September 28, 2005

Blogged out.

Sorry all, I'm all blogged out, and I have to get back to work now. It was all those damn festival reviews!--a three week work stoppage. I do intend to start posting some development art for the story portfolio I'm working on right now, something I'm really excited about! But I do need to finish a few things first.

Hopefully you won't stop coming by; soon I'll have new stuff to show you.


September 23, 2005

TIFF: Etcetera

Yes, I know--the Film Festival ended last week.
It took me a while to catch up.
Now that all my reviews are done (which I'm sure nobody read), I can finally post some visuals. Sadly, the topic is still the fest, but I guess this wraps it up. I wish I could watch/talk/draw movies all day, but usually the fest is my glut for the year. I hope someone gets some use out of these reviews--goes and watches something, attends a festival, writes reviews of their own--I sure found it a great excercise. Film is a big part of my cultural intake and as an aspiring storyteller, I think it's good for me to cultivate my critical faculties this way. Plus it's awesome when you see something great and it sure is fun to share it.

These were all done between films. Enjoy!

A gnarly old tree at the U of T campus

People sitting around Yorkville

Holt's Cafe and a delicious open-faced sandwich
(with wild mushrooms and leeks)


My journal, and more people sitting around

That old Elgin drawing again, and below,
line ups for Drawing Restraint 9

Matthew Barney himself
(with programmer Cameron Bailey)

As an addendum, I encourage everyone to see all the documentaries, the Squid & the Whale, Dear Wendy, L'Enfant and Manderlay--my top pics! And to everyone I ran in to--Mattias, Dave and Mark; Michelle; Charlene (and cousin); Mr. Barillaro; psych majors, movie critics,
Dani, James, Matt and Jenny--fun times.
OK, I promise this time--goodbye.

September 20, 2005

TIFF Day 10: Drawing Restraint

Had to wake up pretty early for this one; our first film of the day was up at the Isabel Bader theatre at the University of Toronto campus. I had been looking forward to this, and we arrived just in time. We found our seats and I wrote a bit... I knew that Francois Ozon was sort of inconsistant, but I was in for a bit of a shock.

Le Temps Qui Reste, while not nearly as awful, certainly challenged The Shore for most false, cliche ridden film of my festival this year. Throughout, Jenny thought I was trying to console her--it took her a bit to realize I was actually trying to apologize. My apologies as well to Francois Ozon, Charlotte Rampling and all involved with the much superior Sous Le Sable, from which this film was supposed to have progressed. The BFI Sight and Sound review of Sous Le Sable.

Jenny split for breakfast with Chris and Becky, and I was off to the thoughful, provoking documentary We Feed The World by Erwin Wagenhofer. We're given windows into a variety of food industry professions: the people who dispose of two-day old bread by the truckload in Vienna; a Brittany fisherman and fishmonger, both affected by the increasingly industrial minded EU; Austrian slaughterhouse workers lamenting the profit minded management; migrant workers and agronomists in greenhouse covered Almeria, Spain; hybrid seed manufacturersin Romania, Brazillian soy growers and climactically, the CEO of Nestle (the world's largest foodstuff provider), questioning the opinion that water is an inalienable right.

It's a broad, smart piece, showing conflict at every level: the private and industrial, rich and poor, veggies and meats. Most surprising though is that the dissent and disagreement comes from within each community--everyone concerned with a certain pervasive lack of care that seems to accompany progress and industrialization. The film seems to suggest that in the end, we are all complicit, no matter what we do, and that only our decision to change our own lives will have the power to affect others; we're all in this together--but sadly, none of us seem to care. An urgent, frightening picture of the real world; something everyone should see, and moreover, do something about.
A nice little review at Consolation Champs
and a summary from the TIFF program.

Of course this was followed by lunch, which was a much less pleasant affair, now having questioned the origin of everything ever made for consumption. Maybe the best solution is for everyone to have a little garden? At least a return to older, humbler practices where we honour the balance of giving and taking; hunting and gathering with a lot more responsibility. It's funny to think that perhaps the world has gone beyond its point of sustainable development--that now we probably need to step back. I don't know where animation and culture fit into all that. We gotta stop making excessive crappy stuff, I guess; culture should address some important things, I think.

And then I saw Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 9. Obviously part 9 of his Drawing Restraint series, it does bear resemblance and share concerns with his 5 part Cremaster Cycle. This is the place where contemporary art and contemporary cinema meet, and that makes it treacherous ground for me. Matthew Barney has been called "the most groundbreaking and celebrated American visual artist of the past decade", but is he a good filmmaker? Can his works be judged according to the same rules that I apply to conventional film, to everything else, really? Well, that's the only way that I know how to look at things, so that's the way I did; asking myself what someone was trying to do, whether or not they did it and whether it was worth doing. I'd try to describe the plot, but perhaps it's best for you to read a more official summary, courtesy of Bjork, one of the film's stars and composer of the soundtrack.

