My 2013 Toronto Film Festival List! - Xanadon't
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Movie journal. Scrapbook. Travel log.
Day 1: The Arrival
Pillowface and His Airplane Chronicles - Steve Aoki
Fabulous United Airlines saw fit to revise my flight reservation so that I arrived in Toronto at 11:20pm, rather than 6:30pm. Fortunately no movie tickets were purchased for Monday night, but this did put a bit of a damper on the initial "get orientated/explore "Festival Village" phase of the trip.
But all was not lost.
But all was not lost.
Day 2: Initiation
Beautiful, sharp, modern, TIFF Bell Lightbox. Lots of screens, lots of excitement. This is where a good deal of the action happens.
Starred Up (2014)
11:45am Tuesday, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
A powerful prison drama and father/son story dealing in themes of deep rooted pain and emotional suffering, with glimmers of redemption of the hard-won variety. It's pretty heavy material, but the intense and careful focus on its characters lends this often troubling and gritty movie a sense of grace, if not quite tonal levity.
The entire film is set within the confines of an Irish penitentiary, but the world is painstakingly established so that the story never feels constricted. Great performances from the father and son also go a long way in creating a film that might have otherwise lacked movement.
2:30pm Tuesday, Elgin Theater
Too often modest budget sci-fi films get too talky and rely too heavily on exposition in an effort to compensate for a lack of expensive visual effects and set-pieces. Under the Skin is the opposite of that, and is in many ways a much better film for it.
From the opening visual sequence I knew that this movie would captivate me, leaving the other big question about whether or not the film and story would come together for me in a satisfactory way. Happily the film achieves this too.
Scarlett Johansson plays a new-comer, a stranger, indeed a capital A alien that spends her new existence on earth roaming Scottish countrysides and seducing its male inhabitants. Her bright red lipstick and dark mopish would perhaps have the townsfolk imagining that she might hail from another era, but certainly not a separate planet or plane of existence. The movie mainly unfolds from the point of view of our alien seductress, but now and then I was impressed by the idea that she too is being observed by some mysterious agent of authority.
The visual language of the film is creative, atmospheric, and often striking. The dialogue is sparse and probably not everyone will have the patience for its quiet and deliberate approach. But this is a movie that does a lot with a little, and I think it will capture a good many peoples' curiosity and imagination, even while alienating a sizable audience in the bargain.
The Sacrament (2014)
9:45pm Tuesday, Scotiabank 7
Ti West's new film was among my most anticipated movies of the festival and so it's with a heavy heart that I declare it my least liked film of the bunch.
The found-footage approach sent up some warning flags, so a part of me tried to remain cautious as I managed my expectations. Even so, I thought that just maybe Ti West (who I regard as one of the brightest up and coming voices in horror) would bring something new and interesting to this wretched trend in film-making. Well I was flat out wrong.
The Sacrament is riddled with a good many of the same problems that junk up all these other disposable, lifeless, and gimmicky "found footage" genre flicks.
Add to the equation the fact that I'm pretty much over the whole cult hysteria/dangerous religious nutzo storyline (Re: the equally underwhelming Martha Marcy May Marlene and Kevin Smith's Red State), and there are just too many obstacles in this movie's way. Even if the film was great, I probably wasn't going to love it.
But the film isn't great. It isn't even good. In fact, it barely passes for mediocre. I will credit the film for its deft and effective use of violence. The violent moments in the film are ugly, confrontational, and effective. But these are only brief and sporadic highlights in an otherwise unremarkable project inspired by the Jonestown massacre. And lets face it-- an occasionally jarring gunshot wound isn't enough to win me over.
Now if you have a rampant fascination with the Jonestown massacre and the type of cult psychology that plays into such events, it might be that you take much more kindly to the movie. But even in such a case, I'd argue that anyone who thinks that the "found footage" approach carries advantages over what could instead have been a fully realized artistic and cinematic treatment to the subject is just drinking the Kool-Aid.
Day 3: Full Swing
Elgin Theater. It's the kind of movie theater they would have in heaven if heaven was a thing and heaven had movie theaters.
