Sunday, September 14, 2008

2008 Festival Wrap-up

Well, another festival done for the year. I was up slightly from last year, with 27 films or discussions, totalling 47 hours, 38 minutes.

Things that worked well:

  • Probably don't need to keep mentioning this since for the last few years it's been good, but the festival once again kept the pre-film trailers short and to the point.
  • The volunteers did their usual excellent job keeping the festival running.
  • The AMC ticket line. This was originally going to go on the list of things that didn't work, but the festival did change things up midstream to address the issue of people cutting in line.
  • The festival staff mid-week started specifically telling people not to text message during the screenings. Part of me can't believe they have to even mention this to people, but then again, people still feel the need to talk during movies, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Funny story, I had a friend in one screening who had a couple making out in the seats next to him; what surprised me is that anyone would spend that much on tickets and then not watch the film :-).
  • Twittering updates during the fest was new for me this year. For some things I think it made sense (box draw, celeb sightings), not sure yet if it was useful for anything else. Comments either way are welcome.
Things that didn't work well:
  • Once again, the online box office can't handle peak loads on the opening day of ticket sales, and doesn't make it easy for users to recover from errors in the middle of their purchases.
  • The festival brought the 30-film package back after eliminating it last year to much consternation, but unfortunately, they brought it back with the limitation of only one ticket per screening. I know there are quite a few people out there (myself included) that purchase tickets with friends, and this limitation forces us to resort back to buying multiple 10-packs at a higher cost (hopefully they don't put a restriction on that one either).

One thing that I really didn't like this year is not being able to select films at the Visa Screening Room with any of the festival packages (except for the very specific Visa Screening Room package). This was probably one of the things that ticked me off the most, especially when 8 films (Burn After Reading, Blindness, Rachel Getting Married, The Duchess, The Lucky Ones, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, The Good, the Bad, the Weird, and Stone of Destiny) could not be seen without purchasing a higher-priced gala ticket for Roy Thomson Hall or the Visa Screening Room (i.e. they never appeared in any of the other festival theatres).

The festival's explanation for this ( is below:

"Visa Screening Room presentations are on par with Galas at Roy Thomson Hall, as this programme of screenings will showcase some of the year’s most significant and noteworthy films, generally World or North American Premieres.
In 2007, TIFF adjusted the ticket price of Visa Screening Room events at the Elgin Theatre to more accurately reflect their value, though in this transition period we still allowed Festival/Daytime/10-Ticket Package holders access to these screenings. As of 2008, Regular Ticket Packages are valid for Regular-priced screenings only.
Premium Tickets (Galas at Roy Thomson Hall and Visa Screening Room presentations at the Elgin Theatre) will go on sale Saturday, August 23 at 10am.
TIFF is also introducing a new screening venue this year, the AMC at Yonge and Dundas, where many of our public screenings will take place. "

I think this explanation is questionable for a number of reasons. One: world/international premieres are not unique to the VSR/RTH films; I saw plenty of such premiers in other theatres. Two: in my past experience, there was nothing about the experience at the Elgin that elevated it above any other screening; big-name stars would still show up to other theatres, generally speaking there were never Q&A's at the VSR, and the theatre is not any better technically than others. Three: despite the introduction of the AMC, there were the aforementioned 8 films that never received a non-VSR/RTH screening.

I've never quibbled with the Roy Thomson Hall gala screenings being more expensive or distinct, but to try to put the Visa Screening Room screenings on the same par is going a bit far. If they are going to continue doing this, the least they can do is *not* make screenings exclusive to those two theatres and let the rest of the festival-going public see them.

The other major problem I had this year was the whole donor privileges issue. New this year, donors of at least $250 got priority in the ticket lottery. Donors of at least $1000 got priority in buying premium tickets. Donors also got separate lineups at Roy Thomson Hall and the Visa Screening Room, and got priority for ticket exchanges on pickup day. While I recognize the need to reward donors for helping to provide the festival with additional funds, I think some of it goes too far, specifically, allowing donors priority in the lottery. I can probably tolerate the rest, but the whole point behind the lottery is to make sure everyone gets a fair shot at the films they want. Sometimes it's worked in my favour, and sometimes it hasn't, but I can't complain because I know everyone is in the same boat. Now, however, people willing to throw in a few hundred dollars more (over and above the hundreds they already spent on packages), get to jump the queue. This is basically going to create a two-tier system where people who can afford to, will get all their films, and everyone else is going to have to take their chances; in Canada, try suggesting a two-tier medicare system and see the outrage that results. I can see this system getting worse as time goes on, and more and more people resorting to buying their way to the front-of-the-line, and I wouldn't blame them at that point. If anything among recent changes the festival has made, this one change probably goes most against the democratic principles the festival has been known for and espoused in the past.

If you feel at all similar, then write to the festival ( or, as Piers Handling claimed in a recent interview to be unaware of any public dissatisfaction with the festival's policies:

Anyway, enough about what didn't work, as I at least enjoyed the films I watched this year. Generally speaking, most of the films were pretty good, and I didn't feel the need to walk out on anything. Of the 27 films or discussions I attended this year, below are my favourites. Note these are only from the things I actually saw; there were a lot of other really good films at the festival this year judging by some of the conversations I overheard in line or had with others:

Favourite films: $5 a Day, Zack and Miri, and Toronto Stories.

Funniest film: tossup between Detroit Metal City and Zack and Miri.

Best dramatic film: tossup between The Wrestler and The Hurt Locker.

Best documentary: I only saw two this year, but I'd probably have to go with It Might Get Loud.

Best Canadian film: Toronto Stories.

Biggest surprise: Jean-Claude Van Damme's performance in JCVD, with Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler not far behind.

"WTF?!" Award: I didn't really see anything this year that was completely incomprehensible, but I'll give this to Takeshi Kitano for Achilles and the Tortoise, if only because I'm still not entirely sure of who or what in the movie is Achilles and who/what is the tortoise.

