Saturday, September 22, 2007


Written by Steven Knight
Directed by David Cronenberg

Nikolai: Nice bike. How much do you want for it?
Anna: It has sentimental value.
Nikolai: Sentimental value … I’ve heard of that.

When it comes to films made by veteran Canadian director, David Cronenberg, certain promises are expected to be kept. The name promises something dark and twisted, something gruesome and haunting, something disturbing and seductive. Cronenberg’s latest, EASTERN PROMISES, certainly makes good on all these accounts and solidifies his new, more linear but no less disconcerting approach to filmmaking. Gone are the days of surreal experiments where fetishists get off on colliding cars and the ensuing scars or twin gynecologists playing patients for patsies. Now is the time for the Russian mafia in London to be given a human touch. No, now Mr. Cronenberg is not so concerned with being bizarre as he is with being blunt. As with his last masterpiece, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, Cronenberg has made PROMISES into a straightforward story and morality tale, much to the dismay of film students everywhere. Fear not though, students. Accessibility does not make Cronenberg irrelevant. If anything, it means that brilliantly polished stories about the underbelly of humanity can be told without any unnecessary sentiment, allowing for them to be both provocative and bloody as all hell.

It rains just as much in Cronenberg’s London as it does in the real London. The rain ushers in the heavy yet steady hand of this director, whose work always seems to be weighed down by a looming sense of despair and discomfort. Still, though the viewer is pulled into a world where cutting the tips off of fingers and slitting throats is just as normal as a well-balanced breakfast, nothing is so simple as good and evil as absolutes. Like the sky the rain is falling from, everyone is surrounded by an ambiguous grey. Naomi Watts plays a mid-wife named Anna. On one tragic evening, Anna helps to bring a baby into the world at the expense of the very young, heroine-addicted mother’s life. She does not want to see the child fall into the system as the girl cannot be identified to find her next of kin so she makes it her mission to find the girl’s family before this can happen. It may all seem noble but her saintly act also serves to appease the pain she has felt since the miscarriage of her own child months before. She couldn’t save her baby but she can certainly try to help this one. Her search leads her directly to the door of the Russian mafia and this is where she meets Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). At the moment, Nikolai is just the driver but he’s got hopes to one day be part of the real family. He would be perfect for the job as he is calculated and cold when he needs to be but then again not so as he also takes the time to encourage the slave sex-worker he’s just been with to find a better life. People are complicated; Cronenberg knows this and this is what gives EASTERN PROMISES its depth.

Though regular Cronenberg cinematographer, Peter Suschitzky, guides EASTERN PROMISES with a tranquil glide that sets the pace as both unnerving and engrossing, it is Mortensens’s performance as an aspiring mafioso with a nagging sense of compassion that is most memorable and moving. His face is harsh and guarded behind his dark sunglasses and beneath his slicked back, immaculately placed hair lies a mystery that is being heavily protected. His presence is daunting as he steps from a black town car, dressed to match, from his shoes to his gloves. He is naturally imposing and his icy composure and unflinching dedication to his superiors make him frightening without really trying. He is not so much trying to intimidate others into submission though but rather to keep them away. Yet there is something about him that inspires those around him to see a reason to trust him. Perhaps it is his reliability or perhaps it is just that you know once you meet him that you would rather have him on your side than on the other. Mortensen, working with Cronenberg for the second time after his tortured performance in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, is transformed and nearly unrecognizable as Nikolai. And while his character is extremely guarded, he still manages to find himself in a very naked position before the film’s end, in what is a shocking and exhilarating fight sequence that finds Cronenberg, as God, going after Nikolai when he is at his most vulnerable. Proving himself to be a vengeful God, Cronenberg punishes his character for allowing himself to relax for three seconds to appreciate his success.

The fight sequence is already being heralded as one for the books that will be talked about for years to come. I have a feeling we will be hearing just as much talk about Mortensen’s performance, Steven Knight’s script and Cronenberg’s direction come awards season. After setting the groundwork with A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (which I actually do prefer over EASTERN PROMISES just because it left me with more on my mind), the mainstream film community seems finally ready to reward one of its veteran contributors. If you’re going to sell out, I can’t imagine a better way to do it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais
Directed by Julie Taymor

“Because the sky is blue, it makes me cry. Because the sky is blue.”