It is, ultimately, a love story, involving processes of construction and destruction, death and its imprints, and in classic Barney fashion, lots and lots of ritual: parades and pearl diving, dressing and tea ceremonies, whaling, construction and courtship involving ingestion. In perhaps the most striking sequence, Bjork and Matthew Barney, clad in all fur Kimonos in a half flooded room, draw knives to slowly and carefully slice each others legs apart; they pause, sensually regarding the flesh held in the others hand, which they in turn feed each other; a true communion of souls. But what does it all add up to in the end? Plenty and not too much, for me. A granola of symbols is what I come away with, but most of the time they're too allusory to involve me. I guess he expressed his thematic interests... but to what end? Was this poetry or clunky prose? I'm tending to think that I wouldn't find it worth doing myself; I guess this is one for the art critics to decide on. In association with the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa.

It was dinner after this, a veggie platter at Saigon Sister, but all I could talk about was that food movie. It was dark now, and we set off to the Cumberland for our last film of the night and the last of the festival.

Wah-Wah, written and directed by Richard E. Grant, stars lots of great fellas and ladies including Gabriel Byrne, Miranda Richardson and Emily Watson. It depicts an early episode from Grant's own life, around the last days of colonialism in Swaziland. Young Ralph comes of age under tough circumstances of divorce, remarriage, alcoholism and britishness, and the film paints a picture intended to be bright and brassy, dark and a little violent, stuffy, funny, heartwarming and sad. The film did have a good deal of charm, in a british foreign film kind of way, but it processed some events too loudly and simply and awkwardly to get any real emotional grip on me. Many a time it resembled a stage play, and some of these episodes I enjoyed the most. Other times things played a little too cliche-ed, and the film had a rambling, directionless, repetitive quality to it that hurt its momentum coming into its third act. I think that perhaps films like this and The Shore which are based on real events need to veer away from the facts a little more to streamline and focus their direction. We did have a good time though, chatted with friendly strangers for a bit, put on sweaters and walked home; a very satisfactory end to a very satisfying festival.

September 19, 2005

TIFF Day 9: The Shore

Don't be fooled by the (singular) pretty picture;
this film is the polar opposite of meditative.

The Shore is quite simply the most abysmal film I have ever seen. Lacking direction and believabilty, this remarkably unremarkable film was a treat and a delight to watch--a surprising case study of how to do everything wrong and then some.

The story revolves around the fateful day that Calliope's mother loses her granddaughter Anna on the beach. Calliope rushes home, undiscernibly shaken, and the rest of the summer (read: film) sees the child's disappearance take a heavy toll on mother and parents, each acting hysterical, delusional, mechanical and broken in turn. It's supposed to be about a child's disappearance and how it stirs to the surface the disconnect between the characters. It fails.

What results is a panoply of bad acting, bad writing and bad montage--this film actually does next to nothing right, its only redeemable features, the brief, interrupted performance of the lifeguard on duty and the film's very badness itself; its silly pretention gives it momentum and charm, things the picture certainly fails to offer on its own, its hollow, melodramatic script completely devoid of humour or irony, when in fact it should be full of it, peppered throughout with phrases like:

"SHUT UP! I don't wanna eat my eggs! (SLAP!)"

"Miss, could I have two imported beers please?" and


Anyway, there is a Corvette in the film, and a number of bikini shots, and it is on such needless extravagances (including helicopter and underwater shots and a 30 second sojourn to New York city) that the budget likely blew itself, wounding, more than anything, the acting, cinematography, sound and editing. Oh, that's everything. Bleachy photography, unintentional colour casts (even within sequences) and flat, uninspired lighting; muffled, patchy sound, out of sync ADR and editing that fails to linger (even though it's supposed to be a "mood poem"), lapses repeatedly into flashback, and often juxtaposes high melodrama with fake stripclub scenes (did I mention that the subplot revolves around an unwanted stripclub pregnancy? Hm.) fail to progress the plot, emotional and narrative. Everything rings false and hollow, trite and overdone; completely out of control.

You might think that context or continuity might give these choices purpose and direction, but I promise you, they do not. Inexperienced and pretentious, director Dionysius Zervos has crafted something trying so hard to be something that it is not, that the film literally implodes due to its own incompetence.

It is truly impossible for me to describe how horrendous this picture was except to say that it's an insult to anything that anyone has ever accomplished in cinema, and that therefore, everyone should see it. It was a good time and a definite foregettable highlight of the festival. I can't wait for parts iii & i. What? Exactly.

Official site for The Shore.

September 16, 2005


L'Enfant and Dear Wendy

Two films which are must must must sees are the new offerings of Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, and Thomas Vinterberg. It was a perfect day of films, surprisingly well matched, approaching the idea of responsibility from completely different directions.

L'Enfant is the story of eighteen-year-old Sonia and her newborn son Jimmy. Bruno is the distant, nihilistic father, a petty criminal with a complete disregard for anyone but himself. Just how selfish is he? This shocking, difficult film plunges us into the depths of his callousness, showing us just how low a person might go.

