My Toronto Film Fest Experience

I figured since the festival just ended yesterday I would pull a Tom Chick and write about the movies I saw. Granted, there was no way I could squeeze in like 20-25 movies because the damn thing runs just when school starts but I did manage to see five movies. I’d say I had a pretty successful run given it was my first time watching movies at the festival after only reading about it for the past few years and trying to motivate myself to get out there. Anyhoo, on to the films.

Revolver: This was the first one I saw and unfortunately, the word you will probably hear the most when (or possibly if, because I don’t think it has a North American distributer yet) it comes out is mess. This movie starts off fairly simply but then slowly gets more and more confusing, and not in a good way (you begin to wonder how much of what you just saw in the movie actually happened). It’s also completely unlike Snatch and Lock, Stock… in that its slower, colder and largely lacking in humor. There are still some pretty cool scenes and I thought about it for awhile afterwards, which I guess was Ritchie’s intent, but its still probably going to be called a pretensious mess by many. Conversely, Ritchie spoke before the movie and afterwards answered questions, which was pretty cool.

The Three Burials of Melquides Estrada: This was Tommy Lee Jones’ directorial debut and I thought he really did a solid job of crafting a modern western that was fresh while also harkening back to some classic Peckinpah moments (some of the stuff in the movie really reminded me of Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia). It didn’t really give me too much of an emotional punch, but it moved along with a solemn sadness towards its conclusion that did manage to create an interesting experience.

Everything is Illuminated: Another first time director for this one, this time it’s Liev Schrieber, and he did a great job as well with a story that was clearly personal to him. Elijah Wood is solid as a compulsive collector of family memorabilia. But, the real movie stealer is Eugene Hutz who plays the Ukranian tour guide/translator who speaks bad English, wears track suits, and says things like “Many girls want to get karnal with me because I am such a premium dancer”. The movie starts off with this great light hearted and humourous tone and gradually becomes more thoughtful and a touchingly sad (but not sappy or anything). The move towards this is perfectly handled by Schrieber (who also wrote the screenplay) giving the movie a really complete feel.

Beowulf and Grendel: As the name implies, this one is about Beowulf and his struggle to kill the troll Grendel. A real international cast for this one with Gerard Butler, Stellan Skarsgaard and Sarah Polley and all three are strong in their roles. The more I think about this movie the more I can say that I enjoyed it as a thoughtful, action type movie. Though it doesnt exactly have wall-to-wall action, it moves well between the scenes with Grendel bashing heads (and bowling with the skulls) and Beowulf grappling with his position as hero and troll slayer. The only thing that sort of distracted me in this movie was the really modern language (and cursing) used that seemed out of place. Also, the director Sturla Gunnarson was also there for a Q&A afterwards, though I had to split (goddam classes!).

Thank you for Smoking: I got tickets to this on a whim. I read the synopsis, saw the cast, and thought it could probably be pretty good. Man oh man did I underestimate that notion. This was easily the best of the five movies I saw. The entire cast (yes, even Katie Holmes) is perfect in their roles and this movie is just so entertaining that you forget you are cheering on a Tobacco lobbyist. The great cast starts with Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor the spin master who can make you believe that cigarettes are cool. But it also has Maria Bello and the guy who played Champ Kind in Anchorman as the alcohol and firearms lobbyists (as a trio they are called the Merchants of Death), Rob Lowe as a Chinese culture-loving Hollywood agent/guru, J.K. Simmons as a Vietnam vet boss, William H. Macy as a stickler Vermont senator, Sam Elliot as the original Malboro Man and Robert Duvall as the last old school Tobacco baron. The satire really works and Jason Reitman (another first time director, and Ivan’s son, who also wrote the screenplay) does a tremendous job. The film bounces right along with tons of clever jokes and stabs at the government, corporations and the masses. Hopefully this will be a big hit when it gets its big release (there was a bidding war for the rights) next year. Also, Reitman was at the screening and answered questions afterwards and seemed really bowled over that his movie was such a big hit.

All in all, it was a good week of movie watching that I managed to fit in between classes and a job. Next year hopefully I’ll plan it a little better to fit even more movies in. Anyhoo, this is easily the longest post on QT3 I’ve ever made, so I’ll understand if no one actually reads the whole thing. Also, I’m sorry I’m not a better writer.

I’ve been wondering about the Everything Is Illuminated. A lot of the praise it is getting is echoing what people said about The Station Agent a year or so ago. I loved the trailers for both, and I am interested in Everything is Illuminated, but I’m skeptical because Station Agent was such a complete let down.

I too just returned from the Festival, and while I saw 20 films in my week there, I only saw two of the movies Funkman did. When you come out of a film at the festival you get to vote on it from 1(lowest) to 5(highest). Here are my takes in no particular order and how I voted at the end in parenthesis.

