Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Trailer for Robert Pattinson's LITTLE ASHES

For all of you squealing about Twilight's Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen... check him out as painter Salvador Dali in the upcoming film LITTLE ASHES!

View trailer here:

Synopsis: In the midst of the repression and political unrest of pre-Spanish Civil War, eccentric artist Salvador Dalí (Rob Pattinson) and renowned poet and revolutionary Federico García Lorca (Javier Beltran), find their artistic and sexual freedom in each other. The two form a bond challenged by their fierce ambitions, the struggle between a love for Spain and a love for each other. The film stars Rob Pattinson (TWILIGHT), Javier Beltran (TV's ZOO), Matthew McNulty (THE SHOOTING OF THOMAS HURNDALL) and Marina Gatell (TV's LALOLA). LITTLE ASHES directed by Paul Morrison (SOLOMON AND GAENOR, WONDROUS OBLIVION).

Website for LITTLE ASHES:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

SLGFF 2008 #7 - A Steamy wrap-up

Several of the movies I saw at the fest this year had a theme of Gays and Religion, including Testimony, Save Me, and now Equality U. However, unlike films of the past that seemed testy, hostile, and defensive towards organized religion and the (in)tolerance of gays, these new films all seem to be taking a breather and reaching across the divide in favor of discussion rather than arguing. (Send that message to politicians!)

Equality U (6/8) is a documentary that follows a group of young, mostly 20-something Christians as they take a bus tour across and all around the United States, visiting religious-based colleges and universities that all have explicit policies on the books banning homosexual students. For instance, televangelist Jerry Falwell once said he'd rather have the college he founded, Liberty University, burn to the ground than allow homosexuals. The Equality Ride visited about 20 of the 200 schools with anti-gay rules in order to start a discussion and dialogue. Most students wanted to at least talk, but it was the schools' administrations that were most afraid of dialogue, some literally locking their students inside... and the Equality Riders out. The film never stoops to judge harshly the religions involved, but instead condemns the schools and their leaders for destroying the lives of some of the students that they rejected.

My next film was a domestic drama from France, The New World (Le Nouveau Monde) (4/8), a well-meaning but honestly a bit dull lesbian drama. Lucie and Marion are a lesbian couple that decide they want a baby. Or at least Lucie does, and she wants to get pregnant the "old-fashioned way"—no strangers, no sperm banks, just a friendly donation from someone they both agree upon. Well, they find that generous fellow in an old friend of Marion's. He says he'll be scarce, but once the child is born, his fathering instinct kicks in and he feels part of the family... and Marion, increasingly, does not. I liked the emphasis of Marion's isolation from the biological family unit, but overall the film was slow (even at 70 minutes!) and kind of rambling.

The final weekend featured the 3-story dramedy Steam (5/8) as the fest's second Centerpiece. I'll bet most people who saw the film were excited to see Ally Sheedy again (looking completely adorable and healthy again, as a start contrast to her emaciated High Art self). Alas, ladies, she does not play a lesbian. She is a 40-something single mom who has an affair with her young son's hottie, corn-fed, 20-something football coach, much to the shock and disgust of her ex-husband (who has a young trophy wife himself)... and to the shock and delight of her best friend (played by the bluntly hilarious Chelsea Handler).

The lesbian third of the story involves a young hottie college student (Kate Siegel) who hesitates only half a second before embarking on an affair with a sexy bisexual classmate (Reshma Shetty). Girlfriend is a feminist revolutionary, and forgets to mention that she is bisexual (guess how that is discovered). Our main girl decides to fight the power anyways, much to the disgust of her stereotypically uptight rich white parents. This whole plot felt very cliched, and was (unfortunately for this audience) the least interesting of the bunch.

Leave it to the incomparable Ruby Dee to save the third segment. She plays a widow that struggles with moving on with her life until she meets and befriends a charming widower (the lovely Dick Anthony Williams) who relentlessly courts her until she invites him for dinner. Alas, when she finally meets his adult son and his family, things don't quite go so well.

Despite the fine acting in 2/3rds of the film, Steam doesn't have enough oomph to be really memorable or unique. The three leads are supposedly linked by the fact that they all go to a community steam room to unwind, but it is never really explored. And, by the end, you are just left at the end with a "huh" rather than a "wow!" Still, not a bad way to end the fest (for me at least). [Sorry, Elvira, I just couldn't maintain momentum to see you on Closing Night!]

Saturday, October 25, 2008

SLGFF 2008 #6 - Manly TV dinners

On Friday I took it down a notch. Last year, one of my favorite parts of the Festival of the Gays were the "Gay TV Dinners" at Central Cinema, where old TV episodes featuring gay characters were shown while the audience gorged on beer and a set menu. So this year I made sure to schedule at least one TV dinner, and it just so happened that I could fit in The Last Guy You’d Have Figured…, featuring an episode of Alice from the 70s, and Roc from the early 90s.

I vaguely remember seeing Alice when I was growing up, and how later, when I was older, I always wondering why Mel at Mel's Diner always seemed to be wearing a large rollled-up condom on his head (what was UP with that hat?). Single-mom Alice (cutie Linda Lavin) falls hard for Mel’s ex-pro football player pal, Jack, who is foxy in that blond-feathered-hair kind of way. He is nothing but manly, but after a fabulous dinner date out, he tells Alice he is gay (GASP!). But... but... he is a professional football player!?!! Well, "Kiss my grits!" as Flo would say! This show is interesting in that it could only inadvertently emphasize how thirty years later there are still no pro football players (at least as far as I know) that are openly gay. They still wait until retirement to come out.

The episode of Roc, which ran on Fox, was just as timely, as Roc's uncle (played by Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree) comes for a visit to let the family know that he is getting married... to a man! And worse yet, a WHITE man! Particularly hilarious in this well-written episode is Roc's dad Andrew (played by Carl Gordon), who can take only so much before his line is crossed. In protest, he turns on the blender in the kitchen while the ceremony is attempting to take place in the living room. All in all, my tum was full of TV-dinner fare of meat loaf and mashed potatoes, and the episodes were once again enjoyable choices. Gotta love the Central Cinema!

Friday, October 24, 2008

SLGFF 2008 #5 - A different kind of tolerance...

The first Centerpiece feature of this year's fest, Save Me (6/8), follows a young druggie gay boy named Mark (Chad Allen) who hits rock-bottom in a hotel room, overdosed on cocaine after yet another fling with a random guy. Mark's brother is fed-up, tired of scraping his brother out of the gutter and gives him an ultimatum: Clean up a Christian retreat center that focuses on healing and saving gay men, or the family will basically disown him, putting him back on the street for the last time. Mark very reluctantly decides to go to the Christian recovery center.

Genesis, as the Christian center is called, is run by warm and very hetero middle-aged couple Gayle and Ted, but it is really Gayle (the fabulous Judith Light) that runs the show. She is stern and is the enforcer. The men can always leave, but if they stay, they have to follow the rules. But what no one expects is that Mark will actually embrace his own recovery, as well as Jesus, but also will fall in love with Scott (Robert Gant), one of the other ex-gay recoverees at the center.

Folks at the fest screening were delighted and more than a little star-struck that Robert Gant (best known as Ben from Queer As Folk) was there in person. Believe me, the entire audience of men and women were shamelessly drooling (he is just as hunky in person as on screen), and he is quite the rambler when it came to answering audience questions (but in a nice way—see? I have a crush, too!). He pointed out that the filmmakers were careful to be equal-opportunity when it came to the characters, and never to demonize the Christian characters in the film. In fact, that is what I liked about Save Me—all the characters are flawed and complex, and Judith Light ends up being one of the more sympathetic characters in the story as she struggles with her true love for the men she is trying to help, but is also struggling over guilt for the dead son that she was too late to save. It is a solid film, and will appeal to those that liked the equally sympathetic Mormon vs. Gays tale Latter Days.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

SLGFF 2008 #4 - ¡Viva la Revolución!

The Brits (whom, you could say, invented the sub-group of haughty, intellectually snobby poofters) have always excelled not only in gay cinema, but also in TV shows and series featuring matter-of-fact gay characters. Being gay just doesn't seem to be an issue, so much so that they can move on from the trauma of "coming out" stories to just getting down to business.

