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    TIFF '09 Reviews


    On the surface, Defendor is the kind of film that I would likely see: It's about a superhero.  But the film is not your typical superhero fair.

    Instead of doing another typical superhero film, directory Peter Stebbings, uses the usually mechanics of a superhero film to create a character analysis piece about Arthur Poppington (played by Woody Harrelson).  This film HAS laughs, but you soon realize partway into the film, that it's more drama than comedy.

    The film connected with Katharine on an emotional level, but not so much myself.  While I'll say that I enjoyed it, I unfortunately think that the film suffers from being Canadian.  Now, what I mean by that, is that almost all Canadian films I've seen (with a few exceptions) tend to be edited to a pace that doesn't always work, and might be too slow for an American audience.

    Although Woody Harrelson was good in his role, and Elias Koteas is a genius, as always, supporting actress Kat Dennings falls a little flat in that she didn't really click with her character, and it showed.

    Overall, I still gave this film a TIFF people's choice vote of 3 / 5, as I admired the effort, and because I did enjoy it, even though I could see it's faults.

    George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead

    My first midnight madness of the festival, this film was picked to satisfy my enjoyment of zombie films (such as previous *of the Dead films, and films like Shaun of the Dead).  I did see last year's Diary of the Dead, which I both liked, and disliked, for several reasons, and hoped that this year, Romero would create a better film.

    The film continues where Diary left of, with the army group who found the trailer of people from Diary are trying to survive in the zombie infested world.  They're lured to an island, where opposing families, who have argued for (possibly) hundreds of years, are now arguing about how to handle the zombie uprising.

    Although the film had some fun moments, the film falls as flat as Diary did.  I gave the film 2 / 5 on the TIFF people's choice vote.

    The Men Who Stare At Goats

    The title of the film is what attracted me to it.  The title is basically Snakes on a Plane, but with Goats.

    The film itself follows a (potentially) true story about a group of New Age soldiers who harnessed the powers of their mind (and dance) to fight evils in the world through peace.  At one point, the military gets the idea to use their powers for combat, and a man stares at a goat until it dies.

    Does this sound ridiculous?  It sure was.

    I had a fun time at this film, and laughed considerably.  But I don't think this film has staying power.  Yes, people will go to see it, and have a good time, but it won't be remembered in a few months (I've forgotten that I've seen this film so many times in the past week that I almost forgot to write this review).

    I gave this film 4 / 5 on the TIFF people's choice vote, due primarilly to having a good time.

    The Road

    Of the films I saw, this was the one I was most asked about, mainly by people who had read the book.  I haven't read the book yet, but it is most definitely on my library reserve list after seeing this film.

    The film is SciFi at it's best.  There are no laser beams, or transporters, or space ships, or people asking you to "use the force."  Instead, we are forced into an earth with apparently nothing left, and with the focus being on a father and son trying to survive.

    It is most definitely NOT your typical science fiction film.  It has no big special effects designed for show, it has a relatively small cast, and it doesn't leave the audience leaving the theatre all happy-go-lucky.  But this film was made with a good amount of money pumped into it, and I was impressed that this story was made into a film.

    I very much enjoyed this and gave it a 5 / 5 on the TIFF People's Choice Voting.

    Air Doll

    This was one of Katharine's picks.  Based on a 22 page manga which followed an inflatable doll falling, getting cut open, and being rescued by scotch tape and being re-inflated, the film itself examines moments leading up to that moment and moments after it.

    The film itself was a fantasy of sorts, with there being a living inflatable doll and all, but the doll, being empty of subspace and full of air, became a metaphor for all the people who peripherally passed the doll.  Although it wasn't my favourite, and the sinister twist near the end kind of reduced my enjoyment of it, I actually still enjoyed it.

    I gave it a 3 / 5 on the TIFF People's Choice Voting.

    Leslie, My Name is Evil

    I had completely missed this film, but found out by chance that Kristen Adams - who I attended school with - was a member of the cast.  The film is an historical fiction following the events leading up to, and the trial of Charles Manson in the 60s.

    It was a little camp, and some of the cast was intriguing, but I'll confess to not fully getting the film, but at least being entertained.  Kristen Adams probably does her best acting so far in this film, creating a character that starts off seemingly one dimensional, but steals the scene on more than one occasion later on.

    I gave the film a 2 / 5 on the TIFF People's Choice Voting, only because I didn't quite get it.

    Bitch Slap

    I had Tuesday off from work, and I was heading down Monday for Leslie, My Name is Evil, so I figured I might as well hit the midnight madness for some fun and action.

    Bitch Slap is basically an attempt at doing a "sexploitation" film of days past.  The focus is not on plot, but is on the women being women.  And T&A.  And that's about it.

    There were some fun cameos from Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless (along with the actress who played Gabrielle on Xena), and I'll admit to having laughed occasionally, but this film was AWFUL.  The acting was poor, the writing was poor, and every time they went to a green screen that was made using CG equipment from 1988, I cringed.  One of the actresses said that she was excited to be in a movie that was actually going to be released... I'm not sure it will be released it was THAT bad.

    I gave this film a 1 / 5 on the people's choice ballot, because you can't give a lower rating than that.

    Capitalism: A Love Story

    Michael Moore documentaries need to always be taken with a grain of salt.  You need to know going into these films that, although he'll present you with facts, he might not give you ALL the facts, and might add a bit of his own opinion as well.  But at least he'll entertain you along the way.

