Sunday, September 30, 2012

Toronto After Dark Unveils Full Slate of Films

A Fantastic Fear of Everything

The Toronto After Dark Film Festival recently announced the full lineup for this year’s festival. 20 new horror, sci-fi, action and cult feature films and 29 short films will screen either their Canadian or Toronto Theatrical Premieres exclusively at the festival’s 7th Annual Edition this October 18-26, 2012 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Below are the feature films that will be screening at the festival.

A dark and quirky comedy about a very nervous writer played by fan favourite Simon Pegg (SHUAN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, STAR TREK, SPACED) struggling with a slew of mental demons while working on a new novel about Victorian serial killers.

Winner of Fantasia Film Festival’s Best Film Award, this trio of apocalyptic tales features the rise of sentient robots, a zombie virus outbreak and an asteroid on a fatal collision course with earth. Co-directed by acclaimed Korean filmmaker Jee-woon Kim (I SAW THE DEVIL, THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE WEIRD, A TALE OF TWO SISTERS)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Kelly Macdonald: A Talent Worthy of Notice

 I’ve really come to appreciate the acting talent of Kelly Macdonald while watching Boardwalk Empire.  The way her character has transformed from a victimized, God-fearing Irish Catholic immigrant and vulnerable widow in the show’s first season to a brazen, bold and unpredictable woman has allowed Macdonald to display some seriously good acting chops and has provided for one of the most interesting character journeys on the show.  You can never be sure on what trajectory her character is going to go next because Margaret and her circumstances are always changing.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Scene Stealer: Frida

 I was transfixed the first time I saw Frida.  Julie Taymor’s colourful imagination and direction and her gift for creating daring and artistic visuals made the biopic about famed Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, a work of art in and of itself.  There are many memorable scenes in the film, but the scene that I recall being struck by the most is one that features destruction and pain but is a thing of real beauty.  The way Taymor stages and directs the scene makes the catastrophe more like a slow-moving, intense and visually-stunning theatrical vignette.  The events that informed Frida's character and fed her art are shot in painstaking, magical detail. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The 80s Movie Library: Weird Science

Not being a teenage boy, I didn’t understand the appeal of making the perfect woman, but I certainly enjoyed watching a film about it!  I just love the film Weird Science.  Its premise is completely outlandish, but it is carried off with so much humour and bizarre entertainment that it works on every level. John Hughes took the Frankenstein story, replaced the mad scientist with two nerdy computer geniuses and had them create a hot woman instead of a monster.

Gary and Wyatt write a special output program with specifications for what they want in a perfect woman.  They scan centerfold pictures and magazine covers of beautiful woman into the system; they input specific physical measurements and data and they hack into a government mainframe for more processing power.  What results is absolute chaos in Wyatt’s room.  Gale force winds and bolts of lightning erupt for several minutes and then a huge explosion occurs.  From out of the smoke and debris that remains, Lisa emerges, Gary and Wyatt’s dream creation.  Her first words are “So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Blind Spot: The Battle of Algiers

In war there is a thin line between what are considered honourable tactics and what are considered acts of terrorism. The problem is trying to decide where to actually draw? Is it when bombs are dropped from the sky from airplanes? Or is it when young girls are used to plant bombs in public places at the expense of ordinary citizens? This is the dilemma that is presented in Gillo Pontecorvo’s powerful film The Battle of Algiers.

Pontecorvo’s film recounts the events surrounding the Algerian war in the 1950s. Seeking independence from France, the National Liberation Front (FLN) starts a guerrilla movement that quickly escalated into an all out war with the French army. The capital city of Algiers soon becomes a vicious battleground where no one is safe. Average citizens become both causalities and pawns for both sides in the battle. The FLN enlist the assistance of women and children to plant bombs and shoot French soldiers at close range. The French army frequently raid homes and businesses in an attempt to locate insurgents. They even resort to using torture to extract any information they can about the FLN movement.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Great Debate – Major League vs. Bull Durham

Welcome to the Great Debate, a new feature that asks you to argue for or against one of two opposing film-related elements.  You will make your case for why you think one element is better than the other.  Let the debate begin!