Mary Queen of Scots (2013)
9:00am Wednesday, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
The trailer for Mary Queen of Scots intrigued me and gave me the impression that the film would be far more shrouded in dark mystery and sultry visual flair than it in fact was. Additionally, I'm not one to shy away from period-piece costume dramas, simply because they're costume dramas. In fact, Anna Karinina was my favorite movie of last year, and the Danish A Royal Affair was very nearly my favorite foreign film of the year. For these reasons, I quite anticipated Mary Queen of Scots, even if I didn't exactly cherish the idea of seeing it at the ghastly hour of 9:00am.
Sadly, the film didn't prove to be the Festival highlight that I'd hoped for. In fact, while I don't consider it among the weakest of the movies that I saw, I do consider it the least memorable in some ways.
Mary Queen of Scots unfolds much like your standard biopic, and what little variation there is to be had comes mostly from the fancied up costumes and Elizabethan set decorations on hand. Inserted at various points through the film are a number of fast-roaming, scenic tracking shots that I took to signify our fated queen being propelled forward by the forces of destiny, politics, and other such dominant forces beyond her control. Beyond this, the film is shot very capably, but without offering much in the realm of overly impressive.
As a film that acts dually as a character study and a history lesson, I should mention that the movie remains focused (well, mostly) and purposeful enough to gain some success on both fronts. One of the biggest faults of the film, however, is a noticeable lack in both performance talent and conceptual character creation. Most of the actors seem to oversell their characters, presumably in effort to lend the film a deeper sense of importance. Unfortunately a good many of the characters (ranging from major players, to periphery figures) are poorly conceived and flatly drawn, whether the aim is for villainy, crude insipidness, or rogue charm.
The Queen herself generally fares better than the rest (thankfully, since she is afforded the most screen-time) though at times I felt that the young actress looked simply and blankly lost. It's during the more quiet moments and less decorative scenes that she shows flickers of what could've become a more captivating presence that would've helped anchor down the production. But it's too late in the film that excessive plotting is pushed aside long enough that we're able to begin to glimpse the essence of Mary and hints at the measured and quietly emotive performance that could've been.
Kill Your Darlings (2013)
2:30pm Wednesday, Elgin Theater
In many ways, I'd say that I enjoyed the experience surrounding my viewing of this movie more than I enjoyed the movie itself. And that is not to say that Kill Your Darlings isn't any good, because it's a pretty solid --and once in a while special-- movie that I quite liked. Simply put, Kill Your Darlings provided the sort of romantic "film festival experience" that I now and then found myself imaging as my trip to Toronto approached.
Here we had a combination of factors all coming into play inside the same time and space. For starters, the movie was screened at the utterly magnificent, beautiful, and wholly impressive Elgin Theater, which you can glimpse above. I don't know what the seating capacity amounts to, but it has to approach 1000, including opera boxes and the expansive balcony, in which we sat.
Secondly, Kill Your Darlings is a passionate and personal debut from first-time feature length director John Krokidas. The film was warmly and excitedly introduced and as the credits rolled it was just as warmly accepted. The Q&A session that followed the screening was, by a country mile, the most enjoyable, inspiring, and exciting of all the films I attended. John Krokidas exuded more than enough real enthusiasm, passion, and gratitude to fill the giant auditorium up to the rafters. The audience really responded with vigor and a staggering amount of good will to the personality on stage and the unlikely and admirable story of how this film came to be. The whole event left me leaving the theater with a sort of high that the movie alone could never hope to achieve. This ranks right up near the top of my favorite Toronto moments.
On to the movie itself, if you're still with me. Kill Your Darlings introduces us to a young, Columbia University enrolled Allen Ginsberg and tells the story of some key events and relationships that befell him as he would go on to discover his voice and artistic purpose in the world, years before the Beat Poets would formalize themselves in the public consciousness and attract adoration, curiosity, scorn, and everything in between.
Much of the movie's success rests on the shoulders of Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan, both of whom turn in strong (VERY strong in the case of DeHaan) performances and infuse the movie with an energy that is sometimes vibrant, sometimes dangerous, and always saturated with youthful immediacy and passion. While the script and plotting of the movie is sometimes uneven, the onscreen talents are consistently up to the task of making this movie come alive.
