Toronto International Film Festival 2005
A festival report by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 2005 by Evelyn C. Leeper

What follows are brief film notes, along with our actual schedule so you can get an idea of what the Festival is like on a macro-level.


19:00 - 20:30 50 WAYS OF SAYING FABULOUS @Varsity 8
This New Zealand coming-of-age film is about three adolescents with gender issues. Unfortunately, it seems a bit sugar-coated and unrealistic. (Book connection: 50 WAYS OF SAYING FABULOUS by Graeme Aitkin) 5/10

20:45 - 21:15 walk to Ryerson

21:45 - 23:30 KISS KISS BANG BANG @Ryerson
This classic hard-boiled detective film also has a heavy dose of comedy. Divided into chapters (days) with names of Raymond Chandler novels, it's easy to see its inspiration. Robert Downey, Jr., and Val Kilmer play well off each other. (Book connection: Raymond Chandler novels) 8/10

23:55 - 00:30 walk back to B&B


07:30 - 08:00 breakfast

08:00 - 08:30 subway to Paramount

09:15 - 10:55 THE SUN @Paramount 1
This film by the director of RUSSIAN ARK is about the final days of World War II with Japanese Emperor Hirohito, leading up to his renunciation of divine status. He is shown as a man inspired by science, and the film seems to say that this helped him with this decision. It is slow-moving, but one needs the time to think about the levels of meaning in what one is seeing and hearing. 8/10

12:15 - 13:27 SARAH SILVERMAN: JESUS IS MAGIC @Paramount 1
This is basically a taping of Silverman's stand-up act, with a bit of wrap-around story added. Her material is definitely on the edgy and offensive side, so how you feel about that will affect how you feel about the film. 5/10

14:45 - 16:34 THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON @Paramount 2
Daniel Johnston is a famous folk singer who has appeared on MTV, etc., but whose life has been troubled by manic depression. Unfortunately for my appreciation of this film, I was completely unfamiliar with Johnston, his style of music, and MTV. Clearly, however, if you are interested on Johnston's music, you will want to see this film. 4/10

16:45 - 17:15 dinner at Crispy Roll

17:15 - 17:35 walk to Elgin

18:00 - 20:02 TIDELAND @Elgin
This is directed by Terry Gilliam and, coming right after his THE BROTHERS GRIMM, is likely to sink his career. I cannot deny it is imaginative at times, but a bit too dark and edgy for anything but cult status. Top-billed Jeff Bridges's role is actually fairly small. (Book connection: TIDELAND by Mitch Cullin) 3/10

20:30 - 20:45 walk to Ryerson

21:15 - 23:03 NEVERWAS @Ryerson
Though the main story is of a man trying to understand his father, children's literature figures heavily in this, because the father was the author of an immensely popular children's book called "Neverwas", of which the protagonist was the model for the hero. I found the parallels to the book more interesting than the psychoanalysis of the characters. Ian McKellen and Nick Nolte are in strong supporting roles. (Book connection: children's literature in general) 8/10

23:30 - walk back to B&B


08:00 - 08:45 breakfast

08:45 - 09:10 walk to Ryerson

09:30 - 11:13 MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS @Ryerson
This is a delightful comedy/drama about the Windmill Theatre, which was the only theater in London to remain open throughout World War II (and in particular during the Blitz) . Dame Judi Dench is a widow who decides to buy an old theater; Bob Hoskins is the manager she hires to run it. This is one film I can recommend to just about everyone. (Book connection: WE NEVER CLOSED by Sheila Van Damm) 9/10

11:30 - 11:45 walk to Elgin

12:00 - 13:23 SKETCHES OF FRANK GEHRY @Elgin
Sidney Pollack's first documentary is not done as a biography but as a discussion of architecture and Frank Gehry's process. One interesting aspect is that we frequently are watching Pollack filming/taping Gehry, so we're almost watching the "making of" at the same time. Also, Pollack made the decision to include Gehry's nay-sayers as well as supporters, and to include other aspects that were are least somewhat negative on his subject. (Book connections: FRANK O. GEHRY: THE COMPLETE WORKS by Kurt W. Forster and Francesco Dal Co and FRANK GEHRY, ARCHITECT by Frank O. Gehry and J. Fiona Ragheb) 7/10

