Wednesday 29 September 2010

TIFF 2010 - A Wrap-up

Although I still hope to write a few more reviews for several of the films I caught at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, I figured I should at least do a quick round-up. The following was included in a larger post on RowThree that meshed mini-reviews from five different people and which ended up covering 103 different films - almost a third of the entire program of TIFF.

The Illusionist [Best] - It didn't take me long to fall in love with this movie. Its glorious hand drawn animation showing the beauty of Scotland is certainly part of the reason, but it's director Sylvain Chomet's ability to seemlessly merge his distrust of technology with Jacques Tati's longing for the simplicity of the old ways that really puts the film into the upper echelons. Tati's previously unfilmed script is touching, sentimental, bittersweet and sometimes just plain bitter. A wonderful mix.

Cold Fish [Loved] - Sion Sono's latest film is astonishing in how it single-mindedly approaches the "true" story of Japan's most notorious serial killer - building tension and unease with just about every frame, it's relentless and quite fearless in leaving its audience squirming and laughing at the same time. Remarkable.

Balada Triste [Loved] - A handy-dandy tip for all you youngsters studying to be clowns: in a pinch, household cleaning aids make good substitutes for makeup. There's more to this film than the simple story of Insane Happy Clown versus Insane Sad Clown, but that certainly is the most entertaining part about it - especially the way-over-the-top final showdown.

The Four Times [Loved] - This lovely, slow, meditative look at a small Italian mountain village and how all nature is interconnected is an exploration of the idea of soul transference from human to animal to vegetable to mineral. It also contains the best long single shot of the festival involving a dog, a runaway truck, a herd of goats and several crucifixes.

Lapland Odyssey [Loved] - A road movie in a single night has to step outside of reality somewhat in order to give you the requisite number of strange characters and situations required. All the better for this Finnish tale of one man's quest for a digibox to save his relationship with his girlfriend - it would be a shame if we didn't get all the coincidences and silly scenarios that are presented so gleefully to the viewers.

Blame [Loved] - A first film as efficiently directed and effectively told as this story of five friends seeking revenge on a man they believe is responsible for a young woman's death is something to appreciate. Aussie director Michael Henry told the audience during his Q&A that he wants to specialize in making thrillers. Rejoice I say!

Behind Blue Skies [Loved] - What begins as a wonderfully told teenage coming of age story set amongst the workers of a summer resort morphs into an interesting mix of a father figure search, a morality tale and drug smuggling. Whichever branch it took, though, the film was expertly told (and with amazing attention to detail for its 70s period) and wonderfully performed.

Confessions [Loved] - Exploitative of its young characters and cynical as all get out, I could not help being thoroughly engaged in this story of a teacher's revenge against the two children who killed her young daughter. The opening 30 minute monologue by the teacher is, by itself, a perfect short film.

Crying Out [Loved] - Quebec filmmaker Robin Aubert lays himself and his characters bare in this story of a man who cannot accept his second wife's death and takes her body on a road trip through the rural motels of Quebec. In pursuit, his son and father work through their own issues as the beautiful countryside rolls on by.

The Housemaid [Loved] - I suppose there's not much new in this telling of class differences between a rich family, their old housemaid and a new addition to the cleaning/cooking staff. But when it's so beautifully rendered with a slow building climb to the inevitable showdown, I don't care.

Submarine [Loved] - Though I understand the Wes Anderson comparions (via elements of style), I don't think it's fair to consider this film the Welsh version of "Rushmore". I love Anderson's films, but "Submarine's" central character is much more empathetic, likeable and maybe even smarter than Max Fischer. I couldn't help but be charmed by the film's gentle humour, dark corners and self-aware stylistic touches.

Machete Maidens Unleashed! [Loved] - Fun and fast-paced documentary that scans over the numerous 70s exploitation films made in the Philippines for the mass consumption of a North American audience. Cheap labour, lax safety rules and extras willing to do anything meshed very well with plots about women in prison and student nurses. If a documentary about a specific set of films makes you want to run out and watch them, then it has to be considered a success. Especially if it entertained the heck out of you while doing it.

A Useful Life [Loved] - The opening section of this story of a career employee at a Cinematheque in Montevideo, Uruguay is enjoyable enough (watching the various duties carried out - live overdubbing of foreign films, radio shows, cataloguing reels of film, etc.), but once the Cinematheque closes and he is forced to interact with the real world, it becomes an absolute joy. In particular, during one of my favourite scenes of the entire festival, when he gives a speech about lying honourably for the good of others to a class of law students.

Marimbas From Hell [Liked] - Whether you like Heavy Metal music or not, this film proves one thing: a marimba makes it better.

