I’m back….


Just a quick hello from my blog to update you on this year’s TIFF experience. I can’t commit to daily posts but I thought I’d capture my impressions for the kind people who’ve told me they miss my blog.  You know who you are and I love you for it.

First the movies – my edited impressions, no spoilers…

Watermark – Beautiful, disturbing, bleak and a little slow in the final half hour.  Edward Burtynsky said something interesting in the Q&A after the movie.  He said that once he’s chosen his theme, he looks for the largest scale examples of the theme that he can find.  Big they are, so hold on to your seats, especially for the Xiluodu Dam in China.

12 Years a Slave – This movie is really very good, it’s not hype. I’m convinced that only a Brit could have been this sophisticated in finding a way into slavery and avoiding the violence porn of Django.  But be warned, it’s still inhumanely cruel, and sad beyond belief.  The fact that this is a true story makes it all the more haunting.  It won the People’s Choice Award…no surprise.  Also, if you haven’t seen Hunger, Steve McQueen’s first movie, do so now.

Like Father, Like Son – A thoughtful and well made film, but the cultural gap made it hard to personally connect to this story of two families who discover that their 6 year old sons were switched at birth in the hospital.  I could never have responded to this moral dilemma the way the central characters did – the fathers seem to make all the important decisions.  It had surprisingly funny moments in the middle of serious story telling and incredible child performances.

Mandela – Idris Alba in this Nelson Mandela bio-pic.  They had a lot of ground to cover in two hours and did an admirable job.  It’s hard to get over Idris Alba being all tall and gorgeous.  He stands about 12 inches above everyone else in the film.  The first two acts were better than third but the last part does give you insight into what happened to he and Winnie.  She definitely took a different course while he was in prison.  If you remember that time, her name was associated with some pretty violent acts.  Worth watching but not as good as I was hoping for.

The Unknown Known – Errol Morris does to Rumsfeld what he did to McNamara in The Fog of War, except that Rumsfeld has no conscience, is oblivious to his own blatant contradictions, and is so caught up in his clever wordplay that he overlooks gross errors in his own content.  It’s a very good movie, but you’ll feel sick.  I couldn’t help thinking, the whole time I was watching the movie, and in the days since, ‘who the hell is running things?’

The Lunchbox – tech problems with 20 minutes to go, argh! They didn’t finish the screening, it’s  really unforgivable.  I was at the second screening, but they messed up the first one too and showed the film with no subtitles (half of it is in Hindi).  The Director did 30 minutes of funny, heart warming Q&A while the audience waited, both times.  Also, it was in Bell Lightbox, with its state of the art projection.  Bad form!

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby – A marriage in trouble told from both his and her points of view. Produced as two full length features that run back to back, I thought it was a noble experiment, that they didn’t quite pull off.  The two versions aren’t different enough to warrant this very long telling of their story.  “Him” was pretty good and quite involving, “Her” started well but grew repetitious and could have been half as long.  James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain were both quite good and were very moving in the Q&A.  She started crying because of how long it has taken them to get the project to this point and how much she loved the process, he was a little drunk but surprisingly eloquent on the subject of love and relationships.  Two adults telling a grown up story.  The just needed to get out the scissors.

The Invisible Woman – I love Ralph Feines. He directed and played Charles Dickens with all his faults.  And there he was on stage, all humility and awkwardness and it was very good.  I don’t know if anyone will go to see it outside of literate Brits and a some North American public radio fans.  It’s about Charles Dickens and his not so secret, but much younger, mistress and there isn’t a sensationalized second in it.  If it shows up in the theatres go fast because it won’t last.   It’s a visually beautiful, shot on film, with a good story and great acting.  It gives us some real insights into the lives of women in that age, pretty sad in that regard.

Tracks – True story about Robyn Davidson who crossed the Outback with a few camels and her dog.  It fit with my theme this summer… I read Wild (Cheryl Strayed) and relistened to A Walk in the Woods (Bill Bryson).  I loved every minute of this movie – maybe I need to plan a wee trek? My film buds found it unsatisfying because it didn’t explain her motivation very overtly.  I thought it was there in the subtext.  Let me know what you think.

