TAD 08 features announced

The Toronto After Dark Film Festival has announced its first 8 titles for this year (Oct. 17-24).

Two jumped out at me immediately: Red, a story about revenge starring the always wonderful Brian Cox

and Let The Right One In, a Swedish vampire film based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist

If you are a Facebook member, you can see all 8 hi-res trailers here. Otherwise, g’wan over to the TAD site to watch ’em.

I attended last year and I gotta say I hadda blast. I was really impressed with this upstart fest: it was well organized, the programming was international in scope, it included short programmes as well as features, it cut a pretty wide swath of genres (horror, SF, documentary, animation, cult, musical, and unpredictable combinations thereof), and it attracted thousands of patrons who weren’t averse to a little grue. Or a lotta grue, for that matter. 😉

Plus, it dovetailed with the annual Toronto Zombie Walk! Beat that, TIFF!

→ originally published 2008-08-27

Joy and Sorrow

Bernard, Ian, Peter, & Stephen in Manc

Y’know, I felt expectedly sad but still in control throughout Grant Gee’s documentary about Joy Division—long one of my favourite bands—before finally breaking down and sobbing over a visual pun at the end of it all. Gee had overlaid footage of a New Order performance of “Shadowplay” and footage of a Joy Division performance of same (one shadowing the other, you see) and, my God, what a terrible feeling of loss came over me.

Ian Curtis was gone before I’d ever even heard the band. I was introduced to the music of Joy Division by my friend Peter (who had eclectic tastes and who introduced me to a lot of interesting music) when I was in third-year university. At that time, the band’s dark and brooding post-punk music resonated with me and it has remained very important, very personal to me even though I’ve gone through a lot of changes since then. The intriguing thing about their music is that it just doesn’t sound dated. It doesn’t sound out of place today—nor has it ever, throughout all the years since it was laid into wax. They were way ahead of their time back then and, despite their minimal output, are generally considered a hugely influencial band.

I first heard of Gee’s documentary in the run-up to TIFF07, where it got its world premiere. This film, along with the North American premiere of a dramatized version of the story (Anton Corbijn’s Control) meant that Joy Division was certainly well represented at the film fest. Unfortunately, neither film screened during the few days I attended and—naturally—neither film ever showed up onscreen in the city where I live, so their release this summer on DVD was much anticipated.   Continue reading

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Skull-Pounding Set Pieces

here's your hat, what's your hurry?

‘I have a bad feeling about this…’
– Indiana Jones, quoting Han Solo, in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Damn, I knew it was a mistake to let hope and a few (over-?) generous reviewers overwhelm my longstanding belief that another Indiana Jones film would be a fiasco… As I start to write this, I just got back from seeing the latenight screening of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Incredibly Long and Charmless Movie Titles, and I’d rate it somewhere between the hokey-jokey Last Crusade and the screamy-corny Temple of Doom. And closer to the latter than the former. None of ’em even comes close to the pure cinematic joy of Raiders, of course.

But at least I didn’t hafta pay to see it.

The film bolts out of the gate and maintains the frenetic pace of a gallop to the end. It needs to stop and take a breath. It needs to pause and take a look around and think for a minute. Instead, it’s just one furious action set piece after another. But for all that, there are no thrills. I wasn’t moved to the edge of my seat even once. I never felt any sense of danger for the characters onscreen, even when they went plunging over three (count ’em: 3) enormous waterfalls. (Overfuckingkill. That’s the film in a nutshell.)   Continue reading

Ironclad hit

I see Rotten Tomatoes has compiled a 95% positive rating so far for Iron Man. And that percentage is slightly higher than the percentage of the movie than I saw tonight at the preview. Apparently, there was about 20 minutes left in the film when there was a reel switch and–whoosh!–everything onscreen was now dizzingly 1. backwards, and 2. upside-down. Remember the dancing Man From Another Place in Twin Peaks? Yeah, it sounded kinda like that. Except without the dancing.

made me feel a little woozy

Y’know, in the olden days, I’d’ve flipped out over that. I woulda stormed the projection booth, cussing and flailing, spittle flying. (I know, I know what you’re thinking: “Carla? Swearing? Nawww!” But it’s true! Believe. It. Or. Not.) It seems I have mellowed.

Up ’til that point, though, I can tell you that this is probably the best comic book adaptation I’ve seen onscreen. (And this coming from a diehard Hellboy fan. Sorry, GDT.) It’s an absolute blast–it’s got all the action you’d expect in a film of this genre, plus more wit than you’d expect, and a first-rate performance in the lead. Ah loves me some Robert Downey Jr, and his built-in bad-boy rep serves him well as Tony Stark–whose life-long self-absorption gets turned on its head (kinda like the final reel of this screening!). It’s still there, mind you–and this is good because I prefer my heros flawed–but leading him in a different direction after a rather major epiphany.

Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark

Downey’s razor-sharp delivery is perfect for Stark. His darkness is perfect. His intelligence and quick wit are perfect. And how he learned to perform his lines backwards and upside down is some kinda miracle. Genius! (Plus, umm, this might sound a little drooly girly but, oh my, those muscular shoulders and arms look mighty fiiiiiiine in those muscle shirts!)

(Incidentally, we were each given two free admissions to try to make up for the badly fracked screening, and one of mine will be used to see this again. All the way to the end right-side up next time. I hope. By then, of course, you will have seen it y’self, so I don’t need to tell you about it. And if you haven’t seen it by then, yeesh, crawl out from underneath that rock.)

→ originally published 2008-05-01

Do geminoids dream of electric sheep?

Could you love a robot? Should you love a robot? Or, rather, a geminoid, as its creator, Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, calls it. That’s one of the questions posed in Phie Ambo’s Mechanical Love.

Ishiguro and his evil twin

Ishiguro built his geminoid in his own image. Make of that what you will.

In fact, he coined the word “geminoid” from the Latin geminus, meaning “twin” or “double” and oid, which indicates “similarity”. And the damned thing does really look like him. If he were a robot, that is.

Apparently, he got the idea for this because he is so busy. He can’t be in two places at once, after all. So he built this copy of himself–sculpted from casts of his body–so that it could, say, sit in a meeting at the office while he was working elsewhere, and it would stand in for him as he spoke through it and manipulated it via remote control. ‘If I could have one at the university, and one at ATR, I would just do all my work from a hot-springs resort.’ Well, okay… it makes sense when he puts it that way. But he also wonders if people could come to have feelings for these things. Continue reading

Well named

Starting with Sundance, back in ’06, I have made a habit of trying to sit on the aisle, in a row near the back of the theatre, whenever I go to film festivals. Sometimes you need to get out quickly to get to another screening and other times you discover that you’ve chosen unwisely and just wanna slink out without causing other audience members to be taken out of the film by your rustling and excuse-mes as you squeeze past them out the row.

Well, wouldn’t you just know it, but the only time I ended up having to sit down at the front of the theatre at this year’s Hot Docs was for the one film I absolutely hated and wanted to get the hell outta before it was finished. There was nothing I could do but just gut it out.

The write-up on this thing described it as being about Carlos Castaneda‘s five “wives”, who mysteriously disappeared right after his death—never to be seen again. Sounds like it might be interesting, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. But when the director introduced her film by saying that she doesn’t normally make her films for an audience—she makes them for herself—and then added, ‘I hope that if you don’t find what you are looking for in this film, you find something else’, well… As it turns out, I didn’t find what I was looking for and all I found in its absence was frustration and boredom.

Minou Norouzi’s Anatomy of Failure reminds me of something that was made by a self-absorbed teenager who doesn’t know 1. how to construct a story, 3. how to capture something interesting within the frame, 3. how to draw a comprehensible story from the people she sets before her lens, or 4. how to focus her fucking camera!

I sat and seethed through this self-indulgent thing. What on earth the programmers saw in this, I dunno. I saw some blurry navel-gazing shit on a beach and then a bunch of interviews with flaky nouveau-hippies.

The Apology Line

At least the opening film was interesting. It was called The Apology Line and was a rather poetic little film about an anonymous phone line in Britain that you call when you need to apologize for something and you don’t feel you can make your apology to the person who deserves it. Some of the apologies are funny while others are wrenching. Directed by James Lees, it won the Best Short Documentary award at the festival.

Minou, the number is 0800 970 93 94.

→ originally published 2008-04-26

Jesus Loves You but I do not

...but I don't

I was looking forward to the group-directed Jesus Loves You–a film about a bunch of fundamentalist Christian missionaries from around the world who converged on Germany to minister to the millions who were there to attend the 2006 World Cup–but it left me with little taste in my mouth, good or bad.

It was shot by four crews–meaning four directors: Lilian Franck, Matthias Luthard, Michaela Kirst, and Robert Cibis–so that each could focus on one particular missionary… Tillman is a charismatic German who started a group called Youth With A Mission. Scott is a young pastor who preaches at the 411 Church in NYC in a bad hairdo. Gershom is a friendly, outgoing Zambian who, despite his young age, is a veteran missionary. Cody, in contrast, is a complete noob at this–freshly baptised in Scott’s church and decidedly awkward when it comes to approaching the strangers to whom he is meant to appeal.

