Tuesday, September 8, 2015

My Mini TIFF Preview

Last year, I was only at TIFF for two days, I saw 8 films, and I called it a Festival. I was on paternity leave at the time, so getting to go on something other than a weekend was impossible – and lack of money meant I had to commute to and from the festival both days, which adds approximately 3.5-4 hours to the day. This year, I’ve going three days – not quite my used to be normal 5 day trip where I would see 25-30 films (as I went full time 5 days, and part time on others) – but those were in the pre-children days. Now, it’s tough to leave my wife at home with two kids for too long, especially since as a teacher it already falls on one of her most stressful weeks anyhow. So, long story short, this year it’s 3 days and 13 films – which is pretty damn good I think. As with recent years, I mainly stayed away from the films that will be competing for awards later this year – not that I’m against them, just that I know I will get to see them soon enough, so why not embrace some others at TIFF, while I have the chance (there are two potential Oscar bait film that I am seeing, and another – Room – that I likely would have chosen, except for a strange scheduling conflict).

Anyway, here are the 13 films I will be seeing, with a little about each one, and why I picked them.

1.    Afternoon (Tsai Ming-liang) – Every time director Tsai Ming-liang makes a film, it becomes a major event in certain, esoteric film circles – and I’m often left out of the loop, as he’s not a filmmaker whose work gets wide releases in North America, and takes forever to reach home viewing options. I have skipped him in the past at TIFF to my own detriment – so when I saw I could fit his latest into my schedule, I jumped at the chance. This is a documentary – a conversation between Tsai and his frequent star/collaborator Lee Kang-sheng. It could be great, it could be very boring (honestly, I have found some of his films one of those – sometimes, both), but I’m certainly willing to give it a chance.

2.    Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson) - Anomalisa combines two things that I love, that we do not get enough of – Charlie Kaufman movies, and stop motion animation. The film is apparently about a man “crippled by the mundanity of his life”, which sounds about right for Kaufman. His co-director is Duke Johnson, who did some great stop motion work for Community a few seasons ago. Synecdoche, New York was my favorite film of 2008 – and I’ve been waiting ever since for Kaufman to make a follow-up. Finally that movie is here. The reviews out of Telluride and Venice so far have been fantastic.

3.    Blood of My Blood (Marco Bellocchio) – Italian master Bellocchio has been making films since 1965’s Fists in the Pocket, and while he has been a below the radar talent most of his career, almost everything of his I have seen, I have liked (my most recent film of his I saw at TIFF was Vincere, a number of years ago, and that was quite good). Blood of My Blood is said to be a centuries spanning epic, with elements of the vampire movies, and the Inquisition, and multiple narratives, etc. Anything by Bellocchio is at least deserving of attention, so I’m looking forward to this one. And I am very much interested to see what the reviews out of Venice for this will be.  (The reviews came in today, and make me glad I made this choice)

4.    The Event (Sergei Loznitsa) – I missed Loznitsa’s last film – Maidan – from last year, about the protests in Ukraine following Russia’s actions. He follows it up just a year later with another, voiceover free documentary – this one about a failed coup in Russian in 1991, which signaled the downfall of communism. Loznitsa is a talented filmmaker – his features like My Joy and to a lesser extent In the Fog – show that, and Maidan was quite acclaimed, for such a little seen film. Here’s hoping this one is good. And if not, it’s only 74 minutes.

5.    The Forbidden Room (Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson) – Great Canadian auteur, Guy Maddin, returns with a film that I heard multiple people say could be his best feature to date at this year’s Sundance or Berlin Festivals. Maddin is always a treat to see – his love of old movies comes through as he twists and turns them to suit his needs. To be honest, I don’t know much about the film yet – I don’t want to know – I just want to see it, and knowing it’s Maddin is enough for me.

6.    Man Down (Dito Montiel) – To be honest, this is a little bit of a filler pick. I am familiar with Dito Montiel’s work, but haven’t become so much a fan of his that I seek out all of his work. Still, I like post-apocalyptic stuff, I love Gary Oldman and Kate Mara, find Shia LaBeouf somewhat fascinating, so even if I think Jai Courtney is the blandest actor around, so what? Plus, it’s in competition in Venice, so it has to be somewhat interesting, right? (Since I wrote this the reviews have come in, and they have not been good. We’ll see).

7.    No Men Beyond This Point (Mark Sawyers) – I’ll fully admit it – sometimes at TIFF, you have a spot to fill, and nothing much to fill it, so you take a chance. So it is with Mark Sawyers’ “wry mockumentary” about a future society where women no longer need men, so they are dying off. According to the program, it’s a smart take on gender relations, and perhaps it will be fun. It certainly fill in the spot I have. Sometimes when I fill a spot like this, it ends up being one of my favorites of the festival – more often, not – but I can dream.

8.    Rams (Grimur Hakonarson) – The winner of the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes this year (it’s a notch below the competition – but still highly regarded) about two Icelandic brothers, who live next to each other, and are both sheepherders, but who have not spoken to each other in decades. Great reviews of Cannes, made this a welcome addition to my TIFF lineup this year.

9.  Sicario (Denis Villeneuve) - I probably could have waited a few weeks to see this - but the only other movie I really wanted to see at this time was also coming out soon, and I could not resist, as I love Villeneuve, and the reviews for this have been great so far. Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin are all great, and I like border/drug films. Cannot wait for this one.
10.  Victoria (Sebastian Schipper) – Already a multiple prize winner, this German film about a “party girl” who tags along with three men on a wild ride that becomes a bank robbery has grown famous for being done all in one shot – even though it’s 140 minutes long. Personally, I don’t really care about that – it’s seems more a stunt than anything else – but the reviews have been great, so I’m certainly willing to go along for the ride.

11.  Where to Invade Next (Michael Moore) – I am not the Michael Moore fan I was in my college days – around the time of Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 – but I still do quite like him as a filmmaking. I’m not overly happy I’m seeing this at TIFF – but that’s not the movie’s fault, that’s because the screening of Ben Wheatley’s High Rise I supposed to go to was cancelled, and this popped up it’s in its place, so I figured what the hell. Still, good or bad, you know this will be one of the more talked about films at the Festival – it’s a World Premiere, and a film Moore made in secret to boot.

12.  The Witch (Robert Eggers) – Many thought Robert Eggers’ horror film, The Witch, was the best film at Sundance (it won the directing prize, while the more “Sundance-y” Me and Earl and the Dying Girl won the competition). This film is set in 1630 New England, and of course, involves a witch, With horror more than most genres, I don’t like to know anything – so I haven’t read much. Still, this is one of my most anticipated of the fest.

13.  Youth (Paolo Sorrentino) – This is probably the one “Oscar bait” film I’ll see at the Festival – as Paolo Sorrentino, who last film The Great Beauty, won the Foreign Language Film Oscar, returns to English language films (he previously made the very weird This Must Be the Place with Sean Penn) – for this movie staring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano. Reaction at Cannes was decidedly mixed – some walking away thinking they had seen a film that could be an Oscar contender, and some walking away thinking the film was awful (not that an Oscar contender has ever been awful before). I’m mixed on Sorrentino – I loved Il Divo, enjoyed the Wim Wenders-ness of This Must Be the Place, and was mostly bored by his Oscar winning Fellini homage that was devoid of what made Fellini so special, so I could end up going any number of ways on this one.

So that's what I'll be seeing next week. As usual, I'll provide a wrap-up when my trip is over.

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