Director Krokidas reveals a surprisingly sophisticated eye in terms of composition. He's created a good-looking movie that doesn't go overboard in terms of visual panache, but still sprinkles a bit of visual flair atop the agreeably classic aesthetics.
The movie stutters a bit in some places and takes a couple awkward steps now and then, but the final scenes come together nicely and on the whole this is a solid film and a very promising first time effort. Krokidas might be one to keep an eye on.
The Wind Rises (2013)
6:00pm Wednesday, Elgin Theater
Reportedly Hayao Miyazaki's final film, I have difficulty imagining a more graceful and fitting movie by which to cap the man's celebrated career. The movie deals in and explores what seems to be Miyazaki's primary passions: airplanes, love, and the quiet, everyday bonds formed between the spirits of one human being to another. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Miyazaki entertains these themes in ways that match much of his previous efforts, while simultaneously offering us the most revealing glimpse yet into Miyazaki the artist himself. Dreams factor heavily into the telling of this story, and we watch our young protagonist grow from a child full of dreams and possibilities into a man dedicated to his work and his passion.
In this sense, much of The Wind Rises unravels in a fashion not dissimilar to a traditional biopic. But of course the animation medium in part, and --to a larger extent-- Miyazaki's sensibilities in particular, pave the way for a film that soars higher than that kind of genre-labeling can fully accommodate.
As the story moves forward and the film's leading man and leading lady encounter, court, unite, and then gradually meld into one another's lives The Wind Rises is attentive in its depiction of how complex and messy life can often be. Miyazaki shows sensitivity toward the way we're confronted with choices in life. The way life is often a juggling act of prioritizing, recognizing, appreciating the people and events surrounding us. Opportunities for love present themselves. And are sometimes lost. Opportunities for advancing a passion or a career present themselves. And are sometimes lost. Sometimes good fortune ensures that a second opportunity comes along. These are important moments in life. Often the most important moments in a lifetime. We must learn to sacrifice. We must learn to give. We must learn ask. We must learn to take. We must learn to share.
I get the sense that Miyazaki has approached this film as a creative way to examine his own life. To reflect upon a career that has come to an end. To what extent this is true, who knows? Regardless, Miyazaki and his talented crew has left us with one last gift and there's plenty here to enjoy.
Rigor Mortis (2013)
11:59pm Wednesday, Ryerson Theatre
Each day of the Toronto Film Festival caps off with a Midnight Madness screening and when purchasing our ticket package, the only question was whether we wanted to attend one or two of them. The way things worked out, it didn't make sense to attend more than one, but whenever I go back to Toronto, I'll be tempted to double up on Midnight Madness showings. This was a blast!
Never in my life have I experienced a movie at the decibel level that Rigor Mortis was shown at. Holy shit. Jet-airplanes have left the ground in quieter fashion.
Rigor Mortis is a Korean production and a highly stylized homage to the old Mr. Vampire films and the Chinese "hopping" vampire, something I had no pre-existing familiarity with. As far as I can tell, while a knowledge of any of this may have lent some layers of appreciation to the film, it didn't seem to matter much at all in the grand scheme of things-- this seemed very much its own film and its own story, and I can't imagine that any of the entertainment value depended on any sort of preceding hopping vampire initiation.
Not enough can be said about Rigor Mortis' unique style. Visually this is an extremely cool and accomplished piece of work. The film oozes with style and gritty charisma. There is definitely some heavy filtering going on as the movie presents itself in primarily cold, muted colors that gives the entire film an eerie feel. Pools of blood somehow become even more ominous. Shadows somehow become even less friendly. The stark blonde hair on a young boy might suggest hope. Innocence. But here the child feels like a bright and shining angel-headed target. Surely, dark and wicked claws will come screaming through the night, charging down black corridors to snuff out this unwelcome light.
