Bill's Best of the TIFF
A History of Violence
Bill's Worst of TIFF
The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes
Day 10 (Saturday Sept 17th)
Le Temps qui Reste (2005)
- An unsympathetic gay man discovers that he is dying and
withholds this knowledge from everyone except his elderly
grandmother, because, as he states, she too will die soon.
Severing relationships and mending others, leaving a last minute
legacy and personal reflection occupy his last remaining days, yet
they do little in breaking through his selfish nature.
An interesting low-key film from Ozon, but it doesn't really leave a
strong lasting impression.
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005) Chan-wook Park out of
- Interesting, but flawed conclusion to the Vengeance trilogy
seems somewhat unfocused with a confusing first half and much
pointless screen time dedicated to the past criminal lives of our
heroine's fellow inmates. Once the heavily padded first half is
over, the film finally finds its groove in it's disturbing finale
which reminded me of a certain Agatha Christie novel. Good, but
inferior to the two earlier films.
Adam's Apples (2005) Anders Thomas Jensen 5/5
- Adam, a neo-Nazi is sent to a small community church as part
of his community service sentence, there he meets Ivan, a Pastor
with such a strong sense of faith that he is almost
certifiable...turning the other cheek is taken to preposterous new
heights. Adam clearly thinks that the Ivan is insane and sets out to
break him, but first he must realize his appointed goal...he must
bake an apple cake!
An absolutely hilarious Danish comedy inspired by the Book of Job,
this film was a real surprise for me and I thoroughly enjoyed every
minute of it. Ulrich Thomsen (The Celebration) is fine as the
neo-Nazi, but Mads Mikkelsen is a scream as the insanely optimistic
Ivan, a truly memorable comic creation.
Mary (2005) Abel Ferrara
- Flawed, yet very interesting film from Ferrara which is the
director's response to Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ.
Alternately fascinating and obtuse, I wasn't always clear about what
exactly Ferrara was trying to say at times, but the film always
remained watchable. Requires a second viewing.
Thank You for Smoking (2005) Jason Reitman out of
- Dialogue driven comedy/drama about tobacco lobbyists is a
mildly amusing and entertaining but rather slight film from the son
of Ivan Reitman...it's at least better than most of his dad's films.
Director Jason Reitman was in attendance.
Hostel (2005) Eli Roth
- From the director of Cabin Fever comes this grim and dark
horror film that seems to mistake sadism for horror, suspense and
thrills. Not bad, but nothing special either, several mutilations
and torture scenes are guaranteed to be trimmed by the MPAA.
Director, cheerleader and Tarantino impersonator Eli Roth and cast
Jay Fernandez, Derek Richardson, Barbara Nedeljakova, Eythor
Gudjonsson and Rick Hoffman were in attendance.
Dear Wendy - dir by Thomas
Vinterberg, script by Lars von Trier
Perhaps that’s the way it was intended, but I found this film to
be built upon one implausible event after another. Dick (Jamie Bell)
buys a toy gun at a local store, which later he finds out to be
real. First implausibility: people don’t mistake real guns to be
toys. Even assuming he has never seen a gun before, SOMEONE would
have realized it was real and bought it or alerted the store-owner
long before Dick ever walked in. Hell, even I thought it looked like
a real gun from the moment it was first shown. Dick works in a small
general store, in a town that looks more like a wild west ghost town
done-up than any small Southern town I’ve seen. The Southern small
towns I know about are less antiques and worn-signage (although, to
be fair, that’s there too) and more McDonalds’s and Wal-Marts. The
store, even though it’s extremely small, still manages to employee
two simultaneous stockers in addition to the owner running the
register. Perhaps Vinterberg and von Trier are in love with a
romanticized notion of small towns that is far from reality or
perhaps they are aware of the differences. Perhaps having grown up
in a small Southern town (and having worked in a hardware store that
sells guns) I am overly sensitive to their misfired portrayals. At
any rate, we are then made to believe that after Dick and his friend
start a pacifist gun club, nearly all of the town’s losers and
misfits magically develop the shared and confused interest in guns.
I won’t give away the climax, although you’ve probably already
guessed it. If Vinterberg is truly trying to explore the South’s
fascination with guns, he has completely and utterly missed the
target. out of
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance - dir by Park Chan-Wook
This is the final installment in Park Chan-Wook’s revenge
trilogy, and it’s a worthy finale. I would rate Oldboy slightly
higher, but this film is still satisfying, if not a little “more of
L’Enfant - dir by the Dardenne brothers
Gary’s review says it beautifully.
U-Carmen eKhayelitsha - dir by Mark Dornford-May
This is an adaptation of the opera Carmen set in Cape Town’s
Khayelitsha township. The TIFF guidebook claimed it integrates local
rhythms and that it was a “tribute to the power of African music.”
Funny, there was hardly any African music in the film. Although the
characters speak and sing in Xhosa, much of the film, from the
nearly-exclusively orchestral scoring to the operatic-singing-style
is rooted in European tradition. And what kind of message does that
bring across when the film “celebrates” African traditions while
imposing European music and singing style. This film is without a
doubt very true to the source material I just don’t feel it’s true
to the culture it’s trying to highlight. On the up side, the cast
who have never acted in front of the camera before are amazing,
particularly Pauline Malefane (Carmen) who is destined to be a star.
Day 9 (Friday Sept 16th)
Tsotsi (2005) Gavin Hood
- A wonderful film from South Africa that shares some
similarities to L'Enfant, and in some ways this is the better film.
A young African hoodlum steals the car of his latest shooting victim
and accidentally kidnaps the woman's infant child.
At first he puts the crying child in a paper bag and hides it under
the bed next to an open can of food, returning home later to find
the screaming child completely covered in ants.
He forces a young neighborhood mother to breast feed the baby and
when she offers to take care of the child, he refuses, stating that
he will take care of the baby.
Slowly and surely, he begins to recognize and accept his
responsibility to the child and re-evaluates his criminal life and
Director Hood and lead actor Presley Chweneyagae were in attendance
and both were practically bouncing off the floor with excitement.
Vers le Sud (2005) Laurent Cantet
- French film which details the lives of middle-aged (and older)
women who vacation in Haiti to soak up some sun...and to have
uncomplicated sex with young local men.
Each approaches the sex tourism trade from different perspectives
and needs, and the film focuses on their interactions amongst each
other and of Legba, the young Haitian they all desire.
Not as interesting a film as Cantet's previous two films, but still
an interesting study of older female sexuality and Charlotte
Rampling is as stunning as ever.
Drawing Restraint 9 (2005) Matthew Barney
- As a huge admirer of Barney's amazing Cremaster 3, this was a
rather dull disappointment by comparison.
Taking place entirely on a whaling ship, the film is an arcane
series of intricate details and procedures culminating in what
appears to be the physical transformation of man into sea creature.
Surprisingly dull and uninteresting for most of it's 2 1/2 running
time, it still gets points for effort and style.
Lots of walkouts during this film...
Entre ses Mains (2005) Anne Fontaine out of
- A female insurance agent investigates a male veterinarian's
flood damage claim and embarks on a relationship with him despite
being happily married.
She begins to harbor private suspicions that he may be a notorious,
currently active serial killer. A well-made but unexceptional French
thriller starring Man Bites Dog's Benoit Poelvoorde.
Brothers of the Head (2005) Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe
- From the documentarian directors of Lost in La Mancha and The
Hamster Factory comes this fake documentary that is so subtle and
realistic, it almost seemed genuine.
Teenaged twin brothers, joined at the chest, become famous rock
stars in England and this mockumentary details their ups and downs
with the use of stock footage, home movies and talking head
interviews (including an interview with Ken Russell, director of the
"unfinished" bio-pic Two Headed Romeo starring Jonathan Pryce).
Indistinguishable from the real thing, I'm sure that there were many
in the audience who didn't realize that this was a complete put-on,
but despite the slavish attention to detail, the film ultimately
just wasn't that interesting.
Fateless (TY) dir by Lajos
This Hungarian Holocaust tale is sure to join the ranks of
Schindler's List and The Pianist as being a classic Holocaust drama.
