2005 TIFF Archives (10 posts)

Thank You For Smoking (2005)

Thank You For Smoking is wickedly funny! Jason Reitman hit a home run in directing his first feature film.

I just got back from the Ryerson Theatre where Reitman introduced the film and did a Q&A afterward. I can’t believe that he’s still in town!

The film is an intelligent comedy about a tobacco industry lobbyist played by Aaron Eckhart. His character, Nick Naylor, is charming, ruthless and hilarious as he goes about defending the “big tobacco” companies.

In the Q&A following the film, Reitman said he wanted to make a film about industry lobbyists. He felt that the tobacco industry was by far the most interesting. Christopher Buckley’s novel, Thank You for Smoking was a perfect fit. Reitman adapted the screenplay from Buckley’s book which is supposed to be even funnier than the film.

The cast is terrific and includes Robert Duvall, William H. Macy, Sam Elliot, Todd Louiso, Katie Holmes and Maria Bello. This film is going to be a sure hit when it is released next year.

The opening title sequence is fabulous—the best I’ve seen all year. The credits are written on colourful cigarette boxes that playfully animate. Why can’t all movies be this creative with their titles?

Jeff Wigand’s name is listed in the credits. Russell Crowe played Wigand in the 1999 film, The Insider. Wigand was a whistle blower against big tobacco. During the Q&A it was revealed that Wigand was a consultant for the film.

When Jeff Wigand was shown the script he didn’t really say if he liked it, but he sent it back to Reitman with a lot of notes concerning inaccurate information. It’s rumoured that Wigand never consults for a film where the actors smoke on screen. In Reitman’s film, nobody is shown smoking.

The Toronto International Film Festival is now over and I’m happy that I was able to end it with this film—probably my favourite.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movies at 11:59 PM

Why We Fight (2005)

Why We Fight

Director Eugene Jarecki has a brilliant documentary film in Why We Fight. Intelligent. Thought-provoking. A knockout.

I left the theatre wanting to tell everyone I know, to go and see this film. Unfortunately we’ll have to wait until January 2006 when it gets a theatrical run.

The TIFF program guide describes Why We Fight as “simply the most elegant unravelling of American imperialism yet committed to film”. This film will easily win an Oscar nomination for best documentary film.

Why does the US government spend billions of dollars each year on the “military-industrial complex”? How did corporate interests take over military policy and lead to the “disastrous rise of misplaced power” that President Eisenhower warned about when leaving office in 1961?

Jarecki does a masterful job of answering these questions and more. His film is much more objective than Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 but it’s not an anti-Bush film by any means.

The prodcution value is excellent—similar to Errol Morris’ The Fog of War. There is a sequence where Jarecki uses the Johnny Cash cover of “Hurt” which literally gave me goosebumps.

Following the screening, Jarecki gave a Q&A that impressed the audience with his intellect and thorough answers to some tough questions. This was easily the best documentary film I’ve seen this year. This one is not to be missed!

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 9:50 PM

51 Birch Street (2005)

51 Birch Street

Last night I was at the world premiere for 51 Birch Street directed by Doug Block. I know that sounds a little pretentious but how often do you get to say that you went to a world premiere?

51 Birch Street is a documentary film about family secrets, relationships and marriage. Doug’s parents were married for 55 years until his mother died suddenly. A few months after her death, Doug’s father remarried, to his former secretary.

Adding to the drama is the discovery of the diaries that Doug’s mother kept. They paint a different picture from the mother most of the family knew while growing up.

I don’t want to give too much because there are several surprises and turns that make this a really interesting film. I found that I was able to relate to a lot of the material and learned a a few things about family relationships by the end of the film.

Doug Block was here in Toronto last night to introduce the film. His entire family and many of the people that worked on the film were sitting in front of me which seemed a little surreal. His father Mike and his wife (his former secretary), Kitty, did a Q&A following the film that was really touching.

What didn’t come out in the film was that Mike Block contemplated suicide after his wife Mina died. He had a difficult time dealing with lonlieness and decided he wasn’t going to be one of these old people that gives up and wastes away.

