Toronto International Film Festival 2003
A festival report by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 2003 Evelyn C. Leeper
Table of Contents:
THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ
GAME OVER: KASPAROV AND THE MACHINE
THE FOG OF WAR
A PROBLEM WITH FEAR
LE TEMPS DU LOUP
CASA DE LOS BABYS
OUT OF TIME
NOT A FISH STORY et al
A TALKING PICTURE
GOOD BYE, DRAGON INN
THE YES MEN
THE SINGING DETECTIVE
SO FAR AWAY
MADNESS AND GENIUS
THE SNOW WALKER
THE BREAD MAKER
THE GRUDGE (JU-ON)
SAVE THE GREEN PLANET
THE BOYS FROM COUNTY CLARE
UNDEAD (and Uptown farewell)
Because we were in Toronto we got our tickets for the Toronto International Film Festival (henceforth called TIFF) the Toronto way, rather than as out-of-towners. Well, mostly--because we were out of country, they didn't mail our passes and program book vouchers to us, but had us pick them at the TIFF office.
The in-city process was this: In mid-July, we ordered a program book and two Festival Passes (good for up to fifty films each) on-line. On Tuesday, August 26, we went to the TIFF office, showed our IDs, and picked up the passes, program book, and combined schedule and ticket request booklet. The process was fairly quick, and even quicker for locals, who just handed over a voucher and got their materials in a separate line.
Then we went back to the hotel and spent the rest of the day choosing films. (Our process, if you care, is that we each read all the descriptions in the program book and assign 0, 1, 2, or 3 points to each film, depending on how much we want to see it. Then we go through the schedule chronologically, picking whatever film has the most points, but picking something for each "slot" in any case.)
The next morning we went back to the TIFF office and dropped off our requests. We made it into box 8 of 81, but since the random draw had them starting with box 30, we didn't do as well as others who handed theirs in later.
Afterwards we walked over to the Art Gallery of Toronto where we spent the entire rest of the day. After this came the World Science Fiction Convention for five days.
On Monday, September 1, we picked up our tickets on the way to our bed and breakfast. We had gotten 41 tickets out of 45 we had requested (but some were second choices), and filled in the gaps, though it was so confusing that we ended up with overlapping tickets and one film we had tickets for at two different times. (Luckily, the inability to really achieve the fifty-film limit meant that we had some extra tickets that could be wasted this way.)
Tuesday we went to the Toronto Reference Library to see the Judith Merril Science Fiction Collection. Wednesday we went to that great mystery bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street, as well as other bookstores on the way, and Thursday before the TIFF started we went to Bay Street Video, the Theatre Bookshop, and a variety of used book and CD stores.
By the way, Mark has renamed all the theaters. Instead of being the Uptown, the Varsity, the Cumberland, the Isabel Bader, and the ROM, they are the Outback, the Viagra, the Cucumber, the Isabel Ringer, and the CD-ROM.
