TIFF

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Take a look at the trailer for BLINDNESS

So a lot has already been said here and here about BLINDNESS, the new film due out this year by Fernando Meirelles, adapted from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Jose Saramago. Lots of people are looking forward to Meirelles' follow-up to CITY OF GOD. Others are excited about Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, or Gael Garcia Bernal, three of the more well-known cast members. Of course, Chlotrudis is all over BLINDNESS because it was adapted for the screen by our pal, and Chlotrudis Advisory Board member, Don McKellar, who also appears in the film, as does our other Canadian pal, Tracy Wright!(And to sweeten the Chlotrudis punch just that much more, it also features appearances by Sandra Oh, Maury Chaykin, Martha Burns (form "Slings & Arrows"), AFTER LIFE's Yusuke Iseya, Susan Coyne (also from "Slings & Arrows"), and Chlotrudis Award winner Nadia Litz! What more could you possibly ask for?

How about a creepy trailer? While you're vibrating with anticipation about everything I just told you, take a peek at the trailer for this film which is due to open this fall in the U.S. Originally we had thought the film would premiere at Cannes (and it still might) but it sure looks like they're setting it up for Toronto as well. Whooee! Wouldn't that be fun?

Toronto Ratings

Now that I've got all my day-to-day reports up, I thought I'd borrow Bruce's idea and list my films by rating. Only one 5 cat film, but plenty of 4 1/2 and 4 cat films making the overall experience a highly positive one.

5 cats

THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS

4 1/2 cats

I'M NOT THERE
JELLYFISH
JUNO
MY WINNIPEG
THE VISITOR

4 cats

BREAKFAST WITH SCOT
BRICK LANE
A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE
HELP ME EROS
PING PONG PLAYA'
PLOY
STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING

3 1/2 cats

CHACUN SON CINÉMA
JUST LIKE HOME
THE LAST MISTRESS

3 cats

HOLLYWOOD CHINESE
SAD VACATION

2 1/2 cats

A JIHAD FOR LOVE
NORMAL
SILK
PHILIPPINE SCIENCE

1 1/2 cats

AMERICAN VENUS
RECLAIM YOUR BRAIN

Toronto Day 8 - Farewell Film Festival

Eight days is a long time to be spending watching movies, and I saw a respectable 24 films in that time frame. A little lighter than previous years, but I am getting older, and there were people to see and hang out with (far more important to me). Even though we were leaving Friday evening, we did manage to squeeze in two more films, and while we started the day with something of a dud, we did end the festival on a high note.

PHILIPPINE SCIENCE (The Philippines; 118)

director: Auraeus Solito

cast: Elijah Castillo, Gammy Lopez, Eugene Domingo, EJ Jalorrina, Shayne Fajutagana

Drawing on his own experiences as a science geek in high school, director Auraeus Solito draws a sweet film about an accelerated science and math high school in the Philippines. Solito caught my eye at 2006's Provincetown International Film Festival with his film about nascent gay desire, THE BLOSSOMING OF MAXIMO OLIVEROS which maintained a facade of innocent even when exploring the gritty streets of Manilla. In PHILIPPINE SCIENCE, Solito jettisons the grit (despite the inclusion of the atmosphere of martial law of the time) and the result is very similar to an after school special.

Like FAME, PHILIPPINE SCIENCE is broken up into four parts, freshman, sophomore, junior and senior. There's a core group of students, and each year focuses on a different set. The issues that arise vary: Freshmen, don't waste your time on a girlfriend if you want to be in the Top 5; Sophomores, just because you can't cut it at Philippine Science, doesn't mean you're still not a winner... etc. Unfortunately, while the screenplay is a little clumsy, much of the acting is incapable of lifting the film higher. There are a few good performances, especially the woman who plays the freshman year science teacher, but many of the actors playing the students seem fairly amateurish. Still, I always enjoy seeing films from The Philippines, the country where my mother was born and raised.

I'M NOT THERE (USA; 135 min.)

director: Todd Haynes

cast: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Julianne Moore, David Cross

There's been a lot of buzz about Todd Hayne's Bob Dylan biopic, especially after it's debut in Venice. Those who know me know that I am not a fan of the biopic, but ever the experimenter, Haynes turns the life of Dylan into something magical, complex, and mind-boggling. In I'm not there, seven stages of Dylan's is portrayed by six different actors, including a woman (Cate Blanchett) and a young, African-American boy (Marcus Carl Franklin). The different Dylans aren't literal representations of the legendary singer/songwriter, but representative of his persona at the time. Haynes offers scenarios that attempt to give some possible insight into a celebrity whose evolution challenged everyone, especially his truest fans.

