So, remember a month ago when I did that Film Festival thing? Well here’s that postmortem I promised you! My thoughts on the 21 screenings I went to, in order from least favourite to favourite.
Take This Waltz – Probably my biggest disappointment of the Fest. Sarah Polley’s story about a young married woman torn between the husband she still adores and the intriguing and sexy next-door-neighbour she finds herself falling for wanted to be so much better than it really was. While beautiful – The set design! The costumes! The cinematography! – the film was not as good as I’d hoped it would be. Michelle Williams character was childish and unsympathetically annoying, her marriage was not nearly as adorable as they were trying to make it seem (Seth Rogen cooing and baby-talking may take me months to recover from,) and I found the ending wholly unsatisfying. That being said, its set design and on-location shooting was like a giant love letter to Toronto, which I can’t help but get behind.
Plus, Luke Kirby is pretty damn cute.
Free Men (Les Hommes Libres) – An Algerian man in WWII France is inspired to join the resistance after forming an unlikely friendship with a Jewish singer. Confession: I was nodding in and out during this one. It was kinda like being back in film class – watching a foreign film while too exhausted to pay as much attention as I should. The bits I did see were really good though, and the lead looked like a younger, cuter Chris Parnell, which was kind of fun!
Restless – Essentially, this one can be broken down with basic cinematic math:
That does not necessarily add up to a fantastic flick, kiddies. Gus Van Sant can be pretty hit-and-miss with me and unfortunately, this was mostly a miss. That said, Henry Hopper (progeny of the late great Dennis Hopper) was pretty fantastic as the lead. And I wanted a lot of Mia Wasikowska’s wardrobe. Especially that jacket.
Lovely Molly – An old school possession flick from one of the writer/directors of The Blair Witch Project, this also wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. The story is about former drug addict, Molly Reynolds, who moves back into her childhood home with her new husband. Once living there, spooky things start happening (duh) and Molly starts to remember her less than idyllic childhood. Slowly, evil begins to take over Molly and her life and the audience is left to wonder – how much of this is happening, and how much of this is the manifestation of Molly’s addiction and childhood trauma? The opening was killer, definitely grabbed the audiences’ attention, but the movie slowly degraded from there. It was trying to be reminiscent of The Exorcist and, of course, Blair Witch, but the problem was too much slow burn and not enough payoff. That being said, Gretchen Lodge who played Molly was a revelation. Her performance and commitment to character was the saving grace of the film.
Afghan Luke – One of those spur-of-the-moment movie choices, that thankfully turned out to be not half bad. A Canadian perspective on the war in Afghanistan, and more specifically the role of journalism in the war, Nick Stahl plays Luke, a disheartened journalist who becomes furious when his story about Canadian snipers possibly mutilating Afghan bodies is buried. Determined to uncover the truth, Luke heads back to Afghanistan to prove his story is accurate but finds that the truth is a lot more complicated than it seems.
While the subject matter seems very dark and serious, the tone of the film is relatively light, and comical. Nicolas Wright, who plays Luke’s offbeat buddy Tom, is a hilarious foil to Stahl’s brooding and cynical Luke. And Vic Sahay (of one of my favourite underrated television gems, Chuck) as Luke’s journalism nemesis is as hilarious a douchbag as I’d expect him to be. Enjoyable, though not particularly memorable, I’m still glad I saw it.
Livid (Livide) – Truth be told, I saw this one almost entirely because of this image on the TIFF website:
If this doesn’t do it for you, there’s also a scene where someone’s skull is torn in half by ripping the jaw apart from the mandible and maxilla. Let that sink in. Oh, the plot you ask? Crazy old lady confined to her bed, supposedly has a treasure hidden in her spooky old house, three 20-somethings break in to try and find it, horrors ensue, blah blah blah… Truthfully, a lot of the story was hard to follow and the ending is still baffling to me, but DUDE. HEAD TORN IN HALF FROM THE JAW. Pretty much made the convoluted and confusing story worth it.