Focussed and clear, this honest, straightforward film keeps a steady pace, revolving around a number of tense set pieces, each teaching us painfully more about the character. This film is very scarily rooted in reality, with a nouvelle vagueish feel about it. It relies on a slow, steady build towards its very pointed climax, Bruno's rough and abrupt transition from childhood to adulthood. Though the Dardennes paint a fairly bleak portrait of the human condition, the film glimmers with moments of hope. Although I had originally wanted a bigger, more complete change of character, I later realized that I perhaps, actually wanted less. The key scene, really is not the one at the end of the film, and the painful conclusion acts more as a bit of an epilogue. Perhaps I would have pared this back, which is surprising, considering the stark, direct methods the brothers Dardenne employ. My thoughts on the end matter little though: the moment of transition is sincere and revelatory. Full of hard, believable performances, this simple, direct, well constructed film is powerful both in its ability to repel and to redeem.

Dear Wendy is a love story of sorts, or so says director Thomas Vinterberg. The premise of the film is the adoption of a club in the tiny mining town of Estherslope. The catch is that this club is for pacifists who love guns, started by orphan and loner Dick. He accidentally finds himself in the possession of a gun which he feels oddly drawn to, he names it Wendy, and our story has begun; the town's other misfits are soon members, and their strict experiment in empowerment soon gets disasterously out of hand.

First and foremost, this is a fun movie which transitions from reality to fantasy, adding flourishes of humour and showmanship to lend the film a strange, bright tone. As engrossingly mad, but not nearly as dark or disturbing as Terry Gilliam's Tideland, this film is not so forcefully consistant, instead oscillating between worlds, making Vinterberg's challenge much tougher. It is here that I believe the film suffers a little, asking us many a time to suspend our disbelief as the characters get more deeply separated from reality. You go along with certain contriviances anyway, just for the hellavit, but I feel that in the end it becomes more of an accepted intellectual allusion than a moving character piece. At the Q&A, Vinterberg made reference to the film's comment on western peace policy, which is easily apparent on viewing. But he went on to describe that it's about the characters choosing a glorifed flourish over their quotidian lives, and about the malaise of young adulthood, and the things that we do to combat it... I don't know if the film was quite as successful at communicating these things; I guess my disbelief won. And on the love story aspect of things? Just a little muddled too, I think. As a comment on our need to be armed to keep the peace, it certainly makes its case, and here we can see some of its relationship to Lars Von Trier, screenwriter and director of the USA trilogy, starting with Dogville and continuing this year with Manderlay. As a reflection on American foreign policy, it certainly feels consistant, if simpler, but it fails to reach the dramatic heights that Von Trier's films so often do, its characters neither becoming as mythical or captivating, although Jamie Bell and the rest of the young cast certainly give terrific performances. What we have in any case is another Danish tragedy, something not vilifying America, but questioning it; an entertaining, silly, shoot-'em-up intellectual allusion that perhaps is more full of flash and ideas than deep emotion. A flawed, thoughtful, Danish treat. D-D-D-DANDY!

For the BFI Sight and Sound review.

TIFF Day 7: The Real World

This was a fun day of festivalizing, my first film a matinee screening of William Eggleston in the Real World by Michael Almereyda. Dani and I were eagerly anticipating this one, as we share an interest in both photography and the artistic process.

Sadly, this was a poorly organized film, with grating sound and harsh visuals. It provided a meandering, foggy portrait of a very intriguing fellow. And that was the most notable, important thing about it--he was a very intriguing fellow, and now and again, you could see his particularity shine through the mess of pixellated video. These clear glimpses emerged through well timed observation, the rare question and answer, and, yes, happenstance. I felt like we learned the most about him when we got to see him at work: photographing a restaurant, exploring a house at the side of the road, presenting slides at a photography show. There are moments when he critically considers a drawing he's made, and another when he reflects upon his new work. Perhaps most telling though is a little exchange right at the end of the film.

Almereyda asks him a question, expecting a simple answer; soon he is in over his head. Something about photography capturing the ephemeral, itself becoming the artifact? No, William Eggleston wouldn't quite agree with that. His photos as things that will last? No, William Eggleston doesn't really think about that. Photography as a way of expressing feelings or point of view? No, no, not so much. Photos, like music, filling you with feeling!? No, no, Bill doesn't quite agree. Finally, they walk out to the car. He considers carefully before he says anything, and here especially you see the clear, heavy thoughts forming in his head. 'I don't think that there's a place for words in art,' he says, more or less; art is something to be accepted or rejected.

And here we find the heart of the man and his private practice of observation. This sentiment is something that I was told not long ago, funnily enough, by a friend searching for her own place in the real world. Let me offer that to you here; from Robert Henri's The Art Spirit:

"Art is simply a result of expression during right feeling. It's a result of a grip on the fundamentals of nature, the spirit of life, the constructive force, the secret of growth, a real understanding of the relative importance of things, order, balance. Any material will do. After all the object is not to make art, but to be in the wonderful state which makes art inevitable. In every human being there is the artist, an whatever his activity, he has an equal chance with any to express the result of his growth and his contact with life. I don't believe any real artist cares whether what he does is "art" or not."

"I think the real artists are too busy with just being and growing and acting (on canvas or however) like themselves to worry about the end. The end will be what it will be. The object is intense living, fulfillment; the great happiness in creation."

It has nothing to do with us, but William Eggleston seems to have certainly done that.