I felt like I was a part of something special by screening the film with Doug and his family. A great festival experience.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 9:01 PM

Thumbsucker (2005)


When I didn’t get tickets to Dave Chapelle’s Block Party film I chose Thumbsucker (2005) as an alternate. I was a little skeptical at first but a TIFF veteran felt it would be a good film so I added it to my list of picks. He was right. Thumbsucker didn’t suck.

Director Mike Mills, Lou Pucci (the thumbsucker), Tilda Swinton and Keanu Reeves were on hand to introduce the film. Keanu watched the film in the audience which just added to the excitement. I’ve never seen so many flash bulbs go off at a movie.

Thumbsucker is a great film that I think will strike a chord with younger audiences. Some of the older, crusty film critics won’t enjoy the film but don’t pay any attention to them. Thumbsucker is an enjoyable story about an awkward teen who is trying to discover himself, fit in with his peers, seeking the approval and love of his parents.

At times the lead character reminded me of Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous. Lou Pucci does an excellent job in the lead role creating a believable character.

Keanu Reeves provides some great laughs as a hippie, new-age orthodontist. Then there is a Vince Vaughan playing a teacher. I’m sure he was trying to restrain himself but he comes off as being hilarious in his scenes. Thank goodness he was used sparingly. Benjamin Bratt also has some funny moments that will make you laugh out loud, or maybe cringe.

Thumbsucker is beautifully shot and edited. There is interesting use of focus, lingering lens flare in long panning shots, and what I will call the “medication sequence”. The music is also quite effective throughout the film—Eliot Smith and The Polyphonic Spree.

If you aren’t attending the film festival in Toronto this year then you’re in luck. You can see Thumbsucker in theatres starting this Friday. After a dismal summer season of flops, Thumbsucker will kick off what looks to be a promising fall season for films.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 11:05 AM

Mary (2005)


Just saw another great film at TIFF. Mary (2005)is written and directed by Abel Ferrara (King of New York and Bad Lieutenant). It stars Forest Whitaker, Juliette Binoche, Matthew Modine and Heather Graham. Forrest Whitaker is outstanding in his role as a Charlie Rose-like talk show host.

One of the producers was on hand for a Q&A after the film which is always interesting and insightful. More about this in a minute.

Part of the film deals with the awakening of faith in two of the main characters. Juliette Binoche’s character is an actor playing Mary Magdalene in a film. She becomes affected by her role and experiences some kind of spiritual awakening. This causes her to abandon a successful film career and follow God.

Forrest Whitaker plays a national talk show host that does a week-long TV special on the true meaning of Christ. He is not a believer in any faith which makes you question why he is interviewing monks and theologians. By the end of the film his character also turns to God when tragedy hits his family.

The producer of the film mentioned that people forget about God when things are going well in their lives—people want to “go and have lap dances and buy Gucci shirts” is how he put it. When things go wrong in our lives we tend to blame God and turn to him for help as Forrest Whitaker’s character does.

Several real theologians are interviewed in the film which was interesting. It’s almost like a mini-documentary within a film. Questions surrounding the lost gospels of Thomas and Mary are raised but I think Ferrara is dismissing them along with the need for yet another film about the Passion (a shot at Mel Gibson and others who profit from exploiting religion).

There are a lot of layers to this film that are sure to generate some intelligent discussion and debate. It probably won’t appeal to a lot of people but I enjoyed it and would love to see it again.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 4:14 PM

Revolver (2005)

Yesterday I saw director Guy Ritchie’s latest film—Revolver (2005). Ritchie was at the Ryerson Theatre to introduce the film and described it as a “chess game within a chess game within a chess game”. In other words, the film is quite confusing or “challenging for audiences” as he said in a recent press conference.

Guy Ritchie

By the end of the film I was confused and still trying to figure out what really happened but I absolutely loved this film. It’s quirky, stylistic and violent. The sound is crisp. Visually, there is always something interesting in terms of sets, camera moves or character wardrobe. I was on the edge of my seat for most of the film in anticipation of what was coming next.

Like most Guy Ritchie films, the soundtrack is great. Instead of a lot well-know songs we get what sounds like U.N.K.L.E (used in Sexy Beast) and a lot of classical and opera music. Believe me it works really well.

Ray Liotta is great as a creepy gangster. Isn’t he always. It was nice to see Vincent Pastore in anything since his character was killed off in the Sopranos. Jason Statham has a nice role as the lead character is almost unrecognizable with all of that hair.

