Friday, September 28, 2007

TIFF Movie Haikus

If you scroll down over the past month you'll see that I've now added my movie haikus and ratings for all of the thirty-odd films I saw while in Toronto.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Movie Haiku - Shoot 'Em Up

Dir: Michael Davis

Cast: Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Stephen McHattie

Rescues new baby
shoot mid-shag or in mid-air
or uses carrots

soulmining: ***

Movie Haiku - Death Proof

Dir: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd

Kills girls with his car
after added lapdance scene
next victims fight back

soulmining rating: ****

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Movie Haiku - Le Serpent

Dir: Eric Barbier

Cast: Yvan Attal, Clovis Cornillac, Pierre Richard, Olga Kurylenko

Blackmail and murder
man aims to destroy his life
this snake not on plane

soulmining rating: ****

Movie Haiku - Run, Fat Boy, Run

Dir: David Schwimmer

Cast: Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton, Dylan Moran, Hank Azaria

Enters marathon
to win back girl he jilted
no Lola this time

soulmining rating: ***

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


The Duke Spirit return with a new EP in October and a UK tour in November - I will be going to see them play at the new London venue, 229.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Play It Cool in September

I'll be honest, music has really taken a back seat this month. I didn't even have a music player with me in Toronto... A few of these discs will have appeared in previous months, but that's just the way it is this month. Should be some new stuff next time... Here's my picks then:
  • The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Bravery Repetition And Noise (A Records)
  • Bat For Lashes - Fur And Gold (One Little Indian)
  • The Sounds - Dying To Say This To You (Korova)
  • Feist - The Reminder (Polydor)
  • Remi Nicole - Fed Up (Island) single

Sunday, September 16, 2007

TIFF Day 10 (Saturday)

Festival t-shirts

Ten days and over thirty films later, TIFF finally comes to a close for me. There were no P&I screenings on the final day but nonetheless I was still up at 7am as I wanted to catch the live Premiership football at one of the nearby pubs. I must be mad...

After a little nap I popped over to the main TIFF Box Office as I'd decided that I should purchase one of the hefty Programme Guides as a memento - alas they were already sold out, so instead I had to frantically dash down to the College Box Office where I was told they had just five remaining.

TIFF Programme Guide

I also took the opportunity to do a little more shopping, picking up DVDs of Disturbia and Black Snake Moan for $10 each.

There was nothing much left in the Public Screenings that I wanted to see, so instead I caught the subway to the Scotiabank Theatre where they were showing a sneak preview of Peter Berg's The Kingdom. It's a typically pro-American thriller following a team of FBI agents (played by Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) on the trail of terrorists in Saudi Arabia. It's a solid action picture with an able cast, but suffers from a similar fate as The Bourne Ultimatum, with director Berg unable to keep the camera still for a moment. You'd be well advised to avoid sitting in the front few rows for this one, especially if you're prone to motion sickness.

A l'interieur - with co-director Alexandre Bustillo

A l'interieur - with co-director Julien Maury

The final Midnight Madness film was the pure French horror of A l'interieur (Inside) which I'd already seen at the P&I screening on Wednesday. The atmosphere at the Ryerson was even more rowdy than usual, with the whole crowd engaging in a game of keepy-uppy with a beachball for a full twenty minutes before Colin Geddes and the two directors took to the stage to introduce the film. Colin was sporting a black eye patch in reference to the running joke about piracy - the whole audience shouting "Arrrrrrrr!" each time the anti-piracy warning was displayed on screen.

A l'interieur is up there with its French counterpart Frontiere(s) as my favourite film of the festival. Watching it with a packed audience was a joy in itself, hearing the collective groans and repeated exclamations of, "Oh my God!" and "Oh shit!". The movie has a very simple set up; a pregnant woman Sarah (Alysson Paradis, sister of Vanessa) is at home on Christmas Eve, the day before her baby is due, when there's a knock at the door. The sinister black-clad woman (Beatrice Dalle) outside seems to know everything about Sarah. More importantly she wants Sarah's baby, and nothing or no-one is going to stand in her way. So begins a terrifying game of cat and mouse which paints the screen red with its copious bloodletting. Both actresses give incredibly powerful performances, with Dalle portraying one of the most monstrous female characters to ever grace our screens in a singularly controlled manner. The directorial duo of Bustillo & Maury do everything right in their first feature, keeping it tense throughout and employing an unsettling mix of sound design and music. It's a shocking debut which knows no boundaries and will leave you a quivering wreck afterwards, A l'interieur is an outstanding, uncompromising piece of cinematic terror.

