By Friday, that sore throat has turned into a tired, woozy but thankfully not feverish feeling and a stubborn cough. At least the throat’s not sore anymore. It might be a sign that I’m going to cycle through all the symptoms quickly and feel right as rain in two days. Could happen, right?
Friday starts out with some non-TIFF work, a meeting with Tim Reis and our post-production friends at The Royal about some post work that we’re hoping to do on Tim’s debut feature, Bad Blood, later this fall. It’s a super fun film that I’m very excited to be helping out on, and I think that a bit of polish on the sound and colour will really take the quality and style up several notches. Plus, any excuse to bring Tim back to Toronto, because he’s basically our favourite dude.
After an extended lunch/meeting about Bad Blood I had to race downtown to another meeting, this one about a TV series that I can’t talk about yet but am very excited to be part of in whatever capacity. I made the dumb decision of taking a taxi from John and Wellington down to the back (west) side of the ACC, which should only have been a 15 minute walk but turned into a nearly 30 minute drive because of some insane traffic. Is it always like that downtown, or what? Am I just blissfully unaware of the nightmare that drivers live every day in this town? Anyway, I should have walked, it was nuts. I arrived late but the meeting went smoothly anyway and I’m very excited about the potential of this project.
I went back to the hotel for a nap, where I proceeded to grumble and groan a lot about whether I would be able to make it to Midnight Madness (I can get a bit babyish when I am sick, lemme tell ya) but in the end, I rallied for one important reason: Friday was Moms at Midnight day!!! Colin’s folks came into town (they’re staying with mine, because our families are the cutest ever) and the two moms came out to see Takashi Miike’s completely zany Yakuza Apocalypse. They loved Why Don’t You Play in Hell? two years ago so we figured Japanese insanity might be their thing?
Went for an all-curing bowl of pre-midnight ramen at Ramen Raijin (on Gerrard at Yonge, so about as close to the Ryerson as humanly possible) before enjoying some serious yakuza/mom time. I was about as tired as I’ve been all festival, but definitely glad I went. Plus, the moms got to meet Miike! He looks like a disembodied head in this picture, but trust me, up close, his outfit was extreeeeeemely cool.
Sometimes, the only thing that really helps at the end of a grumbly sick day is moms. ❤
Back to movies! On Thursday I managed to see three films and have a nice dinner and make it to bed early.
I woke up a bit tired and unwilling to invest too much emotional or intellectual energy into anything I was seeing, because I was already feeling drained and in need of some feel good pick me ups.
First up, I saw Our Brand Is Crisis, the Sandra Bullock number loosely based on a real story of an American political consultant who helps a Bolivian presidential candidate win the election. There’s actually a 2005 documentary (same title) which tells the story of the real strategists and the real election, which I’d love to check out because the fictionalized version left me feeling a bit weird. I can’t put my finger on what was wrong with it (I think the ending, which is both jarringly hopeful and too-easily-redemptive, had something to do with it) but there was something about the largely comedic tone of the film’s first half that just didn’t gel with the truly depressing outcome. I was really hopeful since it’s directed by David Gordon Green, who has more hits than misses books, but … I’m not sure about this one, and I’d love to read up on the actual situation.
Next up I saw Mr. Right, which is basically a really dumb story about a kooky girl falling in love with a charming hitman. And vice versa. It doesn’t matter how dumb it is though, because Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell are so incredibly charming, charismatic, likeable and delightful to watch that the film ends up being greater than the sum of its parts, and very funny and enjoyable.
My final film of the day might end up being one of my faves of the fest. Basically the feel-good film of the year, Born to Dance is a dance film from New Zealand that manages to be incredibly fun and fresh in spite of having pretty much the same plot as every other dance film since the dawn of cinema. There are a few key differences that made it stand out, mind you: it’s about Maori teens, it features an openly gay character (who is a total badass and not at all a stereotype), plus, actually, an entire gay dance crew who totally rock out in the film’s big dance championships finale. The lead actor is so adorable and the film is such a heart-warmer that I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough.
Post-movies, I met up with Colin and a friend (who also happens to be our L.A. lawyer – we need one of those cuz we fancy) for dinner near the Royal, so that we could give him a tour of the cinema and enjoy some downtime in a non-TIFF neighbourhood. It felt so nice. I miss home!