Staring at a blue sky for two hours is almost required viewing to settle your mind from the visually lost schizophrenia that is Julie Taymor’s ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. How else can you undo the damage from being subjected to an exhaustingly lengthy collage of overblown imagery at the hands of an over inflated ego? I can only imagine the horror that must have swept over the executives’ faces after screening this film for the first time. It has been widely publicized that Taymor entered a creative war over the final cut of this film with her producers who wanted to release their own cut of the film. They said the film needed more focus, less experimenting as she hid behind the shield of artistic integrity. Ordinarily, I would never side with any form of censorship but perhaps she should have left her bias in the car and taken a few of the tips that were perhaps being given to her in the best interest of her film. Maybe then, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE could have told a functional story that would have captured some attention, given it some ultimate meaning and made this all-Beatles musical the magical journey it so desperately wanted to be and could have been. Or maybe it would have been worse but I can’t see how.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE tells the story, and I say that lightly, of a young lad named Jude (Jim Sturgess), who travels across the ocean to find his father. Find him he does in absolutely no time and then he just bounces around from here to there in pursuit of nothing at all. He meets a girl (Evan Rachel Wood) and falls in love; he gets a room in New York City and paints when everybody else is either going to war in Vietnam or protesting it. A bevy of other characters are randomly introduced, bring nothing to the whole (which is paper thin as it is) and then disappear after accomplishing just as much nothing. It is all so aimless; I’m surprised my neck doesn’t hurt more from all the shaking my head did in bewilderment. The style, which can only be described as a refusal to commit to any one style, only makes it more difficult to get taken in. As a viewer, the suspended disbelief necessary to enjoy a musical as one should still requires a firm foundation. Taymor tries to establish a gritty reality with Jude working the docks in Liverpool but the leap to where the music happens, and the magic is supposed to, is always different and seldom seems appropriate. I never thought I would be begging for plausibility in a musical but this was just ridiculous

While I commend Taymor for incorporating 90% on-location singing into this musical in an attempt to pump a more real quality into the practice, I want to sit her down to talk about some other basic concepts like character, meaning and purpose (concepts she so easily incorporated into her far superior FRIDA). Surely she has seen Baz Luhrmann’s MOULIN ROUGE. Luhrmann’s film employed the same musical technique to appropriate existing lyrical content (including some by the Beatles) and contextualized it within his story of forbidden lovers. The reason his film worked is because there was a solid story driving it forward and characters that were developed through that story and their songs. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE seems more interested in its high concept usage of the Beatles repertoire that characters seem to be included so that certain songs can be included. It is certainly lovely to see a young high school cheerleader sing a slowed down version of “I Wanna Hold your Hand” to herself about a fellow cheerleader, just as it is heartbreaking to watch a young boy caught in the streets of the Detroit riots singing “Let It Be” amidst the violence but both of these potentially powerful moments and strong performances are hollowed out by their complete lack of context. How can you be expected to care when you have no idea why this story is suddenly being told? And then to find out, there was really no significant point to begin with? Without purpose, all you have are a bunch of people singing old songs on screen.

At one point, more specifically when multiple Selma Hayek’s in nurse uniforms seductively administered drugs to war patients spinning around a medical ward to “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” I found myself wondering just how many Beatles songs were still left to be sung. When a film has no distinct purpose, it also has no clear ending in sight. I was beginning to fear that Taymor might actually turn me off the Beatles with this disaster but fortunately, the Beatles are timeless and genius and something so laughable as ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is not going to diminish their beauty. It’s like bearing witness to a bad karaoke performance of your favorite song; you cringe while it’s happening but once you hear it again for yourself, the mastery that was temporarily taken from it comes back in waves of vibrant colour and splashes of insight that touch your soul. The painful experience is easily forgotten and you ask yourself, across what universe?

Saturday, September 15, 2007



My third and final day at the Toronto International Film Festival was considerably less rushed than the previous two. In fact, I only had one film scheduled. During my manic search for tickets, I contacted a colleague at the National Post. Craig couldn’t help me with tickets but wanted to know if I would participate in the upcoming Popcorn Panel film discussion on 3:10 TO YUMA. As I love these opportunities, I said I would and found myself buying a ticket to a movie for a reasonable price and without any serious stress over whether it would be possible to get in or not for the first time all weekend. It was liberating. And so my final day in Toronto became all about casual shopping on Queen Street, a first-run movie with the regular film-going folk and a world premiere of Sean Penn’s INTO THE WILD.

