you think the disconnect between audience and critic is not as large as
advertised? Do you want to see the deepest and most unique collection of films
to play in North America in a given year? Or maybe you just want to pay twenty
bucks (Canadian, which is now [yike!] about $18.80 USD) to see movies that
might never play on another screen on this continent? If the answer is yes to
any of the above than the Toronto Film Festival is your place. 2006 has 352
films, from Paul Verhoeven’s return to Indonesian gamelan musicals to a history
of American hardcore music to the directorial muscle of Emilio Estevez. Why
aren’t you here?
doing things a little differently this year. Instead of running a massive post
for each day, I’ll be writing a short summary which links to a festival review
of each film I see. Two reasons. One: it makes the individual films easier to
find through Fetal or the Review archive down the line. Two: it allows me to be
lazier, since I can publish the daily summary quickly and fill in the reviews
as I have time to catch up to them.
I’ll be bumping this each time I post a new daily summary, and will add notes
right here to indicate what reviews are now linked. As always, send me any and
all feedback (and recommendations) or post it on the message board.
THURSDAY, Sept 7
one and I’m already having trouble sorting through the incredibly dense
schedule. It seems like there’s more than ever this year — the last press
screenings used to begin at around 6pm, but now there are films screening at 8
and even 10pm, which shoots my traditional dinner/nap before Midnight Madness
schedule all to hell.
started easy, with This Filthy World (review), John Waters’ new performance film. Filmed as
he gave a lecture in New York, the film recounts Waters’ own history and most
of his pop-culture fascinations. It’s a great refresher if you dig Waters, and
a pretty good primer if he’s a newly acquired taste.
was at the Royal Ontario Museum and I wanted to see Jade Warrior later in the
day on the same screen, so in between I caught 2:37 (review), an Australian high
school drama. I liked the young cast and the film’s construction as it wound
together several personalities and stories, but the end result was bland and
I didn’t think much different about Jade Warrior, which was a
disappointment — how often do you see a Finnish/Chinese Wuxia flick drawing on
the folklore of both countries? The script wandered through too many spread-out
flashbacks and the action wasn’t distinct enough to make it live up to the idea
I had of the film. There are a few great moments there, however, especially
when the talking severed head comes into play.
was much more convinced by Requiem (review), a German film that tells a
much more realistic tale of exorcism than we’ve seen in The Exorcist and
middleware like Emily Rose. The period setting (early 1970s) was perfect, and Sandra
Huller, as the perhaps possessed Michaela, was sublime.
been called a hallmark of the rebirth of Polish cinema, but that seems
premature. The film is a detective thriller pressed from the Insomnia/Element
of Crime mold, more about the disintegration of the detective than the
construction of his case. While there’s some great technique, I wanted tighter
plotting, a deeper narrative cut and music that didn’t screech and manipulate
with quite so much volume.
hoped that I could end the night with the midnight show of Borat, but I didn’t buy a
ticket, and the rush line (where my press pass will get me a ticket if there
are seats available) was 100 people deep 3 hours before the film’s scheduled
start. I’m desperate to see Borat, but not that desperate,
especially since it’ll be in general release soon enough.
FRIDAY, Sept 8
time. Should I open the day with Fido, the movie starring Billy
Connelly as a zombie given to a boy as a pet? (A few people saw the public
screening last night and really enjoyed it.) Or, since Lion’s Gate already has
that, should it be Johnnie To’s new Exiled? I went with To, and had a
fantastic time; this may be his best movie, and has a near-ideal blend of
Peckinpah/Leone love, comedy and great Hong Kong style setpieces. See this one.
there I took an about-face into Alain Resnais’ Coeurs, which was an
impeccably crafted and performed comedy of love and manners, like an archly
evolved Love, Actually without the sappy resolution. I’d planned to see
the beginning, then skip into The Bothersome Man, from Norway,
before settling into John Cameron Mitchell’s supposedly super-explicit Shortbus.