Such is the case for the charming and funny TV series Sugar Rush (7/8). Our heroine Kim (Olivia Hallinan), a 15-year-old virgin, seems less traumatized by the fact that she knows she is a lesbian, but is fretting about the fact that she hasn't had sex yet... and is about to explode with hormones accordingly. It doesn't help that her dysfunctional parents have moved her family from the wilds of London to the "safer" and calmer seaside town of Brighton. And now Kim is completely and utterly obsessed with her new best (straight) girlfriend Sugar (the saucy Lenora Crichlow). Sugar Rush is probably the freshest portrayal of teenagers and hormones (gay and straight) since the delightful Swedish film Show Me Love. The kids are practically glassy-eyed with lust, and can barely contain themselves (Kim even considers drugging her friend into unconsciousness so she can have her way... hello, date rape!). Sugar Rush is also fresh for a new generation. There is no soundtrack of sensitive women singers here, it is all Euro-techno-pop and flashy fashion. The show is a lot of fun, fabulously acted by all, and I can't wait to see more episodes beyond the first three that the fest screened.

Unfortunately I decided to stay for the next show, My Super 8 Season (Ma saison super 8) (4/8), a French film about a bunch of sexual and political revolutionaries at the start of the 70s, fighting for the rights of the gays and women. It revolved around Marc (Axel Philippon), who was obsessed with the blank-faced "I'm not gay" gay-boy André (Roman Girelli) while being best friend to feminist Julie (Célia Pilastre). People sleep with each other, the passion of the revolution flares up then kind of peters out, and they all supposedly mature. But it was dull, and (I'm kind of embarrassed to say) cheap-looking. There were bits that were shot in Super 8, which were convincing and great-looking, but the rest was shot on DV, which just brought me out of the moment in time. It looked like a bunch of modern kids dressing up for the 70s and acting like revolutionary hippies. It is a film very similar in theme to Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers, which, funny enough, is also a film I didn't like much. Oh well.

Monday, October 20, 2008

SLGFF 2008 #3 - Homo horror and real-life tragedy

I decided to fill my Sunday at the Festival of the Gays with a reality-check list of films... aka documentaries--with an intermission of a stern lecture. Well, not stern at all, but more on that later.

First up was the Canadian doc She's a Boy I Knew (7/8), by filmmaker and subject Gwen Haworth. I have to admit that I was intrigued by the publicity photo on the right, as it was so arty that it looks like a sensitive indie-rock duo's publicity shot. But that is actually Gwen (right) and her ex-wife Malgosia, whom she married when she was still Steven. Steven was a hockey jock who had a fine upbringing, but never felt right in his body. He struggled and fought against these feelings, even getting married (he was, and she IS attracted to women), until he finally confessed to his loved ones his secret in his late 20s, when he decided to begin his steps toward becoming a woman. However, She's a Boy is not really about Steven/Gwen, but about the friends and family that had to deal with this huge decision by someone they thought they knew. Gwen's sisters, best friend (her adorable guy-friend Roari), ex-wife, and (most touchingly) her parents are interviewed, and they are brutally honest. Gwen's father, a man of few words, struggles to open up, and confesses that he feels like he lost his only son. They tell of the hurt and in some cases betrayal they felt about Steven's decision to become Gwen. And lucky for Gwen, these people were supportive and are still in her life. It is an extremely intimate film, and fascinating in its emotional honesty.

Next my co-horts and I scarfed down some tacos and scurried down to the fabulous Central Library to catch author Harry M. Benshoff's lecture Monsters in the Closet (5/8), based on his book “Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film”. There are certainly types of horror movies that are resoundingly queer, like anything with vampires for instance, but Benshoff broke it down with a bunch of funny categories, like "Mad Scientist" and, well, others that I honestly can't remember right now. The fear of the (monstrous) outsider is a common plot in horror films, and Benshoff claims that is easily transferable to society's fear of The Gays. The time period allowed for this lecture was really too brief to get into anything in depth, and it seemed that lots of clips were rushed through without enough supporting explanation (as in, "Um, now WHY is that scene gay?"), but it was interesting and timely enough topic to perhaps spark curiosity in checking out his book.

My last film of the day played to a packed matinee at the lovely Cinerama. For My Wife... (7/8) has resounding local connections, not just politically, but in the city's common memory of horrific events. If you lived in Seattle a couple winters ago, you'd remember this crazy flash-flood of a rain storm that came so fast just around afternoon rush hour, that it created a river with whitecaps down the hilly sidewalks and flooded stores within a matter of minutes. The most talked-about tragedy of the event was the story of audio-book narrator Kate Fleming who literally drowned in her own basement, after getting trapped by water rushing down the stairs. After being briefly revived and rushed to the hospital, Fleming's partner of a decade, Charlene Strong, was denied visitation at her bedside because she was not a legal spouse. She was finally granted permission to be at Kate's bedside in her final minutes after getting permission from Fleming's mother... on the other side of the country.

But this was just the start of Charlene's story. Her side of the tragedy also made the news, and she was asked to testify just six weeks after the death of her partner in Olympia, during the hearings about the Domestic Partnership Registration Bill that has slogged around unpassed in the Capitol for years and years. Her raw, recent personal story made all the difference, and the bill ended up passing by a 2 to 1 vote. This first half or so of For My Wife... is shockingly powerful. I don't think I've ever been riveted by congress people's testimony before (it is amazing the things that some of them said in against the bill, like the standby catchphrases of "bestiality," "necrophilia," etc.). But I discovered there is a Rock Star at our State Capitol, and her name is Rosa Franklin. Married for 57 years herself, her eloquent speech about how she has supported the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) in the past, but was now supporting the Domestic Parter bill left no dry eyes in the house. The second half of For My Wife... almost comes across as an extended "Where are they now?" extra after the climax of the film (the passing of the bill). The rest of the film is fine, but as Strong finds herself mingling with movie stars at the GLADD Awards and chatting with Gloria Steinem, it starts to feel a bit after the fact, like the story is still waiting for its ideal conclusion, which would be the freedom for gays to marry all across the country. That is my only complaint about the film, however. It is a very strong documentary that will hopefully find a wider audience beyond the festival circuit.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

SLGFF 2008 #2 - Murderous ghosts and killer drag queens

The Festival of the Gays loves novelist Sarah Waters. Seattle got to host her in a virtual lesbian-rific hootenany a few years ago when she came to present the theatrical premiere of Tipping the Velvet, then a couple years later, SLGFF hosted Fingersmith. So it is no surprise that SLGFF screened Affinity (4/8), her third adaptation (all have been adapted for British television).

Unfortunately, Affinity is Waters least-gripping novel, and that is reflected in the film. The story takes place in Waters' fave Victorian era, and follows a single society lady, Margaret Prior as she decides to go out of her comfort zone (and the pressures of her mother to marry) and become a regular visitor to the local women's prison. There she becomes intrigued and then besotted with the lovely inmate Selena Dawes, who is imprisoned for a murder she claimed she did not commit. It was a sinister male ghost who was the murderer, she claims (she is, after all, a medium to the spirits). Margaret is so obsessed with her new bosom friend that she believes heart and soul in her innocence, especially as unexplained supernatural things happen, like when she finds a lock of Selena's hair in her own bed. You can see it coming... in order to run away, Margaret needs to escape her prison of society life, and Selena her literal prison. But it may not be so easy.... What was missing from both the novel and the adaptation is the more blatant romance, and, well, sexiness of Waters' other stories. This leaves for a lot of repression and blank-faced repression. Affinity is OK, but it never really takes off as being something memorable.

The fest this year has tons of documentaries, some with local roots like Testimony (and tomorrow's For My Wife...). Testimony (4/8) is a well-meaning talking-head feature that interviews a variety of queer folks about the question: Can one be queer and religious? The resounding answer is YES! So much so that I couldn't help but feel that there could have been more diversity in these folks' answers. Their backgrounds are of various Christian denominations, Jewish, and Jehovah's Witness, but they are all overwhelmingly white, and look comfortably upper-middle-class based on their backyards and homes where the interviews took place. Everyone seemed so, well, happy that it didn't acknowledge in any depth the hurt and rejection that is faced by many gays as they are rejected from their church or religious community after coming out as gay. I think I just wanted more grit.