I'm not sure if being a fan of Dylan, or knowing next to nothing about him will serve you better at this film. I knew next to nothing and I loved the film. I don't feel I know all that much more about Dylan after seeing the film, but that's not why I went to see the film. As a film, Haynes challenges the viewer visually, aurally, and through the intricate screenplay he co-wrote with Owen Moverman. There are touches of his earlier films peeking through in I'M NOT THERE, in fact, with this film it seems that Haynes wanted to correct the missteps he took with VELVET GOLDMINE.

A word about the acting. The hype is true. Cate Blanchett is simply phenomenal. As Haynes said in his introduction, Blanchett took a bit of stunt casting and elevated it to such heights that you can't imagine anyone else playing the part. She's that good. Franklin is also terrific as the young, rail-traveling Dylan, and Christian Bale gives an astonishingly strong performance as the man-of-the-people Dylan of the early 60's. British actor Ben Whishaw captures his part well, and Heath Ledger does a pretty good job with one of the lest interesting incarnations of Dylan. The weak link, both performance-wise and screenplay-wise is Dylan the legend as played by Richard Gere. Gere just doesn't have the complexity or range to pull off the role. Other actors put in great turns in supporting roles. These include the divine Charlotte Gainsbourg as Dylan's wife, Julianne Moore as the folksinger (re: Joan Baex) who discovered him), Bruce Greenwood as a British journalist, and Michelle Williams as Coco (Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick.

Technically and artuflly, Haynes wins all the way through. His use of music, both Dylan's and others complements the film marvelously. After such stellar films as POISON, SAFE, VELVET GOLDMINE, and FAR FROM HEAVEN, I'M NOT THERE is a natural and accomplished progression comining an ambitious stretch and a prodigious talent. While I don't think I'M NOT THERE is going to be a universal crowd-pleaser, it's a strong piece of cinematic art that shouldn't be missed.

After the movies wrapped, Scot, Beth and I met Tracy Wright for one last farewell dinner. We spent a lovely late afternoon chatting and reminiscing about the festival. This year's festival was certainly the most stress-free and relaxed festival for me, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I will post pictures from the Q&A's that I attended soon.

TIFF Day 7: The Asian Invation (+1)

So I'm slowing down. I've been back from Toronto for one week and I'm having trouble getting the last two days of reviews posted! Isn't it annoying how life intrudes? Anyway, I should get these last reviews out before the weekend is out, and then I'll try to get some pictures from the Q&As up.

Thursday was another four-film day, but fortunately we were able to sleep in a bit. No trip to the box office, and a first film at 12:30 p.m. This was originally going to be a three-film day, but a late addition of A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE, Nobuhiro Yamashita's follow-up to LINDA LINDA LINDA at 9:15 p.m. brought us up to four.

RECLAIM YOUR BRAIN (Germany/Austria; 141)

director: Hans Weingartner

cast: Moritz Bleibtreu, Elsa Sophie Gambard, Milan Peschel, Gregor Bloéb, Simone Hanselmann

I was really looking forward to Hans Weingartner's follow-up to the 2005 Chlotrudis Buried Treasure winner THE EDUKATORS. Imagine my disappointment when RECLAIM YOUR BRAIN fell far short of the high bar Weingartner had set for himself with his previous film. The premise is good: after a devastating automobile accident, a wealthy, high-powered, drug-addicted TV executive realizes that the crap reality shows that he is producing provide little to no value to their viewers. He investigates the rating systems and along with a ragtag bunch of misfits, discovers a way to circumvent the ratings system and educate the masses. Okay, I got a little glib toward the end, because Weingartner ends up taking the low road just about every chance he can. In fact, the story ends up being borderline morally reprehensible as the protagonists end up manipulating society as much as the "villains" of the piece.

Production values are terrific. The film opens with a high-energy sequence that takes road rage to new levels. Lead actor Moritz Bleibtreu (RUN, LOLA, RUN) crackles with dangerous energy as he swaggers and smashes his way across the city, snorting obscene amounts of cocaine and swinging a baseball bat. It's too bad that after this manic opening scene, things start to wind down, and credibility becomes strained. By the end of the film I just couldn't stop rolling my eyes.

HELP ME EROS (Taiwan; 103 min.)

director: Lee Kang-sheng

cast: Lee Kang-sheng, Yin Shin, Jane Liao, Dennis Nieh

Lee Kang-sheng should be familiar to any fans of director Tsai Ming-liang: he has starred in all of the director's films. With HELP ME EROS, Lee offers his second directorial effort that while clearly influenced by the work he has done with Tsai, is a strong, elegantly-made film all on its own.

Lee plays Ah Jie, a young man who finds himself living in poverty after he loses all the money he'd amassed on the stock market. He passes his days in a in a pot-induced haze smoking the spoils of his carefully tended closet-greenhouse. His cries for help are heard through the telephone helpline operator named Chyi, but he rejects her after finding out that she is overweight. He becomes involved with a betel nut girl (a fascinating Taiwanese cultural curiosity where young attractive, scantily-clad women operate neon-lit convenient store booths on busy roadways, delivering cigarettes and lottery tickets by sliding down fire poles to the waiting consumers) but as their sexual escapades become increasingly meaningless he pushes her away. The film ends with a remarkably filmed closing scene that, had we been able to stay for the Q&A I certainly would have asked him about filming. Lee could do worse than to follow in his mentor Tsai Ming-liang's footsteps, and if HELP ME EROS is any indication, he's well on his way.