We exited the theatre, disappointed at the film--its implications having not yet set in for me--both lamenting the director's and subject's absence from the screening; no Q&A. As we crossed the street though, who should walk by? Well, William Eggleston and son. They crossed the street, I noted his silvery hair and slight hunch, his dark, pressed suit and deliberate gait. "There's one of the great photographers of the 20th century," I said. Dani agreed. We exchanged a few more words, I think; watched him from across the street. Soon he had left and Dani and I went our separate ways. I passed him again, down the way, now signing autographs for a couple of kids my age. I continued east for a bit and looked back. Here he was now, further away, an old man; talking, listening, looking this way and that. His party turned back. What would he take a picture of here, I wondered? How is he feeling today? What does he see? I entered the subway station thinking about this monumental / simple man; how was I feeling today? What could I see?

Eggleston in the collection of the Getty Museum.
The PALM Pictures website.

My review for Micheal Hanake's new psychological triller Cache will be much simpler and more sensible than that above. It was an excellent film, sharp and taught as anything, fitting right into the Haneke tradition; tense and agressive, playing with complacency and the media as threats, but more than anything, showing us the damaging effects of fear and denial. This is a film full of lies and mystery, suspense and shocking reveals. Maurice Benichou plays an effective role, and Juliette Binoche is very honest in her performance as the frustrated wife. My favourite scene though has George (played by the very good Daniel Auteuil) closing the curtains to go to bed. He strips his robe and stands for a second; climbs beneath the sheets. His vulnerability is only echoed by the dark, immense cocoon of the room. I feel like this single scene describes his whole psychological state, as well, the brooding tone of the film.

In the end, the film's conclusion gives it one of its biggest intellectual pushes, the film exploring the ideas of truth and responsibility to cloudy, disturbing ends. Winner of The Prix de la mise en scene, or Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

September 15, 2005

TIFF Day 6: Two Novellas

The Squid and the Whale was one of our group films--for James, Dani, Jenny and me it was a bit of an event. I'm pretty sure we had only heard of Noah Baumbach from his writing credit on The Life Aquatic, but that was enough to guarantee our attendance.

The S&W plays a bit like a light Salinger short story, using the divorce of two literary parents to show the coming of age of their sons. Winner of the Dramatic Directing and Best Screenplay awards at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, it's a wonderful character piece, following the four family members as their relationships diverge and repair. In turns mostly funny, we're endeared to the characters at the same time that we're shown their faults, a tough accomplishment, and one which makes the film feel both light and weighty (not surprisingly). It has a direct cinema feel to it, but still retains a sort of literary whimsy, a combination of shooting style (handheld 16mm), writing and life experience. It's autobiographical (something I was not aware of), and from the reactions of friends who have suffered from divorce, its sentiments ring true and clear. For me it was still a moving film, although perhaps a little more intellectual than visceral in the end.

I have to emphasize that I liked it very very much, and that the writing and performances were great, but I have to cringe and say that it left me a little cold; understanding the central analogy, but not feeling any strong revelation, surprise or satisfaction at its resolution. I felt like we were introduced to four stories, but ended with only two. I wanted to know the characters a bit better, see more of a transition for the mother Joan (Laura Linney) and youngest son, Frank (Owen Kline), their stories having cut off awkwardly. The climactic exchange between father Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and son Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) is the moment of true emotion in the film, and I think it's played wonderfully. Bernard is a complex character, honest and deceitful from one second to the next, and Walt's passage of clarity and courage is very well placed. Some scenes were a little weak though, relying on contreivances (like psychiatrists and sculptures), and I feel like some of the storytelling could've been more elegant. This is more of a concern near the end, where you really need the narrative to focus and guide the viewer's point of view; in this last section the filmmaking was a little verbose, objective and abrupt for my tastes.

But listen to me go on. That's nitpicking an excellent piece of work; this film severly kicks my ass. Please see it.

Interviews with Noah Baumbach at
New York Metro, and Movies Online

My second film of the night was Gabrielle, directed by Patrice Chereau. I had been introduced to his work through Intimacy, a film no one seemed to like but me --. I was surprised to learn this year about his extensive involvement in opera--something which was definitely reflected in this film.

Described in the Q&A as the story of an couple who forgot that they needed love, it was based on a Joseph Conrad short story called "The Return." Apparently short on dialogue, M. Chereau's adaption circumvents many of the limitations of the book, via the elegant introduction of events and secondary characters. He crafts an elegant, direct mostly two-handed drama that fully examines the motivations of both characters. It's told in an energetic style, bold and brooding; using film stock, colour and B&W, sets and staging, a swelling and silent musical score and title cards to help tell his story most clearly. Sort of a brave mix of period piece and music video. But don't get me wrong. Most of the film is straightforward and wrapped around the dialogue of our two leads, Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory. They give intense, impassioned performances that polarize and switch, leading the film to its inevitable climax. It's not a pleasant journey, but the film certainly pleads a case against complacency and fear--both films tonight asking us to shed our neglect and detachment before it becomes too late.

September 12, 2005

TIFF Day 5: Into Great Silence

Into Great Silence is certainly a challenge for anyone without the patience for quietude and reflection. Director Philip Groening accomplishes an amazing feat, offering an intimate, surprisingly bright, well rounded portrait of The Grand Chartreuse monastery and its monks. Filmed over the course of around 4 months, we watch the changing of seasons as the monks work and pray, casually relate and welcome new members into their fold.

