2008 TIFF Archives (10 posts)

Me and Orson Welles

Me and Orson Welles

Me and Orson Welles (2008). Directed by Richard Linklater.

My favourite film of the festival this year. I can’t wait to watch it again. If Christian McKay doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Orson Welles I’ll be surprised. The man looks, sounds and acts like a young Welles.

Me and Orson Welles is a period film set in 1937 New York. Orson Welles (Christian McKay) is at the famous Mercury Theatre rehearsing the first broadway production of a Shakespearean play, Julius Caesar. He needs a young actor to fill a role and hires 17 year-old Richard Samuels (Zac Efron). Richard is drawn to the genius of Orson Welles, befriends Joseph Cotten (James Tupper) and finds time fall in love with production assistant Sonja Jones (Claire Danes).

I never would have pegged Richard Linklater to direct a film like this but he’s done an incredible job of transporting the audience back to 1937. The sets, the dialogue, the costumes, the choice of camera moves and music feel like the Hollywood of old.

Fans of Welles will enjoy a scene where Orson shows Richard a copy of “The Magnificient Ambersons” with his notes. Another scene has Joseph Cotten stepping out of the shadows a la “The Third Man”. I could go on but I don’t want to spoil the fun.

Me and Orson Welles is expected to be released in 2009. Don’t miss it!


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

TIFF’08 - Me and Orson Welles

Posted in 2008 TIFF at 12:45 AM

The Wrestler

The Wrestler

The Wrestler (2008). Directed by Darren Aronofsky.

The Wrestler is a film where art really does imitate life. A washed up professional wrestler (Mickey Rourke) decides to get back in the ring for one last fight, even if it kills him. Years of steroid abuse and countless cage matches lead up to a heart attack that puts him into retirement but he can’t live without the roar of the crowd. They are all he has left.

At one point in his career, Rourke gave up acting to take up boxing. He’s back in a starring role as Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson that many believe will give him an Oscar nod. The film has already won the Golden Lion for best picture at the Venice film festival and it created quite a buzz this week at TIFF.

Darren Aronofsky has taken a simple story and made it into an incredible film. From an early age I disliked wrestling. I always saw it as a phony and over the top. The Wrestler has all of these elements but with Aronofsky’s direction and Rourke’s exceptional performance I completely bought into the film and the characters.

There was a large guy (300 lbs) sitting beside me at the screening and he became very involved in the action. During several fight scenes he was noticeably flinching and recoiling in his seat at some of the violence. How ironic is it that a film about wrestling can seem so real? Great filmmaking.

I was surprised to hear Bruce Springsteen sing the title song over the closing credits — a perfect ending to a great film. This is a must see for Mickey Rourke’s performance alone.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

TIFF’08 - The Wrestler

Posted in 2008 TIFF at 9:53 PM

It Might Get Loud

Note: this review was written by guest writer, Drew Kerr.

It Might Get Loud was conceived by producer Thomas Tull (An Inconvenient Truth) as a different take on the music documentary, with a focus on the guitar itself via three conduits of its possibilities: Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2) and Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs).

If you’re saying to yourself “one of these names is not like the others” you’d be in line with my way of thinking pre-screening. Although I’ve always found him an interesting personality and original talent, I’ve never latched onto White’s music - probably because his voice grates on me. Still, I acknowledged him as a good guitar player but really…in the company of The Edge and Page? This was one reason I was even more compelled to see the film and ultimately, his inclusion is an inspired “casting” choice. Page and The Edge are certainly the most influential and significant players of their generations and White proves a worthy representative for this generation’s guitarists, in addition to steering the tone away from something that could have wilted into shallow rock-God idolatry.

The movie is framed around a one day summit of the three filmed in January of this year where they meet, exchange ideas, jam and recount their influences. Most of these moments are pretty compelling, particularly when they pick up the instruments and jam on some of the artist’s signature songs (U2’s “I Will Follow”, Zeppelin’s “In My Time Of Dying” and “Whole Lotta Love”). The latter song provided my favourite moment: as Page starts the riff you see The Edge get a little closer to him and the moment of joy on Edge’s face is unmistakable. It’s nice to know that even living legends can get swept up in fanboy moments like the rest of us humans. The trio’s rough take on The Band’s “The Weight” (which concludes the movie) falls a little flat, though.

