Monday, August 31, 2009

A diversion: FanExpo 2009 wrapup

Ticket order forms were all due in to the Big White Tent today, and the box lottery has revealed that they're starting with (drum roll buddabuddabuddabudda) box 48 out of 54. Which is not that bad for me, as I was in box 6. If I'm in the (counting on my fingers...carry the one...) thirteenth box, I actually stand a pretty good chance of getting most of my top ten, which is pretty sweet, and a nice karmic turnaround from last year when my form wound up in box 8 and the wheel landed on box 9 to start processing. Hopefully I'll get the email within the next day or so letting me know. The 'rents and the little brother arrive in town late afternoon Friday, that'll give me time between the early close at the office for the holiday and their check-in to line up for another four or five tix to fill in the gaps.

My autumn has two big high points: there's the TIFF season, obviously, which in addition to the ten days of holiday and cinematic bliss surrounding my birthday stretches back to late July and the first dribblings of program leaks and the filmgasm that is Program Book Day. And then the cherry on top of August is the weekend before Labour Day, when the Convention Centre is taken over by thousands upon thousands of nerds, geeks, dweebs, genre TV stars, B-movie headliners, local shot-on-DV horror film producers, women with a pound of metal in their face who sell baby clothes with severed-head logo patterns, the really hot eighteen-year-olds who somehow didn't exist when I was in high school who love nothing better than to walk around the hall painted green or in a form-fitting black spandex catsuit for three days, burlesque dancers, promotions/marketing folk who were blessed by gypsies as children and now get to flog slasher flicks and hold screaming contests and indulge their movie night party jones...basically everyone in the eastern half of Canada and the nor'eastern States who lives for the freaky and fun and heroic and spooky and the chance to leave behind real life's sadness to immerse themselves in fantasy and creativity and shared joy of nostalgia and dreams about what the future holds.

My people, in other words.

I've been going to FanExpo regularly since 2003, and cliches be damned, it does seem to get bigger and better every year. Last year is a bit of a haze for some reason...I remember taking a few hundred photos and I cosplayed as Captain Marvel, but I don't have any solid memories to grasp. Maybe it's because 2008 was the year I gave up on autographs from the stars. $20 was a rubicon I couldn't cross. I was fine with that...a sawbuck for an 8X10 glossy, a personalized sig, 120 seconds of conversation and a quick photo isn't too exorbitant, the memory and photo and thrill last. But like the American movie ticket price of $10 or the trillion $ for the new health care bill, there came a wall, and I hit it. From the white t-shirted volunteers who would chase you down and demand that you not take any shots of Adam West from across the aisle without coughing up the green to the separation of sig and pic into two distinct and accumulating fees and lines, the Special Guest portion of the weekend has been priced out of the range of all but the hardiest and most obsessive completists. I'd considered limiting myself to one this year, and had settled on Emma Caulfield, but I got to the front of the line, saw that a sig and no pic would cost me most of my grocery budget for the week and I realized there was no way I could justify such an expense to myself, no matter how much I adored Anya and longed to bask in the two-degrees-away-from-Whedon glow. So I snapped a quick pic and skedaddled.

Didn't do much shopping this a couple of TPBs (Preacher vol. 4 and Essential X-Men vol. 7), one independent DVD of a webseries set at a comic book shop from a bunch of quite cool folks to whom I gave a copy of my own short superhero film the following day, a trio of books from Burning Effigy Press, and a Harleen Quinzell-as-The Baroness signed headshot from the stunning ladies at With the England trip coming up in two and a half months, I'm not splurging on as much stuff as I would have in previous years.

And then there was the cosplay. Really, the reason I go every year. It's comic book characters made's as close as one can get to immersion in the world of comic books, a world which is, let's not forget, infinitely more interesting than the one we're stuck with. I went totally mainstream this year: old-school Spider-Man. The result was my favorite Halloween-for-grownups experience of all time. The photos started minutes after I got in line on Saturday morning, as I posed with a Rogue and Wolverine in the next swoop of the line's S. I got pulled off the floor by Marvel's marketing head (I think) Arune Singh, who insisted on taking photos of me posing with Captain America's shield. I was shot with one arm around (purple) Catwoman and (comic) Silk Spectre 1. A pair of Kevin Smith lookalike brothers from the east coast sandwiched me for another photo to the delight of the lobby. And the kids...seriously, the best part. One four year old literally ran up and leapt into my arms to pose for shots. I'm just some anonymous schmuck, but that kid is going to kindergarten tomorrow morning and when asked "What did you do this summer, Matt?" is going to be able to stand tall and with eyes wide proclaim "I met Spider-Man!" and there won't be a dry seat in the room. I still don't know if I want kids of my own, but even I have to admit that's pretty cool.

