Sunday, September 15, 2013

TIFF Day 11

It's done! I'm done! 20 films in the bag! WOO HOO!!

Atilla Marcel
Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist) comes along with his first live-action film. Full of colour, with strokes of whimsy, and all based around tragedy, it's an admirable effort.

Paul has never spoken, and at 33, raised by a pair of overprotective aunts, his life is about to change.

Bah, I'm tired. It's a decent film that's 15-20 minutes too long and could use a more cutthroat editing.

Yay! All movies written about.

Tiff Day 10

All Is By My Side
At this point in the festival, I'm debating on just abandoning tickets. 20 movies is a bunch, and I had heard mediocre to bad reviews of this one, but had found only decent ones online.  In the end, it's a Jimi Hendrix biopic, so I went.

At two hours, this is far too long to tell a rather boring tale. This is the story of Hendrix's life the year before he got famous. As Jimmy James with straight hair and a cheetah jacket, playing guitar in a club band, the world did yet know of his genius. But Linda Keith - Keith Richards' girlfriend - comes into the club and is awed.

Hence goes the tale of how a bunch of English white people helped Jimi Hendrix become a star over a very boring year. It's as if the script felt it had to hit a few notes like him beating his girlfriend, smoking a little weed, getting told off by some black people, and being hassled once by some white cops. In between that, he plays some songs that aren't his and gets told what his next gig is.

The Hendrix estate wouldn't grant the rights to his songs, so they aren't here. Instead, some Blues, a Beatles song, and some random riffs make up his repertoire.

In short, I really didn't see the point. The direction was interesting at times, going quasi-documentary at points. The acting was all fine, and Andre Benjamin does a solid job of portraying Jimi Hendrix, but absolutely nothing is gained from seeing this.


Witching & Bitching
My only Midnight Madness flick of the festival, this one was proper mental. A group of despondent men rob a gold exchange shop dressed as street buskers. A silver Jesus, his young son, a green Army Man, Spongebob, and others go in guns blazing, and it all goes to shit.

The survivors escape north, aiming for France (did I mention this was Spanish? No? It is.). They run into a coven of witches, and shit goes crazier.

The director pointed out beforehand that he was going through a bitter divorce at the time he wrote this. It shows. Every male character is fed up with women. As far as they're concerned, women are terrible, conniving, will rip your heart out, and are as intimidating as hell. All the women are, well, witches.

I was surprised by the overall quality of this film. Something like this is usually fairly low-budget and showing. Overall it was an incredibly enjoyable time, although I wonder how much would translate outside of the cult movie theatre environment.

TIFF Day 9

Unforgiven
A remake of the Clint Eastwood classic. With Samurai. I suppose that could be the review right there, except I haven't seen the original, so I can't compare.

The Meiji era in Japan brought the end of the Samurai. These elite soldiers were hunted down relentlessly, fleeing to northern Hokkaido. Jubei (Ken Watanabe) survives this cull, finding an Ainu wife and fathering two children on a modest farm. Known as "Jubei The Killer", with a tale of his slaughter of a Christian village and a troop of persuing soldiers making him legend. His wife has died, and all he wants is to be a father and live in peace.

Then an old friends shows up with news of a bounty on two settlers who assaulted a prostitute in a frontier town. Jubei turns down the offer, but realizes he needs the money for his family to survive the coming winter after a fruitless crop. So he unearths his sword and heads out.

The idea of old kick-ass Samurai going after bad dudes sounds awesome. Sadly, there was not so much swording as there was talking and riding horses. There was even a fair bit of gunplay, which while perhaps appropriate for the era portrayed, makes for some disappointment and redundancy in the remake.

No, this was very much a remake, so Japanese audiences don't need to see the original. Watanabe is very good, as are most of the performances. However, his two sidekicks suffer from more classic Japanese acting - overplayed, over emoting, and generally unsubtle.  The whole thing was a bit overlong, and felt generally unnecessary. Beautifully shot, a worthwhile story with some localized messages (poor treatment of the northern Ainu, the end of Japanese eras, etc.), but overall only good, not great.

Friday, September 13, 2013

TIFF Day 8

Seven days. A week. Work, movie, movie, home, sleep, work movie movie home sleep workmoviemoviehomesleep. Lines of sweaty people, bitching about the lines, panicking with their claustrophobia. Latecomers wondering why they can't get 5 seats together. 2500 volunteers need applause when K.C. and the Sunshine Band play. ARRRRRR. Will I have time for the Q&A AND make my next movie?

#firstworldproblems

Bends
China has a well-known one-child policy. Hong Kong is still very western, with rules that differ from the mainland. These two areas are separated by a river that twists and bends its way between them.

The wife of a wealthy Hong Kong businessman and her chauffeur have different lives, and different problems. Mrs. Li's husband disappears without warning, cancels their credit cards, suspends his bank account, and won't answer her calls. She is suddenly facing a life alone and a long fall from the top of the social ladder.
While Mrs. Li's predicament isn't uncommon in the Western world, she is of the old school of thought, where these things don't happen. She goes into shock, unsure how to deal with what's happening. She desperately tries to maintain the illusion of wealth and social standing while hiding the truth from everyone.