The best rookie pitcher

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sneak Peek at Reel Asian’s 2012 Lineup

Valley of Saints

On Friday, the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival offered up a sneak peek at some of the films that will be screening at this year’s festival. The full festival lineup, including the Opening Night Gala film, will be announced until October 9, 2012. In the meantime, here is a small taste of this year’s selections:

Valley of Saints
Director Musa Syeed | Kashmir/USA 2012 | 82 min | Toronto Premiere | Director in Attendance
Upon the beautiful but troubled Dal Lake in Kashmir, a young boatman’s world is opened up by a visiting scientist in this lyrical drama about friendship, family and home. Winner of two Sundance awards.

Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings
Director Tadashi Nakamura | USA 2012 | 60:00 | Canadian Premiere | Director in Attendance
Jake Shimabukuro plays the ukulele but not like anything ever seen or heard before in this rock documentary on the pioneering Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso who propelled this simple four-string instrument to dazzling heights.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

TIFF 2012 Wrap Up Party

As we close the door on our TIFF coverage for another year, I figured I would share a few random thoughts on this year’s festival:

• Despite buying a back-half package, I still ended up seeing the majority of the films I wanted to see.

• The highlight of the festival was not the movies, but having the opportunity to meet, and in most cases, watch films with: Tom Clift of Movie Reviews by Tom Clift, Andrew Robinson of gmanReviews, Jess Rogers of Reel Insight, Sam Fragoso of Duke and the Movies, Andrew Johnson of Film Geek Radio, Dor Dotson of Movies with Dor, and Heidy Mo of Hye Musings.

• Out of the sixteen films I watched, I was only alone for three of them.

• It was also nice to meet Edward Douglas whose site is one that I have been reading since long before I got into the film blogging culture.

• Turns out sitting through a 4 ½ hour film is far easier than I expected.

Friday, September 21, 2012

TIFF Review: Lore

It is always a risky venture to tell a story set during World War II from the Nazi perspective. Trying to provide a thoughtful examination, without watering down the content, of those whom many would deem monsters is a challenge for even the most skilled director. Fortunately Australian filmmaker, Cate Shortland, is up to the challenge with her beautiful and haunting film Lore.

Lore is a film that picks up right as the Germans are losing the war and word of Hitler’s death begins to spread. After her SS father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) and mother? (Ursina Lardi) are imprisoned, and seemingly murdered, for their part in the war, Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is left in charge of her four younger siblings. Promising her mother that she would take the siblings - younger sister Liesel (Nele Trebs), twins Jurgen (Mika Seidel) and Gunther (Andrei Frid) and baby brother, Peter (Nick Holaschke) – to their grandmothers house in Hamburg, Lore sets out on a journey across the German countryside. Unfortunately for Lore and her family, the German landscape has changed drastically as the country has been divided into sections in which American, British, and Russian soldiers now occupy.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

TIFF Review: 90 Minutes

Eva Sørhaug’s latest film, 90 Minutes, is an extremely well made drama that offers a lot to think about. Unfortunately, the film’s brutal honesty will hinder it from reaching a wider audience. It is a film that will leave those who enjoyed it feeling cold and elicit walkouts by those angered.

