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Friday, Sep 18, 2009
Our TIFF coverage wraps with Tilda Swinton's exemplary new film, Drew Barrymore's turn in the director's chair, a new vampire flick and more.

The end is nigh. Tomorrow, it’s one last film (Werner Herzog’s My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done) and then it’s no TV for a month. 27 films in 8 days is pushing it, even for a genuine film fanatic such as myself. Plus: I can’t straighten my legs.


Highlights this week are clear: A Serious Man was my favourite, for sure, but I am predisposed to a certain reverence for anything those Coen Brothers do. Still, I do believe it’s their most rewarding film since The Big Lebowski. And, yes, I am including No Country for Old Men when I say that. Alongside it, Partir, The Disappearance of Alice Creed and I Am Love (see below) were both top flight films (for totally different reasons). Guy Maddin’s short Night Mayor was indelible and mysterious.The Road was good, but does not need to exist. Up in the Air was almost great. And, Jennifer’s Body was just plain awful. See you next year?


Cracks (dir. Jordan Scott, 2009)
After 80 minutes or so, what appears to be a perfectly pleasant (if a bit dull) coming of age tale turns so abruptly into something else that one’s head is given to spin. Where on earth did this come from? Set in a remote all-girls boarding school in 1930s England, seven teens practice diving under the watchful eye of an encouraging, modern, and poetic free spirit named Miss G (Eva Green, doing an Anne Hathaway impression). “The most important thing in life”, she counsels, “is desire”. But, before you can say Dead Poets Society, a new student appears: a beautiful Spanish countess (Maria Valverde) with the whiff of scandal following her across the sea. The erstwhile leader of the dive team (Juno Temple) is immediately jealous (especially after the new girl performs a complex dive, suggesting that all young women in the 1930s just happened to be adept at high dives, something that is news to me) and sets about a plot to destroy her. This would have made for an agreeable enough film, but all of a sudden Eva Green’s character begins to break apart, her armour showing (ahem) cracks. She is not who she says she is, you see. And, worse, she has fallen in love. Forbidden love. From then on, first-time director Jordan Scott (daughter of Sir Ridley) relies entirely on the goodwill of her audience as characters begin to do things she hasn’t prepared us for, culminating in shocking violence and frustrating ambiguity.

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Thursday, Sep 17, 2009
The new George Clooney showcase Up in the Air, the excellent Partir, the engaging Micmacs, and four short films from the National Film Board of Canada.

Things I overheard while eavesdropping during the festival so far include:


(Some film student-looking guy): He has more than… double my knowledge of international cinema!


(Some jaded and quite famous film reviewer): One year, I swear, I’m going to get a button that reads: “It’s just a fucking movie!”


(Some industry guy, talking loudly on his cell phone while in line ahead of me): I saw Roger Moore’s [sic] film last night. Well, you know I agree with his politics, I mean totally. But he can be so childish. This one was good though, not too didratic [double sic].


(Some local film reviewer with perhaps ironic facial hair, regarding the popular midnight madness public showings of horror films): I cannot watch a movie with that audience. (His friend): What, you mean like real people? (Mustache man): Yeah.


(Industry guy, looking a bit peaked, as we exited The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus): Oh, what a horrible mess. (Weird looking lady behind him): Yeah! Didn’t you just fucking love it?


(Reviewer from some obscure website unavailable outside of the mighty U.S. of A., to a helpful unpaid festival volunteer): So, am I to understand that no one in Canada has ever heard of the Huffington Post?


(Some serious film fanatic, as he sat down in front of me at a 9 a.m. screening): Only for Herzog would I do this. I was up till like three in the morning.


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Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009
In his third installment, Stuart reviews the hotly anticipated adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a great documentary on Daniel Ellsberg, and new films from Todd Solondz (yuck) and Werner Herzog (yuck, but in a good way).
Life During Wartime (dir. Todd Solondz, 2009)

Todd Solondz’ new movie often feels like it is little more than a mash-up of his previous films. It even opens with a scene that is lifted almost wholesale from Happiness (1998). And, just like they did in virtually everything he has done before, pedophiles and other “perverts”, unhappy middle class white people, sexually confused children, and a generally mocking tone abound. At his best, Solondz is a real auteur, a singular observer of an alienated America, of an America filled with weirdos and lonely souls, longing for comfort and finding little. Certainly, the characters he explores in his latest represent some of the darkest he has yet drawn up: an incestuous father fresh out of jail (Ciarán Hinds), a lonely drug-addicted mother (a startlingly good Allison Janney), a curious and desperate dork of a kid (Dylan Riley Snyder), a pathetic barfly searching for escape through sex (a startling Charlotte Rampling), and a mousy woman (Shirley Henderson) who’s haunted by the men she has driven to suicide (Michael K. Williams, Paul Reubens). But, at his worst, Solondz relies on mockery, poking fun at these unfortunate characters without ever allowing us to fall in love with them. With each passing minute in this frightening little film, one finds oneself disliking the characters more and more, and finding the script to be uninterested in changing our view. This has the bizarre effect of leaving little reason for us to try to make sense of their predicaments, or to empathize with their despair. Throughout, the ostensible theme of forgiveness runs through everything like a bulldozer: can we forgive a terrorist, or a pedophile? Should we? And even if we do, can we/should we ever forget? Solondz may be a lot of things, but he is never subtle. This should have been enough to work with, but he muddies the waters with a hamfisted attempt to connect this “forgive and forget” theme to the issue of US troop withdrawal from Iraq, confusingly suggesting that if you do a bad thing and then steal away (“cut and run”) you make things worse. Well, maybe. But, really?



