Mary, Queen of WHUT?

When I watched this trailer for MARY, Queen of Scots, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this HAD to be on my TIFF “to-see” list.

So last Saturday, Renée and I crammed ourselves into a packed theatre and prepared ourselves for what we thought would be a good show. Given what I knew in general about the story behind Mary, I figured what I would see would be bat-shit crazy in the best way possible.

Two hours later, when the movie’s title card flashed on-screen at the end?

NOBODY CLAPPED.

And when the lead actress’s name flashed on the screen, it was met with sparse, scattered applause.

Honestly – at first, I thought I just didn’t understand what I’d just watched. Was I just not intelligent enough to get it? Was I that basic?

And then I turned to Renée, and she was wearing the same expression.

So. What was the deal with this film?

From what I could surmise, the story is depicted (in a very non-linear fashion) through a series of flashbacks and hallucinations leading up to Mary’s execution. But to be honest, I really couldn’t be sure. I’m STILL confused about this film, as I write this.

Mary (portrayed by actress Camille Rutherford) came across as a REALLY incompetent ruler, and only interested in the men she bedded, in her social commitments, and unhealthily obsession with wanting to meet (and be accepted with open arms by) her English cousin, Queen Elizabeth.

Um. Okay.

Now, I understand that, when such a well-known historical story has been told so many times, you can’t fault someone for wanting to try an unconventional approach. And the actors involved tried to work with what they were given.

But it’s hard to take a steaming pile of manure and try to pass it off as a thing of beauty.

This really, REALLY didn’t work. At all.

Sure, there were really neat shots of the fog enveloping the Scottish landscape, or reaching its wispy fingers across the wet sand. And some of the costuming for Rutherford’s character was neat (especially that vibrant red dress she wore to her execution).

But random yelling while riding a horse through the woods, because you’re stressed (I think?), among other things? What?

This film – directed by Swiss-based director Thomas Imbach – was bat-shit crazy for ALL the wrong reasons.

Everyone hits a dud movie now and then. But this wasn’t how I’d imagined ending my TIFF experience.

Finding Out About Vivian

IMAG0414On Friday night, Renée and I saw the documentary Finding Vivian Maier, directed by John Maloof and produced by Charlie Siskel.

Originally, there were only two screenings programmed into the festival’s schedule. But early Thursday afternoon, TIFF announced via Twitter that a third screening had been added. And knowing a bit about the story beforehand, it was an opportunity that I just couldn’t turn down.

The back-story – about the discovery of Vivian Maier‘s skillful work as an amateur street photographer – received quite a bit of press in 2010 and 2011, thanks to efforts by individuals to get her photographs the recognition they felt she was due. In fact, there are several Web sites that showcase and sell some of her work.

This particular documentary portrays the journey from John Maloof’s perspective, when he first discovered a portion of Maier’s negatives at a 2007 auction (two years before Maier’s death), which was followed by Maloof’s efforts (as portrayed in the film) to find out more about the woman behind the lens.

What Maier – a pack-rat, as it turns out – left behind is, admittedly, astounding, and (according to the film) this is what Maloof uses to piece her life together. We do get to find out a bit of what she looked and sounded like. We learn a bit about her life working as a nanny, through interviews with some of her former charges and employers, and get fleeting glimpses into the existence of Vivian the woman – for better and for worse.

But Maier – whose story is supposed to be the focus of the film – is slightly overshadowed by Maloof’s presence, and his near-obsessive quest to find out about her life.

Initially – because I love a good story – my reaction to the documentary was overwhelmingly positive.

But, in sharing thoughts with Renée following the movie, it seems a number of questions were left unanswered. But I won’t go into those questions here. I’ll leave you to watch for yourself. (Renée will likely be sharing her thoughts in the days ahead, so you can visit her blog then.)

But what we know now about a life that had, up until 6 or so years ago, existed in obscurity, has proven intriguing. And now that the film has been released, it’s going to be interesting to see what discussions develop about Maier and her work.