A study of the male psyche and the rage that comes from it, 90 Minutes focuses on three distinct stories all connected by acts of violence. In one story an older business man, Johan (Bjorn Floberg), is shown tidying up his affairs. He cancels services and gets rid of an apartment he was renting, but his reasons are not explained at first. The next tale revolves around a policeman named Fred (Mads Ousdal) who bickers with his wife, Elin (Pia Tjelta), while trying to deal with a house full of children running around, and neigbours popping by. The last, and most violent of the stories, centers around Trond (Headhunters’ Aksel Hennie), a young man who seems to be annoyed by the local youth playing loudly outside on the street below.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

TIFF Review: Penance

Every year there is one film that screens at TIFF that gets talked about more for its length rather than its content. This year it was Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s film Penance and its four and a half hour running time that received such buzz. Originally conceived as a miniseries for the WOWOW network in Japan, the film has been making the rounds on the festival circuit as a complete 270 minute film. Though a four hour plus film may seem like a chore, Penance was a breeze to sit through largely due to the way Kurosawa unfolds the central mystery within the plot.

Asako Adachi (Kyoko Koizumi) finds her life turned upside when her daughter, Emili, is assaulted and murdered. Though the killer got away, Emili’s four friends, Sae, Maki, Akiko, and Yuka all saw the killer’s face. Fearful for their lives the girls refuse to share this information with the police, each claiming that they have no memory of the incident. After six months with no breaks in the case, Asako sits the girls down and makes them promise to either assist her in finding Emili’s killer, or endure an act of penance for their cowardice.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

TIFF Review: Frances Ha

There comes a point in everyone's life, around the mid to late twenties, where you must decide what you want out of life. For many that point comes rather unexpectedly. One day you notice that everyone else is using words like "career" and "marriage". Furthermore, all the things you and your friends used to make fun of are now the things you covet the most. This is the exact predicament that Greta Gerwig's Frances Halliday finds herself in.

Frances is a 27 year-old dancer who has been apprenticing at a dance company for many years. Though her dream is to become a full member of the company, her chances are slim at best. Despite not having a stable job, Frances finds solace in the fact that she shares an apartment with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Frequently referred to by Frances as "me with different hair", Sophie is the only one who truly understands Frances. The pair even share a dream of achieving success in life at the same time. Unfortunately, cracks in their friendship begin to appear when Sophie jumps at the opportunity to live in her dream New York location of Tribeca. Unable to carry the rent alone, and not willing to accept that it is time to take responsibility for her life, Frances’ life begins to take a downward spiral just as everyone else's life seems to be on the up and up.

Monday, September 17, 2012

TIFF Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook is a wonderful welcome home of sorts for David O. Russell. After tackling gritty drama in his Academy Award nominated film The Fighter, Russell returns to quirky family comedy in the same vein as his 1996 film Flirting with Disaster. Adapted from the novel by Matthew Quick, the film is a smart romantic comedy that teaches us all the importance of looking on the brighter side of life.

After spending eight months in a psychiatric institution, Pat Solanto (Bradley Cooper) is finally being released into the custody of his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver). A former teacher who suffers from bipolar disorder, Pat found himself in the facility after brutally beating a co-worker who was having an affair with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee). With a new outlook to find the silver lining in every aspect of life, Pat is determined to get his life back on track. This includes winning back Nikki, who currently has a restraining order against him.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

TIFF Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Joss Whedon is having one hell of a year. First his film Cabin in the Woods becomes an instant cult classic, he even converted those who are generally not fans of the horror genre. Whedon then shepherds the summer blockbuster The Avengers to both critical and financial success far greater than anyone expected. So how does he follow-up one of the biggest films of the year? By making a small intimate film that ends up being one of the better contemporary Shakespeare adaptations to hit the screen.

Shot in black and white during a twelve day period, and set entirely in Whedon’s own Santa Monica home, the film plays like an intimate gathering of friends who are all having the time of their lives. Keeping true to the source material, while still incorporating Whedon’s distinctly witty voice, Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy filled with romance and misunderstandings. The story focuses on two couples with distinct views on love. Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) both openly dismiss the notions of love, marriage, and most importantly, take pleasure in scorning the other. By contrast Claudio (Frank Kranz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese) seem like the perfect couple. They reveal in their love for each other and cannot wait to solidify it through marriage.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

TIFF Review: Blondie

In 2009, Jesper Ganslandt’s film The Ape was one of the most talked about films at TIFF. It was an intimate, and at times harsh, psychological study that cemented Ganslandt as one of the young directors to watch coming out of Sweden. Though his latest film, Blondie, is far warmer in tone than his previous effort, it is clear that Ganslandt is making good on the promise he showed a few years earlier.