Jeff, Who Lives At Home – At the start of the movie, Jason Segel’s Jeff launches into a speech about why he loves the film Signs – the first time you watch it, it kinda meanders along, you think it’s pretty decent, and then you get to the ending when everything ties together and suddenly you need to rewatch it just to see how much you missed the first time. While I don’t necessarily agree with his assessment of Signs, his description of the Shyamalan film could easily be used to describe this movie. Jeff, a stoner slacker who still lives at home, believes unflinchingly in signs and fate – so, when he receives a wrong number call for “Kevin” after an infomercial told him to pick up the phone, Jeff takes it upon himself to follow all the signs he encounters on this day until his fate is revealed. This leads to him wandering around town and eventually spending the day helping his brother (Ed Helms) track his potentially adulterous wife.
The film is cute and funny, surprisingly poignant at times, but overall pretty forgettable without that ending. Now, I love me some Jason Segel, I really do, but I wanted so much more from his character in this. He just wasn’t… weird enough, I guess? I wanted him to be more than just your stereotypical stoner/slacker/man-child. I wanted a little depth, a little more quirks, something. He was just sort of… there. Watching the relationship between the brothers was interesting though.
The Awakening – More cinema math!
The math works a little better in The Awakening‘s favour here, but it still doesn’t add up to a horror classic. It’s spooky, great atmosphere and decent jumps, but overall it was pretty predictable. I do love me an old-fashioned ghost story though, and Dominic West was as wonderful as he always is. I do wonder though, will I ever be able to watch Imelda Staunton and not be immediately suspicious of her? I think she might be doomed to the Peter Sarsgaard syndrome…
Hysteria – It’s a movie about the invention of the vibrator.
It is pretty much exactly as funny and taboo as you’d expect. A lot of crude humour, a lot of innuendos, a lot of watching “proper” ladies, er… well you know. I did appreciate the gender role reversal, with the women being the more sexually progressive characters and the men all being, well, prudes. It was cute and entertaining, but I do wish they story had been fleshed out a little more. With a little more emphasis on narrative and a little less emphasis on raunchy overtones, I’d have been a lot more satisfied with the film as a whole. That being said, I enjoyed the performances – Hugh Dancy was adorable, Maggie Gyllenhaal was delightful, and Rupert Everett was as cheeky as ever. Too bad about his face…
Extraterrestrial (Extraterrestre) – A funny and wry love story trying to disguise itself as a science fiction thriller, this one was thoroughly enjoyable. Julio and Julia (don’t think that wasn’t mined for all the chuckles it could be) wake up in the morning after a one night stand and as they try to have an awkward and half-naked conversation about the previous night, they realize that alien spacecrafts have apparently arrived during the night. What follows is their hilarious attempts to keep others – specifically Julia’s boyfriend – from finding out about their night together, while everyone else is trying to figure out what the deal is with those UFOs in the sky.
After awhile, the aliens almost become incidental as the story becomes about Julio and Julia trying to figure out their feelings for each other and how to keep track of the lies they are telling in the middle of this crisis. Oh, and the director, Nacho Vigalondo? Utterly charming and adorable at the Q&A. He officially made a fan of me when he called his lead “a Spanish Adrien Brody, only maybe cuter.” Classic.
The Oranges – A man falls for his best friend’s daughter and the two start up a love affair, much to the chagrin and awkwardness of both families. The plot doesn’t sound particularly amusing, but trust me, the film is hilarious. A lot of this can be chalked up to the incredible cast:
Seriously. There’s no one here who isn’t awesome. Say what you will about Gossip Girl, but Leighton Meester acts the crap out of Blair Waldorf. And while she is hardly the best one in this film, she certainly holds her own. The story is slightly disjointed, not to mention a little unbelievable at parts, but the comedy and the performances are pitch perfect. Allison Janney steals the show and Adam Brody, though not in it as much as I’d like, manages to get in some of the best lines in his brief screen time.
