickets, the following items are important (but by no means mandatory!):

* Knapsacks are fantastic but, please, not the massive I’m-going-hiking-through-the-Himalayas monstrosities that barely fit into a seat of their own, let alone into the space in front of your feet or under your seat. They’re huge. They’re awkward. They’re excessive.

* Folding camping chairs (to alleviate the standing-in-line fatigue) sound like a nice, comfy idea in theory, but trying to find space for them (even re-rolled back into their casing) inside theaters is a pain for everyone. Small – and I stress SMALL – folding stools, though, can be very handy and are much more audience-friendly in terms of portability.

* Snacks are a must, but not in loud, crinkly bags. Small tupperware containers are ideal (and wonderfully environmentally friendly!) for carting around fruit, cookies, vegetables or sandwiches. Plus, they’re delightfully quiet. Just one initial *shhhhhwclunk* sound when opening, and another upon closing. Ahhhh.

* If you’re spending the entire day out at the fest – as in, your first movie is at 9am, followed by three or four more movies, ending sometime around 11pm – think about packing a stick of deodorant. Seriously. Especially if the weather’s going to be warm, or you’re going to be running from theater to theater. Trust me, no matter how many odor-fighting ingredients your antiperspirant contains, they ALL need to be topped up during a long, long day like that. Your fellow moviegoers will thank you. (Also, if the forecast calls for hot, humid, sweat-riffic weather, there’s nothing wrong with rolling up an extra T-shirt and taking it along for a mid-afternoon change.)

* Water! Somewhere in the list of dos and don’ts, I mentioned that a neat trick (and one that lightens your load) is to bring your bottle to the theater(s) EMPTY. All venues have water fountains where you can fill up before the movie starts or before you dash off to your next film. Those giant litre bottles are somewhat unwieldy, so you may want to downsize for the fest and just bring along the single-serving size to refill throughout the day. After all, will you really be drinking an entire litre of water in one sitting at one movie?

* Breath mints. On behalf of all the people you’ll be talking to in line, in your seat, waiting for the washroom, wherever – thank you.

* A copy of the official festival schedule. It has start times, running times and end times for every film showing every day of the festival and is an invaluable resource to have on hand. Of course, you can also pick one up at any festival venue, but reading and tossing them repeatedly is a waste of paper…so take one and keep it with you.

* And, depending on your tolerance for cold, a long-sleeved shirt or a sweater (or the like) to wear during screenings. The theaters are often quite chilly and the air-conditioning cranked, which sounds lovely in theory, until you’re halfway through a film and asked to leave because your chattering teeth are irritating other patrons.

That’s about it. Sure, umbrellas might be needed on rainy days, and you might want to pack some Tylenol for those pop-up headaches, but otherwise…you don’t really need much else.

As for movies, I saw my first today…but it was an inauspicious kick-off, I’m afraid. It was the New Zealand comedy 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous (3/8), which was royally pooped upon by the local weeklies and practically invites criticism based on its title alone. I went in with lowered expectations and regret to report that I did not enjoy it. The film – which has shades of Ma vie en rose -- tells the story of Billy (Andrew Paterson), an overweight, mildly effeminate boy living on a rural New Zealand farm in the 1970s. He’s gay, but is too young to understand it. Things don’t get much better when he’s assigned to befriend Roy (Jay Collins) – the new kid at school, who turns out to be a weird, obsessive, freaky “poofter” who’s almost immediately in love with Billy. The core of the story was interesting, and the alienated-kids theme worked to some degree, but the acting was, for the most part, stilted and forced, which is to be expected, I guess, given the fact that the cast was made up of first-timers. But the thing that bothered me most was the character of Roy, who’s so freaky and weird that he becomes unlikable and unsympathetic. Why would the audience ever side with him? And why did Billy’s best girlfriend turn into a raging bitch at the drop of a hat? And why…nevermind.