We follow a 14 year old Hungarian Jewish boy as he is taken from his
family and sent to the concentration camp Birkenau. At 2 hours and
14 minutes, the film never feels too long in fact, I didn’t want
it to be over. The film was based on the Nobel Prize-winning novel
by Imre Kertesz, who also wrote the screenplay. Ennio Morricone's
score is simply astounding. There were several times during the
Toronto International Film Festival where I fought sleep, where my
mind drifted, where I laughed out loud; but this is the only film
where my eyes welled up with tears.
John and Jane - dir by Ashim Ahluwalia
This documentary follows the lives of a handful of offshore call
center operators in India. You’ve probably talked to someone like
them while troubleshooting your computer or your cell phone. In
order to better serve their American clientele, the call center
assigns them Americanized names, teaches them American accents, and
inundates them with American culture, from catalogues to movies.
While the story is no doubt gripping, the most remarkable thing
about this documentary is the explosively individual style of first
time director Ahluwalia. The film is shot in 35 millimeter, with
unconventional techniques in narrative and montage. At the
screening, programmer Cameron Bailey said that the film was cold
submitted to the fest along with the thousands of other entries. In
other words, Ahluwalia didn’t get in because of connections or
high-profile stars, but because he made an extremely good film. I
would daresay that, if he continues making documentaries, he will be
the next Errol Morris.
Drawing Restraint - dir by Mathew Barney, music by Bjork
Ok, I admit, I should have known what I was getting into. But
I’ve never seen any of Mathew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle films, and I
quite like Bjork. The description in the TIFF guide made this out to
be a groundbreaking film, so I took a chance. Well, perhaps I am not
intellectual enough to “get” this film. It is, more or less, a
series of symbols, rituals, and evolving art “installation” pieces.
Does it have a meaning? More importantly, is it intended to have a
meaning? I have no idea. But whatever quantative emotional effect it
was supposed to have, all I got was boredom interspersed with the
occasional, “hey, that’s an interesting song.” Yet, with the
possible exception of Barney’s other work, I can wholeheartedly say,
there is NO film quite like this. out of
China Blue - dir by Micha Peled
This documentary explores the lives of sweatshop workers at the
Lifeng Denim Factory in Shaxi, China. The film raises a lot of
important issues and deservedly reserves much of the blame of the
conditions on the Western companies that insist on paying the
absolute minimum for the merchandise. If, for instance, a German
retailer, bargains an additional 40 cents off each pair of jeans,
that money comes out of reduced wages, postponement of payment, and
longer working hours for the nearly all-female employees.
Stylistically, this film is nothing to write home about, but the
issues it brings forth are important, and I enjoyed my time watching
it. During the credits, text informs us that the filmmakers were
jailed and interrogated and some of the footage confiscated. But
what it doesn’t say, and what the director told us afterwards, is
the reason: the production team was shooting in China without the
required permit, not because what they were doing was controversial.
Ironically, I found it interesting that at the screening, the
director insisted that no one take photographs of him.
Day 8 (Thursday Sept 15th)
L'Enfant (2005)- The Dardenne
Brothers - A revealing narrative of subtle redemption, utilizing
an atmosphere of some of the more impoverished members of society.
Their struggle for life's essentials is simply a microcosm of our
own. Deeply infused within the subtext, akin to the Dardennes other
Palm D'or winning film - Rosetta, is the perceived myth that the
acquisition of money and possessions will cause one to achieve
personal value. An important topic indeed as probably the most
common misconception of modern society. Yet it is almost universally
accepted as our primary purpose... regardless of means or
consequence. It has become a sad standard of how we gauge each
other. L'Enfant is a far more direct attack than Rosetta on the
mindless perpetuation of the revolving-door cycle of
make-money/spend-money. Seeking and acquiring funds, despite the
method and its pure indifference to our fellow man, seems more
extensively accepted than ever. How often do we hear sympathy for
the latest, already obscenely wealthy, celebrity proven to have
engaged in 'insider trading' - an essential act of stealing from
other, most likely smaller, investors. It has become the way of the
world - because you would do same? I hope not but our examples are
published in the newspapers daily (I digress). And of course the currency
obtained is only temporarily pocketed as frivolous materialism takes
over... and the circle of hollow existence continues. This is a
direct attack on, but not exclusive to, the capitalist underbelly
once again. Breaking free of these surrounding societal role models
(let's remember La Promesse) is a revelation to, indeed, be
celebrated. The occasional giggling in the crowd is disheartening as
the vitally important message is, most likely, lost on many.
An essential film -
Dardenne Brothers introduce film -
PHOTO CLICK HERE
Les Saignantes (2005)
- Illogical and incomprehensible nonsense from Cameroon that's
supposedly a political science-fiction thriller.
A high-up Government official dies while in the services of a
prostitute who dangles from a bungee cord and shakes her ass a lot.
For reasons known only to the filmmakers, she takes the body to a
meat processing plant, has it chopped up and keeps the head and
wanders around with it.
Then she suddenly decides that she needs a body to attach to the
official's head so that he can have a funeral??????
It goes on and on.....the most exciting part of this film was
watching the audience members walk out one by one.
Eleven Men Out (2005) Robert I. Douglas
- Pointless, humorless and dull comedy from Iceland about a
local soccer player who one day comes out of the closet.
Fired from his team, he joins another more gay-friendly team and
soon other gay soccer players join up.
That's it, that's the entire movie. The end. Yawn.
Director Douglas was in attendance.
Wassup Rockers (2005) Larry Clark out of
- A light, change of pace film from Clark that's a mostly
improvised yarn concerning a group of Latino skateboarders who hop
on a bus to Beverly Hills to check out a popular skating site.
It starts out in typical Larry Clark fashion with close-ups of bare
chests and bulging crotches, but these are soon forgotten as we (as
well as Clark) begin to enjoy the company of these young men and
begin to see them as something more than just pin-ups. Although a
very leisurely film, it is sometimes quite funny...funny and
entertaining enough that we probably could have done without the
awkward and obviously scripted 'skits' (the cop, the starlet and the
movie star) and just have let the cast entertain us in their own
L'Enfant (2005) Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne out of
- Another slice of impoverished life from the Belgium duo that
revisits much of the same themes of their previous films, yet it
still manages to be an engrossing look at the perils of poverty and
Added to this mix is the theme of personal responsibility and the
awakening of empathy, a sense of social responsibility from those
who have received none. Convincingly acted by a cast of mostly
unknowns and a return collaboration with actor Jeremie Renier,
memorable as the young Igor in the Dardennes first feature film "La
Promesse". A must-see!
The Dardenne brothers were in attendance.
Dear Wendy (2005) Thomas Vintenberg out of
- From a script by Lars von Trier, director Vintenberg presents
an ironic tale of America's relationship with guns. Similar in tone
with von Trier's America trilogy (and possibly it's original
starting point), the film tells of a group of pacifist young people
(Dandies) who obsess with guns but vow to never use them on others.
They give their guns names (Wendy), they write letters to their
guns, their guns give them confidence and make them feel
important...such a relationship cannot remain platonic. Very
interesting film starts out rather slowly but begins to really hook
you in with it's bizarre yet never outlandish fetishist rituals, a
look at gun culture from a slightly fanciful angle.
Director Vintenberg and cast Michael Angarano and Alison Pill were
The Great Yokai War (2005) Takashi Miike out of
- Takashi Miike has vowed not to make any more horror films.
This film, Zebraman and the upcoming remake of Ultraman are examples
of the kind of films he now chooses to make, bizarre and not
completely wholesome children's films featuring giant monsters,
little kids, ghosts, CGI animation, wacky humor and impossibly cute
little furry hand puppets that squeak-talk. Compelling in it's
gonzo, anything goes, over-the-top outrageousness, the film succeeds
despite being a little overlong and drawn-out at 124 minutes.
The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes
- dir by the Brothers Quay
I’m sad to say this film is just not very good. The Brothers
Quay have a knack at conjuring surreal animated imagery
unfortunately, it is looking like they don’t have a knack for
storytelling or live-action directing. The film is filled with
unnecessary voice-overs and clunky construction. The animation used
in the film is minimal; in fact, it almost appears as if they simply
cut in pre-existing animated shorts. The style is very similar to
that of Guy Maddin, except without his talent.
Douches Foides - dir by Antony Cordier
This is a tale of high-school relationships what happens when
another boy is brought in to the sex life of a long-term couple.