13:30 - 14:00 snack at Taco Villa in Eaton Centre

15:00 - 16:50 CAPOTE @Elgin
The epigraph to Truman Capote's last (unfinished) novel is "More tears are shed over answered prayers than over unanswered ones." And certainly he had more problems with this "non-fiction novel" (his term) than he would have with any normal book that did not become such a milestone in literature. In addition to seeing Capote throughout his experience researching the murders of IN COLD BLOOD, you get to see Harper Lee and his relationship with her. The film ended by saying, "[Truman Capote] never finished another novel." What they do not add is that neither did Harper Lee. Philip Seymour Hoffman will almost definitely get an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Capote. (Book connections: IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote, and CAPOTE: A BIOGRAPHY by Gerald Clarke) 8/10

17:00 - 17:30 walk to Paramount

17:30 - 18:10 dinner at Thai Chili

18:30 - 20:02 THESE GIRLS @Paramount
This is an okay Canadian sex farce about three seventeen-year-olds who take advantage of a man twice their age. Even though the girls are the aggressors, many viewers will have problems with the situation as grounds for comedy. Even if you don't, this is only mildly funny. 6/10

22:00 - 23:30 BROTHERS OF THE HEAD @Paramount 2
This is a mockumentary (though not a humorous one) about conjoined twins who are "purchased" by a promoter who makes them a rock act. It is more a study of identity than anything else, although it says a lot about the rock industry, and will appeal more to fans of rock who have a tolerance to really loud (bad) music. (Book connection: "Brothers in the Head" by Brian W. Aldiss) 5/10

23:59 - 00:30 walk back to B&B


08:00 - 08:45 breakfast

08:45 - 09:10 walk to Ryerson

09:30 - 11:05 A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE @Ryerson
This has been described about Cronenberg's most mainstream film, with Viggo Mortensen as a small-town diner owner who becomes a hero by shooting two vicious serial killers. But then he finds that this brings even more problems, which I do not want to give away. One question it raises is the origins of or tendency to violence: are they somehow innate or inherited? Are they present in everyone? (Book connection: GRAPHIC NOVEL A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE BY John Wagner and Vince Locke) 7/10

12:00 - 14:15 ELIZABETHTOWN @Ryerson
Orlando Bloom has a major business fiasco and then gets a call to arrange his father's funeral. The film is about meeting heart-warming characters, finding the spirit of America, and so on. In other words, there are a lot of cliches and Hollywoodisms. (And were do they find cell phone batteries that let you talk for hours and hours?) The pacing is very strange, with what one might assume to be the climax coming a half-hour before the end. (Cameron Crowe sent a message saying that this was not necessarily the final edit, and asking reviewers not to review this, but to wait until they see the final cut. Well, if he wants to send us a copy of the final cut, and pay us for an additional two hours to watch it, fine, but asking people who have already committed time and money to do it a second time is not fair. While I'm at it, neither is it fair to answer questions about a moive by saying, "Read the book," unless they hand every ticket-buyer a copy of the book with their ticket.) 5/10

15:00 - 17:30 SEVEN SWORDS @Ryerson
This two-and-a-half-hour historical martial arts film from Hong Kong takes a lot from THE SEVEN SAMURAI, but is too long and the wire-work is sometimes too obvious and unconvincing. (Book connection: SEVEN SWORDSMAN FROM MOUNTAIN tIAN by Liang Yu-sheng) 6/10

18:15 - 19:47 THE MISTRESS OF SPICES @Ryerson
Mark calls it fantasy; I call it magical realism. The title character is living a life dedicated (or even consecrated) to spices, and in return they speak to her and tell her what spices people need (e.g. sandalwood to help someone forget) . People may mistakenly think this is about food, but that is only a minor part. It's a bit like an Indian LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE. (Book connection: THE MISTRESS OF SPICES by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni) 7/10