The Q&A afterwards also reminded me of one of my fest pet peeves: needless ass-kissing. The way some of the audience was talking, you’d think this was the Greatest Coming Out Movie Ever!

Yeah, not really.

Celebrity Sightings: None. It’s only day one!

Roger Ebert Sightings: OMG! OMG!!!!! I was going to say no, but he’s BEING INTERVIEWED ON TV RIGHT NOW! (I know that doesn’t count. I’m just saying.)

Line Buzz: Too soon for any talk of which movies are great and which ones blow, but there was chatter about the price increases and declining attendance by long-time festgoers.

Monday, September 05, 2005

TIFF Entry #3: The Efficiency Experts?

Just a quick entry to wonder aloud (or in writing, as it were) whether someone somewhere slipped TIFF execs a link to my festival diary last year…because I continue to be stunned by – and unexpectedly pleased with – the way the festival is running this year. As I mentioned in previous posts here, the world of TIFF is different in 2005. The “let’s dream up imaginative new ways to stick it to the moviegoer!” mindset seems to have evaporated in favor of helpful, efficient and downright rewarding policies and procedures.

Today was Order Pick-Up Day, a day when (in previous years) folks would start lining up at the crack of dawn so that, by the time the box office opened its doors for business, there were easily hundreds and hundreds and hundreds (if not thousands) of people waiting. You’d wait in line for, say, two hours for the box office to open, and then stand for another hour (or more) waiting to get to the front of the massive line.

Not this year. This year, they split the mammoth line in two, by last name. Okay, so that’s a nice start, I thought. Cuts down the sheer scope of the line by half. The email notification also trimmed the line numbers considerably, it seemed. I arrived at 8am for the 10am opening, anticipating an overall finish time of around 11am. But when I showed up, there were only two short lines (A-L and M-Z), and I was maybe the 75th person in my line. Once the box office opened at 10am, the line FLEW! I was in and out by 10:05!! I have never, NEVER!, finished that quickly before. And it wasn’t rushed, it wasn’t cramped, it wasn’t chaotic.

It was quick and tidy and efficient and orderly and, dare I say it, PLEASANT!

Oh, and the $75 worth of free food was, indeed, part of every single tote bag.

Will festival wonders never cease?

Or will the usual, harsher festival reality return with a wallop come Thursday?

(Note: They did, however, neglect to erect a single Board of Lies as of yet, so many people were furrowing their brows this morning as they waited to exchange tickets without advance notice of what was already sold out.)

(Note 2: Okay, so maybe all isn't as idyllic as I thought. Evidently, no one knows what time the Manulife box office opens tomorrow. It's like a comedy of errors -- the website and official schedule say 10am, two volunteers I asked said 10am, but one volunteer AND a sign posted AT the box office say 7am. How hard can it be to coordinate information amongst the staff??)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

TIFF Entry #2: The Results Are In…

I was in Box 3. Box 36 of 48 was drawn first. My box would be the 15th processed. This is much better than my processing position has been in past years. I waited for the promised emails from TIFF with a combination of anticipation (of the news) and skepticism (that any emails would ever be sent in the first place).

Then today, shortly after 5pm, the emails arrived. I was almost afraid to open them for fear of what they might contain.

But, I am pleased to report, the news is good. Of the 34 films I requested, I got 33. The only one sold out was Brokeback Mountain on Saturday (Sept. 10th) night, which I kind of expected given the film’s great buzz in Venice, its high-profile leads (who’ll both be here for the screening) and the fact that it’s a first-Saturday, nighttime screening, when everyone and their cousin is in town and when virtually every single film showing sells out.

Still 33 out of 34 ain’t bad!

I was shocked. Heck, I still am. Only one ticket missing? Seriously?

No, really. Seriously???

You mean…I really WILL get to see Catherine Keener in person at Capote?! I’ll be in the same theater as Maggie for Trust the Man?! I’ll be in the audience for the potential trainwreck that will be the Q&A for Margaret Cho’s Bam Bam and Celeste?!