Screening with the most celebrity wattage: probably a slight edge to It Might Get Loud (Jimmy Page, Jack White, and The Edge, plus Elisabeth Shue in the audience) over The Brothers Bloom (Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz, with Ethan Hawke in the audience).

I still have a more reviews and Q&A notes that I hope to post up in the next few days or weeks. Hopefully people found the blog useful this year, and I hope to be back again next year with more ticketing tips, reviews, and Q&A's. Thanks for reading!

Quick Reviews for Days 8 - 10

Some quick reviews until I catch up on my sleep:

  • Winds of September: nice drama about 7 high-school friends in Taiwan.
  • Toronto Stories: four short films set in Toronto, loosely connected by a framing story. Combination of fun and touching stories, thought it did well showing the character and diversity of the city while not ignoring the dark spaces.
  • Radio Love: not sure I bought the lead character's resolution to her early mid-life crisis.
  • White Night Wedding: good drama with parallel storylines about a professor getting remarried on a small Icelandic island, and flashbacks to when he first arrived.
  • Achilles and the Tortoise: significantly less surreal than Kitano's two preceeding films, Takeshis' and Glory to the Filmmaker. Interesting, but found it difficult to generate sympathy for the main character at times.
  • The Sky Crawlers: reminiscent of director Oshii's other works, interesting world and story, but did find myself wishing for more scenes in the sky.
  • The Real Shaolin: intriguing documentary about 4 different people training in Shaolin for various different reasons.
  • What Doesn't Kill You: story is not anything we haven't seen before, although its origin in director/writer/actor Brian Goodman's real life elevates it a bit.
  • All Around Us: interesting character drama about a young couple and their relationship, with parallel story in the husband's job as a courtroom sketch artist.

2008 TIFF Awards

While the festival does not have films in a juried competition like Cannes, awards are given out in a few different areas:

Best Canadian Short Film: Chris Chong Chan Fui's Block B. Special citation to Denis Villeneuve's Next Floor.

Citytv Award for Best Canadian First Feature: Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Piujuq Ivalu's Before Tomorrow. Special citation to Lyne Charlebois' Borderline.

City of Toronto-Citytv Award for Best Canadian Feature: Rodrigue Jean's Lost Song. Special citation to Atom Egoyan's Adoration.

Diesel Discovery Award, voted by the Festival press corps: Steve McQueen's Hunger.

Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI Prize): for films in the Discovery programme, the winner is Derick Martini's Lymelife. For films in the Special Presentations programme, the winner is Steve Jacobs' Disgrace.

Cadillac People's Choice Award, voted by Festival audiences: Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. First runner-up: Kristopher Belman's More Than A Game. Second runner-up: Cyrus Nowrasteh's The Stoning of Soraya M.

Full details can be found in this press release:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are roommates and best friends since high school. Constantly behind on their bills, and reminded by a reunion of their lack of success over the years, the two turn desperate when their utilities get cut off. Over a beer, they hit on the idea of making a pornographic film, starring themselves, to make some cash and get back on their feet. They rope in a cast of characters to join them, including Kevin Smith stalwarts Jason Mewes (as an actor with a very special talent) and Jeff Anderson (as their cameraman), Craig Robinson (Darryl from The Office as Rogen's coffee shop co-worker and producer), Traci Lords (with a very special talent of her own), and many more. As they set out to make their movie, Zack and Miri swear to each other to not let things get personal, but their best laid plans might very well go awry.

This is vintage Kevin Smith, and I found it much funnier and more enjoyable that his last feature outing in Clerks II. Seth Rogen plays another in his series of lovable losers, so nothing new there, but he does play the role well and he has great chemistry with Elizabeth Banks (who goes from this to Laura Bush in Oliver Stone's W; talk about range! :-)). Filled with the usual colourful collection of supporting characters (including Mac guy Justin Long and Superman Brandon Routh), raunchy scenes, and Smith's trademark rapid-fire dialog peppered with pop-culture references, Zack and Miri is exactly what you'd hope for and expect from a Kevin Smith film.

Director Kevin Smith, and actors Elizbeth Banks, Jason Mewes, Katie Morgan, and Ricky Mabe did a Q&A after the film. Recap below, and I did end up censoring a lot so this doesn't get completely blocked by firewalls (and there are also loads of spoilers):

  • Seth Rogen couldn't attend the screening, as he was shooting a new film with Judd Apatow.
  • TIFF programmer Jane Schoettle, moderating the Q&A, looked a bit out of element given the pretty blue language in use.
  • Smith was shooting near Pittsburgh, but didn't want to set the film right in the city because it seemed to metropolitan to him. So they went to Monroeville (which has the mall from the original Dawn of the Dead).
  • Someone asked why Jason Mewes didn't do his half-half whole swivel move in the film, and Mewes said he didn't want to duplicate himself since he used it in Jay and Silent Bob, and anyway, that's Jay's move, not Lester's.
  • One guy commented on how this movie has cemented Elizabeth Banks as 'America's Sweetheart' and asked what attracted her to the role. Banks replied that it was getting to say F--- a lot, because you don't get to do that in Steven Spielberg movies. Smith: "There was that one time in ET...". Banks: "And in A.I. with that little kid"
  • Smith was asked if George Lucas was down with the whole Star Wars thing; to which he replied, not yet, but he hasn't seen the movie, so that might be a good thing. They've done Star Wars references in the past, but this might be the one where Lucas says, alright, f---ing stop it.
  • On how he talked his way out of an NC-17 rating, Smith says they focused on two scenes: the one with Lester and Stacey in the coffee shop and the one with Jeff Anderson (which I won't describe but you should be able to guess once you've seen the film). Smith knew that he couldn't make a movie with the title it has without being heavily scrutinized, so they went out of their way to ensure everything would conform to an R (albeit a hard R).
  • For the Lester/Stacey scene, which they claimed had too much thrusting, Smith referenced Taking Lives, specifically the scene in the 3rd act between Ethan Hawke and Angelina Jolie. Smith made the point that there was as much thrusting in that scene, and it was an R and meant to be serious (which, Smith joked, it wasn't) and that scene was meant to titillate, whereas his was clearly a caricature of sex.
  • For the Jeff Anderson scene, Smith cited Jackass and the scene with the bubble helmet, and how you could see the real thing.
  • Smith joked that when he was at Skywalker Sound doing the final mix and saw the completed film for the first time end-to-end, he said, f--- they were right, it is NC-17. He said that he thought they would actually nail him on the scene towards the end of the movie where Mewes comes out of the room.
  • On the topic of the movie poster being banned in the US but not in Canada, Smith said it was a bummer but at least it will be seen up here, and he played to the crowd by saying that's one more reason why Canada is better. He said the whole poster thing is the second best thing about Canada after hockey, or maybe the third best thing after hockey and Seth Rogen, and then added Ricky Mabe as the fourth (who is from Pointe Claire, Quebec).
  • Someone asked Smith if he'd work again with Rogen, to which he joked not after Rogen didn't bother to come the screening, but maybe he'd work again with 'America's Sweetheart' (i.e. Banks). He caught himself before saying 'Canada's Sweetheart', as that's 'f---ing Sarah Polley'.

