TIFF 2014 picks

It’s a light, light year for us at this upcoming TIFF. Because of weddings, business travel, and house guests we’re limiting ourselves to three films this year, not counting a gala which I sort of stumbled into. We chose the back-half pack (actually, I thought we chose two, but discovered during the selection process that we’d only bought one…some hasty prioritizing took place with a drowsy wife in tow) which might as well have been the back-quarter pack. Except for said gala, all three screenings take place on the final weekend.

  1. Ned Rifle
  2. The Drop
  3. Corbo
Photo by Ping Foo, used under Creative Commons license

#TIFF13 recap

Over the past week we’ve taken in our now-usual five festival films. They were a dark lot this year, and about as festival-y as it gets (in that most will likely never see wide release).

Miss Violence (tiff): we’d never seen a film in the City to City programme before, but this one caught our eye. It was certainly one of the more disturbing movies I’ve ever seen. Put it this way: it starts off with an 11-year-old girl committing suicide, and goes downhill from there. So…yeah. Incredibly acted, though, and it took a day of reflection to recognize the skill with which the layers were peeled off to reveal a rotten core. Unfortunately, it was marred by what must be the worst set of audience questions ever foisted on such a brave director. 8/10, though I could probably never recommend it to anyone.

How I Live Now (tiff): I’d hoped this would be a little deeper and darker than it turned out. Apparently it was based on a YA novel, and there was a lack of depth in the film that really held it back. Saoirse Ronan was very good (though for the love of Pete, would someone should just let her speak in her normal voice? Embrace the Irishness, producers of the world!) and tiny Harley Bird pulled off the amazing feat of playing an adorable kid that didn’t become grating or saccharine. But still…could have been so much more. 5/10.

Afflicted (tiff): this was a Midnight Madness film playing for the second time (and hence, not at midnight) and in front of a mixed crowd: half of whom knew it was MM and therefore what to expect, the other half of whom seemed unaware of what they were in for. I think they figured it out after the 4th or 5th gushing fountain of blood. No masterpiece this, but any time you can take a trope as well-worn as this (I don’t want to reveal the basic plot) and a device as overused as ‘found footage’, and somehow pull off an interesting and exciting version of it for, like, $350k…bravo. If you’re a horror genre fan at all, or want to be impressed with how skill and imagination can overcome a low special effects budget, watch this.  7/10. Side note: apparently the film made someone pass out at the debut screening at the Ryerson, but Afflicted was actually pretty tame by MM standards. Unlike…

Why Don’t You Play In Hell? (tiff): our first and only true MM screening of the festival, and on Friday the 13th no less. I’ll admit that after an early morning, a long day at work, and then a very heavy meal, we both struggled to stay awake for this one. No fault of the film, it was all us. We’re old, you know. Anyway, this turned out to be an incredibly fun, savage, bizarre, clever, bloody, sweet film that is nearly impossible to describe. It slapped my weary, fevered brain around, much to my brain’s enjoyment. 9/10.

iNumber Number (tiff): what a bad-ass way to wrap up the festival: full-on, straight-up South African cops & robber action. Nothing complicated, just tortured good guys, corrupt officials, scary bad guys, a killer location that practically becomes a character in the film, and terrific performances all around. We saw the final screening in a pretty large theatre, after it showed Thursday and Friday nights in even bigger theatres, so this one had some attention. This, for me, was out sleeper pick. 8/10.

So that’s a wrap on TIFF13. Next year: ten films, at least.


Photo by Ping Foo, used under Creative Commons license

Photo by popturf.com, used under creative commons license

#TIFF13 preview

One of these years we need to do more than five films at TIFF. The past few years have seen us cap it there, mostly due to travel and other constraints. I had every intention of amping things up this year, but we’re attending a wedding which will occupy the entire first weekend. Obviously we’re excited about the wedding, but it does feel like the universe is setting our ceiling for the foreseeable future. So, five it is:

Just to recap: those are films about child suicide, a world on the brink of world war three, disease/zombieism, African gangsters, and a “blood-soaked orgy of outrageousness”. Sweet.