But I was enjoying Resnais, so stuck around for the whole thing.
a few of us all congregated back at the Royal Ontario Museum to see The
Pervert’s Guide To Cinema, directed by Ralph Fienne’s sister Sophie and
showcasing the ideas of philosopher/psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek. Once again, I’d
planned to see the beginning before leaving to see Kore-Eda’s Hana,
said to be the most non-traditional samurai film yet made. That promise is
persuasive, but so is Zizek. I stayed for all 2 1/2 hours of his Guide,
which uses clips and set recreations of films from Hitchcock, Tarkovsky, Lynch
and even George Lucas to discuss the relationship between cinema, reality and
desire. It’s a tremendous piece of work that boils some complex ideas down into
very approachable form. As I understand it, the clearances were all handled
according to British or EU law, which means that it may never play in the
states in this form. So if you get the chance, absolutely see it.
a short dinner break, Ned announced his intentions to head down to the Elgin to
see about rushing the new Guy Maddin flick, Brand Upon The Brain!. (review) We’d seen the premiere of Madden’s Saddest
Music In The World there a few years back, so I went along. (To find
that the rescheduled midnight Borat show already had a rush line,
six hours early!) Despite the long lines I made it in, and had a great time
with Maddin’s typically rustic, crazed and old-timey cinema. This one is a
silent film about the childhood of a fictionalized Guy Maddin, who has a mother
like the Eye of Sauron, a sister with a birthmark that looks like Romania and a
friend named Wendy who is half of a sibling detective/harp playing team. The
music was performed live (and was excellent) as were the foley effects,
narration and occasional singing.
nap later and I was standing in the rain to rush The Host. It was worth
being wet. Just in case you missed why the American Godzilla film was utter
shit, check out this Korean monster flick. Sure, it could use a trim (the
middle runs on and on) but it’s got stellar effects, a very cool and original
creature and loads of political and social themes and commentary. And coming
from Korea, don’t expect a real happy ending, which is just fine with me.
Another high recommendation.
SATURDAY, Sept 9
was already feeling funky this morning when I leapt out of bed to get uptown in
time to catch Taxidermia, and the movie wasn’t one to put my sense of
well-being more at ease. After loads of vomiting, close-ups of sliced flesh and
even a man ejaculating the stars into the sky, I concluded that the film might
not be for everyone. With more story it would sit better with me, though you’ll
never see anything quite like it.
time between that and Pan’s Labyrinth, I hit on Aki
Kaurismaki’s Lights in the Dusk. It’s a dry fable of lonliness, told through
the point of view of a security guard framed for a jewelry heist; someone
commented that it’s like a film noir with all the tension drained out, which is
about right. I enjoyed it in a perverse way (maybe not Zizek’s perversity)
though I’d be hesitant to recommend it, exactly.
Labyrinth. It’s as good as people have said. Beautiful, uncompromising
and heartbreaking, it does everything right that Terry Gilliam missed in Tideland.
It’s gorgeous and absolutely not to be missed.
a last-minute decision, and it’s occasionally stunning. Re-telling the
abduction of Sita (a tale from the Ramayana), the film is truly an opera —
sung in the gamelan mode, with some incredible dance and art installations.
couple of admissions: I slept, more than once, though I’ll attribute that to my
level of exhaustion more than any filmic monotony. Both times I woke to find
myself transfixed by something onscreen; as the malefic Ludiro (channeling the
tale’s evil King Ravana), Eko Supriyanto was particularly mesmerizing. In the
end, I left early; my mind wasn’t on the film, and I thought I could use the
remaining hour better in a different venue.
is a good time for a festival truth: everyone sleeps through parts of a film
once or twice, and probably more like once every couple of days if they’re
seeing a lot. I’ve seen famous critics catching some rest, and there might have
been a New York Times reviewer who wasn’t much more awake than I was during
midnight show was All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, a smarter sort of teen slasher
flick drenched in Texas Chainsaw ambiance. It’s not going to attract anyone who
doesn’t dig the genre, but there’s some smart work inside, and a notable debut
performance by Amber Heard as Mandy and the reliable Anson Mount as the older
ranch hand Garth.
thinking about the interplay between fantasy, desire and perversion in cinema,
I know Zizek would dig it. (Ned and I discussed launching WWZT? — What Would
Zizek Think? — as a movie review website, but decided it’s not worth the
SUNDAY, Sept 10
seem to be a lot of fairy tales this year, and Penelope is the most
palatable, or at least the most easily digestible. Christina Ricci is a young
rich girl born into a curse which leaves her at the mercy of unkind suitors.