Colin Geddes and Me

After the Q&A Colin invited a group of us - including the directors - back to his place for drinks, so we piled in a few cabs and headed out to his flat where we partied until the early hours. A fantastic end to what has been a fantastic festival experience.

As a final footnote, Cronenberg's Eastern Promises won the Audience Award at this year's festival it was announced last night.

Movie Haiku - The Kingdom

Dir: Peter Berg

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman

Team go to Saudi
they're looking for terrorists
shaky-cam attack

soulmining rating: ***

Saturday, September 15, 2007

TIFF Day 9 (Friday)

The penultimate day of the festival and it was noticeably quieter now that most of the Press & Industry people have departed. There were just a scattering of P&I screenings available for the morning session, so I decided to check out The Babysitters, the directorial debut from David Ross. It concerns a sixteen year old girl Shirley (the excellent Katherine Waterson) who earns cash from babysitting in the local neighbourhood. When she begins a relationship with one of the fathers (John Leguizamo) and he tips her handsomely, her business nous kicks in and she starts up a discreet call girl service with her college friends to satisfy the needs of Michael and his friends. It's morally questionable whether such a contentious subject should be the basis on which to be entertained, yet The Babysitters is an engrossing tale full of convincing performances. It doesn't play as a broad comedy, nor does it preach a moral message, it's just a captivating drama peppered by moments of black humour. And any film that can keep me wide awake at 9:30 in the morning, battling a raging hangover, deserves my full respect.

I bumped into Ian and his Dad sitting outside the local pub at lunchtime, so joined them for a drink before we said our goodbyes and they headed for the airport.

City Hall, Toronto

I spent my afternoon walking the streets in downtown Toronto as it was such a sunny day. Having visited the city before sightseeing wasn't top of my agenda, I was simply happy to be out browsing around the shops. I found a cool little place on Queen Street West called The Darkside which specialises in horror-themed clothing and stocked a wide range of horror tees. They even had one with the artwork for Night Of The Creeps emblazoned across the front, alas they didn't have my size. Amazingly for such a movie junkie like myself I've only purchased one DVD in the whole time that I've been here - an ex-rental copy of Turistas (Paradise Lost) which I picked up for $10.

Hitoshi Matsumoto stars in Dai Nipponjin

In the evening I headed down to the Ryerson for the Midnight Madness screening of Dai Nipponjin. Offbeat and obscure, I wasn't expecting this one to be terribly busy, but boy was I mistaken! There was a huge rush line snaking along Gerard Street and apparently the ticket scalpers were demanding $100 for a $20 ticket! Thankfully Colin was on hand to get me inside and I took my place in the Reserved seating alongside the other guests - meeting up with Sanjay and Alison who I'd bumped into at the Midnight Madness party the night before.

Dai Nipponjin
came as a complete surprise to me. At nearly two hours long I'd heard that it was a really slow film, but despite the late hour it held my attention from the start and seemed to breeze by in record time. The film follows Daisato (Hitoshi Matsumoto, who also directs) an unlikely Japanese superhero as he's trailed by a documentary filmmaker. His interviews are so dry and deadpan - confessing his love for umbrellas, "Because they expand when you need them" - that it comes as no surprise to discover that Matsumoto is a huge television comedy star in Japan. The real laughs come when Daisato is called into action and transforms into the hulking purple-pants wearing Dai Nipponjin, defending the country against all manner of outlandish CGI baddies (Jumpy Baddie, Smelly Baddie etc.) culminating in an eye-wetting finale when he's forced to team up with a family of superheroes loosely based on the Ultraman characters. It's a winning take on the genre dominated by a terrific turn by Matsumoto in the starring role. At the end of the film Colin returned to the stage with video camera in hand to record the crowd's reaction in an effort to persuade the director to fly over to Toronto in person with his next movie!

TIFF Movie Haiku - Dai-Nipponjin

Dir: Hitoshi Matsumoto

Cast: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Riki Takeuchi, UA, Ryunosuke Kamiki

Wears large purple pants
protects Japan from baddies
he likes umbrellas

soulmining rating: ****

TIFF Movie Haiku - The Babysitters

Dir: David Ross

Cast: John Leguizamo, Katherine Waterston, Cynthia Nixon, Andy Comeau

Bright young college girl
starts call-girl service for dads
moral discomfort

soulmining rating: ****

Friday, September 14, 2007

TIFF Day 8 (Thursday)

