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.

TIFF 2008 (Vickie’s Diary): The Great Equalizers

I like to believe that the universe tries its best to maintain balance at all times, so that whenever something crappy happens somewhere, something amazing might happen somewhere else. That’s kind of what today’s TIFFing was like.

If you recall, yesterday sucked hard in my TIFF world, so it was with a mixture of dread and optimism that I began anew this morning. I’ve had insomnia for the past several days so, despite desperately needing sleep, I was wide awake by 7am. I figured I’d take my lemons and make lemonade, so I got up, got dressed and headed down to the box office at TLS to see if I could score any tickets to anything today, since all I had lined up was an evening screening.

Things got off to a good start – a subway arrived right away and, when I arrived at TLS, the box office was nearly empty, allowing me to be served immediately. (Note: Grabby Glenda was on duty this morning, but I breezed right past her and never made eye contact... though I did notice my shoulders tense.) Despite going in with five picks (including alternates), I only wound up with one ticket. But I told myself that was better than nothing at all, and trekked back home for a couple of hours of breakfast, rest and email.

Even though it wasn’t my first (or even second) choice, I was thoroughly delighted by my first screening of the day – in part because the film was great, and in part because my film-going experience was great, as well. The movie was Lovely, Still (7/8), a really sweet and very poignant (read: yes, Vickie cried) love story about a lonely grocery store clerk (Martin Landau) and the romance he strikes up with the new neighbor (Ellen Burstyn) across the street. Written and directed by a young fellow named Nik Fackler – who’s all of 24 years old! – the film changes tone a few times, with remarkable results... even though I kind of figured out what was happening about halfway through. The performances from the two leads were strong, and the post-film Q&A – which featured both of them, plus Fackler and co-star Adam Scott – was fantastic. Spirited, strangely moving (hearing Fackler’s explanation as to why he wrote the story in the first place actually put a lump in my throat) and really funny.

Also funny: after the film, I met up with Eric and Dan in the food court below the AMC. As we stood there chatting, I looked up to see Ellen Burstyn descending the escalator and being led through the food court. It was simultaneously amazing and sad. I mean, was there no more dignified way for her to leave the venue than having her shuttled past Thai Express and Subway? She’s won an Oscar!

And while we’re on the subject of the AMC, guess what? You don’t ever need to line up for ANY screenings there! Know why? Because there is ZERO security between the street-level entrance and the entrance to the actual cinema in which you’ll see your film! Isn’t that awesome?!

No. No, it’s not. This free-for-all approach to ushering ticket holders into the venue is a thousand times less secure and more prone to line cutting than any other theater in TIFF’s history. I know this because today was my first actual screening there, and I was maybe ninth or tenth in line. As the line was let in and we began our three-escalator ascent through the shopping concourse, we just merged with ALLLLL the other people ascending the escalators – the folks heading up to buy tickets at the box office, the tourists going to the merch room to pick up T-shirts, the people on their way to the food court for lunch or to Future Shop for a new TV... or the ones with tickets to our screening who were just JOINING THE MASSES AND CUTTING IN LINE. Not just one or two, dozens! When I got to my theater (remember, I was near the front of the outdoor line-up), there were easily 30 or so people already inside, and a slew of strangers (who hadn’t been in line in front me) suddenly materialized between the entrance to the building and the entrance to cinema 2.

And, really, kudos to the queue jumpers for the foresight. Well done. Why bother standing outside in the line, when you can just loiter in the lobby (or in the food court), keep an eye on traffic and just join your fellow ticket holders when they’re let in? It’s so much easier and takes so much less time and effort than waiting outside for an hour, and chances are no one will be able to thwart you because you’ll be alongside a whole bunch of your comrades doing the exact same thing! Even line policers like me are powerless to single out the cutters because there are just so many.

Yet another big strike against the AMC, IMO.