AMERICAN SPLENDOR: Not part of the TIFF, but we went to see it a day before anyway. It's the story of Harvey Pekar, the creator of the comic book "American Splendor" and is told on many levels, with Pekar, an actor playing Pekar in the movie, an actor playing Pekar as a child in the movie, and an actor playing an actor playing Pekar on stage. An interesting character study even for people who aren't fans of the comic book. (7 out of 10)
DISTANT (Turkey, 1h50): This had gotten such good reviews that we decided to stay with it rather than try to rush the big film opening night, LES INVASIONS BARBARES. The basic plot is country cousin comes to city for job, and moves in with city cousin. Though described as influenced by Tarkovsky, I noted that at one point the city cousin puts on a Tarkovsky film to drive the country cousin out of the room. I saw some similarities to UN COEUR EN HIVER, with the main focus seeming to be the city cousin's inability to relate to or empathize with anyone else. (6 out of 10)
THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ (Canada, 2h01): This was the TIFF's major retrospective film, and my first reaction was, "Richard Dreyfuss was so young!" Set in the Jewish community of Montreal, it has similarities to other films we saw this year. Like ROSENSTRASSE, it is a "Jewish" film. Like MAMBO ITALIANO, it is set in an ethnic Montreal community. (After a few of these, one begins to wonder if Montreal has any French-Canadians.) It is also similar to films we've seen recently about low-lifes in Glasgow and other cities as well. The question-and-answer afterwards with the director was quite interesting, as he talked about the state of Canadian cinema then and now. Unfortunately, the film was not restored, and the color balance was noticeably off even within some scenes. (7 out of 10)
GAME OVER: KASPAROV AND THE MACHINE (Canada/UK, 1h30): This documentary was about the matches (particularly the last) between Grandmaster Gary Kasparov and IBM's Deep Blue. Two things I noticed were that the majority of audience were men, and the majority of the audience seemed to be rooting for Kasparov. Director Vikram Jayanti covers the implication/claim of Kasparov that IBM cheated, and even seems to support it, but doesn't provide much convincing evidence other than the idea that it would be to their benefit to do so. (8 out of 10)
MATCHSTICK MEN (US, 2h00): A lot of people have talked about how original this tale of a con artist is, but I found it to be rather predictable. Cage is good, and his portrayal of his character's emotions and motivations is technically adept, but perhaps I have seen too many films about con men to find anything here really surprising. 6 out of 10
BON VOYAGE (France, 1h54): A film about trying to smuggle heavy water out of France during the time of the German invasion sounded promising, but this was a bit too much of a light romantic comedy with very little about the scientific aspects, or for that matter about the more serious aspects of German occupation or the French response(s) to it. (On a more technical note, one character refers to an "atom bomb"; in 1941 that phrase was not yet coined.) (6 out of 10)
THE FOG OF WAR (US, 1h35): This documentary by Errol Morris is basically Robert McNamara talking about his eleven lessons about war. These are:
McNamara also talks about issues which don't fall into any of these categories. For example, he saw his role as Secretary of Defense as providing for the President's policies, not guidance about those policies. However, he also said that one reason he stayed on as Secretary of Defense even when Johnson pursued policies he didn't agree with is that he felt it was better for him to be there to try to ameliorate the policies rather than to step aside and let someone more aggressive move in. (I noticed that throughout the film, McNamara appears to wear a dove as a lapel pin.)
His discussion covered not only Vietnam, but also World War II and the Cuban missile crisis, as well as his time at Ford Motor Company (where he introduced seat belts). Someone asked Morris afterward why McNamara agreed to be interviewed for this film, and Morris said that after he had agreed he had second thoughts, but as he ultimately said to Morris, "I agreed to do it, so I'll do it." And Morris said that that was interesting, because that was basically the United States's policy in Vietnam when McNamara was Secretary of Defense.
Much of what McNamara had to say was so topical now that I couldn't help but hope that this would be widely shown in Washington. (9 out of 10)
THE TESSERACT (Thailand/UK/Japan, 1h36): The description, involving what sounded like shared dreams, made us think this might be a fantasy/horror story, but it was really just a story about drugs and crime in Bangkok, although director Oxide Pang did use a somewhat interesting, somewhat confusing, overlapping and intersecting editing structure which justified the film's name. (5 out of 10)
BRIGHT FUTURE (Japan, 1h32): This was Kyoshi Kurosawa's latest film and we had high hopes for it, having loved his previous films PULSE and CURE. But Kurosawa said he wanted to get away from that genre, and so made this film, a mostly straightforward story of alienation among Japanese youth. Except for the fact that there are mutant glowing jellyfish in this, and the fact that even his horror films seem to be focused on alienation among Japanese youth, I guess he succeeded, but it was a disappointment. (6 out of 10)
