Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Writers' Strike Unfortunately Ignores Reality (TV, that is)

Last year there was a group of writers in Hollywood that went on strike, but alas it was a group that was misunderstood, and whose message faded from the media after initial interest in supermodel-supporters wearing tight T-shirts. The show was America's Next Top Model, and one of the strikers was one of our very own Friends of the Pie, Daniel. Daniel wrote an article for the LA Times which I think is well worth reading, for some perspective about not just the politics between the writers and the studios, but amongst the writers themselves.,0,94249.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrail


Networks now have reality shows to fall back on; it wouldn't be that way had the WGA better handled the "America's Next Top Model" strike.

By Daniel J. Blau
November 20, 2007

AS THE WGA STRIKE stretches into its third week, I am reminded of the last big labor scuffle the Writer's Guild of America presided over. Not the 1988 strike that lasted five months and ended largely in failure. No, I mean the ill-fated 2006 strike by the writers of "America's Next Top Model."

As early as 2004, the WGA was looking at ways to get writers working in the exploding genre of reality TV under their union umbrella before the big 2007 negotiations began. The guild named a new director of organizing, David Young, in 2004, and in 2005, it elected a new president, Patric Verrone, whose whole platform revolved around adding to ranks of the guild. Their intentions were more strategic than altruistic: Without reality programs to fall back on, the TV networks would be hit harder and faster by any strike. It would have been a fine strategy, had it worked.

A small WGA group called the Reality Organizing Committee debated strategies. On one point they all agreed: You couldn't organize reality TV writers one show at a time. The writers would have to demand guild representation en masse at all the networks.

Those of us actually working in reality TV, however, knew little of these plans. Back then, I was one of the 12 story editors on the CW's "America's Next Top Model," where none of us got medical benefits, let alone residuals. Still, I was far more concerned with doing my job well and making ends meet on my entry-level salary than making waves.

But after nearly two years of meetings, the WGA's reality committee was still far from a cohesive plan, so the guild leadership settled on a more expedient strategy: They would choose one popular show to be the poster child for the plight of reality TV writers. They chose "America's Next Top Model."

In the early summer of 2006, only one of the "Top Model" writers was involved in the union campaign. The rest of us were, at best, tangentially aware of its existence. Until, that is, the afternoon of June 21. That was the date of our first official meeting with WGA organizers. Over lunch at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Santa Monica, they spelled out the manifold benefits of guild representation: health insurance, pension contributions and credits for our work. The industry was ready for reality story editors to enter the WGA, they said. Les Moonves -- head of CBS, which owned the new CW network -- had been "put on notice." There was no talk of losing our jobs. We believed the guild's ambiguous promise, "you'll come out of this better than you went in."

Why only "Top Model?" one co-worker asked. Why not all reality shows? "'Big Brother' is ready to go out," they told us. "So is 'The Amazing Race.' But you need to start the ball rolling." We would be the vanguard. Our fellow reality scribes would take to the street inspired by our courage, they said. They bought us lunch.

Over the next month, we asked as many questions as we could: Why couldn't we wear red T-shirts or "Working without a WGA contract" buttons to the office? Couldn't we start by insisting that the company pay us overtime? Why couldn't we let our petition to unionize work its way through the National Labor Relations Board, the government bureaucracy that decides who gets to form a collective bargaining unit? We were told, in no uncertain terms: Stick to the plan. In 2006, as it was this year, the WGA leadership was clamoring for a strike.

The night before the strike began, after a long, tense meeting at the guild offices, we were taken into a conference room where the Reality Organizing Committee gave us a standing ovation for our bravery. The moment played out as great theater, but it was as meaningless as it was absurd. In fact, most of the committee members were hearing about the "Top Model" strike for the first time, as it effectively ended their deliberative, years-long efforts. More odd, it was the first time most of the "Top Model" writers had ever heard of the Reality Organizing Committee.

The next morning, July 20, in front of our production offices in West Los Angeles, I read our statement to about 100 supporters and the news crews, officially launching our strike. We hoisted our WGA strike signs and never entered those offices again. In the weeks to come, our supporters would dwindle, then disappear.

The last week of September, we all received letters notifying us that our jobs had been eliminated, the entire story department abolished. The guild had vanished from our cause, and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents the video editors, swooped in to unionize the show, freezing the WGA out of "Top Model" for good.

There were 12 of us, not 12,000. And so the strike against "America's Next Top Model" has become a footnote in the long struggle for writers to assert power in an industry that seeks to keep us powerless.

I want the WGA to prevail in the current standoff, and I believe the writers deserve everything they are asking for. But if the negotiations starting next Monday yield nothing, I fear that the strike may drag on for months, and the writers may come to understand the importance of the Forgotten Strike a year and a half too late.

The WGA has made a critical error in underestimating the importance of reality TV. Take out sports and news, and about a quarter of shows on network prime time this fall are "unscripted," which is to say, their writers are not members of the WGA. If this strike drags into 2008, the networks are sure to plug their schedules with hours more of such cheap, easy-to-produce programs with words like "Dancing" and "Next Top" in the title.

No one from the WGA was communicating that to the full guild in the summer of '06, leaving some members horrified that the WGA was ready to let lowly reality types into their club, and the rest unaware that the "Top Model" strike was going on at all. And then when it failed, there was no Plan B.

Had the WGA fulfilled Young's initial promise to procure guild status for all writers working on reality, animation and nonfiction shows, the networks would shortly have nothing new on the air at all. As it stands, the WGA has pushed its members to walk out on their own jobs, and it has left the networks with powerful leverage -- the ability to keep making new TV content.

On Oct. 23 of this year, with talks stalled between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, Variety published an article summed up by this headline: "WGA gives up on nonscripted effort." Organizing reality TV writers was one of the contract demands that the WGA was willing to toss aside to reach a deal before the Nov. 1 strike deadline, the article reported.

The next day, an e-mail with the expected rebuttal arrived from the WGA president. The guild's reality TV efforts were as strong as ever, he said. But as far as I could tell, the only error in the Variety article was that it hadn't been published a year earlier.

Daniel J. Blau is an L.A.-based writer and producer whose recent work can be seen in the Advocate and the website Television Without Pity.

Monday, October 22, 2007

SLGFF #7 - Before I forget...

So, another Festival of the Gays has come and gone. Things I enjoyed: The awesome Jane Lynch evening, the delightful Nina's Heavenly Delights, the glory that was Olivia Newton-John on the big screen in the Xanadu Sing-Along, the nice range of international films, and especially the Gay TV Dinner events at the Central Cinema. Heck, sitting down, drinking beer and eating while watching TV... wouldn't we all be doing that at 5:30 anyways? What an excellent idea to dig up 1970s gay-themed episodes from popular TV shows and give us food and drink! Loved this!

Things I could do without: The sub-par films that only make it into the festival because the genre is smaller, therefore there's less to choose from (when there are crappy gay films, they tend to be really crap-o-rific, and this has always been a problem -- which is no fault of the programmers); the loss of bigger screens in the second weekend (all the screenings at the small Broadway Performance Hall the second week were packed); and the Opening Night party at the big, open Naval building felt a lot like the Senior Prom I never went to.

But I really wanted to be sure that I mentioned that I thought the festival's official trailers were some of the best ever. When you see multiple movies at any fest, you tend to get tired very quickly of the trailers, but these made me laugh every time. They were directed by David Quantic, and you can see them all here. The "tres jolie, Coco, tres jolie" made me chortle every time, and I loved Camile Schwartzbaum (Simetra Jones) the enthusiastic host of every session. Nothing like a fist-in-the-air freeze-frame hurrah after TOP GUN: THE MUSICAL to make me laugh!