Almost Late for Movie # 8!

1379032838476Thursday was my first attempt to juggle my work schedule with the remainder of TIFF’s schedule.

Tonight’s film was the only Canadian feature Renée and I were planning on seeing, called Sarah Prefers to Run.

But due to TIFF fatigue, I almost missed it! I was supposed to meet Renée at the theatre at 8:15 p.m.

But somehow my eyes interpreted our plan as “let’s meet in our neighbourhood at 8:15”.

So when I got her text telling me she was at the theatre, that literally sent me running to the subway. (Idiot.)

I did get there in time before the film, thank goodness. And to keep myself from falling asleep (I did feel very sleepy the night before), I opted to chew some gum to stay alert,

Sarah Prefers to Run (Sarah préfère la course in French) follows the titular character (played by Sophie Desmarais) as a young athlete who lives to race. It’s a drive that seems to consume her, and yet, as you watch her on-screen, it’s the thing where she’s in control, and looks the least like a fish out of water. The anxiety and extreme awkwardness off the track is there for all to see, and that’s what I liked about it.

The film is Chloé Robichaud‘s sixth directing credit, but it’s her first full-length feature, and it also got a berth in the Un Certain Regard section at this year’s Cannes film festival.

IMAG0408Robichaud, Desmarais and producer Fanny-Laure Malo were present after the film for questions. Robichaud shared with the audience her directorial inspirations, where (in her mind) she saw her character Sarah going beyond what we saw on the screen, and also that she’d like her next movie to be about women in politics. Go, Chloé!

Honestly, I haven’t seen that many Québec-made films in my lifetime, but Sarah Prefers to Run honestly reinforces what I hear about the quality of films that come out of French Canada, versus English Canada. (Sorry, English homies.)

Friday night, Renée and I would tackle another documentary – one that I’ve been hearing quite a lot about.

Until then …

Oh! And check out Renée‘s blog for her take on TIFF, and 21-plus things to know if you’re considering doing TIFF next year. (I threw in a few suggestions as well. Hey, you never know – I could be sitting next to you in 2014, grizzled veteran that I am, so take heed!)

A Cinematic Mixed Bag

IMAG0386 After Tuesday’s TIFF triumph, I thought I’d pay an early visit to the box office to offload another voucher.

My aim was to see Belle, because (in my mind) you can’t go to a film festival and NOT see at least ONE period drama. But it was an industry screening, so no dice.

Instead, I took a chance on How I Live Now, starring Saoirse Ronan, and directed by Kevin Macdonald (Last King of Scotland). The movie’s adapted from the novel by award-winning author Meg Rosoff. Set in the near-future, it’s the story of Daisy, an American teenager sent to live with her distant English relatives amidst the start of a war.

I must say that I found the film slightly terrifying, and touching*, but well done.

And continuing the rally of good luck I’ve been having at Q&As, co-stars IMAG0389Ronan and George MacKay (who plays Daisy’s relative/love interest Edmund) were around after the film to field questions. This was also the first screening where we got to interact with young actors who are having such solid careers so early on.

An audience member asked them what would be the one message they’d want audiences to take away from watching How I Live Now, and both, while admitting it sounded cheesy, said the power of love. And that’s not a bad thing.

I exited the theatre … into rain. Weather forecasts had been predicting thunderstorms, which would’ve put a damper on Renée’s and my efforts to try and use up these vouchers. We touched base and bandied back and forth as to whether we should try for another movie, or stay home.

By 6:30 p.m., the heavens hadn’t yet opened, so we thought we’d try for a screening of Gravity.

But our rush line experience took an entirely different turn. While waiting in line half a block down and around the corner from our previous position on Tuesday night, we got to chatting with an older guy who’d been to all sorts of movies. This evening, he was rushing for the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, by director Frank Pavich. And the more he spoke about it, and his knowledge of the Dune franchise (movies and TV series), the more it caught our interest.

Why on earth were we waiting to see a movie that’d be coming out in mere weeks when we could take a random chance on something that just might surprise us?