It's pretty long with a running time of 164 minutes, nearly all without narration, dialogue or interviews, but those who looked past this were rewarded with insights into their very busy (!) surprisingly rich lives. Most of their time is spent in prayer, or sometimes manual work, each attended to with complete devotion, energy and focus. Perhaps most revealing though, are the small windows into their personal lives: one monk secretly playing with cats, another late to ring the tower bell; walking in pairs through the mountain valleys, playing in the snow and, on a rare occaision, chatting as a group; moments of levity and comeraderie revealing the close bonds they share, though their lives are filled with seeming repetition, seclusion and slience. The tiniest smile, the sight of a Bic pen, the use of a laptop computer (!) each take on enormous significance, revealing a complex relationship with religion and modern life that makes us reconsider our own materialism, happiness, and peacefulness. Groening uses lapses of uninflected montage, close up portraits of each monk and most importantly, a single interview to describe the uniquely peaceful, happy lives they live. It comes as a bit of a revelation, though not quite a surprise, and once you understand this, the portraits of old and young take on new meaning, each face filled with joyful resignation.

By and large the best Q&A of the fest, Philip Groening was obviously very determined and open himself, using the opportunity to film the monastery to explore his own spirituality. While filming, he participated in prayer and chores, a one man crew, learning slowly how to approach his reclusive, but ultimately warm subjects. He spent a very long time editing and structuring this difficult, potentially meandering piece, and spoke very sincerely in terms similar to those of Walter Murch about the need for his film to find its own voice, structure allowing for the accidental, effort in hand with well directed faith.

The official film site for Into Great Silence,
information on the Carthusian order: Chartreux,
and the online store for their liqueurs (!) : Chartreuse

TIFF Day 4: Life and Death and MANDERLAY

Perhaps the toughest day to write about is day four. A very big day at the festival--big films with big implications. Each is an expression of oppression--ideological, physical and personal. These three films are about asking questions and not neccessarily about finding answers ; or satisfactory answers anyway.

My most anticipated film of the fest was Lars von Trier's Manderlay, second part of his USA trilogy starting with 2003's Dogville and ending with his upcoming Washington. We all went out to see this one. Lars is definitely one of contemporary cinema's most thoughtful, passionate and provoking directors--expirimental but locked in accessible narrative; audacious, but only to good ends.

For those who have not watched Dogville, see it first.

This is not optional.

Manderlay takes place on the Manderlay plantation in 1933, where Grace, shocked at the sight of slavery after emancipation, decides to enforce freedom. First though, the former slaves require some re-education on democracy and the freedom of rights, and this is where the film begins its slow inevitable decline...

In familiar Lars fashion, poor Grace (here played by the energetic Dallas Bryce Howard) finds herself tangled in a slowly closing web of decisions gone wrong. Not as straight or harrowing as Dogville, this film has a sort of symmetrical structure, but is still very clear in its message... I'm not going to say any more except that it's very good, compulsively watchable cinema. I'm not sure that it quite meets its predecessor, but that's for you to see, and all beside the point anyway. For me, the most interesting thing about it is its implications for the greater trilogy. Grace has been schooled in two films now, and her upcoming trip to washington weighs heavy in my mind as the one where these lessons might finally come bearing down upon her. What the two films suggest about the human condition is not good, and that includes for Grace herself. What is the signifigance of being alone? How will the conversations with her father end? Will she manage to use her power for good? And what might the third film imply about American politics? Will we have to wait for the end of the war to find out? Well, we'll need to wait at least until 2008 or 9, and then I guess we'll see.

Michael Glawogger's Workingman's Death was actually my first film of the day, and it intended, I thought, to showcase five of the worlds worst jobs; I oversimplified it a bit in my head. I went in expecting something that only criticized heavy labour. Instead what I got was a film that objectively and thoroughly explored it, observed it, sometimes commented on its origin, and often acknowledged the courageous efforts of its workers. It asks the questions, does hard labour still exist? Is it gone or just invisible? And what is the future?

The answer is that yes, it does exist, and you can find it here: in poor and developing countries. In the illegal mining activities of poor fathers in the Ukraine, sulpher miners in Indonesia, slaughter workers in Nigeria, shipbreakers in Pakistan and steel workers of China, we see the dwindling remnants of industries long gone, globalization taking advantage of cheap labour and people carrying on... because they need to carry on. The movie isn't too heavy in directing you to causes and effects, actions and consequences. It doesn't ask you for sympathy, suggest courses of action or even always provide you with reasons why these things are happening in the first place. What you are certain of though, is that these jobs are awful, rough, unhealthy and often dangerous. The portrait that he gives us of workers though is well rounded and generous--we're not shown broken, horrific lives in disrepair; instead, stoic, tough lives of people who still have senses of humour, friends, family and homes. The people react to their jobs in much the same way we do ours--unpleasant duties. I guess this is where the revelations come in though--that really, none of us have any excuse for not excelling in our easy, comfy lives. It's a fairly objective film, so you have to come to these conclusions on your own, but it's not difficult to see the painful divide between the haves and have nots.