But…whatever joy I might be feeling is tempered with a lingering flicker of the aforementioned doubt that these emails are 100% accurate. There’s still a chance that there was a glitch in the process somewhere. That the ticketing system mistakenly awarded me films I won’t, in fact, be seeing. Until I have my tickets in my hand on Monday morning, I shall remain cautiously optimistic.

And now I have to find something to see instead of Brokeback. I haven’t decided whether I’ll make an effort to pursue that film, or just relent and see something less popular instead.

I’ll end this entry with a small note about the ticket lottery itself. (Fear not, no ranting will follow.) This year, for the first time ever, I actually attended the lottery draw. I trucked over to the box office before the drop-off deadline to witness the Big Event in person. I’d heard others talking about it in years passed, so I thought, “What the heck! Maybe I’ll bring myself and my box-mates luck by being present for the draw!”

As lame as it sounds, the whole thing was kind of fun...if suspicious. The two TIFF reps ("box guy," who was carrying a box, and "bag guy," who was carrying a bag with the numbered chips) running the draw gathered a crowd outside the box office (and it was a pretty big crowd!), announced the total number of boxes collected as of the deadline (48), selected a volunteer from the masses, and then proceeded to put on their best carnival-barker voices to hold up and call out each numbered chip (to prove that each box was being included in the draw) before dropping it into a big box. Then the volunteer pulled out the winning number and the whole thing was over. Most people were happy, mainly because they’d only just squeaked in under the wire and would benefit from being in, say, box 47.

But here’s the thing:

A few minutes before the draw, the fest rep holding the box that would be used for the draw was carrying it around outside the box office. As he waited for the 1:00pm deadline to arrive, he meandered aimlessly with the box and was absentmindedly shaking it back and forth. He was near enough to me that I could hear stuff inside the box, moving around. At first, I thought he’d already dropped the numbered chips inside. “Weird,” I thought. “Aren’t they supposed to put the numbers in while we all watch?”

So I kept an eye on him, waiting to see if he’d dump out whatever was inside.

But I don't think he did. Granted, he was out of my field of vision for about 10 seconds while we all headed outside, so it's possible that he dumped out the contents. But where? Onto the sidewalk?

As far as I could tell, the numbered chips were dropped, with a great deal of pomp and circumstance, into the box with whatever else was already in there.


What could have been inside? The other TIFF rep brought out the stacks of numbered chips, so it couldn't have been those. Unless box guy had the stacks in the box, then somehow passed them to bag guy on the way out the door...?

Somewhere in the back of my mind, a tiny voice wondered: Is the draw fixed somehow? Do they load in some extra numbers in advance to ensure a certain set of numbers (for example, those toward the middle and end?) have a higher probability of being selected?

Dunno. Again, there was brief moment or two where I couldn't see box guy or bag guy, so maybe they did their thing and everything is on the up-and-up. I want to believe I’m overreacting but it smelled a little fishy. Maybe next year I’ll pipe up and ask them to prove the box is completely empty before they drop in chip #1.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

TIFF Entry #1: It May Be Christmas Morning, But Why Do I Feel Like Something Is Amiss?

It has begun.

Tuesday, at about 7:45am, I took my place in line alongside the other hardcore fest goers (yes, folks, Mouthy Martha was there, too, right up front, yapping away!) who were waiting breathlessly for the release of the official program book and festival schedule. We waited patiently, chatting with friends old and new, reminiscing about fests gone by and comparing speculation about what TIFF 2005 might hold in store. As 9am drew near, our hearts started beating faster, the pitch in our voices started to climb, and we all craned our necks to see just when the doors would be opened and our Christmas-morning experience would begin.

I know only hardcore fest goers (Linda, are you with me?) can appreciate the sheer joy and excitement of being handed a big, fat program book full of hundreds of cinematic possibilities. It’s like walking down to your living room on Christmas Day to behold a wealth of brightly wrapped presents under the tree – so much to choose from, OMG where to start?!?!