[2007 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival]

SLGFF # 6 - Spicy delights and an Itty Bitty Closing Night

Just when I'm about to give up on seeing a movie that I really and truly enjoy (no, Xanadu doesn't count), I finally lucked out on seeing the charming Nina's Heavenly Delights (7/8). Admittedly, this is a movie that could have gone very very wrong: A family dramedy, the film takes place among the Indian immigrants that have settled in Glasgow, Scotland. Nina (Shelley Conn), the prodigal daughter, has returned (albeit late) for the funeral of her beloved father who ran a famous Indian restaurant in town. Alas, everyone is still annoyed at Nina for fleeing town on her wedding day three years ago and moving to London with no explanation. Among the piles of family and friends are Lisa (Laura Fraser), whom Nina mistakes for her brother's girlfriend. Apparently Nina's dad lost half the restaurant in a bet to Lisa's dad, and yada yada, all people involved -- except Nina! -- wants to sell to Raj (Art Malik, who cleverly runs the restaurant "The Jewel in the Crown"... don't think I didn't get the reference!). Raj is the competition and already seems to have designs on Nina's newly widowed mom! But wait! Dad had already made the finals for the Best of the West curry competition... and it just may be Nina's chance to save the farm! I mean the restaurant! Actress Veena Sood (who plays Nina's mom) introduced the film has having "a little bit of girl-porn and a LOT of food porn!" And how! Food lovers will LOVE this film, with it's mouth-watering extensive scenes of chopping, stirring, frying, and sizzling. Mmm... you can practically taste the curry wafting from the screen. As the title character, Shelley Conn is appealing and gorgeous, and there is a nice tension and chemistry between Nina and her, er, "cooking" partner Lisa. If it weren't all about spicy food, I would compare the movie more to a pile of delicious frosted donuts. Nice to look at, and a sweet snack going down. It just makes you feel good, and is very very cute.

This time I said, "That's it! I won't ruin my evening by risking another film!" And I went home. But got some food on the way. :)

Finally, Closing Night, in the glorious packed Cinerama theater, was the unfortunately, awfully-titled Itty Bitty Titty Committee (5/8). No matter how many times I say it or read or or hear it, I still hate the title... A LOT. Anyways, the title deterred no one, and the theater was full of hipster young women with L-Word haircuts and fashionable Castro hats, plus all the men who wouldn't dare skip the final party. No guests were to be seen, which is too bad because though the film doesn't really have anything to do with Seattle, the film was bloated with an Olympia-rific soundtrack (Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Le Tigre, heck, even Heavens to Betsy!). I had to blink my eyes and wonder if this was 1992, or 1995, or even as late as 1997... but no, the radical chicks on the film were definitely using the internets -- but were curiously causing mayhem to a soundtrack from a different era... dare I say a different generation? Yes, that would be, um, my era. Riot Grrrl was quite a ripple in the musical pond, but did it really start and end in the same town? Is that it? (Discuss.)
Anyways, the film is about meek young Anna (Melonie Diaz, Raising Victor Vargas, aka the best film that no on saw but me). After a day at work at a breast augmentation clinic, Anna crosses paths with sexy Sadie (Nicole Vicius), who is spray-painting the windows of Anna's workplace. A bit of flirting later, Anna has joined Sadie's radical feminist tribe C(I)A (Clits In Action). Made up of artists, rejects, and outspoken feminists, these group of women (well, one "guy" named Aggie, who "was born with a clit"), go around vandalizing stores and such in the name of women's rights -- fight the man, and all that. Among the peripheral characters are Daniella Sea (proving that, hot as she is, is not really the strongest actress), Jenny Shimizu (ditto), and Guinevere Turner (again). Often, very often actually, IBTC played like a music video... in fact, much of the movie WAS a music video, set to the tune of the Riot Grrls o' Olympia, whilst the characters ran amok in grainy video montages, giggling, spray painting, vandalizing, and such. Despite the iffy thespian skills of many of the supporting cast (hey! you're a lesbian and/or my pal! be in my movie!), luckily the leads of Anna and Sadie could act, and carried the film nicely. Anna's good-girl-to-angry-girl transformation was a bit eyeball-rolling, but haven't we all been there? Anyways, the audience ate it up. One of the side characters was criticized as being a "nine-to-fiver"... and I have to admit I related more to her. I suppose though this film seems very after-the-fact to me, in message and music, it will find an enthusiastic audience.

[2007 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival]

Saturday, October 20, 2007

SLGFF #5 - Thank goodness for Jane Lynch!

The house was packed Friday night for An Evening with Jane Lynch, and the audience was jovial and super-excited to see the woman who has been a comedic scene-stealer for years. The introductory film-clip montage of course opened with her screamingly funny "fuck buddy" line from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and went on to highlight roles as varied as A Mighty Wind to The Fugitive to The L-Word to her breakthrough as a "butch dog trainer" (Christopher Guest's only instruction for the character) in Best in Show. She and moderator Jenny Stewart of PlanetOut were both chomping gum when they took their cushy chairs on stage, and it was emphasized over and over that the evening was for the audience. And a friendly evening it was! Alternating from being questioned by Stewart, to taking direct questions from the audience, Lynch proved (unsurprisingly) to be a very funny storyteller, and had the whole audience charmed. The interview culminated with a spirited game of "Who would you sleep with?"(aka who would you do)... some of the more interesting answers: Suzanne Pleshette over Mary Tyler Moore (two actresses that Jane crushed on as a kid), and George Clooney over Brad Pitt (mainly because she wanted to be reincarnated AS Brad Pitt). My opinion of her is unchanged: Jane Lynch is friendly, wickedly funny, and all sorts of awesome!

I decided to hang out for the next show at the theater, since I was in a good mood and hoped for another winner. Alas, I should have called it a night. The next screening was completely packed with men, despite the film 2 Minutes Later (3/8) being promoted as a hot ticket for guys AND gals. The lead actress Jessica Graham was in attendance, and it was announced she had just won a Best Actress award at another recent fest. Alas, she was the best thing about the film, which had the audience inappropriately giggling in the first scene where a hot photographer named Kyle fights off an attacker at a remote gas station, and then gets shot (and supposedly killed) while running off into the woods. Peter Stickles, playing the attacker, was probably the only "name" person in the film, simply for being in the movie Shortbus (he was the peeping Tom). Alas, his resume didn't help, as he was pretty stinky. Two private eyes, Michael (conveniently Kyle's long-lost twin) and Abigail (Jessica Graham) try to solve the mystery of the photographer's disappearance, and in the meantime encounter lots and lots of naked men and their bits and pieces. Oh, and Abigail gets to make out with a couple of women in bathrooms. Graham was much more enjoyable and spunky than the film deserved, especially being burdened with her co-star Michael Molina (as Kyle/Michael) who had the personality of cardboard. I fled before the Q&A.

[2007 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival]

Friday, October 19, 2007

SLGFF #4 - Mental catapults and Lovelorn rent-boys

I know I'm not the only one that oft finds themselves sitting in a movie theater simmering with hateful feelings towards mankind (aka the people in my immediate vicinity). At my Thursday night screening of No Regret, I found myself in a room full of almost all gay men, and, well, me. I should have first been suspicious of this guy when I asked if I could take the empty seat on the aisle right next to him. He barely uncurled his body away from his companion, coolly turned to look at me, then simply turned backed to his pal and kept dishing. Fine. I sat down in front of him. Alas, he and his man were the type to comment throughout the whole film their own little cute isms, gasps, and catty comments. "MMMmmm-hmmmm... yum" (whenever a good-looking young man was on screen), "What is he DOING?" (whenever they didn't understand something), "Ohmygaaaawwwwwdddd..." (muttered under their breath, but not really, whenever something shocking happened). Not to mention the poorly stifled giggles and conversations that had nothing to do with the film. Mentally, I was concocting a catapult. You know, one of the really big ones, like the one that flung a piano in Northern Exposure, or the one crafted to hurl the Trojan Rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Except my catapult would have these two bitches, and all of their bitchy scenester friends, strapped together, ready to be flung miles away as soon as I severed the rope with my big flaming torch. Why did they bother seeing the movie? Go straight to the bar. I simmered pissily through the film.

As for the film, the gay South Korean love story No Regret (Huhwihaji anha) (5/8), I think I may have appreciated it more sans the catty audience. The story of a very pretty rent-boy named Su-min who is pursued by his ex-boss's son Jae-min was an interesting story of obsession and loneliness. Su-min is a sweet orphan boy who is kicked out of the orphanage when he comes of age, then after getting laid off at a factory, finds he can use his good looks to earn money at a male-only host bar where the young men turn tricks in the back room for cash. He is appalled to service the factory boss's son, then can't understand why that same young man grows obsessive with romantic interest. Of course, the good son Jae-min is expected to get married, and is certainly not supposed to be gay, so it is obvious to both that rent-boy-boyfriend Su-min may not fit into the picture. I was actually enjoying the film (despite my neighbors) until it completely derailed in the bizarre final act, and closed with a moment between the two leads that had the audience bust out into (warranted) fits of giggles. Too bad, as it was an intriguing story until then.