On the eve of their mother’s, Sigrid (Marie Goranzon), 70th birthday celebrations, three sisters each return home with their own sets of troubles. Elin (Carolina Gynning), the oldest of the three, is a model whose lifestyle consists of drinking and drugs. Katarina (Helena af Sandeberg), the middle child, is a successful doctor with a husband, Janne (Olle Sarri), and two daughters of her own. Unhappy with her marriage, she is caught up in an affair with a younger man. Lova (Alexandra Dahlstrom), the youngest sibling, suffers from severe anxiety seemingly caused by the mental strain of her family.

Friday, September 14, 2012

TIFF Review: Smashed

There are certain films where you can tell you are witnessing a life altering performance. One that will forever change your mind about the capabilities of a particular actor or actress. Smashed is one of those films. Although the film deals with the topic of alcoholism, it the performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead that will be the most talked about aspect of James Ponsoldt’s latest film.

Smashed is a film that explores how both alcoholism and sobriety can impact a relationship. Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) are a seemingly happy couple who share a love for not only each other, but alcohol as well. There is rarely a moment when they are not drinking or talking about going out to drink. After a string of increasingly rough drunken nights, which culminate in a hungover Kate vomiting while teaching her first grade class, Kate decides it is time for a change. Through the help of her co-worker Dave (Nick Offerman), a former alcoholic, Kate begins attending regular AA meetings and even finds a sponsor in Jenny (Octavia Spencer).

Thursday, September 13, 2012

TIFF Review: Byzantium

Eighteen years after igniting the vampire craze in mainstream pop culture with his film Interview with the Vampire, director Neil Jordan returns to the genre with his latest film, Byzantium. Thanks to the Twilight and Underworld franchises, not to mention shows like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries, the vampire genre has become oversaturated. This ultimately begs the question as to whether or not there is anything left in the genre for Jordan to explore?

Neil Jordan's tale revolves around Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor Webb (Saoirse Ronan), a mother and daughter duo on the run. Fiercely protective of her child, Clara will do anything to provide for Eleanor, even if it means stripping or resorting to prostitution. Unlike her mother, Eleanor is a loner who is burdened by the events of the past. She spends her days writing out family secrets only to discard them in the wind.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

TIFF Review: To the Wonder

There was a strange atmosphere in the festival line going into To the Wonder, the latest film by acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick. Despite being Malick’s follow-up film to last years, critically acclaimed Academy Award nominee The Tree of Life, there was an odd mixture of anticipation and hesitation in the air. The fact that Malick normally does not produce films this close together, coupled with the negative buzz from Venice, left many unsure what type of film they would be experiencing?

The film follows a stoic American man, Neil (Ben Affleck), who falls for a single mother, Marina (Olga Kurylenko), while visiting Paris. The pair frolic around the Parisian landscape in ultimate harmony of love and nature. Neil eventually asks Marina and her daughter to move to the States. While their love affair is passionate at first, the fact that Marina’s visa is running out and Neil shows no intentions of marrying her drives a wedge between them. After numerous arguments, the couple is forced to separate for a period of time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

TIFF Review: Gangs of Wasseypur - Part One

In a weird way, using the word “epic” in regards to Anurag Kashyap’s sprawling gangster film Gangs of Wasseypur feels too small a word. The film is an ambitious undertaking that spans the course of six decades in one family’s violent history. One would assume that six decades would provide more than enough stories to tell. However, this merely serves as the first half of the saga for Kashyap. Gangs of Wasseypur is a story told in two parts with each film clocking in around 156 minutes. If Part Two of Gangs of Wasseypur has already been compared to the violent and energetic works of directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Johnny To, then Part One clearly has its feet planted in the same vein as Francis Ford Coppala’s Godfather saga.