SAD VACATION (Japan; 136 min.)

director: Shinji Aoyama

cast: Tadanobu Asano, Eri Ishida, Aoi Miyazaki Joe Odagiri, Yuka Itaya, Ken Mitsuishi

Despite an intriguing, adept cast, and some skillful camerawork, Shinji Aoyama's SAD VACATION has a little too much plot to be entirely successful. In fact, more than once I wondered if this film was a sequel and I had missed the first part. Multiple characters and scenarios are mentioned as if we are expected to know their backstories, but apparently we don't. Similarly, several plotlines are inexplicably dropped mid-film without explanation as if to be continued in a later film. Perhaps this is Aoyama's supposition; that we are being dropped into the middle of a story that isn't going to be tidily wrapped up by film's end, but it makes for somewhat frustrating viewing.

The marvelous Tadanobu Asano stars as Kenji, involved in some shady dealings that land him in hot water with a gang, and in possession of a Chinese orphan. When his path serndipitously reunites him with the mother that abandoned him as a child, he embarks on a complicated scheme of revenge that causes him to jettison any sort of concern for those around him. There are several other plot threads weaving in and out of this main story, and they do add some depth and interesting character, but are ultimately a bit extraneous. If SAD VACATION were the second part of a trilogy, I think it might work better.

A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE (Japan; 121 min.)

director: Nobuhiro Yamashita

cast: Kaho, Masaki Okada, Yui Natsukawa, Koichi Sato, Hiromasa Hirosue

Thank Goodness Nancy mentioned in casual conversation over lunch one day that she would be seeing the new film by the director of LINDA LINDA LINDA. What? How did I miss that? Such is the bane and the beauty of TIFF. There are so many films you're bound to miss some (even miss knowing about some) that you want to see; but through conversations and interactions, you often find out about them and are able to rearrange things to see them. Such is the case with Nobuhior Yamashita's A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE.

Based on the manga series written by two women called Tennen Kokekko, the film takes an sweet look at life in a tiny Japanese village in the country where there live six kids who go to school in the combined primary and middle school. The oldest, an eighth grader named Soyo Migita who loves taking care of the younger students is nervous about the arrival of a boy her age moving to the village from Tokyo. He's dripping with urban cool and she assumes they will fall in love, yet when she meets him, her infatuation turns to disappointment when faced with his clumsy, insensitive behavior. Naturally, you know they will be holding hands soon.

Like the manga it was based on, GENTLE BREEZE is very episodic, telling lovely tales of innocence in a village that seems too good to be true. There's the story about the slightly scary, but ultimately benevolent ghost on the bridge; the class trip (for the two eighth-graders) to Japan; and the group trip to the nearby festival. It's all very sweet and lovely, yet in a way that avoids the cloying, Disney-feel of American films. It's a welcome portrait of a girl's world; something we see so little of on film.

We Interrupt the TIFF Reports for the JUNO Trailer!

Thanks to Cinematical we've got the just released trailer for one of the most talked about films from TIFF, Jason Reitman's JUNO starring Ellen Page. This film is really poised to be Ellen's star-making film, and it's sure to be a monster for Chlotrudis. The trailer very wisely avoids many of the laugh-out-loud moments in the film, but it does a nice job setting up the wise-cracking, quirky elements of the film. Do check it out:

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TIFF Day 6: Catching my Breath

After four movies and two parties on Tuesday, I knew I would have to take it easy on Wednesday, so I scheduled a two-film day. Of course, what I didn't account for was the fact that I had to get up early in the morning one last time to go to the box office, and my afternoon was booked for a group-Chlotrudis lunch (the only time I would see Ned & Ivy during the entire festival!) With the ever-growing festival fatigue that hits in the latter half of the trip, and another party looming in the evening, I knew this was going to be a tough day. Fortunately, our first film wasn't until 12:30 p.m., so we did have a couple of hours in the morning to rest.

UNE VIEILLE MAÎTRESSE (France; 114 min.)

director: Catherine Breillat

cast: Asia Argento, Fu'ad Aït Aattou, Roxane Mesquida, Claude Sarraute, Yolande Moreau

A new Catherine Breillat film is always something that sparks my interest, and in her latest film, the first after the director endured a serious stroke, Breillat tries her hand at a period piece... a true costume drama set in the early nineteenth century. Based on writer Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly’s notorious novel of sexual intrigue, UNE VIEILLE MAÎTRESSE charts the tempestuous ten-year relationship between young Ryno de Marigny and the foul-mouthed, half-Spanish libertine Vellini. Now that Ryno is engaged to marry the virtuous gem of the French aristocracy, Hermangarde, he must come clean about his past to her grandmother La marquise de Flers, who is shockingly understanding. Ryno insists that it is over between he and Vellini, and explains to La marquise the sexual dynamic that kept him in her clutches for so many years. Their late night conversation is punctuated by the voracious sexual encounters and the social manipulations between the young lovers.

