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 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