Predictably, jealousy and insecurity breed, and things are never the
same. Oh yeah, and there’s sex. Where have I heard this before? The
TIFF book calls this French cinema at it’s best. Um. No.
Citizen Dog (TY) dir by Wisit Sasanatieng
This Thai film is another festival highlight that deserves to be
nationally distributed. This is an example of good weird! There is a
manic energy pervading this film from start to finish. It is filled
with the strange images of a plastic bottle mountain,
interchangeable fingers, a ghost motorcycle taxi driver, a
chain-smoking little girl, her talking teddy bear and more. I think
the actor who plays the main character Pod (Mahasmut Bunyaraksh) has
the potential to be an international star. An instant cult classic!
Day 7 (Wednesday Sept 14th)
The Proposition - Dir by John
This is musician Nick Cave’s first screenplay and second
collaboration with director John Hillcoat. I have a few minor
quibbles with the pacing and about some of the conventional
techniques (see the lashing scene), but the acting was top-notch,
particularly Ray Winstone and Guy Pierce. This film doesn’t have
heroes and villains all characters carry their own sins and guilt.
Rather, it is about survival in the harsh and continually changing
frontiers of Australia in the late nineteenth century.out of
Tideland - Dir by Terry Gilliam
This, for me, was the biggest disappointment of the fest. I
wanted to like it so bad, but it’s overacted from all angles, filled
with horrible attempts at Southern accents, and it doesn’t go in any
clear direction. Instead, it goes everywhere for no particular
reason. A big, frustrating mess. If it gets released nationally,
I’ll be surprised if it plays more than a week.
Everlasting Regret - Dir by Stanley Kwan
I'd like to revisit this one later when I'm not so burnt out on
film. On my first viewing, I found it a little slow paced. I'd like
to read the book (if an English translation is available.) out of
Iron Island - Dir by Mohammad Rasoulof
This film was one of the highlights of the fest for me. It’s
about life on an abandoned oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and about
the ship’s captain and landlord Nemat (Ali Nasirian). The captain is
kind and fair, yet he definitely understands the advantage of being
in control and relied upon. When the tanker has to be cleared for
scrapping, out of kindness or desire for continued control (or
both), he figures out a way for the displaced families to live
together, still under his rule. The director hinted at this being a
metaphor about the isolation a country can have and the advantages
that isolation bestows upon its rulers. He wanted to make it clear
that it was not necessarily about Iran, but it could be about many
countries. Yet he also lamented that some of his favorite footage
was cut by government censors. I think it is no coincidence that so
many Iranian films put their protests by way of metaphors. Perhaps
this isn’t just a stylistic choice but instead the only way for
their message to escape, uncut. This is an Iranian filmmaker at the
top of his game that just may be as well known as Kiarostami one day.
The Last Hangman
(2005) Adrian Shergold
- An intimate period drama
detailing the infamous career of Albert Pierrepoint, Britain's
reputation was such that he was singularly flown to Germany to
carry out the Nuremberg executions, an event which uncovered his
The film interestingly
contrasts both Pierrepoint's professional and personal ethics once
he becomes a known public figure, the public furor over the
execution of Ruth Ellis (the last woman hanged in England) and an
execution that forces him to reconsider the morality of his
Filmed in an almost Mike
Leigh-like manner with another fine performance from Leigh regular
Timothy Spall, the film offers a fascinating character study and
an intricate look at a profession most of us know little about.
Presented in HD Digital
Director Shergold and actor
Timothy Spall were in attendance.
The Willow Tree
(2005) Majid Majidi
- The latest film from Iran's
Majidi thankfully features no lost or distressed children or
women's rights issues, instead it's a beautiful, heartfelt tale of
a middle-aged man, blind since 8 years, who regains his eyesight
after an operation. How does someone deal with becoming sighted
after 38 years of blindness, seeing your wife for the first time,
seeing your mother suddenly as an aged senior and dealing with a
new personal freedom? This film is a definitely a technical and
stylistic improvement over Majidi's previous films and a welcome
change-of-pace from the usual Iranian films.
Director Majid Majidi was in
(2005) Lajos Koltai
- Directorial debut from
cinematographer Lajos Koltai is yet another Holocaust drama, but
this is a much more subtle, restrained personable account based on
the novel by Nobel laureate Imre Kertesz.
The true story of a 14-year old
Hungarian Jew who is separated from his family and
survives in three different concentration camps, owes much of it's
strength to the lead performance of Marcell Nagy who is completely
believable as the youngster relying on his wits and pure chance to
Director Koltai and actor
Marcell Nagy were in attendance.
Twelve and Holding
(2005) Michael Cuesta out of
- Sophomore directorial effort
from Michael Cuesta (L.I.E.) is a completely unconvincing drama of
how three pre-teens deal with grief, self-esteem and their
I've never liked films which
show children acting and talking in ways that no child ever
has...precocious to the point of science-fiction!
Yet another US 'indie' that
looks and sounds exactly like almost every other independent film
produced in the last 10 years.
Director Michael Cuesta was in
Bubble (Steven Soderbergh)
Welcome back Steven Soderbergh! Aiming for the opposite side of
the spectrum of his George Clooney collaborations, Soderbergh has
made a very small, concise, and yet effective film. Working entirely
with non-professional actors and shooting on HD video, the lives of
these working class protagonists is palpable amidst the sharply
realized class observations. There are also some underpinnings of
film noir, as the story deal with the
effects on a couple of co-workers when a beautiful but manipulative
girl gets a job at their factory. This is easily Soderbergh¹s best
film since The Limey.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones)
A contemporary western from the macho Eastwood school of
filmmaking, which features what will probably be an Academy Award
nomination from Jones. It¹s not a bad western, but I fond myself
more or less ambivalent towards these characters and their journey
of honor and redemption. People have been comparing this to
Peckinpah, if only because the protagonists have a body in tow, but
if you show up expecting Peckinpah you will be sorely disappointed.
I plan on seeing this again, but I¹m fairly confident that this is
that critics are severely overrating.
The Forsaken Land (Vimukthi Jayasundara)
It¹s not hard to see why a jury headed by Abbas Kiarostami would
go for this at Cannes where it shared the Camera D¹or. Featuring one
of the most memorable shots I¹ve seen this year a frozen hand
protrudes from a still lake under the dawn of a new day
Jayasundara has constructed a powerful, and dreamlike statement on
the condition of Sri Lanka that is ravaged by civil war. The long
takes are pure Kiarostami, but the characters of this film move
about and interact with their environment in a way that reminded
heavily of the work of Satyajit Ray. *please note* that due to a
combination of festival fatigue and an untimely fire alarm during
the screening, that I won¹t be assigning this a rating. Needless to
say however, this is pretty strong stuff.
Gabrielle (Patrice Chereau)
I¹ve never been an ardent fan of Chereau¹s work, and I also
consider Joseph Conrad to be one of THE great writers of all time,
so perhaps this is why this trite little film just didn¹t work for
me. The lead performances reek of theatricality and the stylish
cinemascope photography, which bounces between black-and-white to
saturated color, offers nothing to chew on. To complicate matters
further, Chereau employs the hammy technique of
occasionally stripping an actor of their line and presenting it as
text on-screen in BIG BOLD LETTERS. I expect some will fall
head-over-heels for this at the NYFF, but this is one film that
feels trivial amidst a festival of the size.
Day 6 (Tuesday Sept 13th)
Seven Swords - dir by Tsui
Not a fantasy? So what were those flying head-chop spinning
discs and the mechanically-implausible swords? This is a typical
sword-play epic a little hard to follow at times, but still
Backstage - dir by Emmanuelle Bercot
This French film is a nice treatment on obsessive fandom. I
found Isild Le Besco’s performance as the fan Lucie to be quite
phenomenal. out of
Why We Fight - dir by Eugene Jarecki
The best documentary out of the five I've seen at the fest. The
director spoke for a long time after the film and offered to
continue the talk outside. This film is a well-reasoned critique of
the rise of the military-industrial complex in America. It doesn’t
sensationalize or “politicize” the issue. Rather, it points out that
the Republicans are not the only ones to put forth an imperial
agenda. Democrat and Republican presidents and congresses have all
contributed to America’s expanding imperialism. This documentary is
a triumph in clear, unemotional reasoning. Michael Moore, watch and
Duelist - dir by Lee Myung-se
The visuals are in a word, AWESOME. From the opening credit
sequence, I knew I was in for something special. If it kept up that
level of intensity, it was sure to be a classic. Well . . . it
didn't. It teeter-tottered between an artful dance of swordplay and
a screwball comedy -- and the overacting (although I'm sure
intentional and probably understood in South Korea) just didn't work
for me. Also, it’s a little hard to follow. But this is some of the
most colorful and vibrant cinematography I’ve seen in a long time
(more so than House of Flying Daggers).