The casting of Asia Argento as Vellini is an interesting choice for Breillat. Argento is not known for her deft acting skills, and her on-screen presence is decidedly modern. Still, she inhabits the roll of Vellini quite well; her unrefined screen presence matching the uncouth Vellini in a way that works for the film. Newcomer Fu'ad Aït Aattou, a barber Breillat discovered at a French cafe, does a fine job as Ryno, acquitting himself nicely despite being chosen quite obviously for his looks. Frequent Breillat collaborator Roxane Mesquida (FAT GIRL; SEX IS COMEDY) adds just enough backbone to the virginal Hermangarde to give her much needed depth. The standout in the cast is certainly Claude Sarraute as the unflappable La marquise de Flers, who takes in Ryno's scandalous story and gives him the benefit of the doubt that he has changed.

What lifts UNE VIEILLE MAÎTRESSE above the vaguely reminiscent DANGEROUS LIAISONS is the way the two main characters are allowed a range of emotions. There is more than just cruel manipulations behind the actions of the young lovers; true emotions simmering just beneath the surface. As far as the production itself, Breillat, who in her introduction to the film explained her obsession with period details, has taken pains to create an accurate look and feel of the time. The film's budget is more than all her previous films combined, and you can see where the money was spent onscreen. This is a fine continuation of a controversial filmmaker's body of work.

THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS (Canada; 77 min.)

director: Bruce McDonald

cast: Ellen Page, Ari Cohen, Max McCabe-Lokos, Max Turnbull, Julian Richings, Zie Souwand, Slim Twig

This was surely the year of Ellen Page at the Toronto International Film Festival. After receiving well-deserved accolades for her fine comedic work in JUNO, she turns around a floors audiences in Bruce McDonald's ("Twitch City"; HIGHWAY 61) dramatic feature THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS. This is a film that has the potential to blow your mind, incorporating a strong enough screenplay, a powerhouse lead performance, and a visionary director that pushes the boundaries of filmmaking to take the film's title literally and give the audience visual fragments of the titular character's psyche.

In some ways, Tracey Berkowitz is similar to Juno, Page's other leading role at the festival. Both are high-school girls on the fringes of that community. But while Juno has a strong support base in her friends and family, Tracey is adrift alone, picked on mercilessly by her peers, and shunned by her parents who find her to be a problem child. Or it's possible that Tracey is just a very disturbed young girl rejecting any assistance that comes her way. The film is told entirely from Tracey's decidedly skewed point-of-view, it is difficult to gauge the ineffectiveness of her parents accurately. Central to the story is the disappearance of Tracey's seven-year-old brother, who thinks he's a dog. The story is told in flashback, through erratic flashes of Tracey's memory, as she rides a bus through the city, wrapped only in a flowered shower curtain, an impending blizzard looming in the near future.

Two films came to mind as I watched THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS: Lukas Moodysson's LILJA 4-EVER and Darren Aronofsky's PI. The former because we are watching the helpless downward spiral of a girl in way over her head. The latter because of the visual and aural assault Bruce McDonald uses to convey this tragic story. The fragmented visuals and helter skelter editing McDonald employs really adds tremendously to what might have otherwise been an R-rate after-school special type of story. The powerful, sountrack by Broken Social Scene matches the visuals nicely. The film works best if you stop resisting and let it wash over your senses. Moments of near calm are granted in Tracey's discussions with Dr. Heker, a female psychologist cast and played brilliantly by the very male Julian Richings (MY LIFE WITHOUT ME; THE RED VIOLIN).

The film has some minor flaws, mainly in the screenplay, but Page's outstanding lead performance and McDonald's creative and assured directorial hand managed to catapult THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS into my top film of the Festival. I'm hoping that a successful roll-out of JUNO will grant THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS a U.S. distribution deal. I would also love to co-present this film at the Independent Film Festival of Boston next April if it hasn't yet been released.

Once again, we hooked up with Don and Tracy after the film, along with Gerry Peary and Callum Keith Rennie, to walk over to the Century Club and THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS after-party. We once again chatted with Nadia Litz and Kish, as we navigated the crowded party filled with Canadian film notables. Just as the late hour threatened to overwhelm us and we made our way to the exit, we came across the star of the evening, the incredibly talented Ellen Page, and we were able to chat with her, congratulating her on her success. She graciously allowed us to take all the credit south of the border for discovering her rising star when we gave her the Breakout Award at the 11th Annual Chlotrudis Awards.

