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 afternoon...so 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 wind...you 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 is...you 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 Amigos...plus!...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.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

TIFF #4 (Eric's diary): riots and rebirth

It's not every day that you can say your first order of business is going to the movies with Charlize Theron, but that's exactly what we did at 3:00 PM today. Joining the 'Lize in support of their new film Battle in Seattle (6/8) were Michelle Rodriguez, Andre Benjamin, Martin Henderson, Woody Harrelson, and of course, writer-director Stuart Townsend. After the whole gang went up to introduce the film, they took their seats to actually watch it with us, as it was the very first time this movie would be shown in front of an audience.

Battle in Seattle was much better than I expected, and I was nervous about it. Maybe something about it taking place in my hometown prevented me from taking it seriously, and the silly title didn't help. Well, I don't think it's silly anymore. This was a powerful (though clumsy at times) account of the WTO riots that tore Seattle apart in 1999. The 'Lize is especially great, for anyone still smarting from Aeon Flux.

The film received a lengthy standing ovation, and whether or not it deserved it, I turned to Dan and whispered, "We're in the middle of one of those film festival standing ovations that gets mentioned on the movie's Wikipedia page!" You know, like Fahrenheit 9/11 (20 minutes) or Pan's Labyrinth (22 minutes). Ultimately, this one probably didn't clear 10 minutes, but it was still exciting. And it was awfully touching to see Townsend and the gang receiving such enthusiastic props for a true labor of love.

As Townsend, Theron, Rodriguez, Henderson, Benjamin, and Harrelson reappeared onstage for the Q&A, I remembered to keep an eye out for Rodriguez's alcohol-detection bracelet, but it was nowhere to be found. I also tried to keep an eye on Charlize, as she looked so ready to go home that I was afraid she would disappear if I blinked. She was definitely supportive of her husband long-time boyfriend, but she certainly wasted no time making tracks out of there! As for Townsend and the rest of the cast, they were passionate and informative, which was a pleasure to see.

Dan and I passed the remainder of the afternoon with some delightful conversation (and beer and appetizers) with Vickie's friend Heather. As the nachos disappeared (as reliable a method of keeping time as any), I realized it was almost 7 PM and dashed out of the pub to buy a TIFF '07 t-shirt before the box office closed. Because everything in this city is ridiculously convenient, the box office was not only nearby, it was across the street and visible out the window from our table.

Eventually, Dan and I located the theater on time, and observed the industry peeps enjoying their Saturday night -- not seeing movies, but schmoozing each other in dense clusters along the sidewalks and in bars and restaurants. It was like watching a nature documentary. It was also a lot like being home in LA. Again, I was filled with secret yearning to be one of them, something that never happens in LA. I just want the summer camp version of their film industry lives, which really just means I want to hang out in Canadian bars for a living.

At 9:45 PM, we saw Boy A (7/8), the story of a young man struggling to reenter the world, having been imprisoned after commiting murder as a child. Continuing our streak of fortuitous film choices, this one was nearly faultless and featured a hell of a debut performance by Andrew Garfield. Director John Crowley as well as Garfield provided a Q&A after the screening, and it was really interesting and Garfield is so dreamy and talented and dreamy and did I mention he was cute. Unfortunately, you could hardly tell, as someone neglected to turn on the spotlight, forcing Crowley and Garfield to answer questions from the shadows.

Afterwards, we sat on the large rock (if there's an actual name for this well-known rock, I don't know it) and people-watched, remembering that this is probably the last big night of the fest as far as celebrity sightings are concerned, as Vickie informed me that they front-load the festival to allow industry folk to return to LA on Sunday. So far, I have had horrible luck spotting celebrities on the street, though the Battle in Seattle crew wasn't too shabby!

TIFF #5 (Vickie’s Diary): A Cavalcade of Celebrities...Including Roger Ebert!

That’s right. You read correctly: Roger Ebert. After several Ebert-free years in a row, and my fears that our paths would never again cross at a film fest of otherwise, it happened. Roger and me. Same theater. Across-the-aisle buddies. But I’m getting ahead of myself...