Anyway, I only lasted about four hours in the suit before the dehydration, pressure on the sides of my head and the creeping headache that always results from going without my glasses for extended periods of time (oh, astigmatism, thou art a bitch) made me cave, so I stripped out, and immediately ran into an adorable blonde dressed like the Black Cat. Grrrrr...... Other faves: a couple of unrelated Cassandra Cain Batgirls absolutely rocked the house. Ashley and her Steampunk X-Men group that would go on to win Best in Show Overall at that night's Masquerade. The Orion Slave Girl; an awesome Captain Jack Harkness making Ianto jokes; a six-foot-tall Emma Frost; the 501st Legion and their virtual army of Lucasfilm-quality costumes, props and droids; a half-dozen Harley Quinns ranging from classic flavour to punked out and gender-fucked; the Buddy Christ (actually a high school bud of mine in for the weekend); plenty of Catwomen in all purrmutations; more than a few Dr. Horribles; a female Indiana Jones...this year's costumes were as stellar as they come. San Diego...try on Toronto for size, suckers.
Before you know it, though...the crash. You know the drill: it's Sunday afternoon, you've once again paid over five dollars for a muffin and a soft drink just to keep some energy going, you've seen every booth twice and not turned up a single piece of Godzilla merch in the whole stinkin' hall, you're starting to take photos of the same people over again, some of the booksellers are looking a bit sparse and Artist's Alley is starting to pack it in. You want to weep. Another fifty-two freakin' weeks until you get to have this much fun again.

Thanks to everyone who made this year so amazing: Tina, Ashley, Monica, Liisa, Susan, Willow, the guys at The Comic Book Store: The Series, the ladies at NerdGirlPinups, all the folks at HardcoreNerdity, everyone in the Steampunk X-Men, the Kevin Smith twins, that three year old who astonished his parents by hugging Spider-Man with the joy of a hundred dreams in his eyes, Emma Caulfield for those cheekbones, that Austin Powers dude who knew when to break character, and everyone who squeezed into a zentai suit or painted themselves green or just, you know, showed up to be a big nerd all weekend (gabba gabba one of us...). I'll see you next year.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In record ten picks and backups

Okay, that was fast. Dunno if it's a record, but I did hit the ground running with plenty of prep this year.

The festival changed the format of the order form: instead of the colour-coding by double-ended highlighter (which hasn't been included in the bag since 2006 anyway) you now write a screening code for your second pick under each first pick. I know there's been enough confusion in the past but this shift still seems odd to me. No matter.

As I mentioned earlier, blogs written by The People aren't being linked from the festival site this year, so if anyone does read this it'll likely be FB friends who may not be here in Toronto. I won't prattle on with details (oh who am I kidding...) but short version: I bought a 10-pack of tickets, so I chose my top ten movies (with specific screening times) and ten backups in case the first ones are sold out. Except for the Michael Caine afternoon, I don't think many of my top ten are big ticket festival items (ie: no Clooney, Coens or Michael Moore) so I may be on fairly solid ground. That said, I also plan on buying four or five individual tickets when they go on sale, so ideally I'll still be able to catch a handful of my backup picks, and even possibly some of what I don't get in the first ten at different screenings if the ones I've requested are sold out. I drop off my order form after work tomorrow, and next week sometime I'll get the email telling me what I got. Anyhoo...

My top ten picks (check out the summaries on the TIFF website if you're curious):

An Education
The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
The Disappearance of Alice Creed
in conversation with...Michael Caine
The Loved Ones
La Donation
L'affaire Farewell
Timetrip: The Curse of the Viking Witch

My ten backups:

Fish Tank
Five Hours From Paris
Solitary Man
Mall Girls
Giulia Doesn't Date At Night
The Search
Slovenian Girl
My Tehran For Sale

So what's the breakdown? No Dialogues this year (Joe Dante might be cool, come to think of it), no Canada First!, and I'm going to a Sprockets screening for the first time, that Danish kids movie that looks like fun. Four of my top ten are not in English, and two of those are in French; seven of my runners-up aren't in English. Only one Midnight Madness flick in the whole batch. Did Martyrs turn me off that program so much? I doubt it, it's just that of the other nine this year, three or four are definitely hitting screens later this summer and I've already seen Ong-Bak 2. I've got some huge gaps in my screening schedule, but I'll no doubt fill them somehow. Even if it's not with #s 11-20, as there are plenty of others in the book I wouldn't turn up my nose at. I've got nothing from Hong Kong in either list this year, but if I wind up squeezing Vengeance or Accident into a hole in my schedule, no complaints.

