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The Rambling: TIFF 2007 (Day 7-9)

Sunday, September 16, 2007
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I’m not entirely satisfied with this 0-4 Cadillacs rating system the People’s Choice Award people have thrust upon me. I mean, who’s gonna give a zero to a movie? It takes a special kind of bad to earn that, and if Frontiere(s) couldn’t do it, there ain’t gonna be no other movie here getting it, that’s the safe bet. Which leaves only a 1-4 range in which to objectively hold these almost twenty movies I’ll have seen by festival’s end. That’s not fair. Vexille and Sukiyaki Western Django weren’t as good as fellow 3 Cadillac-earners Very Young Girls and Diary of the Dead, but they don’t deserve to be lumped in with Mad Detective. I need point-fives, but the form doesn’t allow for point-fives! The People’s Choice vote is too much responsibility for me! laebmada

Days 1-3Days 4-6

Day SevenDay EightDay NineThe Rundown

Thursday, September 13th

Lou Reed released the concept album Berlin in 1973, and it bombed. As a result, he never played it live. But over the years it came to be recognized as one of his best works, and in 2007 he finally took the album on tour. It was actually in Sydney during the time I was in Australia this past January, but between my two jaunts to Sydney. Had the timing worked out, my mother would’ve had to have found something to do on her own that evening.

So I didn’t get to see it; but now, thanks to emulsion technologies, I’ve gotten my chance. Berlin the movie is little more than a concert film, very straightforward with only a few outside images (related to the song playing at the time) edited in, but it’s one of fine quality. The performances are all skilled and highly invested, from Lou Reed up front, to the 20-odd folks supporting him, including a traditional rock band, as well as a chorus of backup-singing girls, some classical strings and brass, and various others. There’s even a conductor guy keeping them all together. Still, despite the large number of people involved, the stage area is small, keeping an intimate feel to the proceedings.

It’s really just a Lou Reed concert film, so if you don’t like Lou Reed, it won’t do much for you. And if you do, well you still may not know any of the songs (aside from a final credits performance of “Sweet Jane,” which he played almost without interest, like an obligation on their part); I didn’t, but their quality still came through on the first listen. It’s a very nice, very good concert film, nothing more, but it doesn’t really need to be anything more.

Help Me Eros has left me baffled. It’s a strange story about a bunch of sad people — a broke, suicidal stoner, a girl who sells cigarettes and nuts in her underwear, a woman who’s fat because her gay husband will only cook for her (so she pleasures herself by laying in a bathtub full of eels). Where it all heads and why it heads there is anybody’s guess, but the peculiarity of it all, with its not-really-interweaving plot lines, its over-the-top goofy kink sex, and a what-the-fuck-does-that-mean ending, it really feels like it’s meant to mean something. The Q&A at the end didn’t help too much; some of the explanation the director gave — comments on consumerism, mostly — brought a bit of light to the film, but a lot of it was still lost on a feeble mind like my own. But it was interesting enough that I’d give it a second watch at some point in the future, if just to take another stab at piecing together the metaphor (the sex helps, too).

I’ll say this, though: I guess Taiwan has really strict marijuana laws and thus its citizens don’t know much about pot, because the stoner was depicted as leading a crack addict’s life. It was actually pretty amusing, though I’m betting the director didn’t know what to make of the red-eyed hippie Canadian audience’s chuckles.

And then there’s Flash Point. At last, this is it, this is the one. I was worried up to this point that the Toronto Festival wouldn’t deliver as it always has: on average, TIFF will provide at least two completely awesome, classic, kickass-of-all-time films for me — I’m talking Versus, Requiem for a Dream, Ong Bak, Save the Green Planet!, Ichi the Killer, Oldboy, (Oldboy, for fuck’s sake!) — and thus far I’ve had some real good’uns, but nothing great.

Flash Point is great. Donnie Yen is a martial arts monster. The hits in this film, the connections crunch, you feel bones splinter. The fury in Yen’s eyes as he unloads on the face of the dickbag who tossed the little girl is scary.

And it brings in something new to the martial arts field; as Ong Bak introduced Muay Thai, hell, as Drunken Master II showcased Drunken Boxing, Flash Point uses Mixed Martial Arts — think all the usual Jujitsu madness with the occasional suplex thrown in. The physical feats performed by Yen and his opponents are incredible, painful.