[2007 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

SLGFF #3 - Trans trauma and TV drama

I was slightly intrigued to go to see Monday night's "International Centerpiece" The Witnesses, but opted out of Emmanuelle Beart's ducky lips and instead decided to check out Another Woman (Un Autre Femme) (6/8). Apparently made in 2002, this film pre-dated the award-winning Transamerica by a couple years. In Another Woman, Nathalie Mann (appearing in the opening credits as the gender-free N. Mann) plays Léa, a nervous woman who is a bit of an overachiever at her newish job in Geneva. Léa gets an offer to really prove herself to the big boss by scoring a sought-after business trip to Paris to land a particularly big contract. But Léa freaks out, initially refusing the opportunity. Turns out that Léa not only has a secret past in Paris, but she also has a family... that is an ex-wife and children.

Her family hasn't seen their husband and father Nicolas in ten years, so Léa makes the choice to re-enter her family's life. Anne (the excellent Micky Sébastian) freaks out when she finds out that this mysterious woman Léa, who has made friends with her daughter, is actually her ex-husband. She goes through the range of emotions from disbelief, to anger and betrayal, to hesitantly recognizing the person beneath the skin whom she fell in love with, to somewhat uneasy acceptance. Others, like Anne's longtime boyfriend Pierre, don't react as well. Nathalie Mann is very good as Léa/Nico, and her encounter with a male co-worker who fancies her is particularly well played-out. He simply wants an affair with his beautiful co-worker, while she freaks out over the fear that he may find out her previous identity. Many of the reactions portrayed are very realistic and complex. Though the film seems to drag on a bit, and ends with a closing shot that is both cutesy and eyeball-rolling, Another Woman is certainly a worthy addition to the small-but-growing list of sympathetic transsexual-themed films.

After taking a night off, I decided to check out one of the "Gay TV Dinner" events at Central Cinema (which my pals and I like to call Cinnamon Grill... but that is a whole 'nother story). This is a small neighborhood theater with some cushy seats sidled up to tables, where you can eat and drink while enjoying anything from a classic to a new release film. For the fest, there are three special presentations where 70s gay-themed TV shows are shown, with a set menu to enjoy. Wednesday's theme was "Predatory Lesbians and Teen Tales" featuring the 1974 “Flowers of Evil” episode of Police Woman, and a 1976 episode of Family, starring, among others teenage Kristy MacNichol as the tomboy daughter Buddy. Police Woman oozed with cheese... the plot involved a passel of lesbians running a killer nursing home where all the patients were drugged and eventually killed. Classic moments included one of the deranged lesbians getting a full-on, head-snapping bitch-slap from her dominant girlfriend in order to make her shut up, and the lip-quivering mastermind (who "looked like she should drive a diesel truck") whisper something apparently so crass and unspeakable to one of the police officers, that we can only be tantalized wondering what sort of horrible language the lesbians know. At one point, gorgeous Angie Dickenson looks wistfully off into the distance and says, "I had a college roommate once...", which invoked hoots from the audience.

Family, however, was more serious minded, involving son Willie's best friend Zeke getting arrested at a gay bar, and basically getting outed to everyone because of it. Willie's response is harsh, while Willie's parents are more sympathetic to the neighborhood kid they've all known for years. Mom basically gives Willie a talking-to, letting him know that he is being a complete ass by pushing his best friend away. It was actually really well done, despite some dated costuming choices, and made me a little teary-eyed at points. I've heard Family is out on DVD... I'd kind of like to check out more episodes.

[2007 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival]

Monday, October 15, 2007

SLGFF #2 - Inspiring doc trumps soft-focus girl-love

Maybe it was because just last week I sat through hours and hours of Ken Burns' epic WWII documentary The War. The best thing about that very good series were the testimonials by veterans and civilians, reminiscing about both the good and the bad of World War II. The simple yet moving documentary Tell (6/8) (as in "Don't ask, don't tell.") plays like a missing chapter of that mega series.

Interviewing military veterans from conflicts ranging from World War II to the current war in Iraq, the film spans generations of gay, lesbian, and even transgendered folks who have served the military with honor. Some were kicked out for admitting that they're gay, others stayed quite until they were honorably discharged or were able to retire. They range from soldiers and sailors, to linguistic experts, to reconnaissance pilots, to one of the highest-ranked officers of the Coast Guard, an Admiral who literally went to the personal ads to hire a female escort to bring with him to functions. I'm not surprised that there are gays in the military, I'm just surprised at literally how many there are. More than one of the interviewees point out that these closeted folks often prove to be the best soldiers, simply because they are out there to prove they CAN be. What the film lacks in visual interest (it is almost entirely a series of talking-head interviews), it makes up for with the stories shared. This screening was preaching to the converted, but I think Tell should be seen by all those in Congress that are waffling about repealing this ridiculous law. The military should be literally taking all volunteers they can get right now.

Unfortunately, I decided to follow-up with The Chinese Botanist's Daughters (Les filles du botaniste) (4/8). As there are so few lesbian movies to buzz about, this movie has apparently gotten some word-of-mouth on the festival circuit (which we all know means nothing--see Loving Annabelle). The film itself is undeniably gorgeous. The cinematography is mind-bogglingly beautiful, with China's lush green foliage, craggy cliffy mountains, and deep gray water serving as much of the backdrop, plus the actresses involved are both very attractive and alluring. But the story of an orphan girl Min Li (Mylène Jampanoï) sent to be an assistant to a master botanist (Ling Dong Fu) only to fall in love with his beautiful daughter An (Xiao Ran Li) comes across as shallow and boringly soft-porny. Heck, when Min Li stumbles upon An lying in luxurious sleep across steaming leaves in a misty greenhouse, her bare skin luscious and glistening with sweat... well, I just about had to suppress a giggle. An abandoned greenhouse serves as a tropical Eden-like Den of Love, and, with its clear walls, is just made for someone to stumble across the undercover lovers (which of course is how it all comes to an end). There was sniffling in the theaters at the end, and my friend T turned, stone-faced, to check my reaction at the conclusion. Without smiling, I pointed to my face and said, "Dry."

[2007 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival]

Sunday, October 14, 2007

SLGFF #1 - Or as we like to call it, The Festival of the Gays!

'Tis that time of year again, when The Gays emerge from their bars, nightclubs, and knitting circles, and head into the movie theater for the promise of *perhaps* catching a good gay-themed film at the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. Having seen a lot of these films, they tend to be hit or miss (and when they miss, whoo-boy, they tend to be exceptionally stinky... the type of movie where if it were straight, it wouldn't even be touched by festivals with a 10-foot pole). But when there is something good out there... something perhaps so good that it is good as a movie-movie, rather than just a gay movie, well, everyone can rejoice. So, without further ado, we delved into Opening Night of the 2007 Festival of the Gays...

The Opening Night film looked promising. The Walker (3/8) has a stellar cast, ranging from Kristin Scott Thomas, to Lili Tomlin, to Lauren Bacall, to Ned Beatty, to, well, Woody Harrelson in the title role. A "walker," in the world of Washington, DC, is a man who escorts big-shot politician's wives to phancy-pants events when her man is not available. Woody plays Carter Page III, a foppish man with cheesy 80s moustache and nice wig that he keeps in a jar by the door. His Virginia drawl is so thick that it sounds like his mouth is full of molasses, and I know that I wasn't the only one who couldn't understand a word he was saying for the first 20 minutes. Regardless, he is a walker who charms his lady-friends like Lily, Lauren, and Kristin--so much so that they meet weekly to play poker and dish political gossip. That is until Kristin finds her lover (who is NOT her husband) dead in his home, and Carter decides to cover for her, unwittingly finding himself in the middle of an investigation. The concept of the film is interesting... it takes place in the modern Bush administration, and points out that a homosexual man is the most convenient fall-guy to destroy in a scandal, but at the same time it goes nowhere with this, except to imply that all of Carter's old girlfriends drop him like a hot potato as soon as his name is unfairly tainted. Woody's weird accent aside, the movie is a contrast of exceptionally good acting (by Scott Thomas) and welcome screen company (like Tomlin and Bacall), with bafflingly poor side plots, like Carter's relationship with his edgy artist lover, played by hottie German actor Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run). There is no compelling reason to explain why these two are together, and there is absolutely no chemistry between the actors. Plot-wise, the film kind of muddles along, and is strangely dull when it should have been scandalous. Overall, the vibe at the party following the film is that people thought The Walker to be one big MEH.

