OK, seriously. The best thing this year? (So far at least.) Bar none, the omission of the Extended Dance Remix of Universal’s theme that used to accompany the ‘thanks to our volunteers’ bumper before each film. Imagine seeing an extra-long loop of the theme forty or fifty times in a week, then try to figure out how you’d stay sane. Then invent a time machine and go back to help me out last year.
In general, the blips running before films this year are a lot less annoying. Granted, we don’t get the zombie comedy of the reaching hands that made up the TIFF bumper a couple years ago, but we also don’t have to suffer through a bunch of poorly chosen cell phone films. (There are a couple of mobile films being cut into the pre-film mélange, but they’re less irritating than the old ones.)
Totally different tack, but something I continue to find amusing: bartenders are completely befuddled by anyone ordering bourbon and coke. The whiskey or bourbon and coke is such an obvious and established go-to beverage for me that I can’t stop chuckling at the weird looks I get from Toronto bartenders. But I’m paying their absurd food tax, the extra alcohol tax, GST and tipping well, so bring me my goddamn bourbon already. Good? Good.
I only barely awoke in time to see Eastern Promises. (Awake until 4AM; the screening was at 8:45.) But Cronenberg is a good motivator and I wasn’t disappointed. From any other director, this movie would look like a career high point. The tale of Russian gangsters (primarily Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel and an amazingly scary Armin Mueller-Stahl) and their interaction with a London midwife is simply put and visually understated, but willing to crack open into grim brutality. From Cronenberg, it’s a characteristically well-made film, but generally so straight that it feels like an oddity or a one-off. Even with A History Of Violence as a recent touchstone. I’ll probably like this one more as time goes by.
This is a good time to mention Chacun son cinéma, too. It’s an omnibus flick produced to celebrate the anniversary of Cannes, and Cronenberg created and stars in one of the three-minute segments. The title? At The Suicide Of The Last Jew In The World In The Last Cinema Of The World. Yeah, I’m there when it screens this week, especially since Josh Brolin is in the Coen Bros segment and there are contributions from David Lynch, Wong Kar Wai, Wim Wenders, Tsai Ming-Liang and many more. Omnibus films almost always fail, but if even a few of these segments are worth watching, I’ll be happy.
(For instance, David Lynch’s contribution to the old Lumiere celebration was one of the best pieces of film he’s made.)
Following Viggo’s Russian impersonation, I saw a little bit of Nocturna, but bailed out after a half hour. It’s an animated story of a boy whose favorite star disappears, leading him into the machinery of Nocturna, the bureaucracy that keeps the night moving.
I hate to compare things unfairly, but I couldn’t help thinking the film would be amazing in Pixar’s hands. In this reality, however, the story and characters aren’t there. No scene is sharp. For example, the extended opening involves the boy, his efforts to pull his orphanage bed close to the window so he can sleep under his star, and later his reluctance to recover a ball from a dark basement. That’s basically fifteen minutes dedicated to telling me the kid’s afraid of the dark. Such inelegance continues through as much of the film I saw, and I couldn’t take it.
Fortunately, every Toronto Festival is a possible launching pad for a new Guy Maddin film, and 2007 is not an off year for the Manitoban director. My Winnipeg is characteristically Maddin: narrated by the filmmaker with an appealing mix of wry observation, blatant exaggeration and bold invention. He’s composed a one-eyed appreciation of Winnipeg that celebrates, with equal nostalgia and fervor, hockey and a team of horses frozen in a river. Of course, it’s not really a documentary about Winnipeg at all, but a vision of the city as seen through Maddin’s recollection of adolescent memories. Still, it’s a straightforward film so easy to watch and enjoy that it could be the ideal gateway into Maddin’s idiosyncratic style.
Now. Glory To The Filmmaker! cries Takeshi Kitano. Did you see Takeshis’? Probably not. Almost no one did. That was his first foray into self-referential absurdity. This is even more of an existential filmmaking crisis, and I’ve never seen anything like it. That doesn’t mean that it’s good exactly. Actually, if there’s a film that’s bulletproof to criticism this year, this probably isn’t it.
Takeshi Kitano is in a crisis about what sort of film to make now that he’s sworn off gangster pictures. He dabbles in romance, Ozu-style drama, horror and other styles before delivering an indescribable ‘sci-fi’ film that feels more like Spike Jonze’s fake dance group gone to Japan. Don’t expect to ever see this one unless you’re importing it…
Finally, I finished the day with Peter Greenaway’s latest, Nightwatching. Starring Martin Freeman as Rembrandt, this is equal part stage play, examination of politics and the creative process and conspiracy thriller. Stylistically it’s a time warp for Greenaway, more like The Draughtman’s Contract than anything he’s made in the last decade. Freeman is mostly wonderful, the film is beautiful and I liked it quite a bit, though I’d like to see it again. I didn’t really cotton to the fact that it was going to revolve around a conspiracy until a scene or two later than intended, and knowing what I know now I’d pay different attention to the first half hour.
Tomorrow I’m either going to kick off with the new Werner Herzog documentary (Encounters At The End Of The World) or Catherine Breillat’s latest, starring Asia Argento. Or I might sleep in. Definitely need it. Also tomorrow: George A. Romero’s Diary Of The Dead! That’ll make for good Monday morning reading.
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