As a film it doesn't offer connections and implications as much as offer facts for you to process yourself; the ending is especially frustrating for me in this way, as maybe I tend to prefer documentary film to take a stronger point of view. In the end it's well worth seeing regardless, a beautifully shot, almost nostalgic look at the death of the workingman--let's hope so.
The TIFF program description --.

Zizek! was the last film of the night, and it was not a good one. Another case of fascinating figure, poor filmmaking. This seemingly directionless film introduces us to Zizek, the 20th century's 'rock star philosopher'. He's a crazy, flustered, endlessly energetic fellow, and we hear many tidbits of insight into his opinions on... everything. We see him at lectures, on the TV, at home, in the car, in his publishers office... We listen to him talk about lots of stuff, but for the life of me, I cannot recall (nor could I understand then) how the film was structured. Maybe all the Lacanian talk went way over my head--maybe the young documentarian relied too much on intuition to guide the story; I'm not sure. It's both, but I'm tending to think that the most at fault is the latter.

For what do we learn about Zizek? Not what does he talk about, but what do we learn about him? He's a deeply conflicted man--someone who wants, no, needs to be heard, needs to be funny... but hates all the attention he's getting. He feels that the more people accept him, the less likely it is that they're listening to what he's actually saying. It could be true, and it's definitely a shame, but this unbearably directionless film will certainly not help his cause (except in letting us know that much).
The TIFF program description --
And his EGS faculty bio --

September 10, 2005

TIFF Days 2 & 3 again: Corpse Brides

These films represented a generally more artificial approach to storytelling than the others I watched this year (except for Drawing Restraint 9). They tended to be heavy on art direction, heavy on mania, heavy on symbolism; it's a tough sell, and one not many can manage. Wes Anderson is a good example of success, I think, with his Royal Tenenbaums, which wound a whole heckuva lot of artifice around a core of honest sentiments and emotions. The Life Aquatic, on the other hand is a good example of one that got away.

But why did it fail? I think that there needs to be a perfect balance of form and content to produce a good film, and obviously not many can accomplish that. To organize story, sound and visual structures so that they progress believably without drawing attention to themselves is a difficult, difficult thing; we need to create insular little worlds with clear internal logics, setting up and paying off quietly so that the characters can live naturally. I dunno, it's something organic, I guess; each film with its own way-it-should-be-ness, its own natural integrity. Most important though in any work of art is some sort of commentary--a point of view, if you will. Without direction, any work will flounder, searching for a foothold, and as audience members (or museum goers, or readers, etc.) so will we. At the very worst, symbols intended to be imbued with meaning will ring empty and cold, dishonest and false. And anyway, if you're not taking a point of view, then it's more like you're just doing a bunch of stuff.

Everyone buys into different things though; each of us with an individual tolerance for artifice. I, for example, could not for one second believe in Love Actually, while plenty of other people did. For me, one of the thrills of cinema is its occasional moments of clarity and truth, so maybe my ability to suspend disbelief is weaker than others. For films like those below, it makes their job that much more difficult, it becoming much more imperativ that they center around clear central themes, stating and resolving and progressing, always keeping in mind that they have to reveal the heart behind their analogies.

And did they? Not so much. L'Annulaire was both opaque and obvious (mostly), and in the end felt pretty inconsequential. It inspired a timeless/placeless mood, that's for certain, but the journey of the lead character seemed empty and undirected. What was its conclusion? That everyone runs away from things in their life? Sure, and the reprocussions of that? I'm not really sure. It was enigmatic and french though.

Tideland was much more loud and fantastic (although still based in what is supposed to be the real world)--an explosion of colour and camera and characters and weird, random stuff--heroin, doll heads, submarines, taxidermy. I have to admit that I wasn't really nuts about it when I first saw it, but it grew on me a bit. It congealed a little after reading about it and hearing Terry Gilliam's interviews on the website. It still feels empty though. His intention was to show the resiliance of a little girl, exhibiting how she uses the power of her imagination to preserve her through disturbing, difficult times. What happens to her in the meanwhile, however, seems totally random; as my friend Matt was saying, why a submarine? Indeed, why everything? In the end, yes, the girls imagination helps her survive, but through what exactly? What was the significance behind those particular trials? That organisation of events? I'm still not sure.

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes is the sad story of the Brothers Quay having to accept constraints. In their Q&A, they mostly cited budgetary concerns as the impetus for their choices. After their first feature, Institute Benjimenta, they were told that if they wanted to make more, they would have to be more accessible: in colour, more narrative. They shot in DV to offset costs, snuck in a little animation, but pretty much kept themselves to directing live actors (of varying qualities), eschewing much of the in-camera stuff they typically use in place of digital effects--what you lose is a good deal of the atmosphere, tone and fragile tension so common in their work. While not wholly unsuccessful, this film is by no means their best, and I think you could sense in their voices that they knew. It is grand that they got to make something--I just hope that the next time around they get to be unmitigatedly Quay.

And here is the Grand Dame of films to review: Tim Burton's much loved Corpse Bride. Perhaps the picture above says it best--this movie contains... stuff.