Saddled with a dose of makeup, Ricci is fine, but Catherine O’Hara and Peter
Dinklage steal the film, as if they could do anything but.
if you’re impatient for Hot Fuzz, take note: Nick Frost
appears, though it feels as if his best stuff was left in the Avid.
seen a lot of wartime prison movies, but it’s impossible not to be drawn to the
screen when Werner Herzog revisits the history of Dieter Dengler, here played
by Christian Bale. Rescue Dawn (review) follows Dengler as he’s shot down over Laos and
held captive in a makeshift VC P.O.W. camp. Bale is characteristically great,
and there’s surprise from Steve Zahn, who finally ditches his unpalatable
comedy to dramatize an Air America pilot held in the camp.
was desperate to see Jem Cohen’s new movie, and rushed the last public screening
today. He’s the guy behind Fugazi’s excellent Instrument documentary; Building
A Broken Mousetrap documents The Ex, the amazing Dutch punk
rock/improvisational band who have been making great music for 30 years. Two
shorts ran before Mousetrap – both were in a more overtly political mode, which
made for a good counterpoint to the primary film’s heavily politicized punk
vibe. The audience was a little put off by The Ex’s ragged, scratchy stuff, but
I loved it.
of the films I was most looking forward to this year was I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone,
the latest by Tsai Ming-Liang, the man behind one of my favorite films last
year, the mind-blowing The Wayward Cloud. Sleep
is a far more restrained and less controversial film, as it uses very
long shots and little dialogue to trace the desires of several inhabitants of
Kuala Lumpur. It was every bit as good as I hoped it might be.
total about face was the midnight show, the New Zealand gore/comedy flick Black
Sheep about — yes — rampaging genetically altered sheep. Weta did the
effects, and you can tell the crew spent some time looking at old models from Dead
Alive. There’s a real feeling of consistency between the two films. Black
Sheep is funny and gore-drenched, and a definite crowd-pleaser, even if
it’s not destined to stand alongside Jackson’s movie in the classics hall of
MONDAY, Sept 11
has been a letdown so far. I started late, but slipped into Renaissance,
a futuristic Parisian thriller with a rotoscoped black and white aesthetic that
owes a lot to Sin City. (Which explains the Miramax logo before the title, as
the studio desperately seeks to replicate old successes post-Weinstein.) After
about 15 minutes I slipped right back out. The empty dialogue and video game
cutscene vocal performances from the bulk of the cast made it unwatchable for
moved into the contemporary Australian retelling of Macbeth (review), which did a
better job of keeping my attention. The classic Scottish kingdoms are re-cast
as drug organizations, and some of Shakespeare’s symbols and imagery is smartly
revamped for a modern telling.
first film I really liked today was Kurt Cobain: About A Son (review), which uses
audio interviews with Cobain circa 1992-3 to build a very anti-rock star
portrait of the singer. I appreciated it more for technique than what it says
about the man himself.
The midnight show was Nacho Cerda’s The Abandoned, which I’ll admit to being a little afraid of. If you’ve seen his short Aftermath, you’ll understand why. But this survival horror pic set in Russia is a somber
and generally solid thriller — it’s the movie that Silent Hill should
have been. Which explains why this morning (Tuesday) Christoph Gans
was first in line for the industry screening.
TUESDAY, Sept 12
I started off with Perry Henzel’s return to Jamaica, No Place Like
Home. Though it’s not his return, exactly — the film was shot in the
mid-’70s as a follow-up to The Harder They Come, the Henzell film
which introduced Jamaican music to much of the world. This footage was
lost years ago, recently rediscovered, and edited into current form
with video shot decades after the original film. The result is both a
time capsule and an exploration of what narrative film can be, and
ways in which a filmmaker can step between the lines that restrict how
footage is used. It’s not for everyone, as there’s little story to
work with, but I found a lot to like.
Much less admirable was Death of a President (review), which I’m currently
willing to call the scam of the festival. The film courts obvious
controversy with footage of the assassination of President Bush, but
never moves beyond that incendiary image. There’s a void of ideas and real reflection on what the assassination might do to the country and
how it might warp the geopolitical sphere. The construction is clever,
but the film is a dull police procedural, nothing more.