I came back to the hotel, ready to go to bed early and get a great night’s rest, and then felt the familiar and unwelcome tickle of a sore throat. The dread TIFF cold! HOW COULD I POSSIBLY BE GETTING IT WHEN I HAVE TAKEN IT SO EASY!? Seems unfair, doesn’t it? I haven’t even been hung over once!
Another one-film day full of non-TIFF responsibilities. Another hard-to-reschedule-and-inconveniently-timed appointment, another screening of an even more new & improved version of Birdland, and in between an extravagant lunch at the CN Tower’s rotating 360 restaurant with a big crew of Midnight Madness directors.
The food was delicious, the company was lovely, I got a chance to meet the 100 directors of Southbound and the lovely gents who directed Lace Crater and The Girl in the Photographs, both of which I was really charmed by. I never go up to the top of the CN Tower (and why would any Torontonian, unless they’re entertaining out of towner friends or family from abroad?) but it’s a lovely reminder of just how green this city is. The director of Der Nachtmahr said that he had no idea Toronto was so “science fiction”. I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant, but he clearly meant it as a compliment.
I really needed to take it easy on Wednesday because I hadn’t gotten nearly enough sleep the night before, so instead of trying to push myself to see any films or get anything done, I just relaxed until dinner time and then snagged rare private time with Colin, who had a two hour window before Midnight to eat with me and have a drink with the Southbound crew, who were doing it right at the Imperial Pub (aka the only decent place to drink that’s a stone’s throw from from the Ryerson (and by “decent” I mean “a great dive”)).
I’d seen a rough version of Southbound during Colin’s programming process and really liked it, especially the all-the-stories-are-actually-connected structure of it (disconnected stories are the one thing that often turns me off of anthologies, though there are lots that I do like, V/H/S (by the same producing team) included). But, even though I’d seen it before, seeing it again with all the effects done, and a great score and really effectively scary sound design, I have to admit I was legitimately scared several times. Kudos to Roxanne Benjamin, the only female director in Midnight Madness 2015, for not only directing a segment but also producing this joint. What a badass babe.
A highly successful one movie day. They don’t all have to be endurance tests, y’know?
Tuesday was the first of two “reminder: you aren’t out of town, you actually live here and have responsibilities” days in a row. In the morning I had a doctor’s appointment (don’t worry, I’m fine, it was just one of those things I booked ages ago and would have a hard time rescheduling, so …), followed by a screening of the latest cut of Birdland for some of our post production partners, so that we could hammer out a bit of a schedule for getting our post done in time to submit to some early 2016 festivals.
It was great to see the cut on the big screen again, because it gave me just enough perspective and distance to have a few new thoughts about how it’s going (somehow seeing it on a computer doesn’t always have that same effect). I had to let those thoughts percolate for a while and hop back downtown to meet up with Tim Reis (our favourite Atlantan, who Colin & I met and first got involved with when he produced The Demon’s Rook a few years back) and another producer friend to talk about where Tim’s directorial debut is at. It’s at “very close to finished”, is where, but we’re looking for a bit of help to tie up the last of the loose ends before this baby is ready to hit the festival and sales circuits.
After a pleasant lunch / meeting / catch-up session with Tim & co (during which we got some great advice on how to proceed with finishing the film), I met up with an NYC-based friend / colleague who works at Kickstarter. We were mostly meeting up to catch up, chat movies and hang out (because he’s a lovely guy, why else?), but Colin was able to make a rare appearance in between intros & Q&As and we managed to also talk a tiny bit of business. Over drinks and onion rings poutine, of course.
By the end of this marathon day of meetings I was honestly ready to collapse into a heap, but instead I hoofed it over to the Imperial Pub at Dundas and Victoria for drinks with the entire crew from the telekinesis-revenge film The Mind’s Eye, before the premiere of their film. Pro-tip for anyone attending Midnight Madness: the Imperial may be an out of the way dive, but upstairs at that bar is where you’ll find all the coolest Midnight Madness filmmakers and guests drinking before the show.