P&I screening schedule boards at the Varsity

Thursday was the last full day of P&I screenings, although the schedule wasn't quite as heavy as it was at the start of the festival. Nevertheless, with fewer films to choose from this meant that each screening was busy - noticeably busier than the last couple of days at least. I didn't get up in time to see Ernie Barbarash's Canadian horror They Wait, although from what I'd heard from the FrightFest team it was nothing special. So instead my first film of the day was Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai's Mad Detective. The prolific Johnnie To (his output is surpassed only by Takashi Miike one would imagine) has been on somewhat of a roll recently, delivering Triangle, Exiled and both Election films within the last two years and has become one of the leading figures in HK cinema today. Sadly his latest flick Mad Detective is one of his weakest. It's a fun concept - cop is able to detect killers by seeing their inner personalities - and makes for some amusing moments as the titular character really does live up to his name. However again the plot is rather pedestrian and never injects enough intrigue or excitement to keep the viewer's attention. There's a few nice visuals - multiple personalities being reflected in a broken mirror - but these never compensate for the story's shortcomings.

Twitch head honcho Todd Brown and Me

I bumped into Todd from Twitch as I came out of Mad Detective so we decided to get lunch together. We'd talked briefly at a couple of the Midnight Madness screenings but it was nice to have an hour or so to just relax and exhange opinions on everything from Hong Kong cinema, Doctor Who and British comedy. A hugely knowledgeable and likeable chap.

My other movie of the day was The Passage from first time Brit helmer Mark Heller. Joining the ranks of the traveller-in-peril sub-genre this one has two backpackers, Luke (Stephen Dorff) and Adam (Neil Jackson - who also wrote the script) on holiday in Morocco. Luke hooks up with a local girl Zahara and the two of them go off on a trip up to the hills where a maze of interconnecting tunnels link the local residences. The romance between Luke and Zahara seems implausible given the setting, yet Sarai Givaty gives a captivating performance and you can instantly see her allure. Heller gives some tense and effective scenes as Luke explores the tunnels with using a handful of candles and the flash from his camera to light his way. But the outcome is all too predictable and in the end The Passage comes off as an aneamic version of Paradise Lost without the pacy action which that film had.

Coming out of The Passage I bumped into Ian, so caught up with him and made arrangements to meet up before the Midnight Madness party.

Ian, Ant and Me at The Social

The Midnight Madness party took place at The Social on Queen Street West and was a very informal, laidback affair. Ian and I arrived just as Jake West and his friends pulled up in their rented Mustang. One of their party, Lorry, was celebrating her birthday so that was even more reason to knock back the free beers! It was the best party I've been to during my time at TIFF with lots of our new friends all there, Colin Geddes and his right hand man Chris working the room as the hosts with the most.

Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury, directors of A l'interieur

I caught up with Russ Fischer who writes for Chud (another genre website) and his pals Ned (a film programmer) and Troy (who directed the short film Latchkey's Lament, screening at the festival). Adam Mason and his crew then arrived so I had a short chat with Andrew Howard who plays the lead role in The Devil's Chair - the poor guy was suffering badly and was booked for some emergency root canal work in the morning. He begins filming on Adam's new film Blood Rivers in Nevada shortly, and they should be casting next week. Jake chatted to me about his forthcoming film Doghouse which is currently in pre-production, based on a story by comic artist Dan Schaffer, then introduced me to Alexandre Bustillo, one of the directors of A l'interieur. I spoke to him at length about the merits of his film and especially the performance of Beatrice Dalle, and he revealed that she enjoyed working on the film so much and wants to be involved in all of their future projects, even if she just has to play a dead body!

Johanna, Paul, Chris, Ian and Me

We were joined by Paul and Johanna later who'd been over at George A. Romero's house for a few drinks and I chatted with Diary Of The Dead's line producer Paula Devonshire and Josh Blankman who worked as George's assistant on the film.

The party started to wind down around 10pm so we then jumped into a cab and headed over to The 5th Element on Bay Street where there was another party happening for Time To Die, one of the Polish films screening at TIFF. By the time we arrived it was very quiet but they were still serving free wine, so we grabbed a table outside with Ant, Russ, Ned and Troy. I knew I'd regret mixing wine with beer and spirits in the morning, but when in Toronto... Having already seen Flash Point the day before, we skipped the Midnight Madness screening (although sadly missed seeing director Wilson Yip and star Donnie Yen who were in town) and stayed out drinking until they closed the bar. It was an excellent evening, tinged with a little sadness as this was the last night for the majority of our party. Tomorrow most of them fly home, but yours truly will be sticking around until the bitter end... so I'll be back again tomorrow, hangover and all.