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Tuesday, Sep 15, 2009
In this second installment, Stuart Henderson reviews films from Michael Moore, Terry Gilliam, Atom Egoyan, and Ricky Gervais. Also, he mostly dismisses something called "Bitch Slap".

Navigating through a major international film festival is never easy. First of all, it involves a great deal of planning if you intend to see a lot of stuff. The Press and Industry schedule for this year’s fest is a complex grid of competing screening times, multiple locations, and frustratingly few showings of key films. Many of the movies that everyone wants to see are playing only once in theatres not quite big enough for all of us to get in. There are, in fact, two lines for many of the movies: one for the Priority Press (which means, sort of by definition, not me) and one for the Other Press (including a correspondent for the Huffington Post who was decidedly nonplussed about finding herself there, and who made embarrassing noises about it, like, in front of the rest of us, as if she didn’t realize that what she was upset about was that she was being treated just like the rest of us, all of which led to an awesome moment when a youthful festival representative came over to deal with her and admitted that she wasn’t familiar the HuffPo. “Canadians have never heard of the Huffington Post!” the critic responded, indignant and amazed. “No, I have never heard of it.” Yeah!) And so but anyway you have to wait in line a lot, and thus you have to plan to be at screenings long before the scheduled start, which means that you can’t safely bump from one show right into the next. Though I have, so far, been able to get into everything I’ve lined up for, I certainly haven’t been able to see everything I wanted to see. I mean, one of the theatres is a subway ride away from the other two!


There are two basic ways to approach a film festival. On the one hand, you can go to a fest with the intention of seeing every major film that stars lots of famous folks and which will invariably set you up for the big releases for the next few months (which, for reviewers, is good because a head start is nice). On the other hand, you can go to a fest planning to see only little movies which might not find a distributor, and thus may never again play on the big screen, in the hopes of discovering some unwashed gem. This latter option happens to be the “cool” way to go to a fest, since all I have overheard from “cool” looking film people is how they didn’t go to see some Hollywood flick because they can “see that anytime” and instead watched something weird, quirky, and interesting, that hasn’t got a hope in hell of being picked up for distribution. And, while I am drawn to that approach, I am also acutely aware that the former option provides the best possible chance of catching Golden Globe and Oscar stuff before the rest of the world gets in there, which is kind of thrilling. Anyway, there are actually three ways of approaching a film festival, since you can also just plan your days around what stands out when you thumb through the program, and then do the math to make your day work time-wise. This is what I decided to do. I was told by some guy when I said that I sat through Jennifer’s Body instead of seeing a semi-obscure French film (that he adored) that I was going to “regret” this approach. Film people can be very weird.


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Monday, Sep 14, 2009

The Toronto International Film Festival, now in its 34th year, is a massive media gongshow that takes place in my hometown, right around the corner from my house. I get to bike to my first screening in the morning. I take lunch breaks and meet my wife and son for little walks between movies. I don’t have to sleep in some weird sterile hotel room, staying up late because I get to watch TV in bed which, for some reason, I always seem compelled to do. I don’t have to eat every meal at fast food joints (which means I don’t yet feel like a bag of dump, though all I have done for three full days now is sit in a dark room). And, finally, I can share in the whole, admittedly intoxicating, irrepressible thrill of seeing stars as they walk down my streets, the streets I’ve been walking along past nobodies and whocareses for my whole life. I mean, if I saw a celeb in New York, would that be weird? But, when George Clooney or Jennifer Connolly comes sliding by, all graceful and elegant and not-quite-human, I dunno. It just feels, electrifying. Is that lame? Probably.


Truth is: I haven’t actually seen celeb one this year. (Last year, I did way better. I even chatted with Tim Robbins. Well, the truth is that I actually had an astoundingly unnecessary conversation with him since the poor guy was just trying to get a drink and I accosted him, all 5’8” of me, and he, who is much closer to 18 or 19 feet tall, had to lean down so far he was basically assuming “the position” and looking for all the world like a big storky bird bending over to pluck up a teeny worm (me), and all so that he could be polite to this random dude who felt the unstoppable urge to waylay him. Also, I bumped into a guy I recognized from a car commercial.)  Instead of star-annoying, I have actually been watching films this year. As I sat down to write this, your first instalment of a five-part series of reviews and randomness from your humble(ish) correspondent, I had already sat through 12. By the end of the ten day festival I will have seen about 30. Dear God.


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