Funny enough, there was more dirt to be found in the charming behind-the-scenes Pageant (6/8), which follows half a dozen contestants as they vie for the Miss Gay America title. The rules: No hormones. No surgical enhancements. But everything else, in the female impersonator arena sure looks like fair game! Follow these earnest contestants, some whom enter year after year, as they represent their states with pride. They may be flight attendants, or work at Disney World in their real lives, but oh how they blossom on stage in full drag. My jaw dropped at some performances, particularly those of adorable drag veteran David Lowman, aka Coti Collins. Coti's Reba McEntire and Judy Garland impersonations have to be seen to be believed. Pageant has the homey charm of films like Spellbound and even Best in Show, and it certainly worth checking out.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

SLGFF 2008 #1 - Of faeries and Shakespeare

There's a chill in the air, it's getting dark awfully early, and it seems just about time to head back into the theaters. That must mean that it is time again for Seattle's Festival of the Gays! More formally known as the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, the 2008 fest is celebrating its 13th year. Going with that superstitious number, and the fact that the fest always falls in October, the programmers have gone with a rough "homo horror" theme.

Alas, there was no horror to be found in the Opening Night film, Were the World Mine (6/8). The rather clunky title is unfortunately kind of hard to remember the first time or two you hear it... kind of like Shakespeare [because it IS Shakespeare! - ed.]. So it is really not much of a surprise to see that this gay fantasia (if there ever was one) is framed around Shakespeare's own "Midsummer Night's Dream". High schooler Timothy (Tanner Cohen) is a gay boy that doesn't fit into the testosterone-fueled jock aesthetic that surrounds him at all-boys high school. He crushes on the hero rugby player Jonathan (Nathaniel David Becker), imagining him crooning, open-shirted, to Timothy while lounging atop the teacher's desk. In fact, Timothy's attention slips into an alternate, better musical universe often, so when their artsy-fartsy teacher Ms. Tebbit (Twin Peaks' Wendy Robie) announces that the school play will be "Midsummer," Timothy finds himself one audition later in the lead role of Puck. Puck is perfect for Timothy, as he wishes that he could spray a magical juice on the eyes of others to open their eyes to love... in his eyes, gay love. So when he is practicing his role in his bedroom one night, he concocts a recipe for the juice, right out of Shakespeare, and tries it on his straight friend Max. One squirt from a prop flower, and Max is suddenly besotted with Timothy! Now if Timothy could just see if it works on his straight-boy crush Jonathan...

Were the World Mine is very charming--unsurprising, as it was based on, and created by the same folks that did the short film Faeries five years ago (also a festival favorite). Though the dramatic parts and the editing are sometimes a little clunky in this feature-length version, it still retains its warmth and gentle magic. Most credit goes to the great musical sequences. In fact all the major cast members get to sing, and the first time lead Tanner Cohen opened his mouth to sing, I was literally stunned by his gorgeous voice... it brought a tear to my eye.

Were the World Mine should find a cult audience on the fest circuit, and everyone was delighted to hear that yes, the soundtrack score will be released on CD later this year.

* * * * *

And... just because it is fun, here is the trailer for this year's festival:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

TIFF 2008 post-script: Festival director claims he hasn't heard ANY complaints from the public!

I read this and laughed and laughed.


"Zero feedback from the public"?

I find this very, very, very, very hard to believe. All I heard, over and over again throughout TIFF 2008, were folks griping about tickets and pricing and the lack of availability. I'm sure at least ONE of those disgruntled festgoers, if not dozens, contacted the TIFF offices to voice their opinions.

And as for complaints about rude staff, clearly no one steered him in the direction of my tale of Grabby Glenda.

(I also enjoy his comment that the fest will only rethink things if "the majority" of ticket buyers complain... if there's "a groundswell" of dissatisfaction. I wonder what constitutes a majority? 51%? 70%? 99%?)

TIFF 2008 (Vickie’s Diary): A Final Thought

Dear TIFF,

I think we need to talk.

Things between us haven’t been that great lately. In fact, I’ve noticed that our relationship has been faltering for a while. At this point, it’s kind of reached critical mass.

And maybe it’s time for you to see other people.

I remember when we first met, 18 years ago, and how wonderful we were together. A match made in heaven, I thought. You made me so happy. I couldn’t wait to see you and for us to spend time together. You were filled with surprises and unexpected delights, and I cherished every moment we shared. I always felt loved and valued, and I was always on Cloud Nine whenever you were around.

But things started to change a few years ago. You started to change. You started to get more popular and suddenly all kinds of new people were lavishing attention on you... and I know you loved that. It went straight to your head and you grew self-absorbed. Self-important. I’ve watched it all happen and, TIFF, I don’t like what I’ve seen.

In fact, it makes me really sad. You used to be so approachable and friendly, but you’ve become elitist and exclusive, and trying to snag any quality time with you has become nearly impossible. I knock on your door but you don’t let me in, and I don’t know what else to do as I watch you withdraw further and further into your own little world while your old friends and I stand at an increasing distance.

TIFF, I just feel like you don’t love me. And I know I don’t love you anymore. I’m sorry, but it’s true. These days, you bring me more disappointment and frustration than joy. You cause me more stress than bliss. You take much more than you give. And you have become so high-maintenance that it’s absolutely exhausting trying to be with you.

And, honestly, I’m just not sure I want to keep putting in the effort. It’s not healthy for me.

So, I’m going to take some time to reevaluate where we stand. And, even though I know you won’t do the same, I don’t want to say it’s over completely, because there’s always a tiny glimmer of hope.

For now, I need some time away from you. Please don’t call me or email me, because I’ll likely say something I might regret. Maybe by next year at this time things will be different. Maybe they’ll be better somehow. Maybe you’ll see the light and try to fix things.

But, if not, I will not hesitate to break up with you for good.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

TIFF 2008 (Vickie’s Diary): As It Began, So Did It End...

... with Vickie walking out of the TIFF box office, dejected and ticket-less.

Today was the final day of this year’s festival, and I decided to make a last-ditch effort to use up a voucher by trying to snag a ticket to Patrik, Age 1.5 (screening at 9pm). Unfortunately, even though I arrived at the completely deserted box office at 8am, I was told it was off-sale. Whaaaa... ??? How can that be?! What happened to same-day availability? Not only that, but EVERYTHING after 8pm was off-sale. Sorry, what?!

Yes, I know the same-days went on sale at 7am, but could they really have sold out ALL the tickets to ALL the nighttime movies???

Evidently, yes.

For anyone who’s kept score: I paid for 35 tickets, and wound up (as of the end of todaay) only using 25... and not for lack of effort. I paid a little more than $375 (including taxes et al.) for those tickets, meaning my per-ticket price was $15. Not bad, I suppose, considering a single ticket is $20.50, but I still feel like I handed over a big chunk of money to the fest for absolutely nothing. Well, nothing except aggravation and stress (for me).

Anyway, after that early morning jaunt, I had a lot of time to kill before my first movie of the day: the apartheid-era drama Skin (5/8), which tells the true story of Sandra Laing (Sophie Okonedo), a seemingly “colored” child (based on her skin) born to two white parents (Sam Neill, Alice Krige) and thus subjected to much angst on both sides of the race war – not really accepted by either, but definitely finding an easier time of things in the black townships than, say, the all-white world in which her parents exist. The film was moving, but did feel rather manipulative and heavy-handed. It had something of a movie-of-the-week quality to it, with music cues to signal the audience to every single transition in emotion and some cheesy make-up to age the actors. And... as much as I enjoy her work, I don’t know that this is Okonedo’s best performance. It’s certainly her biggest – she carries the entire film – but I found her work kind of meh here, especially when she’s meant to be portraying Sandra as a teenager. Her South African accent also drifted in and out for the duration.

Next up was my sole Midnight Madness screening, and I have to say that even the daytime repeats of the MM films are livelier and more fun than films in just about any other program. Not sure if it’s because programmer Colin Geddes’ rampant enthusiasm is so contagious, or because the audiences for MM films are typically up for anything, but the pre- and post-film antics are often as entertaining as the movies themselves.

That was certainly the case at Sexykiller (6/8), a horror-comedy about a beautiful young woman named Barbara (Macarena Gómez), who’s like a Spanish Elle Woods with one big difference: she’s a hyper-violent, super-effective serial killer who’s picking off staff and students at a medical school. Problems arise when her new beau (unaware of her hobby) develops a device that can retrieve the final memories of people who have died... with bizarre and unexpected side effects. Bloody, violent, funny, outrageous and never taking itself seriously, the movie was a fun ride.