Well, let’s start with the free schwag! Once again, the fest has revamped its complimentary festival tote bag (given free to all program-book purchasers) and made it much more user friendly. Pockets ROCK. Plus, it’s funkier than it’s ever been. But even better than the nifty bag was what was inside! In addition to a free can of Sobé Energy Drink (caffeine is a fest fan’s best friend) and a $5 Starbucks card, there was a DVD of a new cable series, a bunch of oddly assembled coupons (um, maybe it’s just me but I don’t know what 50 cents off a bag of pasta has to do with TIFF’n)…and something I’m CONVINCED could NOT have been in every one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of totes. For when I opened my bag, I found a $50 (!!!) gift certificate to the Rosewater Supper Club (a swanky Toronto eatery) AND a $25 gift certificate to the Courthouse Grill (another T-Dot restaurant).


I went over those gift certificates with a magnifying glass, certain that there must be some fine print I wasn’t seeing…something that would nullify the whole deal or reveal it to be some kind of cruel promotional scam. But no, They’re real. Holy crap! The festival just gave me $75 worth of FREE FOOD!

Even though we’re always advised to welcome gift horses with open arms, I have to admit I was suspicious. Could the festival really be changing its tune? Could they somehow be REWARDING its audiences this year? It *is* their 30th anniversary, so maybe the execs and all the sponsors are really pulling out all the stops and rolling out the proverbial red carpet for us. Maybe.

My shock and awe continued when I began selecting films and filling out my order forms. What’s THIS now? Some of the movies showing at TIFF have THREE screenings! Three! That means more opportunities to see popular films and (quite possibly) less competition for tickets at each of those screenings.

Good grief, Piers Handling and crew, what has happened to you since September 2004?!?!? It’s like someone somewhere turned on the generosity switch in their brains and we’re being showered with goodness this year. Still, for some reason this gives me an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach…like it’s all too good to be true or some kind of grand set of typos.

Nonetheless, I agonized over my choices for a full day – sitting down on the couch at 9:30am and, save for potty breaks, pretty much staying there until 10 o’clock that night. Trying to slot 35 films into eight days doesn’t sound terribly daunting, but by hour four you’re no longer able to think clearly. Suddenly, you start to wonder if maybe seeing that new Abel Ferrara movie might be a good idea after all (no!), or that perhaps you should skip the Wallace & Gromit movie to see the new Zooey Deschanel drama instead (I’m afraid, yes). You forget which films you wanted to see, or when you wanted to see them, or WHY you wanted to see them. But 12 hours after I’d begun, I folded the order forms closed and put them in my bag for the next day’s delivery to the box office.

Which brings me to my next bout of skepticism.

When I arrived at the box office to submit my orders, it was like I walked into some kind of festival utopia. EVERYONE was super-friendly and super-perky and in a collective AMAZING mood. Big smiles all around and I swear there was even one girl SKIPPING from table to table. I’m not lying – SHE SKIPPED. I half expected to see a rainbow shining above the entrance and free ice cream being handed out by Catherine Keener.

When I handed over my orders, the shockingly helpful volunteer informed me of a new TIFF policy this year.

“Oh no,” I thought. “Here it comes.” I readied myself for a blow to the midsection.

“If you put your email address on the front of your order,” she said. ”We’ll email you as soon as we process your order and tell you which films you got.”


Seems the festival has decided that it’s cruel to make people sweat out the Labor Day long weekend, stressed about how many of their selections they actually scored, so they’re implementing a process whereby they will actually send us an email that says, “Hi Vickie! You successfully landed tickets to the following films…”, thereby giving us advance notice of how well (or how poorly) we did in the ticket lottery, and alerting us to the films we DIDN’T get so that we can come armed with alternate picks when we show up at the crack of dawn on Labor Day morning to collect our tickets.