A frenzied and manic marvel fuels the film's many action sequences and the film finds inventive ways to splash its bloody carnage and unearthly haunts across the screen. But to say that Rigor Mortis is strictly an exercise in style over substance would be doing the film a disservice. The primary characters of the movie are well-developed and give a very real and human backbone around which to stage the supernatural action horror elements at play. Meanwhile, the narrative framework of the film is not only clever, but lends the movie a twist in meaning and more to consider than I might have guessed. All of this adds up to a fresh and exciting piece of cinema, the kind of film that comes along and gets me excited about horror films and the prospect of discovery within the genre.
Day 4: Festival Savy
Scotiabank Theater. The modern whiz-bang multiplex isn't exactly my style, but this one is done right. Full service bar, gorgeous views of the city, escalators galore, and surprisingly reasonably priced and wide-ranging concessions.
12:00pm Thursday, Ryerson Theatre
Kurt Russell hasn't done much recently, but his choice to star in this fun, clever, and ultra-charismatic caper film is a winner. I was pleasantly surprised at how funny this movie played, and couldn't help but recall last year's Seven Psychopaths, or Rian Johnson's fantastic and underrated Brother's Bloom, among more natural comparisons like Ocean's Eleven and segments of Danny Boyle's Trance.
As the film's poster would suggest, this is one of those movies featuring a very male-heavy ensemble cast, but it is of good fortune that all the actors turn in solid performances and bring their characters to life. Armed with a capable cast and very fun and very funny script, the movie is free to move breathlessly along, barely slowing down to take corners presented by the plot, and confident enough not to linger too long on jokes and comic payoffs. This is a movie that knows that last line was funny, just as it knows the next scene promises more breezy, fun quirk.
All this works well enough inside the experience of watching the film, that it scarcely occurred to me that the movie never achieves greatness or anything especially noteworthy or memorable. But sometimes that's perfectly okay.
5:00pm Thursday, Scotiabank 1
Proxy. Where do I even begin?
Proxy is one of those fascinating failures that really lives up to both of those 'F' words. The movie fascinates in its design and in its pulpy sense of mystery. And the movie ultimately fails. And often it fails hard.
This movie aspires to capture that certain magic present in the better works of Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, David Lynch, and even Pedro Almodovar. The movie presents bizarre and terrible happenings, and then pulls us along as we try to discover how this could be possible. Who would do such a thing? And why? Who can we trust? Who is insane and who is not? How are these characters connected? etc..
For a while the movie really works. It certainly set and baited the hook with me, so that even as I cringed and rolled my eyes at the movie's many failings, I was still intrigued and invested enough to remain an active and attentive participant. As the film presents its characters, they are all intended to garnish both sympathy and suspicion. Unfortunately, most of the acting talent involved is simply not very good. Eventually, damn near every character fell out of my good graces, often through fault in performance, but also due to problems in the way the characters are written. Aspects of the script and direction that initially lent the film a dangerous and gritty sensation soon give way to a pulpy, soapy effect. Eventually this identity degenerates into plain cheesy and amateurish.
Part of Proxy's problem is that the movie isn't near as clever as it thinks it is. When the film thinks it's subverting an expectation, it is actually just endorsing a tired cliche. When it thinks it is adding layers of reality and theme, it is actually just obscuring the focus of the film. Several components and details in the plot are overwritten; others are sloppily put together for convenience. The movie just isn't able to remain the tight, bold, and dangerous mystery thriller it sets out to be. Instead it settles on dark but silly, semi-trashy, and ultimately kind of dumb.
All that said... a part of me still kind of likes it. Weird, I know.
9:00pm Thursday, Ryerson Theatre
Whatever else can be said about Moebius, it's certainly the most daring, unique, and savagely memorable of the films I saw at the Festival. Having never seen anything directed by Korean boundary-pusher Ki-duk Kim, I was very eager to at last get a glimpse of what this director is all about. Suffice it to say that he made a strong, strong impression on me. In some ways I'm still working out just what exactly that impression amounts to.
In all reality, I knew nothing about this movie before seeing it. And I find it kind of hilarious that even the one basic thing that I thought I knew --that I'd be reading subtitles-- turned out to be incorrect. And to be honest, I think that this is one of those movies that --if you're interested in seeing it-- should be gone into with as little knowledge as possible. It's pretty much impossible to describe the happenings and plot of this film without eliciting some kind of preconceived notions or attitudes toward the film at hand, and I think that to do such would be a shame.
