Wednesday, 4:16 p.m. - 501 streetcar, westbound, towards a storm front - Have booked myself into a bit of a marathon for tonight and tomorrow; 3 films apiece (actually 4 tonight, though I’ll skip Rigor Mortis at midnight owing to an early morning work requirement tomorrow) - and a podcast outside the Ryerson before midnight, too. Through circumstance the majority of the movies I’m looking forward to in the fest as a whole are in the next four days: Jodorowsky’s Dune, REAL, Moebius, R100, Unforgiven, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, We Are The Best, Antboy and Witching & Bitching. (The majority of the Asian in my program, too, I’m noticing. The first four or five days, I think I was all-English with the exception of two instances of French.) This is where the rubber hits the road on everyone’s stamina, so I’m glad for having taken it relatively easy till now; the year I flamed out of the final midnight still haunts me.
I don’t usually go in for late-in-the-game swaps and transfers, but given that every year contains those moments a few days into the festival where you begin to hear - aurally and otherwise - about films that made your shortlist but proceeded no farther, instincts begin to kick in. At some point on the weekend I realized that my festival really wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Japanese Unforgiven; likewise an Antboy / Paradise: Hope double feature for the final Sunday seems like a far more beguiling exit through the gift shop than my original Antboy / Le Week-end / When Jews Were Funny triple. (I’ll catch a pint or three at the Queen & Beaver after Paradise, then drag ass to We Gotta Get Out Of This Place to formally get out of this place and end the festival.) Besides, there’s something more bracing and engaged about grabbing the reins at this stage in the game rather than simply playing through. The festival is a living thing, and tells you what it wants as clearly as you can tell it.
Thursday, 9:10 a.m. - waiting on the quarterly meeting - The Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari filled me with such unrelenting joy that I nearly transported, balloon-like, through the roof of the Lightbox 4. Finally, some fucking cinema. An anthology of 23 short films - more vignettes and ideas than fully formed stories, in the majority of cases - each story foregrounded one woman and a magical / spiritual / superstitious aspect of her womanhood. So, catnip for a boy like me. But beyond this, it was far and away the most inventively composed film I’ve seen thus far at the festival, exemplifying in its many parts pretty much every aspect of filmmaking from the 1890s to the present. Such precise framing, and frames within frames; such dazzling, elliptical uses of colour and staging.
And, further to my particular focus this week, such relentless creation of true, unique cinematic images and visual ideas - the kinds of things Herzog was talking about when he said we are running out of them, and needed cinema to supply some more. A woman in bright red ambushed in hip-deep powder by a well-meaning band of pagans in masks. A girl making a young suitor “drink her milk,” offering him a button on her shirt in place of a nipple, before she’ll tell him when spring will come. A lingering close up of a creamy belly rising and falling with the breath of sleep. An old man overhears his niece losing her virginity in a barn, and we hold on his face as he remembers being that young. An ephemeral, beguiling shot of a girl showing her vagina to the wind to heal a friend’s ills - but when he peeks, the wind blows her, and us, away.
It’s the kind of film that I’ll likely never see again, never find on blu-ray - Symbol all over again - and as the elevation washed over me like waves I found myself studying every frame, trying to scribe them permanently into my mind. Wednesday night was good overall, but if I never see another winner at this year’s festival, Meadow Mari will still have made the whole week worthwhile.
Tuesday, 5:28 p.m. - in line at the Elgin, around the corner, midst of a heat wave - I’ve discovered the secret of keeping my apartment cool without an air conditioner, at last, which is to not open any of the windows after a blissful week of uninterrupted autumn chill, if confronted with the outbreak of a mid-TIFF heat snap. It’s positively tropical out here and the mood is light - festival half over, big orange sun setting over the Eaton Center, a half-frozen bottle of icy Starbucks water quietly drooling into the pavement below me. Tonight I have to gain the Winter Garden in a seven-minute turnaround from the end of my screening in the Elgin, which will go better for me if I can somehow avoid exiting normally. I feel optimistic, but then, I have a lot to be optimistic about lately. And grateful.