I began the day very early, but not early enough. I arrived (admittedly about 15 minutes later than I’d originally planned) at the Ryerson to discover that the ticket holders line stretched around the Ryerson campus so far that it was almost a square. The movie that had so many festgoers up and at ‘em before 9am? Rendition (6/8), the movie known more for the alleged romance between Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal than anything else. Strangely enough, the two actors don’t share one second of screen time throughout the film – which deals with the U.S. government’s policies regarding terror suspects, and the torture tactics employed abroad to elicit confessions and/or gather intel from same. No one from the film turned up for the screening...which was probably for the best because the theater was frrrrrrrrrrrrreeeezing.

En route to the Scotiabank for my next film, I cut through the interior of Jorgensen Hall and stumbled upon a full breakfast buffet set up in a very deserted student lounge. The woman manning the table smiled and said, “Would you like something to eat?”

Um, hell yeah, I would!

There were crackers and cheese, assorted fruits, a bin of juices and pop and a full platter of untouched pastries. I asked what the occasion was, and she informed me that it’s the University’s alumni week. (Please note: I am an alumni but clearly clueless about school events.) I said, “I gather it’s been a little slow?” (because the food and drink were untouched). She said yes. So, I thanked her, grabbed an apple danish and counted that as lunch.

My next film was the documentary My Kid Could Paint That (6/8), a fascinating story within a story about (then) four-year-old “abstract painter” Marla Olmstead and her parents, Mark and Laura. Marla’s paintings sell for tens of thousands of dollars but, just as her fame was at its peak, skeptics began to question the paintings’ authenticity (i.e., did Marla really paint them?). The film itself starts out as a simple profile of the young artist and her family, but slowly morphs into that which it simultaneously criticizes – media attacking a little girl and condemning her parents. (It reminded me a lot of Forbidden Lie$, the brilliant doc about author Norma Khouri and her maybe-it’s-true-maybe-it’s-not book about a friend’s honor killing.)

I high-tailed back to the Ryerson – and just about everyone I know – to see actor Stuart Townsend’s writing-directing debut, Battle in Seattle (6/8), which follows fictional characters through the notorious WTO-related riots in the titular city back in 1999. The screening was the film’s world premiere, so everyone and their cousin showed up...though Charlize Theron appeared to be desperate to flee the venue. She, Stuart Townsend, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Rodriguez, André Benjamin and Martin Henderson were all in attendance after the film for a Q&A, which was cool. And the film received a standing ovation, which felt a little undeserved. I mean, it was good but it wasn’t that good, IMO, and the biggest “OMG, holy crap!” moment comes in a scene where Theron is clubbed like a baby seal. (Now, that scene deserved some sort of recognition because it resulted in a big collective gasp in the theater.) And the film reinforced my long-held belief that Connie Nielsen needs to STOP WORKING IN AMERICA IMMEDIATELY. Just stop, Connie. Please. Once again, despite her proven talent in foreign fare, she clunks up the screen here. Though she does maintain perfect make-up throughout.

A film that was that good was my final, equally star-studded screening of the day, Jason Reitman’s Juno (7/8...very close to a full-pie rating, in fact). Centered on a 16-year-old girl named Juno (Ellen Page), who finds herself pregnant, the film examines the various relationships in her life: with her de-facto boyfriend (Michael Cera), with her father and stepmother (J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney), and with the young couple (Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner) who want to adopt the baby. Wonderfully written and beautifully acted, this film also earned a standing O at its conclusion and boasts the largest Q&A contingent I have ever seen in my 17 years of TIFFing.

Jason Reitman took the stage at the end of the screening and then ushered up a whopping TWENTY PEOPLE (yes, I counted), including the ENTIRE cast – Page, Cera, Bateman, Garner, Simmons, Janney and Olivia Thirlby (who plays Juno’s best friend). Note to anyone keeping score: Ben Affleck was also there accompanying the missus. A surprisingly long, given the late start, Q&A followed, which was a treat, and everyone kept commending the film’s writer (!), Diablo Cody, for her amazing screenplay. That won them all brownie points in my books.