Seven Swords (2005) Tsui Hark
- An expensively produced straight-forward non-fantasy war epic
from Hong Kong action director Hark, the film has lots of big,
sweeping and bloody battle scenes, epic vistas and very little
At over 2 and a half hours long and with numerous characters coming
and going, the film did become confusing at times and hard to
follow. Not quite as good as Zhang Yimou's recent swordplays, but
Shooting Dogs (2005) Michael Caton-Jones
- Another retelling of the Rwandan massacre of 1994, this is
also based on a true story and focuses on the dilemma of a English
priest and a student teacher whose compound is a temporary safe
haven for the persecuted Tutsis.
John Hurt is fine as usual as the priest and many of the film's
production crew are actual survivors of the massacre.
Director Caton-Jones was in attendance.
Little Fish (2005) Rowan Woods
- Intimate, low-key Australian drama about dead-end lives and
drug abuse in the Asian district of Sydney. Cate Blanchette is fine
as usual, but the stand-out performance is that of Hugo Weaving as
an ex-football hero/junkie drug dealer.
Romance & Cigarettes (2005) John Turturro
- A musical drama about a failing marriage, this is a film I
really tried to like but after the opening musical number (James
Gandolfini singing "A Man Without Love") it went straight downhill
Nothing in this film works, the musical segments are horrible and
very badly choreographed, the editing is haphazard, the acting is
all over the place and the whole thing just isn't very interesting.
And to think that this was produced by the Coen Brothers??????
Director Turturro was in attendance as were Joel & Ethan Coen.
Thumbsucker (2005) Mike Mills
- Intelligent and complex drama about a teenaged boy who still
continues to suck his thumb, gets diagnosed with ADD, becomes a
debating champion and finds himself.
Strong potential to become a sleeper hit, the film is a beautifully
acted coming of age film with realistic family dynamics, but never
simply another teen film.
Director Mills was in attendance as were actors Lou Pucci, Kelli
Garner, Tilda Swinton (who also produced) and Keanu Reeves (who
caused a mob scene outside the cinema)
The District (2004) Aron Gauder
- Visually inventive Hungarian hip-hop time-travel animated
film. The animation is a hybrid of CGI, rotoscoping and cut-out
figures using drawings of the voice actors' real faces.
Entertaining film was marred only by some occasionally very
un-readable plain white subtitles which completely disappeared in
front of any bright color on the screen.
Shoeless director Gauder was in attendance.
Day 5 (Monday Sept 12th)
Winter Passing - dir by Adam
The directorial debut from playwright Adam Rapp, Winter Passing
is a simple, yet unexpectantly-deep character piece. The film stars
Zooey Deschanel, a struggling New York actress trying to distance
herself from her famous novelist parents. When she is offered a
large sum for publication of her parents’ letters (left to her by
her mother in her will), she goes back home to face her drunken
father (Ed Harris) and his strange entourage. Will Ferrell plays a
wannabe rocker who serves as Harris’s friend, assistant and
bodyguard. And he holds his own against the magnificent talents of
Ed Harris and Zooey Deschanel. Rapp knows pacing and he knows how to
write dialogue what’s important isn’t what is said, but what is
behind the words. More so than most scripts where the bulk of the
film can be understood without seeing the final product, Rapp’s
words are like a scaffolding, leaving it to the actors to bring the
organism to life. This film is neither ambitious nor aspiring. It’s
just simple, good, and extremely satisfying.
Lie With Me (TY) dir by Clement Virgo
There were several films at this year’s TIFF that sold
themselves on sex. Battle in Heaven, Douches Froides and Lie With Me
were just a few. However, sometimes this can mean there simply isn’t
much else there. And that’s the case with Lie With Me. Strip away
the nudity and soft-core sex scenes, and you have a very
conventional drama that doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
Very ho-hum. The TIFF book states that Clement Virgo is one of
Canada’s most daring and original talents. If that is the case
(which I am optimistic that it isn’t), then I fear for Canada place
in international cinema.
Cache (TY) dir by Michael Haneke
Perhaps this will require a second viewing to fully understand,
but I wasn’t taken by Michael Haneke’s new film. I admit I have only
seen one of his films previously, Code Unknown, which I liked a
great deal. After some time to digest, I liked what I understood to
be Cache’s main point that sometimes the victim can actually be
the aggressor but it’s told in a very droll, static way
(intentional, I’m quite sure.) There is a mystery that may or may
not be revealed in the final shot (according to whom you ask) that
kept my ever-fraying interest from completely severing. But is it
worth holding out for a final piece of the puzzle when the journey
to get there is just not very enjoyable?
Wassup Rockers (TY) dir by Larry Clark
I enjoyed this film a great deal. During a photo shoot,
featuring an actress from Ken Park, Clark discovered this group of
South Central Hispanic youth, who were completely at odds with their
environment. They wore tight jeans, played punk rock, road
skateboards and rejected the culture around them. And, they were
incredibly sweet for such a harsh environment. So Larry Clark wrote
a script around them, they starred, and the result is Wassup
Rockers. Well, Clark’s initial impression was accurate these kids
ARE fun to watch, and the film is an absolute riot. After it was
over, one audience member asked Clark, “I think this is your best
film, but what the fuck happened to you?!” He was referring to the
trademark Clark nudity and language that permeate some of his other
films. However, this film is only tame by relative standards by
any other director, it would seem very adult in content (for
instance, 14 and 15 year old boys and girls drink, smoke, and seek
out sex). I think I enjoyed myself more during this film than any
other at the fest. But, I am only giving it 4 stars, because I found
the juxtaposition of realism and Keystone-Cop farce a bit like oil
and water. For example, the group spends the last half of the movie
running away from the law and trying to get back to South Central.
Here is where most of the farce happens; they are shot at by an
obvious Charlton Heston parody, doted over by existential Hollywood
party-goers, and lured by an aging Martini-soaked Hollywood actress.
That occupies the same film where, for instance, one of the skaters
tells a girl about his life in South Central, where he saw a friend
get shot point blank (all true). Faults aside, this is Clark’s most
entertaining picture to date.
Black Bull (TY) dir by Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio and Carlos Armella
I'm a little bothered by the filmmakers' ethics or lack thereof.
They continue to videotape as a man beats his wife, then later again
as she threatens him with a knife. Eventually, they step in while he
is choking her, but only after she repeatedly pleas for their help.
You can almost hear the directors behind the camera reluctantly
thinking, "Well . . . ok, but the footage was so good!" I asked them
during the Q&A if it was difficult to know when to step in and when
to keep rolling. Their reply was, "But she hits him too." (That
makes it ok for them to continue filming?) Still, it is a hard-edged
portrait of a drunken bullfighter, raw to the bone. The horrible
treatment of bulls in this movie is enough to convince me that
bullfighting should be outlawed along with dog fighting and
Sunflower (2005) Yang Zhang
- My most pleasant surprise of the Festival so far.
A beautiful and touching tale of a father and son, spanning 30-plus
years in Beijing.
Beginning in a small Communist-owned rickety home and ending in a
modern-day high-rise apartment, the film explores the drastic
changes in China as well as the
strained father/son relationship.
A painter by trade, the father is released from a communist labor
camp and sees his young son for the first time. Due to the severe
beatings he received on his hands, he can no longer paint and begins
to transfer his passion onto his son by teaching him to draw.
Although the son does have artistic talent, he would rather be
outside playing with his friends, but his father is determined to
make something of his son...at all costs.
An extraordinary film from the director of Shower and Quitting and
an absolute must-see!
The wonderful actors who portray the father and the adult son were
in attendance (can't recall or spell their names)
Cache (Hidden) (2005) Michael Haneke
- I may be just too tired from the Festival, but this was the
first Haneke film I've seen that completely left me puzzled after
the first viewing, with too many unanswered questions remaining.
