As is often the case, it’s not whatcha know as much as it’s whoya know… and, in this case, it means I was invited, again, to participate in The Toronto Star‘s Peter Howell‘s annual pre-TIFF feature called Chasing The Buzz, wherein li’l film-loving bloggers like me get to throw our 2¢ into the pot along with the pocket change from professional film columnists and reviewers, critics and professors, festival programmers and assorted muckety-mucks (Hello, Piers). What’s in the pot, you ask? Well, Pete wants us to explain–in a single sentence (although a garrulous few get away with more)–which three films we are most excited about seeing at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Take Shelter, dir. Jeff Nichols

Jeff Nichols wrote and directed one of my happiest discoveries of the past year, Shotgun Stories (2007), which also features the star of Take Shelter, the estimable Michael Shannon. (Okay, full disclosure: I have an extreme case of the h-h-hots for Mr. Shannon. Fair ’nuff?  In fact, Shotgun Stories may have been the Shannon performance that hooked me. You might know him best as Agent Van Alden Awesome in HBO‘s “Boardwalk Empire”.)  It is a quiet but devastating little film about a feuding family that I highly recommend–the writing and performances are beautiful.

It is on the basis of Shotgun Stories that I am keen to see Take Shelter.  Again written by Nichols, it is the story of Curtis–a young husband and father and a crew chief for a mining company in the American Midwest–who may or may not be taking a frightening trip around the proverbial bend.  I expect it will be up to the viewer to decide which is the case… as Curtis struggles to understand the same thing onscreen.   Continue reading


Waiting for the afterthought

There’s a fascinating (and funny!) discussion between two of my favourite filmmakers–Errol Morris and Werner Herzog–posted at the Brandeis University site (Since this post was originally written, the video has been taken down.).

Click here to go to the interview at Brandeis

Among other things, they discuss the art of waiting for the afterthought–a skill that Herzog claims Morris has down to a fine art in the interviews he conducts in his films. Morris has what he calls ‘The 3-Minute Rule’ whereby, when you’re interviewing someone, if you’ll just shut up, say nothing, and let someone talk, within three minutes they will show you just how crazy they are. Herzog attests that it is Morris’ ability to be patient and wait for the afterthought that produces the most interesting parts of his interviews with his subjects. That element of uncertainty that the subject feels is powerful onscreen because you know, looking at it, that it was unplanned, unrehearsed, uncontrolled, unexpected, and that deep uncertainty about what to do, what to say, and what will happen next produces what Morris calls a moment that is ‘superlative’. It produces what I would call a very human moment and I think the identification between you as viewer and the person being interviewed onscreen is never stronger than at that moment. Until the crazy shit gets blurted out in an afterthought and you back the hell away. 😉

→ originally published 2007-11-04

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

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

It tastes just like chicken

Incidentally, a while back (quite a while back, actually!), I mentioned a little film by documentarian Les Blank, called Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. This is actually connected to my earlier post today, in that Herzog promised to eat said shoe if Errol Morris ever finished a film. He meant the dare as an encouragement to Morris, and it worked: Morris finished Gates of Heaven (see clip in previous post). And Herzog ate his shoe. With garlic and onions.

→ originally published 2007-08-05


Wow, as I sit here in an internet cafe just north of Dundas on Yonge, it turns out to have been a really good idea to just sorta drop everything and come to Tronna for the weekend and just hope to get into some TIFF screenings by using the rush lines.

I was able to buy a ticket for the first film I wanted to see. It never did sell out. It was Deliver Us From Evil, a documentary about Oliver O’Grady–a pedophile Catholic priest who molested at least a hundred kids in central California starting in the 70s. He fully cooperated with the filmmakers–likely not intending to come off as the sociopath he does (!)–and it was really interesting to hear his side of the story. But it was excruciating to see the pain he had inflicted on the victims and their families. I was in tears I dunno how many times and wanted to rip that (seemingly oblivious) sonofabitch’s nuts off by the time the house lights came up.

Then, later in the evening was the premiere of the new film by one of my favourite filmmakers, Werner Herzog: Rescue Dawn. This is a narrative version of the story of Vietnam POW Dieter Dengler, whose story Herzog told a few years ago in the documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. I got to the theatre two and a half hours before the screening and there were already 12 people in the rush line. Yeesh. Luckily, the theatre holds 1200 people, so it seemed likely that I might be able to get in on rush. But about an hour before the screening, some kind soul came up to me and flat-out gave me a ticket to the film! Yeah, gratis. So I got outta the rush line and into the ticket-holders line (which was ‘way around the block by that point). Happy as a clam. Kept checking my back pocket and feeling the ticket there–to make sure it was real. 🙂 Continue reading

Would you do it for a dollar?

I don’t know what made me think of this tonight, but… Can I persuade you to watch the film INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS without knowing anything in advance about it? Are you willing to do that? That’s how I watched it and, based solely on my own experience with it, I think that’s the best way to approach it.

I stumbled across it in the video store prolly over a year ago, now–saw the words “Werner Herzog” and “Loch Ness”, yelped with glee, and grabbed it. Didn’t even look at the box again. Just marched up to the counter, paid, and went home with it.
Herzog and Nessie and cameras, oh my!I’d never even heard of it before, and it turned out to be one of my favourite finds of the past few years.

If you’re gonna watch it, don’t Google it. Don’t IMDb it. Don’t even read the box at the video store. Just take it home and watch it. Then I’d love to hear what you thought of it. You don’t hafta know much about Werner Herzog before you watch it. Really, all you need to know about his work and his reputation as a filmmaker is addressed within the film.  Continue reading