Good grief on a cracker – WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MY USER-UNFRIENDLY FILM FESTIVAL?!?!? Magically, almost eerily, they’re…nice. They’re helpful. They’re actually initiating processes that IMPROVE their flawed system. They’re giving out $75 of free phancy food, fer cryin’out loud! They seem to LOVE the moviegoer this year!

Or do they?

I’m not entirely convinced. For despite their efforts to lull me into a sense of comfort and warmth and security, I’m not comfortable or warm or secure. I want to believe that their motives are true, and that their sudden affection is genuine, and that their email-alert system will not send out reams of false information by accident.

But it all seems just a little too good to be true. Too easy. For now, I’m taking it all with a packet of low-sodium salt substitute, and will believe our unexpected good fortune when I have my tickets in my hand.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Enjoy your show! Oh, and please leave your DNA sample on the table by the door...

Anti-piracy measures at preview screenings are, to put it mildly, getting way out of hand.

As a film reviewer, I’m fortunate enough to be one of the lucky few who land routine invites to see movies a few days (or sometimes a couple of weeks) ahead of the general public. For a movie lover like me, this is a dream come true and, for the most part, I don’t have a single bad thing to say about the process. I love it and am grateful. My only complaint is the increasingly freakish and militaristic treatment we preview audiences are being asked to endure for the sake of our sneaks.

The heightened security started a couple of years ago and is, we’re told, a bid by the studios and distributors to thwart camcorder-wielding morons from taping the films and then pirating them. At first, it was just the occasional harmless bag search or photo I.D. verification on the way into a Big Event Film like Star Wars: Attack of the Clones or Spider-Man 2. Sometimes, in addition to the peek inside our knapsacks and the flash of a driver’s license, we were subjected to scans with metal detectors. A small nuisance in the grand scheme of things, so whatever.

But that wasn’t enough, I guess. Bag searches, even for members of the press, became routine, and the body-scans mandatory. Then, infrared night-vision goggles were introduced and used – either by studio reps or theater employees – to scan the audience for ne'er-do-wells several times during the course of a movie...something that's more than a tad irritating when Mike the security guy is blocking your view of the screen while he tries to get a clear shot of what exactly the folks in the last row are doing or not doing.

Still, more needed to be done in the eyes of the studios. Sure, they could search us and watch us sporadically, but why not also have two guys positioned at the front of the theater, just in front of the screen and facing the audience, with infrared videocameras taping the audience for the entire film? I’m sure to someone in some boardroom at some movie studio where films are enjoyed in private screening rooms with plush sofas, this sounded like a fantastic and wholly unobtrusive idea.

Not so much to those of us actually in the theater.

Okay, to recap: bags searched, identification verified, bodies scanned with metal detectors, infrared goggles or cameras keeping an eye on moviegoers. And this is now for movies across the board, from poop like The Honeymooners to highly anticipated blockbusters like Revenge of the Sith. Hmmm...what else? Hey! How about confiscating cell phones on the way into a screening? Excellent! (To be honest, this one doesn’t bother me as much because it partially ensures none of us will be subjected to ringtones echoing through the aisles at some critical moment in a movie. Still.) So, it’s now passed that anyone carrying a cell phone must relinquish said telecommunications device to one of the thuggish-looking security “guards,” who then drop the phone into a Ziplock baggie and number it for post-movie retrieval.

[I should point out that these processes make actually getting into the theater a time-consuming task. Give yourself at least an extra 15 minutes to account for the time needed just to get you through security.]

But the pièce de resistance came with my pass for the preview screening of The War of the Worlds. Already awash in secrecy and ubiquitous bad press (TomKat, I’m glaring at you…), WOTW and the studio responsible didn’t really need to give its potential audience members another reason to roll their eyes and consider seeing something else. But they did. For, affixed to my invite was a small memo notifying me that all bags, purses, knapsacks, cell phones and recording devices of any kind (well, DUH!) would have to be checked AND HELD outside the theater until after the movie is over. This means that we’re essentially allowed to go in with the clothes on our backs and nothing more…and I’m not even entirely sure we won’t be subjected to a strip search before we can take our seats.

