35th Toronto International Film Festival - Lightbox Edition

Though I suspect most don’t really notice that I haven’t posted much around here as of late, I figured I had to provide a small (and poorly written) entry here to talk about the films I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really get to see a lot of the big movies (that will undoubtly get released shortly) as I have in the past so my insight into the anticipated movies of this year will be mostly absent.

Anyway, as the thread title suggests, this year TIFF finally got the new Bell Lightbox theatre open in downtown Toronto and it is beautiful. I got to see a few movies there and look forward to see a lot more in the future.

As for celebrity sightings: I saw Ben Stiller, Sally Hawkins, Will Patton and Ryan Gosling. I also got to listen to Errol Morris and Werner Herzog answer questions. I was most excited though to see Roger Ebert leaving the theatre after Herzog’s film. I rode in an elevator with him and while, admittedly, he isn’t looking to great, it was great to see him out and about enjoying movies (I just wish I hadn’t chickened out and actually said something to him).

So, here are the movies I saw:

Behind Blue Skies – Using a crime story in Sweden in the 1970s, this movie concerns itself with the coming of age of a young man who moves from a troubled home to work at a resort while getting swept up in a drug trafficking operation. Really handles a lot of different storylines well, with a burgeoning romance, the usual criminal hijinks and subtle class criticisms.

Neds – A coming of age story of a different type, showing the role the Scottish educational system has in crushing boys into formfitting adulthood or abandoning them as non-educated delinquents. I found the central performance to bit underwhelming and the transition from boyhood to young adulthood to be rather abrupt, but it does a fairly effective job in capturing its subject matter, painting a pretty bleak picture overall.

The Piano in a Factory – I really liked the premise of this movie regarding a divorcing couple and the struggle of the father to keep custody of his daughter by building her a piano. The movie uses its abandoned Chinese industrial wasteland setting to great effect, mirroring the characters’ own growing uselessness in the face of China’s changing culture. Slightly overlong, and unsure of its own conclusion but still provided a great window into another place.

Submarine – Another coming of age story, this one with touches of modern Wes Anderson and classic French new wave. Set in Wales at an indeterminate time, the film considers a boy who is trying to lose his virginity while also keeping his parent’s marriage together. Re-reading that, I realize how familiar it sounds, but the film is very well-designed and the main character provides a unique enough voice despite the somewhat familiar dramatic and comedic terrain.

Tabloid – Errol Morris crafts another entry for his unbelievable and odd person file. The subject here, a former beauty queen, lays out her life story and the audience watches as it is all turned on its head, Rashomon style. At times, she is an innocent bystander, a cunning deceiver, both demure and powerfully sexual. You sit enthralled as the story gets more and more bizarre and compelling (Mormons! kidnapping! S&M modelling! cloned puppies!), while in the end, you are left to decide where the truth lies.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams – A completely fascinating movie that quite literally shows the viewer something that they would probably have no other way to see. Werner Herzog gets access to the Chauvet caves in France that are home to the earliest known cave drawings, some 32,000 years old. From there, Herzog employs his usual philosophical narration while asking questions regarding the mysteries of time and the universe. Oh, and did I mention that it is shot in very effective 3D

Meek’s Cutoff – Probably the best movie I saw at the Festival. Great use of space, music and acting. Bruce Greenwood is terrific as the blustering, increasingly incompetent leader of a trio of families traversing the Oregon Trail in 1845. A very deliberate film that hangs over the actions of the characters, developing a slow tension as desperation grows for the relief found over the next hopeless ridge. Key to the experience is the spectacularly complete yet ambiguous ending. This may sound odd but it makes sense to me: its like a small scale, minimalist cross between There Will Be Blood and Walkabout.

Blue Valentine – Really solid, well crafted movie with a great flashback structure used to good effect. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are great as a couple seen at both the beginning and end of their relationship. At turns heartbreaking and joyful, the film respects its characters while bearing their flaws honestly. Loved the use of the Grizzly Bear music and the raw feel the entire movie exhibited.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame – About 10 minutes into this one I decided that definitely do not like super serious yet silly, cheap looking martial arts movies. I suspect some may enjoy the general tone but sadly I sat there mostly wishing I had picked a different movie.

Henry’s Crime – One of those definitive straight to DVD releases that you will see one day and wonder how you missed a movie that stars Keanu Reeves, James Caan and Vera Farmiga. The reason? This is a fairly rote movie that goes exactly where you would expect and has very little to offer (unless you want your bank heist movies to prominently feature Chekov plays).