Renée inquired with one of the clipboard-holding volunteers around the corner and found out the box office was still selling tickets.

1378943310775(1)And THAT, my friends, is how we ended up seeing a documentary about about the best sci-fi movie never made. (Or, at least, this version of it.)

Full disclosure: I remember hearing about Dune growing up, but I never saw the movie, nor have I seen any of Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s films.

(From what I understand, El Topo is what he’s most known for, but I could be wrong – feel free to correct me!).

But it didn’t matter. This guy’s IDEAS. HOLY COW. And without giving too much more away, it actually provides a few “did you know?” moments that are quite interesting, especially if you consider yourself a sci-fi aficianado.

IMAG0398Director Frank Pavich** was there and did a Q & A with some people following the screening, so that was cool. At the beginning of the session, he gave a shout-out to one audience member who had travelled 22 hours BY BUS to Toronto, to see the film. Makes those hours in the rush line pale a little in comparison, hey?

So, another successful day, and one where I think I got a bit of the essence of what TIFF is actually about. But it was my last day free from work. And it the festival was entering the home stretch, so things started to get tricky.

But if I could get through work, then screenings in the evening without falling asleep, that would be a success.

*Mini-spoiler: Put me in any movie where there’s a family being forcibly separated, and I am guaranteed to sniffle, at MINIMUM.

**A million apologies to Frank Pavich – I tweeted a picture of him at the Q & A and mangled his name while captioning it. I didn’t find out till someone else alerted me by tweet the following morning. He was actually good-natured about it, thank goodness.

Just Full of TIFF-prises!

1378828137484I had no idea that TIFF was going to slap me in the face with so much goodness on Tuesday!

I started the day with a screening of  The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her, starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, directed by Ned Benson.

The film chronicles the trajectory of a couple’s fractured marriage (for reasons that make themselves known early on).

But what made the viewing experience different from other films in this genre – and at this festival, at least – was that it’s not actually one, but TWO films – each filmed from the man’s and woman’s perspective.

Also, the order of the films are interchangeable. When the film premiered on Monday, the film was shown first from the man’s perspective, then from the woman’s. At the showing I attended, they reversed the order – which, in my opinion, made perfect sense. But would I have formed the same observations, had they started with the man’s perspective? Who knows?

IMAG0368 At three hours long, it’s a production for which you need a bit of stamina, but I certainly thought it was well done, and if you paid attention, you’d pick up on the differences (subtle and otherwise) between each. The performances by Chastain and McAvoy were solid, and the supporting cast – which includes Viola Davis, Bill Hader, Isabelle Huppert, Jess Weixler and Ciarán Hinds – helped round out the production.

(I’d also be curious to see what my brother – a director of photography – would think of the cinematography and such. He went to see another film, Siddarth, and said while the story was amazing, he thought the cinematography was awful. *winces*)

Following the film(s), there was a Q & A with Benson, Chastain (who was also an executive producer on the movie), and co-stars Weixler and Hinds. The discussion was engaging and bit gushy, but it was great to be at a screening where some cast members were present (and I’m a bit of a Jessica Chastain fan, so I was doubly pleased.)

Got this ticket - for free!
Got this ticket – for free!

After a very late lunch, it was on to the next film, and the first attempted rush of the day. Renée and I wanted to see an Irish comedy called The Stag, starring Andrew Scott (known in the UK for his film, TV and theatre chops, but recently the most visible to people elsewhere as Moriarty from the first two series of BBC’s “Sherlock”).

The premise (basically self-described in the title): a bunch of men who decide to throw a stag for their (very metrosexual) friend who’s getting married, and hilarity ensues.

Given our previous (lack of) luck with Half of a Yellow Sun, I was determined to ensure we were as close to the front of the line as possible, so I parked my derrière in the rush line at 5:30 p.m., with Renée joining me a bit after 6 p.m.

While in line, we chatted with the lady in front of us who was also lined up for tickets. But the heat and humidity took a toll on her, and she left.