David Cronenberg and Guy Maddin win Awards at TIFF

The Toronto International Film Festival announced its award winners on Saturday, September 15 with co-directors Piers Handling and Noah Cowan handing out prizes on the closing day of the festival. Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg won the Cadillac People's Choice Award for the film EASTERN PROMISES. Cronenberg's crime film starring Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, and Armin Mueller-Stahl, opened this weekend in New York and makes its Boston debut next Friday at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. There were two runners-up announced as well; Jason Reitman's comedy, JUNO starring Ellen Page, a favorite among Chlotrudis attendees, and Ellen Spiro's and Phil Donahue's documentary on the Iraqi War, BODY OF WAR.

On a side note, this year's People's Choice Award was poorly handled; possibly the single biggest gaffe I've ever seen in the generally well-run festival. At the beginning of each screening, volunteers pass out slips with the by-now-familiar-to-festgoers, voting ranks along the bottom. As festivalgoers are accustomed, at the end of the film you tear through the number that corresponds to the rank about how you enjoyed the film: 0 meaning poor, 4 meaning the best. The tearing eliminates the need for a writing instrument, which many people seeing a movie do not have. No instruction is given on the voting process; apparently it was assumed that feativalgoers would be familiar with this type of ballot and proceed accordingly. What a surprise, three days into the festival when Bruce was reprimanded by a volunteer about not having written the film's name on the slip! This was news to all of us, and made the whole tearing through the number irrelevant! Strangely enough, a couple of days later, volunteers were starting to announce, "Don't forget to write the name of the movie on your ballot." This surely hurt the voting, as many people couldn't be bothered and just skipped the voting process altogehter. Let's hope they get this right next year.

Another Chlotrudis favorite, Guy Maddin's MY WINNIPEG, took the CityTV Award for Best Canadian Feature Film. This amazing flim merges documentary and narrative, bringing together the best of Maddin's creative genius to tell the story of the Canadian city that is the heart of the heart of the country. IFC Entertainment has purchased the distribution rights for the United States, so watch out for its release!

The complete list of award-winners at TIFF follows:

Cadillac People's Choice Award:
EASTERN PROMISES, directed by David Cronenberg

FIPRESCI International Critics Prize:
LA ZONA, directed by Rodrigo Pla

Artistic Innovation Award:
ENCARNACION, directed by Anahi Berneri

Diesel Discovery Award:
COCHOCHI, directed by Israel Cardenas & Laura Amelia Guzman

CityTV Award for Best Canadian Feature Film:
MY WINNIPEG, directed by Guy Maddin

Toronto-City Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film:
CONTINENTAL, UN FILM SANS FUSIL, directed by Stephane Lafleur

Award for Best Canadian Short Film:
POOL, directed by Chris Chong Chan Fui

Taking a Break from Reviews: A TIFF Overview

Well, I got almost halfway through my reviews before getting home. That's not too bad. Once the parties started later in the week, I just couldn't carve the time our of my sleep schedule to blog. Sorry about that. I will continue with the reviews tomorrow, but I thought now would be a good time to take a break and talk a little about the TIFF experience as a whole.

Beth, Chris, and I had a morning flight on Friday, September 7, and were driven to the airport by my incredibly generous husband (who would be flying Toronto the following Tuesday). While waiting for our flight to depart Chris chatted with Elizabeth Taylor-Mead, with whom he works at the Coolidge Corner Foundation, and we had a nice conversation with Scot Heller, Arts & Film Editor for the Boston Globe. Upon boarding, I found that I was seated next to Elizabeth, and we chatted a bit about bringing groups to Toronto. She brings several Chlotrudis Board members, and I organize the Chlotrudis members, of which there were a total of 14 traveling to Toronto this year. The flight was quick and uneventful, and we arrived in Toronto eager to start the film festival activities.

We shared a cab with Scott Heller, which was a nice opportunity to catch up with him as it had been a while since we last chatted. I found out that Leighton Klein had left the Globe (which I was sad to hear; Leighton was fun to e chat with a consulate parties.) It was also a good opportunity to remind Scott what Chlotrudis was up to lately.

We checked into the Madison Manor Boutique Hotel, located in the Annex, near Bloor and Spadina. Chris and I would be roomies until he left and Scot arrived on Tuesday. Then I would be upgrading to a suite with Scottie. Our room was nice enough, and the hotel staff was very helpful. Things were promising. Next order of business... the box office.

As is always the case, the first day of TIFF is always the most stressful for those of us who do not spend the money on the lottery system for advanced tickets. Upon arriving at the box office at College Park, Beth, Chris and I got in line (see Beth on the left and Chris on the right) and settled in for what we felt sure would be a disappointing showing. Here is where you try to get as many tickets as possible for the films you want to see. The line didn't move all that quickly, and once we reached the ticket counter, we each got anywhere from a third to about half of the tickets we wanted. This was fine with us, since we knew we would be getting the tickets we needed each day in the morning, and too many tickets would mean a lot of exchanging (I always change my mind many times throughout the festival regarding which films I wanted to see.) Unfortunately, our time at the box office ate up more time than we'd hoped, and we barely had enough time to grab some fast food before Chris and I met Bruce for our first film.