Inducted a couple of new TIFFers last night with the premiere screening of MARY Queen of Scots, which wasn’t bad, without being entirely good. The last five or ten minutes - wherein Mary finally surrenders to Elizabeth, and awaits her fate - were nifty, capping a largely documentarian effort with some arresting, blood-red-on-skin-white imagery. Plus I got to see Sean Biggerstaff’s bigger staff in the film, ten years after an open concern with Bex about whether his staff was in fact bigger or stafflike.
The Scotiamount, meanwhile, had become a sucking vortex of unbridled chaos from which even experienced TIFFgoers emerge frazzled - however many screenings they are running simultaneously in there, it’s too many by half. Pandemonium reigned as the line snaked across two lanes of Richmond to go in to The Dinner, a mealy affair about everything and nothing all at once. The film could never find a convincing tone, being about grimly horrible things while focusing on vaguely mocking characters. And I finally hit that “wall” people are always talking about - couldn’t keep my eyes on the picture. I went home and slept like the dead.
Deepa Mehta and her daughter wandering by, through traffic and fans, serene and dispassionate.
Tuesday, 11:09 p.m. - home, bed - Inadvertent program of “emerging starlets” double feature tonight, featuring Mia Wasikowska (Tracks) and Saoirse Ronan (How I Live Now; first time I’ve correctly spelled her name without looking), both at the Elgin/Winter Garden. This completed the Wasikowska Triple, and let me perform the very dangerous Elgin-WG Switchback, which involves convincing a hapless orangeshirt that the shortest distance between two points is in fact a straight line - and that straight line requires one to leave via the main doors. Ronan and Wasikowska are young actresses no longer. Both actresses disrobed (or seemed to) for fresh, elliptical nude scenes in their various films, though neither event was as startling as seeing Harry Potter fuck Juno Temple the other night. All children, save one, grow up - and if Wasikowska is clearly primed as the Next Big Thing and can more than carry a big picture like Tracks, Ronan meanwhile may stake a claim as my favourite actress of her generation. She is *uncannily* compelling in How I Live Now, a film which is not, otherwise, very compelling. Hell, she was more charming in her twenty seconds onstage during the pre-film intro than any forty celebs have been all week.
Wasikowska has a distance about her, which she never quite escapes; it served her perfectly in her breakout performance on In Treatment, and works surprisingly well to her advantage in her best big screen role, (no kidding) Alice in Wonderland. That distance might be seen as an advantage in Tracks, too, where she’s playing a character with a serious binge-purge relationship with companionship… but it makes it hard to get inside the character, or admire the performance on any level other than the technical. Still, that film must have been a HOOT to film. It is as thorough and compelling a travelogue for Australia as New Zealand had with The Lord of the Rings.
The movies at TIFF thus far have largely been good, not great. This seems like it should be some kind of crime, but honestly, the pleasure of spending time in the Elgin Theatre itself is better than 80% of the reason I booked the tickets for Tracks and How I Live Now tonight at all; just sitting in that ghostly old place is more central to me and my year than just about any movie I’ve ever seen at the festival.
The great pleasure of a night at the Elgin is always just in watching the crowds - I love to sit high up in the balcony and watch the people watch the movie; watch the undulating light shimmer over all of their like-turned faces in vast, unrelenting cascades of heads. The immensity of film is at once reduced and amplified; the simple commonality of filmgoing is rewardingly visible, up there in the back few rows of those old, immense houses. It is the best movie theatre in Toronto - and I only get to go there once a year.
Sunday, 8:05 p.m. - The Lightbox - The BLB has calmed down considerably, as evidenced by the fact that I actually snagged a table outside the Canteen without a fistfight, and even up-jumped to a *better* table ten seconds later with only minor negotiation. Today I am wearing someone else’s lanyard, which isn’t even TIFF orange, but it is getting me places. (No nefarious intent in my putting it on; but a pass is a pass.)