Fai commutes for two hours every day from the mainland to drive Mrs. Li around in her Mercedes. Him and his young daughter tell people that his wife is visiting family for a few months, only to come home with her hiding in the apartment, both of them scared of people finding out she's pregnant with their second child. Something that would result in an unaffordable fine, or the loss of their children's rights as Chinese citizens. The only solution is to get to a hospital across the border so the child can be born as citizen of Hong Kong. The problem being that everyone else seems to be trying to do the same thing.



If this was a movie from nearly anywhere else, resolutions would be simpler. Mrs. Li would send some lawyers after her husband and get her share from the coward. While she may still be heartbroken and devastated, she wouldn't fear destitution as much -- the situation would be commonplace. Fai's child would be born and their concerns would be about money, not the rights of their children. But this is a Chinese film.

Director Flora Lau hasn't made a complex film, but its simple story is effectively told. She has paced it incredibly slowly, driving home the slow-burning desperation of its protagonists. Unfortunately, with such a thin narrative, this pace makes the 95 minute movie feel significantly longer. It's a rarely-seen look at the divide between two areas of modern China and the effects this society's rules have on individuals. Although to be honest, I felt little pathos for either character, thinking "Well why did you get pregnant in the first place?" and "They have divorce lawyers in Hong Kong, don't they?" most of the time.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

TIFF Day 7

The Wind Rises
Hayao Miyazaki's swan song is a gorgeous piece of art, and likely his most straightforward movie. Miyazaki is a huge airplane nut. He wrote a multi-issue manga in a Japanese model airplane magazine a while back, and now it's a full movie.

It's basically a fictionalized biopic of an amalgam of his two favourite airplane designers. Young Jiro dreams of airplanes at the dawn of widespread aviation. He enters a dreamland where he speaks to his idol, Italian Aeronautical Engineer Giovanni Caproni. Awakening, he decides to become an Aeronautical Engineer himself.

And he does. That's pretty much the plot of the movie. Jiro goes to school, gets a job, and designs the Zero Fighter. Along the way he meets a girl, has a vacation, and works a lot, occasionally returning to his dreams to speak with Caproni. Evenly-paced is an accurate term here.

Now, the movie is gorgeous, funny, and has mildly fantastical sequences in the dreamland, but isn't Miyazaki's standard fare. A few people heading out after the movie voiced their disappointment, but it's a well-constructed film and truly worth watching for the artistic merit alone. But don't go in expecting an adventure of any sort.



Short Cuts Canada - Programme 5
It's been a while since I've been to a short film program at TIFF, but this year they had a number of movies that grabbed my attention. This just happened to be the group with the most of those.

Kicking it off was Bruce Alcock's Impromptu - an animated piece about an impromptu dinner party. Done from the main character's point of view, entirely in line drawings, and in 3D, it's a visual treat for a relatively everyday tale. I love Alcock's At The Quinte Hotel, and this keeps him in my good graces.

Then came The End of Pinky - the tale of a Montreal night where a man aims to kill his friend for betraying him. Claire Blanchet has created a beautiful 3D work of a dream-like noir Montreal, taken from Heather O’Neill's short story.

The Chaperone 3D was the funniest of the night, recounting the tale of a teacher in 1970's Montreal who took on a biker gang mostly by himself. Mixed media, 3D, with a charming narrator providing nuggets of wisdom as he describes his dismantling of some disruptive bikers at a church dance. The crowd was in stitches, as Fraser Munden and Neil Rathbone threw everything they could think of at the camera.

Next up was the shortest film of the fest - CRIME: Joe Loya, the Beirut Bandit. A quick 3-colour animated telling of Joe Loya's first bank robbery and how it kind of went awry. It's amazing how much can be fit into 2 minutes.

Numbers & Friends was described as "an art film about fantasy sports." Told through still photography with some subdued movement added to the scenes, it's the story of an immigrant coming to North America and learning about the importance of baseball, hockey, and fantasy sports in connecting with the male psyche in his new country. Though visually interesting, I found it hard to stay focused on the story being told.

A night at an arts supply store goes odd in Roland, when a man wants to use the employee restroom and refuses to take no for an answer. We were assured it was a true story, with perhaps the mood altered a bit for film. An amusing "yah, that could happen to anyone" tale with a bit of "be careful how you relate your stories" lesson thrown in.

Finally was An Extraordinary Person - which deals with a party guest who is having a pretty rough couple of days and finally loses it on her fake friends. Full of actresses who are well-known in Quebec (read: I didn't recognize any of them), it does an admirable job of creating well-defined characters in only 29 minutes, albeit not a single one that is likeable. This is a good thing, because the things said would seem cruel to anyone you think of as a good person.

15 screenings down. 5 to go. 4 days left.

TIFF Day 6

The Grand Seduction
Yet another Canadian feature, this time from Don McKellar (and, unknown to me at the time, co-written, or at least anglicized, by Michael Dowse, of The F Word and Goon fame). An English remake of a popular Quebecois film, it tells a universally comic tale with a ton of heart.

Set in the Newfoundland fishing harbour of Ticklehead, this is a story of people coming together to regain their hope and dignity. The fishing has long dried up, and with it the jobs and independence the townsfolk once knew. Their welfare cheques arrive, and everybody lines up before dispersing to do... well, not much.