The film begins in 2004 with a group of armed men attempting to gain access to a locked house with the intention of killing the family inside. The men spray the house with bullets and bombs but cannot seem to gain access inside the house. As there is seemingly no sign of life inside the leader of the group proudly proclaims that Faizal Khan is dead. Who was Faizal Khan? Is he really dead? What did he do to deserve such an assault on his household? In order to answer these questions, you need to know about his family’s history.

Monday, September 10, 2012

TIFF Review: The Sessions

Based on a true story, The Sessions is a film that focuses on 38 year-old poet Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), who is paralyzed from the neck down as a result of having polio. When he is not getting breathing assistance from an iron lung machine, Mark writes articles on living with disabilities. After being asked to write an article on the sexual habits of people with a disability, and having his romantic affections constantly rejected, Mark decides that it is time for him to lose his virginity. Strong in his religious beliefs, Mark seeks a blessing to pursue this venture from Father Brendan (William H. Macy), a priest in whom he frequently confides.

When Father Brendan assures Mark that God will give him a “free pass on this one”, Mark sets out to find a sex surrogate. Mark’s search leads him to Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt), a surrogate who has strict rules regarding her clients only getting six sessions. Not what most would typical expect a sex surrogate to be, Cheryl lives a normal life with her husband and son. As the pair conducts their sessions, Mark must confront both anxieties about sex and emotional issues from his past. The encounters also begin to have an unexpected impact on Cheryl as well. She not only struggles with how to handle Mark’s growing affection for her, but also the feelings she is developing as well.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

TIFF Review: The War of the Volcanoes

In the final moments of the documentary The War of the Volcanoes, the narrator states that the film is not the story of Anna, Ingrid, and Roberto, but the story of a volcano who has stayed the same over the years. If this was really the case, then the film would be far less interesting. While the volcano is the element that ties all the threads together, make no mistake the films is about those three individuals and the scandal that they evoked. It is about one woman coming to terms with who she is and another woman trying to hold onto something that she can no longer have.

Incorporating only archival footage and clips from numerous films, some directed by Roberto Rossellini and others featuring Anna Magnani or Ingrid Bergman, director Francesco Patierno creates a film that charts the events that led to an infamous scandal that rocked Hollywood. The War of the Volcanoes begins by explaining the significance of the Panaria Film company’s achievement in developing a photography device to capture underwater spear fishing by the locals of the Aeolian Islands. One the founders of Panaria Film happened to be a cousin of director Roberto Rossellini. After being shown footage of the island, Rossellini’s cousin suggests that he makes a film that is set on the island. Inspired by this idea, Rossellini beings to plot out what would eventually become the film Stromboli.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

TIFF Review: Stromboli

Upon its release Stromboli was talked about for its behind the scenes romantic scandal between the film’s director, Roberto Rossellini, and it star, Ingrid Bergman, more than for the actual product on screen. As a result the film was boycotted by some in the United States and panned, some would argue unfairly, by critics. Considering the amount of Hollywood scandals that have occurred since the film was originally released in 1950, and the fact that film lovers have become far more open-minded, it seems only fitting that Stromboli gets a newly restored big screen treatment.

Rossellini’s film tells the story of Karin (Ingrid Bergman), a Lithuanian refugee who finds herself stuck in an Italian displacement camp after fleeing the events of WWII in her homeland. When Karin’s attempt to obtain a visa to Argentina is denied, she accepts the marriage proposal of Antonio (Mario Vitale), a recent prisoner of war. Though Antonio is a simple man, Karin sees a chance for freedom from the camp when Antonio takes her to live at his home on the island of Stromboli. Karin’s expectations of the frills of island life are dashed when she discovers that Stromboli is a desolate place with an active volcano. Furthermore, Antonio’s rundown house is far from the living accommodations that Karin is accustomed too. Antonio’s lack of money only worsens Karin’s view of the situation.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Michael Clarke Duncan: Gone Too Soon