20:00 - 20:30 walk to Isabel Bader

20:30 - 21:30 dinner at Hanu

21:30 - 22:53 MARY @Bader
Three stories interlock in a chain rather than all meshing together, which makes this Abel Ferrara film a bit disjointed. There's a filmmaker making "This Is My Blood", a film that attempts to get in on the market created by Mel Gibson's "Passion"; an actress (Juliette Binoche) who gets perhaps too caught up in her role; and a television host (Forest Whitaker) doing a series of discussions about Jesus while going through his own personal crises. There are several religious experts (including Elaine Pagels) who "appear" on Whitaker's show--if the DVD includes deleted scenes with them, it would definitely be worth watching. (Book connection: The Bible and the Nag Hammadi Gospels, particularly "The Gospel of Mary") 7/10

23:00 - 23:30 walk back to B&B


08:00 - 08:45 breakfast

08:45 - 09:10 walk to Ryerson

09:30 - 11:45 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE @Ryerson
Adaptations of Jane Austen are pretty common these days, with both the BBC and A&E having done just about all of her works. (I'm still waiting for the adaptation of her "History of England".) So at this point, the films seem to be either faithful or interesting, but not both. This falls in the "faithful" category (except for the director's decision to move it back twenty years from when Austen published it to when she first conceived it. (He said he did not like way Empire dresses looked, so he changed the period.) It is full of cliches, and the last scene (which admittedly a lot of people liked) , was very un-Austen. (It was dropped in some test screenings, but is "back to stay.") I wish if someone feels obliged to do Jane Austen, they would do NORTHANGER ABBEY. (Book connection: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen) 6/10

12:30 - 14:20 REVOLVER @Ryerson
This is a very complicated film, where keeping all the characters, grifts, and motivations straight may be impossible with only one viewing. The main character has just gotten out of prison when he gets caught up in the conflicts among four different organized crime groups. According to the director, the title comes from the idea that "if you don't know you're in the game you just stay in the game. You keep revolving." 7/10

15:30 - 16:48 TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE @Ryerson
This is not a sequel to THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, but it uses the same style animation, and features the same distinctive Tim Burton spiral imagery. (It also has some subtle tributes, like the brand name on the piano being "Harryhausen." Had THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS never been made, this would have seemed great. As it is, it is not as fresh, but it is still very good. 8/10

17:00 - 17:30 Sunrise Records (to use the $5 gift cards they were handing out in the ticket line--we got BROADWAY DANNY ROSE and RADIO DAYS, as well as a Naxos CD of music from swashbucklers)

18:00 - 19:43 TRUST THE MAN @Ryerson
This started a half hour late waiting for the stars to show up, and was not worth it. It is just a situation-comedy sort of movie, with two couples having relationship problems and resolving them. 5/10

20:15 - 20:45 walk to Cumberland (well, walk very fast)

21:15 - 22:45 THE LAST HANGMAN @Cumberland 3
Originally made for British television, this docudrama covers the career of Albert Pierrepoint, an executioner in Britain from 1932 through the 1950s (and the last official Chief Hangman) , and also the hangman for the Nazi war criminals in Germany after the war. Timothy Spall gives a great performance, conveying the evolution of Pierrepoint's philosophy over two decades. Some liberties were taken with history (e.g., the Berlin executions were spread out over a greater period of time than the dialogue said) , and the reference to "Mr. Christie" will probably be lost on most American viewers. The director said that Pierrepoint was very troubled not so much by the fuss raised over Ruth Ellis's hanging, but by the fact that a week earlier, a old grandmother from Cyprus who was almost definitely innocent was hanged and not one person protested. 8/10

23:00 - 23:15 walk back to B&B


08:00 - 08:30 breakfast

08:30 - 09:00 taxi to Paramount (not a wise choice during rush hour)

09:45 - 11:25 BEE SEASON @Paramount 2
The movie PI combined mathematics and Kaballah; this combines spelling and Kaballah. It is also about a family led by a driven father who demands a lot of accomlishment from his children. The many ways in which the concepts of tikkun olam and shards of light are manifested throughout the film make this a many-layered conceptualization. (Book connection: BEE SEASON by Myla Goldberg, and the works of Abulafia) 8/10