But a petrochemical company is looking to build factory somewhere in the province, and Ticklehead is in the running. There's just one problem, they need a permanent doctor - something they haven't had in eight years - or the company won't even consider them. The Mayor is useless, so generational fisherman Murray (Brendan Gleeson) takes control and rallies the town. A young city doctor (Taylor Kitsch) is convinced to spend a month in the harbour through perhaps less than wholesome means, and the townsfolk have that month to convince him that Ticklehead is the greatest place on Earth to convince him to stay. This involves faking a love of Cricket, providing his favourite meals, and whatever else it will take for them to get their man.

I suppose one could say there's commentary on the surveillance state, corporate greenwashing, fishing regulation, social programs, or civic action, but that would be looking far too deeply into a warm-hearted comedy. Newfoundland is shot gorgeously, and the performances are all spot on. From riled up fishermen to their frustrated wives to spineless company men to the fish-out-of-water doctor. The comedy lies in the efforts of the community, without ever turning sincerity to mockery, which is a fine line to walk. And casting Mary Walsh and Gordon Pinsent as a couple was genius.

This isn't a laugh-a-minute broad comedy, but one that gets chuckles and smiles and the occasional guffaw, with an underlying sentimentality that keeps it grounded as the audience wonders if all this effort will be for naught.


Jodorowsky's Dune
This is the story of possibly the greatest science fiction movie never made. After 2001, but before Star Wars, Alejandro Jodorowsky was going to make Dune. He had had a series of cult films that had performed very well in Europe and midnight showings in the States - El Topo and The Holy Mountain - avant garde mind fucks from a surrealist's mind. But their success lead to him getting a carte blanche for his next movie, and he chose Dune.

This doc covers the story of how it all came together, and ultimately failed. Jodorowsky gathered Dan O'Bannon, H.R. Giger, French artist MÅ“bius, and sci-fi artist Chris Foss to design the film. Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, and Salvadore Dali were signed on to act. His son underwent years of fight training to play Paul. Pink Floyd was doing music for the film. A scene-by-scene storyboard was created and assembled into a massive tome that told the entire story. Then it was rejected by every studio in Hollywood.

Jodorowsky, even at 84, is a magnetic and enthusiastic personality. Right away he has you believing in his vision, and it's easy to see how he was able to assemble whatever talent he wanted. Getting them to abandon their lives and homes to work with him in Paris on the most ambitious film of its time. His Dune would have been violent and spectacular and ultimately uplifting. A surrealist hippy vision of what could be. Jodorowsky saw it not as a film, but a means to change the world. His cast and crew were "spiritual warriors", and he only wanted those who exuded passion and genius. It could have been phenomenal.

Granted, it could have also been a disaster, as it was easily a decade ahead of its time in terms of what could be achieved. But that's never really considered, because Jodorowsky's personality doesn't allow it. Regardless, it's influence cannot be denied, as a montage of later films shows.

This film is carried on the obvious love everyone involved still has for the film that never was. Many of the artists consider it their best work. The critics see it was tremendously influential. Everyone laments that it could have changed the blockbuster model before it started. Jodorowsky still thinks it could change the world.

This made me 3/3 on docs at this year's fest - another great piece that has the audience leaving feeling inspired and creative and joining the chorus of those who wish this Dune could be seen.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

TIFF Day 5

Finding Vivian Maier
A man buys one of a number of boxes of negatives in the hopes he'll find some old pictures of his Chicago neighbourhood for an upcoming book. He glances a bit, gives up, and puts the box in a closet. Later on he starts scanning the pictures and discovers they're very good. This is the beginning of how the world discovered Vivian Maier.

You may have heard the story. A nanny since the mid 20th century, Vivian Maier took lots of pictures. Over 100,000 of them in her lifetime. Almost all of them street photography, largely in Chicago, but some in New York and France as well. The pictures are stunning, and could have disappeared if not for the above twist of serendipity.

What you probably don't know is anything else about this woman. John Maloof, who discovered Maier, aims to change that with his movie seeking out what he can about her. Starting with scraps he's able to track down former employers and children she looked after, where he finds more information, and more people. Each has some scraps of information that he's finally able to piece together into a more complete history. Of course, to be a good documentary, there must be more lurking beneath the surface of the subject.

Maloof traces her roots, gets her charges to reveal tales they'd never told their parents, and eventually has her former clients wondering and guessing about her hidden secrets. Through it all though is the photography, and where it fits into her life. Amazing shots, critiqued by experts as among the best of her contemporaries, yet rejected by the major institutions of today. MoMA and its ilk don't like dealing with unknown artists, especially posthumously, where a third party has interpreted their work. Despite the reluctance of the old guard to accept her work, Maier's photographs have captured the public's imagination and drawn masses to her exhibits at smaller galleries.


I loved this documentary. Despite the darker aspects of Maier's life, despite the lingering questions surrounding this fame, it is a story of recognition. Of a life's work being discovered and adored  and accepted. And it's as much about Maloof's journey to get this recognition for someone he never knew as it is about Maier's work.

The Husband
Tense. That's the one word I'll use to describe Bruce McDonald's latest film. The tale of a husband having a terrible year. His wife Alyssa (Sarah Allen) is in jail for sleeping with a 14-year old student.  He has a newborn baby to care for by himself. He secretly loathes his job. And he has to deal with the fallout, both real and imagined, from his wife's crime.