Monumental Tumblr difficulties posting my entry last night nearly made me late for The Double, which - given the film’s construction - might have created a catastrophic narrative hole from which I never would have emerged. Certainly I would have missed the best part of the screening, which was Richard Ayoade cracking wise prior to showtime about how the film was, in fact, written. Of that I have no doubt - it was also filmed, and edited, and all sorts of other wonderful filmmaking-related things. It was not, in point of fact, interesting to me; but I don’t deny that the movie does exactly what all concerned intended it to do. I have made it something of a rule, however, to never attend a sophomore film from a director whose breakout took place at TIFF; TIFF will always program the follow-up, but sophomore triumphs are rare birds.
I did better with Fat, because Fat was a breakout - by Mark Phinney, in this case. It was a hard film to watch and doesn’t have as conclusive an ending as it needs - making a bed is a lovely first step but it’s hardly catharsis - but the lead performance by Mel Rodriguez is SO good that it scarcely matters. The movie is raw to the point of having badly-muffled location audio in some crucial scenes, but for bootstraps filmmaking, it has a scintillating honesty that overcomes the physical defects. It’s more a study of depression than a study of addiction, though as either, it’s credibly delivered.
And then having STILL not recorded a podcast it was a rough cab ride over to the Ryerson to gatecrash The Green Inferno - the environment within the theatre being appropriately jungle-like after a humid day and a lot of rain. I went straight to the crow’s nest, stretched out my legs, and enjoyed the film a HELL of a lot more than I expected to. The setup 20 or 25 minutes is excruciating - “Get to the island faster,” as a young Jurassic Park fan once notably wrote to David Koepp about the sequel - but once the blood-red cannibals show up, that movie is the precise definition of what you want from a Midnight Madness movie. It even, in a bizarre but heartily appreciated example of restraint, does NOT perform a clitoridectomy upon its lead character after spending nearly the entire film setting up the idea that it will. The kills are gross and grand, the pot-addled cannibals are hilarious, and pretty much anytime a bunch of naked children start chowing down on fat white Americans, you know there’s gonna be ha-ha’s. It was a brilliant 25th anniversary celebration for the MM program, warmly received.
Monday, 3:31 p.m. - at work - Film is a language of visual ideas, per Mark Cousins, which is why I think I’m becoming less and less interested in making them. I can admire - “admire” meaning “be whalloped through the back wall of the theatre by” - ideas like the final shot of Stalker or, for that matter, any ten shots in Pacific Rim, but my thoughts and ideas always seem to come out in words, not moving pictures. There’s room for both in the story of film, certainly, but we tend to balance in the wrong direction more often than not, quibbling about the dialogue in Prometheus when we should be exalting the intense visual connections of the editing in Cloud Atlas. All of which is not intended in any particular direction vis a vis TIFF 2013, only that it was on my mind, and more so last night, when our late-evening podcast break gave way to a screening of Canopy, which does not have a visual imagination, but was followed by OCULUS, which definitely does.
It’s a brilliantly conceived script in the first part, and a brilliantly executed visual piece (the editing alone is like a scotch and a hand job) in the second; it’s also scary as fuck, which few horror movies are (to me) any more. Top marks to Karen Gillan for selling an unholy mouthful of exposition in the first act, and to Analise Basso for being the redheaded 12-year-old I would most like to see get her own superhero franchise. And as a moment in the fest, OCULUS at midnight on Day 4 was just what I needed to jumpstart my entry into the second act of the festival.
Kat G. continues to offer the best hugs in the business, and told me I looked like a million bucks when I saw her in the lobby of the Ryerson. I later learned she was drunk and starving when she made the pronouncement, which doesn’t dint the honour on my end. It has been a weekend of high compliment.