BUT... I should add that I had a delightful time waiting for Lovely, Still to begin because I struck up a nice chat with a group of women who took the seats next to mine. We talked about what we’d seen so far, what we hoped our impending screening would be... and then the nice lady sitting next to me complimented me on my shoes and actually offered me some of her just-purchased Twizzlers! Multiple times! It was such a nice gesture, something so small and seemingly insignificant and yet so diametrically opposed to the asshattiness of Grabby Glenda. It, and the movie, warmed my heart.

Eric, Dan and I then headed to Yorkville for (we hoped) random celebrity sightings, but saw nary a celeb. We did, however, pass the two loud, obnoxious eTalk “lounges” on Yorkville Ave., outside of which were scads of young film fans hoping to see, I dunno, Zac Efron I think? Some other teenybopper? Based on some of the serious spazzing out we witnessed, I think of few of them might have been successful. So, we wound up shooting interview footage instead.

My second screening was okay, but not great. I should tell you that I love Amanda Peet, and will happily see anything she’s in, so (again, not my first or even second choice for this timeslot) I picked up a ticket for $5 a Day (5/8), from director Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls). It centers on a con artist (Christopher Walken), who’s dying and who embarks on a cross-country road trip with his estranged son (Alessandro Nivola) in a bid to rebuild their long-flawed relationship. I can’t put my finger on what was wrong with this movie, but it just didn’t resonate with me at all. Something was missing. It felt like I’d seen this movie before, more than once, and it didn’t have enough Peet. It was, in a word, meh. And, even though it was the film's world premiere, only the director showed and gave a rather long-winded introduction.

And that was it for today. If all goes as planned, I’ll have three films tomorrow. I made the mistake – during one of my “let’s see if I can exchange some vouchers” expeditions – of not ensuring I’d have enough time between two of my films, so I already know that there’s no way I’ll make the one I currently have slated for noon. Fingers crossed I can get a same-day ticket for something else!

Celebrity Sightings: Ellen Burstyn, Martin Landau, Adam Scott.... and Michael J. Fox, in town to pick up his star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. (I walked past the outdoor ceremony on my way to the Scotiabank tonight.)

Line Buzz: Okay, for real, people are mad this year. Today I was in line and heard a guy behind me actually say that he was DISGUSTED at how TIFF is devolving, and he was on a tear about the AMC, in particular. Some negative buzz on Birdsong and some "I agree with you" re: 33 Scenes From Life.

Friday, September 05, 2008

TIFF 2008 (Eric's diary): two films about aging

It may be impossible to put your finger on just one reason why it’s such a valuable experience to attend an international film festival, but the films we saw today perfectly encapsulate two of them. It’s unlikely that any of our remaining days at this year’s TIFF will pack quite the emotional rollercoaster we’ve had today (though it doesn’t hurt to hope).

First up was J.C.V.D. (8/8), the new Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. But wait! He plays himself, an aging star fighting a losing custody battle, back in Belgium to clear his head when a trip to the post office gets him involved in a violent hostage situation. Soon the event is a media sensation, with crowds of local Van Damme fans causing as much commotion as shoot-outs with the police. One of the perpetrators can’t believe he is suddenly “hanging out” with Van Damme, asking all about Hard Target and his rivalry with Steven Seagal.

It’s a surreal and inherently humorous situation, but handled with surprising realism that might have had more in common with any of Van Damme’s other violent action films -- except that Jean-Claude Van Damme is the most compelling character Van Damme has ever played. He has other things on his mind. His daughter. His legal fees. His fading career. He's getting old. Participating in real-life action is the last thing he needs today. (This is not to say the movie isn’t kick-ass and action-packed, however. IT’S ALSO GREAT IN THAT WAY.)

Before the film, one of the fest directors explained that he saw J.C.V.D. at Cannes and couldn’t believe his favorite movie of the festival starred Jean-Claude Van Damme. He promised we would see a new side of J.C.V.D., and we did. At one point he delivers a several-minute-long monologue that took the entire audience’s breath away. That’s the gift of a festival like TIFF: unexpected greatness can come from anywhere. Even Jean-Claude Van Damme.