We join Henry (writer Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) as his wife is weeks away from parole. The toll of the past year is clearly weighing heavily on him. His happy, if modest, life is briefly shown in flashback, and now it is crumbling, taking him along with it. The car is breaking down, he's juggling between being a father and a breadwinner. He dutifully makes trips to visit his wife in prison with baby in tow. His coworkers are concerned about him, his father-in-law (Stephen McHattie, who should be in everything always) helps where he can with money and advice, he never sees his friends and dreads encountering them. Over all of this is a growing and very unhealthy obsession with the teenage boy he blames for all of it.

As the day of Alyssa's release nears, Henry's psychological breakdown becomes increasingly imminent. He can't keep it together by himself, but feels he has nobody to turn to, so takes his own, destructive path. McDonald ramps up the tension steadily through the film, creating a looming sense of dread - whatever is going to happen, it won't be good.

Set in Toronto, the final climax struck me as oddly... Canadian. It was damned polite, all things considered.

McDonald just continues to grow as a filmmaker. I missed his early work, coming in at Pontypool (still one of my all-time festival favourites), and this may be his most accessible and complete work I've seen.

Monday, September 9, 2013

TIFF Day 4

The F Word
Radcliffe round two for me. While he was perfectly acceptable in Horns, he's a much better match in The F Word. I usually don't bother with romantic comedies at TIFF, as the bulk of the genre isn't worth the premium price. It's rare a When Harry Met Sally, or Annie Hall or even a Crazy, Stupid, Love comes along, so I'm happy to let the masses pass judgement before I buy a ticket. But this had two things going for it - director Michale Dowse (Goon, Fubar) and leading lady Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks). If I'd known it was set in Toronto, that would have shot it near the top of the list.

I loved Goon, and I thought Ruby Sparks was great, especially Zoe (who wrote and starred in it). The write-ups on The F Word were that it wasn't your typical rom-con, and they were right.

The story isn't unfamiliar - boy (Wallace - Radcliffe) loses girl, boy meets new girl (Chantry - Kazan), new girl has boyfriend, boy and girl become friends while secretly pining for each other. Many people might call it their life. Of course, this friendship develops into one that is so good that neither side wants to jeopardize it by revealing their feelings. There's also that really great 5-year relationship with her live-in boyfriend (Ben - Rafe Spall) Chantry has going. So, friendship continues as nothing more.

Except that Wallace has his meddling friends trying to push him to admit his feelings for Chantry, and Wallace worries about the fallout. Meanwhile, Chantry refuses to set any of her friends (or sister) up with Wallace because she obviously has feelings for him. Ben moves to Dublin for a temporary work assignment, Chantry gets offered a job in Taiwan, nothing much happens to Wallace.

Your typical rom-com setup, right? Dowse and screenwriter Elan Mastai do something strange with it though - they ground it in reality. Chantry has a good thing going with Ben, they're happy, in love, and stable, and Ben's not an asshole. She's not going to throw that away for a crush. Her concerns about the promotion are more about uprooting her life over wanting to be near one friend she's known for a few months (although he does factor in). Wallace is drifting in life, and while he knows he's fallen completely for Chantry, he's the nice guy who doesn't want to be a home wrecker and ruin a really good friendship. His best friend (and Chantry's cousin)  is a buffoon with blunt advice and a crazy whirlwind romance of his own going on who wants the same for his buddy. There are no crazy chase scenes, or ridiculous setups where a bunch of stupid decisions leads to comic situations. There is one unexpected and nearly believable moment of absolute slapstick that works incredibly well though.

It all comes to a head of course, and there's drama and pain and whatnot, but again, there's been so much time building up a real chemistry and believability in the characters that it doesn't feel tired and hackneyed.

Both Radcliffe and Kazan are great in this. Radcliffe gives the impression that this is right in line with his real persona, joking, sarcastic, self-effacing, and British - he's more comfortable in this role than I've ever seen him. Kazan once again stays away from the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" trope by being a real person. In fact, other than being a great friend and someone to hang out with, she teaches Radcliffe nothing, pushes him towards no life-altering decisions, or really actively changes him in any way. At no point does she blow his mind with some insight on how stuck he is, or provide a song that will change his life. There's a great chemistry between them, and you find yourself rooting for them to figure some way to work this out so they can keep the friendship. The rest of the cast is able to keep up easily, with sharp banter and sincere relationships with the central characters. The sharp, sarcastic wit throughout the script makes this seem easy.

I mentioned it's set in Toronto, right? It is. Wonderfully so. The city, as any great city, is a part of the story. Not explicitly so. There's no hanging off the CN Tower, or going to a Leafs Game here. Much like Take This Waltz, it serves as a backdrop. The parks, the beaches, the houses, neighbourhoods, and skyline are all framed to be recognizable and feel just right for the characters. As writer Mastai said in the Q&A - "when you're in love, every city is Paris..." so why can't that city be Toronto?

Now if only they'd had the guts to end it differently.


Fading Gigolo
John Turturro does Woody Allen. Well, actually John Turturro does Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, and a bunch of other women as he plays a male prostitute, with Woody Allen as his pimp.

