Wednesday, September 22, 2010

35 - A good age for Toronto Film Festival (TIFF)

Toronto International Film Festival (or tiff as it is affectionately known by the locals) is one of the largest and most recognised films festivals in the world. 2010 saw it turn an impressive 35.  The milestone was marked with the opening of TIFF BELL LIGHT BOX (on the corner of John and King Streets) a wonderful modern building akin to the National Film Theatre on London's South Bank, which as well as being a stand out festival venue will also be the year round home of international cinema in Toronto.

The Lightbox was made possible by numerous public donations not least of which came in the form of the land on which the building now stands by the Reitman family.  On 12th September there was a dedication and official opening which Jason Reitman  (Director of Juno, Thank you for Smoking and Up In the Air)  attended along with his family, industry and some famous acting faces including Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters II).

The Lightbox has 5 Cinemas, 2 bars, 1 cafe and  2 large exhibitions spaces. The Tim Burton exhibition which was recently a huge success at MOMA and ACMI in Melbourne will open there in October. There is also a free exibition on Essential Cinema. These are the 100 top films of all time, as voted for by Tiff programmers and attendees. These films will screen throughout the year at Bell. So for those based in Toronto you can now see great cinema all year round. And the rest of us will have to made do with the home DVD player until our next trip Toronto bound.

More details can be found at

Tiff - Opened it's doors with this question!

And an exihibit showing extracts from the top 100 Essential Films of All Time
A quiet moment before the lines start

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Kids Are Alright - "This film is more than alright"

The Kids Are Alright was the closing night film in the 2010 Sydney Film Festival and turned out to be a real crowd pleaser.  Writer/Director Lisa Cholodenko had previously cut her teeth on other quirky and interesting films like Laurel Canyon (which has the sexyist non sex scene ever) and High Art

The Kids Are Alright focuses on two lesbian mums, played by Annette Benning and Julianne Moore bringing up their two teenage children. The kids decide it's time to contact their biological father (Mark Ruffalo), and secretly arrange a meeting with him. The discovery of their father changes the family irreversibly. Cracks in the family dynamic become great caverns. Some how they have to find a way to at the very least plug up the holes and hope the damage can eventually be repaired.

All of the actors give fine performances, but Annette Benning really is the stand out. She steals every scene she's in. Oscar should be nodding for this one.

For a life affirming film about creating a family, getting hurt, picking up the pieces and sticking it out see The Kids Are Alright.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Killer Inside Me - "I can't exactly recommend it, unless you like the feeling of being winded"

For The Killer Inside Me director Michael Winterbottom ( Road to Guantanamo, 24 Hour Party People) adapts Jim Thompson's 1952 novel to the screen in a terrifying and violent roller coaster ride. Casey Affleck plays Lou Ford, the quiet, soft spoken deputy sheriff of a Texas town. As the film unfolds we discover he is also a violent psychopath who leaves a trail of bodies in his wake, including those of his lover played by Jessica Alba and his fiancee Kate Hudson.

It is not the serial killer subject matter which makes this film so shocking. But shocking it is!!!! (You only have to look at the reviews online to see how divided people are about this film).  Let's face it though, there are serial killer stories in abundance on television and film these days. It is Michael Wintterbottom's uncompromising depiction of the violence that really unsettles.  We see Alba's character beaten to a bloody pulp by Lou Ford and when many other director's would move away, cut earlier, focus on something else in the room, Michael forces you to watch it all.

In an interview with Casey Affleck (in the Sydney Morning Herald) he is quoted as saying that Michael Winterbottom was interested in showing the ugliness of violence, to a world which seems so sanitised to it.  And for most of the film he achieves this.  Until the ending, which left me feeling confused and even a bit cheated. Without wanting to give away the end, Winterbottom's message gets blurred here and appears to suggest that violence is sexy and acceptable after all. Perhaps even that violence will win in the end?

This is a very difficult film and I actually can't bring myself to recommend it, despite the excellent acting and slick production values. The brilliant opening credits and music, for instance, are sexy and upbeat lulling us  into a false sense security and then slapping us in the face with the reality.

It is poignant to note that Cassey Affleck also said (in the afore mentioned interview) that his wife was very upset by the message of the film. He wouldn't relate what she actually said, but the sentiment is rather telling.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Joan Rivers - A Piece of Work "Witty, Wry and Worth it"

I admit before going to see this documentary I knew almost nothing about Joan Rivers. Well I had some vague sense of her being the poster woman (poster child seems too ridiculous when she has just turned 75) for plastic surgery. I'm not even exactly sure why I picked this film from the long list of possibilities at Sydney Film Festival. It could be that I happened to be free on that night, or that I felt I should be seeing more documentaries, but actually I think I was also genuinely curious to know more about Joan Rivers. Who is she really? And this film goes a long to answering that question.

Directed confidently by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, this fly on the wall style film, follows Joan for more than a year. This in itself must have been a massive undertaking. The final finished product is 82 minutes so think how much footage must have been left out after a year's worth of shooting. What they have chosen to leave in is well worth watching. Joan Rivers is surprisingly engaging and really rather interesting.  We find out a little of her history, for instance that she was something a trail blazer for woman in the male dominated world of 1950s/60s stand up comedy.  That she unashamedly swears like a sailor. That she works extremely hard for everything she has. You even get to see her without her make up, something she tells us very few people ever get to see. Until now anyway.

As with people who have lived a long life it wasn't all roses and laughter for Joan. Her husband suffered from depression and killed himself leaving her to raise their teenage daughter by alone. She is philosophical about it now, although obviously after a lot of therapy. The dark times seem to have informed her wry, witty view of the world, as is so often the case with comics past and present. Go on check out this piece of work.