Make Believe [Liked] - The structure of this documentary about teenage magicians competing against each other at the yearly Las Vegas championships is nothing new, but it still succeeds in introducing us to some interesting characters and showing us behind the scenes of the basics of magic. It's not quite as fun as, say, "Spellbound", but very enjoyable.

Viva Riva! [Liked] - Apparently the Democratic Republic of Congo can have just the same kind of seedy nightlife as the typical North American underground city found in many genre movies. Throw in heavy military, church and government corruption along with dollops of racism and misogyny (by the characters, not the movie itself) and you've got a dark world that charming criminal Riva lives in. A pretty damn entertaining one too.

I Saw The Devil [Liked] - If you do monstrous things while chasing a monster, do you not become a monster as well? Kim Ji-woon's followup to the spirited "The Good The Bad The Weird" is a flat out vengeance tale that doesn't so much thrill as drag you down into its muck with it. It certainly answers that question though...

Break Up Club [Liked] - Director Barbara Wong plays up the relationship documentary by creating a fictional story of an on-again-off-again couple, but treating it like it's a documentary. Wong plays herself as a director searching for people who are about to undergo a break-up and who are willing to record the ups and downs of what is more than likely the end stage of a relationship. The majority of the film is footage taken by one couple as break-up, get back together and break-up again (with help from a web site). It's not perfect since the male character in the relationship isn't overly sympathetic (you really wonder why she bothers with him in the first place), but there was enough humour and inventiveness (and the gorgeous Fiona Sit) to keep me engaged.

Dirty Girl [Liked] - Juno Temple is pretty fantastic as the title character who hits the road in search of her father with her sexually-confused-but-60-to-70-percent-sure-he's-gay friend along for the journey. It has all the ups and downs of a road movie, with, unfortunately, far too many caricatures along the way. Some genuine charm and a couple of nice supporting turns from Milla Jovovich and Tim McGraw (yes, I was just as surprised as you) save it.

Julia's Eyes [Liked] - A well put together atmospheric tale of a woman who is slowly going blind, but desperately wants to uncover the mystery of her sister's death. It takes good advantage of shadows, darkness and those areas just out of the corner of our eyes.

Three [Liked] - Tom Tykwer's latest is a slick stylish look at a couple from Germany who each separately engage in an affair with the same man. If not consistently entertaining throughout its entirety, it still has numerous instances of fun and experimentation as well as ending up being somewhat of a plea for tolerance and acceptance of what people might think of as a relationship.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale [Liked] - Santa Claus with REALLY big horns. A kid's fairy tale that includes the gutting of a boar. The greatest number of naked old geezers per square foot that I've seen on film. Great concepts. Only reasonably good execution. Perhaps I just wanted more from this story of the discovery of a long-buried demonic Santa, but it never quite went where I wanted it to. Having said that, there's a lot of imaginative stuff here.

22nd Of May [Disappointed] - After a bomb explodes in a mall, a security gaurd meets up with the people who died and they accuse him of not doing enough to save them. An intriguing premise, but I never quite found an entry point to this odd walk through the purgatory of one man's set of ghosts.

Vanishing On 7th Street [Disappointed] - High expectations (I mostly love director Brad Anderson's other films) may have dashed any hope of me really enjoying this end of the world tale. However, I expect the lackluster characters, poor performances and rather bland, undistinguished look of the shadows that now envelope the world had more to do with it. Still, some interesting ideas to play with.

Mamma Gogo [Disappointed] - An Icelandic filmmaker's mother struggles with Alzheimer's while his latest film (about old people coping with death) meets public indifference and may financially ruin him. Though it has some sharp barbs towards the Icelandic film community and several great performances, it never quite built into anything more than just that.

Womb [Disappointed] - Stunningly shot with a terrific slow-paced first 30 minutes, but it squanders much of its good will by never doing anything interesting with the variety of ideas it builds up.

Easy Money [Disappointed] - The first half of the film is filled with some interesting setup mostly around the wanna-be-rich character of JW, but it starts to lose its Noirish sense and tension as it progresses to a letdown of an ending. JW is shown to be incredibly naive, so much so that a line like "people put themselves and the money first" appears to be revelatory to him.

Home For Christmas [Disappointed] - I was actually quite enjoying the different storylines within Bent Hamer's latest - each one about different concepts of finding home at Christmas time - but they never connected or amounted to more than a variety of short films about similar themes that were spliced together. There's some lovely character work going on here, which makes it all the more frustrating that it could have been much greater.