Murray (Allen) is a New York bookstore owner - which means he's closing the store. Fioravante (Turturro) is his florist friend who is working at his shop two days a week and living hand-to-mouth.  A casual comment from his dermatologist (Stone) gets Murray thinking that maybe he could pimp out his single friend to lonely women for a small finder's fee, which would of course help them both out financially.

And so, the comedy stage is set. The concept of Fioravante as an attractive ladies man is somehow made believable through the conversations amongst Stone and Vergara - he's not a pretty boy, is in good shape, has rough hands... is a MAN, but not some impossible ideal of a man. In short, he's approachable and non-threatening. The concept is of course absurd, but this IS a comedy. Allen doing his thing for the first third of the movie makes this abundantly clear.

The movie takes a strange turn around the halfway mark, when Vanessa Paradis comes in as Avigal, the widow of an Hasidic Rabbi. Here, Fioravante becomes a caregiver, leading this bereaved woman out of her mourning, not through sex, but through love and caring and a bit of sensuality. This leads to a whole strange subplot of some sort of underground Jewish tribunal of Murray and a jealous neighbourhood Jewish patrolman (Liev Schreiber). It's a bit of a jarring tonal shift.

As a whole movie, the second half lessens it. It has the feel of two different films combined into one, or a prelude that takes too long to get to the real heart of the story. As a concept though, it's very much an homage to old school Woody Allen, with New York as a the familiar backdrop, jazz as the familiar soundtrack, and an absurd idea surrounded by precise prattle moving it all along. It won't go down as a classic, but if you've got a spare hour and half, it's an enjoyable distraction, and definitely keeps me interested in Turturro on the other side of the camera.


TIFF Day 3

Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch's latest film explores a brief period in the very long life of a bored vampire.

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a rock star. A reclusive rock star. A reclusive vampire rock star. He also happened to write something for Schubert once. Living in a deceivingly ramshackle house on the edges of Detroit, he wants nothing more than to be left alone while composing his music. He has but one friend, Ian (Anton Yelchin), a human (or zombie as Adam is wont to call them) who can seemingly acquire anything Adam needs, from incredibly rare guitars to custom-made wooden bullets.

Eve (Tilda Swinton) is Adam's wife, living in Tangier, enjoying a life without worries and marvelling at the world around her. She has long since realized that when you're immortal, the point is to enjoy your long life. She hangs out with her dear friend Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), who supplies her with high-quality blood and conversation.

Adam has admired and consorted with great writers and scientists and learned much from them, but as he's watched the "zombies" destroy themselves through greed and arrogance, he has become melancholy and suicidal. Tesla had lightbulbs you didn't need to plug in, in the 1800's. Electricity can be gathered from the atmosphere. Yet humans keep polluting their water and their blood and their lives. The craftmanship of the past, even as little as a few decades ago, is lost, and he despairs. So he calls his wife and mopes her into coming to visit.

Her arrival spurs him to venture out. The arrival of her sister (Mia Wasikowska) sets events in motion that forces change upon him.

But this is a Jarmusch film, so there isn't much that actually happens. There is no major climax or conflict that leads to massive vampiric battles or mass destruction. There are no chase scenes or tense stalkings in the dark. There's no glitter to be found anywhere. What there is, is an exploration of what being an immortal vampire must be like in an age of surveillance and the Internet and the global village and blood diseases and passports and paparazzi and  fame. How does one avoid the dangers of these things while still embracing their possibilities? And how does someone who has seen it all keep themselves interested in living?

It's wonderfully stylistic, with shots to drool over and moments to ponder, with a soundtrack that is as much a part of the story and scene as the dialogue. Droll and darkly humourous, this might not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you go in expecting an evenly-paced exploration of a day-in-the-life instead of a compartmentalized thriller, you won't be disappointed.


Heart of A Lion
A Finnish film exploring the rise of xenophobic whites-only nationalism in Europe through they story of a man grappling with his beliefs, Heart of a Lion is heavy and well-crafted.

Teppo is the leader of a white supremacist group in his Finnish town. Unemployed after standing up for a friend who was fired, he finds that being good with his hands, but not his head means work is hard to come by. After yet another failed interview, he meets a waitress, Sari, who takes him home with her. Upon discovering his affiliations the next morning, she violently kicks him out, as her son is mixed-race. Somehow though, Teppo convinces her that he's worth a shot. That he'll care for her son, and that his beliefs aren't about race but about defending his country and family and friends. She buys this load and gives him a shot.

After just accepting that piece of idiocy (hey, people are lonely and horny and do stupid things, and other than being a complete racist, Teppo seems like a good guy... *sigh*), I moved on and enjoyed the film.

Sari's son, Rhamu, does not take so kindly to his new racist "stepfather", despite Teppo actually trying to accept Rhamu while figuring out how to keep his ties to his gang of bigots. Clearly these are two ideas cannot work in the same space, so something has to give. And give it does.

Sari ends up in the hospital as a result of the conflict at home, Teppo's even more racist (and insane) brother deserts the army and shows up on his (and Sari and Rhamu's) doorstep, unaware of the current situation, the neighbourhood fathers come after Teppo for unrelated reasons - bringing everything to a head.