Needed a real change of pace after D.O.A.P., so I stepped into The
Last Winter, Larry Fessenden’s follow-up to Wendigo. Set in a
potential Alaskan oil field, the film is like a larger-scale
revisitation of Wendigo; you could call it The Thing with an
environmental bent. The setting is breathtaking, and I loved the
tension Fessenden created.
I really wanted to catch the Election and Election 2 double feature,
but felt like I should give Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book some time.
This WWII flick doesn’t have much of the satire that marks his best
films, but it is a very well-crafted adventure story about the Dutch
resistance underground at the end of the war. It’s epic, with flashes
of the social commentary that Verhoeven likes to indulge, with a
flashes of his other trademarks (violence and beautiful naked women)
to keep the old fans happy.
At midnight we trekked once more back to the Ryerson to see Trapped
Ashes, the anthology film featuring directorial work by Ken Russell,
Monty Hellman, Sean Cunningham, Joe Dante and John Gaeda. It’s in the
style of the old Amicus flicks: funny, goofy and gory, with one story
(Sean Cunningham’s effort, set in Japan) that struck more of a chord
with me than the rest.
WEDNESDAY, Sept 13
A Korean and a Thai flick led off the day. The Korean was Kim Ki-duk’s
Time, the follow up to 3-Iron, a film I still feel lame about missing
several times over. This one is a little less uplifting, as a woman
undergoes total reconstructive surgery to re-win the love of her
boyfriend, when she believes he’s losing interest in her. But when
they reconnect, her beloved is more taken with the old her — the one
he thinks disappeared six months ago — leading her down a terrible
path of doubt and despair. Very funny at times, there’s a core of horrific uncertainty at the core of Time, and it becomes a warning
about the perils of second guessing both love and your own nature.
Afterwards was Invisible Waves, Pen-ek Ratanruang’s latest film since
Last Life In The Universe, which I loved to death. Asano Tadanobu
stars again, and is once more paired with a girl named Noi, this time
played by Hye-jeong Kang. But where Last Life was like finding someone
when you’re lost, Invisible Waves captures the sensation of losing
everything, and living according to the whim of an unmerciful, if
perversely comic universe. Christopher Doyle again serves as
cinematographer, and his uncanny ability to put life into empty spaces
makes the film as haunting as it is sorrowful.
My concentration was really slipping after those two, so I ducked into
a couple things I was curious about, but didn’t stay through either.
The first was Alatriste, the Spanish war adventure flick starring
Viggo Mortinsen and his moustache. What I saw was decent, but ended up
feeling like just another big budget movie; not bad, not compelling.
Also caught half of Hana, which I’d really wanted to see; it’s the
samurai movie but the elad is a terrible swordsman not terribly
interested in fulfilling his pledge to avenge his father’s death.
Friends have compared it to Beat Takeshi’s Zatoichi in the way it
re-examines the accepted samurai image, and since I love Takeshi’s
film I had high hopes for Hana. I left because I was tired an unable
to concentrate, however, not because the film was deficient.
Had a few minutes to recoup and grabbed a seat in The Prisoner, Or:
How I Planned To Kill Tony Blair. This is the follow-up to Gunner
Palace, and centers around one of the raids depicted in that film — a
innocent journalist arrested for supposedly building bombs ended up in
Abu Ghraib, and reconnected with filmmaker Michael Tucker two years later to recount the experience. The film uses stark animation to
recreate the violence and torture described, and has a comic-book
aesthetic that underscores the absurdity of the situation.
And finally I got to see The Fountain, which I liked quite a lot, if
not so much as Devin. I found Hugh Jackman to be inconsistent, though
he’s remarkable in his best scenes. More than anything else, the movie
is a staggering piece of filmmaking, simply breathtaking as some of
the scenes unfold, and as deeply emotional as Requiem For A Dream. I’m
still thinking about this one, so wait for the longer review.
THURSDAY, Sept 14
Though I missed the first ten minutes, I really got into Hal Hartley’s
Fay Grim, which is a whooly unexpected sequel to Henry Fool. It picks
up with Simon in jail and Fay doing a relatively bad job of bringing
up the son Henry fathered, when CIA agent Jeff Goldblum shows up to
announce that Henry’s old notebooks are vitally important to national
security. Hartley’s always exaggerated dialogue and simplistic
direction is perfect to toy with the post-9/11 political sphere, and the film is funny as hell.