TIFF Movie Haiku - The Passage

Dir: Mark Heller

Cast: Stephen Dorff, Neil Jackson, Sarai Givaty, Khalid Benchegra

Meets Moroccan girl
takes him up to the mountains
bad stuff in tunnels

soulmining rating: ***

TIFF Movie Haiku - Mad Detective

Dir: Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai

Cast: Lau Ching-wan, Andy On, Lee Kwon Lun, Lam Ka Tung

Unorthodox cop
sees people's inner demons
cuts off his own ear

soulmining rating: ***

Thursday, September 13, 2007

TIFF Day 7 (Wednesday)

The Devil's Chair - producer Patrick Ewald, director Adam Mason and actor Andrew Howard

A busy day ahead with five screenings to take in before TIFF starts to wind down. First on the agenda for me was Garth Jenning's Son Of Rambow showing over at the Cumberland. Set in the mid-eighties, and full of the music and fashion of that era, it's a comic tale about two lads who set about making their very own Rambo home movie in an attempt to get onto BBC's Screen Test programme. Jennings - who made The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy movie - really captures how it was to be a kid back then, and there are numerous nods and references to things I'd long forgotten about, which I'm sure many will relate to. The young cast embrace their roles with gusto and the actual film-within-a-film footage is splendid, especially Will's reckless stunt work and the use of some French exchange students. Support comes from well loved faces like Jessica Stevenson and Eric Sykes (his role as Rambo in the film is priceless) plus there are cameos from Adam Buxton and Edgar Wright as a couple of teachers. It's a very likeable film about growing up and friendship and gets the thumbs up from me.

After a quick visit to the Press room at the Sutton where I bumped into a weary-looking Ian, I headed off to the Varsity to see Wilson Yip's Flash Point. The film is playing on Thursday night at Midnight Madness, but since weve all been invited to a party that evening it seemed like a wise idea to catch the P&I screening - hence I met up with Paul, Johanna, Ant, Bruce and Darlene inside. Flash Point, like all of the Hong Kong movies screened this year, was a little disappointing. Set prior to the HK takeover, it's a fairly standard thriller about an agent fighting against a Vietnamese gang. The fight scenes are well done, as you'd expect from Donnie Yen - one of the current masters of the genre - and feature mixed martial arts, heavily influenced by UFC style fighting. The narritive side though is severely lacking and your left with an identikit picture which could have been made fifteen years ago - a major step backwards after the previous Yip/Yen collaborations S.P.L. and Dragon Tiger Gate.

Our little group reconvened again later in the afternoon for the screening of A l'interieur but since I'm planning to see it again with Saturday's Midnight Madness crowd I will hold back my thoughts on that one until then.

From there it was straight into Robert Cuffley's Walk All Over Me, with Ant and myself grabbing the last couple of seats in the thirty-seater VIP room. Admittedly the main appeal of this Canadian feature was the lure of seeing leading ladies Leelee Sobieski and Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica) playing a pair of dominatrixes. And on that shallow level the film certainly delivered a number of eye-catching outfits which should guarantee healthy DVD rentals if they stick a suitably tittilating image on the cover. As a comedy-thriller however the film was a bit lacking, never quite as comic or quite as thrilling as it needed to be, revolving around a routine plot involving stolen money. Avarage but watchable, mainly due to the two leads.

Lorry, Adam, Jake, Johanna and Paul at the Imperial Pub

In the evening we arranged to meet up in The Imperial Pub, one of regular hangouts prior to the Midnight Madness screenings. I got there to find it heaving with film folk already, with most of our regular gang all present along with Jake West's crowd and Adam Mason and his entourage, ahead of his film's premiere. I had a quick chat with Adam, then spent a long while dissecting the day's films with Bruce and Darlene, before it was time to stroll along to the Ryerson. We all got the red carpet treatment and it was fun watching Adam and lead actor Andrew Howard doing all the Press and television interviews. Adam's parents were there too, so it was nice running into his Mum again who remembered me from the Broken screening at FrightFest last year!

The Devil's Chair - Adam Mason on the red carpet

I'd heard some negative buzz about The Devil's Chair from the P&I screening so was quite apprehensive about watching the film with a packed audience, but in fact it played fine. Nick West (Howard) loses his girlfriend after she encounters the titular chair in an abandoned asylum. Four years later West is released, but on the condition that he returns to the scene of the crime with his psychiatrist and several students in tow who are planning to write about his case. It's a more ambitious film for Mason and succeeds on some levels - his directorial craft continues to improve with each feature, and the effects are good for a low budget film. Best of all is the effective score, mixing the industrial sounds of Mortiis with cellist Zoe Keating. However the film does suffer from slow pacing and some variable performances, although Matt Berry as camera operator Brett is good value. My main issue comes from the constant use of voiceover and freeze-frame which saturates the picture; there is a reason for this, but by the time it's revealed it risks alienating the audience. Totally different from the intensity of Broken, The Devil's Chair is a parody of eighties monster movies and plays best as a comedy, but only really works if you're aware of this beforehand.