The reason I like seeing movies from Nordic countries is because they deal with familiar themes without all the bluster of Hollywood. There are fights, brawls, explosions, tension, beatings, and lots of anger in this film, but all if it is subdued by North American standards. Between every beating is a conversation, and often growth or change in one of the characters. These are not smart people, a fact made abundantly clear. They are struggling and ignorant and looking for someone to blame and people to rely on. When something threatens your family, you protect them - the question is, which family is the most important one to you?

Director Dome Karukoski does a fine job of showing Teppo's growth and realizations. From hiding while picking up Rhamu from school to protecting him to admiring him, the visual steps are incremental. The muted colours of the film reflect the bleak reality the characters find themselves in, and the ultimate result of the story is strangely uplifting in its violent way.

The Double
My most anticipated film of the fest, based purely on my interest in the director, Richard Ayoade. Perhaps best known as Moss in The IT Crowd, Ayoade has struck me as brilliantly, insanely funny. The brilliant part of that is what's important, because I didn't expect a movie based on a Dostoyevsky piece to be a laugh riot.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as a worker drone in a dystopian time (think Brazil without the 1984 overtones) who discovers that he has a double that is taking the life he wants for himself. In reality, Jesse Eisenberg plays Jesse Eisenberg and also a Jesse Eisenberg with self confidence. It's not exactly a stretch role for him as both Simon James and James Simon..

In fact, the basic idea behind the plot has been seen before, because the source material isn't exactly new or a secret. You've seen this play. Exactly the same person, except brimming with confidence, and also conniving and immoral, shows up his lesser twin. That's not to say it can't still be done well, which it is here.

Simon (the introvert) wants the girl in the copy room (Mia Wasikowska), has ideas for the founder of the company he works for, is recognized by nearly nobody, and is incredibly alone. Simon's loneliness and shyness is palpable. A pushover who gives up his seat in an empty train because an anonymous man tells him it's "his". He stutters and sputters and kowtows to everyone. James (the type-A) shows up at the company as a rising star, is loved by everyone, meets the boss almost immediately, and can have any woman he wants, all without having a single bit of substance to him. He's rude, demanding, and a force of nature that even Simon gets swept up by.

Jealousy and backstabbing all leads to a forseeable conflict.

Where this movie shines is in its portrayal of the world. It's repetitive, on the verge of breaking down, isolated, inhuman, and seemingly hopeless. Suicides are rampant, everyone is lonely, and seemingly living the same monotonous lives in tiny apartments and a perpetual midnight. Beautifully built scenes that call back to Welles and Gilliam and Carax - shadows and stillness in one moment, colour and motion the next, languid moments running into hyper-kinetic interruptions.

It's a commentary on the humdrum of our daily lives, with the manifest fantasy of "if only I was more confident, things would go better" writ large. A dream and nightmare for the cubicle-dwellers of the world. It's not a perfect film, but it's a damned good one.

And Ayoade was charming and hilarious in both his introduction and the Q&A after the film. So even if this sucked, I'd probably line up for his next one.

TIFF Day 2

Horns
The first swing and a miss of my fest. Joe Hill's novel as directed by Alexandre Aja. The novel was a bit of a mess, but with an interesting premise and ideas that made it worth sticking with (church-going general good egg starts turning into a demon and is conflicted on the use of his new-found powers in an attempt to find the killer of the love of his life). The seemingly endless flashbacks and scattershot pacing made it hard read for me at times, but in the end I found it enjoyable enough. I had hoped that its conversion to a movie would alleviate most of my issues with the text - quicker pacing, tighter motivations, etc..

It handled most of that well, but fucked up in enough other ways that the movie ended up worse than the source material. Ig's horn growth has the effect of getting those who see him to spill their darkest secrets and desires. In the novel, this comes off as a bit creepy, revealing the blackness in everyone. The early exchanges are particularly bleak, making some of the middle ones (ie.- his family) seem less so, and just sad. However the movie handles these transitions poorly. They're played as dark humour, which is fine, but it takes a few seconds to realize that people are actually spilling their guts to Ig. Casual conversation turns to darker talk, but seldom gets to the level of the book. For example, the priest is turned from an uncaring adulterer to just another guy who believes Ig killed his girlfriend.

There is also no explanation given for Ig's transformation. The book's requires a definite suspension of disbelief (beyond that required for a guy to grow horns), but at least it's there. That explanation is removed in the opening shot of the film.

Most egregious is the change to the real killer. In the book we slowly learn of his true nature. That he's a thief and a psychopath and rapist who hasn't been right since he was a child, but has convinced the world that he's the salt of the Earth by following his twisted view of Ig's example. In the movie, this psychopathy isn't realized. He's comes off as just a creep who was looking out for himself.

And then there's the casting. Radcliffe as Ig is fine. There are moments when he's obviously stretching, but he generally works. Joe Anderson is quite good as Ig's brother, although the changes to that character made little sense. Max Minghella is also capable as Lee Tourneau, for what little he's given. But my biggest issue is the casting of the women. Juno Temple as Merrin is awful. Her acting style doesn't work at ALL with the character and comes off as stilted and awkward. Meanwhile, Kelli Garner does what she can with Glenna, who is practically unnecessary in the adaptation vs her more important (yet still secondary) roll in the novel. I walked out thinking that they mixed up the casting sheets, as both actresses would have been superior in the other's role.