11:25 - 12:00 taxi to Ryerson

12:30 - 14:10 PROOF @Ryerson
Based on the Pulitzer-Prize-winning play, this is not so much about mathematics as about what can be proved and what has to be taken on faith. There are some problems in what the play claims about mathematical proofs, but it is still a worthwhile film. (It did have a genuine mathematics advisor, Prof. Timothy Gowers of Cambridge University, though his input was probably limited to what mathematics appears on blackboards, in notebooks, etc., rather than the dialogue about the central proof.) No mathematics ability is required of the viewer. (Book connections: PROOF by David Auburn, and FERMAT'S ENIGMA by Simon Singh) 8/10

14:15 - 14:60 walk to Elgin

15:00 - 16:55 OPA! @Elgin
The title might make you think that this was a Greek film, but it is primarily an English-language film with some Greek. Matthew Modine is an archaeologist who thinks he knows where a valuable relic can be found. But--predictably--it is under a tavern owned by a beautiful widow, etc. It has nice scenery, but nothing new in the story line, and I cannot decide if the Greek chorus of yayas is funny or cliched. This film ran *shorter* than the listed time (and there seemed to be a couple of obvious scenes missing) . 6/10

17:00 - 17:30 dinner at Salad King (Thai food)

18:00 - 19:45 ROMANCE & CIGARETTES @Elgin
This is an audacious blend of drama about mid-life crisis and musical (complete with singing garbagemen) . It is directed by John Turturro, and stars James Gandolfini and Susan Sarandon. Aida Turturro, who played Gandolfini's sister on "The Sopranos", here plays his daughter! 7/10

Douglas Coupland, who coined the term "Generation X" (and "Microserfs") , is the subject of this film, or rather is one of the co-subjects, the other two being the director and Canada itself. As a non-Canadian, I found this interesting and understandable, people's concerns to the contrary. I also learned about "Ookpiks" and "Chimo", and that most Canadians cannot draw an accurate maple leaf (as drawn on the flag) . (Book connection: SOUVENIR OF CANADA by Douglas Coupland)


07:30 - 08:00 breakfast

08:00 - 08:30 walk to ROM

09:00 - 10:31 FETCHING CODY @ROM
This Canadian time travel film has many similarities to the 2004 film THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, so I will point out that writer/director David Ray was working on this film for six years. (It is also less brutal than THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT.) FETCHING CODY does get the viewer involved in trying to outthink the main character even if the plot of someone making repeated trips into the past to try to figure out exactly what to change to save someone may seem familiar. (Preceded by short "There's a Flower in My Pedal".) 7/10

10:45 - 11:30 walk to Ryerson

12:45 - 14:32 WHERE THE TRUTH LIES @Ryerson
Atom Egoyan's latest film will undoubtedly get a lot of publicity for its inability to get an R rating, in spite of repeated cuts. (All the cut material was restored when the filmmakers decided to go out unrated.) This film has a noir (or neo-noir) feel to it, with a show-business duo (Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon) patterned somewhat after Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis who are involved with mobsters and murder. (Book connection: WHERE THE TRUTH LIES by Rupert Holmes) 8/10

15:30 - 17:10 EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED @Ryerson
Elijah Wood is a collector of items of family history who goes on a journey to Ukraine to discover his grandfather's old village of Trachimbrod and his history there. The movie is stolen, though, by Eugene Hutz as a Ukrainian guide whose English is just slightly off (e.g., he describes his grandfather's dog as "Officious Seeing Eye Bitch") . Part of the end is predictable, but part is not. (Book connection: EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED by Jonathan Safran Foer) 8/10

18:00 - 19:55 EVERLASTING REGRET @Elgin
This was described in a way that implied there would be some historic sweep to the story of a Shanghai beauty queen who early on picks someone on the wrong side politically as a lover, and then has to live with consequences through half a century. Unfortunately, almost all the history goes on off-screen. For example, you hear windows breaking and shots being fired outside, but you don't see any of it. (Book connection: CHANGHEN GE by Wang Anyi) 6/10