Before I take a look at the films I saw that day, I want to talk a bit about what I found to be most inspiring about the entire festival. It is one thing to be surrounded by celebrities and premieres; this alone is extremely surreal. What was even more baffling to me was the number of volunteers in and around every venue at the festival and how these volunteers seemed appreciative of their place in the system. They were always courteous and smiling. They were apologetic if the wait was too long as if they cared that you might not be having the best time ever. It was near moving to see so many motivated, energized people who only got to keep their T-shirts and sneak into movies if there was any space left as payment for their time. Before each screening, several sponsors screened tags announcing their support. NBC/Universal was the official sponsor of the volunteer program and each time their tag played and announced their pride in supporting the volunteers, the crowd would erupt in genuine warmth and applause. Maybe that appreciation, plus the T-shirt, made it all worthwhile. Thank you volunteers; you were all helpful and lovely.

3:10 TO YUMA was one of those films that truly surprised me. You know the kind of movie I’m talking about; it’s that movie that you don’t really want to see but you somehow end up seeing it and go in with zero expectations of quality or what will unfold. Seeing a movie under those circumstances can either go one of two ways. Either your suspicions that it was not a movie for you are confirmed and you leave knowing you should trust your judgment next time or you leave impressed and thinking you should probably be a little more open-minded in the future. My experience was clearly the latter. 3:10 TO YUMA has an energy driving it forward that stems from its originality. This might seem a stretch to say given it is a remake of a 1957 film so I’ll elaborate. It is original much like AMERICAN BEAUTY breathed new life into the existing suburban exposition drama or the way THE DEPARTED showed us Scorcese awake for the first time in years. There is something new being brought to the table. Here, director James Mangold (WALK THE LINE) combines a quiet, introspective script (like modern Western, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) with a classic, straightforward story (like the Western classic, STAGECOACH) to create something visually lush that has both exhilarating action and gunfight as well as depth of character. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are both excellent as men at different ends of the moral code. They learn from each other but have strong enough characters to begin with to not falter from their true nature without just cause. With 3:10 TO YUMA, Mangold is forcefully establishing himself as one of the best in the West.

Then there is this other Western director, whom I’m sure believes himself to be one of the best. When Sean Penn was brought on stage before the world premiere of his film interpretation of the life of Christopher McCandless, a university graduate who abandons his possessions, family and attachments in pursuit of life’s greater truths, the crowd was happy to receive him. People clapped, many cheered. However, the next audience response, for a surprise appearance by Eddie Vedder, who contributes four songs to the film, was so much more spontaneous and sincere that it made Penn’s seem almost automatic. Most of the cast, from William Hurt to Catherine Keener to Jena Malone to star, Emile Hirsch, proceeded to fill the stage. This was clearly an event. The moment quickly faded though as it became apparent within the film’s first scenes that INTO THE WILD was going to live up to its name. As McCandless rejects society and conformity, so does Penn with his style. While this does make for many beautiful shots, some entirely scenic, some involving dangerous wildlife in peaceful surroundings, the manner in which it is all strung together is ultimately pretentious. There is so much beauty but so little purpose. The numerous supporting roles come in and out throughout the film, much like the people would have on the adventures McCandless would have experienced. Only this isn’t that experience, this is a film. Consequently, many performances come across as overly dramatic and the adverse affect on the film itself is a disdain for the lead character carrying you everywhere. As McCandless, Hirsch is strong and mature but his character, as noble as he is for pursuing greater meanings in life, is not likable for the emotional pain he caused, especially when it is apparent that he is only running away from his own truths. It’s hard to respect someone who is running away while pretending to be a pioneer. Many people left before the screening had ended and when it finally did, the applause slowly but surely transitioned into a standing ovation. When I saw this, I bolted. My stomach turned seeing all these people paying lip service when a respectful applause would have been sufficient.