Felony – Interesting ethical and moral dilemma for three Aussie cops but it missed.  It had a good script and great actors but I thought the Director shot it as a one dimensional thriller so instead of a nuanced morality play, it just felt like a predictable police procedural.  It’s too bad, it had lots of potential.

How I live now – From the director who gave us The Last King of Scotland (personal top 10).  Yikes, he’s gone young adult, uber commercial, melodramatic, and predictable.  And so has  Saoirse Ronan.  Disappointing

The Railway Man – A moving, and sad story about a quirky railway enthusiast who was a WWII POW and torture survivor.  He was captured during the fall of Singapore and sent to the railway camps in Thailand (think Bridge Over the River Kwai).  It was very good but this true story was softened for public consumption. The director admitted leaving out the worst bits and I think he should have included them, not graphically, but in the narrative.  Colin Firth was excellent as the grown up hero, Nicole Kidman’s face didn’t move, and some torture techniques are older than you thought.

Blind Detective – laugh out loud Hong Kong flying fighting movie from Johnnie To.  Over acted, over wrought, over the the top entertainment.

The Sea – Charlotte Rampling and Ciaran Hinds in an Irish, sad (is that redundant) adaptation of  the John Banville novel.  The Irish seashore never looked so gloomy.  It didn’t make a lot of sense.  The book is much better.

Unforgiven – Sang-il Lee’s remake of the Clint Eastwood classic, set on the furthest north island of Japan, in Japanese, with Samurai swordplay instead of wild west guns.   Ken Watanabe in the Clint role.  As you would expect – awesome!
Beyond the Edge – A gripping documentary, with reenactments, of Sir Edmond Hilary’s and Tenzing Norgay’s Everest climb.  It’s very suspenseful and has you on the edge of your seat, even though you know the outcome.   Good casting and wicked good location shooting put you in their shoes.  Go for the 3-D version.  As Director Leanne Pooley said, you’re not likely to see this view for yourself so she’s made it as real as she can for you.
Bright Days Ahead – An attractive Dentist of a certain age retires after a conflict with a patient.  She loses her patience or something like that (can’t imagine).  With nothing else to do, she goes to a community centre offering activities and courses for retirees people.  She meets a stunning young computer instructor and has a May-December affair.  I’m not going to say any more.  It’s French, the dentist is played by Fanny Ardant – we should all age like she has.
Gravity – This should have been my favourite.  Alphonso Cuoron (Children of Men, another top 10) directing a movie in space. The  first act was really good… very suspenseful and artfully shot.  But it is followed by an incredibly bad 30 minutes of the worst that Hollywood implausibility and melodrama, with an embarassing score.  Sandra Bullock, who I actually like, delivers a one dimensional performance.   2001 a space Oddessy meets Speed!
Pioneer. A Norwegian thriller based on a true story about laying the deepest pipeline in history in the North Sea and what happened to the divers who set depth records to do the work.  The first experimental dive goes horribly wrong but is covered up to protect the incredible financial opportunity of getting the pipeline laid.  Norway didn’t become one of the richest countries in the world on fish exports.  Tense movie in tight spaces. A little predictable but well made.  I saw it with two claustrophobes, that’s not recommended.

Those are all of the movies I saw.  Overall, it was a good but not great festival.  I didn’t have as many pleasant surprises as I usually have and it was a little more mainstream than I usually aim for (although the programme book was so weighted to English speaking films it was hard to balance it).

TIFF has changed every year, but this year it felt like it crossed a line and will never come back.  It is no longer about enthusiastic audiences who love film, follow directors, and look for the little gems (some of those people are still there, but they’re frustrated and with good reason).  It has become a celebrity festival.  All of the logistics were organized to accommodate more and larger red carpets.  Boo.  Meanwhile, the logistics for the film goers were a mess, there were technical screw-ups, and the staff were neither as friendly or knowledgeable as they used to be and should have been.  I was regularly given wrong or contradicting information and they didn’t seem to care.  Disappointing compared to the amazing sense of community I grew accustomed to each year.

I will write a letter.  I do that every year, although I’ve never had a reply or an acknowledgement, so I don’t know if anyone reads them. However, I like to let them know what I loved and didn’t love so I’ll do that again.  And now, you know too.


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