I have since been filled-in on some scenes and actions in the film
that I completely missed entirely (and I'm sure others did also).
On the surface, it's a whodunit with an initial premise not
un-similar to Lynch's Lost Highway in which a married couple receive
mysterious video tapes of the outside of their home, but typical of
Haneke, it's about so much more (just don't ask me what at this
Really need to (and fully intend to) see this again as soon as I
can, but I really liked what I saw.
Trust the Man (2005) Bart Freundlich
- A lightweight and wacky comedy/romance of the kind that only
ever happens in New York.
Much lighter in tone than Freundlich's previous film World Traveler,
this is a light soufflé of a comedy and an excuse for a bunch of
actor friends to get together for some fun.
Entertaining enough but instantly forgettable.
Director Freundlich and actors Julianne Moore, David Duchovny, Ellen
Barkin, Billy Crudup, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James LeGros and Eva Mendes
were in attendance.
River Queen (2005) Vincent Ward
- As a fan of Ward's earlier work, I found this to be a
A re-telling of events concerning the 1860s British colonization of
New Zealand and centering around a young Irish woman who has
conflicted loyalties between the British and the Maori (she has a
Ward has chosen to relate this story in a seemingly distant, almost
second-hand manner (not unlike those local recreations of historical
dates where folks dress-up and re-enact battles), resulting in a
strong disassociation with anything happening on screen...we simply
watch events take place without ever becoming emotionally involved
or caring about any of them.
Unfortunate, as Ward is one of those directors that always seems to
problems in having his projects come to fruition, so it's going to
be a long wait for his next film.
Director Ward was in attendance.
Bangkok Loco (2004) Phornchai Hongrathanaphorn
- A bizarre, wild and loopy, martial-arts, musical
horror/comedy...think of a Thai version of The Monkees tv show and
you'll have a good idea of what's in store here.
Not everything here translates well to an English-speaking audience,
but it's hard not to enjoy this peculiar little film, even if it
runs out of steam three-quarters of the way through.
Director Hongrathanaphorn was in attendance.
Cache (Michael Haneke)
Another puzzling, yet masterfully constructed look at the breakdown
of a bourgeois family from Michael Haneke. Taking the formal
approach of his “Seventh Continent,” and mixing in the impending
doom of “Funny Games,” this is a darkly pragmatic look at not only
the way we view our own lives, but the role that cinema plays in
this view, implicating the viewer in on the proceedings of this
disturbing puzzle. It’s near impossible to discuss this on any sort
of substantial level without disclosing some serious plot details --
the ending for example has left many scratching their heads --
although the answer might not be as elusive as some might think.
Haneke is asking us to seriously engage the images onscreen (ie.
camera placement), and your ability to reflect on this goes a long
way towards your appreciation of the film.
Vers le Sud (Laurent Cantet) A major letdown after Cantet’s
previous work, this is a capable film, but nothing to cheer about.
It tells the story of three women, all French, but from different
regions of the world, who get caught up in jealousy and romance with
young male escorts at their Haitian vacation resort. The
performances (especially Charlotte Rampling) and the location
photography are all first-rate, but Cantet fumbles the ball when he
tries to extend the film into a message about class and race
relations. Maybe down the road once he has built up a larger body of
work, this film may pick up a deeper meaning, but as it stands now,
it’s a bit forgettable.
You Bet Your Life (Antonin Svoboda) I have to believe that this
story about a man addicted to gambling who extends his addiction
into every facet of his life by resting each decision he makes on
the outcome of a roll of the dice, is more of a guilty pleasure for
the gambler in me, than a successful film. Svoboda elicits some
lifelike performances from his two leads by the fact that he shoots
the movie on video; with the abundance of footage he accumulated
producing some magical unscripted moments. Think of this as “Run,
Lola, Run” for the “Rounders” fans out there.
Bangkok Loco (Pornchai Hongrattanaporn) Started out amazing,
with comparisons to Hellzapoppin’ and Seijun Suzuki running through
my mind, but quickly fizzled out, before eventually turning into a
bit of a bore. There is an abundance of references to all things
Thai (the films of Ratanaruang were one of the few things I was able
to pick up on), so many of the jokes came across as nonsensical
absurdity to this American. Hongrattanaporn has an inventive
sensibility, so I will keep an eye out for his future work, but this
is one you can skip over.
Day 4 (Sunday Sept 11th)
Day Break - Dir by Hamid
This film is an impressive debut from a director sure to be on
the frontlines of Iranian cinema. The plot concerns a prisoner,
Mansour, facing the death penalty in a Tehran prison. Under Iranian
law (based on laws from the Koran), the family of the victim decides
the fate of the accused. If they forgive him, he is given a finite
jail sentence and released (up until the 1980’s, he was simply set
free). However, if they cannot forgive him, the prisoner is hanged.
One of the family members must pull the rope that marks his death.
Mansour’s decision is continually postponed as his victim’s family
is absent time and time again. His fate is suspended, and he
undergoes massive psychological strains. I think the film (through
it’s lighting, shot composition, and acting) effectively conveys
this feeling of being trapped somewhere between life and death. The
director told the audience that he did not intend the film to be a
political statement about Iranian laws; rather, he was more
interested in the psychological aspect of such a dilemma. He modeled
Mansour after several real-life prisoners who were kept in waiting.
When the victim’s family eventually shows up, do they forgive
Mansour or send him to the gallows? You’ll have to watch to find
A History of Violence (2005)
- A gripping and taunt of suppressed identity and moral values
based on a graphic novel (which I've never read).
I really liked this film lot, it's a distinct, low-key seemingly
normal outing for Cronenberg, which for me, falters only in a weak
third act...the act in which William Hurt makes his appearance.
Up until that point I was riveted to the screen, so I was somewhat
disappointed when the film took a slightly pulp-y, Charles
Bronson-goes-to-Canada turn of events. I'm curious to know how the
graphic novel ends, as the film's ending felt lacking and unfinished
to me. Cronenberg once again shows us his skill with actors,
eliciting strong and intense performances from Viggo Mortensen, Ed
Harris and Maria Bello.
Well worth watching.
Oliver Twist (2005) Roman Polanski
- A faithful, meticulously detailed and seemingly expensive
adaptation of the Dickens classic.
Nothing really wrong with the film itself, but when a director of
Polanski's caliber and reputation helms yet another remake of the
Dickens tale, one would anticipate or even expect a darker, more
atmospheric vision than the somewhat bland, BBC-like adaptation on
hand here. One wonders why Polanski even bothered with this film.
Producer Alain Sarde was in attendance.
Manderlay (2005) Lars von Trier
- The second episode of von Trier's American history lesson
doesn't quite surprise you as much as Dogville, since everything but
the story is re-created in this film (sets, design, story format,
This time, von Tries zeros in on US race relations and nation
building by using focusing on a Southern plantation in the 1930's as
the basis for his allegory. The subject matter and how von Trier
chooses to make some of his points are not exactly what you would
call PC-filmmaking, and I fully expect Manderlay to have a rougher
go of it than Dogville did.
I loved Dogville, I love confrontational in-your-face filmmaking and
I loved Manderlay and I can't wait to see it again. I didn't really
take to Bryce Dallas Howard as Grace...far too bland and vanilla for
my liking, I really did miss Nicole Kidman's presence.
Bryce Dallas Howard was in attendance.
The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (2005) The Brothers Quay
- It's been 10 years since the Quay's first and only feature
film Institute Benjamenta...that's 10 whole years to figure out what
they did wrong the first time.
They're back and now they have made pretty much the same movie only
this time in COLOR!!!!...it didn't help.
It's a beautiful-looking film with some strange imagery, but it's
just as boring and difficult to get into as Benjamenta was.
The Brothers Quay were in attendance.
Stoned (2005) Stephen Woolley
- A largely uninteresting dramatized account of the life and
murder of the founder of The Rolling Stones, Brian Jones.
This is the directorial debut of long-time British producer Woolley
and I'm afraid it shows, he somehow even manages to make Mick Jagger
and Keith Richards boring.
Stephen Woolley was in attendance.
Isolation (2005) Billy O'Brien
- Effective Irish thriller about genetic experiments on cows
that goes horribly wrong.