The film is beautifully shot though. I can't argue with that assessment. Gorgeous colours,  and impressive visuals abound. But that's hardly a reason to see it.

Here's hoping that whatever adaptation of Locke & Key (Hill's amazing graphic novel series) comes about is superior to this.


Triptyque
Robert Lepage's 9-hour play, Lipsynch, has one three-part triptych taken from it for this film. An exploration of what we take for granted every day, through three connected stories.

First is Michelle, who works at a Quebec book store, where she has that unbelievably encyclopedic knowledge of everything the store carries that one finds in these old shops. But Michelle hears voices, self-harms, and has never been well. Her sister wants only what's best for her, but Michelle laments her lost voice as a poet. She realizes the medications to control her schizophrenia are necessary, but that their side-effects rob her of the life she truly loves.

Then there is Thomas, a German neurosurgeon in London who has developed a tremor in his hand. His attempts to control it are for naught, and the toll this takes on him threatens his marriage and his passion. He turns to alcohol to steady his hand as he prepares for another surgery to save another life.

Marie is a jazz singer who has a brain tumour. She has been slurring and forgetting words, and her surgreon, Thomas, has informed her that the removal of the tumour may result in temporary aphasia, a terrifying thought for someone who relies on words to make her living. However, as her story progresses, we learn that this isn't the most devastating side effect.

The stories aren't in exact chronological order, so we learn the fates of the central characters before they do, removing the drama and tension that this film is unconcerned with. Lepage seeks to convey they interconnectedness of words, and voice, and memory, and speech. He does this by showing the betrayal of our most important piece - our brains.

Beautifully shot and acted, with a wonderful melding of directorial styles between Lepage and Pedro Pires, Triptyque is a meditation on loss, love, and communication.

Friday, September 6, 2013

TIFF Day 1

Tim's Vermeer
Penn & Teller's movie about their friend Tim Jenison's attempt to recreate Johannes Vermeer's "The Music Lesson". Vermeer is an interesting case of a painter with limited documented history. There is no record of his apprenticeship, and no records of his techniques. His paintings have no underlying sketches as would often be found. They also tend to be incredibly realistic for the time. Perspective is perfect, shadows are realistic, and most interestingly, there is often a depth of field that you find not in paintings, but photographs. Except that Vermeer predates photography by centuries.

This has led to theories of Vermeer using a Camera Obscura for his work. Essentially a dark room with a hole in one wall, creating a giant pinhole camera. Vermeer's Camera by Philip Steadman and David Hockney's Secret Knowledge are two books that explore this idea. However, there are shortcomings in the theory.

This is where Tim comes in. A genius who founded NewTek (Video Toaster, LightWave 3D), Tim had an idea of how Vermeer could have achieved his "painting with light" with simple tools. So he he set out to see if his idea worked. Not by just painting any old thing, but by physically recreating the scene in "The Music Lesson", grinding and mixing his own oil paints, and grinding his own lens using equipment available in the 1600's.

Teller directs this documentary in the best possible way - simply. The film focuses on the idea that Tim is not a painter, but an inventor and enthusiast about figuring out how things work. There is none of the traditional Penn & Teller humour or magic tricks or cutaways explaining things. This is a movie about Tim, Vermeer, and dedication. Penn narrates and fills in some spots, but does so mostly sitting in a chair, talking to the camera. Teller revealed in the Q&A afterwards that they had tried tying the techniques to illusions, or using skits, or having Penn talk about everything, but that none of that worked as well as just letting Tim build this world and paint.

The film also achieves an interesting balance while the painting is actually taking place - it conveys the tedium of this act without being itself boring. This was no small project, the count of days by the end of the project is staggering. As Tim himself pointed out - exploring how Vermeer could have achieved what he did doesn't lessen his work. It many ways, it makes them more impressive.

All in all, an enjoyable documentary on a topic I find fascinating.

Standing Aside, Watching
Yorgos Servetas' film about a woman moving to a small Greek town after maturing in Athens is a commentary on a changing world. Antigone (Marina Symeou) has moved to a small, local vacation town in the off-season after living in Athens. She's clearly lived here before (her Uncle is resident, an ex-boyfriend is back, an old friend greets her, etc.), but her experiences outside of the town have clearly shaped her differently than its residents. She is independent, progressive, and forthright, while those around her are either stuck in rapidly disappearing world or are apathetic to the problems around them.

The men are generally small-time tough guys who are in charge of their own little kingdom (with a couple exceptions). Misogynists who intimidate their way through life. Antigone's ex/friend Dimitris just wants to live in his small beach house without bothering anyone. Another old friend is in abusive affair with one of the town bullies. Everyone knows what's going on, but they're all standing aside, watching, instead of doing something about it.

Antigone, however, isn't wired that way though. She just wants to settle in, do her job, and live her life. But her mere presence is a catalyst for change. Through little direct action of her own, tensions in the town escalate rapidly. Attitudes begin to change. The changes of the World begin to encroach on this working-class town. Her ire grows as the days pass until she can't stand idly by, waiting for everyone else to do something.