St. Martyrs of the Damned is a Quebec film generally described as Tod Browning meets David Lynch. That’s an apt description, and if you like either of those two filmmakers then you will probably like this film. I dislike horror as a genre because I find most of them cheaply manipulative and morally dubious, although this one has some superb cinematography. (***)

Thank You for Smoking - part of my Aaron Eckhart double-bill, this was easily the most entertaining film of the entire festival for me. From the clever opening credit montage, to the superb timing and excellent writing, this is easily the film everyone on this board should see. Reitman and Eckhart took questions after the film and explained that they were disappointed they haven’t heard from big tobacco about the film yet.(*****)

Neverwas - second half of my Eckhart feature. Grows quite mawkish towards the end, but a somewhat effective film that also has Ian McKellen, Jessica Lange, Brittany Murphy, Nick Nolte and others. If you don’t like magical realism or the “healing powers of the imagination” you may want to stay away.(***)

Little Fish - I’d pay money just to watch Cate Blanchett pick her nose, and in terms of entertainment value, that’s exactly what I did, as it is unfortunately rather dull. This is a small Austrialian film about four friends who are still held together by the tragic circumstances of their drug addiction. Their mutual codependence leads to the predictable tears. Very slow and notable only for Huge Weaving’s first-rate performance. (**)

C.R.A.Z.Y. - An outstanding film about growing up in Quebect from the early '60s to the late '80s. It centers around one family and one young man in particular who struggles with his homosexuality in a staunchly Catholic household. Although it veers close to the melodramatic, the director does an absolutely superb job of not slipping from pathos into bathos. The writer and director took questions afterwards and explained just how personal this film really was. (*****)

Revolver - Going to have to disagree with you on this one, Funkman, as I regard it as well beyond anything Guy Ritchie has done before. It is certainly nowhere near as entertaining as Snatch, or Lock, Stock, but it is nowhere near as shallow and disposable either. It certainly can be frustrating when a film doesn’t provide a reliable point from which to judge what is real and what is not, but the the fundamental insight about cons, chess playing, and manipulating people was quite interesting to me. I’m sure many will dismiss it as Ritchie trying to be David Mamet, but as someone who is fairly ambivalent about the Guy and his films, I really liked it. He was also extremely funny and charming during the QA. (****)

The Quiet - Little more than an after-school special about abused duaghters, this film has the virtue of being sincere, but that’s about it. I haven’t seen that other movie Elisha Cuthbert was in, but she’s certainly convincing as a bitchy, high-strung adolescent. The actress who plays the deaf girl is talented, but not given much to do here. By the time it ends in familiar Oprah territory, it becomes rather forgettable. (**)

Capote - I was interested to see this just based on the fact that I am a Phillip Seymour Hoffman fan. I liked his performance, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most people found it mannered or forced. The movie itself documents Capote’s downfall while writing In Cold Blood, and is certainly not flattering to its subject, portraying his as opportunistic, arrogant, self-absorbed, and more. Although I’m not a fan of Capote, I found it interesting nonetheless. (****)

The Heart of the Game - a documentary about a Seattle girl’s highschool basketball team and their unusual coach filmed over seven years. It will immediately draw comparisons to Hoop Dreams, one of the best documentaries ever made, which is unfair because this film in no way compares. But just because it lack’s HD’s scope and insight, doesn’t mean it can’t still be effective and charming. There’s a very compelling story in the second half about a young girl that I don’t want to spoil, so I’ll only say that it saves the film. (****)

In His Hands - a French film that is supposedly in the Hitchcockian vein, but I don’t recall Hitchcock every doing anything so wildly detached from realistic human psychology. By the time the film veers off into serial killer absurdity, the only thing you are left to look at is the beautiful lead actress (Isabelle Carre) and wonder how the French can make even the most ridiculous utterance sound poetic. (*)

American Gun - What could have been a sententious and didactic affair actually gets a failry thoughtful and open-minded treatment. It’s a rather standard ensemble piece about the effects of gun violence, and while it doesn’t exactly cover new ground or offer any new explanations, it earns points for being intellectually honest and touching. (***)

Where the Truth Lies - When I was going to film school in Toronto, Atom Egoyan was considered the saviour of Canadian cinema. I think his stock has fallen somewhat, and this film isn’t likely to help or hurt him. It’s a rather lurid tale of murder and blackmail and is surpsingly light for a guy who gave us The Sweet Hereafter and Calendar. Egoyan was very charming during the QA and had no real explanation as to why this film would get an NC-17 (it does have some gratuitous nudity, it isn’t that explicit), but he did mention that during his last battle with the MPAA, there were supposed to be 10 voting members of the board, but 12 showed up. He was later told that the other 2 weren’t voting members, but just “members of the clergy there for oversight.” That produced a great hue and cry from the urbane Toronto audience who aren’t the biggest fans of America right now. (***)