The early morning ritual at the box office is something that many people don't understand. They wonder how I could possibly enjoy doing this, and to tell you the truth, I'm not sure what the answer is to that. It's true, the festival is exhausting, and getting up between 5 and 5:30 a.m. in order to get to the box office by 6 a.m. at the latest seems masochistic, but for me, it's all part of the festival experience. Despite late nights, including one night out until after 2 a.m., I got to the festival box office at the Manulife Center before 6 a.m. four out of my eight days in Toronto in order to get tickets for myself and any other Chlotrudis members who needed them. (Thanks to Beth for handling the fifth day, and to Scot for accompanying me on Wednesday). This year we had a perfect record, getting all the "sold-out" tickets we needed at the box office on the day-of. (The picture at left shows a piece of the line-up around 6:45 a.m. at the Manulife Center. The box office opens at 7 a.m.)

We spent a lot of time in the Toronto subways, run by the Toronto Transit Commission. With the Spadina stop directly behind the hotel, we were just steps away from quick, efficient transportation all over the city, and to all of the movie venues. The Toronto subways run frequently and smoothly. They are relatively clean, with wider cars. The one complaint I have about the subway system is their Sunday schedule where trains do not begin running until 9 a.m.! Here's a shot of one of the subway stops after just missing a departing train.

One last word on the opening promotional trailers that precede every film. These have often been the topic of much discussion in the past, and quickly wear thin by the end of the week after multiple viewings. I've gotta say, and all you other film festivals should take note, despite the presence of half a dozen or so of these promos, they were kept extremely short. This was a definite plus. Additionally, the main promo, the one advertising the Bell Lightbox, future home of the Toronto International Film Festival, featured music from Feist's "I Feel it All." This was a good way to keep some positivity around that promo (which otherwise was pretty poor... except for its brevity). Feist is great, and she's Canadian! Take a look...

TIFF Day 5: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner with Scot

Tuesday, Day 5 in Toronto, featured Scot's arrival to the festival. He couldn't come up early with the rest of us because he was teaching on Monday night. Even before he arrived we were dining witch Scot as you will see in my first movie review of the day. Tuesday also featured the first two industry parties of the festival as we tagged along with Don and Tracy to both the ALL HAT party and the SILK party. Beth, Scot and I also got caught in a sudden torrential downpour. Thank goodness for Dollar Store umbrellas. The Festival really kicked into high gear for us.

BREAKFAST WITH SCOT (Canada; 104 min.)

director: Laurie Lynd

cast: Thomas Cavanaugh; Ben Shenkman; Noah Bennett

BREAKFAST WITH SCOT was adapted from a lovely novel by Michael Downing that I read several years ago, and despite the fact that it features my husband's name (correct spelling included) in the title, I had forgotten that I'd read the book until director Laurie Lynd mentioned the author during the film's introduction. The film is a lovely, heartwarming look at a gay couple and the young boy who changes their lives. Sounds a little too sweet, doesn't it? Well Lynd, screenwriter Sean Reycraft and a talented cast manage to keep it sweet, but make it a delightfully entertaining and relevant film.

Sam and Ed are a successful gay couple. Ed is a lawyer, Sam is a sportscaster. The thing is, with Sam's background (he was a professional Hockey Player on the Toronto Blue Jays until an injury during practice forced him out) keeps him in the closet in his professional life. When Ed's brother's girlfriend dies, the couple find themselves in temporary custody of her eleven-year-old son Scot. Scot arrives on their doorstep smartly dressed and very polite, but they soon find out he has a penchance for boas and jewelry, singing showtunes, knitting, and worst of all, has no idea who Wayne Gretzky is. In a smartly drawn, and funny look at internalized homophobia and the way people perceive others, Lynd tells a heartwarming tale for the whole family.

The cast is terrific. Thomas Cavanaugh is superb as the obstinate, conflicted Sam (the actor is best known for his role in the television series "Ed") and Ben Shenkman ("Angels in America") is solid as Ed. The supporting cast features a host of well-known Canadian faces, all of whom transcend the stereotypes to create well-rounded characters. Most delightful of all was the uncredited turn by the sadly underused Sheila McCarthy (I'VE HEARD THE MERMAIDS SINGING) whose pitch perfect portrayal of the politically correct elementary school principal is divine. The film succeeds or fails on young Noah Bennett's portrayal of Scot, and he comes through remarkably. All the kids do a good job, but Bennett's Scot is sweetly heartbreaking.

