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The Rambling: TIFF 2007 (Days 1-3)

Saturday, September 8, 2007
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You can't give seats away to the screening of 'Festival Name -- The Movie'By gum, Toronto International Film Festival — it’s been a while. How’ve you been, old girl? I see you’ve raised your prices again; nothin’s too good for my TIFF. I hope you weren’t too jealous, while I was off gallivanting with exotic, Oriental film festivals. I have to admit, I came down with a bit of the Yellow Film Festival Fever, but I’m fighting it, and I know you’re just what I need to beat this thing. Rest assured, I won’t ever neglect you again, Toronto International Film Festival…

Enough silliness. My last TIFF was in September of ’03; let’s see if I can still remember how it’s done. And let’s see if I can still remember how to compose a sentence at 3:45 am, because that’s how this is gonna happen — every night, after I get back from the Midnight Madness* movie, I’m writing about my day, and however it turns out — however it turns out — is what’s going up. It might be annoying for you to read, but it’ll be excruciating for me, because I’m anal about punctuation and spelling and all that shit. laebmada

Day OneDay TwoDay Three

Days 4-6Day 7-9

Friday, September 7th

It’s Day Two of the festival but Day One of my festival, since I didn’t get tickets for either of the movies I’d wanted to see yesterday — Jar City and Young People Fucking. Maybe I’ll get my chance later in the week, but probably not, because I don’t plan on doing any rush lineups this year. Guess I’m just getting old, the ol’ ticker can’t handle the excitement of waiting in line for three hours for the slight possibility of getting a really shitty seat for a movie. Caffeine in the evening keeps me up all night these days, too.

The whole TIFF ticket-getting system came back to me without fail; however, I forgot where the ROM was and almost missed my first movie. I did make it, though, and claimed a nice spot right up front for the not-even-nearly sold out documentary The Dictator Hunter. It tells of a lawyer named Reed Brody in his quest to have the former dictator of Chad, Hissène Habré, extradited and tried for the thousands of murders and acts of torture he ordered. Alongside the lawyer is a man named Souleymane Guengueng, who was one of Habré’s victims — he was held prisoner for two-and-a-half years — who has come to represent the group of victims who initiated this pursuit.

They’re both incredible, admirable men, and their story is moving — though the film itself doesn’t do much to help their struggle connect. It’s clear and organized, but ultimately very plain, with a flat, unchanging tone resulting from the digital camerawork. It’s a style that in no way interferes with the facts of these two men, which alone guarantees a certain impact, but their story could certainly have had more power had the visuals given a sense of dimension.

Which is why I was not at all surprised when, at the short Q&A afterwards, the director, Klaartje Quirijins, did not receive a standing ovation, but her two subjects did. The admiration in that room for Brody and Guengueng was clear and loud, and was accepted graciously and with an eye on their still-in-progress efforts. They used their entirely-too-brief time on stage to share further information and updates on the Habré case, and to show their appreciation for an interested audience.

All right, I’ve already broken my vows, I stopped there and slept and now it’s morning. But man, I was just so tired. I’m not re-reading what I already wrote. It’s bad, it’s horrible, I’m sure of it. But what it is is what it remains. I continue…

The hours between my first screening of the day and my final provided excellent opportunity to reacquaint myself with the layout of this city. Nostalgia burned my eyes as I passed Bay St. Video, the World’s Biggest Bookstore, the “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death” exhibit. Like the shadows of the mind, they are.

Before long, I settled into the lineup outside the Ryerson theatre, which served as the TIFF Midnight Madness program’s replacement for the wonders of the Uptown theatre after they shut’er down four years ago (almost to the day — the Uptown’s final showing was Midnight Madness’ Undead, a fun but not overly significant Aussie zombie dealie). I recall, from the previous TIFF I’d attended three years ago (a month before I fled this country), that the Ryerson theatre was somewhat ramshackle, not at all a worthy substitute for what was Toronto’s best movie house.

Well, I’d wager they’ve spruced the place up a bit, but it still doesn’t compare to the Uptown. Ryerson’s basically just a big, black room, with some semi-comfortable seats locked in. But there’s no slant, and as such the guy in the seat next to me kept dodging and bobbing, trying to read subtitles around the head of the tall guy in the seat in front of him. Much, I imagine, like the person behind me was doing.

The film was Frontière(s). And now, having seen it, I still can’t tell you why that ‘s’ is in parentheses. It was basically just another violent-crazies-on-an-isolated-farm type of venture, with the crazies being a family of upstart Nazis, and their victims being some young punks on the run for … I don’t really know. Stealing some money during a riot? Whatever; it’s completely irrelevant. It shouldn’t be irrelevant, they certainly devoted enough time and any number of callbacks to the rioting, but ultimately it’s meaningless — they could’ve been on their way home from the Teddy Bear’s Picnic and it all would’ve played the same.