I hadn’t seen a single film yet and I was so stoked to finally see the finished version of The Mind’s Eye that I didn’t even need a coffee to stay alert throughout. So many laughs and cheers! Such good times. And honestly, those guys are the MVPs of the fest, for not only attending their own film but also every other film in the Midnight section (and then some) for the whole fest. I love it when filmmakers support each other. It is the cutest and most heartwarming and makes this whole genre film scene feel like a real, international community (which, at the best of times, it is). ❤
I did something really fun on Monday. I saw three public screenings in a row. The public audience at TIFF is great for a lot of reasons. They tend to be quite respectful of the films (sure, sometimes someone talks or pulls a cell phone out but it’s about 95% less likely to happen than it would on an average Friday night at the Cineplex). They’re genuinely interested in the films, so they’re attentive, and they’re fun to chat with in the lineup before the movie or as you shuffle out afterwards. People gasp, cheer, cry, laugh and express their enjoyment (something I often miss with P&I crowds, especially when it comes to funny movies). Sure, Q&As always have the potential to be cringe-worthy when pompous cinephiles insist on sharing their comments-not-questions or when people ask dumb or inappropriate things, but for the most part public audiences are a lot more fun and invigorating.
Aside / note to Q&A question askers: I know I’ve said this before, but I will say it again. Don’t ask filmmakers what their budget was. It might seem like a pretty innocuous question to you and it’s only natural to be genuinely interested in what level of resources were required to make something you’re really impressed by, but there are lots of reasons why filmmakers will never actually give you a straight answer to this question. If their film is looking for distribution, they don’t want to reveal what it cost to make to potential buyers because it could affect the price that they’re offered. They could be devaluing their film by admitting it was cheaper than it looks, for example. Don’t put people in the awkward position of having to politely sidestep this question. Just don’t ask. You might be able to get filmmakers to reveal this info in private but a public Q&A just isn’t the place.
Anyway. First up was Chevalier, by Attenberg director Athina Rachel Tsangari. It’s a funny and slightly absurd but enormously enjoyable dismantling of the male ego. The story centres around a group of friends on a diving vacation who invent a game intended to determine who among them is “the best” (at everything). Which is the kind of game that will inevitably chip away at their confidence, their friendships, and their sense of self. Great stuff from Greece!
Next up I saw what is probably my favourite crime drama of the year (or longer), The Ardennes. In the setup, a takes the fall for a crime that was committed by him, his girlfriend and his brother. Cut to four years later, he’s getting out of jail and his brother and (sort-of-ex) girlfriend have to contend with his return. A simple and not wildly original setup that unfurls into a really smart, unexpected and very dark story. I can’t recommend this one highly enough. It’s “top ten of 2015” material, easily.
Last but certainly not least, I saw Schneider vs. Bax, the latest by Borgman director Alex van Warmerdam. The story (about two hitmen who have been hired to kill each other) is less strange than Borgman, but is definitely darkly comic and mildly absurd, which I think is the director’s steez.
It was an overwhelmingly successful movie-watching day, made even better by the fact that I could then trudge off to the hotel and be in bed long before the midnight show let out. A sane and healthy TIFF continues, at least in my neck of the woods.
The fourth day of TIFF was a great exercise in going with the flow. I had a plan (see some Canadian art films, go to the premiere of one of Colin’s Vanguard titles). In the end, nothing really turned out the way I planned, but I had a great day.
It started with a delicious team brunch with the folks from Shudder, which, if you know me or Colin personally, you might know is a super cool new horror VOD service we’ve been involved with for a while (here’s an Entertainment Weekly interview with Colin explaining it). We caught up and talked future plans, and then, full of delicious breakfast, I waddled off to my first screening and promptly decided that I was too full and tired to watch anything other than a Hollywood movie.
But first, I stopped into the Industry Centre, where I ran into Joe and Josh (of the illustrious Mind’s Eye crew), who had just picked up tickets to that evening’s screening of Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, which I thought was completely sold out. Obviously, I ran as fast as my legs could carry me to the industry box office and snagged myself one.
And then, off to the movies.
I chose whatever Hollywood thing was starting next, which turned out to be Truth, the Cate Blanchett & Robert Redford film about the G.W. Bush story that ultimately led to Dan Rather’s departure from the CBS anchor’s seat. For a big-budget, Hollywood, awards-bait-y film, it was really quite good. The performances were excellent, that almost goes without saying. But the real reason I liked the film is that its message was actually something I agree with (and think is kinda subversive for such a mainstream film). The point this film is making is all about the corporatization and Hollywoodization of news, the fact that news has stopped being a public good and has become a profit-generating entertainment, which leads to fewer hard-hitting stories or investigative journalists tracking down leads that are critical of the government (and increasingly: corporate) powers that be.
