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    What I'm seeing at TIFF '10!

    Here are the films I have tickets for at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

    But as always, I may be adding more to schedule as I go along.  It's going to be a fun year!



    The Road: Book and Movie

    At this year's Toronto International Film Festival, one of the most talked about films was The Road, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy.  I reviewed the Road in this post, having never read the novel, and only seeing it due to the buzz surrounding it, and the fact that it was a Science Fiction film at TIFF.  I enjoyed it, and would put it in one of the top films that I saw at this year's festival.

    The Road was the most asked about film that I saw, often due to the number of people who had read the novel and had loved it.  Since seeing the film, I've listened to an audiobook version of the Road, and felt like writing a little comparison of the two.  As a warning, this discussion might contain SPOILERS.  You have been warned.

    I enjoyed both the film and book versions of the Road.  They both create a world of loss and disaster, but great imagery created through the descriptions in the novel, or through the grainy images in the movie.  And they both do a great job of focusing on the relationship between the father and son characters (whose names we never learn in either version).

    The important similarities:

    • Tone - The tone of the film and the book are very similar.  You get a feeling that there isn't much left in the world after some sort of disaster that has blocked out the sun, has prevented plants from growing, and created an unstable earth.
    • Focus on after the disaster, not the disaster itself - This film is not about the disaster that occurred (wait until the film, 2012, if you want to see that), but it is about what happens after the disaster.  The disaster could have been a massive natural disaster, or meteor impact, or it could have been human produced in the form of a full scale nuclear assault, or any number of things, but as an audience or as a reader, we never learn these things, leaving us to focus on what happened after the disaster.
    • The relationship between the father and son - This relationship stayed largely the same.  A father who would do anything for his son, and anything to keep him alive.
    • The scene with the man who stole their stuff - This is an important scene, as it is the only time in the novel where the father is genuinely angry at another person who didn't directly threaten their lives.  Although this man stole all of their stuff while they were sleeping, he didn't hurt them while they slept.  The film is similar in this regard, as it's important to see the differences between the innocence of the boy (wanting to leave the man with something) and the hardened attitude of the father (not caring about a man who would have left them to die).

    The important differences:

    • What happened to the boy's mother - In the film, what happened shortly after the disaster, and what happened to the mother is addressed in explicit flashbacks, where it is made pretty clear what happened to the mother.  There is no ambiguity, and no confusion as to what happens (unless the argument is made that since these flashbacks are all likely in the father's dreams, it is possible that the actual events might have been different).  In the novel, the dream / memories are more ambiguous, but get the exact events across nicely.
    • Cutting parts of scenes, but not whole scenes - There is a scene in both the novel and the film where the father swims out to an abandoned boat to see if there are supplies that they might need.  In the novel, he does this twice, and we have descriptions of his experiences on the boat, but the film has him swimming there and swimming back.  Cuts like this happen in a few other places, and I think it is for the better, as otherwise, the film would have been too long.

    The "why would they change that" differences:

    • Focus on getting the boy ready for a life without the father - The novel is all about getting the boy ready for when the father dies.  He knows he's dying, and so he wants to make sure his son can survive on his own without him.  The film doesn't seem to focus on this, and seems mainly to focus on the father taking care of the son (and having a much shorter temper with his son than in the novel).
    • Swimming to the boat - In the novel, the swim to the boat goes off without a hitch, and later, as the boy and the father slept, their belongings were stolen from them.  In the film, as the man goes to the boat, the boy drifts off to sleep, and their belongings are stolen.  This is a weird difference to me, as the novel lays blame on the father for not paying attention (he should be caring for the two of them), and the son saves the day by finding the evidence to track the thief.  But the film lays the blame entirely on the son for falling asleep.  If the point of story is to get the boy ready to live on his own, then this scene in the film shows that the boy is not ready.
    • The flare gun scene with the arrow - In both the film and novel, the father is shot by an arrow, and fires back on the shooter with a flare gun.  The film has it that he killed a man with the flare gun, who was probably just as desperate as the father and son were.  The novel has it where he just scared them away.  Yes, the novel left it more open-ended, and the film didn't want to leave any loose threads, but I thought the novel was more appropriate for keeping the man likeable.