Even more of a treat, though, was Roger Ebert, who sat across the aisle from me! Roger! Long time no see! I gasped internally when I saw him; it was wonderful and sad at the same time. Wonderful because I haven’t seen him out and about at TIFF for the past few diaries, so I was thrilled at his return. But also sad because Roger Ebert of TIFF ’07 is not the same Roger I remember. His cancer has dramatically altered his appearance and rendered him unable to speak. Still, there he was, sitting on the aisle (where else?), watching movies just like always. And I felt glad.

Celebrity Sightings: Stuart Townsend, Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson, André Benjamin, Michelle Rodriguez, Martin Henderson, Jason Reitman, Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Thirlby and...

Roger Ebert Sightings: YES! (cue the Hallelujah Chorus)

Random Factoid of the Day: Juno is the name of Jupiter's wife.

Weather For Tomorrow: Boo (though Eric will be happy). Showers. High of 20ºC.

Line Buzz: Good buzz for The Visitor and meh buzz for Michael Clayton.

Friday, September 07, 2007

TIFF #4 (Vickie's diary): Hair, Heat, Hellos and Michael Moore

It’s been quite the eventful Friday.

I began the day with my annual TIFF haircut at the Aveda Institute (meaning I had to skip my 11:45am screening of Jodie Foster’s The Brave One), and had a wunderkind dynamo working her magic scissors on me. The result? Fantastic. Unfortunately, due to the heeeeat and humidity, it wasn’t long before I tied my new ‘do into a ponytail just to get it off my neck. “Lunch” was a giant, healthy, protein-enhanced Copa Banana smoothie from Jugo Juice. Mmmmmm.

My first movie of the day was Joy Division (5/8), a documentary about the titular band and the eventual suicide of its troubled lead singer, Ian Curtis. I will openly admit that I was barely able to stay awake through this film...partly because I only got three hours (?!) of sleep last night, and partly because – on a day when the temperatures in Toronto were over 90F – the theater’s air conditioning was broken, so the theater was rrrrrrrrroasting. It was like walking into an oven. (For anyone keeping track, it was the Scotiabank 3.) Now, the Scotiabank theaters are generally smelly to begin with (#s 1 and 2 often smell of stale pee and humidity), so imagine that cranked to about 85F. It wasn’t pleasant. While we waited in line to get in, I saw a patron from the previous screening in that theater yelling at one of the fest staffers about how this was “a DISGRACE!” and how they should be warning the rest of us what would be in store when we took our seats. Namely: heat stroke.

I’m sure that the temperature and my own drowsiness contributed to my overall meh feeling about the film. I would assume that any fan of Joy Division would love the movie, though, since it features current interviews with the surviving bandmates and a ton of archival footage of television and concert performances.

I had McDonald’s for dinner and I am not proud of that.

En route to my final film of the day, I ran into Eric and Dan on Gerrard. Yay! I hadn’t seen them all day and didn’t think our paths would cross...but they did! We traded movie stories and, as we stood there totally impeding pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk, Helen showed up. A few minutes later, Heather arrived. It was like an impromptu TIFF pow-wow at the Ryerson. When we eventually parted ways, Helen, Heather and I were greeted by a very, very long ticket holders line. Thankfully, the Ryerson seats, like, 8000 people, so we were actually only in “the middle” of the line-up.

The film we were all waiting to see was Michael Moore’s new documentary. What’s that you say? What new Michael Moore documentary? Captain Mike Across America (6/8), that’s what. It was a project he completed in 2004 but shelved after the presidential election that November, and it documents his “Slacker Uprising” tour in the fall of ’04, when he aimed to get as many people out to vote (and registered) as possible via a grassroots city-to-city trek. It’s a combination of speeches and performances from some of his celebrity guests (including R.E.M., Eddie Vedder and Roseanne Barr), with coverage of his visits to college campuses in the swing states, interviews with his supporters and detractors, and a hilarious collection of fake campaign ads Moore made for the Republican party. It was an entertaining film, but it did seem a tiny bit repetitive after a while (campus, Moore, performer, campus, Moore, performer, etc.). Nonetheless, it got a very enthusiastic standing ovation when it was over.