This was a bit of a sour note to end my festival experience on. This is the gamble though. You’re not going to like all the movies and we shouldn"t base the entire experience on its final moments. I hope to have the opportunity again next year to go, maybe for longer. For all its industry-centric catering, the Toronto International Film Festival still gave me the chance to see so many movies I was excited to see. I’ll just make sure to have a Visa gold card by this time next year so I can cut to the front of the line.

Friday, September 14, 2007



Saturday was supposed to be my big movie day at the festival. The weather report was calling for rain and there were plenty of films playing all day that I was dying to see. There was just one small snag to get past. Going into the weekend, I only had one ticket purchased for the entire day and everything else I wanted to see was sold out. This brings me to my one complaint about the Toronto Film Festival. This is not a festival for the people. The regular filmgoer is first weeded out by the cost of a ticket. Regular screenings sell for $17.95 plus applicable taxes and service fees if purchased online. This may seem exorbitant but it is nowhere near as pricey as the cost of a gala or Visa screening. These elite projections go for $37.95. I suppose the rationale is that they are often high profile films having their world or North American premieres and will most likely be attended by the directors and stars. My Friday night alone, which consisted of just two films, cost me almost $85. That was hard to swallow at first but I became appreciative of these tickets as it was beginning to seem like they might end up being my only tickets. When the general onsale finally happened, there had been so many pre-sale opportunities for Visa gold or platinum customers that the only ticket I was able to get was to watch a restored print of Jean Renoir’s LA GRANDE ILLUSION. I spent the entire day trying to get through to the festival box office and when I finally did, the operator who had clearly had one of the longest days of his life, simply told me that if the website said the show was sold out, then it was. I was not amused as the website specifically referred me to the box office in the event the film had no tickets available online.

Tickets for gala screenings were going for as high as $400 dollars online. It was mind boggling to me that anyone would pay that much to see any movie, no matter who was going to be in attendance at the screening. I thought about this while I waited in the regular ticket holders line and watched all the Visa gold or platinum ticket holders walk past me into the theatre when many of them had not been there as long as I had. This was a festival for the privileged. I was certainly privileged to be there but not every cinephile can afford, or is silly enough to justify being able to afford, the prices at TIFF. Going to TIFF was, for many, not about the movies but rather about being seen at the movies. The privilege is not appreciating the film itself but rather telling your friends and colleagues that you caught the world premiere of this movie or that movie and you were sitting three seats away from Cate Blanchett when you did. Luckily for my day, I managed to find people online who were looking to unload their tickets to PERSEPOLIS and MICHAEL CLAYTON at prices that resembled what they paid for them (an easy $55 for the set). And fortunately for my piece of mind, I was sitting in front of two devout cinephiles at GRAND ILLUSION, who went on before the screening about the many films they had already seen so early into the festival and how great the festival was after so many years. The passion is still afire for those who can afford it. It was Tony Gilroy, MICHAEL CLAYTON writer/director, who said it best before his film screened that Saturday afternoon. It went a little something like, ”You are all so lucky to live somewhere where something like this takes place.” So true, Tony, considering I’ve heard it ain’t cheap to live there either.

PERSEPOLIS was by far the best film I saw at the festival. Based on Marjane Satrapi’s highly lauded graphic novel of the same name, PERSEPOLIS is her biographical account of what it was like growing up in Iran during both a revolution and a war. It is mostly black and white, entirely hand drawn and always captivating. Her story is heartbreaking and enlightening. As a precocious your girl, she was easily influenced by her surrounding family and their progressive, humanistic ideals. Her family had convictions and integrity and these were not so much passed on to Marjane so much as awakened within her at an early age. Despite an abundance of love surrounding her amidst such political turmoil, Marjane still develops into a very lonesome figure who goes inside of herself in search of understanding and does not return for many a year. Her journey is sometimes painful and sometimes hilarious but it is the intimate, personal frankness that makes you feel privileged for being privy to it. The richness of the story is only further enhanced by the stark beauty of the style. PERSEPOLIS is a unique experience that will find a special place in your soul while it exposes you to worlds unknown.