In the evening, we caught Adela (7/8), a no-budget drama from the Philippines about a grandmother living in poverty off the side of a major highway. Adela and many other families reside in a garbage dumpsite, functioning as a community like any other. Today is Adela’s 80th birthday, and she eagerly expects a visit from her daughter and grandchildren. Sadly, Adela’s birthday does not turn out exactly as she hoped.

Adela was shot on grainy digital video, obviously among people actually living in these conditions. The style fits the subject matter well, as long takes (occasionally over-long) set us squarely within the reality of life on the dumpsite. Wordless for long stretches at a time, we accompany Adela as she travels to buy food, visit her husband’s grave, and wander the beach in solitude.

Adela is surrounded by new life -- in fact, she delivers a baby in the first scene. Airplanes constantly fly overhead, a subtle reminder of human beings moving from one place to another -- Adela cannot go anywhere. Her community is abound with new beginnings, as her life is coming to its end. And eventually it becomes clear that her grown children have forgotten her.

The director was in attendance for a Q&A, along with Anita Linda, the 83-year-old star who traveled all the way from the Philippines to be here in Toronto. There were tears in her eyes as all she could say was, “Thank you... thank you.” Afterwards, there were tears in the eyes of MANY Filipinos who lined up to greet Anita, kiss her on the cheek, and thank her for her extraordinary performance.

You see, you never, ever know where magic will strike at an international film festival.

TIFF 2008 (Vickie’s Diary): The Great Same-Day Line Fiasco of 2008

Let me preface this entry by saying: I am a crotchety TIFF veteran. I will fully cop to whining and complaining about how things have changed for the worse, and how the tickets are too expensive and hard to get now, and how the general vibe of the entire event has gone from “fun public festival” to “industry-centric circus that frequently shuts out the very people who made it what it is today in the first place.” So, you know, I realize that I rant. But I think today may go down in history as the single most frustrating line experience I have ever had in my 18 years attending the festival.

To backtrack, the new AMC venue at Yonge and Dundas, and the accompanying relocation of the main TIFF box office to Toronto Life Square (henceforth known as TLS) are, as predicted, seriously flawed in terms of their user-friendliness and convenience. Yes, they’re on the subway line (unlike the Scotiabank) and the seats in the new AMC theaters are comfy and in stadium style... but there ends the bliss. I’m not sure if the TIFF organizers ever sat down with the property management folks at TLS to explain exactly what’s entailed in having a box office on site, but it feels like they didn’t and that the folks who own TLS suddenly decided that maybe huge line-ups taking up precious space would be an enormous pain in their collective ass.

Because someone somewhere vetoed the notion of indoor lines, meaning all lines for all TIFF-related activities (screenings, ticket purchases, whatnot) are outside. On Dundas. Wrapping around to Victoria, where hordes and hordes of students (and businesspeople and assorted pedestrians) file past every minute of every hour from about 8am until after dark. Nevermind the traffic and the exhaust fumes and the almost constant smell of stale urine. So pretty.

But having numerous lines outside for an indoor venue of that scope also leads to mass confusion, for festival goers and, apparently, for certain TIFF staffers. The key word in that sentence is “confusion,” and it’s the main reason for what can only be described as my truly ridiculous and sort of infuriating attempt at procuring a same-day ticket for a film at the AMC earlier today.

It was beyond absurd.

I wanted to redeem one of my many vouchers for a same-day ticket for an AMC screening. The end. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. Instead, it set in motion a series of events that left me standing in the wrong lines at the wrong times thanks to a supremely self-important (and clearly inept) volunteer upstairs inside the facility. I mention that so you know that I know the staffers working the lines outside actually know what they’re doing and are doing it well. They have a massive job on their hands, trying to maintain order amid the mayhem, and they’re doing a pretty good job under the circumstances. Congrats. But it only takes one clueless person elsewhere to throw a big wrench into the well-oiled machine they've created.

Initially, I began writing out today’s fiasco in great detail, outlining every ridiculous moment, but when I noticed I was on page three and only halfway through the story, I figured brevity would be better... for you and for my sanity. (I did, however, go on camera afterwards to recount everything – EVERYTHING – on film for Eric’s documentary, and when I was finally finished my loooong single take, he turned off the camera and said, “That was... amazing.”)