Some show notes:
- Are we finally nearing the death of the TIFF “Arrhhhh”? With the exception of any of the Midnight Madness screenings, the years-past-its-stale-date meme is showing the limpness of old vegetables.
- The L’Oreal Special Effects ad haunts my dreams.
Friday - 8:35 pm - Bloor subway heading east - The gender issues are awful and I’m sure there’s a better 1:40 cut of Horns than the 2:02 cut, but I sort of don’t care… the movie was SO much fun to watch. Trigger warnings aplenty, particularly in the second half, but that movie is lush and plush and left me flushed. It’s been a good year for this - the somnambulant blood fever of Only Lovers Left Alive last night, or Stoker earlier this year, have left me hungry for a spot of blood or a pair of lips or both. I’ve no idea what the fuck the movie is trying to say - I doubt it does, either - but whatever it is, it’s shouting it. Radcliffe emerging from the smoky bar surrounded by riots he’s caused within and without, as “Personal Jesus” explodes across the soundtrack, is this year’s definition of sublime.
Now me and Bex have done back-to-back TIFFs with Watson and Radcliffe - hope Rupert Grint shows up next year so we can loudly *not go.*
Saturday - 12:56 p.m. - 501 streetcar heading west, heavy rain - Wasn’t happy with the first Vine, wasn’t happy with the third Vine; was okay with the second, thought it was interesting. Fourth Vine though, the Horns Vine, that was the first one that made me think that Vining a film reaction was actually possible.
Bailing out of the rest of last night turned out to be the most specifically wonderful thing I’ve ever done for myself in the middle of a TIFF in 15 years of going to the festival. Treasure and balance. This morning I warmed up for the 3-hour movie I’ll watch this afternoon by watching The Hobbit, at 3 hours long. Which, I’m now thinking (and in the wake of a disastrous blockbuster season), is perhaps the most underappreciated movie of 2012. That’s worth a column, closer to The Desolation of Smaug, when I’m not balancing my iPad on my knees on a streetcar in the rain.
Saturday, 7:20 p.m. - the Starbucks next to the Best Buy at Bay and Dundas, weather unsettled - Emerged from Blue is the Warmest Colour - too long by half, but Adele Exarchopoulos was incredible - and beelined straight up to Bay St. Video to pick up The Story of Film, which Thursday night’s screenings readily reminded me was long overdue. Screening of Blue delayed at the Scotiamount by the onset of abject pandemonium in the lobby beforehand, either because of the rain, or the Gravity screening, or both. Today feels like the film festival - running up and down town, consistently five minutes late, tossing keys through a car window before meeting Sasha and Lindsay for a quick dinner. Quick upload/wi-fi break at the Starbucks, then down to the Winter Garden to screen The Double, plus two more after that. Still no podcast.
Thursday, 4:28 p.m. - Westbound on the 501 streetcar - First trip in and out of the Lightbox this afternoon didn’t even net me a film; but we did shanghai some access to the Blue Lounge via Daniel’s Industry pass, which is not technically shanghaiing, but might as well have been. Daniel’s interview, for the Pitch This! episode of Mamo, proceeded in unrepresentative calm on the third floor, while the main lobby vibrated and throbbed with the usual first-day orange glow and twinkly lights. Amiable chaos. I entertained the lineup for a few minutes before Daniel and Matthew arrived by shooting about ten re-takes of the last piece of an Instagram video that had otherwise gone preternaturally well; never quite got what I was looking for on the final shot, but that’s a) Instagram, and b) filmmaking. Welcome to TIFF ‘13.
Friday, 2:02 a.m. - Eastbound by cab - All Cheerleaders have Died on schedule, or mostly thereabouts; I did NOT have a firm handle on what that movie was about prior to seeing it, and consequently it surprised me continuously. The execution’s muddy but there are a lot of good ideas in there, and a few beats that really kick ass (an up-yours revision of The Craft's power shot particularly got my attention for its use of music). And it was a nice, low-fi Midnight to kick off the year, over some of the bombast of Thursday nights previous. I instantly remembered the flavour of all this, creeping out of the cab at 2 in the morning to dead streets and an October chill. But it feels queasy, right now, like a phantom limb or unplucked appendix. Was a time, all this was the centre of my year. Things are moving on.