Interspersed around these summit segments are old performance clips and separate fascinating interviews at the subject’s homes, studios and historical sites from their careers. Page takes us on a brief tour of Headley Grange in England, the house where some of Led Zeppelin’s best work was created and recorded and also delights in going through some of his large record collection at his home. He puts on Link Wray’s “Rumble” and proceeds to comment on the minutiae of how much tremolo effect is used at a certain point in the song while playing air guitar like a little kid in his bedroom.

The Edge is shown recording new U2 tracks, digging through an old box with rough four-track demos of classics like “Where The Streets Have No Name” and also visiting the Mount Temple high school in Dublin where the band formed. As a huge U2 fan it was thrilling to see Edge take us through the school’s hallways, stopping at points of interest like the exact bulletin board where drummer Larry Mullen Jr. posted an ad in 1976 looking for musicians to form a band (that would turn into U2), as well as a small classroom the group rehearsed in on a regular basis (after moving all of the desks to one side of the room).

Visually, the movie is beautifully shot by director and producer Davis Guggenheim (who directed An Inconvenient Truth). One of the best segments is the short opening scene where Jack White is seen in a farmyard silently constructing a crude guitar out of some old wood, some rusty wire, some nails and a few other odds and ends before bringing the frankenstein instrument to life while using an old Coke bottle for a slide. “Who says you need to buy a guitar?”, he asks. The audience at Ryerson Theatre erupts with laughter and applause.

Overall, the movie did a good job at highlighting the differences in style among the players. Page and White’s musical base is in the blues while The Edge obviously paints on his palette with many guitar effects that have carved out a unique sound and identity. Occasionally the film tends to lose focus in terms of what information or interviews are presented at certain points, but there’s a lot of ground to cover in a little over an hour and a half, so that’s forgivable. The bottom line is it certainly never gets dull. There’s also a minor narrative concept involving a boy playing “Little Jack” White that doesn’t quite work.

Interestingly, it wasn’t until the day after seeing the movie that I realized the names Bono and Robert Plant virtually never came up (although they were represented during the performance clips). It’s pretty telling about what the movie is about that two of the most talented, charismatic frontmen in rock history are barely even a footnote here and they’re not even missed. With subjects this interesting, frankly, it’d be an artistic crime if the director hadn’t come up with something this watchable. Guggenheim has created a powerful endorsement for the guitar that offers a unique insight by some of it’s most prolific ambassadors which says more in it’s 97 minute running time than 100 hours of playing Guitar Hero on your PS3 can about what the instrument is all about. It even inspired this “lapsed” guitar player to pick up the old axe for a couple of hours after getting home from the movie.

Sidenote: obviously being at the big premiere with the musicians in attendance was a huge thrill I’ll remember the rest of my life and the fact that Jimmy Page and The Edge sat three rows directly in front of my brother and I for the entire movie made for one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever experienced. Thanks again, Jay.

Posted in 2008 TIFF at 8:33 PM



Lymelife (2009). Directed by Derick Martini.

Derick Martini and his brother Steven have been trying to make this film since 2001 and it has been worth the wait. It’s a coming of age story set in the late 1970s on Long Island.

Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin) is fifteen and experiencing love for the first time with Adrianna (Emma Roberts) while his parents’ marriage is crumbling. To complicate things, an outbreak of Lyme disease has everyone on edge (it wasn’t until the mid-80s that the disease was better understood). Adrianna’s father, Charlie Bragg (Timothy Hutton) is diagnosed with the disease.

Hutton is fabulous in his small role. He’s desperately unhappy but for reasons other than his failing health. At times you feel his agony and pain as he wastes away in the basement of his home.

Alec Baldwin also has a great role as Mickey, Scott’s explosive father whose wandering eye puts a strain on his marriage to his wife Brenda (Jill Hennessy). He’s one of those actors that can light up the screen with his mere presence.

Kieran Culkin plays Scott’s older brother Jimmy. He was originally cast in the lead role but was too old by the time filming started. Derick Martini wanted actors that were real-life brothers and the Culkins were his first pick. Perfectly cast.

Lymelife is a wonderfully sad film that is more about dysfunctional family relationships than Lyme disease. Everyone in the film experiences drastic change that thrusts them into the unknown. ‘Lymelife’ is a metaphor and a catalyst for this change. It leads to fearful uncertainty in family and personal relationships. How each of the characters handle this change sets the stage for a satisfying film.

You won’t want to miss Derick Martini’s first feature as a director. Hopefully his next film won’t take 7 years to make!


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

TIFF’08 - Lymelife

Update: Lymelife won the Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) out of the 26 other films in the Discovery programme at TIFF.