MAMBO ITALIANO (Canada, 1h32): This story of a gay son dealing with his Italian-Canadian parents is yet another "quirky ethnic family" movie. The family could have been Jewish or Greek or just about anything else--it wouldn't matter. For what it's worth, I liked it better MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING. One interesting note is that it doesn't strive for complete political correctness--though it's clear that coming out of the closet is the right choice for the main character, it is also clear in the context of the story that other characters who decide to stay in the closet are nevertheless happy anyway. (7 out of 10)
A PROBLEM WITH FEAR (Canada, 1h34): Like Gary Burns' previous film "waydowntown", this is an interior film. By this I don't mean it looks inside the characters, but that it takes place almost entirely indoors. In part this is because the main character is afraid of open spaces--and elevators, escalators, cars, and just about everything else. Their is a security firm that is capitalizing on people's fears by offering a protective device, but just what they are doing, and how they are doing it, remains unclear. (Whatever it is, it is definitely science fiction.) At times, I found it reminiscent of Peter Weir's THE LAST WAVE, though Burns professed not to have seen that film. At other times, it seemed like a Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth story brought to the screen, particularly in the capitalizing on people's fear for commercial purposes. Ultimately, I liked the fact that you had to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what was going on. (7 out of 10)
LE TEMPS DU LOUP (France/Austria/Germany, 1h53): The high-concept description for this would be "'Survivors' meets 'Waiting for Godot'". Some mysterious disaster has befallen the world--whether plague, infra-structure collapse, or something else is not clear. We follow one family as they attempt to survive, first at their country vacation cabin, then on the road, and finally (for most of the movie) with a group of people at a country railway station, waiting for a possible train. The problem with all this is that even though there are a lot of people at the station, and no real source of supplies, everyone seems to be eating enough that there isn't even a discussion of food. And meanwhile, the water that is coming in isn't really enough for that many people. I suppose the character studies are supposed to be the point, but the fact that no one seems to have thought out the details makes this somewhat less appealing as a science fiction film. (5 out of 10)
CASA DE LOS BABYS (US, 1h54): John Sayles's latest film is about six women (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daryl Hannah, Marcia Gay Harden, Susan Lynch, Mary Steenburgen, and Lili Taylor) who have traveled to a Latin American country to adopt babies. (Rita Moreno and Pedro Armendariz are also featured.) Sayles shows all sides, and there are no villains--everyone wants what is best for children. But there is still conflict, as the lawyers and bureaucracy strive to keep the women there as long as possible to pump more money into the local economy through hotels, meals, and so on, without keeping them so long that they lose heart and leave (and tell everyone they know to go elsewhere). Highly recommended. (9 out of 10)
SHARA (Japan, 1h39): We saw this because there was nothing we wanted available in this time slot, and this was not much better than nothing. It follows the effects over several years of a child going missing, but far too much time is taken up with two very long sequences of people running through the maze-like streets of a Japanese suburban village and another very long sequence of a parade of chanting dancers. (The parade is so long that it starts in sunshine, continues through an entire rain shower, and finishes in sunshine again.) The explanation, such as it is, is so understated, that it is easy to miss. (5 out of 10)
OUT OF TIME (US, 1h54): Denzel Washington stars in this tale of murder and deceit in Florida--sort of "film noir meets Carl Hiaasen". The atmosphere--cinematography, set design, etc.--is good, but the story has a lot of flaws. A small one is that a shard of glass they find couldn't have come from the source they claim (one is safety glass and one isn't). A larger one is that the entire plot turns on a character being able to do things that can't be done, such as get past all sorts of hotel security just by asking, and do text editing on a document that is a visual image rather than text. (See my comments about airport security in LOVE ACTUALLY, next. Basically, scriptwriters want to use plot devices that might have worked in the 1940s, but in these days of heightened privacy and security concerns, just wouldn't work at all.) I found the solution a bit obvious as well. Still, the atmosphere makes up for a lot. (7 out of 10)