    Some final thoughts on the film:

    • Actors credited as being in the film - Viggo and the boy are in the film throughout, and Charlize Theron has a decently sized role as the mother, but Robert Duvall is in the film for only a few minutes, and Guy Pierce doesn't appear until the last 4 minutes or so.  I did not even realize that it was Guy Pierce until I saw the poster.

    I do recommend reading the novel, and watching the film.  They are both great stories, and create a world that I hope to never see in real life, but is fascinating to visit as an observer for a short time.



    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.


    TIFF '09 Stella Artois Contest

    I regularly attend of TIFF and TIFF events, and in previous years, have been fortunate to be invited to attend some cool contest events from contest savant Katharine.  This year, it was my turn to win, and I was the online winner in Ontario for the Club Stella Artois Légère Unseen contest involving the Toronto International Film Festival.

    I twittered quite a bit of the festivities (which automatically got populated to my facebook page), so I apologize for the spam, but from some comments, it seemed people had fun reading about what was happening.  Here's a quick summary of what we did:

    • Met in front of the CBC building where representatives from Stella Artois welcomed a group of 25 winners (24 winners from bars and pubs, and one online winner, myself) and their guests (although I think in the end there may have been 42 people total).
    • Hopped into a Limo Bus where there was music, talking, photographs being taken, video being recorded, and all the fun stuff that comes with that.
    • Arrived at the Drake Hotel, where we walked a red carpet and had our photograph taken again, before heading to the Stella Artois "VIP Section".
    • Here we had appetizers like mini-hamburgers, grilled cheese (Katharine's favourite of the night), fries with hot mayo (Katharine's favourite presentation), tandoori chicken, and some other nice foods.  The sushi bar was my favourite section of food.
    • We met Reginald Harkema, director of Leslie, My Name is Evil, the very same film I saw on Monday evening.  He was a nice guy to talk too, and gave me a vinyl of the soundtrack to the film.
    • After the appetizers, hopped back into the limos, and header towards Roy Thompson Hall for the Gala screening of Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky.  Walked to red carpet into Roy Thompson Hall and watched the film with a great beginning, but slow ending.
    • After that, hopped back into the limos and headed towards the TIFF after party at Flow.  Not quite our scene, so left relatively early.

    Overall, it was a very fun experience, and I was happy to attend with Katharine.  You can visit Club Stella Artois for some pictures and a video, but I've also included it below for your convenience (those viewing on Facebook need to click on the "View Original Posting Link" if they wish to see it, or visit here).

    Being interviewed about the experience

    Katharine interviewed about the evening

    Reginald, Me and the Vinyl

    Sushi Bar!

    Katharine and I at the screening



    TIFF '09 Quick Highlights

    It has been an extremely fun and entertaining past few days.  Here are some quick highlights (details to come later when I finally have some time):

    • The Road was a great film that keeps you thinking about it for some time after seeing it.
    • After attending a number of these films, seeing folks like Woody Harrelson, Michael Cera, and others that you've seen in previous years loses its appeal.  But at least it lets you focus on the films.
    • Seeing fewer films makes it a more enjoyable and stress free occasion.
    • Google Reader on the iPhone is a GREAT application for avoiding the "TIFF bubble" where people tend to not have time to see what's happening in the world outside of TIFF.
    • I remember saying it when I saw it, and had it just happen now when trying to remember what I saw on Sunday morning, but The Men Who Stare at Goats was a funny, but likely forgettable film.
    • The Winter Garden Theatre is a fun theatre.
    • It's priceless to see the surprise on people's faces when they show up an hour before a movie to a line that wraps around the Ryerson theatre.

    And that's it for now. As TIFF goes, I have a film Thursday night as part of this contest that I won, and I have three more screenings on Saturday.  I'll have a more detailed blog on this after everything is said and done.