    Capitalism follows what has happened in the US since the economic crash of last September, and what lead to those events.  It's an interesting look at that world, and you WILL be entertained, but be careful.  I never got a clear idea why homes that had been owned by a family for years and years and years were being lost.  These were homes that their grandparents or great-grandparents owned, so why would they be losing them?  I think Moore pointed to the businesses that promoted refinancing their homes, but why would people do this?  Is it not their own fault that they risked losing their homes by doing this?

    Despite all of this, the examination of what lead to the housing market crash, the stock market crumble, and the role government had in this was interesting.  I gave it a 4 / 5 in the TIFF People's Choice vote.

    Youth in Revolt

    I picked this film purely on the fact that the photo had Michael Cera in a mustache.  This was apparently the World Premiere of the film, and Mr. Cera was in attendance.

    I had fun with this film.  It's definitely a Michael Cera vehicle, with Cera playing two roles: His typical awkward teen, and a more confident french rebel... in a mustache. I laughed and had fun, but this is another film that people will forget a few weeks after it's release.

    I gave the film a 4 / 5 because I had quite a bit of fun watching it.

    Cocol Chanel & Igor Stavinsky

    This was the Roy Thompson Hall gala we got to see as part of winning the Stella Artois Unseen Contest.  It's a french made film following the possible relationship between Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky after Coco Chanel invited Igor and his family to live in one of her homes.  The film itself is an historical fiction, and starts magnificently with energy, excitement, drama, conflict, and great music as the first showcase of Stavinsky's Rite of Spring is first performed to the public.  But it goes downhill from there.

    In typical french film fashion, Stravinsky and Chanel show little to no emotion, and the relationship does not appear to have much passion.  Shots of the characters in the center of the screen facing the audience is done to catch the audience off guard, but constant use of the method makes it lose it's effect quite quickly.

    I very much enjoyed the beginning, but very much disliked the rest of the film.  I gave it a 1 / 5 on the TIFF People's Choice vote.

    Waking Sleeping Beauty

    My final day of the festival started with this documentary picked by Katharine, following Disney Animation starting in the early 1980s, and culminating with the Lion King in 1994.

    The film focuses mainly on the personalities in charge (Michael Eisner, Jeff Ratzenberger, and Roy Disney) and how they took a financially failing animation group, and churned out hits like the Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King.

    My favourite parts of the film were seeing the creative process behind the films, like the pitch for making the Little Mermaid crab Jamaican with the Under the Sea demo, and seeing all the people involved with Disney animation at this time, including Tim Burton and John Lasseter.

    I really liked this film.  It was great from beginning to end.  I can't wait until the sequel, which follows the failings in the traditionally animated films AFTER the Lion King, leading up to the attempt to revive the genre with The Princess and the Frog.  If they ever make that sequel.

    I would have given it a 5 / 5, but voting doesn't happen on the last day.

    Up in the Air

    Going into the film festival this year, I was most looking forward to two films: Ong-Bak 2, and this one.

    Since first seeing Thank You for Smoking a few years ago, I've looked forward to seeing Jason Reitman films.  I was at the world premiere of Juno last year, but couldn't get into the world premiere of Up in the Air this year.

    I'm not sure when Reitman began production on this film, but it's very timely that it comes out in a time where companies are going through massive layoffs.  George Clooney plays a man who's job is to fire people.  Through the film, we learn that he enjoys living his life in the air, going from city to city, carrying as little baggage as possible, but real and symbolic.

    I enjoyed the film, but I don't think it was as strong as Thank You for Smoking or Juno.  It's quite good, and I laughed quite a bit, but maybe George Clooney doesn't click with me enough to warrant the spontaneous standing ovation I gave Juno last year.

    I would have still given this film a 5 / 5 on the TIFF People's Choice ballots this year.

    The Disappearance of Alice Creed

    Everyday during the festival, the Q107 tent at Yonge-Dundas Square was giving aways tickets to a 6:30PM and 9:30PM showing of a film at the festival.  For the first couple of days, if I was walking through Yonge-Dundas Square, I'd stop by and ask them, but with no success.  On the last day of the festival, Katharine asked if they had any tickets left, and they did.  They had some for the 6:30PM Up the Air that we were already attending, and two tickets for the Disappearance of Alice Creed at 9:30PM.  We got them, and spent the better part of the next hour debating whether or not we would attend (as I had no interest in a film where all I knew was that it was about a kidnapping).  Since the film was inbetween Up in the Air and Ong-Bak 2 in the same theatre, and we would have reserved seats (thanks to Porter Airlines), we decided, "why not attend."

    What followed was one of the most exciting films I've attended at the festival.  On an obvious low budget, and with only three people in the cast (the credits started rolling, and it was amazing to see only three actors), this film FEELS like a big screen flick, and it takes you for a wild ride.

    I don't want to say too much about the film, as you really need to see it without knowing ANYTHING about it, and don't let anyone tell you anything about it going in.  This film I was almost never going to see ended up being my favourite film of the festival, and I would have given it 5 / 5 in the TIFF People's Choice ballot if they were still collecting them.

    Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning

    As mentioned earlier, Ong-Bak 2 was one of two films I was most excited about going into the festival.  I was at the North American premiere of Ong-Bak at the Uptown Theatre 6 years ago, and helped to give the directory a standing ovation when it ended.

    Ong-Bak 2 has some fantastic fight sequences and action, but the story was lacking and somewhat hard to follow.  It was obvious that Tony Jaa was making a film that would have no ending if he didn't go WAY over budget and production had come to a standstill.  The film does end suddenly, with a promise for a sequel, but don't think that's how Tony Jaa planned it.

    I would have given the film a 4 / 5 on the TIFF People's Choice ballot, because it isn't quite as strong as the first film.