And Then There Were Four

So.

If you dropped by my blog around this time last year, you’d know three things:

(1) My friend Renée and I are huge fans of British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, and braved the crowds for a real-life glimpse on the opening night red carpet for The Fifth Estate.

(2) We made a point of going to see the aforementioned film.

(3) We sort of made a ladies’ agreement that, should Mr. Cumberbatch return, we would be back. Of course, that pact also included throwing our money at gala tickets, donning hot dresses and painting the town red.

On that third point, we obviously talk a big game, but don’t have any follow-through, because none of that’s transpired.

For starters, things have been so busy in general that neither of us had the time to try to score gala screening tickets.

Plus, Renée’s gotten herself a great new job, which means no hanging out on red carpets. (Which, obviously, is completely valid.)

So, up until Thursday, I was pondering whether I should:

(a) reprise my role as amateur fan-gawker (albeit solo) next Tuesday evening (September 9), when The Imitation Game – a historical drama in which Cumberbatch portrays British mathematician (logician, and computer scientist, among other things) Alan Turing – has its first screening and red carpet,

and/or

(b) join the rush line for the second screening on the following day (September 10).

I’d been on the fence for several days over what to do.

Then, I had a little conversation with my friend Tess.

She’s a TIFF veteran (or is that TIFFicianado? Just check out her ever-relevant handy guide for navigating the festival right here), to whom I’d mentioned that I really wanted to see The Imitation Game and figured – between the Cumberbatch fans and cinephiles in general – my chances were extremely low.

She directed me to a really handy blog, where on one post, people would trade or sell tickets. Perhaps someone would have a lone ticket. I did check, but no dice.

But then, Thursday happened.

While chatting online with Tess, she caught wind (via Twitter) that the festival had added a third screening on September 11th.

Well, of COURSE, I told Renée. And by 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning, she managed to secure three tickets for her, a mutual friend, and me.

Mission. Accomplished.

Only a few questions remain: Will I see more than a chiseled cheekbone this time around? Will I be the Lady Who Lingers? Or – being a year older, and hopefully wiser – know when to walk away?

 

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TIFF the Season …

wpid-imag0751.jpgTo most people in this city, today’s simply Thursday.

To film fans, celebrity-gazers and folks in the film industry, it’s the first day of the Toronto International Film Festival.

To me? I can’t believe it’s September already. Seriously, where is the time going?

Okay, okay. Yes, I’m going again this year. But unlike last year, when my friend Renee and I took several deep breaths, split a package, and plowed our way through approximately 10 films apiece, I’m taking a different approach.

First, I’ll be watching around half the number of films I did last year, perhaps fewer than that. Partly because I have a friend’s wedding to attend in less than three weeks, and bridal-related incidentals are eating into my budget.

But also? Seeing TEN movies in such a short period of time (never mind 20 or 30), is just friggin’ tiring.

So this past Sunday, I read through some of the film’s descriptions on a Web site, picked several films at random, took the subway down to the TIFF box office and selected three of my four choices. (I’ve now got an individual membership, which means TIFF members could go a day ahead of the general public to buy single tickets).

As you can see from the photo above, I’ve picked film titles that have little name recognition to anyone except those in the know, or those involved in these projects.

I’m staying away from Hollywood films (except for one, which you’ll find out about in the coming days). A number of them will be released in the weeks following the end of TIFF, and will cost much less than what’s being charged during the festival. So I’m sort of returning to my TIFF-watching experiences from over 10 years ago and spending money on films made by “the little guys”.

Like last year, I’ll try to post short(ish) reviews on what I thought about each of the films, along with any anecdotes/experiences I might have along the way.

I’ll be seeing my first film this coming Sunday (September 7th), so I’m pretty stoked.

For those of you attending, happy viewing! If you have recommendations for any films you end up seeing, please post them here! (Non-Hollywood films preferred, unless they’re really THAT good.)

 

 

A Dinner, to Finish

IMAG0425After the cinematic catastrophe that was MARY, Queen of Scots, Renée and I decided that could NOT be how our TIFF experience ended.

(Also: we wanted to use up two more vouchers.)

So on Sunday night, we rushed for a Dutch movie called The Dinner.

According to the blurb I read, this film is adapted from the 2009 best-selling novel of the same name (by Herman Koch), which was based on a real-life crime.

The majority of the film takes place at a restaurant where two brothers, Paul (a former teacher whose emotional volatility and unpopular opinions forced him to leave the profession) and Serge (an ambitious politician) and their wives meet to discuss what to do about Paul’s son – who may have committed a horrific crime.

The film starts off fairly innocuous – showing Paul’s supposedly happy home life – but as the storyline ambles along, it suggests that things aren’t what they seem.

Again, I admit I wasn’t fully sure if I understood everything that happened in the film. (And perhaps this indicates my lack of understanding regarding European-made films.) But it was better than The Film From The Night Before.

And I didn’t mind the way the film ended – anything that challenges my perception and leaves me asking questions at the end isn’t a bad thing.

And so ended my first – and only – complete TIFF experience.

It had its ups and downs, frustrations and surprises. But while I enjoyed it for the most part, I’m never doing TIFF in this fashion again.

I will tell you this: if a certain actor returns to TIFF next year, Renée and I have agreed to shell out the money for the gala, don dresses hot enough to stop traffic, and make an evening of it. Any movies after that will be bought at the box office or in a rush line.

And if the opportunity to gaze upon an actor I admire presents itself, I will wait and LINGER until I get it out of my system. If I’m going to be The Lady Who Lingers, I might as well own it.

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.