But the big draw of any Michael Moore screening at TIFF is Michael Moore himself. He always shows up and his Q&A sessions after his films are always, always excellent. Today was no exception. Moore told us that we were the first audience to see the film – a fact confirmed by über-producer Harvey Weinstein, who was pulled into the Q&A from the back of the theater and who fielded a question about distribution – and that he was genuinely overwhelmed by our response. Apparently, the plan was originally to release the film on DVD with a companion (shorter) film (which has also been on Moore’s shelf for many years) about a lecture he gave in London after 9/11, but there may now be a theatrical release on deck for the feature portion of that proposed combo. Anyway, there were a number of questions from the audience, and the length of the Q&A had folks outside the theater super-curious about what was happening inside. I was cornered twice on my way out: once by a woman who wanted to know what movie I’d just seen and what it was about, and once by a producer for some indie film who wanted to interview me about the movie. (I declined, since I’m technically a member of the media.)

And then, bliss, I came home and was on the couch, fed, showered and relaxing, by 9:30pm. Ahhhhhhh. I hope I sleep tonight. Three hours just doesn’t cut it.

As an aside, where the hell is the Rogers Cable 10 coverage this year???? Does anybody know? There doesn’t seem to be any at all this year...could that be true?

If so, that’s HORRIBLE NEWS!

Celebrity Sightings: Michael Moore. Does Harvey Weinstein count?

Roger Ebert Sightings: No.

Random Factoid of the Day: The second floor meeting rooms at the InterContinental are THE place to be.

Weather For Tomorrow: Partly cloudy and not so hot (thankfully!). 25ºC with a humidex of 30ºC.

Line Buzz: I have yet to actually stand in a line, but Eric and Dan really, really liked Starting Out in the Evening.

TIFF (movie review): Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge (6/8)

Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge features several performances that are so good, you might overlook how good they are -- because they don't seem like performances. They don't feel like performances. The camera lingers on a character, a room full of characters, or simply a red balloon, for unbroken takes lasting up to 10 minutes. There was no script, according to Juliette Binoche in the Q&A, just a 20-page synopsis. The rest is life.

Of course, a movie is not exactly life. Binoche plays Suzanne, a woman living in Paris with her young son, Simon (Simon Iteanu), and a new nanny, Song (Fang Song). Suzanne is a mess, with her wildly mismatched layers of clothing, jangling collection of keys, and a way of filling a room with her frenetic energy. Song is distinctly opposite in how reserved and collected she is, but she is also warm, and cares for Simon very much.

And then there is the red balloon, seen drifting through Paris in the opening scenes, and making several appearances throughout the film. It seems to be wandering, briefly finding interest in a train car or street lamp, before leisurely moving on. (By the end, for some reason -- although this might have been my sleep-deprived imagination -- the red balloon appeared to be actively stalking young Simon.)

It could be argued that nothing happens in La Voyage du Ballon Rouge: it is not about culture clash between the Suzanne and Song (who is from China), it is not about Suzanne learning to put her child before herself, it is not about working together to overcome a major obstacle. The movie is about life, and it is brilliantly directed by Hsiao-Hsien Hou to feel as organically dull and fascinating as life.

Unfortunately, approaching the two-hour mark, this movie veers closer to dull than fascinating, and I spent the last half hour thinking, This must be the last shot. It's not? Oh. Why not? I didn't even think to check my watch until 90 minutes in, because the film was so mesmerizing and beautiful -- but I spent the last 30 minutes checking every 30 seconds.

What is the voyage of the red balloon? I can't say I know from watching Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge. I'm sure I'm supposed to understand it on a symbolic or metaphorical level, but maybe I'm just not smart enough to see what Juliette Binoche has in common with a red balloon -- except that they both give fantastic performances in this movie.