Besides this fact, this is the film that lotr23 and I had the opportunity and urge to discuss far more intensely and at far greater length than any of the other films that we watched. For this reason I'm less inclined to write much about the movie here, because I do feel that I've already worked through it about as much as I'm able to do so on my own.
I will say that the movie is challenging in many ways, that it is absolutely fearless in terms of style and content, and that it is likely to polarize audiences -- for many reasons, but not least of which is the fact that the movie plays around a lot in tone and, seemingly, intention. Personally I stand in admiration of the film and I found it terribly interesting in several ways. But on the whole I find that the way I truly want to interpret the movie meets a certain amount of resistance from the movie itself. I found myself often fascinated, but also repelled by the film in some aspects. Moebius never exactly becomes the film I want it to be-- it's far too stubbornly and audaciously the film that it is.
Day 5: Friday - Goodbye Already?
Taxi Blues (1990)
The above image represents the sadness I felt toward leaving Toronto and also the cab fare to get to the airport.
Also Canadian currency is way prettier than U.S. bank notes.
Also Canadian currency is way prettier than U.S. bank notes.
I'll Remember When...
None of these pictures are my own. I'm terrible at taking pictures while on vacation, and I've come to terms with that fact. These are just a collection of visual cues collected for my own purposes.
Random Access Memories - Daft Punk
For years I've had my heart set on attending a big, bonafide film festival. Cannes of course has always felt like the unlikely grand prize-- the grandaddy of them all. But, ironically, one of the most appealing aspects of the Cannes Film Festival also acts as a major deterrent and that is its location. It takes place in the French Riviera. How many movies am I really going to watch before I feel like I'm missing out on experiencing the French Riviera? Probably just one. (And really, the price of airfare itself would motivate me to see as much of the region as possible. Berlin and Venice fall into the same camp.) Anyways, this uber-prestigious festival is Invite Only, so... problem solved.
Next up on the list of dream Festivals that I've always wanted to someday attend has always been TIFF. (Though Sundance and Tribeca run close behind, and Seattle and Austin have recently attracted my attention quite a bit too.) Last year an acquaintance of mine attended the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time, and I could only enviously read his write-ups as they made their way from his Toronto hotel room to the internet. I vowed then and there that "Next year, I'm going!"
This could've turned into one of those empty promises to myself that never quite materialized. Luckily I happen to know a good friend who has shared my dream of attending TIFF. That person is listal's very own lotr23. And as fate would have it, we're both equally reckless, passionate, and slightly deranged enough to actually fly our asses to Toronto to watch movies! And so, after several months of anticipation, excited research, and a certain amount of nervous stress over the film schedule/film selection procedures the two of us set out on Monday, September 9th to see Toronto (which I learned is in Ontario) for the first time and to see 10 movies that --in most cases-- we knew equally little about.
This is my listal account of the trip we experienced and the films we watched. To read lotr23's reaction to the Festival and the films attended, be sure to check out his list here:
Toronto International Film Festival 2013 Journal
My traveling partner does an excellent job of addressing some of the ins and outs of the Festival experience so I'll leave most of that alone. I do wish to echo, however, his gratitude and his appreciation for just how well-organized and stress-free the Toronto Film Festival was on the whole. My hat goes off to the people that put the Festival on-- they really, truly know what they're doing over there and I couldn't be more impressed with the level of professionalism and passion on display. And a huge thank you (and you never know, maybe there are one or two of you among the listal community) to the 2,500 orange T-shirt clad, smiling, helpful volunteers that worked the festival. The whole experience added up to one helluva classy affair and I would recommend attending to anyone that may be considering it.
Finally, while I generally make a concentrated effort to patronize only locally and privately owned establishments whilst traveling, my personal TIFF list wouldn't be complete without making special mention to the many iced lattes, extra espresso shots, hot cups of coffee, and fresh baked muffins served up by the folks at Tim Horten's. To a positively alarming extent, this adventure was fueled largely by coffee and muffins.
Cheers listal! Thanks for reading.
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