The festival has screenings all over town. They have a convenient online schedule that shows how long each film is and whether or not your choices will overlap but they often do not start on time and not being familiar with the terrain made it difficult to assess travel times between venues. I needed again to grab a cab to my next screening, MICHAEL CLAYTON, at Ryerson University, in order to make it on time. Luckily, I did, lucky for a couple of reason. First, I was able to find a reasonable seat and secondly, lucky because the movie was pretty solid. It is slick, stylish and stellar from the start but still somewhat unfocused. This is a movie about a man, precisely a man named Michael Clayton (George Clooney). Writer/Director, Gilroy, is not interested in pandering to his audience but it makes the beginning of his film a bit clunky. Scene after scene establishes characteristics of Mr. Clayton’s personality but this is before any of us has been given the chance to care to know anything about him. The action does start shortly after all this establishment and while I may not have cared to begin with, I certainly finished by wanting to know more. Clayton is a lawyer who no longer litigates in a courtroom but whose major purpose is to clean up messes made by employees of the firm that employs him. Gilroy is one of the smartest writers in Hollywood these days, having written the entire Bourne series. With MICHAEL CLAYTON, he tries his hand at directing and crafts an intelligent thriller that brings more attention to the hero than most films do. By doing so, he makes it apparent that heroes are humans too and there is always more going on that you don’t know a thing about.

While I may not have had the privileged experience those with more money and clout have at this festival, I must say that I certainly feel privileged for the opportunity to see such wonderful films. All in all, it was a beautiful day.
Next ...
Part Three:
3:10 TO YUMA

Monday, September 10, 2007



Who knew that for ten days in September, a little city called Toronto is transformed into something that resembles another little city that you might know as Hollywood? While I’m sure plenty of Torontonians already knew that, this is my first time at the Toronto International Film Festival and I was not prepared for what I became witness to. You can’t walk down the street without seeing someone wearing the orange volunteer T-shirt or with a TIFF tag hanging from their necks. Of course, none of these people are celebrities despite the long list of famous names that are flying in and out throughout the week. Brad and Angelina are here; or is it Angelina and Brad? Jake, Reese, Cate, George, Matt and Woody are all here. Even Ang Lee flew in from Venice to screen his latest, LUST, CAUTION, before it went on to win the Gold Lion for Best Film, much to many critic’s surprise. That said, I don’t know where they’re hiding. Thus far, I’ve only been able to spot them by hanging out on the sidewalks across from the numerous screening venues throughout the city to catch a glimpse of the beautiful people as they make their entrances on the red carpet. I’m convinced they spend the rest of their time shuttling between parties and their hotel rooms. No matter though; I did not come to Toronto to see celebrities … except for Jake Gyllenhaal. I did want to see him and see him I did, if only from very far when at the world premiere of his latest film, RENDITION. No, I came to Toronto to see some movies and that’s precisely what I did.

My first day here was a tad bit chaotic. I was on a bus from Montreal at 9:30 AM. I somehow lucked out and scored a seat all to myself. This gave me the chance to spread out my legs and relax before my stressful arrival. It might not be stressful to you or someone else who is not me but I was arriving at roughly 4:30 and my first film was at 6:30. This gave me two hours to get a cab to my hotel, drop my stuff and make my way to the first venue. When I got to my hotel, I had two e-mails from people looking to sell me tickets to films the next day. I had to now meet someone at their house in Chinatown and then make my way to the first venue. There went my shower. I managed to find my way to both locations with a good deal of ease and before I knew it, I was waiting at the door of Roy Thompson Hall for RENDITION. People were screaming, “Jake! Jake!” as I was let in. I tried to look back but dozens of photographers and reporters waiting for their short window to get that shot, that sound bite, were blocking my view. I opted to go into the venue and get myself a good seat. I should have stayed outside. Considering how much I paid for this gala screening, my seats could not have been much worse. When it came time for director, Gavin Hood and actors, Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon and Peter Saarsgard to make their way on stage, they were barely distinguishable to my eyes. I could still see Jake swaying his hips back and forth with his hands in his pockets though. That was good enough for me.