LOVE ACTUALLY (UK, 2h08): This is obviously a feel-good, romantic Christmas release (the big scenes occur at Christmas pageants and parties). It is a lot of love stories intertwined, with a shot at United States foreign policy thrown in to make it topical. Other than the fact that there really isn't anything new here, my main specific complaint centers around how airport security is portrayed. [SPOILER] There is a scene in which someone runs through the security gate and all the way to the entrance of the plane before he is even caught up with, let alone stopped. The problem seems to be that screenwriters don't know how to write new endings to replace the "running after someone and catching them at the airport gate" ending (which replaced the "running after someone and catching them at the train as it's pulling out ending"). It's like SHERLOCK HOLMES IN NEW YORK in which a resurrected Holmes apparently flies to New York in the 1960s without a passport or any papers whatsoever. Considering how aware we all are of airport security these days, I find this lapse particularly irksome. (6 out of 10)
EMILE (Canada, 1h35): A character study spotlighting Ian McKellan as a professor who returns to Canada to receive an honorary degree and also to renew contact with his niece, whom he abandoned as an orphan many years earlier. (6 out of 10)
NOT A FISH STORY et al (Canada, total 1h45): A collection of short films, including "Not a Fish Story", "Why the Anderson Chldren Didn't Come to Dinner", "The Garden", "The Dog Walker", and "Deformation Personelle". All had fantastical or horrific themes or overtones, all were Canadian, and all are going to be basically unavailable in the United States. (You would think that DVDs might be a good medium for releasing a collection of short films, but I guess the returns aren't worth the effort of getting all the rights and handling the royalties.) We used to try to see at least one of these collections of shorts every year, but we may stop. There are several reasons for this. First, the shorts are now with basically all of them being shot on video, which is just not as interesting. Second, the ROM screening room often has technical problems. And third (and perhaps least artistic but most pressing), the fact that there are half a dozen or more speeches *before* the film means that even if you don't stay for the question-and-answer period afterwards, you will probably be late for your next screening.
A TALKING PICTURE (Portugal, 1h36): I saw this without Mark--he had seen Manoel de Oliveira's I'M GOING HOME a couple of years ago and didn't find it his cup of tea. The first hour and twenty minutes or so of this were in a similar, slow pace, with an hour of history as a mother and daughter travel by ship across the Mediterranean, then twenty minutes of philosophy as the ship's captain and three female passengers sit around a table, and then a complete left turn into off-the-wall-land. Someone must have told Oliveira that his films lacked excitement or relevance or something, but I think he got the wrong message. The philosophy part has a great cast, though: Catherine Deneuve, Irene Pappas, Stefania Sandrelli, and John Malkovich. (7 out of 10)
ONE LOVE (Norway/UK, 1h40): Instead of seeing A TALKING PICTURE, Mark saw this, a Jamaican Romeo and Juliet with a spiritual Rastafarian musician in love with a Christian whose preacher father doesn't approve of the Rastafarian. There is also a music competition with bad guys trying to undermine our hero. I think Mark would have enjoyed A TALKING PICTURE better. (Apparently "One Love" is a slogan from the current Jamaican tourism campaign, for what that's worth.)
CYPHER (US, 1h37): This was one of the films we most eagerly looked forward to, and we were not disappointed. Canadian-born Vincenzo Natali's first film was CUBE, a very odd science fiction film. This year he had managed to make two films, both in the Festival, one called CYPHER and the other called NOTHING. (Definitely confusing!) In response to a question I asked after CYPHER, it was described by Natali as the movie most faithful to Philip K. Dick even if it is not based on a Philip K. Dick story. I also thought that one of the scenes (a 360-degree pan around the main character in a chair) was an homage to John Frankenheimer's THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. Natali said no, he hadn't seen THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE--but he was heavily influenced by Frankenheimer's SECONDS! There were also homages to other film (such as NORTH BY NORTHWEST), and literary references as well. (For example, his guide to an underground vault is named Virgil.) The plot concerns false identities and industrial espionage, both using science fictional techniques. Definitely recommended for science fiction fans, especially for Dickians. (9 out of 10)
MILWAUKEE, MINNESOTA (US, 1h35): Another one chosen because there was nothing better playing. According to the description, the main character in this is borderline autistic, though in the film another character refers to him as a "retard" and nothing in the film indicates that he is not, in fact, retarded. There are a lot of people trying to get their hands on the money this character has won ice fishing, but nothing we haven't seen before in many earlier films, and the "twists" are all fairly predictable. (6 out of 10)
RHINOCEROS EYES (US, 1h32): The idea of a stock clerk in a prop shop committing crimes to obtain props wanted by an attractive film maker sounded promising, and most people seemed to like it, but it just didn't work for me, and I found it one of the worst films I saw in Toronto. (4 out of 10)