But even more fun was the Q&A afterwards, during which – among other shenanigans – star Macarena Gómez pulled out two fake pistols and aimed at the audience, demanding to know if we liked the film... and then honed in on some poor guy in the third row who, she said, neglected to applaud on cue. Both she and director Miguel Martí, seemed to be having an absolute blast.

I ended TIFF 2008 with Lymelife (6/8), a coming-of-age story set in Long Island, NY, in the late-1970s, amid a massive Lyme disease scare that finds characters doing things like taping their clothes shut. With a subtle The Ice Storm vibe to it, the film centers on teenage Scott (Rory Culkin) and the assorted dysfunctional relationships that surround him, including the decaying marriage of his parents (Alec Baldwin and Jill Hennessy), the equally troubled union of their neighbors (Timothy Hutton and Cynthia Nixon), and his own budding romance with their daughter (Emma Roberts). In a nice bit of casting, Kieran Culkin co-stars as Scott’s older brother. Well laid out, and told via some solid performances, the film worked for me on most levels, but it did feel like a story I’ve seen before. Just, you know, with more ticks.

And something interesting happened during the Q&A with director Derick Martini. Generally, post-film discussions involve audience members asking questions, offering positive feedback or blatantly kissing the asses of the folks onstage (believe me, I have heard lavish, lengthy, gooey praise heaped upon directors or actors in somewhat embarrassing ways before). But tonight, one woman stood up and said she didn’t like the ending. She qualified her comment by saying that she loved the film and thought it was beautiful, but that she didn’t care at all for how it ended.

Based on how some people in the audience turned on her, you would think she’d said she thought Martini was a talentless hack and that his film was a steaming pile of poo. Good grief, people, not everyone is going to love a movie... and God bless this woman for at least having the courage to stand up and make a comment that isn’t 100% overflowing with praise! Nevermind that she repeated that she loved the movie. Yes, she did go on for longer than she probably should have, but she was just being honest. Apparently, that’s somehow considered poor form, though I don’t see why.

And then... my festival was over. When I went home, it was grey and rainy and very humid out, and I still had 10 vouchers left. Ah well. I’ll post my final TIFF thoughts tomorrow, but in the meantime you can read about which films won which awards at a ceremony earlier today.

Celebrity Sightings: Zip.

Line Buzz: More cheers for Tears for Sale and Lovely Still, and more confusion over Synechdoche, NY.

Friday, September 12, 2008

TIFF 2008 (Vickie’s Diary): Blues and Pop, With a Little Lovin’ on the Side

I’m getting really tired. I’m finding myself “just closing my eyes for a second” at screening after screening, and my energy level is dwindling by the minute. One more day of film festing to go, and tomorrow promises to be very busy, so tonight’s entry will be slightly abbreviated.

Film #1 today was Who Do You Love (6/8), a surprising delight chronicling the early days in the career of Leonard Chess (Alessandro Nivola), founder of Chess Records and the man who brought people like Muddy Waters (David Oyelowo), Willie Dixon (Chi McBride) and countless blues acts from backroom bars to the mainstream. Blessed (obviously) with a great soundtrack and wonderfully informative while being blissfully compact (a running time of 90 minutes), the film was a great way to kick off a grey, humid, rainy Friday. And I do love a good music-history drama. Even better? That director Jerry Zaks, co-stars Oyelowo and Jon Abrahams, and Marshall Cress – the now-elderly son of Leonard – all showed up for the morning screening and participated in a lively and lengthy post-film Q&A. Well done, fellas!

I followed that with Universalove (5/8), a somewhat uneven but nonetheless enjoyable Austrian offering that tracks a half dozen stories of love around the globe, in cities like Rio, Tokyo and Brooklyn. Like any film of this nature, where the narrative is broken into different arcs for different characters, not all of the stories were as good as others. The Brooklyn segment, for example, felt very stiff and awkward... unaided by English subtitles for English dialogue that didn’t match! Distracting. The Tokyo tale was my favorite, followed closely by the soap-opera drama set in Brazil. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), most of the love stories ended in tragedy or loss, which was kind of a bummer.

If you’ve ever read my TIFF diaries before, or my HotDocs diaries, you’ll know that I am a massive fan of documentaries about kids. My final film of the day is one such doc, and it proudly joins the ranks of personal faves like Spellbound, Summercamp! and Girls Rock!. It was just as fun, just as touching, just as energetic and just as much of a crowd-pleaser as its predecessors.

It was Sounds Like Teen Spirit: A Popumentary (7/8), a fantastic British documentary about the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, in which kids from 17 countries compete in a gigantic, one-night extravaganza where they perform original songs (either solo, or in groups or bands) and one kid/country is declared the winner after, like, 20+ million votes are cast. The film tracks a number of contestants from their national finals (oh yes, this is serious business!) through the actual Eurovision process, and it’s wonderfully presented. Each child is talented but, more importantly, real and compelling. Some have heartbreaking stories. Some have wacky outfits. Some will make you laugh. Some will make you cry. But they will all entertain you.

Director Jamie Jay Johnson was in attendance (this was the film’s third screening!) and was utterly charming. When the film ended, and I was all teary and tender-hearted, I thought, “If he brings out ANY of those kids as a surprise for the audience, I might just start to cry.” Because, if you recall, both Spellbound and Summercamp! sprung kids on me at their screenings, with exactly that result. Alas, he revealed that though one of the kids had initially been scheduled to be in Toronto, her visa (from Georgia) didn’t come through in time. Still, Johnson stayed for a nicely beefy, very spirited Q&A. It was the perfect way to end the night.

Tomorrow, if I’m lucky and can manage a same-day ticket for an evening screening, I’ll have four films on TIFF’s last day. I figure I should go out with a bang, and then collapse from exhaustion at midnight.

Celebrity Sightings: David Oyelowe, Jon Abrahams, Jerry Zaks, Marshall Chess.

Line Buzz: Coincidentally, a couple of people talked about how much they enjoyed Sounds Like Teen Spirit!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

TIFF 2008 (Vickie’s Diary): Meet the Creepertons and the Douchettes! (And Another Stinky Flick!)

Anyone who attends TIFF knows the importance of chatting with your fellow filmgoers in line or in your seats before the movie. It’s how you hear about what’s great, what blows and whether Jessica Biel is in the ladies’ room doing bicep curls. But sometimes this tradition wields unfavorable results, because sometimes you inadvertently find yourself (somewhat unwillingly) engaged in conversation with someone less than ideal. Someone like Roy Creeperton.

Eric and Dan encountered Roy at one of their screenings, and we promptly gave him his new nickname... then decided that he was just one of many Creepertons floating around the festival. Because sometimes people who are chatty and who strike up pre-screening banter are way way way too chatty, and reveal too much, and before you know it you’re hearing about bunion surgery or being plied for information on yourself. Sometimes, your next-door-seatmate wants to tell you all about her life philosophies or his mental-health issues (this actually happened to me a few years ago!), or sometimes they will simply go on and on and on and ON about their knowledge of film long after you stopped listening. Or caring. And sometimes they’re just flat-out creepy and weird. These folks are all members of the TIFF family known as the Creepertons. They are small in number but mighty in creepiness.

Far more prolific, though, are the Douchettes. This family is very easily recognized by their elephantine self-importance, boorish obnoxiousness and overall douche-iness in that “look at me, I’m a Hollywood PLAYA!” kind of way. (And, yes, they spell it “PLAYA” because that’s how douchey they are.) Characterized by their tendencies to speak loudly into their cell phones (because they’re so important) or text message during films (because they’re so important) or wear sunglasses indoors (because they’re so important and want to protect their eyes from the blinding light of their own fabulousness), the Douchettes are a far-reaching clan. Their members can be found all over Toronto during TIFF and they are unmistakable.

Last night, I had the (dis)pleasure of observing a chap I’m going to refer to as Brock Douchette outside the AMC. Dressed in a silver sport jacket (collar flipped UP, natch!), gold-rimmed Elvis-style glasses and a big fat industry badge, this bleached-blonde, enormous moron in his mid-20s was careful to ensure everyone with a 10m radius heard every word of his super-douchey conversations with his equally poseuresque friends. But the highlight came when a homeless guy asked him for change, and he said, “Hang on, buddy...” in a way that implied he was going to give the guy money.

Instead, he carried right on talking with his posse while the homeless guy stood waiting before giving up.


Anyway, onwards to today’s films...