TIFF Movie Haiku - The Devil's Chair

Dir: Adam Mason

Cast: Andrew Howard, Elize du Toit, Matt Berry, Louise Griffiths

Don't sit in the chair
takes them to new dimension
where horror awaits

soulmining rating: **

TIFF Movie Haiku - Walk All Over Me

Dir: Robert Cuffley

Cast: Leelee Sobieski, Tricia Helfer, Lothaire Bluteau, Jacob Tierney

Comic crime caper
flatmate is dominatrix
I liked the costumes

soulmining rating: ***

TIFF Movie Haiku - A l'interieur (Inside)

Dir: Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury

Cast: Alysson Paradis, Beatrice Dalle, Nathalie Roussel, Francois-Regis Marchasson

She's very pregnant
the woman wants her baby
nothing will stop her

soulmining rating: *****

TIFF Movie Haiku - Flash Point

Dir: Wilson Yip

Cast: Donnie Yen, Louis Koo, Collin Chou, Lui Leung-wai

Cop is hot-headed
friend hurt after cover blown
cue lots of fighting

soulmining rating: ***

TIFF Movie Haiku - Son Of Rambow

Dir: Garth Jennings

Cast: Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jules Sitruk, Jessica Stevenson

Kids in the eighties
they make Rambo home movie
do all their own stunts

soulmining rating: ****

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

TIFF Day 6 (Tuesday)

Yonge Street, downtown Toronto

I'm now into the latter half of my TIFF experience and already things are starting to quieten down, with the screenings seeming less busy than they were at the start of the festival. Before I continue with my moviegoing, I should update you on a few news snippets regarding some of the films I've already seen. King Of The Hill and Diary Of The Dead have both been picked up for US distribution by the Weinstein Company, with Optimum releasing both titles in the UK. Meanwhile Eastern Promises has emerged the critics choice here with the eight-strong Screen Jury scoring it an average 3.1 out of 4.

Onto Tuesday's screenings... well, it had to happen sooner or later - I overslept, thereby missing Woody Allen's new film Cassandra's Dream which stars Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor. A quick shuffle of my schedule and I picked Alexi Tan's Blood Brothers which I'd originally planned to see later in the evening. Produced by the heavyweight team of John Woo and Terence Chang, Blood Brothers is a period crime drama set in 1930's Shanghai taking its inspiration from Woo's own Bullet In The Head. Three friends move to the big city and get drawn into the gangster underworld whilst working at the Paradise Club where Lulu (the lovely Shu Qi) is the resident singer. It's a familiar story highlighting the disintegration of their relationship as they're forced to choose sides between the crime boss and their disloyal friends. Engaging for the most part, it's a shame that the film feels the need to climax in a hail of bullets which undoes a lot of the good work that has come before it.

Next I selected the Austrian comedy Forever Never Anywhere directed by Antonin Svoboda. Almost a companion piece to Stuart Gordon's Stuck, this is about three middle-aged guys who find themselves trapped in a car after they crash down a mountain. The car - which used to belong to former Austrian president Kurt Waldheim - ends wedged between two tree trunks, and with all the electrics out, there's no means of escape. Their saviour appears to be a young schoolboy who stumbles across their car, but instead he decides to use the men as live guinea pigs for his studies. It's a nice idea which offers up plenty of comic potential, but sadly misses the target as often as it hits. It's a shame to say, but I couldn't help feeling that this is one film which might actually work better as a remake.

Night Of The Creeps comes to Toronto!

After Forever Never Anywhere finished I hit the wall, exhausted from all the movies I've seen over the past few days. Skipping Gillian Anderson's Houdini pic Death Defying Acts, instead I decided to get out and see a bit of the city. One thing I spied during my stroll downtown was a flyer advertising a screening of Night Of The Creeps with director Fred Dekker in attendance - so I was gutted to read that it's taking place next week, a few days after I leave.