There are tons of galas and special presentations I really wanted to see, especially Devil’s Knot and Gravity, but I’ll be able to see those in theatres within a few months. I wouldn’t be surprised if we never get another chance to three or more of the films we selected. Which, frankly, is part of the fun of the festival.


Photo by popturf.com, used under creative commons license

Photo by Sheila Steele, used under Creative Commons license

“Jack. That’s the name I want.”

Somehow it’s taken us six years to see Boy A (imdb | rotten tomatoes) after not quite making our cut list at the 2007 TIFF. I really wish it hadn’t taken so long. Not simply because it’s an amazing — moving, troubling, beautiful, unsettling — film, but because it might have been even more jarring to see it before we knew who Andrew Garfield was.


Photo by Sheila Steele, used under Creative Commons license


Photo by boyce duprey, used under creative commons license

“It’s all a deep end.”

Like me, many of you probably remember an awful movie coming out in the mid-90s called Judge Dredd (imdb | rotten tomatoes), in which Sylvester Stallone droned “I AM THE LAW” and all but ruined the character for anyone who’d read the comic book. I wasn’t even aware it had been a comic book — it was bigger in the UK than here — until Dredd (imdb | rotten tomatoes) showed up in last year’s TIFF lineup…Midnight Madness, specifically, which made sense given the violence on offer.

I hesitate to call it a remake — what I remember of that awful Stallone movie bears little resemblance to Dredd, by all accounts a much more faithful depiction of the original character. It was far from a great movie, and will be far too gory for some people’s tastes, but was a solid little Saturday afternoon good(ish)-guy-vs-very-bad-guy flick.


Photo by boyce duprey, used under creative commons license


Photo by Thalita Carvalho, used under Creative Commons license

TIFF reviews: No One Lives, Much Ado About Nothing, I Declare War

And thus endeth this year’s sprint: three films in 18 hours. I understand that’s not much of a sprint compared to some TIFF schedules — or even our own from past years — but in a year where we only see five films, it’s about as sprinty as it gets.

1. No One Lives

We began our festival (if you don’t count the Jason Reitman live read of American Beauty) with a Midnight Madness screening: No One Lives (tiff). As with many films in the MM programme, it was insanely, almost comically violent. The plot was…well, basically, it did what it said on the tin. It killed a lot of people without a whole lot of backstory, and provided the kind of over-the-top kill methods and lazy dialogue you expect from a genre film.


2. Much Ado About Nothing

Since we didn’t get home until 2AM and didn’t get to sleep until after 3, we were a little tired this morning when we rolled out of bed 9AM. Still, there was nothing keeping Nellie from a screening of a Joss Whedon film. Personally I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see this one — Much Ado About Nothing (tiff) is far from a favourite Shakespeare play — but since the premiere was only yesterday there was still a chance Whedon would stick around to attend today’s screening and answer some questions, I had to go along with including this in this year’s picks. When we arrived an hour before showtime we found a long line disproportionately populated with Serenity t-shirts.

So, the film itself was fine. Like I said, I’m not particularly in love with that play, and Whedon didn’t adapt any of the language, but he did a good job of adding to it with little bits of physicality — fist bumps, a girlish lounging pose, a long tumbling scene, Nathan Fillion (full stop) — that cracked the audience up. The black and white looked great too, though I admit the sameness numbed me a little and I drifted off for a few moments through the middle.

Happily for Nellie, Joss Whedon was indeed there. He said a few words before the film, and returned at the end, both times to standing ovations. Also, a surprise: many of the cast members were in attendance. They answered questions, told funny anecdotes, and were probably delighted that the Whedonverse references to kept to a minimum (only one guy made reference to another show/film, leading into his question by stating “Browncoats forever”). We also learned more about how this was filmed: just after finishing The Avengers he invited the cast to film this in his home; they did so, over twelve days (afternoons, really; he edited The Avengers during the mornings) just two and a half weeks after he approached the actors. That’s not much time to get ready for a Shakespeare play set in someone’s house. And, apparently Clark Gregg was a last minute fill-in (after initially declining) and had only a day to prepare. I’m glad we got to hear those stories and learn a little more about the film and how it was made.