TIFF #3 (Eric's diary): waking late, feeling great

Today began, surprisingly, around 12:30 PM. Who knew I would require 11 hours of sleep after my 13 1/2-hour snooze-athon the previous night? It's very, very fortunate that our first movie didn't start until 2:45 PM, because it could easily have been a few hours earlier, and we would have slept through 50% of our TIFF screenings at that point. What a waste of time and effort that would have been... for Juliette Binoche.

That's right, Dan and I were four rows away from the Binoche herself as she introduced her new film, Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge (6/8), and indulged the audience in a Q&A session after the screening. Binoche (she insists that I call her "Jules" when we're out clubbing, but I'll remain formal here) was adorable and engaging, although she was wearing something that looked like pieces of many horrible outfits stitched together to make a new horrible outfit. I'm just reporting what happened, everyone.

I can also report that the movie was very good, although extremely long. I can't say my conflicting sleep schedules didn't make it a little hard to keep my eyes open, but for the last half hour it was the movie's fault. I mean, okay, the red balloon is a metaphor. Credits?

After a rather upsetting egg salad sandwich hastily purchased and scarfed down in line, it was time for a real meal. And boy, did we find one at Hero Certified Burgers, possibly one of the best burgers I've ever had. And the french fries were effing amazing, prepared exactly like "chips" served in the UK. So delicious. So fried.

By the time we had completed Food Orgy '07, it was time to make tracks for the Winter Garden Theatre to see Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg (8/8). This theater was truly stunning, built in 1913, classic and elaborate with a forest theme extending to synethetic foliage hanging from the ceiling. This unexpected brush with theatre history was made even more special when I found out it was totally a porn theater in the '70s. (Read more about the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres here.)

The screening itself was also unexpectedly thrilling, as Guy Maddin himself took the stage to perform live narration (not commentary) during the film. The movie was brilliant, and seeing it this way made it even more unique, as he admitted in the Q&A that he did not plan on providing live narration for this movie again.

Day 2 of the festival has been a rousing success: one good movie, one great movie, two Q&As, and a new desire to hang out with Guy Maddin's mom in Winnipeg.

TIFF (movie review): My Winnipeg (8/8)

Film festivals can allow you to have moviegoing experiences you might never have otherwise. I remember seeing a special print of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with live musical accompaniment at SIFF '01 (taking a look at my review I see I have learned a lot about the silent era since then!)

Guy Maddin did not make films in the silent era, but his movies have always emulated their style (most recently The Saddest Music in the World) while bringing something new and bizarre and beautiful. My Winnipeg is a documentary, sort of, about Maddin's childhood, sort of, and the city he grew up in, sort of. It's hard to explain.

What made this screening more special than usual was the fact that Maddin himself was there to narrate the film! While music and some dialogue came from the film, Maddin stood to one side and performed bizarre and hilarious narration leading us through his childhood in desolate Winnipeg, and a fictional (?) account of his quest to sublet the house he grew up in and film a reenactment of his upbringing using lookalike actors -- and his real mother. But it's not his real mother, it's Ann Savage. And the woman subletting the house decided at the last minute that she didn't want to leave, so she's hanging out in every shot.

Maddin's Winnipeg is a snowy prison, where everyone is trying to get out, but they can't stay awake on the train and end up right back where they started. It's a city inhabited by ghosts with jangling keys, sleepwalking anywhere but the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. Words flash onscreen for a few frames, bizarre and beautiful images are superimposed over each other. One sequence is particularly surreal, playing out without a word from Maddin.

This is a really, really weird movie. I want to emphasize how funny it is, because that's what surprised my viewing partner the most: how much he laughed (the reenactment scenes are especially hilarious). My Winnipeg is a comedy, but it's probably closer to a documentary, though I have no idea how much of it was real and invented. It's also quite sad, such as when a landmark sports arena is destroyed to make way for... well, an unused lot, as of today. (Sadly, demolition footage shows that this part is real.)