Free Screening of the Cadillac People's Choice Award Winner

The winner of the Cadillac People's Choice Award Winner (those are the ballots you fill out at each screening and rank the film from 0 to 4) will be announced on the afternoon on Saturday, September 13. Starting at 7:00 PM that day, free tickets to a showing of that film will be available at the Visa Screening Room on a first-come, first-served basis. The screening itself will take place at 9:00 PM at the Visa Screening Room.

Past winners of the People's Choice Award have included:

2007: Eastern Promises
2006: Bella
2005: Tsotsi
2004: Hotel Rwanda

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow's latest film, The Hurt Locker, focuses on three explosive disposal experts in Iraq. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is by-the-book, just looking to make it through his tour. Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is young, but obsessed with thoughts of dying in his conversations with the company's shrink. And James (Jeremy Renner) is the new staff sergeant in from Afghanistan with a reckless streak that upsets the balance of the team. The film follows the three as they live out the last 39 days of their company's rotation; the adrenaline-fueled sorties into Baghdad and the quiet downtime in between, like a cross between Generation Kill and Danger UXB.

The film shows the close bond between these men that routinely face death and who place their lives in each other's hands. Bigelow, screenwriter Mark Boal, and the cast give a sense of why someone would do such a job and do so willingly. But Bigelow doesn't shy away from showing the brutality of the war, and how it leaves lasting effects on all sides, without imposing any moral judgement on the viewer. A pretty powerful film, with a few interesting cameos to boot.

Directory Kathryn Bigelow, screenwriter Mark Boal, and actor Jeremy Renner did a Q&A after the film (no spoilers):

  • The film was shot in Jordan, and all the Arabic faces and speaking roles were played by Iraqis.
  • Renner's character was a composite of some of the guys that Boal met in Iraq; his surprise was finding some men that were exhilarated by the experience of defusing explosives.
  • Someone asked if people like the one portrayed by Renner are benefits or hazards to their units; Boal replied that it's tricky to generalize, but really a little bit of both. Renner added that during training he asked if there was anyone like his character, and they knew one guy who would walk up to a 155 and kick it, and if it didn't blow up, then he won; he's still alive, and is more of an adrenaline junkie. But most are by-the-book.
  • The title refers to a place of ultimate pain, Boal heard it used that way by the military.
  • There was no special significance to Sanborn being in military intelligence before EOD. There is an overlap between those two branches in terms of the people who go into them.
  • Bigelow has always gone with independent financing for all her films, including this one, to help her achieve as much creative autonomy and work without compromise. She couldn't imagine working in the Middle East under any other situation.
  • The scenes with rocks coming up from the ground were to draw the audience in as if they were there, and to illustrate the concept of overpressure during an explosion. She thinks first about what tools do you need, then does storyboards, then brings in the special effects and cinematographer, and in those particular shots, used a digital Phantom camera (the rest of the movie was shot on film, but the digital shots were composited onto film) that can shoot the equivalent of 10,000 still frames per second.
  • The production schedule was 44 days, and they shot 200 hours of footage. In all, they spent 5 months including pre-production. They started shooting in the middle of July, which was not ideal as Renner had to wear a real bomb suit made of 80 lbs of steel plate and Kevlar in about 120F heat.
  • A question was asked if there were any female bomb techs. Bigelow met one at Fort Irwin, (they went to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait as well as Ft. Irwin), and heard stories of others in-theatre.
  • Bigelow was familiar with Boal's journalistic work and his work on In The Valley of Elah, and then she found out he was going on an embed in Iraq. She feels the war is very under reported in the US, and was starved for information. When she heard these stories of these men who arguably have the most dangerous job in the world yet choose to do it, she thought it would be topical and relevant and great drama.
  • On preparation, Renner said it was already on the page and felt connected to the role. He spoke with Bigelow for two hours after getting the script. He trained a lot at Fort Irwin to make it as realistic as possible. He tried to learn all the rules first so he could figure out which the character could break.

