Not another film about penguins

…however, in a film filled with Werner Herzog’s typically absurd observations, perhaps the funniest (both funny-haha and funny-weird) were those that had to do with penguins. ‘Deranged’ penguins, no less. In one of the many loosely-connected sequences in Encounters at the End of the World, Herzog trains his camera on a lone penguin who resolutely refuses to follow the herd (flock?) and stalks (or, rather, waddles) away from the coastline towards the centre of the continent towards certain death. Was it deranged? Suicidal? Is there such a thing as insanity in penguins, he wonders.

And that penguin may not be the only one (possibly) ‘deranged’ in Antarctica.

Well, the Beatles did it...

The people who find themselves drawn to life in Antarctica do, indeed, seem to have something in common with that penguin… And they have something in common with the sorts of people that Herzog is frequently fascinated with: loners who are obsessed, who may seem a bit ‘off’ because of that obsession, and who often seem to be oblivious about their ‘offness’. They are poets, linguists, philosophers, and probably a few of them are even fugitives from the law. They are thoroughly fascinating, often delightful, sometimes a little bizarre. Kind of like Herzog, himself. Continue reading

Man From Plains

cool retro poster for Man From Plains

Coming out of this film, I again wondered why so many Americans look down their noses at their 39th president. Jimmy Carter was well-regarded by the rest of the world, after all. He has always had the persona of a humble, gracious, honest humanitarian and I don’t think it’s just a facade. The seemingly indefatigable Nobel Peace Prize winner is in almost every frame of Jonathan Demme’s film. And he seems quite comfortable there; he has nothing to hide.   Continue reading

In Berlin, by the wall, you were 5′ 10″ tall

Towards the end of a rambling introduction to the North American premiere of his film late Tuesday night, director Julian Schnabel said he wanted to introduce his friend Lou. “Lou, stand up.”

Lou Fucking Reed. In the audience. Now, there was something I’d not counted on! In fact, just a few minutes earlier, I had been pondering the idea… and had decided that hell would likely freeze over before Lou Reed would sit in a movie theatre audience and watch himself perform onstage onscreen. Shows you what I know, eh?

Let me admit right up front that Berlin has never been one of my favourite Lou Reed albums. I know, I know… that makes me a heathen. I agree. But, damn, it’s just so full of anger and sadness and loss… and drugs… and violence… and death. And, (again) honestly, I have just never really been into “concept” albums. They strike me as hopelessly cornball.

Nevertheless, I must say I loved the experience of watching this album being performed onstage in this film. It really turned me upside down in my opinion of the record. The arrangements were lush, the musicians looked like they were really enjoying themselves (even Lou cracked a smile or two!), the set (designed by Schnabel, himself) was dreamy and mysterious, and he used snippets of what were meant to feel like home movies of “Caroline”–shot by his daughter, Lola. And I’d never heard of this guy before, but backing vocalist Antony has an incredible voice and does a fabulous job on one of the encores in duet with Lou. I just wish the performance were longer–I’d’ve happily sat there for another coupla hours.

I’m told by a friend who saw it that Schabel’s other film at TIFF07, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (for which he was awarded the Best Director award at Cannes earlier this year), is quite brilliant.

→ originally published 2007-09-13

Battle for Haditha

A veteran documentary filmmaker, Englishman Nick Broomfield has brought a dramatic treatment of a true story to TIFF this year. And his experience in documentary filmmaking serves the film well: it feels so authentic that you forget it’s drama. Battle For Haditha tells the story of what happened in Haditha, when Iraqi insurgents planted a roadside bomb that killed one marine and injured two others. The marines reacted by killing 24 Iraqis–none of whom had anything to do with planting the bomb.

Lending authenticity is the shooting location in Jordan and the cast–most of whom are non-professionals–which features two major characters who are played by ex-marines who served in Iraq. It really couldn’t feel more real.

The beauty of this film (if I can use that word to describe a film about such a horrendous event) is that it is perfectly balanced. It shows the perspectives of all three sides (the American marines, the innocent Iraqi citizens, and the Iraqi insurgents), and I didn’t find the story pitched in any particular direction. It’s as honest and admirable a look at war as I’ve seen. Very nice work by Broomfield.

Broomfield's Haditha

→ originally published 2007-09-12

Struck then Stuck

that's gonna hurt in the morning

Such a confusing title. I mean, both of them make sense. I’ve overheard a lotta people calling Stuart Gordon’s new film “Struck” but it really, truly is Stuck.