It's a well-directed and acted film that never turns silly (as most
horror films these days do) and it maintains a certain amount of
realism for maximum effectiveness.
Probably won't be liked by the Evil Aliens crowd.
Director O'Brian and actor John Lynch were in attendance.
The Smell of Paradise
This documentary travels across Chechnya, Afghanistan, Dagestan,
Qatar and other countries to find out what motivates radical Islamic
minds. What would cause a person to take lives in the name of
religion? This film has remarkable footage of terrorists and
political exiles, and one senses the enormous danger that the
filmmakers were constantly in. But in the end, I was never sure
exactly what the filmmakers’ position was (even after the Q&A) and
the footage at times seemed to be put together with no real
connection. Yet, it’s still should be seen, to begin to understand
what can motivate a person to strap a bomb to himself and walk into
a crowded building.
Into Great Silence
This documentary chronicles the lives of monks at the monastery
of the Grande Chartreuse in the French Alps. The film is extremely
quiet with hardly any dialogue; so quiet that when a cell phone
rang on vibrate, it created a minor disturbance. I think the
filmmaker is attempting to emulate the austerity of the monks by his
slow, quiet, methodical style. But there is a fine line between
austere and mundane, and sadly, this film is just plain tedious.
Keep in mind that the running time is 2 hours and 44 minutes. There
are some extremely beautiful shots in this film some that even
bring back your interest, but they are presented with no real
emotional-core, cut like a silent industrial-training film; I think
there is a beautiful film hidden somewhere inside, if only the
director would cut the fat, find the heart, and trim it to an hour
and 20 minutes. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does as over 1/3 of
the audience walked out long before it was over. But as it stands,
it would be more enjoyable to cut firewood in a monastery.
L’Annulaire I enjoyed this film a great deal more than another
reviewer did. Perhaps it had something to do with the not-unsavory
Olga Kurylenko. Her character Iris, gets a job as a receptionist at
a company that preserves personal objects. Be it a kidney stone or a
piano score, they will preserve the item that hold memories for you
and store it for safe-keeping. This movie deals with obsession and
control quite effectively. Iris’s boss seems to know what she wants,
her innermost desires before even she does. He has an unnatural hold
over her; yet who’s in control, him or her? Much to think about
here, absorbing and fun to watch (at least for me). I’d like to read
the Japanese cult novel for which this film was based.
Mary Here again, I am in disagreement with another reviewer.
But that’s ok. Films are just chemical etchings on celluloid it’s
up to a human brain to provide the value. That being said, this film
just didn’t succeed for me. Mary does indeed poke at Mel Gibson and
The Passion of the Christ, but it is not a parody. Rather, it’s an
examination of three lives as they each have a crisis in faith. But
though I teeter tottered on whether or not this film supported or
criticized faith, in the end, it seems to support it. (Being a
skeptic, I can’t take another film glorifying faith.) But then
again, maybe it doesn’t support it who can tell for sure? It
definitely does criticize those who capitalize on faith, but it is
unfocused and unsure exactly of what it wants to be. Although Forest
Whitaker may have given the performance of his career, Heather
Graham sounds like she’s reading the lines off a cue card. Only one
of the three characters (Ted Younger) truly changes through the
course of the film and I get a sense that even he will relapse back
to his old self. Tony Childress, starts off as an asshole and
remains one. Marie Palesi has a life-altering religious experience
at the beginning (she becomes a religious nut), but she remains a
religious nut to the end. Muddled, grasping at something that it
fails to reach.
A History of Violence (David
Cronenberg) I’m not sure which was more disturbing, the brutally
honest indignation of American values that this film depicted, or
the oblivious audience I saw it with who missed the point entirely.
The fact that this audience felt the need to applaud every time
someone was brutally killed on-screen was almost like a twisting of
the knife, confirming the wicked truth behind every frame of this
masterful film. Cronenberg has for all intents and purposes made a
modern day Sirk film where image and subtext are everything (look at
that wallpaper!). I look forward to seeing this one again, ideally
in a place slightly more detached from that, which is illustrated in
Manderlay (Lar von Trier) Much better than I anticipated, but
not quite up to level that Dogville was, this certainly won’t win
Lars any new supporters. The political implications are certainly
far more applicable to the world of today (eg. US occupation of
Iraq), than they are any sort of meaningful commentary on America’s
history of slavery and racism. Bryce Dallas Howard is a worthy
predecessor for Nicole Kidman, her performance plays like an
alluring interpretation of a similar, yet alternate psyche of the
same character. She should win considerable acclaim for this role,
but the impressive supporting cast is largely wasted, and in the end
character is one of this film’s biggest downfalls. Where Dogville
was able to function on many different levels, simultaneously a
straightforward drama, an experiment in Brechtian detachment, and an
allegory for the immigrant experience, Manderlay is merely allegory,
and fails to exist as anything else. Here’s hoping that the third
film tries something new…
L’Annulaire (Diane Bertrand) It’s hard to imagine how Bertrand
ever expected audiences would go for this naïve excuse for
“dreamlike imagery,” and possibly mistake it for cinema. Not a
single image in this sorry excuse for a movie carries to it a
purpose or desire to be anything more than window dressings to an
undeveloped and boring story. It’s not even worth recounting a “plot
summary” because the film has no idea what it wants to be about.
Instead I should be figuring out how this ever got into this
festival. Zero stars (AL)
Mary (Abel Ferrara) The film of the festival so far! Ferrara is
at the top of his game in this, his most compassionate film to date.
A deeply powerful look at religion, the soul, and it’s place in the
Hollywood machine, this is the story of a director (Matthew Modine)
who makes a Christ film as a means to exploit the religious dollar
in American theater goers (Mel Gibson anyone?). Beautifully mixing
video and film, and utilizing his typical flair for cityscapes and
brutal close-up framing, this represents the apotheosis for years
subtle religious undertones in Ferrara’s work that seem to have
boiled over here, and exploded onto the screen in a rage of
post-9/11 self-affirmation. Forrest Whitaker turns in the
performance of his career.
Isolation (Billy O’Brian) Very effective thriller about a small
cattle farm that consents to allow a bio-tech corporation perform
genetic tests on the cows and the horrible side effects that ensue.
This is heavily indebted to David Cronenberg’s “Shivers,” but
O’Brian ups the overall ickiness of the plot by adding a great deal
gruesome dissection footage. Killer horror film score and some able
Scope photography makes this one of the better genre films of the
Day 3 (Saturday Sept 10th)
The President’s Last Bang This
is an enjoyable account of the assassination of South Korean
president Park Chung-hee by the KCIA Chief agent and KCIA director.
The plotters claim they are fighting for a more democratic state and
that the corruption will end if the president is taken out of power.
I found the movie tightly paced and fascinating. If I have a chance,
I’ll see this again.
Battle in Heaven From Japon director Carlos Reygadas. Based on
the description of this film in the TIFF book, I was expecting a
fun, adrenaline-charged action flick. Boy, did I read it wrong! The
film centers around overweight chauffeur Marcos as he wrestles with
what to do about a kidnapping gone fatally wrong. But the plot’s not
really important here -- the heart of this film is in its methodical
pacing, effective soundtrack and amazing performances from
non-actors. In that respect, it reminds me of Italian neo-realism.
Many found this film to be style over substance, but I feel more
like it’s substance with minimal style. Sure, there are technical
camera moves but never did they overpower or distract from what
was being shown. The film is very graphic, with scenes of an
onscreen blowjob at the start, middle and end. But as the director
stated in the Q&A, this film is not pornography. The shots were
never exploitative, never intended to arouse; instead, they
harnessed emotions, moods. He said that the seemingly-irrelevant
opening blowjob scene was like the opening overture of an opera,
intended to set the pace. There is a comical, yet touching scene of
the overweight Marcos and his obese wife having sex. Never has a
movie showed people that look like this being this intimate.
Onscreen, sex is reserved for the beautiful and extraordinary, but
I think what is shown here is more in tune with what sex is really
like for the majority of people. Reygadas’s film has elements of
Tsai Ming-liang, Antonioni, Tarkovsky, De Sica, Harmony Korine, and
something entirely unique, something of his own. A lasting work from
a true auteur.out of
Sa-Kwa -- I chose to see this film for one reason: Moon So-ri.