This must’ve been the day when TIFF fatigue began to set in. Several times while we were in line, people walked past, trying to unload tickets for various films. One man came by the rush line THREE times to offload his ticket for El Mudo. In a couple of instances, we witnessed people just GIVING away their tickets – they weren’t even asking for money anymore.

A few people in the line received tickets for their desired movies, or caught word they were selling them at the box office, so we moved even closer to the front.

We were just behind a group of several university students sitting at the front of line, waiting for tickets for the same movie, and we sort of made small talk with them.

We ended up getting into a conversation with one of the students – named Haley – who was hoping to score tickets for herself and her dad, who was stuck on the highway. She was a recent “Sherlock” convert, but also a fan of some of the other actors in the film, and this movie might be the only TIFF film she’d be able to see because of school.

While chatting, it occurred to me that, given my experience from just a few hours before, perhaps someone from the movie – maybe the director, at the least – would show up. I mean, Jessica Chastain and a couple of her cast-mates were at that previous screening. But who knew, right? Renée wasn’t completely sure of that.

But MAN, would we get more than we’d bargained for.

I didn’t see the shiny, black SUV pull up in front of the theatre. But when I turned around, I saw the passenger it dropped off.

Straight up: despite my age, deep down, I’m perpetually 16 years old. So when I laid eyes on Andrew Scott walking up the sidewalk, the decorum filter came off and I blurted, “LOOK! That’s Andrew Scott! HE’s HERE!”

IMAG0370(1)Well, if that didn’t cause about a dozen Sherlock fans (almost all of them women) to snap their heads in his direction and go scurrying toward him.

No doubt a bit jet-lagged and his hair reacting wildly to the Toronto humidity, he graciously started signing autographs and taking pictures with the small mob circling around him.

I wasn’t one of them. My sheepishness over the prospect of joining the crowd in this display of adoration, gave me quite some hesitation. I mean, I’m a grown-ass woman.

I just looked at Renée, and she said, “Go! GO! Get him to sign something!”

“I don’t have anything to SIGN.”

In the end, Renée had to literally give me a little push to go and get a picture.

IMAG0373Considering all the in-your-face attention he was getting, Scott was definitely taking the moment in stride. And when it was my turn, I very calmly welcomed him to Toronto, congratulated him, and said I really liked him as Moriarty.

(And NO, I did not ask him about the cliffhanger from Sherlock Series 2. Dude just got into town! Sheesh.)

So now you know the story behind THAT photo. Hoooooly shit-snacks!

And, in what seemed like another stroke of luck, we ended up with tickets that were reserved for people who didn’t show up, so we didn’t even have to use our vouchers. How do you like THEM apples?

The film itself was fun, and very cute. The theatre was packed, and people were in stitches pretty much the whole time we were there. I hope it gets some kind of distribution in North America!

After the screening, there was a very lively Q & A with director John Butler and IMAG0385the cast. I threw out an “icebreaker” question to actor Peter McDonald, whose answer warmed up the crowd and got the ball rolling.

But it was a very long but successful day at the movies, about which I can NEVER complain. Let me try not to cuss out this festival from here on in.

(**Note: Pictures taken are mine. Please don’t re-use without asking me first.**)

A Break from The Bubble

Following Sunday afternoon’s disappointment in not landing rush tickets for Half of a Yellow Sun, I took a bit of a breather to go to a show taping with a friend of mine.

Following the taping, I made a detour to the TIFF box office to see if I could get tickets for films on Tuesday and Wednesday. My current dilemma is I have five vouchers I somehow have to use between now and Saturday. And with only two free days left before I return to work, it’s been proving to be a very frustrating challenge.

I was successful in getting my choice Tuesday. Wednesday, not so much.

And – after asking people at the TIFF box office, AND at the TIFF Bell Lightbox – I also discovered that my beloved vouchers are only valid for the duration of the festival.