It’s the functional-plot style of martial arts movie, so one shouldn’t go in expecting a particularly inventive story; but the necessities are all covered: a cool, charismatic lead; clear motivations and relationships; a despisable badguy. It’s all about setting up the action and fight scenes, giving them the proper weight to make them engaging, while keeping us from getting bored in between them. The actors’ fine performances and moments of humour succeed in this.

It’s a classic martial arts pic, and my only complaint is that it’s not long enough. And though you might be able to say that about any movie you’re really enjoying, I really do think this one needed a bit more, structurally. I was hoping that there would be one more big fight after what was the final big fight between Yen and the film’s villain, played with mullety doucheness by Collin Chou (Seraph from the Matrix films). There wasn’t one, but to be fair, it would’ve been damn hard to top the one they gave us.

Berlin: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

Help Me Eros: 2 out of 4 Cadillacs

Flash Point: 4 out of 4 Cadillacs

Friday, September 14th

The Tracey Fragments does a lot to earn that name. I was always looking forward to it — Canada’s coolest director Bruce McDonald is a benefit, despite my thinking first of Kid In The Hall Bruce McCulloch whenever his name is mentioned; and star Ellen Page made a good impression as Kitty Pryde in X-Men 3 — but every time the film was mentioned, there would be boasting of its “innovative split-screen.” You hear this any time someone uses split screen, and I just want to shake them. Split screen is not innovative anymore, dammit! It’s not new, it’s not risky, it’s not bold!

But actually, here it is. McDonald doesn’t just show us two things happening at the same time, or two angles of the same character. And he doesn’t just show one on the left and one on the right. There’re fucking boxes all over the place here. There’s no particular organization to how the screens are arranged, how many of them they are, how long they stick around. Size of frame is not a constant thing, and there’s no demand that the various screens’ contents relate temporally to one another.

Tracey is a messed up kid with a lot on her plate (some of it very serious and some of it teenage-serious) and she’s going a bit crazy. The visuals serve to give us a sense of her fragmented view of the world; as such, it’s the rhythm of the chaos the editing creates that’s most important. Initially, I was thinking this wouldn’t work for me, but it won me over and pulled me right into Tracey’s sad, tough life. The confusion of it all is done very well, and accompanied by a very appropriate Broken Social Scene score, is completely effective. It’s a short film, 80 minutes or so, and that’s a wise decision — I wasn’t feeling any fatigue when it ended, but it couldn’t have been much longer before I started to, with a relentless presentation like this.

If you want to see something either: a) strange, b) Japanese, or c) involving giant monsters fighting in cities, you have to go with Midnight Madness. Dainipponjin is all three of these, and since the latter two are self-explanatory, I’ll just explain how it’s strange. It’s a documentary (okay, faux documentary) about the most recent in a family line of men who electrocute themselves up to skyscraper-height to do battle with whatever giant baddie is currently terrorizing Tokyo or its surrounding areas. In the past, these men were regarded as heroes, but for our current protector of Japan, people tend to see him as a home-destroying nuisance. Still, giant evil monsters need to receive their beat-downs, and who else is gonna do it?

So Dianipponjin’s subject is not really a happy man; he’s divorced, estranged from his daughter, lives in a dump, not doing too well financially. He plods along, and initially the dialogue and the performance by Japanese comedy bigshot Hitoshi Matsumoto are hilarious, but after a while, the documentary sections get really slow. They’re broken up, thankfully, by the Giant Monster Battles — with broken tradition by having them done not man-in-suit-style, but in CG. The giant animated Matsumoto is goofy and pretty great, taking the expressionless character he plays and attaching it to a bloated monstrosity in purple underpants, carrying a big stick. The “Baddies” he fights are pure design psychosis — the one that attacks with a big eyeball on a long, retractable tube; the one with the comb-over and the lasso arms made for squeezin’; the one that’s just a big head on a single leg. These fights are ridiculous, but they, too, seem to wear a bit thin a the proceedings go along.

For its inventiveness, its strong humour, and its sympathetic character, I wanted to give Dainipponjin 4 Cadillacs, but I just couldn’t do so in good conscience, considering how it started to drag as it went on — but then it goes insane in the last sequence, and I laughed harder and longer than I’d done at any movie in years. I don’t really want to describe it, because the huh? factor is part of the fun, so I’ll just say it suddenly gets a bit more traditional.

The Tracey Fragments: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

Dainipponjin: 4 out of 4 Cadillacs

Saturday, September 15th

I'm about three seats to the left of this picture.