In conclusion: if you can see My Winnipeg, even if you can't have Guy Maddin performing it for you in person, don't miss it!

TIFF #3 (Vickie's diary): What time is it?

Dear lord. It’s 1:34am, I have The Skulls on in the background and I am only just now starting this blog entry. It’s been a very long day...most of which was not spent TIFFing.

I met up with Eric and Dan for dinner before a walking tour north through the city from Commerce Court through the Eaton Centre and along Bay St. to the Varsity. The sidewalks were filled with lanyard-wearing, pass-sporting, tote-bag-carrying festival attendees and I kept pointing out the TIFF tote bags that, for some reason, aren’t part of the out-of-towner packages. You’d think for that extra $150, the fest would spring for a plastic sack and a Starbucks gift card, but no.

The Varsity was teeming with people, and I parted ways with Eric and Dan to head to my first screening of the festival and my only screening of the day. It was a two-fer of documentaries both dealing with democracy: Dinner With the President: A Nation’s Journey (5/8) and Please Vote For Me (7/8).

Dinner was a profile of Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, who discusses his hopes for democracy, juxtaposed with interviews with Pakistani citizens from a wide array of backgrounds. It was a thoughtful and thought-provoking film but, I have to be honest, it wasn’t my thing. I’m not a fan of political documentaries, mainly because I find the subject matter often dry, so I found myself zoning out and counting the minutes until the film I actually came to see.

Please Vote For Me is a charming, funny and occasionally alarming look at a trio of third graders – a pudgy rabble rouser, a militaristic veteran monitor and a sweet girl who almost made me cry – at an elementary school in China, who are all vying for the position of class monitor...a position normally appointed by teachers but which, for the first time, will be decided by a student vote. Watching the drama amongst the kids, and the “stage mother” antics of some of their parents was fascinating, as the “politics” in the classroom so closely resembled what goes on amongst adults campaigning for positions of power. Seeing everyone take the whole thing as seriously as they do (at one point, the ENTIRE CLASS starts weeping!) was equally entertaining.

As the night wound to a very late close (the screening didn’t end until just after 11pm), I realized it would be super-excellent if the fest organizers mandated that NO ONE be admitted to screenings after the first five minutes. For at least the first 20 minutes of tonight’s first film, person after person after person after person wandered in, poked around for seats, was assisted by ushers and generally disrupted the proceedings. Just as frustrating was the huge gaggle of people who stood up and left (?!) at the end of the first film...DURING the introductions for the second film. I thought that was kind of rude.

Celebrity Sightings: None, but plenty of people who wanted other people to think they were celebrities.

Roger Ebert Sightings: None, but he’s apparently attending this year.

Random Factoid of the Day: Sprinting along St. Clair Avenue in flip flops in humid weather is a recipe for a blister.

Weather For Tomorrow: Partly cloudy and HOT. 32ºC with a humidex of 39ºC. *pant*

Line Buzz: None yet.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

TIFF (movie review): Starting Out in the Evening (8/8)

I know it's my first film of the festival, and I vowed not to overrate out of excitement, as I sometimes did at SIFF just because the fest movies are so much better than whatever is playing at a theater near me. Starting Out in the Evening, in fact, has had an uphill journey for me so far. I only got tickets for it because my first AND second choices for the day were unavailable. And the synopsis sounded so much like Venus, which I already loved, that I had already prepared myself for something cuddly and mildly provocative. And dull.

Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose) is a young graduate student writing her thesis on Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella), an acclaimed novelist in his twilight years. When she visits him in person to request a series of personal interviews, Schiller politely turns her away. Later, however, Schiller comes across one of Heather's pieces in a literary journal. He is intrigued. He invites her to come by once a week to discuss his work, so long as she doesn't interfere with his work time; Schiller is writing another novel, and fears he may not live to complete it.