First up for me was a very-early morning trek to the TIFF box office to see about getting a same-day ticket to A Woman in Berlin. I’ve wanted that ticket since the lottery, and have tried no fewer than five times since, to no avail. But I was pretty confident I’d get a same-day if I managed to arrive before 8am. So I hauled my weary ass out of bed at the crack of dawn and did. And I scored one. Which also meant I skipped the movie I already had at 9am, partly because I was really tired, partly because there wouldn’t be enough time to run from one theater to the other with time to eat in between, but largely because I didn’t really have any interest in seeing my 9am film (50 Dead Men Walking)... so this was a good excuse to subway back home, enjoy a relaxing breakfast and rest some more. Five hours of sleep a night does not a happy TIFFgoer make, FYI.

Thus, my first film was A Woman in Berlin (7/8), a powerful WWII drama (based on the anonymous memoirs of the same name) about a group of German women (led by the amazing Nina Hoss) who are “kept” in a Berlin apartment building by Russian soldiers towards the end of the war. Repeatedly brutalized and raped by the soldiers, the women valiantly vow to survive their collective ordeal by whatever means necessary. (It reminded me a little of the PoW drama Paradise Road in that way.) For our heroine, this involves striking up an unlikely, but not untrue, romance with a Russian officer (Evgeny Sidikhin), who becomes her de-facto protector and, in many ways, savior. Even though this film boasts a beefy running time of more than two hours, it was worth it. Wonderfully acted, perfectly paced and harrowing enough that I don’t really need to see it again, I suspect this may wind up on the foreign-language film Oscar ballot next spring.

Know what won’t be getting any Oscar nods? My second film of the day, the inexplicably bad and unnecessarily pointless drama (comedy?) Gigantic (2/8). Honestly, I have no idea what this movie was about. None. There’s a mattress salesman named Brian (Paul Dano, who – at 24 – barely looks 18, let alone the 28-year-old he’s playing here), who wants to adopt baby from China. Whatev’. There’s Harriet (Zooey Deschanel), a ditzy girl who falls for Brian. And thennnnnnn... nothing happens, really. The story veers from disconnected scene to disconnected scene, with no clear narrative. All of a sudden, we’re on a family hunting outing. Then Brian and Harriet have sex in a pool. Then some weird, anonymous, violent guy keeps showing up out of nowhere (or in the middle of nowhere) and in disguise to try to beat the living shit out of Brian... FOR NO APPARENT REASON. It is never explained, yet it happens repeatedly. Yes, I get that perhaps this character is meant to be symbolic, or a figment of Brian’s imagination (yet the wounds this guys inflicts are very real and visible to other characters), but it was ridiculous. So was the movie. A gigantic waste of time, in my opinion. Walking out of the theater, hoping for explanation from each other as to what we’d all just watched, my fellow audience members seemed to echo the exact same sentiment.

Happily, I unloaded my ticket to Uncertainty on Eric and Dan’s “omigodthatmovieisbeyondterribleandyouwillhateit” advice. So I had the night off. (No unused coupon vouchers left, otherwise I would have hit a primetime screening.)

Celebrity Sightings: Director Atom Egoyan and critic Elvis Mitchell, leaving the Scotiabank.

Line Buzz: Some good buzz on the Skin, confused buzz on Synechdoche, NY and PLENTY of bad buzz on The Brothers Bloom which, it seems, no one liked.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

TIFF 2008 (Vickie’s Diary): A Walkout and a Full Pie!

Much to my relief and delight, I had the morning off today. No movies before noon, so I was actually able to catch up on a little sleep (emphasis on the word “little”), get some blogging done and have a breakfast that didn’t come in a paper bag or cardboard box. Yes, I know I could have used the empty hours to redeem one of my many, many vouchers and see a 9am film, but I was just too pooped to care.

Unfortunately for me, I could have stayed home for several hours more because my first film of the day was my second walkout of the fest. Painfully slow and, as far as I could tell, without narrative, UK director Duane Hopkins’ Better Things was so uninteresting and ironically titled that the jokes practically write themselves. A photographer, Hopkins at least presents a film that is visually stunning, with each scene presented almost as a tableau – beautifully framed and carefully composed. Problem is, those scenes would be infinitely better as still photographs, not assembled as a movie. Instead, the audience is presented with character after character who speaks in a flat, emotionless monotone and whose facial expression is completely, distractingly blank. Vacant. Every. Single. Character. In every scene. And I promptly began making a mental list of all the better things I could be doing with my time:

1. Grab a big lunch.

2. Floss.

3. Go for a walk.

4. Take Grabby Glenda out for ice cream.

After 40 minutes, I packed it in. I understand the creative device: we’re meant to realize that, perhaps, these people – including several teenage drug addicts and an elderly couple – are dead inside and thus walk around in a sad, morose, vacant haze. But it does not make for compelling viewing, I tell you. At least, not for me. The tone of the characters’ voices and their expressionless faces felt overwhelming deliberate... like a giant neon arrow flashing “SYMBOLISM! METAPHOR!” onscreen. I will fully cop to not being a fan of films like this, so please take my review with a grain of salt. Maybe someone else will love this movie and all its beautiful blandness, but I did not. Several people walked out before I did, and the guy who walked out immediately after me said to the volunteers near the door, “Bad, bad movie...” as he left.

As an aside, when I got home and began writing this entry, I flipped to its page in the program book and saw, to my complete non-surprise, that the film was programmed by Noah Cowan, who makes reference to the film’s “oblique narrative strategies.” ‘Nuff said. I should have known better.

I was lucky enough to have a break of several hours – sadly, not enough time to squeeze in any other screening – before my next film, Medicine for Melancholy (5/8), the story of the morning-after repercussions and discoveries after a one-night stand between Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo (Tracey Heggins). With a tip of the hat to Before Sunrise, the story follows the characters through about 24 hours as they discuss what happened, who they are, what they want, etc. I was loving the film until about 2/3 of the way through, when it started to feel like it lost direction. One scene of the pair dancing at a dance club goes on and on and on, and then the dialogue gets a little preachy... I stopped hearing the characters in a conversation, and started hearing the writer-director ranting. Still, it was good and the performances were very strong. It was preceded by a rather graphic and disturbing Nigerian short called Jesus and the Giant (6/8), which examines domestic violence. I’m not really sure why it was programmed alongside Melancholy..., since the tone is so very different and the content so unnerving. Anyway...

Last up was Shakespeare and Victor Hugo’s Intimacies (8/8), a last-minute addition to my schedule, and one I made simply in a last-ditch bid to burn off a coupon. I AM SO GLAD I DID. It was fantastic. The film is a Mexican documentary about a boarding-house owner named Rosita (the director’s grandmother) and one of her boarders, a young gay man named Jorge... who led a creative but tormented life and who may have been hiding a very big secret. Structured beautifully and unfolding like a masterfully crafted whodunit, director Yulene Olaizola’s directorial debut had me riveted. It starts out appearing to be one thing (a wistful old woman recounting her favorite tenant) and gradually morphs into something very, very different. Excellent from start to finish!

Celebrity Sightings: Jay Baruchel, who wasn’t actually at any of the films I saw. He was on an escalator at the AMC.

Line Buzz: My linemates were SILENT today. Alas.

TIFF 2008 (Eric's diary): farewells

Farewell, Toronto. I know we’ve only gone out twice, but I’m pretty sure I’m falling in love with you. I’d really like it if we could go steady. So, you know, if you could talk to your government about granting me instant citizenship, that would be pretty cool. Thanks.

Farewell, TIFF. If I thought you showed me a good time last year, you’ve really outdone yourself this time. I know there are problems -- horribly managed lineups outside the AMC, Hollywood douchebags texting through movies, Coopers’ Camera -- but the fact remains that I named 10 movies out of 312 that I wanted to see most, and you gave them to me. You even let me make my own mistakes, no uncertainty about it, but that’s life.

Saddest of all, I must bid farewell to Vickie. Thank you for spending time with me and Dan every single day and providing endless TIFF counseling. Thank you for being a ticket pre-folder just like me. Thank you for snacks, Biel-hunting, and photo shoots. And thank you for always wanting dessert.

Another year, another TIFF. It’s not really over (it ends this Saturday), but I’m about to get on an airplane and fly back to the year-long poop festival that is Los Angeles. Last year we shared our flight home with Geoffrey Rush. Cross your fingers that by the time you read this, I’ll have spent the next 5 hours becoming best friends with Jessica Biel and interviewing her about how much she sucks at everything.