The Descendants – This was one of those “I had another movie in mind, but couldn’t get in, so saw this instead” viewings. And what a happy accident it was. Not only did I get to see Roger Ebert at the screening (sat behind me, no biggie…) but the film itself was cute and surprisingly touching. George Clooney plays a man whose wife is on her deathbed after a tragic boating accident, and as he tries to come to terms with letting her go and helping his daughters cope, he learns that his wife had been having an affair. A real and honest look at grief and loss, the film was funnier than the subject matter would suggest. And the daughter, played by Shailene Woodley, was a pleasant surprise.
I was also pleasantly surprised by all the actors that popped up in it that I wasn’t expecting. Judy Greer! Matthew Lillard! Beau Bridges! How delightful! It also made me really, really want to go to Hawaii.
Friends With Kids – Jennifer Westfeldt’s directorial debut is about a group of friends, the majority of whom are married and having kids, so the only two singletons left in the group decide to forego the love and marriage bit and just have a baby together. Typical romantic comedy shenanigans ensue! Predictable, but still cute and enjoyable, due in large part to the cast that may as well have been custom-built for me:
Jennifer Westfeldt wrote a witty script and does a decent job of directing, though I found her a little underwhelming as the female lead. Everyone else was incredibly funny though, Adam Scott and Chris O’Dowd in particular absolutely stole every scene they were in. Worth it for them alone.
God Bless America – Horrifically and brilliantly violent, an older man diagnosed with a tumor befriends a high school girl and the two go on a Bonnie & Clyde/Natural Born Killers spree of killing all the people in society they deem “unworthy to live.” It’s Bobcat Goldthwait’s (yes, that Bobcat Goldthwait) manifesto against our self-centred, celebrity-obsessed culture and it is funny as hell. Subversive and a little preachy, but funny as hell. However, if violence isn’t your thing, I don’t recommend it. You will be horrified.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope – This movie might as well have been called “Sandra, This Is What You’ve Been Missing Out On! Get Your Ass To San Diego Already, Your People Are Waiting!” Incredibly, almost frighteningly relatable, Comic-Con follows six different convention enthusiasts as they attend last year’s Comic-Con – there’s the aspiring artists, the hardcore collector, the old school comic book purveyor, the cosplay enthusiasts, and the good ol’ fashioned nerds. These were my people. This was my tribe. I was literally moved by the film. I found myself rooting for the costume designer in the group of cosplayers, literally on the edge of my seat as I waited to see how they did in the masquerade.
See that girl on the left? With the bob? She designed these outfits. Now see that alien thing behind them? There’s a dude in that. His mouth and eyes FUCKING MOVE. And she designed that too. Words cannot describe how impressed I was with her. I felt a ridiculous sort of kinship with her, despite having no discernible skills when it comes to costumes or makeup. I left this one determined to go to Comic-Con, and soon.
Pariah – The story of a young black girl coming to terms with her sexuality and trying to hide that from her family, this was one of those underrated gems that you might not get to see without the Festival. It was moving and real and Adepero Oduye as the lead was an inspiration. Her Alike walks around with the weight of the world on her shoulders but when she smiles, you see the kid she can’t let herself really be and it breaks your heart.
Watching this poor, confused young woman try to navigate her complicated family life and and deal with her first romantic relationship was amazing. I especially appreciated how three-dimensional her family was and how you could almost sympathize with her poor mother, who is trying desperately to connect with a daughter she can’t bring herself to understand. If you get the chance, see this one.
The Day – An epic post-apocalyptic action flick about a ragtag group of survivors and their fight to live – who could ask for anything more? I seriously loved this flick. I’ve always had a soft spot for post-apocalyptic dystopias, especially ones where you get to see some ladies kicking ass, so this was right up my alley. Ashley Bell? BAD. ASS.
I loved that the cause of the apocalypse is never explained. I loved that it wasn’t even relevant, all that was relevant was how people were surviving in this terrifying new world. I loved the entire cast – Shawn Ashmore, Dominic Monaghan, Cory Hardrict, Michael Eklund, even Shannyn Sossamon who I’ve never cared much for before! All were incredible. It was violent and action-packed but also a realistic take on just what would happen to people if the world went to shit – just how would we survive? Fun fact: Marc Blucas was seated about two rows behind me; he was one of the producers of the film! I was oddly thrilled to be that close to a Buffy alum without a convention occurring around us.