Q&A with spoilers:
  • Bigelow talked of the boy on the table, and the would-be suicide bomber are both victims in a way, it's not a blanket generalization of a bifurcated conflict; it's very, very complex, and one could only hope to scratch the surface and look beneath with as much respect and humanity as you can, given the helplessness and futility of the war, as well as the heroism of the men are involved.
  • Ralph Finnes' character has his resolution so quickly as it is a discovery for the audience, and at the same time reinforcing the danger of the environment and how everything is a threat, and not to take anything for granted even if you are a major movie star.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Quick Reviews for Day 7

Some thoughts on recent films:

  • The Hurt Locker: latest from Kathryn Bigelow, excellent look at three explosives disposal technicians in Iraq in the last few days of their rotation. Neither overtly pro- or anti-war, it shows the human toll on everyone involved in the conflict.
  • Tulpan: a look at rural life in the steppes of Kazakhstan, through the eyes of one family. an honest look at many of the joys and hardships of living off the land. This really reminded me of a film set on the steppes of Mongolia, but the name escapes me.
  • Control Alt Delete: cute, sweet little Canadian film about a Y2K programmer that develops a rather interesting fetish after being dumped by his girlfriend and being stressed out by the upcoming millenium.

Thoughts on Day 7

Few quick thoughts on day 7 of TIFF:

  • I'm at that point in the festival where I have all the pre-screening spiel and all the sponsors memorized ("we'd like to thank the festival's lead sponsor Bell, major sponsor RBC, government sponsors the Government of Ontario and Telefilm Canada, the donors to the festival campaign and Bell Lightbox campaign, this film is in the (Special Presentations/Contemporary World Cinema/Discovery/Canada First) program sponsored by (AMC Television/Sun Life Financial/Diesel/CTV), please turn off your cell phones, pagers, and blackberries, as part of the festival's anti-piracy measures (pause here for the Arrrrrrr), night-vision technology may be in use, etc. etc.)
  • Credit goes to the festival for changing up the AMC ticket holder line policy midway through the week. They've started marking up the tickets when people are in line (I won't say how, and if they're smart they switch it up every set of screenings anyway), to keep out the queue jumpers. I had a huge smile on my face tonight looking at the 30 or 40 people they were holding at the entrance to the AMC on the 3rd floor until all the people who had patiently waited in line went in first; that really made my night. Big kudos to the festival for trying something different.
  • The sound seems better in the Ryerson over the last few days. Early in the festival I had trouble hearing dialogue when music was playing in the background, but lately it's been pretty good. Either it was my imagination, or they did fix something, and if it's the latter, then kudos to the fest for that too.
  • Earlier in the week I had a chance to meet quite a few other TIFF bloggers. Great to finally put faces to URLs, and talk to everyone about their faves and misses of this year.

Best Bets for Same Day Tickets for Thursday, September 11, 2008

Best bets for same day tickets for Thursday, September 11, 2008:

Sauna 9:15am Scotiabank Theatre 2
Dernier Maquis 9:00am Scotiabank Theatre 3
The Lucky Ones 11:00am Visa Screening Room (Elgin Theatre)
Aide-toi le ciel t'aidera 11:45am Scotiabank Theatre 3
Winds of September 12:30pm Scotiabank Theatre 4
Je veux voir 2:00pm AMC Yonge Dundas 24 - #3
Killing Kasztner 2:45pm AMC Yonge Dundas 24 - #6
Under Rich Earth 2:45pm AMC Yonge Dundas 24 - #9
Che (Part 1) 2:30pm Visa Screening Room (Elgin Theatre)
The Dungeon Masters 3:15pm AMC Yonge Dundas 24 - #10
Maman est chez le coiffeur 3:15pm AMC Yonge Dundas 24 - #7
A Perfect Day 3:45pm Scotiabank Theatre 1
Down to the Dirt 3:00pm Scotiabank Theatre 3
The Burrowers 3:30pm Scotiabank Theatre 4
Lymelife 3:00pm Ryerson
Katia's Sister 4:45pm Isabel Bader Theatre
Short Cuts Canada Programme 4 5:00pm AMC Yonge Dundas 24 - #3
Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique 5:30pm Ryerson
Nuit de Chien 6:00pm AMC Yonge Dundas 24 - #7
Empty Nest 6:00pm Visa Screening Room (Elgin Theatre)
Cloud 9 6:45pm Scotiabank Theatre 1
Parc 6:00pm Scotiabank Theatre 2
Restless 6:15pm Scotiabank Theatre 3
Is There Anybody There? 8:00pm Winter Garden Theatre
The Heart of Jenin 9:30pm AMC Yonge Dundas 24 - #6
Ocean Flame 9:00pm AMC Yonge Dundas 24 - #7
Knitting 10:30pm AMC Yonge Dundas 24 - #9
Inju, la bete dans l'ombre 9:00pm Visa Screening Room (Elgin Theatre)
35 Rhums 9:15pm Scotiabank Theatre 2
In the Shadow of the Naga 9:30pm Scotiabank Theatre 4
Still Walking 10:15pm Isabel Bader Theatre
Eden Log 11:59pm Ryerson

The Brothers Bloom

The followup from the director of Brick, Rian Johnson, The Brothers Bloom follows two con artist brothers, Stephen the older (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom the younger (Adrien Brody). Fed up with the life, Bloom wants nothing more to do with Stephen, but he is drawn back in for one more con of eccentric heiress Penelope (Rachel Weisz). With the aid of silent sidekick Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi of Babel, who also voices in The Sky Crawlers that I'll see later in the fest), the brothers draw the curious Penelope into a tale that has the four travelling back and forth across the globe. Penelope entrances Bloom with her excitement over the sense of adventure, but Bloom soon wonders if he can ever have a real life, or if he's just conning himself.

It's not easy to come up with something original in this genre, but director and writer Rian Johnson spins a lively, clever story with layer upon layer and con upon con, keeping both the audience and the characters guessing as to what is real and what is artifice. Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody are well-matched as the brothers Bloom, and are as charming as con men are. Rachel Weisz plays Penelope with an exuberent innocence that easily captures Bloom's heart. And Rinko Kikuchi is hilarious as Bang Bang, her expression-filled face a worthy substitute for her complete lack of dialogue.