Me, ahem, stuck in a lift

I had a little adventure of my own when I got back to the hotel. I took the lift up to the 11th floor as usual... and couldn't get out. The door refused to open, so I was forced to sound the alarm and an engineer had to come out to free me. In the end I was stuck in the lift for 35 minutes, much to the amusement of Ian who was able to talk to me through the door from outside in the hallway. Well, there's a first time for everything I suppose - good job I'm not claustrophobic, huh?

Me, Ant, Paul, Bruce, Johanna and Mitch at The Foxes Den

After my elevator incident I was ready for a stiff drink, so it was perfect planning that we had a gathering arranged at The Foxes Den on Bay Street. Most of our regular crowd were there including Ant Timpson, Bruce Fletcher and Mitch Davis, plus we were joined later by Jake West (Evil Aliens) and friends who'd just flown in from Los Angeles. Hanging out with this crowd was just what I needed and I think everyone enjoyed swapping stories. I'm still not sure who (if anyone) paid our huge bar tab but the staff told us it had been taken care of when we asked, so we didn't persue it any further!

Sukiyaki Western Django - your feedback is welcomed

As midnight approached most of our group were planning to go on to some Latin American Movie party downtown, so Mitch and I said our goodbyes and caught a cab to the Ryerson as we both felt we had to see Sukiyaki Western Django, the latest film from the maverick Japanese director Takashi Miike. Sadly Miike wasn't there in person, but a couple of his actors were, and he had recorded a specially recorded intro in which he gave out his email address so that we could all send him our comments on the film. Typically weird, typically Miike. Let's clear this up right away, the only link to the original Django films is the theme music (used at the end) and Miike's end coda which reveals that the kid in the film goes off to Italy and changes his name to Django! Miike's recent output - The Great Yokai War aside - has been underwhelming, and sadly Sukiyaki Western Django continues his slump. Frankly it's an absurd mess; the narrative is impenetratable and for the most part I had no clear idea who the characters were or what they were trying to achieve. The biggest issue however is that Miike has chosen to shoot it in English, with all the actors speaking phonetically. I have to assume this is wholly intentional, but it does mean that as a direct result it plays like a comedy, plus it requires English subtitles throughout. Visually it's fine, and there are one or two neat moments, plus a bizarre cameo from Quentin Tarantino, but on the whole it left me baffled. Still, I have to say that the atmosphere was amazing - it had sold more tickets that the Argento and the Romero films - and the packed Midnight Madness crowd generally seemed to enjoy it.

TIFF Movie Haiku - Sukiyaki Western Django

Dir: Takashi Miike

Cast: Hideaki Ito, Yusuke Iseya, Teruyuki Kagawa, Quentin Tarantino

All speak bad English
no clue what is going on
despite subtitles

soulmining rating: **

TIFF Movie Haiku - Forever Never Anywhere

Dir: Antonin Svoboda

Cast: Christoph Grissemann, Dirk Stermann, Heinz Strunk, Philip Bialowski

Three men in a car
wedged tight between two tree trunks
lab rats for young boy

soulmining rating: **

TIFF Movie Haiku - Blood Brothers

Dir: Alexi Tan

Cast: Daniel Wu, Chang Chen, Shu Qi, Liu Ye

Three friends in Shanghai
do dirty work for crime gang
fight for club singer

soulmining rating: ***

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

TIFF Day 5 (Monday)

Stuck - Stuart Gordon and Mena Suvari

Monday gave me my first lie since arriving. I'd decided to miss the early screening of Kenneth Branagh's Sleuth remake as a) it's supposed to be bad, and b) Ian and I had other plans. Since we'd overheard that there was to be a second private screening of Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza's [Rec] that morning, we decided to investigate. We weren't the only ones... on arrival at the Technicolor screening room on Peter Street we were greeted by Ant, Bruce and Mitch who'd all had the same idea as us! We got in okay and were then presented with a classic Kodak moment as Ant took one of the luxurious reclining seats... which totally collapsed leaving the poor guy floundering, staring at the ceiling. Even the reserved Japanese girl seated to our right couldn't prevent herself from giggling behind her hands.

Hilarity over, and on with [Rec] which turned out to be every bit as good as Paul had told us. Angela (Manuela Velasco) is a reporter, following the night shift at the local fire station with her trusty cameraman. They tag along when the firemen are called to an apartment block where the other residents have heard screams coming from an elderly lady's flat. And then all hell breaks loose! The documentary style is nothing new, but is done really well here, the handheld shots really reflecting the panic when the situation descends into chaos. Even better, the absence of any musical score means that you're totally reliant on natural sounds, so there are no cues as to when the shock moments are going to happen - and believe me, there are plenty of them in this movie. 28 Weeks Later is an obvious comparison, but I found it most similar in tone to Right At Your Door, and if there is to be any criticism levelled towards [Rec] then it is that if offers almost too much explanation for what is going on, where perhaps less would have been more. A difficult sell to the muliplex crowd, but definitely one of the best and most original horror approaches I've seen this year - and it goes without saying, the inevitable Hollywood remake is already being planned.