I have the theory that foreign films are often inherently better than American ones, so I next decided to see Vivere (6/8), the latest film by German director Angelina Maccarone (who directed the very good Unveiled previously). Francesca (Esther Zimmering) is a weary young woman who is basically supporting her Italian father and teenage sister Antoinetta (Kim Schnitzer), taking the place of a mother who abandoned them years before. It is Christmas Eve, and Antoinetta runs away from home, off to Rotterdam to be with her rocker boyfriend. It is up to Francesca to literally drop everything and take off in her cab for a three hour drive to find her little sister. On the way, Francesca comes across a car accident and picks up the victim, a 60-ish woman who we find out is named Gerlinde (Hannelore Elsner), who has her own sorrows and lost love to be slowly revealed. With nowhere else to go, Gerlinde stays in the cab all the way to Rotterdam, and soon the three characters' overlapping perspectives are revealed, one at a time. At first, after half an hour or so, when the story suddenly seemed to come to a head, and then flipped backwards to start at the beginning with Gerlinde, I thought the leap of narration was a bit of a jolt. But it all slowly started to come together, and it was an interesting twist (especially when two characters interpret the same moment slightly differently). Yes, it is an old trick, going all the way to Rashomon, but it worked. The three actresses were very good, especially Esther Zimmering as Francesca, who was so hungry for affection and attention, that her attempt to seduce Gerlinde is both sweet and heartbreaking. All three female roles were well-written and complex, which is always a delight in any film.

Finally, my first Saturday night of the fest was topped off by the Xanadu Sing-Along. It is hard to rate Xanadu (4/8 for the film, 7/8 for the Sing-Along). It is by no means a good movie, but now that I've seen it a couple times recently, I appreciate its cheesiness, bad acting, and dull-to-delightful plotline. And you have to love Gene Kelly's adorable earnestness in a role that would literally destroy his big-screen career. Plus, I just had to see it on a big screen. Everyone knew that when I watched it at home recently, for the first time in years, I was agog at how HOT Olivia Newton-John was in the closing climactic "Xanadu" medley. When she comes out prancing awkwardly in high heels, wearing her parachute-pants-glitzy-disco-diva one piece... WOW. Her hair is crimped and fluffy; her smile open, inviting, and flirty; her lips glossy. Her skin is so dewey and California-golden that you just want to lick her oft-exposed shoulder. Or whatever. Needless to say, a fun time was had by all, and big points go out to my pal ShehryBobbins, who dressed up fantastically as 40s-crooner-Olivia and was robbed... ROBBED in the costume contest! Drat to the winner! Rollerskates and a big Dolly Parton wig do NOT an ONJ make! Cheers also go to the woman in line who dressed as one of the muses (she was also robbed in the awards, coming in third!). We didn't realize how perfectly right-on her costume was until the opening credits when she not only stood in front of the theater audience, under the movie screen, reenacting her likeness coming to life and bursting out of the mural, but she pranced, muse-like, up and down the aisles for the entire song. Hoorah!

[2007 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival]

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

TIFF #14 (Vickie's Diary): Your TIFF 2008 Wish List?

Okay, now that the fest is over, what irked you about it? What would you like to see change next year? How could the festival improve? Post your suggestions in the comments section and let us (and them) know!

TIFF #13 (Vickie’s Diary): Award Winners and Random Final Thoughts

Sorry for the delay in posting this – it’s funny how momentum screeches to a halt as soon as TIFF ends. Even the number of hits per day to this diary has dropped off dramatically since Friday. End-of-fest ennui, I suppose.

The festival handed out its official awards way back on Saturday and, once again, I question the legitimacy of their Audience Award. Screenings were still going on as the awards ceremony was taking place on Saturday what happens to the votes cast for those movies? And why is the big Audience Award-winner almost always one of the Gala films? Could it be because those screen in the largest venues and would, therefore, have the most number of votes? And the whole averaging system (the fest’s new way of voting, where you rank a film from one to four, and the votes are then averaged into a single score – like, 3.75 – per film) makes absolutely no sense. How many films wound up ranking a perfect four? Probably a whole slew of them. So how do they pick a winner?

Popularity! That’s how. Or how I figure they do it.

Anyway, here’s who won what:

Best Canadian Short Film: Pool (Chris Chong Chan Fui)

CityTV Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film: Continental, Un Film Sans Fusil (Stéphane Lafleur)

Toronto-City Award for Best Canadian Feature Film: My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin)

DIESEL Discovery Award: Cochochi (Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán)

Artistic Innovation Award: Encarnación (Anahí Berneri)

FIPRESCI Prize: La Zona (Rodrigo Plá)

The Cadillac People's Choice Award: Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)

Strange thing is, amid all the line buzz inside and outside of theatres, I didn’t hear a single person ever say anything about Eastern Promises, good or bad. If that many people loved it, wouldn’t there have been some kind of word-of-mouth thing happening?? Guess not.

The Toronto Star also named a half-dozen new talents to watch, including The Stone Angel's Christine Horne, Caramel's Nadine Labaki and Poor Boy's Game star Rossif Sutherland. Having seen all three of those films (I caught Game pre-fest), I have to agree with those picks.

My own personal awards go a little something like this:

Fave Films: Juno, Operation Filmmaker, Ping Pong Playa’ and Lars and the Real Girl

Least-Fave Films: Do I even need to type them? Thank you, Aaron Eckhart, for the crapfests Bill and Nothing is Private!

Biggest Surprise: Film-wise, Caramel (7/8), which I actually saw at a press screening prior to the start of the fest, and which I thought was extremely well-done. Other-wise, seeing Roger Ebert again. Yay!

Worst Theatre for the Prevention of Line Cutting: The Ryerson (sorry Matt!), where the location of the line – i.e., outside, along a public sidewalk, sans ropes, where assorted pedestrians weave in and out of the moving line when the doors open – means “sidlers” often join the line and weasel their way in. This happened every single time I was at this theatre, and I called people out each time I saw it happening. By the last day of the fest, when at least SIX people squeezed into the line for Death Defying Acts, I actually YELLED across the line, “HEY! ALL YOU PEOPLE CUTTING IN LINE! THE END IS THAT WAY!!!!” I felt kind of silly but come on. First runner-up: The Elgin, for exactly the same reasons.

Best Theatre for the Prevention of Line Cutting: The Varsity. Sure, their military-like seriousness and precision can be scary, but just TRY to sneak in there. I dare you!

Best Quickie Meal: The cheap, plentiful, fresh-made pasta at Vinnie’s in the Atrium on Bay (handy for the Ryerson and Elgin!).

Best “I Have Three Hours to Kill” Meal: Crèpes at the Marché at (the former) BCE Place! (I swear they’re infused with crack.)

Must-Get Festival Staffer for 2008: For the love of all that is holy, WHY is Myrocia Watamaniuk STILL not a bigtime TIFF exec?! And, even if the fest doesn't have room for her in their ranks, couldn't she just freelance as a moderator? Please? Each time I had to suffer through a poorly run post-film Q&A (I'm looking at you, Marguerite Pigott and Noah Cowan, the latter of whom didn't actually run any of the Q&As at my films this year but who continues to induce eyerolls with his fustian, prosaic and enervative use of at least one $50 word in each of his uninspired film intros) I thought of Myrocia and her breezy, blissful Q&As at HotDocs and the WWSFF. *sigh*

Must-Get Festival Must-Have for 2008: Sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

Thanks to all for reading along, and please post your own best and worst of the fest in the comments section. We love hearing from you! (And feel free to offer your feedback on the blog itself. We’re totally okay with it!)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

TIFF #12 (Vickie’s Diary): The End...and...Brrrrrrrr!

At last! The festival is over!

I know, shocking that a comment like that would come from me, right?

As I’ve said repeatedly during TIFF 2007, I was just too pooped to enjoy it properly, I think. So, as strange as it may sound, I’m actually quite relieved that the whole thing is done. I’m not setting my alarm for tomorrow morning, I won’t be sprinting back and forth across the downtown core and I’m fairly certain that I won’t be consuming peanut M&Ms as any of my three main meals for the day.

Today, though, I did all those things.