The Trip – Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon essentially play themselves as they travel across north England having dinner at fine restaurants. Michael Winterbottom clearly lets the actors run with the idea and the movie effortlessly volleys back and forth between hilarity (duelling Michael Caine impressions) and pathos. Much like in Tristram Shandy, Coogan continues to mine his own personal and career struggles for quiet dramatic effect.

I think Submarine, Meek’s Cutoff, Tabloid and Cave of Forgotten Dreams are a lock to get distribution and be seen by a wider audience. And while it may be optimistic, I think Blue Valentine will probably get a big push later in the year, and maybe even get some award consideration. As for The Trip, I read of some talk of it being broadcast on TV, so who knows if it will ever be seen again.

I didn’t go to anything TIFF related this year but why did you not see Bunraku?

Of the movies you saw, I also saw The Trip, Tabloid and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and about 17 more.

Tons of fun celebrity mingling - sat in front of Ellen Page and Liv Tyler for Super (interesting hearing their reactions) and right next to Temuera Morrison and Ray Winstone for a small screening of Tracker - cool to be sized up next to Jango Fett/Jake and Will Scarlet/Beowulf.

Had a ticket to Bunraku but couldn’t make the screening. Heard love or hate for it.

edit: some thoughts on Monsters here: http://www.quartertothree.com/game-talk/showthread.php?p=2387148#post2387148
Will post more on some others when I get the chance.

I saw You Are Here with tromik yesterday. A very arty philosophical movie, to be sure, but still managed to be down to earth, and only one segment really seemed gratuitous when it came to being weird and arty. And I was happy that the director didn’t try giving the audience his so-called “opinions” about what the movie was really about. As if he would know!

A question for the regulars, do you get discounts when you’re a member? The price really seemed prohibitively expensive to me.

^^^^tromik, this is how you go to a festival

No real discounts - it’s definitely expensive. For the Film Festival you can get package deals, but it basically works out to about $18.40 per movie with a flexible package, and those tickets still won’t get you in premium screenings (which are more expensive).

And to ensure you get all the movies you want you have to give an additional $300 as a charitable donation (tax deductible, so you get some of that back). But while you won’t get everything if you don’t make that donation, you can get into almost everything through the lottery system or if you’re willing to wait in line for Rush seats – the only movies that were almost impossible to get into this year were the Herzog documentary (Cave of Forgotten Dreams), Black Swan and King’s Speech…maybe one or two others that I can’t recall.

A bit different from Stockholm where you get a membership card for $32 and then get into movies for $10 each.
Glad I went to at least one movie, though

I usually get a gold lanyard thingy which gets me in for free from a friend who’s on the festival committee. It doesn’t get me reserved seating though so I have to wait in the rush line. I’ve never been turned away though.

You can usually get in through the Rush line, if you’re willing to get there early enough. There were a few screenings this year where there were virtually no Rush seats though (translation: under 30 seats, for the 300+ in line, so you would have had to line up more than 2 hours in advance).

This would explain why Stefan and myself have such differing views on monetary and fiscal policy. Because I’m broke.

You are Here was weird, but oddly enjoyable. It felt like an arty faux-documentary about philosophical thought experiments. In the end, I felt I’d been strung along a bit, but I actually really liked what was stringing me along. The more self-contained segments worked the best.

I want to visit the archivist’s room. It’s a pack-rat-media-nerd’s dream: Old technology, mixed-media, collections of random stuff, and a system to describe the system. It’s like how when you look at a bookshelf as a reader and a nerd, you’re not only looking at the books themselves, but how they’re arranged.

Oh, and it was strange to see “Scientist” from Half-Baked so many years later.

I didn’t know about Bunraku, I guess. Only so much time to fit in all these movies. I think I did an ok job picking them this year but I usually end up with a couple of outright clunkers that I regret picking within 15 minutes of sitting down to watch.

I think next year I am going to try to volunteer and/or get more involved in TIFF in someway. I’ve been going to the fest now for 6 years (at my peak, seeing 25 movies), and I always come away feeling great having been able to attend.

I actually did hit the rush line for the first time this year. It was how I got in to see Tabloid. For some theatres it doesn’t strike me as too difficult to get in and grab a seat but you definitely have to be there at least an hour beforehand.

One of these days we are going to have to do a QT3 TIFF gathering of some kind…

Scientific American has just posted a 5 minute video interview with Werner Herzog about this movie, which is soon to open in cinemas.