Johnson makes an interesting stylistic choice to have the characters all subtly seem to be anachronisms out of something like the world of The Sting in the 30's, but they still fit seamlessly into the real world of today. Overall, a different but nonetheless great and fun followup to Brick.

Director Rian Johnson, and actors Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, and Mark Ruffalo were present for a Q&A after the film:

  • Johnson's family was in the audience, and he said he especially made the film for his grandfather, who was there.
  • The illustrations in the notebook were done by Rian's cousin Zack Johnson. His other cousin Nathan did the original music for the film. Nathan also did a musical number before the film (It's Only a Paper Moon). Rian later danced with Weisz to it, and then Brody and Ruffalo danced with each other as well to the audience's laughter.
  • The costume design was done by Beatrix Aruna Pasztor (The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting, Vanity Fair).
  • They didn't improvise at all during the movie, it was all Johnson's script.
  • Also saw actor Ethan Hawke in the audience taking in the screening.

Q&A with spoilers:

  • They convince Lamborghini to give them two cars, which they brought out to Romania where they were shooting. They didn't destroy any cars, but Lamborghini did send along extra hoods and fenders, each of which was in a velvet-lined case and which Johnson joked cost more than any car he has ever owned.
  • No one would reveal what Penelope says to the Prague chief of police.
  • Brody didn't really ride the Schwinn down the hill because of insurance. He only tried it for a bit. Ruffalo actually rode down on a dare.
  • The original idea was could they do a con-man love story, and could they do a movie where the audience is expecting to be fooled in the last act, but do something that is character based, where it is an emotional payoff.

From left to right: Nathan Johnson, Rian Johnson, Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, and Mark Ruffalo:

From left to right: Rian Johnson, Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, and Mark Ruffalo:

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

$5 a Day

Flynn (Alessandro Nivola) has got issues with his job as a health inspector, and his girlfriend (Amanda Peet), frustrated with Flynn's reticence to talk, has just moved out. So when Flynn's itinerant, absentee, con artist father Nat (Christopher Walken) sends Flynn a plane ticket to Atlantic City and tells Flynn that he's dying and needs a ride to an experimental clinic in New Mexico, Flynn has nothing to stop him, except his own unresolved issues with his dad. Flynn and Nat soon embark on a cross-country road trip to the clinic, but as they slowly work their way west, they begin to reconnect and long-hidden secrets and emotions are soon brought into the light of day.

While this may seem like your typical father-son bonding road movie, there's a great deal of humour and pathos here too. If you're not a fan of Christopher Walken's particular tics and style, you might be a bit reticent, but he gives a solid, funny, and moving performance, one where the tics fit his character to a T. Especially hilarious is his character's philosophy that he can live on only $5 a day by gaming the system, from the free gas and car he won for a year in a contest, to getting free meals from IHOP by pretending it's his birthday, and more in between. Nivola holds his own against Walken as Flynn, and defines his own man conflicted over his relationship to his father. Peet doesn't have much to do beyond wistfully looking at a ringing phone most of the time, but is still a welcome presence. And Sharon Stone has a small role as a force-of-nature that is one stop on the boys' road trip west, which in some ways reminded me of her similar role in Broken Flowers.

Director Nigel Cole did a Q&A after the film

  • The budget for the film was about $3 million, not including the pay for Walken, Nivola, and Stone. Saving Grace, his first film, cost $5 million.
  • Stone spent three days filming, and it wasn't difficult to get her after she found out Christopher Walken was involved.
  • Cole mentioned one scene with Nivola inspecting a taco stand and the owner (played by one of the production guys) shouting obscenities at him that was filmed as an opening, but it set the wrong tone for the opening of the film, so it got cut.
  • Cole wanted to use the Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want, but it proved far too expensive ($1 million).
  • Marcus Foster, a young 19-year-old English singer/songwriter, did one of the songs in the film, and he doesn't even have a record contract, but someone in the audience commented on it.
  • Cole had a major crisis with his own father while working on the film, that brought up a lot of issues.
  • Christopher Walken memorizes the script (that's his process) and then he plays with it. So some is improvised, but for most, he's committed it, he's rehearsed it, he puts it on tape, he paces, and he memorizes. On a personal note, I heard the same thing from Seth Meyers, head writer of SNL, on the ESPN podcast The B.S. Report with Bill Simmons, when asked about working with Walken.

Q&A with minor spoilers:

  • That's not Steve McQueen's real jacket in the movie.
  • They were originally going to have Polident for the car, with a big set of teeth on the roof, but they pulled out as they didn't want to have their product made fun of.
  • During the 8 weeks of pre-production, they tried many others, before Sweet'N Low finally agreed. But they didn't benefit otherwise from product placement.
  • The only scene not written in the script was the scene with Nivola and Walken in the sales condo talking about the cat and the question mark.

La Fille de Monaco (The Girl From Monaco)

Bertrand Beauvois (Fabrice Luchini), is a lawyer who has arrived in Monaco to defend a rich widow (Stéphane Audran) on charges of murdering her young Russian lover. Hired by the widow's son, Bertrand is also assigned a bodyguard, Christophe (Roschdy Zem from Indigènes and Le Petit lieutenant) to protect him from the Russian's family during his stay. After giving an interview at the local TV station, Bertrand meets and is instantly entranced by the free-spirited weather girl, Audrey (Louise Bourgoin). The interest is returned, and what ensues is Bertrand getting more and more infatuated with Audrey and gradually losing more and more of his judgment and inhibitions. Lawyer, bodyguard, and even the widow, all have their own form of defenses which crumble and fall over the course of the film, turning it from just simply a light breezy comedy into something a bit deeper.