All in all, while I can say that I didn’t love it, I certainly didn’t dislike it either. For sheer effort of getting it made, I’d give it a 7.5/10.

3. I Declare War

I Declare War (tiff) was a film populated entirely by kids. No adults, just kids. And, sadly, it wasn’t quite what Nellie or I were expecting: there was more fantasy and less actual escalation than we expected. It was decent, but not great.



Photo by Thalita Carvalho, used under Creative Commons license

Photo by Profound Whatever, used under Creative Commons license

"Brad, for 14 years I've been a whore for the advertising industry. The only way I could save myself now is if I start firebombing."

We just came from one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen at TIFF. As Cameron Bailey (who kicked off the evening) said, it was truly an unrepeatable event.

A couple of days ago director Jason Reitman, who’s gotten into the habit of staging live readings of scripts of great movies (he’s done The Princess Bride, Reservoir Dogs, The Apartment, and others) with actors who weren’t in the actual films, announced that he’d be putting together a live reading to kick off this year’s film festival. It may sound like a boring concept, but it actually seemed like a completely different thing for us to try at TIFF in this, our eleventh year. So we bought tickets.

The film he selected? American Beauty (imdb). The participants? None other than George Stroumboulopoulos, Paul Scheer (who was a last-minute stand-in for Woody Harrelson), Mae Whitman, Nick Kroll, Sarah Gadon, Adam Driver, Christina Hendricks, and (as Mr. Reitman introduced him) Bryan motherfucking Cranston. That’s right: the lead parts were read by Joan Holloway and Walter goddamn White.

It was fantastic. Just, just, just wonderful to watch. I’ve watched American Beauty many times, but I think I only realized tonight how funny it was. And seeing the actors live, especially the ones who could crack the audience up just by adding a look or a nod or a gesture to their reading, added a new texture. Adam Driver (if you watch Girls you know who he is) was great as an understated Ricky Fitts, and the others did a great job (poor Strombo was rather out of his league but stayed in the game), but the true stars were Hendricks* and Cranston. They were so expressive and emotive that I could have watched them do it again just for fun. What a treat.

It was very nearly the perfect TIFF evening, except that when we left a thousand people were losing their tiny little minds because Kristen Stewart was walking down the red carpet outside our theatre for the premiere of On The Road (tiff). It’s the creepy, eNowbsessed part of TIFF that I know is a necessary evil, but to step into the middle of it immediately after took some shine off of what had been an almost transcendent festival moment.

Still, I forget the red carpet bullshit pretty quickly, while that table read will absolutely stick in my favourite TIFF memories ever.

*And I’m not just saying that because I’m deeply in love with her


Photo by Profound Whatever, used under Creative Commons license

Photo by Paul Henman, used under Creative Commons License

A brave new world without dual-colored markers

We began attending the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2002. Being beginners, we took the easy road: the Visa Screening room, where you just show up at the same theatre at the same time for eight consecutive nights and watch whatever they put in front of you. We saw a few good ones and a few that were utter crap, so in 2003 we decided to try our hand at picking our films. This meant entering the lottery process.

The lottery was a complicated procedure: on Monday you were given a schedule, two colored markers, an envelope, and — if you wanted to shell out the extra bucks — a detailed programme book describing each film. You made two selections for each movie you’d purchased, coloring your first choice green and your second choice yellow, and dropped your completed form in a numbered box. Friday at noon you’d find out which box had been selected. On Monday — Labour Day — you’d line up somewhere (College Park, for most of my early years) stupid-ass early because you didn’t know how lucky or screwed you were. It was common to see people who’d drawn a late box, and therefore got few or none of the movies they’d wanted, sprawled out on a food court table or park bench poring furiously over schedules and programme books, hurriedly making hail-mary picks. It was nerve-wracking, but excited. Over the years they introduced email alerts to at least let people know in advance whether they needed to line up for replacement tickets, or whether all was well, which gave a lot of people back their holiday, but still kept people on pins and needles until the email arrived.