RENDITION is Hood’s follow-up to his Academy Award winning film, TSOTSI, and his first as an official Hollywood director. He maintains both bravery and integrity by telling the story of Anwar El-Ibrahim (Omar Metwally), an Egyptian chemical engineer who has been living and working in the USA for 20 years. After a suicide bomb kills an American operative in the Middle East, El-Ibrahim is detained as he reenters the US without any explanation. Witherspoon is the pregnant wife who searches frantically for her missing husband. Saarsgard is her college friend working in government whom she hopes can help her find him. Gyllenhaal is the American operative in charge of getting answers from El-Ibrahim. RENDITION is most interesting as a portrait of what it means to be American today. Each major player represents a different faction of Americana. Witherspoon is the non-political soccer mom (literally, we are introduced to her playing soccer with her son) who does not concern herself with world events but chooses to focus on her family, her life. Saarsgard is the American who knows that his government is committing injustices but accepts this and does not fight back in fear of what will happen to him. Meryl Streep plays the woman who gave the order to take El-Ibrahim into custody. She is Witherspoon’s antithesis; she does not concern herself with people or families but rather allows her ignorance to guide her decisions regarding the bigger political fallout. And then there’s Gyllenhaal. He begins as the good American who does what he is told and does not ask questions but eventually turns into the American who just can’t take the silence anymore. Unfortunately for RENDITION, the intrigue portion of this political thriller doesn’t go much further than this. The performances are solid but no actor is ever given the chance to take their characters as far as they could, leaving an unfulfilled feeling in its wake. RENDTION forces us to watch and learn about an atrocious reality being currently committed and then sends us on our way with very little changed. It’s as though we are abducted along with El-Ibrahim, only without the torture.

When the credits rolled at RENDITION, I sprang out of my seat and bolted out of the theatre as fast I could. It’s not that I didn’t care for the movie; it was enjoyable enough. It’s just I had another one starting in ten minutes and I couldn’t afford to get caught in the crowds. A cab dropped me off at the beautiful Elgin theatre of Yonge street and I somehow still managed to find a seat somewhere near the back just in time for Ang Lee to introduce his follow-up to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. I had already heard mixed things about LUST, CAUTION. At just a little under three hours, I heard the film went too long. With an NC-17 rating and rumours that some of the film’s explicit scenes were real, I had heard the film might be a bit much at times. I simply found it be unfocused. It was as though Lee could not decide the style in which to tell his story. The film is part espionage, part historical, part suspense and part love story. It is at times epic while classical or noir at others. Still, like most of Lee’s work, there’s an underlying meaning to devour. LUST, CAUTION tells the story of Wang Jiazhi (Wei Tang), a young student who gets involved with a political acting troupe that decide to up their game by infiltrating the operations of a known traitor in order to kill him in the name of their invaded China. Wang is embraced by the wife of the traitor, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung) when she poses as a society lady. Before long, she catches Mr. Yee’s attention and they begin an intensely sexual and violent affair. The genius of the story is the exposition of the love’s epicenter. Lee throws his characters into it and forces them to struggle between their duties and their desires. Unfortunately, the unsteadiness of the film is distracting and almost makes it impossible for the point to be made.

While the screenings were somewhat disappointing, the magic of just being there was certainly not. I left the Elgin with all the other patrons pouring into the street. They were unimpressed and dismayed but all I could think about was what was to come next.
Next …
Part Two

Monday, September 03, 2007


What a difference a year makes. Last year, I casually fit five films from the Montreal World Film Festival into my schedule. I met up with friends, had lunches before and drinks afterward. For ten days, there was something special happening in my routine. This year, the special dropped off and pressure took its place. I was asked by Ioncinema, a website I’ve been writing DVD reviews for these last couple of years, to cover the festival for the site. This meant I would be fully accredited and that in turn means I get a fancy badge with my picture on it that allows me into all the screenings and gives me access to the pressroom. A schedule was made. I would attend twelve screenings. Meanwhile, I still had to go to work every day, work on the Black Sheep site upgrades and find time for an editing project I have pending. Somehow managing to make everything work was the least of my worries (cutting the gym out of my schedule freed up time for meals). My biggest concern was booking interviews with directors who were in town with their films. I finished with three interviews, two less than I had hoped for but I am very happy with the results of all three. As many of the screenings I scheduled were done so in hopes an interview would follow, I cancelled many of them to alleviate some of the aforementioned pressure. Twelve screenings turned into five … well, five and a half really because I walked out of Nicolas Roeg’s PUFFBALL (blech). Subsequently, the pressure that was initially created entirely by myself gave way to other states, like appreciation and enjoyment.