Made it through Station To Station and most of Buddah of Suburbia while bashing this out. Exhausted. Another annual tradition passed.

3 days 'til FanExpo
16 days 'til TIFF

Program Book Day! and planning the schedule

Partway through the process, and before my eyes go crosseyed from the Excel, some first impressions.

Superficial stuff first: love the program book cover this year, the motif that appears in variations throughout the materials of enraptured audience members instead of vague abstracts or modern-art surrealism. The people's festival indeed, illustrated. Looks like the bag is made of better material than it has been in the past two years as well, with a flat bottom to boot (okay, this seems irrelevant, but I save 'em as souvenirs and last year's was made of some fabric barely a notch up from crepe paper). Got a second Stella Artois glass, assuming they remain a sponsor, after TIFF '11 I'll be able to serve pilsner for four. Took the traditional big whiff of the book and...hmmm. Paint. The Nathan Philips Square TIFF tent's new expansion just got a fresh coat recently, it seems, and the glorious new-ink-and-cinema scent of the program book is subsumed by the odour of white latex paint. Got back to the office, gave the enclosed promotional sample cosmetics, coffee, popcorn and cherry/pomegranate power water to co-workers and began highlighting titles in the index.

I suppose the Kindle may be different as it's not so much for the interactivity, but I must say that books, ie: solid paper-based blocks of info you can hold in your hand, can't be disappearing any time soon. Sure the whole film list has been up on the festival site for a few days and bouncing back and forth between links there has been helpful, but actually being able to study the summaries and credits caused a small shakeout and huge additions. 25 titles highlighted in the index based on the cover-to-cover I did at my desk. And now comes the winnowing.

Still nothing for me from India this year, the one that looked great, What's Your Rashee?, is a gala. Didn't know anything about An Education until...screenplay by Nick Hornby?!? I'm there. Quite a lot in Reel To Reel I'm curious to see, but oddly enough there's nothing in Canada First! that's grabbing me. The afternoon with Michael Caine is on my list, but the movie he's selling isn't. I suspect his Q&A will be sold out, or at least I'm bracing myself for settling for a second pick that day. The first screening of one of my gotta-see's conflicts with the Nick Cave book signing, which is a drag, but maybe Willem Defoe will stick around for the second screening. Still sort of regretting not doing two ticket books, but pragmatism must rule.

Okay, back to the spreadsheets...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Film list day

With mind reeling from finally watching the Series 4 finale of Dr. Who (god, could I have a bigger crush on Eve Myles?) time to tackle the fully-posted TIFF list. Oy. Once again, regretting only getting a ten-pack, even with the four or five individual tix I plan on picking up I'll still miss a lot.

A few things I noticed: no Baltasar Kormรกkur movie this year, in fact only two Icelandic films, one of which is a documentary largely in English (judging from the trailer) and the other a multinational co-production starring Brian Cox and Paul Dano so I guess no whimsical Reykjavic family dramas starring lovely elfin redheads for me this year; no Takashi Miike; still no Palermo Shooting, which has been in the can for so long I'm sure we'll have to wait for his next film for another Wenders appearance at TIFF. There are, as usual, new offerings from the Coen brothers, Carl Bessai, Johnny To and Steven Soderbergh.

As for what I want to see...okay, here's the tentative list of the twenty movies I'd most love to see, the Can't Miss ones marked with an asterix:

Five Hours From Paris

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

The Misfortunates


The Loved Ones*

Timetrip: The Curse of the Viking Witch


The Most Dangerous Man In America


In conversation with Michael Caine*


L’affaire Farewell*



Giulia Doesn’t Date At Night

Fish Tank



La Donation*


So...more than the usual quota of French-language films on the list...and shit, no Indian movies. I'll have to look deeper once the book comes out. Only three Midnight Madness movies, as I figured I'd be cutting back this year, but as I suspect that Daybreakers will get a regular release I'll probably pass on it for the fest. With the Danish time travel flick, that could be my first-ever Sprockets Family Zone screening. First Israeli movie as well. Michael Caine? Oh wow...that's gonna rock, I suspect that'll be one of the fest's hottest tickets.