After the film I made my way to the Midnight Madness cocktail, where I spent two hours catching up with an assortment of friends and scarfing down sliders and tiny grilled cheese sandwiches, before racing off to the Elgin for my one and only “fancy screening” experience of the fest – High-Rise! It was a combined public and press/industry screening, which made for a curious vibe in the theatre – 20% industry types (some of whom left partway through, probably because they care about parties more than about movies), 40% Ben Wheatley mega-fans, and 40% members of the general public who wanted to see something high-profile at TIFF and/or are rabid Tom Hiddleston fans. Sometimes, it can be genuinely delightful to watch films with people who don’t know what they’re in for. High-Rise (which, for the record, I really enjoyed – as Colin puts it, “it’s like a ’70s The Devils, with Luke Evans channeling Oliver Reed”) elicited some truly shocked gasps and squeals from people who probably did not realize what kind of film their favourite Marvel heartthrob was starring in.
The High-Rise screening, because it was in TIFF’s new Platform section, was followed by an extended Q&A with Ben Wheatley and his cast, and didn’t get out until midnight, so I sadly missed the premiere of The Devil’s Candy (by Sean Byrne, the director of previous Midnight Madness Audience Choice award winner and all-around brilliant film, The Loved Ones), which I loved and really wanted to see on the big screen. Con: missing a great film. Pro: getting to bed two hours earlier.
The benefits of getting a good night’s sleep are many, but in my particular TIFF-centric case, the main benefit is having enough energy to actually go to a whole bunch of movies the next day – Saturday, the peak of opening weekend insanity.
Skipping the undoubtedly great screening of Baskin on Saturday was a bummer, but it allowed me to have a four-movie day on Saturday. No complaints!
I started the day with the Canadian-est film I’ll probably see in a good long while, the delightfully charming coming of age story Sleeping Giant, about a trio of boys whose families spend the summer at the same lake near Thunder Bay. The film totally nails the small town Ontario vibe, the Canadian summer cottage vibe, the being-an-awkward-teenager vibe, and manages to be both hilarious and really touching all at once. The film (which played Critics Week in Cannes before TIFF) actually elicited a round of applause from the press & industry audience I was sitting with. That’s how good it is.
Next up I went to one of my most hotly anticipated titles of the year, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster. I sat with a couple of pals who weren’t familiar with his previous films, so before I say anything about The Lobster let me deliver this PSA for anyone who enjoys strange, smart, surreal movies:
***Run, don’t walk, to your nearest international cinema outlet and get yourself a copy of Dogtooth to watch immediately! In fact, just watch this trailer RIGHT NOW.***
His next film, Alps, is also pretty great.
Anyway, The Lobster delivered the what-the-fuck-ness that I’ve come to expect from Lanthimos, but it was a bit too long, almost like two movies sandwiched into one in a way that only half worked. I loved the first half. With a few tweaks, that could have been the whole film.
My goal after The Lobster was to see a highly recommended Lebanese film, Very Big Shot, but I didn’t make it in time, so I opted for the next available thing because I saw a friend in line and wanted to hang out with him for a bit. Usually, when I gamble on films that I know nothing about at TIFF, I come out a winner. Unfortunately, that clearly doesn’t apply to Hollywood films starring Shia LeBeouf. I doubt that I’ll see a worse film than Man Down this year. it was sincerely one of the cheapest, most emotionally manipulative, needlessly convoluted films full of lame and predictable “twists” that I’ve seen in a very long time. I often see films that I feel “meh” about. I rarely see films that fill me with rage that burns with the fire of a thousand suns (see: Titus, Requiem for a Dream). But honestly, those other films are all masterpieces compared to this piece of garbage.
I managed to pack those three films into my day so efficiently that I actually had time to relax for a while and even eat some dinner with Colin before Hardcore, which was the sort of insane movie that would have kept me awake even if I hadn’t had a great night’s sleep. It’s like a POV version of Crank, but even crazier. That Sharlto Copley is pretty hilarious!