I mean, COME ON. We get it, already! Taping BAD! Pirates EVIL! Geez. And who in their right mind is going to happily hand over their purse or briefcase to some generic, un-liable oaf who looks like he’s part of a work-release program, so that he can drop it into a plastic bag and pile it on top of hundreds of others, anyway? Gee, I’m sure nothing will go missing as the teenaged rent-a-cops have at our belongings while we’re shuffled inside.

For starters, people who want to pirate a movie are going to do it not matter how many lame-ass security precautions are dreamed up by the studio honchos. Period. They’re a fiercely determined bunch, you know. Just because you force someone to check their knapsack doesn’t mean he won’t smuggle a camera inside his jumbo bag of popcorn! Your anti-piracy tactics aren't deterrents, they're a challenge! Many times, piracy is carried out by theater and studio staffers, anyway – people who have unrestricted access to things like projection booths and preview tapes and such – so why penalize the rest of us?

These practices are also bordering on the kind of personal-rights infringement that may just make people stay away altogether. Who wants to win tickets to a movie (yay!), only to be treated like a criminal upon arrival (boo!)? I half expect mandatory DNA samples and fingerprinting to be introduced in the near future. A good number of these security goons given the responsibility of enforcing the rules are also on a collectively misguided power trip. I’ve had more than a few rudely behave as though they were searching me (and my bag) for weapons of mass destruction instead of a deadly cameraphone (which, btw, I don’t own). It’s gotten to the point that I bring nothing but a bottle of water in my bag so that it can be opened and examined in as little time, and with as little manhandling, as possible. I make sure there are no keys or coins in my pockets that might set off the metal detectors, and I take off any extra clothing (like jackets or sweaters) well in advance of being scanned, lest a zipper get me beeped and subsequently tackled by the authorities.

What’s most baffling, though, is that amid all this ridiculous hooey, movie are still finding their way onto the Internet faster than ever before. The tighter security gets, the more inventive the pirates get. The measures employed by the studios – including those tearful, pre-movie pleas from Ben Affleck to stop! piracy! now! – are serving no purpose beyond annoying the law-abiding film fans like me who just want to see the freakin’ movie.

I’d rather see the distributors and theater chains tap their Brain Trust for solutions to the real problems plaguing filmgoers, like people who talk during movies. Or groups of six who lumber into an opening-day screening 10 minutes into the film and then try to find seats together in the dark. Or the unforgivable louts who always kick the back of my seat. Nevermind the outrageous ticket and concession prices gouging us at every turn.

Those are the real criminals, and they’re the ones who need to be stopped.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Raftman's Razor, and being proud of your friends

For me, one of the big highlights at the Seattle International Film Festival was a shorts program called "Accidentally Growing Up"... specifically one short called The Raftman's Razor ( There were probably a couple dozen people in the theater that specifically hooted and hollered when the film started. You see, Raftman has some local connections (for instance, one person in the audience yelled out, "That's my brother!" as the closing credits rolled). For me, the pleasure was that my good pal Joel Haskard from college wrote the screenplay, and his cohort Keith Bearden (whom I also knew in college) directed it.

Knowing the people involved behind-the-scenes of any film, whether it be a short or feature or documentary or whatever, totally changes your perception and enjoyment of a film (hopefully for the better). Have you ever had a screenwriter or filmmaker friend who has all the passion and the drive, but maybe not quite the talent? Making anything creative is tough, and I can vouch for that. Writing about other people's creative work (movies) is a heck of a lot less intimidating than creating your own.