As I understand, this has always been TIFF’s policy (volunteers are the exception). However – and my intrepid friend Renee took the time to check this – is ISN’T clearly stated on TIFF’s Web site.

So, if anyone from TIFF stumbles upon this blog – which I highly doubt – may I make the following suggestion: Please consider reviewing – and changing – this policy.

Sure, people should probably think about how many movies they can reasonably see during the festival. But not everyone can take a 10-day vacation to watch dozens of films. Quite a few festival-goers are spending hours after work queueing in rush lines to see movies (and use up their vouchers). Plus, you know what they say about the best-laid plans. Things unexpectedly arise. People get sick. Or you’re stuck a rush line to try and use a voucher, and that line runs out of tickets for your desired film.

If people have 10 vouchers or less, they should be given up to a month after the festival to use the vouchers to see movies at the Lightbox. One, this helps get more foot traffic into the Lightbox theatres to see movies, and two, the people with vouchers then don’t feel as if they’re losing all that money they spent on ticket packages.

Admittedly, I was (and am) feeling the beginnings of TIFF fatigue beginning to set in, as well as anxiety about being able to see six movies between now and the end of the festival, and trying to get normal daily tasks done (because, frankly, I’ve haven’t – I’ve barely been home and it’s beginning to feel a bit inconvenient to do this). But I’m going to try my best – starting on Tuesday.

A Hit & A Miss

IMAG0348Sunday was the first day Renée and I attended a movie for which we actually had a ticket.

To our complete surprise, we secured tickets for Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom during the ticket-selection phase before the festival, so we were looking forward to seeing how British actor Idris Elba did in his portrayal.

And unlike the previous day, the weather was much better, much warmer, and not a dark cloud looming overhead, which made the lineup experience much more bearable.

We were in for a bit of a treat this day.

1378656204723The film’s director, Justin Chadwick (you might know him for his directorial work on the mini-series, Bleak House, among other things) was in attendance and spoke to the audience beforehand.

(Incidentally, his previous film, The First Grader, premiered at TIFF in 2010.)

He told us we were only the second audience to see the movie, after the audience at Saturday evening’s gala.

Oh. My. God. What a movie. Idris Elba did a fantastic job as Mandela – showing the icon we all are familiar with, but also the man with his flaws. And the film did a good job of depicting the brutality of South Africa under apartheid rule.

The other performance that I think should be noted was Naomie Harris‘ portrayal as Winnie Mandela. If any attention should be paid, it should be to her transformation over the course of the film (which, obviously, is based on true events). She’s a powerhouse. If she does NOT get an Oscar nomination for this, I’ll be VERY surprised and annoyed.

And – absolute truth – tears were streaming down my face partway through the film. You’d have to have been made of stone NOT to have been moved. Kudos to the people who worked on this production.

Following Mandela, Renée and I decided to try to make it a double feature by getting into the rush line for Half of a Yellow Sun, the other movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton. (Kids, it’s a British invasion this year. These ladies and gentlemen are DEFINITELY bringing their A-game).

We lost a bit of time waiting to leave the theatre after Mandela, and opting to walk over to the other theatre. But, we’d gotten there about an hour and 20 minutes or so before showtime. And if we had such great luck the day before – and people kept saying that usually people in rush lines end up getting seats – this should be a piece of cake, right?

When we first arrived, I asked one of the “headset” volunteers how many people were ahead of us for rush seats. He said 40.

Within the span of about 40 minutes, that number had somehow ballooned to SEVENTY.

Why? Likely because people were holding places in live for their five OTHER friends, family members, etc. Which (according to what I’ve heard from people who’ve worked as volunteers) is NOT supposed to happen.

So, long story short, it wasn’t until after 4:30 p.m., when we were almost AT THE FRONT of the rush line (with about a half-dozen people in front of us) when it was announced that they’d run out of seats.

So, after lingering a bit longer, we walked away, our first defeat of the festival. Ah, well. Between seeing Benedict Cumberbatch on Thursday, and the two movies on Saturday, our luck had to run out sometime.