That's the setup for a complex meeting of minds (and perhaps bodies) that reveals depths of these characters I'm almost positive no other pair of actors could pull off, at least not as delicately. Heather's near-worship of Leonard is almost frightening, but her eagerness fades as she struggles to reconcile the literature that has changed her life with the man who disappoints her even as she pulls him closer. Meanwhile, Leonard gradually accepts Heather's increasing presence in his life, never certain of her status as potential friend, lover, or daughter.

Leonard remains close with his actual daughter, Ariel (Lili Taylor), a 40-year-old yoga instructor facing a rekindled romance with Casey (Adrian Lester), who abruptly left her 5 years ago. Something about Taylor has never convinced me before, but here she stands out as a woman essentially deciding if her happiness is worth the cost of her happiness.

But this movie 100% belongs to Langella and Ambrose. Their relationship crosses the line of propriety so quickly, it may take you some time to realize you didn't even hesitate to follow them. To what extent did Heather invade Leonard's life, and to what extent did he facilitate her invasion? Who is responsible for what happens next? What does this really have to do with literature? Indeed, literature itself -- its origins, its effects, its cost -- is an incredibly powerful presence in the film.

This all seems pretty vague, but that's everything you need to know. Each and every scene is truly a surprise (and sometimes a shock). Ambrose's performance is one of the best by any actress her age, ever, as Heather learns she may be exactly as naïve and selfish as she fiercely believed she wasn't. Langella's Leonard is pitch perfect as an imperfect man whose life is changed forever by this tumultuous relationship.

And it was SOOOOOO much better than Venus.

In short, I couldn't recommend this movie more, and what an amazing way to kick off the festival!

TIFF #2 (Eric's diary): opening night

I guess today is technically our first full day in Toronto, although Dan and I spent much more time awake and doing stuff yesterday, since we arrived in town at 6:30 AM and didn't sleep until 9 PM. Kind of shockingly and kind of unsurprisingly, we slept for a whopping 13 1/2 hours last night. And magically, it appears that in one night, I have overcome not only the difference in time zone, but my nocturnal sleep schedule that is offically over now that I'm done with ANTM. If I go to bed at a decent hour tonight, I could be in the clear when it comes to staying awake and actually experiencing Toronto.

We kicked off the day by eating in one of the hundreds of food courts underneath the city. Toronto is like, half underground. There is a massive labyrinth beneath downtown including shops, restaurants, coffeeshops, drugstores, and of course, the subway. You could navigate most of the city without ever seeing daylight if you wanted to. And boy, do I find that prospect appealing! LA could use a system like this, for when it's 100°F as it has been for weeks in the hell hole I call home. Interestingly, I seem to have brought a little heat wave with me, as it reached a muggy 90°F in Toronto today.

We visited the CN Tower, which, in case you don't know (as I didn't), is that defining spindle in the Toronto skyline. To my delight, we could walk there from the hotel without spending more than 5 minutes outside, thanks to a covered "Skywalk" that further convinced me that Toronto residents need to feel like they're underground even when they're above ground. Riding a glass elevator to the top of the CN Tower and enjoying a 360° panorama of the city was a somewhat familiar experience thanks to growing up in the home of the Space Needle, but it was still an amazing view of the city (though visibility was conspicuously limited thanks to a haze of smog and humidity).

At the top of the tower, there is an area with glass floor so you can see the city directly below your feet. You can imagine how well I handled this, although I couldn't not conquer it. But I did spend some time crawling on it before building up the courage to stand, and after that I cowered in the corner a tiny bit. One little girl ran onto the floor and immediately started STOMPING as hard as she could with both feet. What a surprisingly young age for a death wish.

Tonight, of course, we attended our very first TIFF screening, Starting Out in the Evening (8/8) on the opening night of my very first TIFF! Vickie met us for dinner and an entertaining discussion of Jessica Biel spin-offs ("Loving Annabiel"; "Spongebiel Squarepants"). You see, Dan and I invented a game called, "How could this movie be worse?" where you imagine Jessica Biel in the lead role of a movie, usually already terrible. Trust me, it's more amazing than Apples to Apples.