The final Midnight Madness brought the best film audience I’ve been among in just about ever. Pre-show, the beach ball being bounced about, the crowd cheering like mad whenever someone managed to knock the ball up to the balcony, booing and hissing whenever it fell back down. Some power hitter in a shirt with a big number 6 got a dose of sports celebrity, with people chanting “Number Six! Number Six!,” urging the ball would make its way over to him so he could clock it up to the rafters. When showrunner Colin Geddes finally took the stage, introduced the filmmakers, the people were polite but rowdy. And during the required declaration that filming will not be tolerated, the crowd retorted with the required chorus of pirate Arrrrs, something Colin began on the first or second night, and which has since taken on a life of its own — I’ve heard the Arrrrs in afternoon screenings at the Cumberland, the Varisty, the Scotiaparabankmount.

The film itself let no one down. Inside is about as tense as movies get, and it’s got a lot of what Midnight Madness goers want. There’s blood, plenty of that. There’s surprising, imaginative levels of violence. There are a few badass hero moments.

But actually, it didn’t feel as far out-there as the Midnight movies tend to get — it’s messed up, you won’t be showing it to your mother, but at the end of it all, it’s just a psycho-in-my-house thriller, pushed to its limits. What makes this one of the best of its kind is the added little vulnerability — the victim is pregnant, the psycho wants the baby.

It plays out graphically: bodies pile up, the directors spare no visual. You can’t watch this movie without flinching. If you’re pregnant or ever plan to be, you probably just can’t watch this movie. It’s a great movie for the tension it provokes, though not flawless — the aforementioned way it conforms to a type of movie done so many times before makes it feel somewhat unoriginal, and there are a couple of plot holes large enough to swallow a beach ball. But still, it was a fine choice saving this for the closing night of Midnight Madness (thus making it the final film of the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival) — the impact on the audience was powerful.

Inside: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

The Rundown

This was my fifth TIFF, and certainly my most productive (or unproductive, if you don’t consider sitting in a room staring at a screen productive) — 19 films over 9 days. It wasn’t my best year; I’m used to getting a few more classics for the ages, and I’m not used to getting any stinkers the likes of Frontiere(s) and The Devil’s Chair. But it was still a good year, one well worth the time devoted it. I give TIFF 2007 a solid 3 out of 4 Cadillacs.

And thus here, for my own purposes more than anything else, I include the full list, ranked in order of Cadillacs given, and in order of preference within each Cadillac score.

TIFF 2007

Flash Point: 4 out of 4 Cadillacs

Paranoid Park: 4 out of 4 Cadillacs

행복: 4 out of 4 Cadillacs

Stuck: 4 out of 4 Cadillacs

Dainipponjin: 4 out of 4 Cadillacs

Inside: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

The Tracey Fragments: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

Berlin: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

Very Young Girls: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

Diary of the Dead: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

Run, Fat Boy, Run: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

Sukiyaki Western Django: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

The Dictator Hunter: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

Vexille: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

Help Me Eros: 2 out of 4 Cadillacs

Mad Detective: 2 out of 4 Cadillacs

The Devil’s Chair: 1 out of 4 Cadillacs

Frontière(s): 1 out of 4 Cadillacs

and… Paranoid Park by James17930: 2 out of 4 Limp Noodles

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. James17930 permalink
    Thursday, September 20, 2007 3:55 pm

    I’ll have to do a film festival full-on in this manner one of these years.

  2. Thursday, September 20, 2007 4:34 pm

    You couldn’t handle it! Actually, I don’t know how the professionals who see 5+ a day and still have to write about it handle it. Though if their commutes to the theatre area are less than an hour (sometimes 2 after a midnight show), that would help.

    But if you find any in Taiwan that serve the English audiences (as Korean festivals tended to), do it there. Soooooo much cheaper than Toronto. I mean, a movie at the Busan and Pucheon fests were almost half the price of a regular movie ticket; at Toronto they’re almost double. And non-festival tickets in Korea were already cheaper than in Canada. (Though this may not apply to Taiwan — in Japan movies cost a fair bit more than here.)

  3. James17930 permalink
    Thursday, September 20, 2007 11:14 pm

    So what won the audience prize? I didn’t even hear.

  4. Friday, September 21, 2007 1:02 am

    Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises. One of these years Midnight Madness is gonna take that prize, if I have to make the damn movie myself.

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