In a nutshell, the goings-on go like this: after repeated incidents of misdirection and line confusion, the movie I wanted – which still had tickets available when I’d arrived at TLS – had sold out by the time I reached a box office cashier. I was so frustrated and fed-up by the whole process at that point that I might just have cried (out of sheer frustration and defeat, not because I was missing this particular film) had I not headed right over to Eric and Dan for comfort and laughter. I’m fairly certain that my blood pressure shot up a good 50 or 60 points in the hour and 15 minutes of back-and-forth fiasco-ing, and it took me more than an hour to shake the tension afterwards. Even the actual retyping of the tale tonight was getting angrier and angrier (sorry, keyboard!) as I recalled the whole thing. So I scrapped it and rewrote. Believe it or not, this is MUCH shorter.

Because, did I mention?, I was manhandled. Manhandled. By the same (inside TLS) female volunteer on whom I blame everything. As I was standing in the box office line inside the actual TIFF box office, she unexpectedly GRABBED ME BY THE ARM from behind, literally yanking me out of one line and pulling me by my upper arm all the way to some line supervisor as though I was a petulant four-year-old. What. The. F**k?!

Seriously. She grabbed my upper arm, pulled me and firmly hung onto me without ever saying A WORD to me as she physically moved me from point A to point B as though I should know what the hell she was doing or why. (Turned out she was bringing me to the line supervisor to explain the situation in a bid to move me further up what turned out to be another WRONG line. WTF?!) I was so shocked by her HIIIIGHLY inappropriate behavior that I didn’t even know what to say or how to react. Who does that???? When did volunteers get permission to touch, let alone manhandle, festival goers who are just standing in line, waiting? Grabby Glenda instantly earned herself a nickname and a spot on my TIFF shit list alongside Mouthy Martha and Dora the Dope.

She never explained herself, or apologized, or even offered a quick “hi, sorry, would you mind stepping over here instead?” Nothing. Just a grab and a yank.

And then, after everything... after her pretty much ruining my afternoon... she had the audacity to cheerfully say to me (as I was later stomping out of the box office, ticket-less), “So, did you get your ticket?”

“NO, ACTUALLY, I DID NOT!” I snarled back, opting not to stop and launch into a loud, expletive-laden rant.

“Oh, are you going to try to rush it?” she shouted after me.

Was she kidding me?! STAND IN ANOTHER LINE?!

“NO!” I yelled over my shoulder through a mild rage haze.

Anyway, very long story short: from now on, I know where to stand if I want to buy a same-day AMC ticket. No thanks to Grabby Glenda. And I have calmed down, realized the insignificance of the entire joke of an afternoon and will be moving on now that I’ve told you all about it.

Unfortunately, this whole incident set the appropriate tone for my sole screening of the day – the Polish drama 33 Scenes From Life (4/8) – which turned out to be disappointing. Made up of a series of rather bleak vignettes spanning a year in the life of a photographer (Julia Jentsch), the film purports to be about adulthood and responsibility as a result of love, death and loss. Um. Okay. I guess. Only... I actually had to read the program book when I got home to find out what the hell the movie had been about. Honestly, watching it, I had no idea. And, given the STONE SILENCE with which people filed out of the theater, neither did anyone else.

Celebrity Sightings: None.

Line Buzz: Unsurprisingly, a LOT of festgoers are pissed off about ticketing this year. Lots of frustration over the lottery, the news of the donor process, the practices at the AMC (with the multiple lines), and the inordinate number of seemingly untrained staff (I watched as one cashier at the box office had a customer actually take back her order, walk away and get BACK IN LINE because she was so fed up with the volunteer’s lack of knowledge!). And, from press-screening whispers, a LOT of positive buzz around Anne Hathaway and her film, Rachel Getting Married.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

TIFF 2008 (Eric's diary): stop-motion, start festival

Today we kicked off the first day of TIFF with a little tourism, hitting something called Casa Loma. It’s a mansion (which felt more like a castle) built by a very rich guy who built a very big house before losing all his money and dying while living with his chauffeur. All I know is, we turned off the electronic tour guide and posed erotically on top of a tower. It was worth the price of admission.