The festival description of La Fille de Monaco characterizes the film as a romantic comedy, but that's a bit of a misnomer and only covers one part of the story; I think it would be more accurate to term the film a dramatic comedy, instead. Fabrice Luchini gives a solid performance as Bertrand, a seducer by nature who despite that, is completely taken off guard by Audrey. Zem gives a subtle turn as the bodyguard, and Bourgoin handles the balance between being completely self-absorbed and still allowing one to see how someone might get completely absorbed with Audrey.

Director Anne Fontaine was present at the screening and did a Q&A (no spoilers):

  • Fontaine wrote the part for Luchini; they were involved when they were both young, and she wanted to write a part of a man who seduces women through the years.
  • She thought it would be better to have an unknown in the role of Audrey. Bourgoin was not an inspiration for the role (she was discovered through the casting process), but in real life she also did the weather on French TV for Canal+.
  • Zem has a very animal presence and magnetism, and is completely opposite to Luchini.
  • When you write, you are never clear, you discover what the possibilities are, and she thought it was interesting that the irony of the story lies with the lawyer being put on the other side of what he is used to. A laywer interprets the unhappiness of others but never experiences it himself.
  • Bourgoin has stopped doing her former job, although she does show up once a week on Canal+ to do a series of sketches, doing the same job as in the film.
  • The lawyer is an intellectual and fragile, and he expresses his sexuality through words.
  • The bodyguard nor Audrey are simple despite their vocabulary; Bertrand's vocabulary is a way of keeping himself apart from others and controlling the situation.
  • The Woman and the Puppet (La Femme et le pantin) by Pierre Louÿs was raised since it has similar themes; the story has been adapted several times in French cinema.
  • Fontaine went to a trial to get the language down, and worked with a former boydguard for Jacques Chirac. She spoke with Bourgoin on the aspects of TV, and on the character on not just being someone out to succeed, but also to be more ambiguous, moving, spontaneous and generous.

Q&A with spoilers:

  • The notion of transfer with the bodyguard led Fontaine to the dark and ironic ending.
  • Fontaine thinks that the moral in the story is that the lawyer, not in touch with his own emotions, is more human and understands something deeper in himself by the end.
  • There is a crossover between Bertrand and the widow at the end, where there roles are flipped.
  • The widow's smile to Bertrand at the end is a more twisted way for her to thank Bertrand than simply saying it.
  • When Fontaine showed the film to Prince Albert of Monaco, he joked that it's the only place you want to be in jail.

New York, I Love You

New York, I Love You is a companion to Paris, je t'aime (which I saw at the festival back in 2006). As with Paris, New York I Love You consists of a number of short films, with a variety of directors and actors (some well known, some not), all revolving around love with the city as a backdrop.

The film is still a work-in-progress, so the producers asked that the media not review the movie, so I'll dispense with any detailed discussion. I will say the film looks to be shaping up fine, with a number of touching and funny segments. Very similar thematically to Paris, je t'aime, but with a different feel because of the setting.

Some notes not specifically related to the shorts themselves:

  • Producer Emmanuel Benbihy referred to this series of films as the 'Cities of Love Franchise', and this was repeated in the end credits. Personally, that word makes me think of multi-part Hollywood blockbusters, not the sort of experimental and collaborative type of film that this is. It just conjures up the wrong type of image to call it a 'franchise', as accurate as the term may be.
  • The film is multicultural, spanning a number of different cultures and nations (Hispanic, Chinese, Indian, Jewish among others), but one group not really represented are African-Americans. Now I don't think that was anything explicitly intentional, but I think it is a missed opportunity, given that these films are as much about the city they take place in as they are about love, and it just feels like there's a bit of a hole.
  • This could change in the final release, but it appears this film has dispensed with the conceit of having each short based around a specific neighbourhood in the city. I think even in Paris, je t'aime, the producers said at that Q&A that the concept didn't completely work out in that film either.

Producers Emmanuel Benbihy and Marina Grasic did a Q&A after the film:

  • Shanghai and Jerusalem will be the next cities featured in this series of films.
  • They choose people for the film based on their enthusiasm for the project. They approached a number of directors, and went with the ones that proposed ideas that were very different, and included some that knew New York and others that didn't.
  • There were both insiders and outsiders, and directors from all over (Russia, Japan, China, France, America).
  • Some directors came to them with very specific ideas about what they wanted to do, but others fleshed it out as they went along.
  • Many were very influenced by their first trip to the city, when they would go to do location scouting, and sometimes they would get final scripts very late in the process.
  • They tried keeping the directors apart, but that quickly fell apart. The production facilities in New York have editing rooms on one floor and the production office below, which created a film school-like atmosphere for the directors. Many became friendly with each other and aware of what each was doing, and some were friends beforehand (Attal, Hughes, Ratner) and some had worked together before.
  • Some of the well-known actors are playing against type, and that was intentional because of the format. Directors involved see it as an opportunity to work in a different country or illustrate their city, actors see it as a chance to work with directors they wouldn't normally. It creates an environment where everyone tries something different and get away from being cataloged for once.
  • Hayden Christensen and Rachel Bilson were interested in working with Wen Jiang, and his DP was very well known as well.
  • On how many were from New York vs not: Ethan Hawke, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Cloris Leachman, Eli Wallach were from New York, a lot of the DP's were from abroad (Pawel Edelman, who works with Roman Polanski; Benoît Debie who has worked with Gaspar Noé, etc.), but the crew was from New York.
  • While they were filming, they were also editing, as opposed to doing all principal photography before starting editing. Some editors were specifically chosen by the directors, and there is a separate editor for the transitional pieces.
  • Benbihy and Bohnet have been spending the last few months on trying to determine the order of the segments.
  • Benbihy was asked if they spoke with directors closely associated with New York, like Woody Allen or Martin Scorsese, and he said they did, but that doesn't necessarily mean they proposed they be part of the project, as the producers also wanted to show New York differently, not the one everyone expects. They discussed the project with them, they were aware of it, but they were all busy anyway.