The morning air was extremely chilly (9ºC when I left home!), and I began at the Ryerson with Death Defying Acts (6/8). I’d selected this movie more for its timing than anything else, and I was sort of apprehensive about seeing it because I feared it wouldn’t be compelling. Thankfully, I was wrong and quite enjoyed it despite myself. The film, as director Gillian Armstrong pointed out in her pre-film Q&A (she’d heard about Todd Haynes doing it yesterday and followed suit!), is a “what if” story rather than a biopic, and it tracks the relationship between Harry Houdini (Guy Pearce) and a Scottish psychic/con artist (Catherine Zeta-Jones). It’s beautifully shot and the art direction is gorgeous, and I didn’t drift into neverneverland at any point...which is saying a lot for a 9am movie on the last day of the festival.

My only issue with this particular screening was the fact that, at the end of the pre-film Q&A, the moderator told us (the audience) to stick around after the credits because there was a “50/50 chance that we might have a very special guest joining us!” Cut to everyone in the audience sitting in anticipation as what seemed like the world’s longest credits rolled...only to have the lights come up and to see no one at all onstage for anything. Thanks for making us wait an extra seven minutes for a whole lotta nuthin'! Sheesh.

(Speaking of Q&As, by the way, did you know that the TIFF website has all the press conferences available to view online? Enjoy!)

That additional wait, plus the fact that the movie started 15 minutes late, left me precious little time to head over to the Bader for my next film. I tried to find something resembling “lunch” en route, but line-ups at assorted fast-food establishments meant I wound up eating chocolate instead.


I made it to the Bader with time to spare before Smiley Face (5/8) started. It’s the new film from director Gregg Araki, and it’s a stoner comedy. It follows a pothead (Anna Faris) over the course of one very bizarre day. It was cute, I suppose, but it didn’t really do much for me.

A quick – and perhaps ill-advised – lunch of spring rolls followed before I took in film #3, the pretentious and boring L’Amour Caché, a French film that took itself so seriously it was bordering on parody. It centers on a wife and mother (Isabelle Huppert), who’s tried to commit suicide a few times and who’s seeing a shrink (Greta Scacchi) to uncover the reasons why. Problem is, the whole movie is told via the device of having the main character write letters that the shrink then reads...leading to dissolves into the past, strange dream-like sequences and some breaking of the fourth wall as Huppert addresses the camera directly. The framing for the film was also off, so the boom mic was visible a lot of the time. I stuck it out for half an hour and then bailed. Enough already. But the guy sitting next to me left even earlier – he didn’t even make it 10 minutes before picking up his bag and walking out!

I’m delighted to say that my final film of the fest became one of my faves. Ping Pong Playa’ (7/8) is a low-budget indie comedy that’s a fun, feel-good ride through the world of competitive ping-pong playing. Chinese-American Chris “C-Dub” Wang (Jimmy Tsai) loves basketball and rap, but finds himself enlisted to train a bunch of misfit kids (all of whom are adorable) at his parents’ ping-pong academy when his superstar brother is injured. Aside from its inherently boisterous tone and clean, slapsticky humor, the film is buoyed by terrific supporting turns from Peter Paige and Scott Lowell (of Queer as Folk fame), as a pair of rival ping pongers, and MADTV’s Stephanie Weir as the league president. I loved it.

Then, friends, the fest ended for me. No more movies.

Tomorrow, I’ll post the award winners and final thoughts.

Celebrity Sightings: Nope.

Roger Ebert Sightings: Ditto.

Random Factoid of the Day: I have none and I don’t care.

Line Buzz: Lots and lots of great buzz on Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame, but with the caveat that it is apparently a very tough film to watch and that it will make you cry (so I was told).

Friday, September 14, 2007

TIFF #11 (Vickie’s Diary): Last Gasping and Wet Legs

Know what’s SUPER-fun?

Know what makes for an excellent movie-watching experience?

Standing in line outside during a sudden rainstorm and getting soaked from the knees down (God bless my umbrella for what flimsy protection it provided during the windy downpour) and THEN sitting through a movie inside the Ryerson Theatre, where temperatures always feel like they’re in the single digits.

So went my evening. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Thanks very much to those of you who expressed concern over my fatigue. I think I slept about five hours last night, which remains the unfortunate average, but I woke up with a bit of a second know, the kind that marathon runners get if they push through The Wall and continue towards the finish line. I woke up with a little unexpected energy, had a relatively healthy breakfast and lucked into catching a bus just as I was setting out to walk to my first film. A good start!

That first film of the day was the much-talked-about Boy A (6/8) which Eric saw earlier in the week. I thought it was very well-done, but I also think all the raves I’d been hearing all week raised my expectations a little too much. But I do love Peter Mullan. I will see him in anything. I want him to record a CD of bedtime stories, I love his voice that much.

I managed to have time for a delicious pasta lunch (OMG! a real meal!) en route to my second film, Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There (6/8)...a film that defies description or simple encapsulation. It’s being labeled as “the Bob Dylan movie,” but that doesn’t exactly do it justice. It’s almost like an experimental film, jumping back and forth in time and between assorted vignettes about characters possessing Dylan-esque traits. The cast includes Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere and Cate Blanchett (all of whom embody one of the “Dylans” at some point), and the movie is easily one of the prettiest (visually) I’ve seen at TIFF this year.

Interestingly, I’m Not There also featured a first for me at TIFF: a Q&A before the movie. Seems Haynes had to jet so, rather than not do one at all, he and TIFF CEO Piers Handling fielded questions before the film rolled. Interesting, and surprisingly effective, given that no one there had actually seen the movie yet.

A ticket exchange and quick meal at McDonald’s (I know, I know) followed, and then it was time for my annual sit-down with my friend from Washington, DC, where we compare notes and talk movies for a couple of hours...always at Starbucks at the Manulife Centre. I should point out that this is the same lanyard-sporting friend I met way back in 2002, just because we sat next to each other at a screening and chatted. See? Make friends at TIFF!

Last up was Son of Rambow (5/8), before which was the aforementioned drenching rain. Nothing like sitting in a theater full of 1200 wet people and their wet umbrellas! I’m sure some of the more soaked individuals suffered from mild hypothermia as a result of the situation. The movie itself wasn’t quite as funny or charming as I’d hoped it would be. The story centers on a couple of British boys in the 1980s, who decide to make their own Rambo film...and, while the concept is ripe for humor, it felt a little like Wes Anderson Lite to me. As in, quirky for quirky’s sake. Don’t get me wrong, it was a very nice little movie, it just didn’t wow me. It was also an interesting juxtaposition to Boy A, which contains some of the same elements with vaaaaastly different results.

I also ran into my friend Angela at the screening. I hadn't seen her at all during TIFF, so we did a quick recap of what we'd each seen. She said she saw one really crappy movie.

"Which one?" I asked.

"Nothing is Private."

A quick but extremely enthusiastic dissection of the film (and how much it sucked) followed, with me citing many of the things Eric, Dan and I discussed after we suffered through it.

Only one more day to go...and that gives me solace.

Celebrity Sightings: Todd Haynes.

Roger Ebert Sightings: I believe Roger has left the building.

Random Factoid of the Day: I’m hating the “random factoid” entry. It will be gone for TIFF 2008.

Weather For Tomorrow: Deeeeliciously chilly! Sunny with a high of only 15ºC!

Line Buzz: Still more raves for Fados, some good buzz on Dans ma vie and Blind.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

TIFF #10 (Vickie’s Diary): The Wall

The Berlin Wall.

The Wailing Wall.

The Great Wall of China.

All impressive walls.

But the most formidable wall of all is the one into which I ran face-first today: the “Okay, I cannot TIFF for one more minute” wall. It’s big, it’s sturdy, it’s unforgiving and it rendered me helpless. I skipped two (!) movies today, and you know what? I don’t care. I think I might actually love that wall.

I talked about this developing apathy yesterday, and it hasn’t changed. My fatigue, however, has grown exponentially thanks to a mere three hours of sleep last night. Suddenly, and not surprisingly, I’ve become a lot less excited about getting up early for 9am screenings or getting home at 11pm because I ordered a ticket to an 8:30pm film. Nope. Can’t do it. Don’t wanna do it. And I don’t feel bad about it, either.

I hemmed and hawed this morning over whether to skip my first or second film of the day....because I knew I was going to drop one of them. After much internal monologuing, I opted to head out for the 9am showing of Naissance des pieuvres (5/8), a rather slow but interesting drama about three teenage girls coming of age. Oh, and it’s set against the backdrop of synchronized swimming. (Translation: tons and tons and tons of shots of pools, swimmers and legs akimbo underwater.) Despite the somewhat vague program book description, I had a feeling this might be a gay film in disguise...and it was! Hooray! Almost as soon as the three girls appeared onscreen, I correctly guessed that two, if not all, of them would make out by film’s end.