When the Q&A for Only Lovers Left Alive started I grimaced to Sasha because I knew it was coming; and 2 questions later when some poor woman asked Tom Hiddleston, “Did it hurt?” and then tried to follow it with “When you fell from Asgard?” to a stunningly frigid response from the room, I reminded myself once again why I never stick around for these things. At the very least, her belly-flop prevented any more Hiddlestoners from pressing their way into the Q&A to be ruled by Loki. I do wonder if the Hiddlestoners and the Cumberbitches met in Dundas Square for a dance fight after the screenings for Only Lovers and The Fifth Estate concluded; more than that, though, I wonder how many poor souls had to choose between the two, having never previously thought they’d be in a position to have to rank their Benecrush against their Tom-lust. I hope Cumberbatch and Hiddleston ended up at the same party, at least, and reenacted the charge scene from War Horse.
Friday, 9:54 a.m. - over coffee - A Story of Children and Film was the perfect start to the year. It was either going to be my first film on the schedule or my last; but easing into Mark Cousins’ lyrical narration as a kind of coda to his 15-hour monolith A Story of Film, continued from two years ago, was like slipping into a warm bath. “Cinema is often about what is out of frame,” he intones, “and so, we realize, is childhood,” observing the push and pull between what children want and what they understand - the latter always lagging behind the former. The movie didn’t really seem to be about movies at all for most of its run, which suited me fine; it was such a keen observation of how children behave and why, exemplified (as one would expect) by multiple dozen amazing examples of children in film from around the world and a hundred years of cinematic effort. (It is the international angle to Cousins’ work that appeals to me the most - he even presents the movie’s title card in a dozen languages before landing back on English, because at no point has the evolution of cinema been a Western enterprise.)
The most dazzling moment in the film comes at its midpoint. We have been observing Cousins’ niece and nephew as they play with a marble run, which Cousins is using as a springboard to discuss certain aspects of how children behave on camera. After a while, his nephew picks up a piece of crimson acrylic tubing and holds it up to the camera lens, using it to create a spyglass around his sister, from which be begins to describe her in a storytelling mode of his own invention. It’s lovely, and it comes in a movie where Cousins himself is telling - indeed - a story of children and film, engaging in the first alchemy (what to leave in the story, vs. what to leave out) and thereby modelling exactly what he describes in the quote above, about the constant tension between the frame and its exclusions. Cousins believes cinema is an art form in its infancy and I want to believe him, especially as all my Vines and Instagrams and whatever else proliferate in obscurity amongst an online village of video, video, video - much of it, maybe most of it, of children.
The better film of the night, though, was Jim Jarmusch’s vampire movie, Only Lovers Left Alive, which is funny without being much fun and depressing without being depressed. It’s about endless night in a dead city - Detroit, in this case - and begins to approach just how fucking boring it would actually be to be a vampire, lost in a “lifetime” that is just an unending stretch of nighttime. An eternity of that moment when the party’s gone on too long, and you just want to go home, but no one’s leaving yet. The stuff of nightmares (for me, anyway).
Mia Wasikowska shows up for fifteen minutes to fuck everything up as Eve’s annoying kid sister-vampire. (Wasikowska must play Sasha James in the movie that will eventually be made about all this.) John Hurt is in it for a bit as the vampire Christopher Marlowe (these vampires only hang out with historical celebrities, for no particularly believable reason). But the film belongs entirely to Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as Eve and Adam, who are particularly in love in their particular way and models of two different ways of thinking about the ceaseless monotony of being alive. I can’t say it’s a movie I’d ever want to see again, but it is as vivid in my mind this morning as a particularly strong dream - which, I gather, is the point of all this anyway.