JELLYFISH (Israel; 78 min.)

directors: Shira Geffen, Etgar Keret

cast: Sarah Adler, Nikol Leidman, Gera Sandler, Noa Knoller, Ma-nenita De Latorre, Ilanit Ben Yaakov, Zharira Charifai

JELLYFISH won the Golden Camera, and the Screenwriter's Award at Cannes earlier this year. Now it comes to Toronto, and in a couple of months, the Boston Jewish Film Festival co-presented by Chlotrudis! I didn't know what to expect from JELLYFISH, but the movie's synopsis sounded pretty interesting, so when Sara Rubin suggested it as one of our choices to co-present at the BJFF, I figured I would catch it in Toronto, and least be able to promote it properly. Imagine my surprise when it proved to be one of my favorite films of the festival!

The theme of JELLYFISH is disappointment. There are three central stories in JELLYFISH, involving three young women living in Israel. All three of these women have suffered severe disappointments, the first years ago during her childhood, another just a day ago at her wedding. Batya lives alone in a rundown apartment, working as a waitress for a wedding caterer and continuously being overlooked by her parents. Joy is a Filipino domestic who doesn't speak Hebrew and is trying to raise enough money to return to the Philippines to be with her young son. Keren is just married to Michael, but their honeymoon has been curtailed after she ends up in a cast at an embarrassing accident at their reception. The three women's stories intersect at various points of the film, and it isn't until the conclusion that the theme of the film unfolds.

Directors Geffen and Keret employ gentle magical reslism, most notably in the form of a mysterious little girl who appears from out of the sea to Batia and leads her without speaking to a path of realization. To tell anymore of the plot would surely take away from the enjoyment of watching things play out while enjoying the film. This is a delightful film, worthy of the accolades it has already achieved, and definitely worth the time of any Chlotrudis member to see it.

PING PONG PLAYA' (USA; 96 min.)

director: Jessica Yu

cast: Jimmy Tsai, Smith Cho, Khary Payton, Roger Fan, Peter Paige, Jim Lau, Elizabeth Sung

Who would have thought that the first feature narrative by filmmaker Jessica Yu, the brilliant documentarian responsible for IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL and PROTAGONIST, would be a wacky comedy in the vein of THE BAD NEWS BEARS? Co-written by the film's star, Jimmy Tsai, PING PONG PLAYA' hits all the right notes of the genre but more, it's comedy, and it's a film created by and starring Asian-Americans, with many of the issues and stereotype subtly woven into the story.

Christopher "C-dub" Wang dreams of being a professional basketball player, but his victories over the little kids in the neighborhood hardly qualify him for a star player. His mother teaches ping pong at the local community center, while his father runs a local ping pong supply shop, which is successful because C-dub's older brother Michael wins the ping pong championship year after year keeping the supply of students to the school flowing. When Michael and their mom are injured in a minor car accident, it falls to "C-dub" to take over the ping pong classes, and to compete in the championships. Sounds a little silly, but Yu and Tsai have written a script that's just flat out funny. At it's best, PING PONG PLAYA' is reminiscent of the films of Christopher Guest, spoofing a genre that is slightly ridiculous to start with. Even when it stumbles it merely falls to the level of the usual Hollywood sports movie genre.

The cast helps to elevate PING PONG PLAYA' above the usual fare. Jimmy Tsai, not an actor, or even a screenwriter, by trade but an accountant for the production company, does a good job making "C-dub" annoyingly ridiculous, but with a good heart. Jim Lau and Elizabeth Sung turn in fine comedic performances as the parents. Peter Paige (CHILDSTAR; "Queer As Folk") turns in a despicably amusing performance as "C-dub's" ping pong rival, and the actress (I couldn't find her on the cast list at imdb) who played the Ping Pong official is near brilliant. Even the typically stock character of the love interest is elevated into an interesting part as played by Smith Cho.

Okay, it's not a brilliant movie, but it is a thoroughly entertaining film that proves that Jessica Yu is one talented filmmaker capable to handling a wide variety of genres. So see PING PONG PLAYA' if you're in the mood for some wacky comedy... and see PROTAGONIST to see a truly brilliant documentary.

SILK (Canada/Italy/Japan; 112 min.)

director: François Girard

cast: Michael Pitt, Keira Knightley, Alfred Molina, Koji Yakusho, Mark Rendell, Miki Nakatani, Callum Keith Rennie

For his first film since THE RED VIOLIN, François Girard has chosen an historical romance that is masquerading as a sweeping epic. Based on a novel by Alessandro Baricco, SILK is the story of the silk-trade in 19th century Italy, and the man, Herve Joncour (Michael Pitt), who procured the silkworms from the mysterious and barbaric island of Japan for his village's silk mills. Happily married to the lovely Helene (Keira Knightley), Herve makes his first trip rather reluctantly, pressured by Baldabiou (Alfred Molina), the man who built the silk factory. While in Japan, he meets the local baron, and his captivating mistress, who snares him with her mysterious spell. Subsequent trips are undertaken eagerly by Herve, in the hopes of furthering his relationship with the mysterious Japanese woman with whom he becomes obsessed.