2009/05/03: is reporting that Scarlett Johansson's segment, filmed in black-and-white, pretty much without dialog, and featuring Kevin Bacon as he makes his way to Coney Island to eat a hot dog, will not be included in the theatrical release of the film:

L' Heure d'été (Summer Hours)

L' Heure d'été opens with an extended family visiting their mother Hélène (Edith Scob), niece of a famous painter who has maintained and nurtured his legacy and his house in the country. Sister Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), younger brother Jérémie (Jérémie Renier), and elder brother Frédéric (Charles Berling) have already started to drift apart, with Adrienne a designer in New York, Jérémie working for a shoe company in China, and Frédéric busy with his academic career in Paris. They part after the weekend, but within a year are thrown back together and must examine their familial ties to their mother, each other, and their shared family past.

L' Heure d'été struck me as a more observational film, meditating on what we leave behind and what connects us to our past. Frédéric, being the eldest, is concerned about maintaining the family legacy for the next generation, but the other two sibilings are more concerned about forging ahead with their own lives. Compared to another French family-centred drama I watched the same day, I thought L' Heure d'été revealed less of its characters' inner thoughts and feelings, with Frédéric being the possible exception, but it was still an interesting look at those themes of family ties. This film definitely had a different, more initimate feel from the last feature of director Olivier Assayas that I saw (Clean, back at the festival in 2004).

Director Olivier Assayas did a Q&A after the screening (minor spoilers below):

  • It was a more initimate movie, shot on a small budget, with friends for both the cast and the crew.
  • They all had a lot of freedom to invent the film as they made it, but it wasn't necessarily all improvised on the fly.
  • When making a film, you deal with many things, including abstract ideas, but you are basically dealing with human beings with emotions, so you write a story and try to express it through your actors, and the reality of their own emotions.
  • In film, the whole thing is about getting those emotions right, about helping your actors give a sense of reality to what is going on.
  • The film is about the passing of time, but it is also about trying to understand how time passes from the point-of-view of different generations, from the older generation to the younger generation.
  • On Juliette Binoche's blonde hair in the movie: Assayas joked that he fought as much he could to keep her brunette, but Binoche had been working on different movies at the time, and Assayas recognizes that switching between roles can be challenging for actors sometimes, and that they grab on to something to hold on to the character. In this case for Binoche, it was the blonde hair.
  • On whether Assayas is an art buff because of the number of references to art and artists in the movie: he put the film into this art world background because at issue is what we pass on to the next generation. In this case, because art is more valuable, it lends more drama to what is going on, but Assayas figures he could have told the story with a fridge and a cupboard.
  • The movie contains autobiographical themes for Assayas, as at the time he was writing the screenplay, he got to understand that his own mother wouldn't be there forever, and she died right after the screenplay had been completed. It's not his family in the film, however, he doesn't have that type of relationship with his own siblings. The film does deal with emotions that are close to home, and that helps with the relationship with the actors, as they know that you are right there with them.
  • The Musée d'Orsay was generous with access to the various pieces of art, furniture, and sculpture in the film. The film was initially supposed to be part of a series of shorts honoring the museum's 20th anniversary. The museum is dedicated to late 19th century and early 20th century art.
  • Assayas was asked to do a short, but in the process, realized it was turning into a feature. But the whole project actually fell apart, so the script was shelved
  • Le Voyage du ballon rouge by Hsiao-hsien Hou (which also starred Juliette Binoche and was at the festival last year - was in a similar situation.
  • At some point Assayas and his producer went back to the museum and told them that were proceeding with the film as a feature and asked if they would assist, and they agreed since they were frustrated they couldn't get their 20th anniversary project going. The museum didn't provide a financing, but they did provide advice and access to many works.
  • The museum was ok with use of the desk in the film, but they were quite nervous about the cupboard. They kept the key to it and only gave it up when they actually had to shoot actors opening it up.
  • The Degas plaster was a copy created for the film, and it's unlikely the family in the film actually would have had it considering how rare they are, but Assayas loves Degas and wanted to have it in the film.

The Wrestler

An barely recognizable Mickey Rourke stars as the titluar wrestler, one Randy "The Ram" Robinson. Randy has long been on the downward slope of his career, and while a still-respected figure in the wrestling world, in the outside world, he barely ekes out a living. There's no glamour in Randy's life; wrestling in small matches in school gyms and legion halls, locked out of his trailer home, working part-time in a supermarket to get enough money for food, and drugs and the occasional lap dance from Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), Randy is both literally and figuratively beaten down. In the aftermath of one fight, something happens that causes Randy to make a change in his life and reconnect with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). But can he truly leave the world of wrestling behind for a more conventional life?

Rourke gives an extremely powerful, raw and natural performance as Randy. His sheer physical presence lends an incredible air of reality to the role; you can believe that every bruise and scar was earned over a lifetime in the ring. He always remains a sympathetic character as the adulation and respect he gets in the wrestling world contrasts sharply with the lack of the same in the outside one. Director Darren Aronosfsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) easily sidesteps what could have ended up as cliched plots with the tearful reuinion with the daughter and the stripper with a heart-of-gold, and instead presents something far more real. Definitely recommended.

Fresh off of winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Aronofsky introduced the film, but unfortunately didn't stay for a Q&A afterwards at the screening I attended.

Paris, Not France

Note for those who are so inclined, apparently Paris Hilton will be in attendance at the Tuesday, September 9 screening of Paris, Not France at 6:00 PM at Ryerson.