If I were still living in Tronna, the quickest no-brainer for me would be to buy the Midnight Madness programme package. The films in that series are my cuppa and the audiences are a blast. Tuesday night reminded me of the midnight screening of The Descent at the Tower Theatre in SLC at Sundance ’06. I was a volunteer at that theatre and my shift ended as soon as we’d gotten everyone seated for that screening but I stuck (er…) around because I wanted to see it. I swear the guy who sat behind me musta left a stain on his chair. Man, he just screamed his head off throughout the entire film. He was as entertaining–and startling–as the film was! And a coupla nights ago at the Ryerson Theatre there was a very similar vibe as the audience screamed and moaned and laughed and cheered.   Continue reading

Dear Diary of the Dead

My first TIFF07 screening is George Romero’s independently-produced return to the “little” zombie movie. (Incidentally, “little” is the adjective for “movie”; these are not gonna be midget zombies.) In advance of the screening, I know only a little about Diary of the Dead. Films in the horror genre are ones that I prefer to approach as “blind” as possible. What I do know is that it employs a plot device similar to that of The Blair Witch Project (and–as it occurred to me while I was watching it–the upcoming JJ Abrams-produced monster movie which may or may not be called Cloverfield): it’s all shot first-person by people who are living through the events depicted. (And here’s a word of warning–if you are susceptible to nausea caused by herky-jerky hand-held camera-work, take a seat towards the back for this one.) The other thing I know about this film is that Romero is going back to square one, zombie-lore-wise. Unlike, say, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead, this one takes us back to Night of the Living Dead, when the existence of the walking dead was new and mysterious and not a fait accompli within the world of the film.

Your toughest assignment, if you choose to see this film and are as familiar with film zombie lore as I am, will be to forget as much as you can before the opening credits roll. If you can take your mind back to the first time you ever saw Night of the Living Dead, that would be perfect. And this goes straight out to you, Constant Reader ZombieKillah: these are Romero zombies. They are not quick like bunnies. They shamble. They lurch. They flail. You can outrun the fuckers if they don’t catch you unawares and chew a hole in your neck before you even know what’s happening and what the hell that awful stench is. (There are more than a few inside-jokey references within the film about how slow these things are, which were appreciated by the audience I was in.)

Basically, this is Night of the Living Dead circa 2007 instead of 1968.   Continue reading

TIFF decisions

Okay, well, once the TIFF schedule came out, I took some time to go through it and figure out when would be the best time for me to go… It’s a much more expensive venture than going to Hot Docs (which I attended in its entirety), so I figured I’d look for the two- or three-day span that contained the highest number of screenings of the films at the top of my wish list.

I settled on September 10-12, inclusive.

Booked the same hotel I stayed in last year–the inconvenient and somewhat dumpy Days Inn in The Beaches–because it was too late to get anything downtown without offering up an arm or a leg for whatever handful of rooms might still be available. And I will need both arms and both legs for the upcoming half-marathon, so… The Beaches it is.

Happily, I was able to buy tickets to a bunch of screenings online at the TIFF website. So I have tickets for Diary of the Dead (George Romero’s new zombie film–and I can just hear your moans of jealousy all the way up here, ZombieKillah!),
This one's just eating your heart out, isn't it, Zeke?

as well as Stuck (Stuart Gordon), Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog), Lou Reed’s Berlin (Julian Schnabel), and Man From Plains (Jonathan Demme). I do have time to see some others but I will play that by ear because I’d also like to see some friends while I’m in town.

It’s a drag, but neither of the Joy Division films are screening over those days. So I will miss out on them. *update* Pete Howell has a good interview with Control‘s director Anton Corbijn and star Sam Riley here.

Now, I’m going to try to update this thing as I go along, but I can’t make any promises. If I can nip into some internet cafés between screenings like I did last year, I will.

BTW, that “Chasing the Buzz” feature at the Star got referenced at the TIFF site in the very cool Midnight Madness blog. The Romero and Gordon films I’m seeing are part of the MM programme, but Stuck is the only actual midnight screening I’m attending. The Diary of the Dead midnight screening is tonight. I’m seeing it Monday afternoon.

And, thanks to the MM blog, here’s the first glimpse of a new documentary about The Master!

→ originally published 2007-09-08

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!   Continue reading