Posted in 2008 TIFF at 12:31 AM

It Might Get Loud

It Might Get Loud

It Might Get Loud (2008). Directed by Davis Guggenheim.

There has never been a proper documentary film made about the guitar. Director Davis Guggenheim thought it would be interesting to examine the unique guitar sound of three guitar legends — Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White. To watch the film with all three musicians in the audience was an incredible experience. To have the The Edge and Jimmy Page sit two rows, directly in front of me was surreal.

Okay, fanboy comments aside, this was an interesting film from beginning to end. Jack White starts off the film by making a simple guitar with a Coke bottle, some wire and a few pieces of wood. Awesome!

I’m not a huge fan of Jack White but Guggenheim’s film gave me a new appreciation for White’s talent. I’m a big fan of the Edge and love the music of Jimmy Page so to find out how each musician developed their unique sound is a fascinating history lesson.

The production value of this film is quite slick. Guggenheim uses some incredible archival footage to show us where these three musicians got their start.

Each guitarist was interviewed separately and I found these segments to be the strongest and most interesting parts of the film.

Guggenheim ends the film by bringing all three musicians to Los Angeles so they can play together and discuss their musical styles. It makes for an interesting jam session but it turns out to be the weakest part of the film in my opinion. I found out that Page can’t really sing but I enjoyed watching them play each other’s music and have a good time.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

TIFF’08 - It Might Get Loud

Posted in 2008 TIFF at 2:03 AM



Genova (2008). Directed by Michael Winterbottom.

Genova is a psychological drama about a father (Colin Firth) and his two daughters Perla Haney-Jardine and Willa Holland) that struggle with the tragic loss of their mother (Hope Davis). Firth’s character thinks that a change of scenery will help the family to get through their bereavement and takes a teaching position in Genova.

Catherine Keener plays an old friend of Firth’s that shows the family around the city. The new surroundings serve as a distraction for the family but it also casts them further into an abyss of unsettling change. The narrow alleys in Genova make it easy to get lost and Winterbottom uses this setting to create tension.

The acting is first rate. Firth is perfectly cast as a husband and father that ventures alone into unknown territory — new city, new job, raising a teenage daughter who is coming of age and dealing with a 10-year-old daughter that blames herself for her mother’s death.

Perla Haney-Jardine provides a stand-out performance as a child that has frequent nightmares and is haunted by her mother.

Winterbottom’s Genova has been described as a mood piece but I wasn’t in the mood for this art-house film. I didn’t feel that Genova measured up to all of the praise that was lavished on it by TIFF’s Cameron Bailey. It’s a fine film with great performances but in the end I was disappointed. I suppose I wanted to see more of Italy and a little less grief.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

TIFF’08 - Genova

Posted in 2008 TIFF at 6:14 PM



RocknRolla (2008). Written and directed by Guy Ritchie.

I’m a fan of Guy Ritchie’s British gangster films and RocknRolla is one entertaining movie. There are the usual double-crosses, multiple story lines, Tarantino-like dialogue and the impressive ensemble cast — Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Ludacris, Jeremy Piven.

The plot is confusing at times but voiceover narration ensures that you can follow along without getting too lost. It doesn’t require repeated viewings like Ritchie’s last film, Revolver (2005).

The soundtrack is scorching, the camera style is familiar and the setting is east London. There isn’t anything new or groundbreaking about this film except maybe the sex scene with Thandie Newton and Gerard Butler. It lasts a few seconds and you’ll find it quite amusing.

RocknRolla is centred around a real estate scam with a Russian billionaire and a British crime boss (Tom Wilkinson). There are several sub-plots involving an expensive painting that goes missing, a rock star that fakes his own death, and a police snitch. I don’t want to give away too much so you’ll have to see it for yourself when it gets released this fall.

Guy Ritchie introduced the afternoon screening that I saw at the Ryerson theatre but didn’t stick around for a Q&A afterward (the premiere was the night before). I found the movie to be a lot of fun and exactly what I expected. Sometimes you just want to be entertained instead of discovering the next Godard.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

TIFF’08 - RocknRolla
Official movie website

Posted in 2008 TIFF at 4:19 PM

Midnight Madness at TIFF

The Midnight Madness programme at the Toronto International Film Festival “highlights the weird and the wonderful, including thrillers, chillers and rockumentaries from directors who prefer to work in genres not usually seen in a festival context.”