Like Crazy – UGH, MY HEART. This movie was beautiful – a look at the honest, painful, and horrifically awkward glories of true love. Two college students fall in love, but when the girl overstays her visa, she is sent back to England and banned from coming back into the States. The story follows their struggles with a long distance relationship,as well as their attempts to get over each other and move on, when clearly they can’t let each other go.
I’ve always been a longtime fan of Anton Yelchin’s – his presence in this film pretty much guaranteed I’d see it – but I wasn’t particularly familiar with Felicity Jones. (though a quick scan of IMDb tells me she was on Doctor Who! Then again, what British actor hasn’t been? I think it’s legally required…) Both of them were incredible though, bringing a realistic and relatable nuance to their characters. Despite having never been in a relationship like this myself, I still found myself relating to parts of the film – one scene in particular where they moodily wander around a street market, both clearly in bad moods and taking it out on each other, was something I know I’ve been through. Writer/director Drake Doremus has officially made my watch list with this impressive feature film debut.
Drive – If you haven’t seen this yet, go to the theatre immediately. Ryan Gosling has described it as “Pretty in Pink with head-shots,” but I like to think of it as the thinking man’s action flick. Hollywood stuntman/mechanic by day, freelance getaway driver by night, Gosling’s nameless “Driver” manages to get himself into hot water with the mob when he tries to help out the ex-con husband of the neighbour he’s fallen in love with. Be forewarned though: Fast & Furious this is not. It’s violent and bloody, but it’s also thoughtful and beautiful. Ryan Gosling’s quiet, controlled performance is as phenomenal as you’d expect. Plus, he gets to wear a bitchin’ jacket!
For me, the real joy came from the Q&A where it became abundantly clear that Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn are now BFFs. I look forward to future collaborations between these two.
The Artist – Without a doubt, my favourite film of The Festival. Clever, cute, and absolutely lovely, it’s the story of a silent film star at the peak of his career and a young up-and-coming dancer about to make her big break. They meet at the dawn of the talking picture era which proves to be a crossroads for both of their careers. The music is incredible, and there’s more than one sly wink at the audience with regard to the lack of sound. And the performances! I could go on and on about this one, but here are the three things that I want to share:
* THERE IS DANCING.
And it’s OLD SCHOOL dancing. It’s Gene Kelly/Fred Astaire/Golden Age of cinema dancing. I was swooning.
* Speaking of Mister Kelly… The lead, Jean Dujardin, has a total Gene Kelly vibe to him.
How could I not fall in love with him?! Fun fact: the man speaks very, very little English, and the little he speaks is often broken. It somehow makes him even more adorable when you see him in person.
* Finally, the lead actress Bérénice Bejo looks like what I imagine the lovechild of Rachel McAdams and Morena Baccarin (of Firefly fame) would look like. In the best possible way.
See this movie. I promise you, you’ll be hearing about it come awards season.
hitRECord @ The Movies with Joseph Gordon-Levitt –
Not technically a movie, but easily the highlight of The Festival for me. Basically, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, my movie boyfriend, has this website called hitRECord.org. It’s a site of open collaboration between artists of all sorts of mediums – music, film, poetry, short stories, sketches, whatever gets your creative juices flowing. He occasionally hosts live shows where he showcases some of the stuff off the website and gets the audience involved in making new content. At TIFF he showed a few short films, read a couple one sentence stories (with the help of audience members – you can see me in the second row, white shirt, camera in front of my face,) talked about the duality of comedy and tragedy with the screenwriter of 50/50 (which I need to see, SOON,) and performed a story with Anna Kendrick. I loved every minute of it. He even encouraged audience members to interview each other and put it on the site. Here’s my neighbour interviewing me!
Without a doubt, one of the best nights of my life.