GOOD BYE, DRAGON INN (Taiwan, 1h22): And this was another of the worst films. It was about the final night of a giant movie palace in Taipei, which sounded like it might be of interest to people interested in movies, but instead it was just a sequence of *very* long takes, panning over the half dozen people in the Dragon Inn's last audience, following a character down a long hall to empty a bucket where rain water was leaking through the roof, and so on. Someone counted only twelve lines of dialogue in the main film--there was more dialogue in the film being shown in the Dragon Inn (which was DRAGON GATE INN from 1966), and it looked far more interesting. Too bad we couldn't have watched that. (4 out of 10)
NOTHING (Canada, 1h30): The other film by Vincenzo Natali, and a confusing title it was. ("Would all people holding tickets for 'Nothing' go on in? Everyone else, stay in line." Luckily the new Woody Allen film wasn't playing, or it would have been, "Would all people holding tickets for NOTHING go on in? Tickets for ANYTHING ELSE move to the left. Everyone else, stay in line.") Anyway, while CYPHER was a low-budget film ($10 million) with Jeremy Northam and Lucy Liu, this was a micro-budget film with no stars. (I had written, "The IMDB doesn't list a budget for NOTHING, but trust me, there is almost literally nowhere they could have put that much money." Then I discovered it supposedly had a US$4,000,000 budget. Where the heck could they spend that much?! Well, I suppose the special effects might have cost something.) The two main characters are living in a house--or rather a half a house--sandwiched between two freeways. They find themselves in more and more difficulties until just as the police are about to break the door down, they are transported to . . . nothing. Outside is just a white void with no visible ground, horizon, or sky (though they are able to walk around in it). Heavily inspired by "The Twilight Zone", this is a bizarre little fable with a lot of off-beat humor. Recommended, though not for everyone. (8 out of 10)
OSAMA (Afghanistan/Japan, 1h23): Let me state up front that this film is *not* about Osama bin Laden. I'm not sure why they chose this title--it is the name taken by the main character, undoubtedly as a good name to take in Afghanistan at the time, but as a film title it is going to mislead the prospective audience. The main character is a girl in Afghanistan during the time of the Taliban who has to disguise herself as a boy in order to work to support her mother and grandmother. Not surprisingly, it is a very depressing movie, and the question-and-answer period afterwards indicated that while some improvements have been made, there still has been nothing to help women who ended up as OSAMA did in the film. Afghanistan has submitted this as its film for Foreign Language Academy Award consideration this year. (7 out of 10)
DUMMY (US, 1h30): This Adrian Brody film pre-dates THE PIANIST, but will undoubtedly get a bigger release than it might otherwise have on the strength of his name. And a more different film it would be hard to find. In this romantic comedy Brody plays a withdrawn live-at-home who decides he wants to become a professional ventriloquist. (Brody himself is an accomplished ventriloquist, and no special "tricks" were needed to film his scenes.) His family is the usual humorous ethnic family (shades of MAMBO ITALIANO!) and probably the weakest part of the film. His friend Fangora (Milla Jovovich), who is into garage-band music, is one of the strongest (other than Brody himself). (7 out of 10)
THE YES MEN (US/Afghanistan, 1h20): Two young men created a hoax web site, gatt.org, which purported to be for the World Trade Organization. They then got invitations to speak at business gatherings, which they did with bizarre speeches that apparently nobody realized were also hoaxes. This is their story, which doesn't quite sustain a feature-length documentary. I have no idea what role Afghanistan (listed in the TIFF materials as one of the producing countries) played in the making of this movie; I suspect that that "information" was yet another hoax. (6 out of 10)
CHEEKY (UK/France, 1h34): Comedy-drama about a man whose wife signed him up for a game show just before she died. He decides to go through with it in his memory, but the drama is overly sentimental and the humor doesn't work. (Nor does the game show, so far as we could tell--the rules made no sense, and it would never be done live in any case.) (5 our of 10)
MAQBOOL (India, 2h20): Another film I saw without Mark. This is an Indian version of MACBETH, set in the world of organized crime. Not for all tastes, but if you're a fan of Shakespeare and Bollywood, you shouldn't miss this. (8 out of 10)
CODE 46 (UK, 1h32): A science-fictional thriller set in a near-future where globalization is complete, and people travel from Europe to China to find jobs. It is set primarily in Shanghai, and the milieu and background are great, with wonderful details in set design and dialogue in what seems to be Spanglish ("papers" such as "working papers" are "papelles", for example). But although the overall framework of the story is reasonable, the details of the plot needed more work. (Since we didn't see any credits at the beginning or end, I suspect that this was a work-in-progress, and so may have some of these problems worked out.) It seemed to draw from both BLADERUNNER and GATTACA without being like a slavish copy of either. (7 out of 10)
(This was shown in Roy Thompson Hall, a very beautiful, very large venue that unfortunately has the drawback of being a couple of kilometers away from the other venues. I suspect it will be used more next year in spite of that. At least there is a subway stop nearby.)