Frontière(s) is nothing special. It does dread well enough, has plenty of visceral moments of violence, and the performances are all right and good, but it never, ever adds anything clever or creative to this subgenre of horror. The audience ate it up, but that’s the thing about Midnight Madness audiences — they’re there to eat it up. They’ll hoot at anything. There was even enthusiasm shown for the Midnight Madness premiere of Underworld** some five or six years ago (though they were also good enough to not-so-subtly insult the director during the Q&A session).

Thus ended my Day One. After every screening, they want the audience to fill out the little Cadillac-sponsored Audience Award forms, which I intend to do each and every time. And I will, as a quick n’ easy summation of the day, share my scores with you here (the scale runs from 0 to 4):

The Dictator Hunter: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

Frontière(s): 1 out of 4 Cadillacs

* I don’t need to explain this concept, do I?

** I can’t believe I saw fucking Underworld at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Saturday, September 8

오늘 한번 영화의 이름은 <행복> 있었어요. 이 영화는 한국 영화 있어요. 감독 <허진호>는 전에 <위출> 감독했지만, 제가 안 봤어요. 그러니까 그 영화를 너무 멜로 드라마식인 것 같았어요. <행복>도 멜로 드라마식이에지만 아주 재미있어요. 두배우들, <황정민>과 <임수정> 많이 우수해요. (그리고 <임수정>도 아주 예브군요!) 슬픈 영화가 <행복>이에요. (저는 거의 울어서 안 했어.) 그러지만 극단적으로 촣은 영화이에요. 영화 킅내기전에 Q&A있은 전 보고 싶었는데, 시간이 없어서 못 체쟀어요. 불운했어요.

Whew, that was an effort. And I’m sure a bitch to read — consider yourselves lucky you either don’t understand that language or don’t have a browser that supports the font, because that’s some ugly prose, right there.

From that screening letting out late at 11:43pm, it was a mad dash from Richmond & John to the Ryerson theatre for what is probably the biggest event screening of my week — George Romero’s new zombie film, Diary of the Dead. Something of a madhouse there, it was, with the fans in gore makeup and in-unison shouts of “Brains!” you’re just not going to get at a Jane Austen screening.

The film itself can’t be called a straight sequel to Romero’s four-strong Time of Day of the Dead series; it’s the same kind of zombies, the same style of zombie apocalypse, the same theme running beneath it all (well, not the same theme, but the fact that it has a theme is the similarity) but it takes a very different approach. It goes the Blair Witch route, with the cast of characters looking to make a movie of their own, leaving them in the perfect position to capture the end of the world. It’s a style that fits the aforementioned theme perfectly — the whole film is something of a meditation on/sloppy wet-kiss love letter to the recent democratization of media and the news that has come about from the one-two punch of cheap cameras and the Internet.

It fits well with his previous zombieing, Land of the Dead, which was about the potential power of the populous if only it were claimed — I guess Romero’s seeing some of that happening on the Tubes, and he’s pretty excited. Hey, me too. The movie’s good fun as a zombie movie, and the plot and structure are both fine, but it’s not what it could have been. For a film that’s supposed to be a reality seen through the unstaged eye of a camera, it’s awful stagey in dialogue and performance. Watching, I had thought this to be a fault of the direction — subtlety in characterization has never been Romero’s strong suit — but it turns out, as revealed in the post-show Q&A, that this was his intention. Bad call, if you ask me.

Still, the man invented the damn genre, he knows what he’s doing and a lot of it he does well. A more natural sense to the characters, dialogue, and emotion would’ve strengthened the horror and the theme, and as for the theme, he could’ve been a hell of a lot more subtle about it. These few misfires hold it back from being an interesting and unique zombie film, one for the ages, instead leaving it to walk the earth as a merely pretty good zombie flick.

“Walk the earth.” That’s some professional-level cleverness right there.

해복: 4 out of 4 Cadillacs

Diary of the Dead: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

Sunday, September 9

Started the day sitting for an hour at the corner of Septic & Ass. From now on, I make a point to get to the Ryerson theatre extra early, if only to make sure I’m never that far back in line again. I’m not normally bothered by fowl odours, but man. Wow.