Then it was time to skip something, so I did not make it to the ROM for Surfwise, which is simultaneously too bad and for the best. Too bad because I lurrrve surfing documentaries; for the best because I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on this one and wouldn’t have enjoyed it as I should.

After a welcome repose at home with the noon news and some snacks, I headed back into the film fest fray for Lars and the Real Girl (7/8), a surprisingly poignant comedy-drama about an introverted young man (Ryan Gosling, in a very sweet performance) who orders a lifelike, life-sized girlfriend doll online and treats her as though she’s human. What started out looking like it might be some kind of absurdist comedy actual unspooled to reveal itself as a thoughtful, moving story about love. I totally cried for its last five minutes. (Though that extra-sensitivity might also be a result of my sleep deprivation.)

All through Lars... I thought about what I would do next. See, way back when I ordered my tickets two weeks ago, I very reluctantly selected New York City Serenade, a film directed by Frank Whaley (meh) and starring Freddie Prinze Jr. (meh) and Chris Klein (super-meh), for tonight. I didn’t really want to see it, and figured I’d swap it out once the fest started. But I was slow to act (see: I’m TIRED, okay?!) and didn’t get to the box office, so I kind of accepted the fact that I’d have to suffer through this dud. Reading a few reviews where critics crapped all over the movie did not improve my outlook. So I started rationalizing that I should really skip this movie, too, because there’s no way I wanted to sit through a movie I didn’t want to see when I’m THIS exhausted.

So, instead, I decided to treat myself to a gigantic crèpe (strawberry, mango, peach AND banana, with strawberry AND chocolate sauce!!) at Marché for dinner, then I made a pit stop at a meditation group on my way home in the hopes that I could maintain some of that blissful calm long enough to actually get to sleep tonight.

I guess we’ll see. I keep telling myself I only need to hang on for two more days...

Celebrity Sightings: Nary a one, my friends.

Roger Ebert Sightings: Zero.

Random Factoid of the Day: As if the shaving in Nothing is Private wasn’t enough, thanks to Naissance... I was treated to the factoid that synchronized swimmers undergo a stubble check before a competition to make sure everyone know...appropriately hairless.

Weather For Tomorrow: Warm and humid, with a high of 27ºC and a humidex of 30ºC. Chance of afternoon thunderstorms, so bring an umb-er-ella!

Line Buzz: Positive buzz on Redacted.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

TIFF #9 (Vickie's Diary): Slowing Down...

I’m having a very hard time maintaining momentum as TIFF 2007 winds down. I find myself increasingly disinterested in my selections this year, and skipping movies rather frequently without even trying to sell my tickets in a rush line. I just can’t be bothered. Maybe it’s exhaustion, maybe it’s distraction, maybe it’s some kind of strange cosmic interference (thank goodness Mercury isn’t in retrograde at the moment). I don’t know what it is but, for the first time ever, I’m actually ready for the festival to be over before it actually is.

Having said all that, let’s get to the movies, shall we?

Thankfully, I was able to sleep in an extra hour (giving me a whopping SIX hours of shut-eye!) this morning because my first screening wasn’t until 11am. It was the new Woody Allen film, Cassandra’s Dream (4/8), which really should have been called Match Point 2: Match Pointier! The movie co-stars Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor as brothers who make a rather criminal deal with their very wealthy uncle (Tom Wilkinson): he’ll give them a huge sum of money if they agree to off one of his colleagues. But the whole time I was watching I kept thinking, “I’ve seen that before.” And by “that” I mean: that location, that location, that location and that location. I thought Scarlett Johansson might wander into frame at any moment in search of Jonathan Rhys Meyers. The tone of the film was also Match Point-y, and even the main thrust of the storyline – ordinary people pushed to do bad things – felt like a retread. Disappointing.

Further to my TIFF tedium, I decided to skip my mid-afternoon movie, Run, Fat Boy, Run, because I just wanted to rest. Go home, have a snack, check my email and just sit. So I did.

My only other film today was Kari Skogland’s The Stone Angel. Since I know someone associated with the production, it would be a little weird (and biased) for me to review it, so I’ve enlisted my friend Heather (who also attended the screening) to chime in with her two cents as a guest reviewer. Heather says:

The Stone Angel (4/8), an adaptation of the Margaret Laurence novel of the same name, tells the story of Hagar Shipley (Ellen Burstyn in the present, and Christine Horne as a younger Hagar), an elderly woman who escapes from her home and her son (Dylan Baker) and daughter-in-law (Sheila McCarthy) to avoid entering a nursing home. Through flashbacks, we see the story of how she rebelled from her demanding father and married a man (Cole Hauser) who didn’t live up to her family’s social standards, and how that decision dramatically changed her life. The film boasts solid performances, most notably by the two leads, but I felt like it was at least 20 minutes too long and I didn’t feel emotionally engaged in the story (perhaps because the character of Hagar was not the most sympathetic). The Q&A afterwards included the director and most of the actors but was unfortunately rather focused on the novel as source material, which I must admit I didn’t read in high school.”

I have to agree with Heather that the post-film Q&A was sort of uninspired (I blame the moderator) – I was eager to hear what the actors had to say about their work, rather than what everybody thought about Margaret Laurence. I get it, the novel is a "Canadian treasure," but why waste time harping on the book, the book, the book when you have Ellen Burstyn and company onstage ready to chat?

Finally, as a post-script to a previous entry, seems Eric and I weren’t the only people who hated Alan Ball’s Nothing is Private. We thought our unofficial reviews were somewhat scathing, but this one makes ours look positively glowing. Enjoy! (And kudos to its author, who is so very, very correct.)

I have four films on deck tomorrow, and I’d be lying if I said I fully expect to get to them all.

Celebrity Sightings: Ellen Burstyn, Christine Horne, Aaron Ashmore, Kevin Zegers, Sheila McCarthy, Luke Kirby.

Roger Ebert Sightings: Nada.

Random Factoid of the Day: Ellen Burstyn is Sufi.

Weather For Tomorrow: Sunny. High of 20ºC.

Line Buzz: I didn’t talk to people today. See? Tedium. Alas.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

TIFF #8 (Vickie’s Diary) : Ow

Okay, so, somehow and somewhere I must have turned my head in the wrong way and secretly wrenched my neck, because I woke up this morning mostly unable to turn my head to the left. Like, at all, without pain. Ask me how much fun this made watching movies today.

First up was Breakfast With Scot (6/8), a charming comedy about a gay couple – a former NHLer still mostly in the closet (Tom Cavanagh) and his partner (Ben Shenkman) – who find themselves saddled with the world’s most effeminate little boy (Noah Bernett), who prances around in boas and sings Christmas carols at the top of his lungs. It’s a different twist on the coming-out movie, and a film about accepting ourselves as much as we accept other people. It was a nice, warm and fuzzy way to start the morning.

After Breakfast, I decided it was time for lunch. I had a gap between 11am and just after noon, so I thought I’d try to have a substantial meal to tide me over through the afternoon. I opted for what turned out to be a gigantic plate of fresh-made spaghetti with garlic bread...but I got about 2/3 of the way through and suddenly realized I was really, really full. Like, “if I eat one more forkful of this spaghetti my stomach may actually explode” full. I waddled back to the Scotiabank to continue my filmgoing.

I followed that with The World Unseen (4/8), a drama about two Indian women who fall in love – sorta – in 1950s South Africa. I say they “sorta” fall in love because their stories take a backseat to so many others that I kept waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for the actors (Lisa Ray, Sheetal Sheth) to have scenes together, let alone begin falling for each other. I actually checked my watch at the moment where they finally start to give in to their feelings, and it was around the 75-minute mark. Both women were hot and should have hooked up (however mildly) much earlier, but all the extraneous plotlines about the effects of apartheid on a whole gaggle of characters took up far too much screen time, in my opinion.

Next was Operation Filmmaker (7/8), a terrific documentary that follows an Iraqi film student named Muthana, who’s interviewed on MTV after the start of the Iraq war and whose story so touches actor Liev Schreiber that he invites Muthana to work as a production assistant on his directorial debut Everything is Illuminated. But what begins as an altruistic, humanitarian gesture slowly becomes a huge nightmare, and Muthana – once the grateful, eager young man – becomes an entitled, annoying jerk. It was fascinating to watch him work the film crew, the director (Nina Davenport) and assorted people who cross his path.