I’d planned to hit Takashi Miike’s new Big Bang Love, Juvenile A this
afternoon, but my noon interview with Nacho Cerda went a lot longer
than planned — I walked out of there at 1:15, a quarter of an hour
after Miike started and a ten minute walk from the theater. I’ve heard middling things anyway, so I’ll take stock and see what’s next, which
may be nothing until Tarsem’s The Fall this evening.
Before The Fall, though, I sat in on True North, driven by my
irrational man-love for Peter Mullan. The Scot is one of four men
crewing a fishing boat that’s being driven into dire financial
straights. The black market beckons, bursting with extra cash, and
Mullan and the skipper’s son make a deal to ship a load of Chinese
refugees back to the UK. But they don’t think the plan through and
things…well, it ain’t pretty. The film is rough and simple, almost
like a fable, but in the end it’s devstating. And Mullan is
Then, The Fall. I was prepared to hate this film. Still am, even
though I know that it’s actually really entertaining and impossible to
bash from any objective perspective. Before the film started I was
talking about my utter disdain for The Cell, when I realized that I
was actually more angry with the press for not calling Tarsem on all
the elements he blatantly stole, choosing instead to praise him as a
unique artist. Regardless, The Cell is miserable and The Fall is not.
It uses the old ‘story within a story’ framework, as a hospitalized
stuntman tells the tallest of tales to a little girl also held within
the hospital walls. Cantinca Utaru is amazing as the girl — most of
her lines seem to be improvised, and she’s such a natural perforemer
that I couldn’t leave, even though my biased dislike for tarsem kept
trying to drag me out of the theater.
The day was perfectly capped with Severance, the latest film by
Christopher Smith, the UK director responsible for Creep.
This Midnight Madness program twice now has seen a filmmaker
dramatically improve upon another genre work; The Abandoned was what
Silent Hill should have been, and Severance is Hostel made by people
with talent and something to say. It’s been described as The Office
meets Deliverance, and that’s as good a line as any, though it only
scratches the surface of how funny, sick and ultimately brutal this
movie is. Plenty of films have a character threatening to shove a
weapon up someone’s ass — Smith actually does it. Yow. Magnolia has
this one, and you should be excited for it starting right now.
FRIDAY, Sept 15
The last day of press and industry screenings is always slow and a
little bit sad. I only had two today, both Canadian films. The first
was the Douglas Copeland-scripted Everything’s Gone Green, about a
20-something guy who hates the corporate world, meets a hot Chinese
girl and uses the national lotto to help her shady boyfriend launder
cash for the Yakuza. It’s cute, funny and occasionally fairly
perceptive, even though Copeland is reworking the same theme of
20-something ennui that most of us got tired of a decade ago.
One of the films I’ve most wanted to see this year has been Monkey
Warfare, simply because it stars Don McKellar, an actor I love.
McKellar and his old Highway 61 conspirator Tracy Wright are trash
digging drop-outs who sell their gains on the internet. McKellar meets
the Adrienne Shelly-alike Nadia Litz and tries to flirt with her by
showing off his collection of books about the revolutionary groups of
the ’60s and ’70s. All three leads are perfect, with McKellar looking
like he’s been OD-ing on My Name Is Earl. The sountrack rocks, and
stick around after the credits for a hilarious molotov coctail
I’ll hit a couple public screenings this evening…maybe. Syndromes
and a Century is the best contender (by the man responsible for
Tropical Malady) but I might check out The Book of Revelation instead.
Stick around for the final details.
…OK, I lied. Both of those films sounded like worthy candidates, but food was more worthy. I did go to Princess, the last Midnight Madness entry I’d be able to catch. It’s a Danish animated film that plays like a ’70s rape revenge flick, as a man adopts his young niece after his sister dies. But the kid’s mom was a porn star/whore, and young Mia has obviously suffered abuse and exposure to sexual acts way beyond her years. I wouldn’t call the film fun, but it has a few satisfying moments, despite a cheap ending that excuses it from truly engaging the consequence of abuse.