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Chasing the buzz

Clearly illustrating how true it is that it ain’t whatcha know but, rather, whoya know, I was invited to take part in a survey of what we most wanna see at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. What was the criteria for being invited to participate? Something about being buff. Or mebbe it was something about being a film buff. Or someat like that. But the rules! Oy, the rules! They were cruel: I could name only three films and I could justify each choice with only one sentence. Ye gods.

But, hereabouts, my rules rule. So here’s a little further elucidation…

Stuck, dir. Stuart Gordon

I haven’t seen all of Stuart Gordon’s films but I have really liked every one I have seen (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dagon, Castle Freak, King of the Ants, and Edmond).

Stuck is based on a true story that I can remember being all over the news a few years ago. In Texas, an intoxicated woman struck a man with her car and he flew up over the hood and lodged in her windshield. Did she call 911? No. Did she drive to the hospital? No. Instead, she drove all the way home with him like that, pulled into her garage and closed the door and then went in the house and left the poor guy to die a slow painful death overnight—ignoring his cries for help that she could hear from inside her house. Then she dumped the body. Isn’t that sweet? A girl you’d like to take home to meet Mom, eh?

Anyhow, throughout his filmmography, you will find that Stuart Gordon has a deft hand when it comes to finding the blacker-than-black comic side of a gruesome story. His films are what you could call transgressive–just a step beyond where other filmmakers might draw the line, y’know?

Making a smartass remark about head would be too easy, don't you think?
(Like, oh, say, a sex scene between a nubile young thang and Dr. Hill’s re-animated decapitated head.)

That approach and tone is what I like best about his work. I don’t know if he takes that kind of off-kilter funny/weird/awful tack with this film, but I am sure anxious to see!  

Encounters at the End of the World, dir. Werner Herzog

If you remember, I wasn’t all that taken with the film that Herzog (one of my all-time favourite directors!) brought to TIFF last year. (If you’re interested in the story of Dieter Dengler, I’d recommend the documentary Herzog made, instead of Rescue Dawn. Mebbe it’s just me, though, ’cause I’ve seen some raves for the latter. I just shake my head and wonder what they saw that I didn’t see. Could simply be a case of my judgment being clouded by my love for the documentary.) But this year he is returning to Tronna with a documentary, and I am keen to see what he’ll do with the form this time. ‘Cause he’s not exactly what you’d call a “traditional” documentarian. He is about as interested in the bald truth as some allege Michael Moore is. Rather, what he is trying to get at is something he calls the ‘ecstatic truth’:

‘The term ‘ecstatic truth’ is searching for truth beyond the facts and much deeper than facts’

…and if getting to that level of ecstatic truth means he creates and manipulates scenes in his documentaries, well, so be it.


This time, he comes to TIFF with a documentary about Antarctica—specifically, about the people who live and work at McMurdo Station. Encounters at the End of the World will introduce us to people who have chosen to live a step removed from the rest of the world (‘off the map’, as they say). Herzog has always been fascinated (and has fascinated this viewer) with people one might label “eccentric” (and Herzog, himself, might charitably be called that, I reckon) and I eagerly look forward to meeting them in this film. Also, it will be interesting to see how he handles nature down there. Herzog is hardly a stranger to the ecological extremes of our planet (known more for the many films he’s shot in the world’s jungles, he’s also shot on a volcano, in the desert—both calm and explosive—and in grizzly country. He does seem to be most at home at those places on the map where nature goes a little mad. As in crazy. Draw your own conclusions ’bout that.

Joy Division, dir. Grant Gee

Grant Gee was the cinematographer and an editor on the Scott Walker bio I enjoyed at Hot Docs earlier this year, but this will be the first film I’ve seen that was directed by him.

A friend of mine turned me onto the music of Joy Division many years ago, when we were in university together. I have remained a fan of the band to this day. I consider their music timeless: when I listen to it nowadays, it still sounds as interesting and challenging and powerful as it did back then. While I would also like to see the fictional account of the band’s story playing at the festival, CTB rules said I could only name three films, so it is this documentary that takes precedence for me. Not only does it present audio and video that has never before been released, but the surviving members of the band have fully cooperated with the filmmakers.

So. Now that I have gotten around the rule that limited me to a single sentence to justify my choices, it’s now time to deke His Nibs’ rule about limiting myself only three film choices. Obviously, I have a much longer list than just those three TIFF films that I think sound good. I’m going to try to scoot down to Tronna without tickets for two or three days and hope for the best (that plan worked out great last year!), so with a list of possibilities like this, I think I’ll be able to see a few that interest me.