In case you’re wondering how other people felt about his behavior, I offer this: after the film, I was in the washroom and overheard two women come in discussing the film. One woman, in a very disgusted voice, said of Muthana, “What a spoiled, narcissistic, egotistical, opportunistic asshole.” Nice!

Last up was King of California (6/8), a quirky relationship comedy about a recently released mental patient (Michael Douglas, channeling Robin Williams circa The Fisher King) who convinces his teenaged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) to embark on a treasure hunt to find a cache of gold he believes is buried underneath the local Costco. It was a great little story, nicely compact and well-acted, and its ending made me smile.

As a general aside: has anyone else noticed dwindling numbers at the fest this year? I’ve noticed quite a few screenings that haven’t been full, and I’ve chatted with a couple of people who said they noticed the same thing. I imagine part of it has to do with the increase in prices and the elimination of the 30-coupon book (did you lodge your complaint yet?), but it is kind of odd.

As a more specific aside, and a little blast from the past for regular 'Pie readers: today I watched as Mouthy Martha almost, ALMOST, tripped on some stairs. And then felt kind of happy. And then felt like I was probably going straight to Hell.

Celebrity Sightings: Michael Douglas, Laurie Lynd and maybe Julie Taymor (I really can’t be certain it was her, but I’m counting it just in case).

Roger Ebert Sightings: No.

Random Factoid of the Day: Trying to cram a full day’s worth of food into a single meal is a recipe for disaster.

Weather For Tomorrow: Perrrrfect! Partly cloudly, with a high of 19ºC. Bring a sweater AGAIN!

Line Buzz: Good buzz on Fados and great buzz on The Secrets.

Monday, September 10, 2007

TIFF #7 (Vickie's Diary): Adios to My!...Possibly the Worst Movie at TIFF!

Today was Eric and Dan’s last full day in Toronto. They leave tomorrow and I’m fairly certain the marquee lights at the fest will not shine as brightly once they’re gone. I’m sad.

I began this dark (literally and figuratively) day with The Jane Austen Book Club (6/8), a very sweet, fun, light-hearted romantic comedy-drama about a group of women (Kathy Baker, Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Amy Brenneman and Maggie Grace) and one lone fella (Hugh Dancy) who meet to discuss and dissect the works of the titular author. Along the way, romances fizzle and bloom and fizzle and bloom, broken hearts are healed and new wounds are inflicted. There were a few noticeable gaps in the storytelling – places where you just know a scene was supposed to go – but that didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the film. My only real criticism is that Maggie Grace’s character, Allegra The Young Lesbian, kind of gets the short shrift: just about every other character gets a love scene or some moderate making out, but all poor Allegra gets is a little mildly suggestive caressing. Yawn.

Brunch with Eric and Dan followed. We ate, we laughed, we ate, we laughed, we ate, we laughed. Then we wept because we knew our remaining time together would be short. Then we went back to the eating and laughing.

We then trekked to the Varsity for our last film together, Nothing is Private (0/8....that’s right, people, NO PIE!), which may wind up being the worst film I see at the fest, if not the worst film at the festival. It’s so wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know where to begin...except, perhaps, to say that the WHOLE MOVIE is about the repeated sexual, emotional and physical abuse of a 13-year-old half-Lebanese girl in a U.S. suburb. It was written and directed by Alan Ball (Six Feet Under), who clearly thought he was making a Really Important Film but who clearly has no idea that the resulting project is not only offensively lame, but also seem to promote the behaviors it’s meant to be condemning. At one point in the film, Eric had Dan and me in hysterics because, after the umpteenth incident of abuse perpetuated on our hapless heroine Jasira, he leaned over and said, “Why can’t people stop raping her?!?!” Literally, every time a new character popped up onscreen, we wondered how and when they would somehow hurt this poor girl. The film’s lone saving grace was Toni Collette, who seemed to be the only person actually acting AND who boasted the most amusing labor-inducing faceplant in cinematic history. I suspect Eric and I will be doing a joint review of this film at some point after TIFF because, seriously, there’s THAT MUCH to talk about.

Something else to talk about: the bizarre “security” measures at the Varsity. After the three of us took our seats, I decided to go to the washroom before the start of the film. When I saw the line in the ladies’ room was long, I opted to head to the second set of washrooms over on the press/industry side. The volunteers let me through, no problem...until I tried to get back to the theater. “You have to go back outside and get in that line,” they said.


I showed them my ripped ticket. “But I’ve already gone through the line and been inside.”

“You still have to go back outside and join the line.”

So, despite having a seat already, I had to go all the way back out of the Varsity, down the hall and to the stairs (?!), and rejoin the line I’d already been in just so I could get back inside.

Because we were all so fascinated with the film gone horribly awry, we stayed for Ball’s Q&A...which meant I didn’t have time to make it to my next screening (Garage at the Bader). So, instead, we hung out! Yay! We went to the Eaton Centre, had treats from Dairy Queen and took a few more photos before we said our goodbyes. :-(

I then hopped on the subway to head to the Bader for The Savages (6/8), director Tamara Jenkins dark comedy about a pair of adult siblings (Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman) caring for their elderly father (Philip Bosco). The movie was well-done, blending humor and pathos nicely, but I was soooooooo sleepy throughout. I started daydreaming (nightdreaming?)...and then I think I might have actually started dreaming, so I kept adjusting my position in my seat in a bid to stay awake. It worked.

And, per the pattern so far, despite being ready to drop throughout the day, I’m home and getting more awake with each passing minute.

Celebrity Sightings: Laura Linney, Philip Bosco, Alan Ball.

Roger Ebert Sightings: No.

Random Factoid of the Day: Alan Ball is slightly deluded.

Weather For Tomorrow: Showers in the morning, partly cloudy in the afternoon. High of 18ºC. Bring a sweater!

Line Buzz: More raves for Boy A and some good buzz on No Country For Old Men.

* Postscript: Nothing is Private is now called Towelhead for its regular release title!

TIFF #6 (Eric's diary): lows and highs

Y'all, it finally happened, and you knew it would. Dan and I caught a major dud at the festival today: Nothing is Private (1/8), the new film written and directed by Alan Ball. I know you loved American Beauty and Six Feet Under, but in his directorial debut, Alan really drops the Ball. Geddit? But seriously, his movie stinks.

Nothing is Private is another story of dirty secrets in the suburbs, only this time the only secret is raping. Everyone is raping. Raping and shaving a 13-year-old half-Lebanese girl named Jasira. That's pretty much the whole movie, and if you think I'm overlooking some deeper meaning or subtext, you're wrong. There's "fearless," "edgy," and even "exploitative" can be interesting, but this movie is worse -- it's boring and has nothing to say. You haven't directed a good movie if the pregnant character gets seriously injured and half the theater laughs out loud.

Alan Ball gave a brief Q&A, but the only information established was that he really, really loved his own movie. And shockingly, so did most of the audience -- I was honestly expecting boos when the credits started to roll. But man, you should have seen Alan Ball tense up when someone began a question with, "I noticed this film had a lot in common with American Beauty..." Boy, does he think his work has been varied. He's wrong.

As Vickie walked us across town to the Scotiabank Theatre, the three of us swapped favorite bad movie moments from Nothing is Private, until it was time to part ways for good (for now). We said our goodbyes to Vickie in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel, lamenting the fact that we didn't instantly hate each other upon meeting in person so this moment wouldn't suck so much. But it did.

Dan and I moved on to see Four Women (6/8), an Indian film based on four short stories about different women: The Prostitute, The Virgin, The Housewife, and The Spinster. It was a quiet film, but very good and completely different from anything we had seen at the fest so far. The director and one of the stars gave an unfortunately abbreviated Q&A, thanks to projector problems that set the screening back 25 minutes.

Immediately afterward, we moved to the next auditorium over for Forever Never Anywhere (7/8), which was undoubtedly the biggest gamble and subsequent payoff of the fest. The premise: three men are stuck in a car for, like, the whole movie. They talk a lot and learn about each other and stuff. That's what I had to go on, and besides being intrigued, I wanted to squeeze in a German film so I could play translator in my head.