Got an invite today on FB for Nick Cave, apparently he's doing a reading/signing of his new novel at Indigo at the Eaton Centre in the middle of the fest. That's going to poke a hole in my schedule, for sure. Does Cave have a movie in the festival as well? Has anyone snatched up the rights to "And The Ass Saw The Angel" yet?

How come the rain didn't cool everything off?

8 days 'til FanExpo
21 days 'til TIFF

Monday, August 17, 2009

A sense of order

I was just sitting here sweating my way through a marathon of Dr. Who season 4 DVDs, and realized that it's only three days until the full film list goes live. It's well past time for an update, as the summer is cresting and the accelerated race through my glory weeks of FanExpo/TIFF is nearly upon us. Funny thing, if you go to the festival website, the list of films is already pretty comprehensive. Have the announcements been more thorough and spoilerish this year or is it my imagination? There's always been that glut of reveals every year regarding when Clooney will be arriving and whatnot, and even though I don't get a paper at work anymore, I seem to be picking up a steady stream of such news via osmosis this year. What is there left to unveil on Thursday?

Anyway, I'll get back to the current list in a minute, but first some housekeeping, which may be crying into an abyss for all I know because the TIFF09 website has yet to announce any links to fan blogs. For the past three years I've answered the invitation to link my blog (first two years on MySpace and since last year here at blogspot) and enjoyed a few readers. Not tons, but I don't need tons, I just think it's cool when strangers tune in for whatever reason. My dream job is film critic; real life doesn't really afford me the opportunity, and the rise of the internet has, sadly, rendered such an occupation as it's been commonly defined since the thirties to a degree obsolete. So for two weeks a year I can immerse myself in cool foreign and indie fare, dissect and analyze and assign arbitrary star ratings...oy that sounds callous. I love movies, and I love to talk movies. If one person checked out Not Quite Hollywood, Son of Rambow or The Burrowers because they were sampling fan blogs via the TIFF website and took my rave at my word, I suppose I'll never know (MySpace used to count fifty-plus readers a day during the festival but nobody ever left comments), but part of me would be greatly satisfied.

At any rate, I used to have readers, I have a couple of subscribers here and my fingers are crossed that a few more film fans will join me here later on. Thus, I'd like to tell the assembled multitudes my basic rules...well, traditions, really...for how I pick movies for the prime festival experience.

1. No galas. They're not worth the money, all the movies are going to play in theatres later (some notable bombs excepted, and I'm looking at you, Edison), and without a high-priced donor pass, you wind up in the nosebleed seats. Fuhgettaboutit.
2. By the same token, nothing that's going to play theatres in the fall anyway. Sometimes one can't tell; the star-studdedness of a film is no longer any guarantee that it's arrived at the festival with a distributor or that it'll pick one up after the premiere. But I've seen festival premieres announced long after the trailer for the same flick has been playing for months. 2007 was an odd festival in that regard: from the festival's second Friday through the Sunday after wrap, I saw three movies outside the TIFF that had premiered at the festival mere days before (Eastern Promises, The Brave One and Across The Universe).
3. Try to see at least one of the following: documentaries, "In Conversation With...", Dialogues, Canadian movies, and if at least half of what I see isn't subtitled, I'm not trying hard enough. Every year I swear I'm going to see something from India and it never seems to happen. I've had good luck with Iceland in the past, and if there's anything filmed in the Welsh language, I'm so there.
4. I'm not quite the starfucker I was as a young lad (especially when I first moved to L.A., I was pretty insufferable then, actually) but if anyone I've actually worked with or for is in a movie at the festival, I try to check that one out to say hi. For the record, I've crewed on two feature films, a low-budget indie called Lovelife (1997) and the remake of The In-Laws (2003), worked for one major actor (who shall remain nameless) and interned for a multiple Oscar-winning director (ditto), plus I met or knew tons of other creative folk who may be passing through town in September.
5. My favorite director is Wim Wenders, if he comes to town, I'm in the front row. Plus I've now got a cool Bis ans Ende der Welt poster that I'm dying to get autographed, and if anyone has spotted Sam Neill around town while he's filming, I'd love a tip or two.

So I just went over to the site to comment on the list and while I was there they took it down for updating! Dagnabit, they did that the other night as well! Okay, I'll go through the list again later this week.

11 days 'til FanExpo
24 days 'til TIFF