Like yesterday, the overbearing heat sapped our energy and caused rivers of sweat to flow down our faces. If you thought Canada in September might be chilly, try putting on a Victorian dress and having professional photographs taken by an angry Russian woman. I did. More explanation later.

Most importantly, however, tonight kicked off the festival and we attended our first screening of the year at the Varsity! Tonight’s film was Edison & Leo (7/8), the first stop-motion animated feature produced in Canada. EVER! The director, producers, writers, several voice actors, and several animators were in attendance and participated in an awkward Q&A in which they all took turns trying to avoid speaking in front of the microphone.

The film itself was just awesome, and visually tasty from start to finish. It concerned George Edison, a 19th century inventor whose son, Leo, has been cursed to be “electrified” for life, leaving him unable to touch anyone or anything without electrocuting it. It had an irresistibly dark sense of humor well-paired with the visual quirks of stop-motion animation. I am hopeful that Edison & Leo will see the light of day beyond this festival.

TIFF 2008 (Vickie’s Diary): Let’s Get Rolling...

Today is the first official day of TIFF 2008, when screenings (though still limited at this point) get underway and the world waits in breathless anticipation for a sighting of international superstar Paul Gross (raise your hand if you just said, “Sorry, who?”), whose labour-of-love film, Passchendaele, opens the fest. For the uninformed, he’s kind of Canada’s answer to Kevin Costner.

The fest does not yet get underway for me, however, because I have no films today. Shocking, I know. But I have a seen a few films at pre-TIFF screenings so, for your edification and the sake of this blog, some capsule reviews:

Plus tard, tu comprendras (5/8) is part family drama and part Holocaust drama and nicely small in scope, though a little slow in terms of its execution. Set in 1987 Paris, with the Klaus Barbie trial serving as a backdrop, the film follows a man (Hippolyte Girardot) trying to uncover the truth about what happened to his parents during WWII, as he unearths some surprising information in the process. His aging mother (Jeanne Moreau), however, never speaks of the past and would rather leave it all behind. Well-acted but nothing really exceptional in terms of the subject matter, and I found my mind wandering a lot during the first half.

Similarly, The Hurt Locker (5/8), while occasionally engaging, feels a bit like a retread of other war films before it (most notably, Jarhead and Kimberly Pierce’s Stop-Loss) that dealt with disillusioned young soldiers. Jeremy Renner stars as James, an army explosives specialist, who joins a Baghdad bomb squad but consistently puts himself and his increasingly frustrated colleagues in danger due to his seemingly unquenchable thirst for adrenaline. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and made up of vignettes involving the soldiers at work, it has more of a slice-of-military-life feel to it than a film with a clear dramatic narrative. Which is totally fine, but it made it difficult for me to sympathize with any of the characters – the ones I liked best (played by Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes) were essentially bit parts. The strange coda involving Evangeline Lilly (!) also seemed out of place and didn’t resonate with me nearly as much as it should have. It was decent, but not amazing.

Surreal. Weird. Bizarre. Disjointed. Poetic. Beautiful. Fascinating. Sad. Confusing. Those are just a few of the descriptors I could use for Synecdoche, NY (7/8), the sublime directorial debut of writer Charlie Kaufman, who also penned the screenplay. Trying to encapsulate this wonderfully freaky and subtly poignant film is extremely difficult, since it folds in on itself over and over and over again and defies any sort of linear storytelling. In a very broad nutshell, though, the film spans decades and centers on small-town theater director Caden (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who’s having an existential (and professional and marital) crisis and decides to mount the most important piece of theater of his life... which, in turn, literally becomes his life as he recreates everything and everyone in it. Brilliant madness that’s blessed with a kick-ass supporting cast (including Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson and Dianne Wiest). It’s definitely not a film for everyone, and it does have a distinct downer vibe to it... but watching this intricate cinematic tapestry unfurl was, for me, magical.