Best Bets for Same Day Tickets for Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Best bets for same day tickets for Tuesday, September 9, 2008, taken from the TIFFG alert:

A Perfect Day / Un Giorno perfetto
Ferzan Ozpetek
Tuesday September 09 08:30PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 1

Aide-toi le ciel t'aidera / With a Little Help From Myself
François Dupeyron
Tuesday September 09 12:45PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 3

Bayan Ko: My Own Country / Bayan Bayan Ko, Kapit sa Patalim

Tuesday September 09 09:30PM JACKMAN HALL - AGO

Flash of Genius
Marc Abraham
Tuesday September 09 09:00AM RYERSON

Food, Inc.
Robert Kenner
Tuesday September 09 03:15PM AMC 10

Matt Aselton
Tuesday September 09 03:00PM RYERSON

Il Divo
Paolo Sorrentino
Tuesday September 09 04:30PM WINTER GARDEN THEATRE

In Conversation with Kathryn Bigelow

Tuesday September 09 07:45PM ISABEL BADER THEATRE

Lance Daly
Tuesday September 09 12:15PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 2

L' Empreinte de l'ange / The Mark of an Angel
Safy Nebbou
Tuesday September 09 09:00AM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 1

Last Stop 174 / Ultima Parada 174
Bruno Barreto
Tuesday September 09 02:30PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 1

Derick Martini
Tuesday September 09 09:15PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 2

Miracle at St. Anna
Spike Lee
Tuesday September 09 11:00AM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN)

More Than A Game
Kristopher Belman
Tuesday September 09 03:00PM AMC 6

Not Quite Hollywood
Mark Hartley
Tuesday September 09 02:30PM AMC 7

Nuit de Chien / Tonight
Werner Schroeter
Tuesday September 09 06:15PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 2

Pandora's Box / Pandoranin Kutusu
Yeşim Ustaoǧlu
Tuesday September 09 03:00PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 4

Paris, Not France
Adria Petty
Tuesday September 09 06:00PM RYERSON

Peace Mission
Dorothee Wenner
Tuesday September 09 06:00PM AMC 10

Nick Oceano
Tuesday September 09 08:45PM AMC 10

Amos Kollek
Tuesday September 09 05:15PM AMC 7

Sea Point Days
François Verster
Tuesday September 09 08:30PM AMC 9

Snow / Snijeg
Aida Begic
Tuesday September 09 09:45PM ISABEL BADER THEATRE

Sounds Like Teen Spirit: A Popumentary
Jamie Jay Johnson
Tuesday September 09 09:15PM AMC 2

The Burrowers
JT Petty
Tuesday September 09 11:59PM RYERSON

The Heart of Jenin / Das Herz von Jenin
Leon GellerMarcus Vetter
Tuesday September 09 02:45PM AMC 9

The Narrows
François A.Velle
Tuesday September 09 07:45PM VARSITY 8

The Window / La Ventana
Carlos Sorin
Tuesday September 09 04:00PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 3

Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique / The Sea Wall
Rithy Panh
Tuesday September 09 06:00PM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN)

Vacation / Kyuka
Hajime Kadoi
Tuesday September 09 03:30PM AMC 3

Voy a Explotar
Gerardo Naranjo
Tuesday September 09 09:15AM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 4

Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Kevin Smith
Tuesday September 09 03:00PM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN)

Javor Gardev
Tuesday September 09 06:30PM AMC 3

Quick Reviews for Day 5

With any luck I'll be able to catch up a bit on Tuesday since I only have two films, but for now, some more quick thoughts on recent films:

New York, I Love You: still a work-in-progress, and the producers requested people hold off on reviews as a result, so for now I will say it looks quite similar in form and fashion to Paris, je t'aime. I did enjoy the cut they presented.
L'Heure d'ete: A French drama about a family both coming together and moving apart after the death of their mother. An interesting look at the dynamic between generations, but I still need to think about whether it went deep enough.
Un conte de Noel: Another French drama about a dysfunctional family coming together over the holidays, and the relationships and secrets between parents and children, brothers and sisters and cousins. Some good performances, but I probably enjoyed this one a bit less than L'Heure d'ete.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Best Bets for Same Day Tickets for Monday, September 8, 2008

Best bets for same day tickets for Monday, September 8, 2008, taken from the TIFFG alert:

Jon Hewitt
Monday September 08 11:59PM RYERSON

Atom Egoyan
Monday September 08 06:00PM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN)

Apron Strings
Sima Urale
Monday September 08 03:00PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 2

Ashes of Time Redux
Wong Kar Wai
Monday September 08 03:00PM RYERSON

Better Things
Duane Hopkins
Monday September 08 05:45PM AMC 7

Fernando Meirelles
Monday September 08 11:00AM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN)

Cold Lunch / Lønsj
Eva Sørhaug
Monday September 08 09:30AM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 3

Fear Me Not / Den du frygter
Kristian Levring
Monday September 08 03:45PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 3

Is There Anybody There?
John Crowley
Monday September 08 04:45PM ISABEL BADER THEATRE

L' Heure d'été / Summer Hours
Olivier Assayas
Monday September 08 04:15PM WINTER GARDEN THEATRE

Derick Martini
Monday September 08 09:30PM RYERSON

Real Time
Randall Cole
Monday September 08 12:45PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 4

Monday September 08 03:15PM AMC 3

Still Walking
Hirokazu Kore-eda
Monday September 08 09:15AM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 1

Tears for Sale / Čarlston za Ognjenku
Uroš Stojanovic
Monday September 08 09:45PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 1

Haile Gerima
Monday September 08 05:45PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 2

The Country Teacher / Venkovský Učitel
Bohdan Sláma
Monday September 08 03:15PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 4

The Duchess
Saul Dibb
Monday September 08 02:30PM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN)

The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow
Monday September 08 06:00PM RYERSON

The Other Man
Richard Eyre
Monday September 08 09:00AM RYERSON

Un été sans point ni coup sûr / A No-Hit No-Run Summer
Francis Leclerc
Monday September 08 09:30PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 3

Upstream Battle
Ben Kempas
Monday September 08 08:15PM AMC 9

Witch Hunt
Dana NachmanDon Hardy
Monday September 08 03:30PM AMC 6

My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites