TIFF 3 of 5: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

I have written many, many times about the West Memphis Three, including a few weeks ago when they were released from prison after 17 years. Shortly after that Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, makers of the first two Paradise Lost documentaries chronicling the case, announced that the just-completed Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (imdb | tiff) would not be changed to reflect recent circumstances, but would in fact be shown as is. The filmmakers decided to get the new ending ready for the New York Film Festival instead. Still, a few hundred of us — including Morgan Spurlock — were pretty excited to see it.

In fact, there was little in this documentary I didn’t already know, so I’m finding it hard to come up with a proper rating. But it was pretty damn cool to be there with two of the guys who truly contributed to these guys getting out, and to hear them answer questions. I’m so jealous of the people in New York who get to see the new ending, especially since rumour has it that some of the WM3 might actually show up.

7/10 for the documentary itself, but a Spinal Tap this-one-goes-to-11/10 for the social impact Berlinger and Sinofsky have had.

TIFF 2 of 5: The Hunter

Our second movie of the festival, and this year’s “Hey…how did that get there?” selection, was The Hunter (imdb | tiff), starring Willem Dafoe, but really starring the amazing landscapes of Tasmania. It was okay…not great, but reasonably entertaining, if a little hard to buy. But wow, was it amazing to look at. I was a little upset that we’ve not included any side trips to Tasmania in our upcoming Australia trip, even if the film does suggest it’s populated by weird hippies and dangerous loggers.

The director and stars stuck around for some Q&A after the film. I assume Mr. Dafoe was tired, since he didn’t seem terribly coherent. Also: he’s one short man. But he probably gained the movie one point out of ten all on his own, otherwise the jumpy storyline and thin plot would have kept it at a 5.

6/10

TIFF 1 of 5: Into The Abyss

Anytime you can start a festival with a Werner Herzog documentary, you should start a festival with a Werner Herzog documentary. So we started our 2011 fest with Into The Abyss (imdb | tiff) on Thursday night, the first real screening of the fest.

The documentary sprung from footage gathered for a short TV series about death row inmates, but one particular story had enough depth for a feature. That story was of two Texas men, one serving a life sentence and the other on death row, as well as their family and the family of their victims. Herzog makes it clear from the beginning that he is against the death penalty but doesn’t spend time on making that case, instead focusing on the damage done to everyone surrounding a murder. The most interesting and compelling interview subject was a former captain of the ‘death squad’ at Huntsville. I won’t say more than that; you need to watch it for yourself. In classic Herzog style an incredible mix of drama, truth, humour and fascinating subjects bubble to the top and create a lasting impression.

Herzog and his editor took to the stage after the film, and talked extensively. I won’t be able to describe how he wrapped up the Q&A perfectly, echoing the final scene of the documentary, but he did. He was funny and insightful and so much more excited than the last time we saw him at the festival — understandably so;  he’d just lost his adoptive mother. It was a classic Herzog moment. And a classic film festival moment too.

8/10

Last box, shmast shmox

Just got the TIFF email. Despite being in the last box to be processed, we got 4 first choices and 1 second choice. Incroyable! That means we’re seeing:

[UPDATE: we decided to trade in the Rampart tickets for a Violet & Daisy screening after all. We rated it higher, it shows earlier in the festival and there’s a chance the director will still be around to talk about the film. So, in the end, despite being in the last box processed we got all five of our #1 picks.]

Pretty excited (and relieved!) right now.

The big TIFF narrow-down

Actually, not so big this year. Still lots among the ~500 movies that I want to see, but not as thick a crop as it seems to have been in past years. Especially when you filter out all the fancy-pants screenings. Anyway, here’s what we narrowed it down to:

Now…to find the time to fill out the booklet and drop them off!

13 Assassins

On Sunday we saw our fifth and final TIFF film, 13 Assassins. I won’t say much about it other than that if you like Samurai movies, even a litle bit, you should go see it when it comes out. Seriously, people, it was directed by Takashi Miike and it ends with a 45-minute battle scene. What other incentive do you need?!?

A-

"Just kidding."

I didn’t survive this week at work so much as I climbed out of it. Pushing through this cold (again? seriously? dammit!) I suggested a pub near the Ryerson before our second-last TIFF film. Much to my surprise they had several Unibroue bottles behind the bar, including #9 on the Project FiftyBrew list: Don de Dieu! Kickass. It was very nice, by the way…tasted much smoother than a 9% beer should.

We had time to kill and full bellies, so we walked home, dropped our stuff and then walked back to the Ryerson. I was so wiped that I needed coffee; our barista at Starbucks mistook my ‘sticks of shame’ t-shirt for an indication that I actually speak Japanese and tried to converse with me. My blank stare pretty much answered that question for her. We strolled up to the Ryerson and the oh-so-familiar line-up spot: the concrete wall running along church, a tired movie-goer’s best friend. Oddly enough we were shown in to the theatre 35 minutes before the scheduled start time. That never happens.