There is a lot of buildup to the missionaries’ arrival in Germany but once they are there, it seems like there is little interaction shown between them and the soccer fans, and the film seems to lose its direction and peter out. The few soccer fans we meet don’t seem to know quite what to make of these earnest folks appealing to them to accept Christ as their saviour. The ending felt abrupt, without resolution. Not sure what the point of it all was, y’know?

→ originally published 2008-04-26

Dammit Jim, I am a doctor, not a carpenter

The English Surgeon

The English Surgeon (dir. Geoffrey Smith, U.K.) has won the Best International Feature award at this year’s festival. While I would’ve cast my vote in the direction of Man On Wire instead (because it is interesting not only in content but in form–whereas The English Surgeon‘s content is compelling but it is not doing anything interesting formally), I must say that I really enjoyed it.

It tells the story of British brain surgeon Henry Marsh, who has been helping out an impoverished Ukrainian clinic for the past 15 years, and his colleague in Kiev, Dr. Igor Kurilets, who admits he looks up to Marsh as an older brother. The film focuses on one operation that Marsh is to perform on a poor Ukranian farmer, Marian, who suffers from a brain tumour. What might be a simple operation in London is complicated by an ill-equipped clinic and inexperienced staff. We see Marsh and Kurilets shopping for a cordless drill at a hardware store in the local market. You can imagine what a brain surgeon might need a drill for. Just not the kind a handyman might buy. The operation, itself, is featured in the film and it’s definitely not for the squeamish. I had to avert my eyes a couple times and the guy beside me sat there with his hands over his ears when the drilling started.

Marsh is a droll delight, and this serves to leaven what could’ve been shameless melodrama. Yet we see how a failed attempt to help a child in his past has left a permanent mark on his soul and how it informs all his doctor-patient relations.

While it might not have gotten my vote for the award, I still feel that it is a beautiful, facinating film about a lovely man.

→ originally published 2008-04-26

Pong on steroids

Wednesday was full enough that I didn’t get a chance to do any writing between screenings. I had brunch at Future Bakery with an old friend and then we went to a screening of Second Skin. After that, we parted and I went on to The English Surgeon, The Black List, and then finished the night with Stranded, I’ve come from a plane that crashed in the mountains. Then, on Thursday, it was lunch with another friend–this time at St. Lawrence Market–then he went back to work and I went on to see Who’s Afraid of Kathy Acker?, Mechanical Love, and one of the films to which I have most been looking forward: Dreams With Sharp Teeth.

But it is late and I wanna go to bed, so just a little right now…

Second Skin

Second Skin, directed by Juan Carlos Piñeiro Escoriaza, is a look at a handful of M(assively)M(ultiplayer)O(online)R(role)P(playing)G(amers) and the role the games, themselves, play in their lives. The games featured are World of Warcraft and Everquest and, yes, I’ve heard of them but this is the first time I’ve ever clapped eyes on them. My experience in this realm began and ended with Pong.

It was a very familiar sensation that settled over me as the subjects began to explain how they felt about gaming and we saw the players sinking into their virtual world. It came as no surprise, then, when, later in the film, we were introduced to Liz Woolley–the founder of Online Gamers Anonymous–who was trying to help self-admitted game-addicted Dan, who has lost his job, his health, his home, and his friends. Liz blames her own son’s suicide on his gaming addiction and has set out to help others. Now, bear in mind that I have all kindsa trouble not with what she is trying to do but how she is trying to do it. So I wasn’t surprised to see her fail.

We are introduced to lots of couples who met via the community of online gamers. Folks who met virtually–as the characters they play in the games–before they met in the real world as their real selves. The relationships that are the focus of the film, however, don’t seem all that stable or strong to me because the individuals seem so emotionally immature. The cutting between the real people and their avatars is almost cruel in that you go from a handsome, swashbuckling hero in the game to a bespectacled nerd with a bad haircut, crooked teeth, and a cheesy goatee at the computer. I mean, we’re talkin’ living clichés, here!

Of course, what exactly constitutes their “real” selves is in question. Some of the gamers do believe that they are more their “real” selves online. To an outsider like me, that is extremely sad. But I realize that their perspective is very different from my own so what do I know? I mean, there seemed to be a lot of gamers in the audience and they reacted very positively to the film. I get the feeling we’re only getting part of the picture, though. I’m pretty sure there must be gamers who aren’t as loserish as these folks seemed to me to be–people who are able to function as responsible adults in the real world and still find time to devote to this hobby.

The last game I played looked like this

→ originally published 2008-04-25