It suffers from a sever lack of direction. Its story meanders through a series of rushed episodes reliant on a familiar story structure reminiscent of nearly every other animated film made in the last ten years. This film is constructed of cliches, top down--moments, gags, story points, characters, songs and colours all leading us to its un/inevitable deus ex machina conclusion. And the sad thing is that at no point do you ever care about the characters--you're never even entirely sure which characters you're supposed to care for. Unmotivated and hollow, they tumble along, changing their minds, going with the flow of things, obeying the bumbling script, but never coming to life. The music is likewise atrocious--forgettable, gratuitous and many a time indeciferable (and I like musicals).

What this film did have going for it were some very nice visuals. Even here though, things felt a touch hackneyed. I would have liked the atmosphere and lighting to have been pushed a little farther, and having seen the suggestive watercolour paintings of Hans Bacher, I'm sure the film could've benefitted from it. The character design too could've been a little more consistant, although only a few characters looked truly misplaced. Most surprising was that some of the animation bore a slight resemblance to the Rankin Bass animation of the 1960's. That's more about feeling than look because, of course, the Corpse Bride offers much in the way of brilliant new stop motion technologies. Some of the animation is just outstanding (although much of it is already in the trailer)--I only wish the animators had a better story to work from.

This film is the hollow shell of something that could have been very good, and that alone makes it well worth watching. Because of the trailer, I came in expecting the Holy Grail of animation filmmaking, and was very disappointed that the film is in fact so forgettable. I shouldn't downplay the enormous efforts of all involved though--it is a monumental film, and surely a sign of good things to come from stop motion animation. It will not dethrone The Nightmare Before Christmas as best stop motion film ever, but it certainly suggests exciting possibilities for the medium if we ever get our stories together.


Drawn about 10 seconds before bed

To anyone who's been here in the last few days, I've obviously fallen behind in my Toronto International Film Festival posting. I've also been a bit of a wuss about revealing anything about any film that I think people should see, except that I sort of think that people should watch everything, or thereabouts, so what the hell; I pretend to know something about film, so I guess it's time to put my writin'/thinkin' to the test. I've been failing so far, but once this all wraps up saturday, I'll have time to pump out some reviews. In the meanwhile, I'm mighty beat, but watching some great stuff and having a helluva time. Only four more films to go. BYE!

TIFF Day 3: The Sun and The Corpse Bride

I saw a couple of big films this weekend--a busy, pleasurable, tiring romp--but I'm not entirely sure how to approach writing about them. You see, I really hate talking about movies when other people haven't seen them. I really like talking about movies--just not if there's a chance that I'll ruin things for you. I don't even want to give opinions, lest I sway your expectations going in. So how does one write a review then? In vague generalities? With a warning that there will be spoilers? Well, no; I don't believe in spoiling, even if you do. I go to movies to be surprised, to have an adventure of sorts. The Film Festival is one venue that really allows that kind of experience, that really lends itself to great movie events.

So what will these posts be then, if not reviews of films? Well, I'm thinking maybe I'll only handle films that I know you're likely not going to see, or films that won't ruin from being talked about. Maybe these posts should just be more of an encouragement of the movie watching experience, out in the city, with a thousand people, and all your friends, far from ripped DVDs and downloaded pre-release copies.


But anyways, what some of you might actually like hearing about is the North American premiere of Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride! Which is one of the films that I won't talk about yet. I will mention the 2 and 3/4 hour wait in line which was actually pretty fun; I will mention the torrent of screaming girls who ran across the street when Johnny Depp emerged from his car. I will mention the rush of finding our seats in the dark, perhaps the last few in the theatre, as the credits ended... but no, sorry, I can't bring myself to even describe the film experience except to tell you to GO SEE THIS MOVIE. And then we'll talk.

For up close pics of the premiere please visit the folks at Neptoon Studios, and for the official site, here.

One film I will talk about though, is The Sun, by Alexander Sokurov. It is a dark, slow, stunning character piece about the Japanese Emperor Hirohito just before the surrender of Japan to the Allied forces. The film is full of tension as a result, and it's rarely, barely relieved. The story doesn't revolve around the Emperors political actions as dry fact, instead it regards them as products of a powerful character transformation: having to reconcile surrendering his country, but on top of that, renouncing his divinity (a belief held for 2600 years, and one which drove the Japanese to fight during the war). The truth of his humanity is obviously difficult for his attendants (and, we understand, for the country) to accept, but his challenging self knowledge and love for life in the face of supreme responsibility describe a character who is more fragile, complex, simple and peace loving than most could understand. Or at least this is how Sokurov and actor Issey Ogata portrayed him. Historians say otherwise, but Sokurov's take can be read here. For a thorough dissection, the BFI Sight and Sound review.

September 09, 2005

TIFF Day 2: Bertrand, Gilliam, Quay

This was a day of madness, sheer madness, head to toe. No answers today, only questions; I'll have to return to these.

Diane Bertrand's film L'Annulaire centers around the strange situation Iris finds herself in upon losing the tip of her ring finger. She lands a job at a laboratory where people deposit items from their pasts--a place where these troubling, embarassing, hurtful, charged items may be forgotten. A couple mushrooms, the bones of a pet, a musical score, mah jong tiles... what is Iris willing to sacrifice?