Vickie walked us to the Varsity theater, and along the way we spotted hordes of "industry types" crowding the area, with their little laminated passes proudly displayed even though they were just walking around on the street or checking into the Four Seasons. Of course we made fun of them, but of course I want to be one of them. Come on! I would make a great industry type. I already take myself too seriously and like to wear high heels.

The line at the Varsity was INSANE. There were multiple lines next to each other as well as combined with each other, as there were lines for certain movies and one line for whatever movies didn't have their own lines. After being misinformed, Dan and I ended up in the right line and snagged great seats before the theater got really crowded. And in addition to our first movie of the fest being ABSOLUTELY AMAZING, there was an illuminating Q&A with Andrew Wagner (co-writer, director, and producer) afterward.

Also, completely randomly, I ran into a girl I worked with at First Look Pictures (whose King of California is playing here at TIFF). Well, she worked there, and I was interning. But it was interesting running into her, because of how weird it didn't seem; as Vickie pointed out, this is like movie industry summer camp, which disguises the fact that we're 3,000 miles and an international border away from home.

After the film, Dan and I stopped in a nearby pub for some beer and poutine (french fries covered in cheese and gravy), which is possibly the most winning combination since beer and poutine. Did I already say beer and poutine? That's just how winning a combination it is.

We walked back to the hotel, fully satisfied with our first day of TIFFing. The days to come bring many more films, and I'm looking forward to exploring the city further now that it's fully in festival mode!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

TIFF #1 (Eric's diary): the beginning

I’m writing this from my hotel room in Toronto, where I’ll be attending the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) for the next seven days.

This has been a huge dream of mine since I started going to the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) in 2001. I’ve always wanted to visit Toronto, I’ve always read Vickie’s amazing TIFF diaries, but I’ve never had the funds to get my ass across the continent to share in this amazing experience. Until now!

This is the year I decided to put every spare dollar towards making this Canadian dream come true. Back in April, Dan and I booked our flights and a swank hotel room for cheap. A few months later, we purchased some advance ticket packages. Last week, we scheduled our picks and FedExed the order form to participate in the lottery (!) that would determine whether we would see the films we wanted or not. Last night, we got on a plane and five hours later we were in Toronto. Airplanes are amazing! No wonder it costs so much money to ride them.

Dan and I are staying at the Hotel Victoria, which I would like the record to state I chose solely because it is named after Vickie (as well as being affordable and conveniently located, of course). Hotel Victoria is like, okay, maybe some hookers died in the exact spot where I’m writing this, but this place has really pulled itself together. Now it’s fancy and modern, but still has “character.”

After three hours of sleep on the plane, the first thing we did in Toronto was head to the TIFF box office to pick up our tickets and redeem a voucher for one more movie choice. Because nothing can ever go smoothly, we faced several issues here:

1) You must have a pick-up voucher to collect your tickets. You must have it. They send it to you with your order forms. YOU MUST HAVE IT. Needless to say, we didn’t have it. I’m pretty sure I FedExed it right back to them with our order forms, because I’m so smart.

2) When picking out your movies, you must schedule your screenings so they don’t conflict with each other -- but because of the lottery system, you might not get all your picks, so you must create a schedule of alternates that won’t conflict with each other OR your first choices. We ended up with tickets to three of our alternates, but for Thursday we didn’t get our first choice OR our alternate. So we had to choose another movie in person.

3) When we arrived at the box office, the line stretched out of the office, down the hall, out the revolving doors, around the corner, and down the outside of the building.

Fortunately, the abbreviated third act of this story is, they gave us the tickets without a voucher, we got tickets for another movie, and we didn’t have to wait in line AT ALL.

Later in the day, Vickie led us on a delightful tour of the area and all the TIFF venues where we would be spending so much of our lives for the next week. Unsurprisingly, Dan and I spent the final leg of the tour nearly keeling over from sleep deprivation, which is also why this entry is about to end so abruptly zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

My first TIFF starts tomorrow!