The ever growing pile of Press booklets

Leaving Ian and Mitch downtown, I caught a cab with Ant and Bruce as we headed back to the Manulife Centre for the afternoon's cinematic selections. I picked Lee Kang-sheng's Help Me Eros, a Taiwanese film about a suicidal guy who grows marijuana plants and hangs out with the girls at the local nut stands. He's also addicted to a telephone helpline and begins to stalk his operator, not realising that it's the girl's bigger friend who is actually his handler. It's a slow character piece, beautifully shot, full of neon lights and recurring themes of exotic food and sexuality.

Next up was Hans Weingartner's media satire Reclaim Your Brain. Moritz Bleibtrau (Run Lola Run) plays an obnoxious television executive who commissions the dumbest programmes such as a reality show based on the Titanic. After a major car accident (this year's most repeated scene - see also Stuck later) he totally re-evaluates his life and sets about a guerrila campaign to manipulate the ratings and get intelligent programmes back on the screen. If this had been a pacy, slapstick approach to the subject matter then I might have stuck with it, but unfortunately after a promising start it lost its bite and so I walked out.

I bumped into Ian, Paul and Johanna back at our hotel - they were going out to a Japanese film party somewhere downtown - then had some food and walked along to the Cumberland. Perhaps one of the more surprising selections for the Gala treatment at TIFF this year is Renny Harlin's Cleaner, bearing in mind his recent track record with The Covenant, Exorcist: The Beginning and the woeful Mindhunters. With his new film he wisely goes back to basics, crafting a film that is more about the characters than it is the action. Samuel L. Jackson plays the titular Cleaner, an ex-cop who cleans up the blood and body matter after a death. Cleaner is a routine thriller, but the performances are solid and there's some nice directorial flourishes and a breezy score. A decent DVD rental rather than a theatrical experience methinks.

Stuck - Stuart Gordon and Mena Suvari with Colin Geddes

Finally it was a quick dash down to the Ryerson for the latest Midnight Madness screening, Stuart Gordon's Stuck. The director was present along with actress Mena Suvari and a number of other cast members to introduce the film and take part in a Q&A after the screening. Brandi (Suvari) is a care worker who panics after hitting a homeless guy Tom (Stephen Rea) while driving home after a party. With Tom still caught in the windshield she drives home and locks the car in the garage, terrified of what she's done. Despite Tom's pleas for help she refuses to call 911 and the longer it goes on she realises that she can't allow him to escape. Stuck is a pitch black comedy which - you might be surprised to learn - really is based on a true story, although the ending has been changed here for dramatic purposes. Some of the comedic moments (involving Brandi's boyfriend and best friend) are hit and miss, but the scenes between Brandi and Tom are well played and there are a couple of delightfully unpleasant moments.

As a postscript to the Q&A, the long-mooted House Of Re-Animator (The White House set sequel starring William H. Macy) looks like it won't be happening since they're finding it impossible to raise the investment required with the political nature of the screenplay.

TIFF Movie Haiku - Stuck

Dir: Stuart Gordon

Cast: Stephen Rea, Mena Suvari, Russell Hornsby, Rukiya Bernard

Wedged in the windshield
she panics and drives straight home
can't let him escape

soulmining rating: ***

TIFF Movie Haiku - Cleaner

Dir: Renny Harlin

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, Eva Mendes, Luis Guzman

Cleans up blood and gore
she didn't book his service
so now he's been framed

soulmining rating: ***

TIFF Movie Haiku - Reclaim Your Brain

Dir: Hans Weingartner

Cast: Moritz Bliebtreu, Elsa Schultz Gambard, Milan Peschel, Gregor Bloeb

He makes trash TV
car crash alters his viewpoint
massage the ratings

soulmining rating: *

TIFF Movie Haiku - Help Me Eros

Dir: Lee Kang-sheng

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

Shags betel nut girl
stalks helpline operator
she has bath with eels

soulmining rating: ***

Movie Haiku - [Rec]

Dir: Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza

Cast: Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano, Carlos Lasarte

Follow the firemen
panic in the apartments
always keep filming

soulmining rating: *****

Monday, September 10, 2007

TIFF Day 4 (Sunday)