20:00 - 21:00 dinner at Ginger 2

21:00 - 21:30 walk back to B&B


07:30 - 08:00 breakfast

09:15 - 09:30 walk to ROM

10:00 - 11:39 THE PIANO TUNER OF EARTHQUAKES @Cumberland 2
This is a very difficult movie to describe. It is by the Brothers Quay, who did the "interstices" in Julie Taymor's FRIDA, and perhaps they are better in a shorter form. (If you are unfamiliar with their work, try their shorter pieces before this.) There are similarities in style to Guy Maddin and perhaps even Peter Greenway, and the setting is copied from a Salvador Dali painting. 5/10

11:45 - 12:15 walk to Ryerson

12:45 - 14:18 SLOW BURN @Ryerson
This is yet another noirish mystery, as a district attorney (Ray Liotta) tries to find an elusive gang lord. (The person introducing this claimed it had just about "every black star" in Hollywood, which seemed to mean LL Cool J and Taye Diggs. This is an example of the over-enthusiasm one sometimes sees here.) Some of the twists are predictable, but some are not. 7/10

14:30 - 14:50 Metro to dinner

14:50 - 15:25 dinner at Little India

16:00 - 17:28 THE SQUID AND THE WHALE @Paramount 4
Jeff Daniels plays a stereotypical bad father/husband in this film about a divorce and its effect on the family. The hand-held camera is probably supposed to make it feel realistic, but it just makes it uncomfortable to watch. 5/10

18:15 - 20:05 THE PASSION OF JOSHUA THE JEW @Paramount 4
Writer/director Pascuale Scimeca decided to make this film five years ago when he discovered that his family was descended from Jews who had been expelled from Spain in 1492. It therefore pre-dates Mel Gibson's THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, and Scimeca said that it is opposite to Gibson's film. This is the story of Joshua, who is among those expelled from Spain and who ends up with the central role in the Easter play in the town where they have ended up. Scimeca wanted to emphasize Jesus's Jewishness so, for example, he has Joshua reciting the Shema. The subtitles sabotage him a bit, though, saying "Easter" for "Pascua" when "Passover" is clearly what is meant. And the epigraph says "Papa Gionni XXIII" in the Italian, but "Pope John XXII" in the subtitles. (The translator for the Q&A was also bad--several times Italian speakers in the audience corrected her translation, and once even I could tell she got it wrong.) 7/10

22:00 - 23:40 CITIZEN DOG @Paramount 2
Though there are surreal images in this Thai film, and it is mildly enjoyable, it has nothing that one cannot find in American films (except perhaps the setting) , and is unlikely to get a United States release. (Book connection: MAH NAKORN by Koynuch) 6/10

23:45 - 00:30 Metro back to B&B


08:30 - 09:00 breakfast

09:00 - 09:30 walk to Ryerson

09:30 - 11:47 THE WHITE MASAI @Ryerson
This German film is based on the experiences of Corinne Hofmann, who married a Sumburu and lived with him in a Sumburu village. The lead actor, Jacky Ido, is not a Masai or a Sumburu (a related tribe, but is from Burkino Faso. I had the feeling that though the title obviously means the woman, the man also undergoes changes that seem at times to be making him into a "white Masai." (Book connection: DIE WEISSE MASSAI by Corinne Hofmann) 7/10

12:45 - 14:22 THE MATADOR @Ryerson
The writer/director intended to make this for $200,000 on digital video, but sent the script to Pierce Brosnan's production company as a resume of sorts, hoping for a writing assignment. Instead, he got a call from Brosnan saying he wanted to make this film. Also starring Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis, and Philip Baker Hall, it is about a professional assassin and a mid-level public relations man who meet in Mexico City, and what develops from that. While Kinnear's character is not entirely convincing, the film is worth watching for Brosnan's performance alone. 7/10