Speaking of Japanese, many of the people in the audience spoke it. That’s because we were there to see Confessions (tiff | imdb), aka Kokuhaku, Japan’s submission for best foreign film Oscar. I think I like it more now than immediately after I watched it…it felt a little long at the time, but now I appreciate all the story threads it had to pull together. The filtered slo-mo was beautiful for a while, as was the droning soundtrack, but it wore a little thin in the second hour. Still, very good. It deserves a B, says I.

Tonight is all about relaxing. I could only get about 3 hours of coherent work in at the office today, and tonight — while Nellie is off doing girly things with other girlies — I plan to do nothing more strenuous than write this blog post to the following soundtrack:

  • Ida Maria . “Oh My God”
  • DevotchKa . “How It Ends”
  • Uncle Tupelo . “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down”
  • We Are Scientists . “Pittsburgh”
  • The Tallest Man On Earth . “Graceland”
  • FemBots . “Count Down Our Days”
  • Vampire Weekend . “Ottoman”
  • Rogue Wave . “Electro-Socket Blues”

Those last two were from the closing credits of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, playing in the other room, and about as highbrow as it’s gonna get around here tonight. Peace.

"I'm a lot stronger than you think I am."

I’ve been so busy all week I’ve not had a chance to write about TIFF films #2 and #3: Blame and Let Me In.

Blame (tiff | imdb) was a decent, uncomplicated little thriller from Western Australia, filled with pretty young actors in fancy clothes (for reasons explained as the film goes along). Thankfully never falling back on the crutch of a hidden twist, instead slowly revealing hints about who and how and why we are where we are. Unfortunately the ending just felt forced, which poisoned the whole thing. C+

Let Me In (tiff | imdb) was the North American remake of Let The Right One In (imdb | rotten tomatoes), which I admit sounded like a recipe for disaster. I saw the Swedish original last year and loved it, as did many other people, and we all assumed a North American remake would rob it of everything that made the story great: the sweetness of children mixed with the savagery of a desperately hungry vampire (not some sparkling moon-eyed twat), the atmosphere of the housing block, the feathery snow, the brilliant swimming pool scene. But then I read that it had been programmed at the festival by Colin Geddes, he of midnight madness. There’s no way he’d pick a shit remake of a film he must have loved as much as the rest of us. So we picked it. And we got it. And it was amazing. A scene-by-scene, nearly shot-for-shot remake, as true to the book (apparently) as the original Swedish film was. The biggest difference was that the violence was more brutal, more effect-laden; it didn’t hurt the film, it just made the schism between the sweet 12-year-old girl and the vicious monster seem all the more jarring, and interesting. It’s not just me who liked it, either; early reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are running at 100%. Highly recommended. A

Trust

This film festival hasn’t felt like a film festival yet. I’ve been so busy with work that I haven’t seen or heard or read anything about the start of TIFF10, and by the time we attended our first screening yesterday morning, all the excitement that comes with the first two nights of screenings had worn off. It felt to me like we were joining something late, rather than really being a part of it.

What did feel kind of nice was being back in the VISA Screening Room at the Elgin Theatre. It was our first ‘home’ at TIFF when we started attending, but lately it’s become more and more off-limits to simple movie-goers (and not celeb watchers) like us and the Ryerson has become the new core of our TIFF experience. Yesterday we were able to sneak in because the screening of Trust (tiff | imdb) took place at 11AM; the gala screening had taken place the night before. Even so, David Schwimmer showed up to introduce his second film, and at least gave us a preview of how difficult it would be.

I don’t want to give away much, but if you read the synopsis on either of those links or watch the trailer you’ll get the gist: that a 14-year girl is lured by a sexual predator online and…well, bad things happen. Schwimmer donates a lot of his time and money to a rape crisis centre in L.A., and heard the stories of victims and their families, and a lot of that showed up on the screen. The emotional responses of the girl (played disturbingly well by Liana Liberato) and her father (Clive Owen) seemed more believable to me than anything I’d expect to get from a Hollywood movie.

There was also a subplot: the ubiquitous sexualization of teens. Clive Owen plays an ad exec who did a big campaign, and threw a big party, for a barely-disguised American Apparel. Middle-aged executives talk about what they’d do to 19-year-old waitresses if they weren’t married. The mall is plastered with pictures, appearing barely in-frame, of girls in lingerie. Schwimmer nearly beats us over the head with this, but manages to keep it on-track.

I also can’t describe how important it was that the star really was a 14-year-old girl when this was shot. Again, this is probably not what would have happened had this been a typical Hollywood film. Typically a better-known actress in her early or mid-twenties would be cast, and the audience would never have felt that visceral reaction one has to a child being in danger. They would never have accepted that her emotional response would be naive and childlike. We would know she’s a young adult, and expect her to react accordingly. Tragically, in the end, this commitment to realism may be what keeps the film from a wide release, or even US distribution. As of this writing there’s no American distributor.

B-