Elizabeth: The Golden Age - Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett, Shekhar Kapur, Clive Owen and Abbie Cornish

Another day, another early start. First on the agenda for me was a quirky comedy entitled Lars And The Real Girl. It's about a loner (Ryan Gosling) who has a relationship with a sex doll. But wait a minute, this isn't what you expect... it's not a smutty gross-out comedy at all. Lars is actually suffering a delusion after struggling to cope with some family trauma, so in fact what you have here is a sad yet warm-hearted tale of a guy working through his personal issues with the support of the community around him. Sure, with a set up like this there are plenty of humourous situations, but the film never goes for the easy laughs. It's also to the film's credit that the whole cast play it straight, with Ryan Gosling delivering an exceptional performance which will probably get overlooked due to the unusual subject matter. Director Craig Gillespie also manages to make Bianca (the doll) feel like a real character which is quite some achievement. Lars And The Real Girl is one of the best films I've seen in my time at TIFF and I hope it's able to secure a theatrical release and reach a wide audience, it really deserves to.

With just over an hour to kill until the next batch of movies I popped down to the Sutton Hotel to see what was happening there. As luck would have it a Press Conference was scheduled for Elizabeth: The Golden Age, so I thought I may as well sit in for that. It's a shame that none of the Midnight Madness titles are afforded the Press Conference treatment (Eastern Promises is about the closest to my beloved genre as it gets this year) but it's a rare privilege to be able to hear A-list talent discussing their craft so in I went, and I have to concede that I did take a small amount of pleasure being sat in the front row unashamedly wearing my Zombie Diaries t-shirt. On hand for this Q&A session were director Shekhar Kapur and principal actors Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, Geoffrey Rush and Abbie Cornish. I didn't make many notes since it had no relevance to the Eat My Brains audience, but I certainly found it interesting despite not having seen the film.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age - Cate Blanchett and Abbie Cornish

At 12:30pm I had the choice of two titles - the Simon Pegg starrer Run, Fatboy, Run (currently No1 in the UK) or Pang Ho-cheung's Exodus. Sadly I picked the latter one... Why do girls always go to the Ladies in groups? Exodus takes that question as its inspiration to drive a story about a conspiracy by a network of female assasins slowly eradicating the male population. A cop (Simon Yam) investigates... blah blah blah. The thing with seeing so many films back to back is knowing when to walk out. I don't do it often, but sometimes its the only decision. After an hour of this film the plot hadn't moved forward at all so I gave up. Still, if nothing else, it did provide the oddest movie scene so far - a long tracking shot along a corridor beginning with a portrait of the Queen, then slowly panning back to reveal half a dozen blokes dressed in speedos and snorkels trying to pin down a man and hit him with a hammer. I still have no idea what the relevance of that scene was!

One thing I haven't mentioned about Toronto is the food. It's fantastic - you're spoilt for choice and the portions are so large it's rare that I finish a meal. I had a great meal at the New York Deli opposite the Manulife Centre (as recommended by Paul), then popped back to my room to take a break for an hour or two. My third film choice of the day was a Spanish thriller called King Of The Hill from the same production company behind Pan's Labyrinth and The Orphanage. Ant had seen this one earlier in the festival, so I thought it was worth a look, plus it meant I got to try one of the VIP screening rooms; very much like the luxury theatres at BKKIFF last year, these are much smaller cinemas seating up to forty people, all in comfortable surroundings. The film is a slight piece with a small cast but tells its story well. A guy has a sexual encounter with a girl at a gas station and then persues her after she steals his wallet. By the time he catches up to her they're up in the mountains and under fire by a sniper. The material is limited in scope but it manages to rack up a fair amount of tension, and there's at least one moment involving a broken bone that will make you wince.

I didn't fancy the Midnight Madness selection for Sunday night (Vexille - Japanese animation from the director of Ping Pong, although Bruce reported that it's very good) so instead I had to choose between three heavyweights - Paul Haggis's Iraq drama In The Valley Of Elah, Julie Taymor's Beatles musical Across The Universe, or Joe Wright's romantic tragedy Atonement, based on the bestselling novel by Ian McEwan. The lure of visiting a different venue (the Cumberland) eventually won out, so I opted for the latter and I reckon I made the right choice - it's a terrific drama full of strong performances which kept me fully awake despite the late hour. If you've not read the book then it's best not to spoil the plot here, suffice to say it's about a relationship between two lovers (Keira Knightley and James McAvoy) which is shattered by the actions of her younger sister. Atonement has just opened in the UK this week and is highly recommended if you fancy a change from all the blood and gore.