In Lee Chang Dong’s masterpiece Oasis, she gave one of my all-time
favorite performances. In that film, she played an abused woman with
cerebral palsy so convincing that a friend of mine who has
cerebral palsy believed she had the condition in real life until she
got up and moved around in a dream sequence. In Sa-Kwa, she is the
sometimes heart-broken, sometimes heart-breaking Hyun-jung. She’s
not the most beautiful actress, yet there’s something about her
expressions, the way she moves her mouth, her eyes. Her beauty comes
from some force radiating from inside, and it’s quite infectious.
This film is one of the most accurate accounts of love that I’ve
ever seen how it feels to be in it, to have it ripped from you, to
find it again, and most importantly, how to sustain it. Director
Kang Yi-kwan said in his Q&A that he was not so interested in making
a story about finding love, but rather, a story about keeping it
alive over time. A wonderful film that all can identify with, not to
Takeshis' (2005) Takeshi
- A very funny comedy with Kitano playing himself, detailing the
trappings of his fame in addition to playing an unemployed
look-alike actor (who dreams of being as famous as Kitano) and a
bizarre fantasy-world where both these realities intermingle.
I found this to be accessible and entertaining with only a few
moments of head-scratching at some inside jokes that I wasn't privy
too. The scene with Kitano as a cabbie driving through a
corpse-filled street was hilarious.
Three Times (2005) Hsiao-hsien Hou
- Beautifully told three-part film detailing the relationship of
a young couple (played by the same actors) in three different time
periods. I thought that the first episode ("1966") was the best and
very reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai. Not really the ideal type of film
to watch during a busy festival as there isn't plenty of time to
contemplate the film before moving on to the next. Will revisit on
Linda Linda Linda (2005) Nobuhiro Yamashita
- Slight, but amusing Japanese film concerning a group female
high-school students recruiting a last-minute female singer to
perform in their high school battle of the bands. In a dare, they
pick a non-singing Korean student as their lead singer and her
assimilation into the band provides much of the film's humor.
Brokeback Mountain (2005) Ang Lee
- Lovingly told and beautifully shot tale of cowboy love out on
the open range. Much acclaimed film works very well on it's own, but
high expectations just may very well hurt the film as it is more of
an actor's showcase rather than a narrative-driven film.
Actors Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, a pregnant Michelle Williams
and Anne Hathaway were in attendance.
Breakfast on Pluto (2005) Neil Jordan
- A meticulous recreation of the 60s and 70s era through fashion
and music provide the backdrop for the life-story of Patrick "Kitty"
Brady, a Irish transvestite cabaret singer.
Although living through some troublous, I didn't find Brady's story
to be of any particular interest and I'm not really sure why his
life has been put on film other than to serve as a showcase for
actor Cillian Murphy.
Murphy offers an astonishingly believable performance and maintains
a feminine persona throughout the entirety of the film and is ably
supported by longtime Jordan stalwarts, Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea.
I really enjoyed the recreated details of the time period ("Chirpy
Chirpy Cheep Cheep"), but I may have been the only person in the
theatre who actually knew who the Wombles were. :D
Director Jordan, producer Stephen Woolley and actors Cillian Murphy
and Liam Neeson were in attendance.
Evil Aliens (2005) Jake West - Zero Star (BM)
- Rock-bottom wannabe cult-film is a complete hodgepodge rip-off
of other, much better genre films.
Loud, grating and moronic crap with every line of dialogue literally
screamed into the camera. Best performance of the night was from the
paid laughers who were sitting directly behind me and who laughed
REAL HARD all night. Complete crap!!!
Director Jake West bravely showed his face.
Takeshis’ (Takeshi Kitano) –
Not quite the masterpiece that some have been claiming, this is
nonetheless a very worthy and inventive film from the great Kitano.
A deconstruction of the persona of ‘Beat’ Takeshi with “stream of
conscious” narrative structure, it’s not hard to draw up the Fellini
comparisons, although Chaplin’s “Limelight” is another worthy film
to reference (just as Chaplin was forever seen as “The Tramp,” so
Kitano is forever associated as the bad ass Yakuza). The elliptical
editing is really something of a marvel and should be enough for
even detractors of his work to finally recognize the “edited by”
credit Kitano always takes, as signs of where his true filmic
mastery lies. Frequently hilarious, I got the feeling that for every
one “In-joke” I was picking up on, at least two were passing me by,
so in this sense, the film might be a bit too esoteric for most
Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien) - Three different stories each set
during a pivotal time in Taiwanese history, and each featuring the
same actors playing out variations of the same characters. Hou has
made a beautiful and deeply moving film as he constructs each of his
stories in a different style, the 1911 passage for instance is
rendered faithful to the cinema of its’ time, silent with
intertitles. The first passage set in 1966 and entitled “A Time of
Love,” was probably my favorite – eloquent long takes in a pool hall
as a young soldier falls for the girl who works there as music by
The Platters emanates from the radio – this was 45 minutes of
flawless filmmaking that had me transported in it’s sheer
perfection. The last section is perhaps the most difficult to place,
it would be unfair to call it a shortened version of Millenium
Mambo, but there are certainly the same existential questions of
youth handled in a similar manner. Needless to say, this is probably
a masterpiece, with a great deal to say about Taiwan and its
history, communication, music, and cinema itself.
I Am (Dorota Kedzierzawska) - Nothing wrong with this one per
se, it’s just that I’ve seen this story many times before and told
with greater fluidity in works like Mouchette, Kes, and even the
underrated Ratcatcher. Performances are top notch by the
non-professional children actors and there is some stunning
cinematography of the autumn drenched Poland town. Michal Nyman’s
heavy-handed musical score goes a long way towards hammering home
the emotion, which would explain the many sniffling patrons as the
end credits rolled.
Evil Aliens (Jake West) - Ha ha, I get it. I too have seen Bad
Taste and Evil Dead II. Remember when that eyeball shot out of a
creatures head in Evil Dead II and sailed across the room into that
girl’s mouth? Wasn’t that hilarious? Or how about the end of Dead
Alive when he grabs a lawnmower and the film turns into a pool of
fake blood and guts, wasn’t that just grand? This movie is crap.
Day 2 (Friday Sept 9th)
Takeshis' -- I like weird
films. But I've learned that there are many types of weird. There is
a great gulf between the weirdness of, say, Freaks, Gummo, and Blood
of a Poet and the weirdness of Schizopolis, Donnie Darko and
Takeshis. Although sometimes funny and sometimes fun to watch, I
feel like this was simply weirdness for weirdness sake. It feels
like it was trying to boldly go in a new cinematic direction (and
perhaps it should be admired for the attempt), but in the end, it
just feels like a hodgepodge. Lines are repeated in different
context, scenes re-enacted, and actors used in several roles -- all
very innovative -- but it just didn't quite get there for me. I
wanted to love this, but I can't.
Three Times -- If you like Hou Hsiao-hsien's other films, you
will love this one. Divided into three stories in different time
periods, using the same actors (Chang Chen, Shu Qi), this film
captures mood and essence beautifully. In the first section, "A Time
for Love," I was reminded of the nostalgic works of Wong Kar Wai.
Perhaps it's because it's of the emphasis on popular song of the
time and love held-off by awkwardness and distance. From the very
first camera movements assuredly scanning a pool table, turning it's attention to a ball, a face, a hand; we know
we're in for something special. The second section, "A Time for
Freedom," takes place 1911 Japan-controlled Taiwan and deals with
the relationship between a concubine and her master. What's most
remarkable about this segment is the use of sound -- namely, it's
isolated music score. All of the dialogue is muted and the words
shown in intertitles. Most directors would have attempted to
recreate the look of a silent film, in black and white, matted
frames, and that particular genres other conventions -- but HHH
eschews all of that for something better. One gets the sense he's
not trying to make a period piece, but taking advantage of the
strengths going silent offers. When not focused on the dialogue
being spoken, we learn to read the faces of the characters with that
much more intensity. This section is beautiful, daring, and
groundbreaking. The third section, "A Time for Youth," set in 2005
Taipei, does indeed feel like a shortened version of Millennium
Mambo as Adam said, but it's only a minor quibble. I was a little
confused by the relationship of the three characters (indeed,
shifting the focus from two characters to three does throw of the
aesthetic a little for me), but all the more for me to understand in
my next viewing, which I hope is sooner than later.