There is a scene in Raftman that had my friends' personalities written all over it, and it made me giggle and clap my hands. The short film is about two teenage boys that are obsessed with a serial comic called The Raftman's Razor. The storyline of the comic is this: A man in a suit sits drifting at sea in an inflatable raft, and at one point he gives himself a shave with a straightrazor and a cup of shaving cream that is the only other thing on the raft. While doing this, you see a voice bubble, with a single quote... something profound like, "A life not lived is a life not worth living." (or along those lines--sorry to make up a quote, guys)... and for the next 30 pages, NOTHING HAPPENS. He just drifts in his raft. The boys get the latest issue, and there is some new clue about the Raftman... something is going to happen! In triumph, the boys jump up and down, doing handstands, and playing air guitar solos in a victory gesture. Just like something Joel and Keith would do.

A small movie like Raftman reminded me of why I love movies. There were a dozen or so people in the audience that were directly involved in the making of this short film, and another dozen or so friends that were there in support of the movie. There was this ripple of electric excitement in the air. After all that work, it was in a film festival! People unrelated to the movie liked it and applauded! Really, how fun is that? Most filmmakers, like most artists, have day jobs like the rest of us... but to see a labor of love, of passion, make it from idea to screen to film festival is just about the coolest thing ever, and it was totally fun to be a part of it... If only so I could run home, call my old friend Joel, and say, "HEY!!! I saw your movie at SIFF! Wahoo!!!!" :)

EXCITING FOLLOW-UP: So when I finally got to talk to Joel on the phone, praising him about his coolness, he was kind of shellshocked. He had just found out more info about the NEXT festival the movie will be screening at: The Nantucket Film Festival. Apparently Nantucket is screenwriter-centric, so he and his pal Keith will get a short film screenwriting award presented by... STEVE MARTIN!!!! If that wasn't enough, the fest then offhand told them when their short film would screen. A choice spot is to screen before a feature film, because more people see it than during a screening with only a collection of shorts (like I saw it). So, yes, their movie will screen before a feature. Yay! Which one? Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers" (starring Bill Murray), which just won an award at Cannes, and happens to be Nantucket's OPENING NIGHT FILM. Oh. My. God. How COOL is THAT????


Monday, May 23, 2005

Eavesdropping at SIFF

A large chunk of the fun and pain that comes with going to film festivals is directly related to sharing space with our beloved movie-going cohorts. I would say "mingling with" or "chatting with" or "enjoying the company of" the fest-goers, but the truth is, those who attend the Seattle International Film Festival (or any other festival, I'm sure) can run the gamut between friendly to freakish to snobbish to simply rude and vicious.

For instance, yesterday, after a long wait, the line I was in finally started plodding towards the door of the theater for an event called Afternoon with Joan Allen (who is gorgeous and funny and utterly charming in person, btw). At the last second, I had to dart out of line and run 10 feet to toss my empty coffee cup into a trashcan, and dart just as quickly back to my spot. To the middle-aged, otherwise pleasant-looking woman who had been in line directly in front of me for freakin' 45 mintutes, I guess it appeared that I was swooping in from nowhere to step into line. She snapped her head in my direction and growled in a voice not that much unlike Darth Vader, "DON'T EVEN THINK OF IT!" In cases like that, when even those behind you in line throw their hands up in the air in shock and solidarity, there is really nothing you can say in response. Sheesh.

So in honor of festival going, here are some of my favorite overheard comments from the first weekend:

[with a defeated voice, after leaving the screening of Wong-Kar Wai's much-anticipated 2046] "... It's just that it felt like it had three endings!"

[young fashionable guy with cellphone waiting in line] "The movie was good, but the reception was not that good. I hope OURS is better."

[people leaving an unknown screening] "I mean, it's just the fact that they gave her the rope, you know?"

[group of friends waiting in line] "You have to admit... everything that we've seen already--from all of today and all of yesterday--is better than anything we've seen in Season Two of The L-Word!"

[and finally...] "Did you know that on all possible surfaces of any hotel room, you can find traces of semen and blood?"
"Yeah, I've heard that."

Happy SIFF'n! :)