TIFF 2008 (Vickie’s Diary): Unruly Irish Youngsters = Fun Q&A

Is it just me, or are other folks experiencing relatively empty screenings already? (Despite, of course, the fact that the box office will tell you that every film you’d like is sold out?) That was the case for me at all three movies I attended today, none of which was full and the first two of which had heaps of vacant seats.

First up, Management (5/8), a romantic comedy about a directionless motel employee (Steve Zahn), who falls for a traveling businesswoman (Jennifer Aniston) when she checks in and engages him in a one-night stand. It was a cute enough movie, but it really requires the viewer to suspend disbelief – Zahn’s character, Mike, pursues Aniston’s Sue with such fervent, almost delusional determination that, in the real world, he might just be served with a restraining order. In the film, however, his behavior is considered charming and, while delusional, sweet. Credit Zahn for walking that line deftly. The highlight of the film, though, is Woody Harrelson as an “ex-punk” and yogurt magnate who’s hilariously self-important.

And yet, despite (or perhaps because of) the relatively name-brand cast, the screening wasn’t full by any means. It *was* a 9:45am show, so that might account for the sparse attendance, but it definitely feels like the fest has already begun its annual wind-down.

The rather mediocre turnout for my next film was too bad, because the movie itself was excellent... and so small that it likely won’t see the light of the day at cinemas once the fest ends. Kisses (7/8) is an admittedly somber but fully engaging little (72 minutes!) drama about two preteens (Kelly O’Neill, Shane Curry) living in a housing-project-esque enclave outside of Dublin, who flee their abusive homes for an equally peril-filled adventure in the city. Beautifully shot and nicely told, the film avoids the fairy-tale-ending trap into which it could easily have fallen and, instead, sticks to reality... however unpleasant that might be.

Almost as good as the film was the post-screening Q&A, during which director Lance Daly tried (unsuccessfully) to rein in his so-over-TIFF young stars onstage. Neither O’Neill nor Curry seemed particularly interested in fielding questions – at one point, after a question to which she felt she had no answer, 12-year-old O’Neill said, “I don’t even know why I’m up here.” It was, in a word, fantastic! I’m so used to pretentious and/or precocious young talent being all Hollywood-y and creepy, that this experience with two Irish kids who are not at all caught up in the scene was thoroughly refreshing. Loved it.

Last up was The Dungeon Masters (6/8), which Eric has already discussed below. To his summation (with which I agree) I’ll simply add that there were more than a few moments in the film that my subconscious will revisit in my sleep at some point, I’m sure. The film also reminded me a lot (in tone) of Song Sung Blue, which I saw at HotDocs earlier this year. While it didn’t feel as exploitative as SSB, it had the same “look at how some of these folks don’t realize what their pursuit of their passion does to the rest of their lives.” One particular D&D gamer profiled actually seems to relish destroying relationships, both in the game and in his life... or, I suppose, seems to have almost complete emotional detachment from the hurtful scenarios he creates.

Speaking of detachment, I’m starting to feel like I’m over TIFF. Like, completely. As recently as a few years ago, it was my absolute favorite time of year – I couldn’t wait for August and September to arrive, I would see about 33 films each fest, and I loved loved loved the whole thing. But in the past two years, the love has faded surprisingly quickly. I don’t have that same passion for TIFF any longer, and an event that used to put me squarely on Cloud Nine for a week and a half now leaves me exhausted and annoyed for nine days straight. I dunno, I kind of feel like a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, who’s standing before the judging panel and being told she’s lost her spark... lost her spirit. Inevitably, that girl winds up cut from the show, and I feel a bit like that’s what might happen to me re: TIFF. Time will tell.

Celebrity Sightings: Patton Oswalt.

Line Buzz: I only stood in one line today, and that was with Eric and Dan, so the only line buzz I heard was theirs. Which you can read about below.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

TIFF 2008 (Eric's diary): upper of a downer

Today marks mine and Dan’s final day of TIFFing for 2008. We’re heading back to LA tomorrow morning, and saw only one film this afternoon: The Dungeon Masters (6/8), a documentary about the everyday lives of “Dungeons & Dragons” gamers.

It was, first of all, an INCREDIBLY good-looking movie, almost distractingly well-photographed and edited (I mean that as a major compliment). The Dungeon Masters begins at an annual D&D convention in Indiana, and follows three gamers through the ups and downs of their private lives in the following year. However, it might be misleading to include the “ups” part of that statement, since their stories are awfully depressing.

The film’s primary mission was to portray these people with respectful interest, as opposed to poking fun at them (which, let’s face it, would be the easy route). And don’t get me wrong, the filmmakers maintain the perfect level of objectivity throughout the movie without losing sight of the inherent absurdity involved... but overall, to me, these were sad stories about people struggling to function in the ordinary world. Their real-life triumphs were touching, but it was a little awkward that the film confirmed (at least in these three cases) what you might have already guessed about the lives of D&D gamers.

Nevertheless, The Dungeon Masters was immensely enjoyable and I truly felt affection for the gamers featured. The director, editor, and producer all stuck around for a Q&A, during which Patton Oswalt raised his hand and asked a question! It turns out he is good friends with Keven McAlester (the director), and his question was totally (and hilariously) facetious. I was just thrilled to bring my TIFF ’08 celebrity sighting tally up to 2.

Speaking of celebrity sightings, I need to mention the fact that, all week, Dan and Vickie and I have been on a mission to find Jessica Biel. Her new movie, Easy Virtue (in which she plays a glamorous American divorcee named Larita Huntington) was having its premiere at this year’s TIFF, presenting a really good chance to get an autograph or punch her in the face or otherwise show our appreciation for her body of work.

Alas, no Biel sightings were in the cards for us this week, although Vickie watched news footage of Biel arriving at the red carpet, and Dan and I visited the very spot where the premiere took place a few hours after it was over (we were seeing a movie when the red carpet event actually took place, so we couldn’t even join the gawkers). Apparently Colin Firth (Biel’s co-star) also attended the screening. He’s pretty cool, but has he ever dressed up as Catwoman in a gay Adam Sandler movie? I don’t think so.

TIFF 2008 (Vickie’s Diary): Does Everyone Hate the AMC?

Okay, I thought maybe I was alone, but it seems like EVERYONE has noticed the serious lack of line management at the AMC theater... specifically, the ease with which line-cutters are joining in-going ticketholders and jumping the queues time and time again somewhere between the street-level doors and the entrance to the cinemas. This morning, I listened to one irate filmgoer going on and on about how ridiculous it is, and wondering aloud why his complaints to the AMC and TIFF staff have, thus far, gone unaddressed.

Yes, I understand that figuring out a new plan at this point in the festival may be impossible, and we may just have to deal with losing seats to folks strolling up the escalators from Harvey’s, but hopefully someone associated with the festival will pay attention to this consistent (and infuriating) breach of line protocol and will implement measures to combat it at TIFF 2009. I mean, they hand out those little colored pieces of paper to those folks going in to buy tickets at the box office, so why not do that with people actually going into screenings? Or, better yet, find space INSIDE the AMC and line folks up in there.

My first film of the day was A ROUGH CUT A ROUGH CUT A ROUGH CUT of New York, I Love You (6/8), which I thought was actually really very good. FOR A ROUGH CUT. I mention that it was a ROUGH CUT because the audience – specifically the press in the audience – were asked repeatedly before the screening NOT to review it. Because, in case I haven’t mentioned, it was A ROUGH CUT. Then, a big printed message appeared onscreen, and stayed onscreen for an excessive amount of time, urging the press (again) to not review the ROUGH CUT until seeing the finished film. Thing is, the only elements cited as being temporary in THE ROUGH CUT were the credits, the music and the effects... and I don’t really know that any of those things would make someone who loved a movie suddenly hate it, or vice versa. So, aside from my slice rating, I’ll simply say: the ROUGH CUT (like Paris, je t’aime of a couple of years ago) is made up of love-centric vignettes set in the Big Apple and starring a whole slew of famous people (including Julie Christie, Orlando Bloom, Natalie Portman and her bad acting, Christina Ricci, Robin Wright Penn, Hayden Christensen, Shia LaBouef and Kevin Bacon). Not all are winners, but the ones that are – specifically, the Ethan Hawke pick-up story and the Cloris Leachman/Eli Wallach walk-and-talk segment – are fantastic.