Insidious [Disappointed] - I'm not sure what I expected from James Wan's (director of "Saw") attempt at a ghost story...I wasn't a big fan of his sequel-spawning hit, but I thought he might bring some energy and new ideas to my favourite type of horror film. There were indeed some nicely-realized moments and a concept that was, if not novel, at least a bit different than the norm. However, for each solid creepy scene, the filmmakers took two steps backward by amping up the over-the-top score or throwing in jarring effects.

Pinoy Sunday [Disappointed] - Two immigrant workers from the Philippines wander through Taipei carrying back a couch they "found" that they believe will transform their living quarters. Not terrible by any stretch, but considering we spend the entire movie with these two characters, it would've helped if they were likeable.

Fire Of Conscience [Disappointed] - Pretty colours. A big shrug to everything else.

Soul Of Sand [Disliked] - I should say up front that there were elements of this film that were of interest. The story of a woman promised as a wife to a rich man but actually in love with another man outside her caste is not new, but "Soul Of Sand" attempts to bring a different style to it with thriller and Noir conventions wrapped around it. Unfortunately, it moves with fits and starts, is executed in amateurish fashion and was occasionally aggravating (e.g. if you can't capture the sounds of someone eating live on set, do NOT try to overdub those sounds with over-the-top lip-smacking and chewing at twice the volume).

Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame [Disliked] - OK, I admit I drifted off to sleep once or twice during Tsui Hark's latest action spectacle, but shouldn't an "action spectacle" manage to keep you conscious? Gobs and gobs of CGI (and not very good CGI at that) tacked on to a mediocre story that I didn't care about with a mystery that just never materialized. Blah.

Passion Play [Worst] - There are plenty of reasons to dislike this film, but I expect that most people will hate it for the wrong reasons. For instance, Megan Fox is actually decent in her role as a woman burdened with wings on her back and the magical moments of the film actually fit within the context of the plot (which is pretty obviously foreshadowed). The reason to dislike it are the rather bland, pedestrian performances of everyone else and the terribly dull story that plods its way to the end.


Ryan McNeil said...

Hey wow - I read this post in less than four hours!!

Nicely done sir, and if I do say so myself it was truly wonderful knowing that you were buzzing around the festival to run into and watch a film or two with.

To TIFF 2011!

Courtney Small said...

Agree with you on: The Illusionist, Balada Triste, Machete Maidens Unleashed!, I Saw the Devil, Vanishing on 7th Street

We differ on: A Useful Life(thought the second half brings the film down), and Viva Riva! (started off good, but just got silly by the end)

Still on the fence about Detective was not great but I did not hate it either. I liked the mystery, although you could see the twist coming from a mile away.

Bob Turnbull said...

Zing! To be fair Hatter, Kurt and I only talked about TIFF for half of that marathon 4 hour Cinecast. If you can't handle 2 hours of podcasting goodness, what good are ya?

Yeah, I wish we had run into each other a bit more during TIFF, but that's cool - it was great seeing your daily updates to see what you had been up to.

You too CS - I think we were only in one screening and we saw each other on the way out...Too bad you didn't like the second half of A Useful Life. I thought that's where it took off into something really special. He started approaching his real life like a movie (dancing on the steps, the impromptu "telling off" of the lawyers, his confidence with the woman, etc.). Loved it.

We're probably not that far off on Viva Riva!, but I guess I liked it more than you because it kept me on my toes a bit.

Thanks for stopping by gents - is it Sept. 2011 yet? B-)

James McNally said...

The two films I really disliked during this year's TIFF were Womb, where I think we agree, and Confessions, where I think you ended up liking the film far more than when we talked after the screening. This is a great format for doing a quick wrapup, and I should do this for the films I keep saying I'm going to write full reviews for, but probably won't.

Bob Turnbull said...

Hey James...We mostly agree on "Womb", but I guess I did like it more than you - it's beautifully shot and I was very intrigued after the first half hour. Just frustrating that they didn't do much with it after that.

As for "Confessions"...Yeah, I guess I ended up liking it more as I looked back on it. I really do agree with most of the points we discussed over beer and I still wrestle with it, but I can't shake that first 30 minutes and the style of the film.

Jordan Ruimy said...

I need to check out Three. Tykwer needs to make more movies.

Bob Turnbull said...

Completely agreed Jordan - I wish Tykwer was on a movie a year schedule. Of course, that would then actually dilute his final works, but you can't help but dream...

Three is an interesting film for sure, but I can see it being very divisive.

I see you're from my old stomping ground of Montreal...Looking forward to more of your own posts.

Unknown said...

I highly recommend Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale movie for fans of the original film short, or those who seek something different in the holidays!
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