The first film I saw is actually in competition in the First Films category. Germany’s DER ANDERE JUNGE (THE OTHER BOY), directed by Volker Einrauch, tells the tale of two teenage boys in Hamburg who are forced to interact with each other because their parents are good friends when they otherwise never would. Paul (Tim Oliver Schultz) is a boy with no boundaries. He does what he wants and his parents do nothing to discipline him. Why should they really? He is a man after all and a man needs to find his own path if he is ever going to be successful. Robert (Willi Gerk) on the other hand is quiet and pensive. He is a sensitive boy who is mostly left alone by his parents, as they don’t really know what to do with him. Robert allows Paul to step all over him whenever the two cross paths, losing a little more esteem each time. By the time Paul naively sticks a gun in Robert’s face, he cannot take it anymore. Having finally been pushed too far, Robert pushes back. One of the boys ends up dead and the true beauty of the film follows. Perhaps if the parents weren’t so preoccupied playing cards with each other, they could have seen what was going on between their boys in the next room this whole time. The death and subsequent cover-up forces all involved to wake up and see the limitations of their own lives. Einrauch’s film asks many questions about nature and nurture, like whether the boys are accountable for their own actions or just acting out the influences of their parents, but never presumes to answer any of the questions directly. Instead, he allows the film’s starkly guarded performances and delicate script to leave the debate in the laps of the viewer to bring home to bed with them. Sleep is that much further out of reach after seeing this one.

For me, sleep was even further away on that particular night. New this year at the festival is the Midnight Slam series. Gore and ghouls from around the globe found themselves a home in the daily midnight screenings dedicated to violence and horror. Making its North American premiere at the festival was SHOOT ‘EM UP, one of the larger festival entries this year as the film is being released ultra-wide this week. Midnight screenings are like one long stretch of full moon fever. People seem to feel that the time of day gives them free reign to holler and give props every time someone jabs a half-eaten carrot through the back of someone’s skull. I don’t mean to take away from the fun, especially from a film like SHOOT ‘EM UP, which can be loads of fun. I guess I just felt bad for my roommate who had to sit next to “Oh, no. Oh, no. He’s not going to … OH YEAH! HE DID GO THERE!! I CAN’T FUCKING BELIEVE THIS MOVIE!!!” all the way through the movie. As irritating as this was to my roommate, it is probably exactly what writer/director, Michael Davis wants. This is Davis’s first Hollywood production and he surprisingly scored some top talent (Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci) for what amounts to nothing more than B-movie with better production value and smarter dialogue. Drawing inspiration from John Woo’s HARDBOILED, Davis gives us a man (Owen) who delivers and then saves a baby amidst constant gunfire zipping past his head. With the baby tucked under his arm like a football, he outruns the bad guy (Giamatti), finds solace in the arms of a lactating prostitute (Bellucci) and eventually finds himself jumping out of an airplane and into a shoot-out in mid-air. Davis’s action sequences are outrageous but are also sharply choreographed and shot with style. His witty screenplay even manages to weave family values into the fold. SHOOT ‘EM UP is the kind of movie you shut your brain off to enjoy, only to realize you didn’t have to.

An opposite experience can also be had. SPINNING INTO BUTTER is the kind of movie you keep your brain alert for only to realize you could have left it in the car. I am honestly baffled at how this film finds itself in competition for the festival’s top prize. I have been known to write films off prematurely but I knew within the first minutes of this film that it would be hollow and cheap. SPINNING INTO BUTTER was originally a play and having the playwright (Rebecca Gilman) also write the screenplay (with Doug Atchison) was the first mistake to be made. The story of an over glorified guidance councilor (Sarah Jessica Parker) who moves from an inner city Chicago school to a quieter Burlington university (read as leaves black for white) is preachy without a strong position. It knows what it wants to say but it doesn’t know how to say it. It wants to expose the deep seeded hatred and racism within everyone that we don’t talk about. This is both admirable and brave. It’s a shame it tells us this through one-liners angrily spat out of numerous throwaway characters of various ethnic backgrounds. You’ve got an angry black woman, a noble Nuyorican guy and a nerdy Asian student for starters. The colorful background makes way for the nice white lady dean of students (Parker) to meet and engage in challenging debate with the well-intentioned black reporter (Mykelti Williamson). While the film finds its most solid moments in scenes shared between these two actors, its ultimate lack of character encouraged by first-time film director, Mark Brokaw, only turns this movie against itself. Instead of exposing our buried racial prejudices, it serves to show the tokenism and ignorance of the filmmaker himself as it relies on stereotypes to make its points.