I found the audience at the Midnight Madness screening I attended (JCVD) to be a lot more lively than the daytime audiences. Most of the audience yelled “arghh” when the anti-piracy message appeared onscreen before the film which seems to be catching on at other screenings.

Quite a few directors attended the first night of Midnight Madness and were introduced by programmer Colin Geddes — Toshio Lee (Detroit Metal City), Pascal Laugier (Martyrs) and JT Petty (The Burrowers). I was pretty embarrassed when director JT Petty was introduced because he was sitting beside me and I had no idea who he was at the time. Duoh! You never know who you’re going to bump into at the festival.

Posted in 2008 TIFF at 3:49 PM



JCVD (2008). Directed by Mabrouk El Mechri.

At just 47 years-old, Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD) is looking really old and tired. He’s a fading action hero like Sylvester Stallone and Steven Seagal. What could be a better way to get back in the spotlight than make a film about yourself, warts and all? It worked for Pauly Shore, sort of.

Van Damme plays himself in this action-comedy. He walks into a bank robbery and gets taken hostage with several others. The police mistakenly believe that Van Damme has gone over the edge and that he alone is behind the robbery and hostage-taking.

This isn’t your typical Van Damme action film. Instead, it examines the nature of fame. It shows how false the notion of celebrity can be. The hostage crisis shows Jean-Claude to be regular who fears for his life in a dangerous situation. He may be a famous Belgian movie star, but he’s also in the middle of a child custody battle, broke, and losing movie roles to that damn Steven Seagal.

All of this leads up to a bizarre monologue whereby Van Damme looks directly at the camera and pours out his soul for 9 minutes. I’ve never seen anything like it but the scene absolutely works. At the Q&A after the film, director Mabrouk El Mechri revealed that this entire scene was kept secret from the crew until the moment of shooting.

A lot of the scenes in JCVD were improvised. Mechri had a script but quite often let the actors come up with their own dialogue. The results are very funny and in Mechri’s words, “better than the dialogue he came up with.”

This film generated a lot of buzz at Cannes which is sure to continue after the screenings in Toronto. Tonight’s crowd at the Ryerson Theatre loved the film and it was a great way to kick off the Midnight Madness program at TIFF ‘08.

I found the film to be unique and quite enjoyable despite the comparisons to Being John Malkovich (1999). If you ever wondered what happened to “muscles from Brussels” then JCVD is your answer.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Movie Trailer on YouTube

Posted in 2008 TIFF at 10:10 PM

2008 TIFF Picks

The Toronto International Film Festival starts this week. I’ll be seeing a bunch of films this year ranging from Steven Soderbergh’s epic, Che, to Darren Aronofsky’s film about an aging wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke.

I’m a sucker for Guy Ritchie films so I’m going to see RocknRolla even though it hits theatres next month. The midnight madness screening of JCVD should be an interesting one — Jean-Claude Van Damme plays himself.

Here is a list of my picks and times. Click on the film to get more information from the TIFF website.

THU 09/04/2008 11:59pm
Jean-Claude Van Damme plays himself in this action comedy.

FRI 09/05/2008 11:45am
Guy Ritchie’s latest gangster film.

It Might Get Loud
FRI 09/05/2008 09:15pm
A documentary film that examines the unique styles of three guitarists — The Edge, Jimmy Page and Jack White.

SUN 09/07/2008 08:30pm
Director Michael Winterbottom’s “mood piece” set in Italy. The visuals of Genova alone will make this an interesting film for me.

MON 09/08/2008 09:30pm
Derick Martini’s first film as a director. Stars Alec Baldwin, Kieran Culkin, Rory Culkin, Jill Hennessy, Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon, Emma Roberts.

The Wrestler
TUE 09/09/2008 12:00pm
Darren Aronofsky directs Mickey Rourke as an aging wrestler. Sounds like perfect casting to me.

Me and Orson Welles
THU 09/11/2008 09:00pm
Directed by Richard Linklater. If it has anything to do with Orson Welles then I’m interested.

FRI 09/12/2008 09:00am
Steve Soderbergh’s epic film about Che Guevara played by Benicio Del Toro. This screening is a whopping 4 hours and 22 minutes showing Che (Part 1) and Che (Part 2).

The Ghost
SAT 09/13/2008 10:00am
The Ghost (Domovoy) is a Russian thriller. I know nothing about its Armenian director, Karen Oganesyan, or the principal cast. This was one of those random picks.

Posted in 2008 TIFF at 10:04 AM