That smile, that deep voice, that hulking frame and towering height.  He certainly had a memorable presence.  Like most people I’m sure, I was shocked to hear about the untimely death of Michael Clarke Duncan.  It’s another sad case of an actor gone too soon.  A lot of what’s been talked about in the coverage since his death references his memorable, Oscar-nominated role in The Green Mile.  It was a truly incredible performance that I honestly didn’t expect from him.  He embodied the character of John Coffey with such believability that it seemed he wasn’t acting at all; he was being the character through and through.  The gentleness, sensitivity and goodness of John Coffey and his inexplicable ability to miraculously take infection, disease and death away was characterized so persuasively by Duncan.  He portrayed a gentle giant who exudes goodness and I can’t help but think that Michael Clarke Duncan was very much like John Coffey in that regard.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

I Have Scene It Before

Last month 10 of the 11 films were identified. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tide was the only film to stump people. As TIFF kicks off tomorrow, this month’s selection of scenes are all from films that I saw at TIFF. How many can you identify?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Good, The Bland, and The Ugly: Kevin Smith

The premise of this is simple: if someone, who knows little about the director/actor/etc. in question, asked you to select one film for each of the following three categories below what films would they be?:

1) The Good – A film they should seek out right away
2) The Bland – Not among the best, but still a film they should see.
3) The Ugly – If pressed for time, this is the one film that they should skip in order to squeeze in more hours for the top works.

Keeping this in mind, my three would be as follows:

Monday, September 03, 2012

My TIFF 2012 Schedule

To the Wonder

TIFF 2012 will be my 11th year attending the festival but it feels like the first time all over again. First off, I purchased a package that was different than what I normally would buy. While it made immense sense for me from a financial standpoint, the flip side of the coin is that I had to wait until everyone else got first crack at the tickets before selecting my films. It was a tough but fair trade that taught me patience if nothing else.

Another first for me this year is that I will be finally meeting several film bloggers from the United States, Australia, and the Caribbean who I converse with regularly online. This will definitely be the biggest highlight of TIFF this year outside of the films. Speaking of the films, here is what I will be seeing at the festival:

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Blow Out the Candles: Sean Penn

Sean Penn turned 52 on August 17th.  I remember seeing a 26-year-old Sean Penn star opposite Madonna in Shanghai Surprise.  Boy has he come a long way since then.  When I think about his body of films, I am so impressed by the diversity of his choices. No role has been the same; no film the same.  He makes films that he wants to make and doesn’t think about commercial appeal or critical acclaim.  In fact, he’s known for wanting nothing to do with the whole Hollywood hullabaloo, yet he is one of Hollywood’s biggest guns.  He’s got a reputation as a bit of a bad boy, too, thanks perhaps to his outspoken nonchalance towards mainstream Hollywood and his 36-hour stint in anger management classes for blowing up on a photographer in 2009.  He’s also a devoted and active humanitarian.  He’s a complex character, just like those he portrays in his movies.  Perhaps that’s why he’s so compelling to watch and why his performances are always so enthralling and layered, because he brings so much of his own nuances to his roles so that they’re informed by the complexities of his own interesting persona.  He transforms from the inside out and literally slips behind the veil of the characters he portrays.  Here are a few of my picks for Penn’s most powerful, memorable, impactful and unexpected performances.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Sharing the Blogging Love

Wondering what film lovers have been chatting about this week?

Here is Your Reading and Listening Schedule for Today:

9 am: Episode 2 of As You Watch talks gangster films and reviews Dick Tracy.

10 am: The Cinema in Noir podcast reflects on Tony Scott’s career and discusses Zoe Saldana being casted to play Nina Simone.

11 am The Toronto Film Scene talks to four Toronto film critics about what media does at TIFF.

12 pm: Sveta takes reviews ParaNorman.