Terry Gilliam's Tideland is about a little girl growing up under very strange, very adverse conditions. A very difficult watch. Introducing it, he warned the audience that it might take some time to set in. I'm going to give it that....

And The Brothers Quay production, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes drifts around the death and rejuvenation of a beautiful opera singer, her fiance, her obsessive admirer, and the titular piano tuner who is contracted to repair a man's automatons--window box machines with ethereal, moving dioramas. A dark, mechanical, Bocklinesque tragedy-dream. This is going to need some time too.

September 08, 2005

TIFF Day 1: The Ballet Russe

From the festival schedule: the Baby Ballerinas

Last night, the first of the festival, was very busy indeed. Not so much from having a lot to do; there were just a lot of people. I ran around with my friend Dani downing copious amounts of very sweet/gross corn chowder, latkas, cake and candied ginger, only to learn that after my many years of festival going, I still don't really know how things work. Too much mayhem! But that's one of the reasons I like it. Jenny met us in the rush line and there we ran into my puppeteer friend Michelle. Our only film of the evening was The Ballet Russe, from the USA, directed by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, and thankfully, we got in.

The Ballet Russe chronicles the rise and fall of one of the most popular, influential, innovative ballet companies in the world. The filmmakers very carefully balance the mix of photographs, interviews and archival footage to craft a story not only about the history of a company, but about the vibrant personalities and relationships that helped sustain and elevate it. This is the film's great strength; it tells these stories in tandem, so that as you're watching history unfold, you're also identifying with the dancers as more than bodies on the stage, pawns in a dry chronology. No, instead you understand them as people and friends; as clueless children, hopeful teens, passionate adults and wizened, energetic seniors. They reminisce with warmth and charm and humour and much much joy. Most, though over the age of 80, are still active in the world of professional ballet today, teaching, speaking, choreographing, archiving, and yes, still performing, to extend the life of this company far beyond its time. It's an engaging meditation on something ephemeral but not yet lost, about aging, circumstance and the subsequent way we adapt our passions.

But for me, most striking was something to do with the company itself. Throughout its long history, its greatest successes were due to its quality, originality and bravery. This was an avant garde company. They worked with artists like Matisse, Picasso and Dali, composers Ravel and Stravinsky, not to mention choreographers like Leonide Massine and George Balanchine. Massine's Seventh Symphony was as critically recieved as Walt's Fantasia or Sargent's Madame X; why? because he combined symphonic music with ballet! So much that we take for granted today was revolutionary and courageous in its time. The long success of the Ballet Russe rode on their ability to innovate through storytelling-telling different types of stories, and telling them in different ways; they are a good example of the power of unmitigated creativity, well directed. The film ends with Stravinsky's rousing Firebird Suite, which of course reminded me of Fantasia 2000. I remember, before it came out, saying to a friend that it was going to be the best thing ever! Well, maybe it wasn't quite, but I do admire their efforts. It truly was a continuation of the orignal: expirimenting, tirelessly rising, every film in anticipation of the next.

The Ballet Russe plays again tomorrow at 3:15, and opens wide... soon.

In line at the mouth of a parking garage, the Varsity theatres

September 07, 2005

Addendum: Walt Stanchfield

There are a few I failed to include in my grid of influences; most notably, Walt Stanchfield, and his gesture class.

If there is anything one should read about drawing, it is the Stanchfield notes. Walt regularly taught a gesture drawing class at Disney, and these notes were his handouts, often largely comprised of drawings from the class. Today many of the co-contributors are active and renown, some carrying on the traditions of Walt's Words of Wisdom.

Enrico Casarosa recently posted about Tom Gately teaching a gesture class at Pixar U; Jim Hull at Seward Street regularly shares entries by Dave Pimentel , doing something similar. The incredible Mr. Joe Moshier is, of course, the new standard for design at Disney, and Clay Kaytis is the fellow behind the Animation Podcast. John Webber is now one of the creatives behind Project Firefly and Aliki Theofilopoulos currently works for Nickelodeon. (Hopefully I've got all my information right; let me know if I haven't.)

Unfortuantely, I haven't much to post, as my notes were borrowed and never returned a few years ago. They are invaluable, though; the bible of expressive drawing, written in a spirit of fun, exploration and courage through drawing adversity. I like that Walt asks us not just to go the whole way and make bold, emotional, storytelling drawings, but that he asks us to connect with ourselves, with the world and with our fellow artists. For years now, all throughout college and ever since, I have poured over, soaked in and tried to share the wisdom and enthusiam of the Stanchfield notes. Fellows like Joe Moshier, Dave Pimentel and Tom Gately introduced me to new approaches and aesthetics of drawing, combining feeling, observation, design and storytelling. To all associated, I am eternally grateful.

Sadly, Walt passed away in October 2000 -- For a few of Walt's handouts, please check out Animation Meat. My apologies to those without drawings posted--like I said, I no longer have many notes, and my apologies to those with drawings posted, as I know they're not mine, so I hope you don't mind.