ROSENSTRASSE (Germany, 2h06): Based on a little-known incident in the Holocaust, this would be likely to get at least an art house release because of the director (Margarethe von Trotta) no matter what the subject matter, but it might get a slightly larger release in areas with large Jewish populations. The story is of what happened when the Nazis rounded up the Jewish husbands of Aryan women, even though these husbands were supposedly protected under the law. There is (for my tastes) a bit too much set in the present-day, and the excuse given for why the people in New York speak German most of the time a bit labored, but these are minor flaws. (8 out of 10)
THE SINGING DETECTIVE (US, 1h49): People who really liked the television version of this did not like this film. I wasn't particularly fond of the television version, and I didn't like this a lot either. It often seemed very disjoint and pointless, with barely enough positive to keep my interest.. (6 out of 10)
SO FAR AWAY (Spain/Cuba, 1h30): This film is impossible to describe without giving it away, but I will say it is very Borgesian, with a little David Lynch thrown in. That will either make you want to see it, or it won't. (7 out of 10)
MADNESS AND GENIUS (US, 1h43): This was shot and projected on digital video, and although it was in black-and-white, it didn't have the *look* of black-and-white film. Obviously a low-budget first feature, it consists mostly of people talking about intelligence, life, ethics, and science, and sounds a lot like those sessions in the dorm at 3AM. Whether you like it or not depends on how you feel about those--it would probably appeal to a college-age crowd more than an old (more experienced?) audience. (6 out of 10)
MARGARETTE'S FEAST (Brazil, 1h20): This was certainly swimming against the tide--a black-and-white silent film, shot in Super 16 at 18 frames per second. The intent (and result) was that it looked a lot like old Charlie Chaplin films. And in fact, that was one of director Renato Falcao's main inspirations, particularly in the main character as an innocent undermined by the system. Other influences were Sergei Eisenstein and Federico Fellini, and a film showing strong influences by those three would be odd in any case. In addition, Falcao shows us reality and imagination in the same style, rather than changing filters or using other tricks to give us a clue to what is real and what isn't. The result was that at the end everyone in the audience seemed to be asking what really happened and what the main character just imagined. This is a film that avoids those horrible subtitles that mainstream audiences dislike, but even so, I somehow suspect won't be at your multiplex soon. (7 out of 10)
THE SNOW WALKER (Canada, 1h43): This tale of survival in the Arctic based on a Farley Mowat story was directed by Charles Martin Smith, who starred in NEVER CRY WOLF, which was based on a Mowat novel. In this a bush pilot flying a sick Inuit girl to a hospital is forced to crash-land in the wilderness. The story is predictable, but the scenery and atmosphere, as well as the characters themselves, are what make the movie well worth watching. (8 out of 10)
THE BREAD MAKER (Canada, 1h30): This seems to have been chosen just because it was Canadian. Certainly it didn't seem to have anything new to say about relationships. The scenes set in the world of the main character's romance novels (she's an author in the evenings) are only marginally better than those of her present-day day job (she works in a bakery and falls in love with a weatherman). This film can best be compared, I'm afraid, to day-old bread that has gone stale. (4 out of 10)
THE GRUDGE (JU-ON) (Japan, 1h32): Yet another of those weird modern Japanese horror films that you can't quite understand or explain but are definitely creepier or scarier than what passes for horror films in the United States. (Someone said that this film made RINGU look like a standard of clarity in comparison.) Maybe I haven't developed a critical sense yet, but I've been very impressed with *all* the films in this genre that I've seen, and this is no exception. (Other films to look out for include CURE [KYUA], PULSE [KAIRO], SPIRAL [UZUMAKI], GHOST ACTRESS [JOYUU-REI], AUDITION [ODISHON], ANOTHER HEAVEN, and of course RINGU.) (7 out of 10)