The film borrow from a lot of other films. The two most obvious examples are Fight Club and Kill Bill. There is a cartoon sequence which may be seen as a direct rip off from Kill Bill but Tarantino could have used the idea from American Splendor or a number of other films. I think the sequence is appropriate and works well.

It will be interesting to see how the final cut of this film turns out. In its present form I think most people will leave the theatre confused but it may develop a huge cult following as happened with Donnie Darko. It’s the type of film that you will want to discuss at length and try to figure out.

I’m glad I was able to see it at the Festival and so far this is my favourite film. It isn’t a great film but if you enjoyed Snatch or Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels then you’ll find some guilty pleasure in enjoying this film too.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 10:06 AM

Bubble (2005)

Just got back from seeing Bubble (2005) directed by Steven Soderbergh. He sat a few rows behind me and did a Q&A after the film. Very cool. I couldn’t help myself and had to snap a few photos near the end.

Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh is one of my favourite directors, so naturally I enjoyed the film. It’s experimental in that he doesn’t use any trained actors. Like reality TV this is what you might call a reality film with a scripted story. The actors are “acting” but must rely heavily on their everyday experiences for their performance in the film. Overall, I think the experiment works quite well and makes the film unique.

Another first for Soderbergh is that the film was shot in high-definition without any lighting set-ups. It was projected with a Christy 2K projector (DLP) at Cineplex Odeon Varsity 8. Soderbergh noted that it was the best he’s seen the film look to date.

I don’t expect Bubble to do very much at the box office but I respect Soderbergh for going back to his indie roots and experimenting with the medium.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 10:30 PM

Capote (2005)


I met up with James and was introduced to David and his fiancé—a really nice couple from Philly, up for the film festival. All of us went to see Capote (2005). Great film!

Director Bennet Miller, Catherine Keener and Philip Seymour Hoffman were on hand to introduce the film which was really exciting. Even more exciting was watching Hoffman in a role that has Oscar buzz all over it. His performance in this film was awesome and should open some doors to a few more starring roles.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 12:42 AM

Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005)

Sketches of Frank Gehry

I know. HotDocs was back in June and this is the film festival—movie stars, red carpets, Oscar buzz. So why another documentary film? I really want to make my own doc and can’t see enough of them right now.

So this afternoon it was Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005). Frank Gehry and director Sydney Pollack introduced the film which was pretty cool. All of the architects in the audience (it felt like a convention) were gushing with praise and adoration for Gehry.

I learned a lot about Gehry’s creative process, his work and his personal life. Pollack and Gehry are good friends, pals. At times the film felt like a lifetime achievement video at an awards show. One buddy patting the other on the back and saying, “way to go!”

I’m not saying that I disliked the film but I was expecting a little more drama. A lot of things were touched upon and could have been explored further but they weren’t—anti-semitism, criticism of his work.

Much of the film was shot by Pollack, using a Canon GL-1 camera (which I have) so I was interested in seeing how the footage turned out on the big screen—not bad. This certainly gave it more of a documetnary feel.

A lot of famous people were interviewed but by far, the best interview was with artist and director, Julian Schnabel. He did his interview in a white bathrobe, with dark sunglasses, fruity drink while smoking a cigarette. Classic!

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 12:27 AM

The Well (2005)

The Well

On Friday afternoon I saw Brunnen (2005)—a documentary film from Sweden, directed by Kristian Petri. The English title of the film is The Well. This was my first festival film.

Petri’s film is about Orson Welles’ relationship with Spain. Welles loved the country, shot many of his films there (including all of those unfinished projects like Don Quixote), loved to watch bullfighting and is buried in a well, on the property of a famous Spanish bullfighter.

The film is carefully shot, almost like a travelogue as it retraces Welles’ life in Spain. You get a good sense of how beautiful the Spanish countryside is by visiting some of the locations used in Welles’ films. Who knew that he loved Spain so much and spent so much time here?

Various interviews with old friends and colleagues provide great insight into a film legend. My favourite interview was with a former boozing partner of Orson’s—William “Bill” Law. Great stuff.

If you’re a fan of Orson Welles then you’ll find this film to be quite fascinating.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 11:04 PM