SILK is a gorgeous film, with lush Italian gardens, stark Russian steppes, and elegant Japanese landscapes filmed for maximum effect (we see plenty of them as Herve travels back and forth to Japan.) Ultimately, despite the epic feel of the film, we are left with a pretty unsatisfying story... at least the one presented on the screen. A happily married man encounters a mysterious and beautiful Japanese woman who doesn't speak a word to him, and he's willing to cheat on his wife with her, after which he becomes obsessed. This is the kind of film where everyone speaks in hushed tones, and somebody is going to come down with the dreaded swooning disease. The cast is a mixed bag, with the two leads, Michael Pitt and Keira Knightley looking pretty but unable to convey the necessary emotions to make the film convincing. They also lack any energy giving the overal film a lethargic feel. There are a handful of supporting characters who fare slightly better, most notably Miki Nakatani as Madame Blanche, a powerful madame in France, who fires up the screen with her presence. Kôji Yakusho (BABEL; SHALL WE DANCE) keeps things interesting as the Japanese baron; Callum Keith Rennie turns in a lively appearance as a gun runner that Herve meets in Japan; Alfred Molina provides some life as the mill owner; and Mark Rendall (the titular character in CHILDSTAR) has grown up some to play the often referred to but rarely seen, Ludovic.

The lethargy of SILK makes me think that Girard needs his former writing partner (Mr. Don McKellar - with whom he co-wrote both THE RED VIOLIN and 32 SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD) to keep his screenplay's interesting. Not that SILK is a bad film, there's a lot of talented filmmaking on display here; it's just not entirely successful either. Unfortunately it's the screenplay and the two high profile leads that are the weak points in this SILK.

After the movies, the fun really started, as we joined Don & Tracy for a couple of parties. First stop was the ALL HAT party, a film that Tracy was in, but unfortunately her character was cut out of because it was too confusing. This modern, noir/western's after-party was at at country-western bar complete with a live band that would have been right at home at the Brattle's Trailer Treats Party. Star Luke Kirby ("Slings & Arrows") was in attendance, as was our friend (and Ellen Page's agent) Kish. We met the director of ALL HAT as well, Leonard Farlinger, who also acted as a producer for MONKEY WARFARE. We didn't stay long at the ALL HAT party, as Tracy was hungry and there was no food. So we hopped into a cab and headed to the famous Drake Hotel and the SILK party. In addition to the open bar and delicious cheese, the SILK party featured grilled cornbread and cole slaw! Several minutes was spent in discussion with Don about the merits or lack thereof of cole slaw as a party appetizer. The party space was small and crowded, and we arrived fairly late, but there were some recognizable faces there, including Michael Pitt, and Sei Ashina, who played the beautiful Japanese mistress. Director François Girard was much younger looking close up that he was on stage at the Visa Screening Room, and pretty cute too. Turns out he's one year younger than me. Got back to the hotel very late, but felt like I was truly a part of the Film Festival experience, party-hopping and all. More to come.

Bruce Weighs In: Day 5 at TIFF 07

Toronto 2007 is absolutely an embarrassment of riches (measured in cats, of course). No filmgoing experience could be more exhilarating. 3 cats is the lowest rating for any of the 16 films I’ve seen so far. And almost all the other Chlotrudis members are having above average viewing experiences as well.

As usual, I’ve tried to mix things up on the international scene with a schedule that covers 19 countries in 24 films. This year Cannes seemed to have a greater than usual influence on my choices. During the past few days tweaked my original schedule only slightly although every time someone raves about a film I’ve not seen I am tempted to try to squeeze it in. Here is a list the films I’ve seen so far ordered by cats. I will do my best to write a review for each film.

5 cats

  • 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS and 2 DAYS (Cristian Mungiu) Romania
  • MY WINNIPEG (Guy Maddin) Canada

4.5 cats

  • THE BANISHMENT (Andrei Zvyagintsev) Russia
  • LES CHANSONS D’AMOUR (Christophe Honoré) France
  • JUNO (Jason Reitman) USA
  • THE MAN FROM LONDON (Béla Tarr) Hungary
  • WITH YOUR PERMISSION (Paprika Steen) Denmark

4 cats

  • THE BAND’S VISIT (Eran Kolerin) Israel
  • HOLLYWOOD CHINESE (Arthur Dong) USA
  • LOVE COMES LATELY (Jan Schütte) Germany
  • SLINGSHOT (Brilliante Mendoza) Phillipines
  • UNE VIEILLE MAїTRESSE, (Catherine Breillat) France

3.5 cats

  • A JIHAD FOR LOVE (Parvez Sharma) USA
  • PLOY (Pen-ek Ratanaruang) Thailand
  • SECRET SUNSHINE (Lee Chang-dong) South Korea

3 cats

  • THE PAST (Hector Babenco) Argentina

posted for Bruce K.