Also strong was the other movie I saw today, the Danish (waving at Linda!) thriller Fear Me Not (7/8), a nicely creepy character study that follows a husband and father named Mikael (Ulrich Thomsen), who volunteers to take part in a pharmaceutical trial for a new anti-depressant... and who promptly begins to experience a shift in his personality. But when the company unexpectedly ends the trial because some participants have been demonstrating volatile side effects, Mikael decides to secretly keep taking his new meds. With, unsurprisingly, disturbing results. It was a really nicely taut tale with a smart twist... and one that instantly creates a new level of unease that I enjoyed very much. It also feels a lot like a film that some American studio will promptly remake, but I so hope that doesn’t happen.

And that's all. It was another short day at TIFF for me. I’m still having trouble filling all the empty vouchers I have, and I am very quickly tiring of the process as I continue to hemorrhage unused-tickets money with each passing day. But I just don’t have the energy to get up early every day to try to get same-days anymore. And I have no interest in rushing anything because I don’t enjoy sitting in the front row off to the far right. Sure, some films have plenty of extra seating once the rush lines are let in, but often they don’t and the poor rushing souls are left to sit in the theater’s crappiest seats. No thanks.

Celebrity Sightings: Ulrich Thomsen.

Line Buzz: Great buzz for Patrik, 1.5 and Hunger, and murmurs of disappointment for Wendy and Lucy.

Monday, September 08, 2008

TIFF 2008 (Eric's diary): festival karma is real

I have so much to tell you about, I don’t even know where to begin. I guess I could start by saying our first movie was called Uncertainty (1/8), and it left me uncertain whether to flee the theater or throw stuff at the screen. I also felt uncertain how many times Uncertainty would repeat the same scenes over and over, but I was fairly certain they weren’t getting better every time. Aren’t film festivals full of uncertainty? (See how much fun this is?)

Uncertainty stars the talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt and also someone named Lynn Collins (both of whom were in attendance) as Bobby and Kate, a totally annoying couple who flip a coin to decide what they’re going to do that day. The movie tracks both possibilities through the next day and a half, intercutting like no one in film school has ever thought of this idea. I’ll tell you something, it’s not a bad idea, and it’s already been made into an awesome movie called Sliding Doors. And if you didn’t think that was any fun, don’t even bother with Uncertainty.

You see, in one of the parallel universes, Bobby and Kate find a cell phone and end up running for their lives as they attempt to extort half a million dollars from the Russian mafia, making the stupidest decision possible at every step of the way. And in the other parallel universe... they make empanadas and find a dog.

Uncertainty is one of those movies where I really wanted to go with it, I really wanted to like it and find it artful and challenging and thought-provoking, but it is absolutely devoid of subtext. During the Q&A, one woman raised her hand just to offer the comment, “Layers... wow. Bravo.” I can only imagine that Uncertainty sheer dumbitude regressed her to the moment right after she had seen Sliding Doors instead.

Fortunately, Uncertainty was a way better bad movie than Coopers’ Camera, because at least this movie was HILARIOUS. About 10 minutes into Uncertainty, Dan and I locked eyes to exchange the requisite “You think this sucks too, right?” look, leaving us to barely compose ourselves every time Bobby and Kate talked about how they were uncertain about stuff.

This was all well and good since we left the theater grinning from ear to ear, but it made me nervous. Two lousy TIFF movies in a row? Would we come back from this? Would our next film suck too? I didn’t know anything about our evening film, a Serbian offering entitled Carlston za Ognjenku (Tears For Sale) -- it was a wild card choice and I was starting to doubt that it would pay off.

As it turns out, we needed our last two movies to karmically break even after seeing Tears For Sale (8/8), and it was totally worth it! Try to imagine a cross between Baz Luhrmann, Tarsem, and Pushing Daisies (and of course, imagine that would be divine instead of disastrous). I’m assuming your head just exploded as well. This was truly an experience like no other.

The story is set in a remote Serbian village where all the men have died at war, leaving a population of misery-obsessed babes whose only hope for losing their virginity is one bedridden old man fed through a tube. When one of two sisters inadvertently causes the old man’s death, both sisters are banished from the village and given three days to return with a man or their grandmother’s angry spirit will take them to Hell, where there won’t even be naked men to have sex with (as promised in local folklore).

This is the setup for a visual feast whose CGI effects, fancy editing, and wild imagination put many American blockbusters to shame. In Tears For Sale, these things never seem (needlessly) flashy or self-serving, perhaps because they actually serve the plot as well as the rich Serbian folklore embedded throughout the film. I don’t remember the last time I so thoroughly believed in such unbelievable material, but it all made sense at the time. As Dan and I left the theater, he commented, “If I could turn around and attend another showing of that movie right this second, I would.”

During the Q&A, the director, Uros Stojanovic -- a lovably modest man with a crazy hat collection I can totally respect -- was asked about his next project or plans. “I know this is a very bad thing to say at a film festival,” he said guiltily, “but I am trying to run away and make Hollywood movies.” To be honest, we could use a guy like him. And if you ever get a chance to watch Tears For Sale, don’t you dare miss it!

TIFF 2008 (Vickie's Diary): First Walkout of the Fest!

Okay, I want to start by thanking Eric for a nice, beefy entry yesterday, because I am so seriously wiped that I don’t want to blog at all and would love nothing more than to shut down my laptop this very second and go to bed. So, at least I can rest easier knowing you’ve had TIFF stuff to read and that my briefer-than-usual post might be enough.

[As an aside, I would like it noted on the public record that I love Eric and Dan. Truly, madly and deeply. And I will be very, very sad when they head home on Wednesday.]


I began the day with The Burning Plain (7/8), a surprisingly effective multi-storyline drama from Guillermo Arriaga, who penned other multi-storyline dramas (of varying degrees of efficacy) like Babel and 21 Grams. Jumping back and forth between several seemingly unrelated characters and the various traumas in their lives, and featuring a cast of largely unknown actors, the film delivers some nice work from A-lister Charlize Theron... but man, oh man, what’s with Kim Basinger? As lonely housewife Gina, who enters into an affair, she does not stop shaking for the entire time she’s onscreen! She is constantly trembling and quivering and jittery, and that seems to be her new signature move – conveying everything from fear to anxiety to stress to sadness via non-stop tremors. Hers was easily the weakest link in this otherwise strong chain.

Now, to backtrack a bit, my one must-see flick at TIFF 2008 was Wendy and Lucy. I tried to snag a ticket every day (and in the initial ticket lottery) without success and feared my quest would be a failure... until this morning, when I went to the TIFF box office at TLS at 8am (!) and once again requested that film for later in the day. As if by magic, it was available. OMG. I finally did it. Four days of incessant checking finally paid off! It was my film-fest Everest, and I managed to ascend it.

Problem is, Wendy and Lucy (5/8), which had received huge amounts of positive buzz and critical acclaim turned out to be, in my opinion, just okay. A true indie film in every gritty, low-budget sense of the word – save for its name lead, Michelle Williams – the bare-bones story centers on a troubled young woman (Williams) en route to Alaska, who stops in a small town, gets arrested for shoplifting and loses her dog (the titular Lucy). That’s it. I understand it’s a character study, but for me that character left me feeling a little disappointed. Okay, a lot disappointed. The movie was fine, but I had hoped that it would wow me to such a degree that it would be my fave of the fest. Sadly, that won’t be the case.

Speaking of movies that won’t be my festival fave, can we talk for a moment about Cooper’s Camera? Omigoditwassopainful. So much potential and yet so terrible. I can’t even review it or rate it properly because, as Eric points out, I left a half-hour in. Between the late start time, the unfunny script and the consistently shaky hand-held camerawork (that started giving me a serious headache) I was ready to call it a day and head home. I had no idea whether Eric and Dan were enjoying it, but I wasn’t going to stick around to find out. Turns out, I missed absolutely nothing and I’m supremely relieved that I high-tailed out when I did.

Possibly even more tragic than Cooper’s Camera, though, was Moviepie’s Eric and the Kingdom of the Lost Smoothie, which screened at the Dundas subway station earlier in the day. It was heartbreaking. Young Eric had just procured a fantastic Vitapom smoothie from Jugo Juice and was savouring its deliciousness as we approached the turnstiles to head back to the hotel. Suddenly, a subway pulled into the station, we all scrambled to get out our transit passes in time to get through the turnstiles and onto the subway, and – in the frenzy – Eric lost his grip on the cup and his spectacular smoothie crashed in a most spectacular explosion-of-fruity-goodness way all over the floor. To say that he was distraught over the loss would be an understatement. I have never seen a sadder clown in all my life, and I hoped that something... anything... would cheer him up.