This was our tenth year taking part in the lottery. Only twice have we missed any picks, and it didn’t hurt us either time — we went 13/15 one year and 14/15 a few years later; every other year we’ve batted a thousand. But this year we cheated. We became donors.

See, donors get preferential treatment at lottery time. Sure, you get a lot of other TIFF-related perks too, but this was the big draw for us: having our picks processed before the rest of the lottery entrants. So we made our donation and waited for our early access window (more on that in a minute) and felt pretty smug.

However, the anti-smugness gods made themselves known when we, not thinking clearly, booked a camping trip on the weekend in which the donor-selection windows would fall. So, when it came time for us to log on to the TIFF website and make our picks (no more colored markers or envelope drop-offs or waiting-for-email stress!) we would be four hours away in a tent with (obviously) no internet connection. Son. Of. A Bitch. Oh well; we knew we’d get home early enough on Sunday that we could still make our picks before the bulk of the lottery entrants.

As (bad) luck would have it we’d end up back in the city earlier than we planned, so we were able to make our picks just a few hours after our intended window. The new process was incredibly easy, and using tiffr to make our picks is even easier (if a little more unwieldy) than when I used to scrape the TIFF website’s entire schedule and convert it to a spreadsheet. Anyway, all that to say: we got all five of our top picks this year, and the selection process took maybe three minutes. Awesome work, TIFF.

Just to be clear: the only reason we’re going to see Much Ado About Nothing is because Joss Whedon is directing it, and if there’s so much as a 1% chance she could be in the same room as her Messiah — even though it’s not the premiere — Nellie’s not passing that up. We’ve been burned **cough Young Adam cough** by this kind of thing **cough Diggers cough** before, so let’s hope it works out a little better this time.


Photo by Paul Henman, used under Creative Commons license

TIFF 5 of 5: Violet & Daisy

We wrapped our 2011 film festival last night with Violet & Daisy (imdb | tiff) at the Ryerson Theatre. It was written and directed by first-timer Geoffrey Fletcher, who wrote the screenplay for Precious, and who was, adorably, barely audible during pre- and post-screening Q&As. The words “quiet genius” are probably written on this dude’s underwear.

Anyway, the film was as entertaining as you’d expect a movie about two teenage girls working as professional assassins as scripted by an Oscar-winning screenwriter to be. Especially when you throw in James Gandolfini as a primary target. I’m reluctant to say much more about it than that, except to suggest to you that you watch it when it comes out. It’s funny, and it’s often sweet, and a pretty impressive effort from a guy we’ll be watching closely from now on.

And, as it turns out, not a bad way to close out the fest.


TIFF 4 of 5: The Loneliest Planet

Five years ago Nellie and I saw what would become one of our all-time favourite TIFF movies: Day Night Day Night. When we saw a film in this year’s schedule by the same director, Julia Loktev, we flagged it. We flagged it hard. Luckily The Loneliest Planet (imdb | tiff) worked in the schedule, and we sat down Monday night to watch it.

Whereas most of Day Night Day Night was set in a small, bare hotel room or cramped bathroom stalls, The Loneliest Planet was set in the huge, stunning vistas of the Caucasus Mountains. But the stark, detailed, intimate nature of the story Loktev tells is still apparent, with small subtle gestures and movements and utterances making such enormous impacts. Nearly nothing happens in the scale of what we’d come to expect from Hollywood films, or any film for that matter, but that’s what made it so impressive — Loktev’s restraint. Her willingness to let a story tell itself rather than tell a story, her expectation that the audience will figure something out without having to be told. It’s very much a film festival film, and Julia Loktev is becoming very much a festival must-see for us.