Dave Chapelle’s Block Party - a very fun comedy/concert documentary shot by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) that didn’t have enough Dave Chapelle in it and had a little too much concert footage. Great for those who enjoy the those bands, but I wanted more comedy in the mix. Still, it’s quite entertaining. (***)

Everything is Illuminated - it’s not a film festival without a holocaust or Cultural Revolution film, but fortunately the holocaust film this year is better than last year’s Downfall. I haven’t read the original book, but I agree with Funkman, that it starts out wonderfully before growing quiet and poignant. I quite enjoyed it. (****)

Runaway - another sentimental film that unfortunately veers off into the melodramatic. Aaron Stanford (the guy who plays Pyro in X-Men 2) has runaway from home with his little brother to escape some mysterious trauma. He befriends the beautiful Robin Tunney whose tugging on his heart strings brings the whole sweater of his life apart. I found it too sentimental. (**)

Everlasting Regret - my regret was only 25 minutes long, because that’s how long I was in the Elgin theater before I walked out. I’m really not a fan of achingly poetic cultural revolution films that film everything with a filter so heavy that the whole set might as well be dipped in glue and feathers and lit from behind. Fortunately, my friend who stayed and speaks both Manderin and Cantonese assured me the the film never got better and was not warmly received by the largely Chinese audience, perhaps because it was so distant and artificial. (*)

The Matador - a close second to the Thank You for Smoking for sheer entertainment value. Pierce Brosnan is absolutely fantastic as a down-on-his-luck professional assassin who has to lay low in suburban Denver with a guy he met in Mexico City (Greg Kinnear). It’s a very fun black comedy with Brosnan really taking a torch to his image as the suave and always-cool international jet setter. (****)

The Myth - I wanted to stay for the QA on Matador but had to jet to catch this showing of Jackie Chan’s latest. I’m a big fan of Rumble in the Bronx, Drunken Master 2, and other of Jackie’s films, but this film is pure, undistilled Chinese mass entertainment. So that means a bizarre combination of 3 Stooges-style slapstick comedy, huge dollops of gooey sentimentality, absurdly pompous themes, and an excruciating music video sequence of two lovers floating through the air to a serenade sung by Jackie Chan himself. Only a brilliant fight sequence set in a factory that makes huge sheets of rat glue traps saves this one from the one-star fate. (**)

Seven Swords - Lots of guys flying around punching, kicking, and cutting each other’s heads off in feudal China. Those who are learned in such affairs tell me the film is one of the better of its kind. I wouldn’t know, I was bored stiff. (**).

Winter Passing - If you’re a comedian, you’re contractually obligated to make your first serious film a depressing affair. Robin Williams had Seize the Day, Bill Murray had The Razor’s Edge, and now Will Farrell has Winter Passing. I knew it was going to be one of “those films” when the emotially distant and detached lead character had to drown her kitten in the Hudson because it had developed feline Leukemia. She later reconnects with her depressed father, the famous novelist played by Ed Harris, who helps her learn how to love again. I’m sure there are people who will love this little film and hate me for being so glib, but, whatever. (**)

So there you go. No close brushes with celebrity this year, unless you count passing Aaron Eckhart on an escaltor.

Read the book.

The book is brilliant. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but if they keep even a smidgen of what was in the book, everything from the Grandfather’s seeing eye bitch, the tour’s guide oddly mangled english, (do not dub me that, she has the boobies of many many mountains, like smallish blue birds) and the touching reunion in the middle. I am so sold on this movie.

Well Jim, I hope eventually I’ll be able to experience the festival like you did and go out of my way to cram in as many movies as I can. Just wondering, did you get one of the passes or coupons or whatever (I’m still trying to figure out how those work) or did you just get same-day tickets?

As for Revolver, I would agree that it’s definitely beyond anything Ritchie has done in terms of content, I would say it lacks in execution. Though again, Ritchie really has made a point of saying that this movie really, really wants you to think about what you are watching. And on that note, I definitely did, and I would probably even watch it again to see if I could make more sense of it. I just got more and more depressed as the movie went on and I realized there was no way I was going to be able to peice it all together. I will say that the chess playing sequences were cool and most of the scenes with Sorter were pretty great (especially in the restaurant with the waitress assassin). But things like that blood disorder storyline that sort of gets dropped, and that elevator scene that probably went on a bit too long sort of put me off. But yeah, Ritchie was definitely entertaining during the Q&A afterwards. I was actually surprised he was even there considering it was the afternoon show the day after the gala.

And Equis, it definitely has the seeing eye bitch (“Don’t worry, she is only a bit deranged”) and the mangled english (“Were you able to manufacture the Zzzzz’s?.. you know, the Zzzzz’s… the repost!”)

At first I misread the title of this thread as “Tortoro Film Festival,” and I felt sorta sad for having missed it.