It’s a mark of how relentlessly piss-poor the summer of 2013 was that World War Z is among a handful of movie experiences that I can look back on and say, “well, that didn’t entirely suck.” I think I wrote my Twitch piece about the summer a couple of weeks too early, because I really should have mentioned Z in a somewhat lengthier context. In addition to being one of the box office winners of the season, Z is just one of the all-around winners, too, and the fact that it does that by being - charitably - wildly hit-and-miss is about as effective a barometer of the season as a whole as anything else I can think of. I might put it on my year-end list, just to have something on there that is prismatically representative of the weary, half-turned-on, half-nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach right now, that’s been there for about a month and a half. Fuck, 2013. You let me down.Read more
If 2013 has taught me anything, it’s that rules were made to be broken. So this year on TIFF’s programme book release date, no Benny, no front to back walk through the book, no equal consideration given to each programme. This year, I worked from the inside out - Midnight, Vanguard, Docs, then Contemporary World and Masters, then everything else. This year, no second choices (Bs and Cs) on my shortlist - just Ms (Musts) and As (first choices). It’s simpler. This year there was the impossible girl, and a bench next to Roy Thompson Hall, and several unhurried days to get it done. This year, no rush. Rushing comes later.Read more
The pairing was unintentional – I’d meant to follow Only God Forgives with a 3-D screening of The Great Gatsby – but life intervened, and whaddaya know, the two films crash together in mesmerizing ways. They talk to each other, repeatedly across their borders, and the conversation is about the vapidity of each. I’ve never seen a double feature so intrinsically argue for why each piece is in fact less than the sum of its parts.
Both films are, in their ways, harshly unflattering portraits of the presumed gender concerns of their directors. Only God Forgives is a torturous, Oedipal nightmare, overcooked and overheated into dark blood red. It overflows with excruciating violence; is replete with dragons; and contains, if I’m not mistaken, a sequence where the principal character reaches his hand into his dead mother’s womb. The Bling Ring on the other hand is a grotesquely airheaded hall of mirrors about truly awful teenage girls in a fever dream of twin fixations upon exceedingly expensive clothes and disarmingly banal celebrities, in which Emma Watson either fails to supply a convincing performance or vastly overachieves, given that she’s playing someone who, to a nearly sociopathic level, has no personality of her own - only a sloppily manufactured persona based on all the things she thinks materialism demands.Read more
I was first shown round the new building on York St. sometime in the summer of 2010, I believe; Allie Reid Hayes Whatever walked me around the 25th floor. Half-finished and open-concept, the view from up there was spectacular; all of Toronto, seemingly, touchable in its nearness. This was a few months after I’d left my job at Telus and a few months before my former team was going to up stakes and move from the wilds of Scarborough to the downtown office - although all of them would shortly be going “mobile,” too, because Telus worked out that “mobile worker” thing like the crack of a bullwhip across a clear summer night.
I liked the look of the place, the design, the feel of the walls, or maybe it was just that I disliked Scarborough, and the approximately 3675 hours I burned commuting to and fro the Consilium office over the course of the four-plus years I worked there. (Don’t tell Mayor Ford: Scarborough needs a subway, subway, subway.) It wasn’t quite workplace-envy, that day touring the 25th floor with Allison, but it was an appreciable sense of how the thing had evolved for the better, because I maintain that things generally do.Read more
Now where do I even begin with this.
Put it this way: the biggest problem with Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies wasn’t the early cancellation or even Lee Pace; it was that by setting the series inside a reputedly astonishing pie bakery, I left every single episode maddeningly hungry for pie. The episodes generally ended after closing time for most businesses in Toronto, though, so I’d inevitably spend the rest of the night in a state of advanced pie-seeking agitation that could not be fulfilled by a quick trip to Dominion to buy a Flakie Tart.
Now here’s Hannibal, and what’s really freaking me out is how hungry the show makes me.Read more