I was there only kinda sorta for a movie; what it was being billed as was a “conversation” with Bill Maher and Larry Charles about their upcoming (springish) religion-assailing documentary Religulous. I too thought it was a bad title, but their explanation that going with a simple, descriptive term was done in hopes of creating a meme won me over. There were work-in-progress clips shown — about 15 minutes’ worth to start the afternoon plus another 10 or so later in — and it looks like it’s gonna be a great, funny picture when it comes out. A lot of footage of people (mostly from the big 3 religions) hanging themselves with their own words, plus a decent amount of wackiness thrown in by the two filmmakers. (Example of the latter: during an interview in a mosque, the Muslim leader Maher is speaking with gets a text message on his cell phone and proceeds to answer it. His “reply” is superimposed on screen: “death 2 bill maher lol ;)” )

They stated and restated that nothing we were seeing was finalized and that anything could change, but it was enjoyable and I’ll certainly seek this one out when it gets released (like I wouldn’t have anyways). But the real meat of this was the dialogue, with Maher, Charles, and festival programmer Thom Powers. It was just an hour long Q&A, discussing both men’s religious backgrounds and current opinions on religion (spoiler: they don’t much care for it). They were both quick-witted, so it never got too angry or preachy (“preachy” — not surprisingly, the afternoon was full of puns like this), and though a lot of what they were saying was old hat, it was good to hear it said anyway. The audience was certainly on their side (I was actually hoping for a bit of angry protest; damn secular Toronto’s going to hell), and I agreed with most everything they said (except for their allowance for, though admitted non-practice of, spirituality in general — I can’t get behind that). Again, it was a good time, would’ve loved for it to go on longer.

I got only the occasional vague whiff of sewage waiting further up the line that night for Vexille. This one is a Japanese CG scifi that thankfully didn’t wane too deeply into anime’s typical vague philosophical ponderance. It’s set in a high-tech, robot-infused future where Japan has for 10 years now completely withdrawn itself from the world. Nobody has a clue what’s going on in there (they can’t even take a satellite look on Google Earth, the Japanese blocking technology is so slick), but it’s certainly no good, so the Americans sneak in a team of soldiers to get some answers.

The film has some very interesting science fiction ideas, both conceptually and visually (I’m particularly thinking of the “Jags,” which are a great meeting of concept and design) and there are several great action sequences, but the movie blows its chance with its human characters. The animation style, something of a soft-textured cel shading, works great for a lot of items, like technologies and weather, but it’s awful on people. Faces are ultra-stylish, but hollow, dead; the filmmakers desperately needed to spend less time getting the perfect Final Fantasy-cool hair, and more time creating the possibility of emotion in the faces. Especially if they’re going to include the level of melodrama they did (which is less that typical anime, but still more than the plot warranted). It’s worth seeing if you’re a junky of science fiction, anime, or robot action.

Religulous: A Conversation: N/A out of 4 Cadillacs (Though they did pass out the People’s Choice voting slips — We didn’t actually see a movie, people! What’ll happen if this wins the award?)

Vexille: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. James17930 permalink
    Sunday, September 9, 2007 11:25 am

    I get to go with you on Tuesday — yay!

  2. James17930 permalink
    Monday, September 10, 2007 7:06 pm

    It depends on how you define ‘spirituality.’ If it means a heightened environmental and astronomical conscience, then I’m all for it.

    And I want to see Vexille. Somehow I don’t think I’ll have any problems doing so in Taipei (although it might not have the English subtitles — that would be problematic).

  3. Monday, September 10, 2007 7:56 pm

    How is that a definition for ‘spirituality’? Believing in spirits, the supernatural, some ‘presence,’ without connecting it to any specific religion or necessarily even trying to define it. Just believing that there’s “something there” without any evidence beyond feeling it.

    And what is an astronomical conscience? Are we polluting the constellations now? Is universal warming becoming a problem already?

    As for Vexille, you could still see it here. There’s a couple more showings at the festival, and little risk of them selling out considering how far from capacity we were last night.

  4. James17930 permalink
    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 12:32 am

    ‘Something there’ being the entirety of the universe — the vastness and inconsequence of it all — also what I meant by ‘astronomical conscience.’

  5. Tuesday, September 11, 2007 3:39 am

    I believe there’s at least a bit of evidence that the universe exists, and a bit more to suggest that it’s pretty vast. I wouldn’t call that ‘spirituality.’ I’d probably call it ‘awe over the vastness of the universe.’

  6. James17930 permalink
    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 12:37 pm

    Well, yeah, but you could also call that ‘awe’ ‘spiritual’ if it floats your boat.

    Not YOUR boat obviously, but boats nonetheless.

  7. Tuesday, September 11, 2007 1:01 pm

    You could, but of course you could also use the word ‘elbow’ to mean ‘dirtbike.’

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