Thursday, July 23, 2009

More picks and a semi-retraction

As I type this update I've got the Live Aid DVD box set playing, found it used at Refried Beats yesterday. Loving the Wembley stuff (my hero Paul Weller rocking an entire stadium...wowwowwow) but since all I've seen so far of Philadelphia is Bryan Adams the U.S half is less than stellar so far. Seriously, did every male rock star in 1985 have ginormous hockey hair? Oh, here's Nicholson introducing U2. This could be good...

Right, the fest. Two more programs were (partially?) unveiled today but before I get to those I have to confess I've sort of come around on the issue of Jennifer's Body opening MM. Despite the presence of Megan Fox, whom I'm still not convinced is an actual living, breathing human being and not a s1m0ne-like computer simulacrum created Weird Science-style by wrapping a bra around Michael Bay's head and shoving Maxim photo spreads into a CPU for replication, which hangs an unassailable mainstream cred millstone around the neck of the whole affair despite the inherent coolness of Diablo Cody and thus not exactly in keeping the the renegade nutball spirit of Midnight Madness, I realize that this opener represents an elevation of the MM program in the estimation of the programmers. Jennifer's Body could have been a Special Presentation; shit, Zack & Miri was last year, and as I said before Cody has earned her status as a star of TIFF. But an actual high-profile star vehicle brings press and critical attention the the Midnight Madness program in a way that even, for instance, Borat and his peasant-hauled oxcart arrival in 2006 wouldn't. I guess to some degree this means that MM isn't just for the fringe-dwellers in the festival crowd any more, which is sad, the way a favorite band suddenly going from the clubs to the arenas always hurts, but as long as this isn't a harbringer of future programming trends (I shudder at the thought of MM gaining, say, Bob Weinstein as a primary sponsor), it's actually a good thing.

(Live Aid interjection...okay, July 13 1985 was officially the moment that Bono's self-satisfied messianic impulses leapt into the driver's seat permanently. And may I say again, dude, THAT FUCKING HAIR!!!!!)

Discovery and Vanguard titles hit the website today, there are a few more that range from tempting to gotta-see for me. There's a lot of misery on parade as well, which is always a big turnoff for me. I'm hoping to see some more cool Scandinavian work this year (I've had generally good luck with Icelandic picks over the past three TIFFs) but, and call me narrow-minded if you must, I'm steering clear of dead kids, abusive parents and addiction tales that are promised to be even an iota less cheery than Trainspotting (which is one of my favorite movies, dead baby and all, but I hadn't reached my saturation point on that particular subgenre yet when the movie came out). Which is hard because a quick scan at the summaries for Discovery alone reads like a depressive's diary, half the titles involving one or all three of my no-gos listed above. Samantha Morton, one of my favorite actresses and one of the most luminous screen presences of my generation, is bringing her directorial debut The Unloved to Discovery, but..."the stark portait of a young British girl plucked from her abusive family and thrown into the hands of government care"? Le sigh. I dunno, maybe I'll have to for Morton, but...

So the cool stuff that jumps out at me so far is...Paul and Sandra Fierlinger's My Dog Tulip, because I'm definitely looking to see some cool animation this year; Leon Prudovsky's Five Hours From Paris; J. Blakeson's The Disappearance of Alice Creed, as it stars the amazing Eddie Marsan from Happy Go Lucky and Gemma Arterton from Quantum of Solace, one of the most underrated Bond girls in the entire franchise; The Misfortunates, because drunk rambunctious Belgians sounds like a fun evening; Accident because...ah! I told you Johnny To would be here! Okay, he produced it, but it still counts.

36 days until FanExpo
49 days until TIFF

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The opening salvo of Midnight Madness

Last year fully a third of my TIFF screenings were part of the Midnight Madness program. Bear in mind I have never actually been to a midnight premiere at the festival, as my sleep cycles are whacked out enough and during the fest I'm coasting on caffeine and Szechuan fumes as it is--despite my best efforts I just know I'd fall asleep at the Ryerson and I suspect that's not a crowd you want to find yourself unconscious in the middle of, love 'em though I do. Still, I'm pretty sure that every year I've attended the Toronto Film Festival I've seen at least one MM flick during a day/evening screening, and last year I hit a certain saturation point. I wrote at length last year about how Not Quite Hollywood reaffirmed my faith in the joys of Cinematic Trash so I won't rehash it here, nor will I relate how the penultimate film of my TIFF '08 was Martyrs and how it made me question my own latent censorious nature. But while MM is the first program at the fest to be fully listed on the website and thus I couldn't help but wait with bated breath for the update, I was approaching it with trepidation this year for some very French, skinned-alive reasons.

Damn that freakin' Colin. Because the bastard with the best job in the TIFF organization seems to have done it again. Of the ten, there are at least eight that I know I'm going to see eventually, a few that I'll definitely try to see if I can come September and three that immediately made the "absolutely must see" list that I'm sketching before Program Book Release Day. It's not your typical MM lineup, either: there are no documentaries, there's nothing from Hong Kong (though if this year is like any of the last few, I'm sure Johnny To has two or three films scattered throughout the other programs), there's no Gallic torture porn. On the other hand, it appears the opening night flick is Jennifer's Body, the trailers for which are already playing in the Cinemultiplexes. Every year there's at least one MM premiere that ends up being an unexpected hit in mainstream theatres later that fall, but it's typically a surprise that's to some degree discovered at the festival. I've been going to TIFF since 2003, and looking back through my well-thumbed program books I see Ju-On (2003), Saw (2004), Hostel (2005), Borat and The Host (2006), Diary of the Dead (2007...okay, not a huge hit but I did eventually see it at the Scotia) and JCVD (2008). For a studio-backed flick written and produced by an Oscar-winning success story from just two years ago to be opening MM this year...subject matter be damned, considering how TIFF introduced the world to the brilliance that is Juno ( I say that without irony, I fucking love that movie) in 2007 one would think Diablo Cody would be walking the red carpet at the Visa Screening Room at least instead of waiting for her introduction next to a bank of gym lockers at the Ryerson. my gotta sees this year so far are The Loved Ones, A Town Called Panic and Daybreakers, the last of which I may actually try and stay up late for the premiere on the off chance that Sam Neill will show up. Solomon Kane and Bitch Slap are possibilities for impulse ticket buys later in the festival to plug holes in my schedule as they occur.