Follow the jump to see the list…

Diary of the Dead, dir. George Romero
Love Romero. Love zombie movies. Love Blair Witch Project. So, with this, how can I lose?

The Mother of Tears, dir. Dario Argento
The way some people think of Botticelli when they hear the words “Italian Master”, I think of Dario Argento. And he tends to favour red in his palette. This is the final film in the trilogy Argento started with Suspiria and Inferno.

Mister Lonely, dir. Harmony Korine
Expect something, umm, non-linear. And sometimes inexplicable. I dunno. I really liked Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy, which most people seem to despise. Go figger. Werner Herzog likes ’em. Gus Van Sant likes ’em. I may be in limited company, but at least it is interesting company. 😉

Eastern Promises, dir. David Cronenberg
If this film was made by anyone other than David Cronenberg, I prolly wouldn’t be interested. But Cronenberg’s a genius. So.

The Orphanage, dir. Juan Antonio Bayona
Produced by Guillermo del Toro, this film actually sounds like something he’d make himself. It has been likened to the film del Toro brought to TIFF last year, so I have high expectations of this one.

Ex Drummer, dir. Koen Mortier
Man Bites Dog meets Trainspotting meets Spinal Tap? Count me in!

I’m Not There, dir. Todd Haynes
I’m not a Bob Dylan fan, but I am fascinated by the idea of this film: 6 different actors play Dylan at various pivotal points in his life. The soundtrack looks great!

Lou Reed’s Berlin, dir. Julian Schnabel
Not my favourite Lou Reed album, but… it’s Lou Fucking Reed, ppl. Concert film, covering an album of songs he doesn’t normally perform onstage. Incidentally, the best concert I ever saw was a free show by him down in Buffalo. Went with my aforementioned Joy Division pal, coincidentally enough. We stood ten or fifteen feet away from Lou for the whole show.

Man From Plains, dir. Jonathan Demme
Who doesn’t admire Jimmy Carter? And Jonathan Demme has made some of my favourite films (Stop Making Sense, Swimming to Cambodia, The Silence of the Lambs). I expect a clear-headed look at a compassionate, intelligent man.

Margot at the Wedding, dir. Noah Baumbach
If you saw Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, you won’t question why I’d want to see this one.

No Country For Old Men, dir. Joel Coen/Ethan Coen
The Coen Brothers have rarely taken a mistep from Blood Simple to today. I always have high expectations of their films.

Nothing Is Private, dir. Alan Ball
Until now, mainly a screenwriter (American Beauty–certainly one of my top 5 films), he has sometimes combined it with directing on the small screen (the frequently excellent HBO series “Six Feet Under”) but this is his big screen debut as a director, adapting Alicia Erian’s novel Towelhead. From what I’ve seen of his visually interesting tv directing, I am very anxious to see how he’ll handle the larger canvas. And he wrote the adaptation, so I know the screenplay will be good.

Persepolis, dir. Vincent Paronnaud/Marjane Satrapi
This is an animated adaptation of an autobiographical graphic novel describing author Marjane Satrapi’s youth in revolutionary and then war-torn Iran. I want to lay my hands on the book after getting a look at the stills from the film…

Ping Pong Playa’, dir. Jessica Yu
Just because her Protagonist was one of my favourite films at Hot Docs!

Please Vote For Me, dir. Weijun Chen
What would happen if democracy came to China? Let’s see how these 8-year-olds react. (That may be overestimating the average politician’s maturity level, however.)

Religulous , dir. Bill Maher/Larry Charles
A film about the role religion plays in our world. Delivered by the director of Borat and “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, and satirest Maher. It’s gotta be hilarious!

The Savages, dir. Tamara Jenkins
I read a review that called it a new genre: a coming-of-middle-age story. It’s about two adult siblings who have to come home and take care of an ailing parent who had never done much to care for them. With Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney in the lead roles, this will be sharp and both darkly funny and touching, I think.

The Tracey Fragments, dir. Bruce McDonald
This one sounds visually arresting (apparently it is presented almost entirely in split screens) and stars Canadian actor Ellen Page, who really impressed me in Hard Candy.

Trumbo, dir. Peter Askin
This is a portrait of legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who was blacklisted by HUAC. This film is based on the play.

(…with thanks to Pete, for inviting me to participate in this!)

→ originally published 2007-09-01


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