Equally magical and infinitely charming, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (7/8) is a loopy, sweet and undeniably fun all-night misadventure for its titular characters – heartbroken Nick (Michael Cera), who can’t seem to get over his fembot ex (Alexis Dziena), and acerbic hipster Norah (Kat Dennings), who’s fallen for a mix-CD maker she’s never met – and, more importantly, the longest supporting turn by a piece of gum EVER. Nick and Norah meet cute at a club, and his pals are assigned the duty of getting her supremely drunk best friend (Ari Graynor) home. Mayhem and a rockin’ soundtrack promptly ensue when the guys lose the girl – literally – and everyone searches Manhattan for the missing charge. Blessed with winning chemistry between its leads and a nice heart beating beneath its surface, the movie is one of those rare festival films that I actually wish had been about 20 minutes longer. Oh, and Graynor gets the MVP award for her work as the fully blitzed Caroline, which makes the movie.

Monday, September 01, 2008

TIFF 2008 (Vickie’s Diary): Excuse Me, Miss... Is Your Record Broken?

Okay, I know I said I wouldn’t continue to beat the dead horse that is the annual TIFF ticket lottery, but I only managed to snag 18 of the 29 films I selected this year, so I’m feeling a renewed sense of indignation over the whole thing. Last year, by some fluke, I got everything I requested, but this year the planets have un-aligned themselves accordingly and as expected.

But I think this will be my final rant on the subject, because how much more can be said? Not much. Except: the lottery blows.

Before anyone chimes in with “but this way is FAIR!”, let me just say: it is not fair. Not at all. Yes, it removes the first-come-first-served element so that all orders – regardless of drop-off time – are considered equal in the eyes of the TIFF gods, but how is it “fair” that you pay for tickets you don’t get?

Yes, I understand that those of us who don’t get what we’ve asked for can then re-ask for those same movies, or other movies, in the soul-crushing, serpentine queue known as the “exchange line,” but at what point does the entire process just become so ridiculous and time-consuming and labor-intensive that it’s just not worth the trouble?

Let’s say you’re me, and you’re missing 11 films – not surprisingly, almost all of those absentee screenings are on that first Fri-Sat-Sun weekend when, it seems, EVERYTHING is sold out. So, you try to find replacement films on the days where your schedule is suddenly severely lacking. But the Board of Lies says, “Sorry, sucker. Every film on those days is sold out.”

Then what?

Then you try for same-day tickets during the fest, which entails getting to a venue’s box office at 8am (or earlier)? Even though there’s no guarantee any tickets will be available?

Or you try for rush tickets, which involves getting to a venue some three hours (or more) before the start time of a film? Even though there’s no guarantee any tickets will be available?

And what if you were just coming into town FOR that first weekend and wound up with, say, 4 of your 10 picks? What if you couldn’t find replacement films? Or you didn’t have time to stand in line for hours on end because, you know, it eats up all your movie-going time and there’s no guarantee any tickets will be available?

Well, then you probably try to sell off your vouchers in some line somewhere, or you just eat the cost of the tickets you didn’t use. GREAT news for the fest (cha-CHING!); too bad for you.

Basically, the entire TIFF ticket lottery can be boiled down to: there’s no guarantee any tickets will be available. But the fest will nonetheless happily take your money off your hands, whether or not you manage to get what’d you like. Oh, and this just in: if you’re a festival “donor” and you drop at least $250 in their coffers, your order(s) will be processed BEFORE the ticket lottery. So, I suppose, if you’re willing to part with another couple hundred bucks, you can avoid the lottery headache altogether! Thing is, as I discussed with my linemates this morning, if I want to help fund the arts in Toronto (which someone theorized was a good reason for donating), I’m going to give $250 to an independent theatre group or a youth orchestra or some other in-dire-need-of-cash organization, not the Toronto International Film Festival, which is making money hand over fist AND already over-charging me for tickets as it is.

The “catch” to the donors-first policy? The more you donate, the sooner your order is processed. It all feels very much not in the spirit of “the world’s largest public festival,” I think.

And this really is the last time I'm going to stand on the exact same soapbox to gripe about the exact same issue. I promise.