With a setup like that, this movie could have been slow, boring, or overly artsy, but it was pure entertainment (and still kind of artsy). In fact, the ending literally made Dan scream out loud in the theater, not because it was frightening but because it was horrifying, in the most hilarious way possible. What we didn't know about the plot going in was that a young boy was deliberately keeping the men trapped in the car and performing experiments on them like lab rats (for example, playing audio of an approaching police car on a boombox). It's pretty twisted.

Today was our only triple-feature day of the fest, and it was a great way to end my first TIFF. Of course, the festival is still going on for the rest of the week, but Dan and I are flying back to LA tomorrow morning. Really, I couldn't imagine a better way to end this amazing trip than a hysterically bad movie in the morning, followed by a somber and eye-opening movie, followed by a movie where someone takes a dump in a gold purse -- and it's philosophical, too!

* Postscript: Nothing is Private is now called Towelhead for its regular release title!

TIFF #5 (Eric's diary): a little something extra

This was a very eventful day, in part because it began at a reasonable hour. Dan and I woke up at the crack of 10 AM for a 1 PM screening of Religulous, which was actually less than a screening and something extra instead: Bill Maher and Larry Charles hosted clips from their upcoming satirical documentary on organized religion, before engaging in an extended Q&A with a host as well as the audience.

How can I explain how excited we were for this? Probably not by telling you it wasn't even our first choice. When we found out we got it, though, I couldn't believe it had taken a back seat to The Orphanage (though I'm desperate to see that one now that I've heard it's amazing). We love Bill Maher, we love Larry Charles, and most importantly, we want to be in the same room as celebrities. What a deal!

The clips from Religulous were extremely rough, and I was surprised to hear the movie isn't coming out until next spring. Even at this point, however, you could tell the footage was pure gold. I'm a little concerned that it might try to be funny more often than letting the hilarious absurdity of religion speak for itself -- I'm hoping they show a little more restraint in editing the final film. But, as they frequently reminded us, it's very much a work in progress. And at least I wasn't the douche who raised his hand to publicly make this criticism, and got smacked down by Larry Charles.

After the screening, Dan and I met Vickie for a late lunch/early dinner in Midtown. Let me say this once instead of every other paragraph like I want to -- Vickie is the greatest. Besides all the emailing, and the invaluable support she has provided as I clumsily planned this festival vacay from 3,000 miles away, I've had a blast meeting Vickie in person and hanging out with her this week. I LOVE VICKIE. So, like, we had a good time at lunch and stuff.

From lunch, Vickie led us to the Four Seasons for a celebrity hunt that began outside, scouring hopefully with the rest of the gawkers; proceeded around the building, wandering amongst industry folk at play; and concluded by actually entering the hotel, playing it cool as we scanned the lobby for familiar faces. Unfortunately, our mission was an utter failure, as the only celebrity we spied was a well-known publicist. Again, I wonder why I'm so eager to see celebrities when I live in LA. Even there, however, I've had no luck, although I did pass Michael Vartan in Bristol Farms once. He seemed pretty pissed that I grabbed the last california roll -- out of his hands, sucka! (Not really.)

Before going to our second film of the day, I ran into the hotel to put in some contacts in case we wanted to play Fake Celebrity with my giant sunglasses. (We did this before, with Dan filming me, and boy did those heads turn). But this time, it wasn't meant to be, as my contact lens ripped after I put it in my eye. So instead of getting in line geekily early for our movie, I spent like 45 minutes in front of the bathroom mirror fishing scraps of contact lens randomly and PAINFULLY drifting over my eyeball. That will teach me to play with the hearts of celebrity-hunters!

We ended up getting a decent place in line, and watching a documentary called Night (6/8), which explores the topic of... wait for it... night. It was a Baraka-type collection of images and music, with some voiceover from anonymous people offering comments on night, what it means to them, etc. The movie was gorgeous, with oodles of astonishing photography and a dreamily free-form narrative. It was so dreamy, in fact, that I almost fell asleep during the screening, and actually believe the movie would have "approved."

And then beer and poutine happened. Again.

Finally, as if it was not enough that two more movies had gone by without a single dud on my fest schedule so far, I heard the news that Vickie had walked out on Bill.

Let me tell you something about Bill. When I got my very, very first internship in LA, one of my very, very first duties was to write coverage for a little script called Bill. At that time, no one owned the script, it was floating around Hollywood and passed through our office long enough for me to evaluate it thusly: "I did not enjoy reading this script at all. I believe I would enjoy watching it even less." For two years, I have remembered this script for how awful it was, and winced as I followed its production in the trades.

And then, three weeks ago, I'm browsing the TIFF schedule and what do I see? Bill. And then, six hours ago, I'm asking Vickie what she's seeing next, and what does she say? Bill! I was thrilled at the chance to hear how it turned out, because honestly, a lot can happen in two years, and I was (sort of) open to the idea that it wouldn't suck. You never, ever know.

But in this case, I totally did. And I feel really bad for Vickie. I commend her decision to bail after 45 minutes!

TIFF #6 (Vickie’s Diary): First Walkout of the Fest!

I have insomnia. Or, perhaps, not insomnia but some kind of freaky sleep situation where I can’t fall asleep at night and I can’t stay asleep in the morning. For the past few days, my body’s decided to wake me around 6:30am, regardless of when I hit the hay the night before, and then keep me awake. This is making me very, very, very tired. I find myself slipping into drowsiness over and over again at my screenings yet, when I get home and get ready for bed, suddenly I get my second wind and could not be more awake.


I feel the need to invoke the much-loved (by me) Margaret Cho Blog Brevity Law™ tonight. For those unfamiliar with this law, it allows me – the blogger – to keep my entry super-short because I’m writing it at an unholy hour and desperately need to go to bed...even if I won’t actually sleep much while there. Perhaps Eric will make up for my lack of prose tonight with a lengthy tome on how he spent his Sunday.

Here, then, in a nutshell, is my day:

Movie #1: XXY (6/8), an Argentinian drama about a teenaged hermaphrodite (Inés Efron), who’d been raised as a girl but who’s coming to terms with her sexuality and being urged to essentially choose a gender. Gorgeously shot and nicely acted, the film was languid and somewhat somber (definitely not a happy-go-lucky flick) and really made me want to take a nap.

Movie #2: The Orphanage (6/8), a fun “horror” movie about a woman (Belén Rueda, whom some may recall I *lurrrrrved* in The Sea Inside) who decides to reopen the long-closed orphanage she lived in as a child...only to discover that it’s, like, super-haunted by a whole gaggle of little-kid ghosts. I had been worried that the film would traumatize me, but it was actually not that scary at all. In fact, and this may very well be due to screwed-up hormones as a result of my sleep deprivation, it actually made me cry (?!) with its poignant ending.

I skipped Movie #3 (Les Chansons d’Amour) in order to spend the afternoon hanging out with Eric and Dan. We had lunch at Terroni and then wandered Yorkville for a while. I took them through the Four Seasons, and then we went on a photo tour of Queen’s Park and the University of Toronto...where Eric engaged in inappropriate touching with assorted statues, monuments, stationary objects and a post. Fun!

Movie #4: Aaron Eckhart’s Bill, my first walkout of TIFF 2007. I will preface this blurb by saying that Eric had told me earlier in the afternoon that he’d read the screenplay for Bill a few years ago and thought it was absolutely terrible. Much to my dismay, the finished product was just as awful. Painful, hammy overacting from Eckhart – as a married schlub unhappy with his life – did the movie in for me. I just could not watch him. A number of the cast members showed up for the screening, but I didn’t want to hear what any of them had to say so, 45 minutes in, I ran for the door.

Btw, TIFF organizers, what the HELL is with the rows and rows and rows of "reserved" seating at the screenings this year? Bill was showing at the Varsity 8 tonight, and the last TEN ROWS of the center section were completely blocked off, so paying customers were forced to sit on the flanks and in the front, while heaven knows who planted their bums in the plum seats. That didn't seem fair, and more than a few patrons voiced their displeasure with the practice.

Celebrity Sightings: Aaron Eckhart, Jessica Alba, Elizabeth Banks, Kristin Wiig (yaaaaaay!), Timothy Olyphant, Fisher Stevens.

Roger Ebert Sightings: No, but that’s okay.

Random Factoid of the Day: Belén Rueda used to be a talk-show host in Spain.

Weather For Tomorrow: Perfect weather! Partly cloudy, high of 23ºC.

Line Buzz: Numerous raves for Boy A, some good buzz on Chaos and a positive review of Fugitive Pieces.