NINE SOULS (Japan, 2h00): Definitely supernatural, yet not quite in the genre of modern Japanese horror films described above. Instead, it's more mixed with a crime thriller/prison break type film. Because it is pretty much just a series of episodes and lacks the atmosphere of some of the better Japanese films, I found it difficult to get involved with this one. (Of course, it was my third subtitled film of the day--it may be better than I could tell.) An interesting side-note for TIFF regulars: the subtitles were done by Linda Hoglund, who is the translator for all the Japanese directors' question-and-answer sessions at the TIFF. (5 out of 10)
SAVE THE GREEN PLANET (Republic of Korea, 1h58): This was a "Midnight Madness" that we saw at midnight. (We try to see as many as possible during the day rather than at midnight, but end up with a couple that just won't fit.) And it is bizarre enough that it is unlikely to appeal to an audience other than a "Midnight Madness" audience. There is some science fiction having to do with saving the world from aliens, but it is mostly a gruesome torture film with flashes of black humor which I think is supposed to be somewhat in the style of a Hannibal Lecter film. (6 out of 10)
THE BOYS FROM COUNTY CLARE (Ireland/UK/Germany, 1h30): Family rivalry at a musical competition--how original. There are some twists, all predictable, and the big dramatic scene is particularly illogical. Still, the music is good. (One of the questions was if/when the soundtrack CD would be available.) (6 out of 10)
DREAM CUISINE (Japan, 2h14): Well, it sounded good--a film about a couple trying to keep a classic style of Chinese cooking alive. But it spent too much time on the personal issues of the main characters, the master chef and her husband. It was interesting to see, however, that in spite of the fact that she was obviously the master chef and her husband was her assistant, when they went back to mainland China from Taiwan to teach at a cooking school there, they were always introduced as equals. It was also depressing to see that even though they were brought back to teach this style that used no sugar and no MSG, after they left the classroom, the school's chef demonstrated their recipe and added both sugar and MSG. (The argument given was that that is what diners want, but how do they know if they haven't been served the original style?) Unfortunately, there was too little of this, and too much of less interesting material. (5 out of 10)
SHATTERED GLASS (US/Canada, 1h39): This was one of those films added at the last minute which turned out to be one of the best we saw. It is a docu-drama about Stephen Glass, a feature reporter for THE NEW REPUBLIC whose stories turned out to be not entirely true. Well, actually, several turned out to be not at all true. A great look at media ethics and standards. (9 out of 10)
PURPLE BUTTERFLY (China/France, 2h7): This drama about resistance and espionage in China during the Japanese occupation sounded promising, but the disconnected storyline (which appeared either to jump around in time, to resurrect dead characters, or to have characters that looked too much alike) made it difficult to follow, It may have made more sense in the original Chinese rather than through subtitles. (6 out of 10)
PTU (Hong Kong/China, 1h25): On the surface the story of a Hong Kong policeman's search for his lost gun, this follows several policemen and criminals throughout a night in Hong Kong. I'm not convinced that someone could run several blocks skewered completely through by a large knife, but maybe things work differently there. It's not as frenetic as some of its genre, and there is a fair amount of black humor, making it reasonably good as a gangster action film. (7 out of 10)
UNDEAD (Australia, 1h40): A meteor strike in Australia turns people into zombies. Gruesomeness ensues. (6 out of 10)
One reason that this film was sold out was that it was the last film to ever play in the Uptown Theater. The Uptown Theater had been a classic movie palace of the 1930s, and even after it was divided into thirds was still the most impressive venue. The main floor of the original Uptown was divided into the Uptown 2 and 3, seating 603 and 404 respectively. What had been the balcony became the Uptown 1, seating 919. (By comparison, the Varsity 8 seats 579 and the Isabel Bader 500.) Torontonians had seen many classic films such as STAR WARS there over the years, but even though we have been there only for the TIFF and only for five years, we've probably seen over a hundred films in the Uptown, and close to half of those in the Uptown 1. One reason it was so great was that because it had been the balcony, the screen was separated from the front row by twenty or thirty feet of stage, meaning that even the front row seats were great. In fact, the front row seats were the *best*, and we always tried to sit as far forward as we could.