Hey, they announced the documentary list, or at least seventeen of them. What's cool there...Cleanflix, about that weird Mormon company that hacks up movies for the sake of people whose heads explode at the mere whiff of an f-bomb, that just made my list. The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. I am so all over that one. And The Topp Twins has one of the most enticing one-line descriptions I've yet come across, that's a strong possible there.

Alright, I'm officially excited.

38 days until FanExpo
51 days until TIFF '09

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The countdown begins...

I can’t believe I let this go for so long. Or maybe I can…getting linked to through the TIFF site drives my traffic well above its usual two readers, and who wants to spew into a vacuum, so naturally I’ve slacked off. But we’re now less than eight weeks out, the summer days and weeks racing by at a frightening pace, draft after draft of movie-themed bile and bilge getting tossed and/or forgotten without ever seeing pixel to screen, and as I battle a humid bout of SAD under the overcast Toronto sky, I figured it’s time to get back to it, no?

So to get caught up: ticket packages have been on sale for a couple of weeks now, and I did get mine, after a few false starts. Went up to 55 Bloor on my lunch break and, oh yeah, not there any more. My bad, I forgot. Sign on the door sez go to 2 Carlton so I hop back on the subway and get off two stops south. Only to be told, “Um, we’re just a phone bank, you’ll have to go to” and here’s where I buggered it up again because I could have sworn the guy said Yonge/Dundas Square, where the ticket pickup and box office was last year. Next day, attempt two, I’m wandering the food court like an idiot, wondering if the fates once again have it in for me. Fortunately I’ve got the latest mailing in my bag, which I should have checked in the first place, and whaddya know: Nathan Phillips Square. In other words, six or seven blocks away from any festival screening room, yards from striking city workers, and basically not in any particularly sensible spot. Couple of days later at lunch I finally hike over there and buy the 10-pack.

I think I burned myself out last year. My end total was something like eighteen screenings (I got two 10-packs and brought friends to two films). I’m a film nerd, or at least used to be, but at that pace they start to blend together and one’s stomach becomes a solid tumor of food court Thai that doesn’t clear out until Halloween. I’ve often been envious of the 30-screenings folk and the critics who achieve the same saturation level, but I suspect that I’d be throwing in the towel around Wednesday if I seriously attempted it. So this year, the plan is one 10-pack and four, maybe five additional individual tickets once they go on sale on September 9th, and hopefully no three-flick days.

Of course, the closer the day actually gets, I’m sure I’ll change my mind again. As both my devoted readers know, the three week stretch surrounding FanExpo (weekend before Labour Day) and the end of TIFF is the absolute highlight of my Toronto year. There’s the day the Program Book comes out (August 25th this year), which to me is like Christmas, New Year’s and every birthday from ages four through twelve all rolled into one, an evening of spreadsheets and schedules and cross-referencing and picking my top ten and backups sometime around two AM, then three days of nerding out at the convention centre, the annual family visit over the holiday and then six days off work and lugging notebooks, scripts and my camera all over hell and gone for those magical screenings.
My impressions so far? Can one have any, two months before the fest? Of course….of note so far:
  1. Yes, I know I just finished bitching about it, but the box office situation is a major bugger. I really hope there will be more than one spot to buy same-day tickets during the festival, and that it’ll actually, you know, maybe be at one of the screening locations.
  2. Last year was stage two or three of the TIFF’s gradual elimination of the Visa Screening Room Special Presentations from accessibility to the hoi polloi. A couple of years back, you could still get SP tickets as part of your packages, but if bought individually they were hiked up to gala price. Then last year all the SPs were priced out of range, unless they were premiering in the Winter Garden screening room, which seemed to be decided rather arbitrarily by the programmers and what movie was screening where was only evident when one looked to choose their package picks. Rumour has it this year the general rabble will be able to view movies in the best screening room left in the city (since the Uptown fell), though we will be relegated to the balcony lest the donors get student-stink on their Armani. Which isn’t terrible, the Elgin theatre is still a dynamite place to see a movie from any altitude, though if you have vertigo you may want to wait for the second or third festival screening.
  3. The initial titles released on the TIFF website (largely SP, but a few other programs as well) are by and large droolingly enticing. And this Tuesday the Midnight Madness program is unveiled. Last year I saw six of the ten MM flicks, though after my experience at Martyrs I’ll definitely choose a bit more sparingly. Colin Geddes still has, I’m convinced, the best job in the festival, and if he finds anything this year half as glorious as The Burrowers or Not Quite Hollywood it’ll make up for any duds in the rest of the fest for me.
  4. In the past two years, Time magazine did two features each year a week apart on the fest, in fact in 2007 it made the cover of the Canadian edition (and just that edition, I’m fairly certain). Now that Time no longer publishes a Canadian version, I wonder how in-depth the coverage is going to be.
That’s it for now. I’m going to focus a bit more on this blog over the next couple of weeks with memories of TIFF past, my impressions of the summer blockbuster season so far and a blow-by-blow FanExpo report so stay tuned.