14:30 - 14:45 walk to Elgin

15:00 - 16:58 THE MYTH @Elgin
Jackie Chan returns to the screen in this Chinese Science fiction martial arts adventure musical historical epic. He plays both General Meng Yi (in the historical sections) and archaeologist Jack Chan (in the modern sections) . The stunts are much more wire work than Chan used to have, but there is still some "free" work. There was a problem with the print, in that Chan's close-ups in the historical scenes seem to have been filmed with a different lens and the aspect rastio was wrong (i.e., he looked tall and thin in them) . One hopes that this will be fixed before the actual release. 7/10

18:00 - 19:40 TRANSAMERICA @Elgin
In Los Angeles, Bree is one week away from her gender-reassignment surgery when she gets a call that her son has been arrested in New York. Her doctor insists she go and meet him and tell him that she is her father. She goes, but pretends to be a religious social worker, and they start driving back to Los Angeles. It's a road movie, but obviously there are some other dynamics going on. Grahame Greene also stars, which is always a plus. The sound seemed a bit muddy to me, but other people seemed to hear some of the lines better, so it may be either be or the acoustics. 8/10

20:00 - 20:45 dinner at Garlic Pepper

20:45 - 21:15 walk to Cumberland

21:30 - 22:53 SORRY, HATERS @Cumberland 3
This seemed like an adapted stage play, but wasn't. I don't think Jeff Stanzler intended it as an explanation of all, or even any "terrorist" acts, but it is an intriguing premise albeit painful to watch. One other observation: digital video sucks. 6/10

23:00 - 23:30 walk back to B&B


08:00 - 08:45 breakfast

08:45 - 09:10 walk to Ryerson

This is the first feature-length film about the title characters, and follows the current trend for animated films to have a lot of pop culture and film references. I'm not sure if people who are unfamiliar with the characters will get all the humor, but there is enough that is accessible to all. 8/10

11:00 - 11:30 Sunrise Records (bought ZELIG and RETURN TO LONESOME DOVE)

11:30 - 12:00 walked to Paramount

13:45 - 15:49 THE GREAT YOKAI WAR @Paramount 3
This film about a young boy dealing with Japanese demons is not animated (well, except in the sense that CGI is animation) . It dragged at times (odd for a director of action films as Takashi Miike is) , but had enough imagination in the demons to keep the viewers' interest. Suitable for older children (I'd guess it would get a PG313) . 7/10

16:00 - 17:00 dinner at Hosu

17:00 - 17:30 walk to Cumberland

18:00 - 19:47 FESTIVAL @Cumberland 2
This satire is set during the Edinburgh Festival much as BEST IN SHOW is set during a dog show or SMILE during a beauty pageant, and has a lot of similarities to those films. This is an uneven mix of serious and humorous moments, though, and some may find that disconcerting. 6/10

21:45 - 23:22 WAH-WAH @Cumberland 3
This autobiographical film (by Richard E. Grant) is set in the last days of the British Empire in Nyasaland. Because it is autobiographical, the threads do not necessarily have predictable conclusions (e.g., the conflict with the step-mother does not play out in the usual way one expects in films) . 7/10

Ten Worst Things about the Toronto International Film Festival:
10. Backlit devices that people use during the movie
9. Litterbugs (the amount of trash left along the block where the line forms for the Ryerson is appalling)
8. The weaker US dollar (which makes everything more expensive) (Prices have gone up in general. In 1998 a festival pass costs C$240.75 which was US$159.94. This year it was C$516.81, US$429.19.)
7. Movies starting late because the celebrities are late
6. Cell phones ringing during the movie (though this is better than a few years ago)
5. "Whoop-whoop", the phenomenon that people think that just clapping is not enough--they have to let out loud, piercing whoops of approval as well
4. Longer lines, for movies, tickets, and everything. (e.g., the Visa Waiting Room is pretty much useless--you have to arrive at least an hour before show time to get in.)
3. Worse seats--in most theatres the only seats left where we have an unobstructed view of the screen is so far back that we effectively have a small-screen experience
2. More spread-out venues, requiring more time between films and a larger investment in TTC tokens and/or taxis
1. Worse chance of getting one's choices--people reported getting 17 out of 42 selections, or 12 out of 20. We got 43 out of 47, but it depends in large part on where you fall in the random draw. When one spends almost $500 for tickets, one understandably wants to *get* tickets.