But because it was physically impossible to make the theaters (or more specifically, the restrooms) handicapped-accessible, the Uptown was closing with the TIFF and being torn down to make room for a fifty-story office-and-condo building. (There had been a lot of talk about trying to get it declared a historic landmark, but that apparently failed.)
And people turned out for this finale. When we arrived there were dozens of people on the stage taking pictures of the last audience and more in the audience taking pictures of the red velvet curtains and the whole theater. There was a moment of silence, but there was also a champagne toast by Colin Geddes (the head of Midnight Madness) and the director and producer of the film, and on the whole it was a much more joyous passing than that shown in GOOD BYE, DRAGON INN.
We seemed to see films in pairs: two Jewish films (THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ and ROSENSTRASSE), two black-and-white films (MARGARETTE'S FEAST and MADNESS AND GENIUS), two films about con games (MATCHSTICK MEN and another I won't name so as not to spoil it), two films by Vincenzo Natali (CYPHER and NOTHING), two films with autistic characters (MILWAUKEE, MINNESOTA and RHINOCEROS EYES), two movies about movies (SO FAR AWAY and GOOD BYE, DRAGON INN), two near-future films (CYPHER and CODE 46), two films involving fake web pages (THE YES MEN and SHATTERED GLASS), and two films about Montreal ethnic communities (THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ and MAMBO ITALIANO). And *three* films set during World War II (BON VOYAGE, ROSENSTRASSE, and PURPLE BUTTERFLY).
There has been an unfortunate trend over the last couple of years to cut back on the number of films shown the first three days of the TIFF. We have gone in 1998, and 2000-2004. The first night started about 5:30PM or 6PM each year, but the number of films shown was 9, 9, 14, 6, and 4. Friday the starts were 10AM, 9:30AM, 12:01PM, 12:30PM, and 4PM; the numbers of films were 37, 36, 39, 33, and 30. And Saturday, though the starts were all between 9AM and 10AM, the numbers were 48, 51, 52, 50, and 47 films. Because of the increased number of venues, this meant only one film before noon in 2003, as opposed to several choices in previous years. All this adds up to making the number of films one can actually see on the "50-film" festival pass smaller each year. (Someone said that this year there was a problem because the first three days of the TIFF overlapped with the last three days of the Montreal Film Festival. We will see.)
In any case, as I noted, next year will be different. With the Uptown closing, there will be three fewer venues near Yonge and Bloor (including the two largest), leaving only ten there. The question of where the films will be shown is of interest to people well before the actual screening schedule comes out at the end of August. If indeed, as some have suggested, they will be moving down to more screens in the Entertainment District, then people coming from out of town need to know this before making accommodation reservations. If the screenings will be spread over a large area of Toronto, people need to know this before buying tickets based on seeing five or six films a day. Personally, I don't want to spend my time (or money) on traveling back and forth constantly on the subway. (Someone suggested that they might re-instate the shuttle service they had a few years ago, but that solves the money problem by making the time problem somewhat worse.) Also, the Entertainment District doesn't have the fast Asian restaurants that the Yonge and Bloor area does, making it necessary to schedule more time for dinner if everything is down there. And it lacks the bookstores and DVD stores of Yonge Street.
Evelyn C. Leeper (email@example.com)