This is a beautiful piece of work. The story revolves around a
family that moved from Shanghai in the 60's to a rural area of China
to do their part by supplying human manpower to an under populated
area. The father regrets his decision, and that regret turns into
bitterness and an almost fanatical desire to give his kids "the life
they deserve" in Shanghai. However, his bosses will not accept his
or anyone else's resignation, fearing a mass exodus. Although he is
obsessed with giving his kids a better life, he doesn't seem to
notice that his kids are getting along just fine in rural Guizhou
province, except for his micromanagement of their lives. For
instance, when a boy takes interest in his daughter, he forbids her
to see him, even throwing away gifts that he gave her and watching
her every move. This is the type of film that takes a family's
struggle and magnifies it to a national scope. China in the 80's
couldn't come to turns with what it was and what its citizens wanted
it to be -- it forced masses of people to become short-roped
prisoners in an area they despised, and this film illustrates that
(and inspires further research) economically and beautifully.
Shark in the Head This is a sweet, simple little film about
the neighborhood loon. It breaks the usual stereotypes about mental
illness (violence, screaming, etc) and portrays the main character
as a harmless, although sometimes annoying, old man. I like the way
the director integrated stop motion and hand-drawn animation. By no
means a masterpiece, but it accomplishes what it came to do.
Obaba This film from Spanish director Montxo Armendariz is one
of my favorites so far. Lushly photographed, surreal and mysterious,
I was captivated from start to finish. Lead actress Barbara Lennie
is my new obsession. Her character videotapes locals in the secluded
town of Obaba, exploring their relationships as classmates and of
their lives thereafter. A lizard may or may not crawl up her ear and
feed on her brain. Like many films in the festival, this one leaves
some things unresolved; yet that doesn’t bother me here. I think the
reason may be that I found each moment captivating and I wasn’t
impatient for the next bit of the puzzle. Other films (such as
Cache), I found I was simply holding on for the mystery, less
watching and more waiting. In short, it’s not whether or not the
mystery is revealed, it’s how much fun you have on the way.out of
Battle in Heaven (Carlos
Reygadas) – In just his second film, Carlos Reygadas has proven
to be a filmmaker of assured visual style. As with his previous film
Japon, Reygadas displays a unique fascination with the unattractive
naked bodies of his non-professional actors and a poetic distancing
from the narrative of the film itself. This is ostensibly speaking,
classic film noir – a man (Marcos) has remorse about a kidnapping
gone wrong and is torn between his love for the prostitute daughter
of his boss and seeking atonement for the crime he has committed.
Practically all of the film’s major events (ie. the kidnapping) are
left off-screen and the film focuses instead on a mix of Marcos
engaging in hard sex with Ana (the film has two scenes of very
oral sex), and some heavy-duty symbolism of religion and the Mexican
state. It’s stunning to look at, and Reygadas’ effective use of Bach
on the soundtrack goes a long way, but beneath it all I’m not too
sure there is a great deal of substance here.
Tideland (Terry Gilliam) – This is a much smaller film than
Gilliam is accustomed to making, and I think it worked wonders for
him. A Canadian production, this twisted little tale tells the
heartbreaking story of a young girl (10 yr. old Jodelle Ferland, in
brilliant performance) who is forced to take care of her drug
addicted parents, even going so far as to help them shoot-up. She
escapes this nightmarish home life by retreating into her
imagination, and the film becomes a Gilliamesque “Alice in
Wonderland” of sorts. Filled with a cast of eccentric characters,
and some stunning camerawork, this is a welcome return to the
imaginative filmmaking of the Terry Gilliam of old.
The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (Brothers Quay) – I am now fairly
convinced that the Brothers quay are not capable of making a feature
length film, and even more so, a film with live actors. What starts
out as a promising story—a piano tuner is hired by a mysterious
inventor of automatons to help clean up his precious
inventions—quickly morphs into a drawn out series of half-baked
ideas. The performances are wooden, and the Quay brothers seem to
acknowledge the shortcomings of their actors by editing the
live-action stuff to shambles. Some life occasionally pops into the
film when the Quay’s adopt the stop-motion stuff that the are
accustomed to, but for the most part it seems at odds with the rest
of the film, which dully plays out to be as lifeless as the animated
automatons it depicts.
Banlieue 13 (Pierre Morrel) – Written and produced by Luc Besson,
this action film tells the story of a France of the future, where
dangerous ghettos are blocked off by a large wall to exist separate
from the rest of civilization. It stars David Belle, the inventor of
the trend sport parkour, wherein participants tackle urban
landscapes by running and leaping their way through any obstacle
that may come in their way. There is an opening chase scene which is
quite extraordinary, but the film unfortunately is never able to top
the initial thrill it gives, and eventually this becomes your
standard no-brainer action flick, complete with ticking time bomb.
In a perfect world this would have been more Ma 6-T Va Crack-er and
less Vin Diesel.
The Sun (2005)
- Slow but interesting film
about Hiroshita's last days as the Emperor of Japan.
A very colorless and dark film
with an amazing performance by Issei Ogata as Hiroshita. (BM)
(Cold Showers) (2005) Antony Cordier
- Documentarian Cordier's first
fictional film is an average tale of your typical French teen-aged
sexual threesome. Lots of skin on display, appealing performances
and not much else.
Director Cordier was in
Battle in Heaven
(2005) Carlos Reygadas
- Despite not really
understanding what this film was about, I still found it rather
compelling to watch despitethe inclusion of numerous unnecessary
graphic scenes of sex and nudity intended to make the film
Director Reygadas was in
(2005) Terry Gilliam
- A huge disappointment from
Gilliam, a grating and un-involving misfire about a young girl's
fantasy life which results from the death of her parents. The
hammy and over-the-top performances didn't help much, and despite
a rather interestingly morbid turn of events late in the film, I
was too bored to care at that point. (BM)
Director Gilliam, producer
Jeremy Thomas, novelist Mitch Cullin and cast Jeff Bridges,
Jennifer Tilly, Brendan Fletcher, Jodelle Ferland and others were
(2005) Joshua Michael Stern
- Average film concerning a
student doctor interning in the psychiatric hospital where his
novelist father spend his last days, and who was the inspiration
and lead character in his father's fantasy novels as a child. (BM)
Director Stern and cast Aaron
Eckhart, Nick Nolte and Alan Cumming were in attendance.
(2004) Pierre Morel
- Produced by Luc Besson, this
is a fast-paced and entertaining French action film
with all-real stuntwork (no
spfx or wires) and sticks with the nitty-gritty action throughout.
Actor Cyril Raffaelli was in
Day 1 (Thursday Sept 8th)
50 Ways of Saying Fabulous
(2005) Stewart Main
Earnest and well-intentioned comedy/drama from New Zealand
concerning sexual and gender confusion among young teens. The film
is a little too awkward to be a real winner but the appealing cast
carries the film. the director and the 3 lead actors were in
Water -- I admit I have
never before seen one of Deepa Mehta's films, but she is regarded as
one of Canada's greatest directors. (She was born in India but now
calls Canada her home.) Water is the final film in her elemental
trilogy. It is a separate story, however, and can be judged on it's
own merits. The story is set in India in the 30's when an 8-year-old
girl is forced to live in a widow's camp after her husband dies.
Because of a literal interpretation of religious verses, the women
must live a humble and imprisoning life once their husbands pass on.
I have heard it said several times over that Water is her most
accomplished and greatest work; sadly, this can't reflect well on
her other films. Although well acted, gorgeously shot, and dealing
with important issues -- I still found Water clunky and uninspired.
It is an important work, just not a very good one.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) Shane Blackout
The directorial debut of the screenwriter of the Lethal Weapon
films is a smart and funny send-up of the private dick genre.
Surprising and clever right from the nifty animated opening credits.
Director Black, actors Val Kilmer, Robert Downey Jr, Michelle
Monaghan and producer Joel Silver (dressed entirely in pink, even
the shoes) were in attendance (BM)
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic (2005) Liam Lynch
Hilariously funny and off-color film of comedienne Silverman's
one-woman stand-up routine.
Never heard of her before this film, but I'll keep my eye out for
more appearances based on what I saw here. Silverman was in