Unfortunately, Cooper’s Camera followed thereafter so, you know, not so much.

Celebrity Sightings: Samantha Bee, Jason Jones, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald

Line Buzz: Still MORE people complaining about ticketing! There were two women chatting in one of the theaters before a screening, and one said, “I have never had this much trouble trying to exchange my tickets!” Sing on, sister. Some good buzz for 35 Rhums and Once Upon a Time in Rio.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

TIFF 2008 (Eric's diary): from Monaco to Mississauga

I mean that title literally and figuratively, if you know what I mean, although I don’t mean any offense towards Mississaugans just because our first dud of the festival is set there. But that comes later.

First, Dan and I caught a morning movie -- by the way, I am no longer using quotes around the word morning because apparently the Scotiabank Theatre food court doesn’t think people eat lunch until 3 PM, when it finally opened -- called La Fille de Monaco (5/8) (The Girl from Monaco). It was a charming, sexy French comedy with a slight thriller twist near the end, which was intriguing but disappointingly not fully explored.

Bertrand (Fabrice Luchini) is a stuffy, aging lawyer in Monaco for a highly-publicized case. Against his wishes, Bertrand’s client has hired a thuggish bodyguard to accompany him at all times and even sleep in his hotel room. And that’s when the titular girl shows up: this is Audrey (Louise Bourgoin), and she is a sexy local weather girl who is terrible at her job but wonderful at intoxicating Bertrand with her lack of inhibition. Bertrand’s bodyguard warns him against this girl, but he is smitten... and his mind is firmly off his big case.

This was exactly the movie I was expecting when I chose it -- it was certainly not too deep, but it kept me entertained for the entire hour and a half, the locations were gorgeous, and who doesn’t enjoy listening to people speak French? And it is starting to look like Dan sleeps through one film per festival, so better it was this one than the one where Jean-Claude Van Damme is a great actor.

Interestingly, the actress playing the title role (in attendance for the Q&A, although I’m pretty sure she spoke zero English) was an actual weather girl with no film experience when the director took a chance and gave her the starring role in this movie. Bourgoin was fabulous in the role and obviously has an acting career ahead of her, but Vickie saw her in the lobby and reported that the instant Bourgoin turned away from fawning festivalgoers, her luminous smile slid right into bitchface.

Maybe she was just jet-lagged.

In the afternoon, we ate an early dinner with Vickie, her sister Trixie, and her friend Valerie. They were all delightful and I loved every minute, especially when the topic of America’s Next Top Model came up and Valerie volunteered, “I don’t know that much about Tyra Banks, but sometimes she does things that make me embarrassed for her.” I laughed so hard I almost snorted chicken pot pie out of my nose. But you know what? I would have looked fierce doing it. And that is the difference between just a pretty girl and a model.

Unfortunately, it was just about time to come down from our TIFF ’08 high, and we should have known because our next film, Cooper's Camera (2/8), was the first screening we shared with Vickie... just like last year’s Nothing Is Private... AND it was shown in the same theater where we saw Nothing Is Private. I guess we can’t say the universe didn’t warn us, but on the other hand, we had a lot to look forward to: this “1985 VHS home video”-style comedy stars Jason Jones, Samantha Bee, and Dave Foley, all of whom were in the audience for the film’s WORLD PREMIERE.

To make a long story short, Trixie walked out after 10 minutes. Vickie walked out after 20 more minutes. Dan and I stuck around for the whole movie, but walked out on the Q&A.

The film was just awful. The TIFF programmer who introduced Coopers’ Camera enthusiastically announced that after 2 minutes, they KNEW they had to show this magnificently crafted comedy that would totally change our lives for the hilarious. The filmmakers would probably not care to know what I was thinking after 2 minutes of Coopers’ Camera.

The plot centered around the titular Cooper family, who get a fancy new VHS camera on Christmas Day (IN 1985! LOOK AT THE HILARIOUSLY BAD HAIRSTYLES! LOOK AT ME NOT LAUGHING!) and film throughout the day as their family falls apart and pulls back together on a thoroughly unpleasant journey of human ugliness. But, you know, it’s hilarious because the house is full of ‘80s stuff and there’s a lot of pee and poop and sex jokes.

And -- this is something that bothered me throughout the movie -- it didn’t remotely resemble VHS. It was obviously shot in HD digital video with some filter applied to make it look like VHS, but it didn’t work at all. So it was impossible to ever feel like this was taking place in the past, on top of the fact that it played like a tedious SNL sketch.

There was probably a collective 8 minutes of funny in all of Coopers’ Camera -- and to be fair, the parts that made me laugh REALLY made me laugh, such as the gift exchange sequence where grandma receives wrapped produce -- but this should never have become a movie. I still love Jones and Bee on The Daily Show, and I’ll never stay mad at Dave Foley for long, but overall this was an awfully depressing affair.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

TIFF 2008 (Eric’s diary): Hunan and homos

Our streak of wildly good fortune at this year’s TIFF continued, beginning with this morning’s film, The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World (7/8), a documentary whose subject may not have been a surprise, but whose subject matter ended up surprising me very much.

Clearly, this movie was initially attractive to Dan because it’s like “NPR presents...” (and as it turns out, the film has also taken the form of a four-part BBC series, which is close enough), and that’s exactly how it played. After drawing us in with practical aspects of running what is essentially an extremely theatrical factory, the film delves deeper into the lives of Chinese families who choose to hold their banquets at T.B.C.R.I.T.W., painting a vivid portrait of modern Chinese life and values.

Most compelling is the story of a young waitress at T.B.C.R.I.T.W., who left home at 15 years old to earn money so her twin sister can go to medical school. Because their family is extremely poor and the father is unable to work, and although both daughters dreamed of becoming doctors, only one of them will ever get to study while the other toils for what amounts to spare change. What makes this sacrifice so heartbreaking is the total lack of resentment on either of their parts, and although neither girl can help weeping through their interviews, it is firmly understood that the good of their family comes first.

T.B.C.R.I.T.W. is also jam-packed with footage that (1) reminds you that American Chinese food is barely related to actual Chinese food, and (2) makes you never want to eat Chinese food again. Sorry, but after witnessing a live snake become an entrée in less than 2 minutes, and the severed chunks of meat are still wiggling and contracting on the plate, I’ll have to take a break from even the most bastardized Chinese food.

Our second film, Patrik 1,5 (8/8) was already whispered to be a festival fave, and I was THRILLED that we got tickets to this one. It’s a Swedish film about a gay couple trying to adopt a baby, and though a clerical error, instead of receiving a Patrik aged 1 1/2, end up with a surly 15-year-old with a criminal record and a whole lot of homo-hatred. Yes, it’s a comedy, but it also dealt with weighty issues so gracefully that much of the theater was sniffling joyfully through the credits.

I’ve seen lots of good and great movies at film festivals, but you can tell it’s a special screening when 99% of the audience sticks around for the Q&A (usually, even in very good screenings, at least half the audience bails ASAP just ‘cause). Patrik 1,5 features two pitch-perfect performances at its center: Gustaf Skarsgård as Göran, one of the dads, and Thomas Ljungman as Patrik. Göran’s husband, Sven (Torkel Petersson) objects to Patrik so much that he moves out, leaving the two of them to develop an unlikely bond that is totally earned by the end of the movie.

It actually feels like a small miracle to have experienced a gay movie that doesn’t suck ass -- maybe Patrik 1,5 is so special because it bypasses the whole notion of a “gay movie” in favor of telling a story about gay people. (No surprise that Patrik 1,5 comes from Sweden!) For that matter, it is nice to see that the “misunderstanding forces two disparate souls to learn from each other” plot device still holds water -- it’s just lazily abused in so many American movies.

All in all, another fantastic day for movies and a very special couple of screenings with entertaining, informative Q&As!

Celebrity sighting: Ellen Burstyn coming down the escalator at the AMC food court. She had done a Q&A for the screening Vickie just attended (Lovely, Still), but I like to pretend homegirl was aching for some Caribbean Queen or Subway. Even Oscar winners gotta eat.