My journey then went from no character to full character. After making the rounds through the United States festival circuit, Montreal filmmaker, Francois Dompierre, comes home with his first feature, ALL THE DAYS BEFORE TOMORROW. This was it for me. It is a strikingly beautiful, rich character study that is haunting and inspiring. You know after the first few minutes that you are about to see something meaningful and significant. Then, by the time the film comes to a close, you know that Dompierre has the potential for great things in his future. Wes (Joey Kern) gets a phone call late one night from Alison (Alexandra Holden). He wishes he were still dreaming but he can’t avoid the voice on the other line. A part of him doesn’t want to either. From the few things said over the phone, so much is learnt about these two people and the effects they have had on each other’s lives. Meanwhile, the depth of Dompierre’s screenplay has only just begun. Each scene that follows gives that much more insight into the nature of their relationship and themselves without revealing too much. The intrigue nears Lynchian proportions as the film is told out of chronological order but in a manner that feels like the only way it could have been told. I found myself anxious as the film was drawing to a close as I felt I didn’t know enough yet about these two people, about their fascinating story. Dompierre did not disappoint though. He reveals just enough and at just the right times to keep you wanting to learn more about Wes and Alison and subsequently doing so until the end of the film. The film is not without its faults but they smooth themselves out through the earnestness of the director’s presence felt throughout the film. My only regret about ALL THE DAYS BEFORE TOMORROW is that I didn’t see it at a public screening so I could have shared in the warmth this film gives so freely.

Like last year, my closing film for the festival is also the closing film of the festival itself. Unlike last year, the film is well deserving of its place. French director, Claude Miller, returns to the Montreal World Film Festival this year with UN SECRET (A SECRET), starring Patrick Bruel, Cecile de France and Julie Depardieu. The sheer scope of the story is staggering. The summer of 1955 is vibrant and colorful. Everyone around the swimming pool is alive and soaking in the gorgeous day. Everyone, that is, except for young Francois. He is in awe of his mother’s beautiful stature, weary of his father’s disappointment and afraid to get in the water. Thirty years later, Francois (Mathieu Almarich) is a therapist who helps others face their fears. It isn’t clear whether his fears have been entirely vanquished but it is certain his healing process began in 1962, when he finally learned about his family’s secret. The secret itself had been buried since the early 1940’s. The script begins by alluding to things unsaid within Francois’s family and how avoiding saying these things only creates more damaging problems than speaking the truth would. However, the title itself suggests that there is one secret that will eclipse all. As that secret unfolds, the viewer is treated to so much suffering that serves as concrete insight into how this family became what they did. Miller’s film is a morality tale about the consequences of keeping things to yourself. Not saying what you should only leads to internalized torture that stops you from being who you are. Furthermore, it is foolish to think that secrets don’t get out. Silence echoes louder than any truth ever could. That said, as much as I would like to, I can’t tell you anymore about this film … it’s a secret and I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you.

On this, the last day of the 31st Montreal World Film Festival, I am relieved that it is closing and to have survived. Beyond that though, I am thrilled for having had the experience behind the scenes. Hanging out at the Hyatt lobby, meeting directors, getting into sold out screenings – all these things are new to me and it was a pleasure to have had these opportunities. I’d like to thank Trevor, Phil and Candice for joining me for screenings. I’d like to thank Celine France and Maryanne Shelley at the Festival pressroom for being so accommodating and helpful. I’d like to thank directors Michael Davis, Volker Einrauch and Francois Dompierre for meeting with me and sharing their experiences. And lastly, I’d like to thank Eric Lavallee at Ioncinema for sponsoring me to begin with and making this whole thing possible.

Next week, I will make my way to Toronto for my first time at the Toronto International Film Festival. See you there.