The film itself has a deliberate pace without ever being too slow. It moves at the pace of the town it's set in. It never aims for grand theatrics, and while it's classified as a "thriller" it's really more of a basic story of how simple things can have significant effects.


A solid day 1 for me. Only 10 days and 18 films to go.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Is it fall already?

No. But it's close.

Anchorman This is a weird movie, right? I mean, I liked it. I thought it was funny. But it is a weird movie. I guess it’s about the integration of a San Diego television station (is that the right word for when they let chicks in? Hold on, lemmee google this “becoming co-ed”?) Whatevs, so Kelly Bundy becomes an anchor and she is kinda shady and ambitious, so hijinks ensure. Weird movie.

The Player Ugarles and Julius Goat said this is the prequel to Shawshank. It was okay. It hasn’t aged particularly well. But the fake movie they make at the end is hilarious and I would TOTALLY go see it. Oh, it’s about a producer who is so afraid he’s about to lose his job that he goes crazy. Sorta.

Pain & Gain This movie is awful. Awfully awful. And you know how much I love the Rock. I love The Rock a lot. He was not Rock-y in this. UGH. HORRID. I’m… so it’s a “based on a true story” movie about body builders who decide to kidnap their clients and steal all their money. But they’re dumb, so… they make many mistakes along the way. The outdoor grilling of their murder victims’ hands was funny.

Admission BLARGH. This movie is TUURRRIIBBBLLEEE. I don’t understand why Tina Fey or Paul Rudd are in this flick about a spinster admissions officer who well, is very into her job. Paul Rudd plays a do-goody hipster who won’t mind his own beeswax. He has a black son. Of course. *eyeroll* Badness.

Olympus Has Fallen Z.O.M.G. THIS MOVIE IS FANTASTIC!!! FANTASTICLY FANTASTIC!!!!! Okay, so it opens like the beginning of that rock climbing Sylvester Stallone movie and you’re all bummed out and think well, it can’t get worse than this. AND THEN IT DOES! And then ninjas (Dawn is SO #races) attack the capital and then occupy the white house and the last thing the final secret service guy says before he dies is “Olympus has… fallen.” OR IS HE THE FINAL SECRET SERVICE GUY??? Dun dun dun. No, he’s not. THERE’S ANOTHER! MAAANNN. SO GOOD. ASPLOSIONS, GUN FIRE, HELICOPTER CRASHES, everything that makes a movie awesome AND NO STOOPID LOVE STORY! (Except the love of a man for his country!) *slow claps*

Amour I swear I am going to fight the Academy. I’m going to fight it with fists. WHY ON EARTH was this movie nominated for Best anything?? The whole thing takes place in an apartment. But the old man is delusional and you’re not sure what’s real and what’s the opposite of real. The old lady is paralyzed and cranky. Everyone is French… Mon Dieu! Why am I watching this? Because… Oscar. Grrr. *shakes fist*

The End of Love So… this movie is about the year after a young mom dies and how the young dad copes with raising their toddler alone. The toddler is a surprisingly good actor. I was mad at people who said Quvenzhane Wallis shouldn’t be eligible for an Oscar because she’s just a kid, but I guess if the director could get such a moving performance out of a three-year-old, maybe they might have a point. I dunno. But the toddler was the best part and should totes get an Oscar. The movie was weirdly uneven. One minute the dad is making cereal for his kid, the next George Michael from Arrested Development is waving a gun all around. It’s like, if he’s friends with Michael Cera, why is he hurting for money to pay his rent and feed the child? All in all it’s okay. But weird.

42 This movie is super cheesy, but still moving. It’s about Jackie Robinson integrating (HA! Now it’s the right word) major league baseball. It’s annoying how Harrison Ford (the owner of the Dodgers) is painted as the real hero, but cest la vie. I wish Brooklyn still had its own baseball team.

The Call Based on Halle Berry’s hairstyle alone, I thought this movie was going to suck. Now, it wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination, “good.” But it didn’t quite dip to the level of suck. So, there’s that. It’s about a 911 dispatcher who has already lost a girl to a brutal murderer and when the call comes in from another young female victim, she refuses to give up until she gets her back safe! Her hair looks terrible.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation THE ROCK! AND HE’S ROCKY! Whew, breakup averted! It’s a super cheesy cartoon villain meets cartoon hero movie. London gets fucked ALL the way up!

Dredd Um… it’s a remake of the 1990s flick Judge Dredd. It wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen.

Clueless Aww. In college, I could recite all the lines from Clueless verbatim. It still holds up as a quirky, if somewhat creepy, rom-com. I’m glad time has corrected the injustice of Alicia Silverstone being a bigger star than Paul Rudd. RIP Brittany Murphy. *cues rollin with the homies*

The Imposter I saw Julius Goat and Dan England talking about this movie on twitter. It’s creeeeeee—pppyyy. Go see it. Then read the article in the new Yorker. DON’T READ THE ARTICLE FIRST, CHEATERS!

Religulous This “documentary” about how religion is destroying the world was awful. Bill Maher is rude, condescending and should be hit with a lightning bolt on sheer principle. Though, had I seen this movie first, I might not have spent hard earned money at Jesus world in Orlando. Bill Maher was right about that place. He’s still a dick though.