2009 TIFF Archives (12 posts)

Jean Charles

Jean Charles

Jean Charles (2009). Directed by Henrique Goldman.

Jean Charles was the biggest surprise of the Toronto International Film Festival for me. I expected an English speaking film along the lines of United 93, but recounting the London train bombings in 2005. Instead, I watched a heart-wrenching film about Jean Charles de Menezes, a young Brazilian man that London police misidentified as a terrorist, and shot dead.

Director Henrique Goldman does a fabulous job of celebrating the life of Jean Charles and expressing the outrage felt by the Brazilian community toward the London police. The first part of the film introduces Jean (Selton Mello) as a hard-working immigrant that loves his adopted home of London. His determination, charm and dreams are brought to life by Mello who inhabits the character of Jean so much, that Charles’ own mother was impressed by his performance.

Goldman keeps the panic and terror experienced by Londoners, simmering in the background of the film, while most of the screen time is focused on Jean’s relationship with his cousin Vivian (Vanessa Giacomo), his friend Alex (Luis Miranda) and his other cousin, Patricia Armani (who plays herself in the film). They’re all so focused on improving their lives and following their dreams, that the terror around them feels distant, irrelevant. This makes the tragedy that befalls Jean even more shocking and difficult to watch when it happens. One minute he’s full of hope and and the next minute he’s being gunned down by the police.

The rest of the film deals with the grief and outrage that is experience by Jean’s friends and family. Jean was an innocent victim but the British authorities are unwilling to admit their mistake, even to this day which is one of the reasons why Henrique Goldman felt compelled to make this film.

Jean Charles is in Portuguese with English subtitles and it’s not to be missed!


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

TIFF Website

Posted in 2009 TIFF at 7:39 PM



Daybreakers (2009). Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig.

The twin brothers from Down Under, Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig have created a blood-thirsty vampire film that isn’t for the Twilight crowd. Daybreakers is like an Ozploitation flick from the 80s, the only difference being that it has a huge budget and some popular American actors.

Ten years from now a vampire plague is threatening the human population. Almost everyone has become a vampire and the human race faces extinction. The remaining humans are hunted and turned into vampires or harvested for their blood. The world’s blood supply is dwindling and when vampires can’t feed on fresh human blood they turn into savage beasts that kill one another.

Edward (Ethan Hawke) is a vampire hematologist that is trying to develop a blood substitute for the vampire race before it is too late. His employer, Bromley (Sam Neill) represents corporate greed. He cares more about making money from synthetic blood than a cure that will transform vampires back into humans.

Elvis (Willem Dafoe) is a former vampire that found a way to become human again, providing hope to Edward and the rest of the world that is looking for a cure before it is too late.

Daybreakers is bloody good fun with an intelligent script that creates an interesting world of the future, with familiar themes of corporate greed, isolation, extinction and dwindling natural resources. Ethan Hawke plays his role with the seriousness of a scientist while Willem Dafoe gets all of the laughs in several scene stealing moments.

With exploding bodies, car chases and violent Matrix-like fight scenes, Daybreakers proved to be the perfect midnight madness film for TIFF. The enthusiastic audience at its first screening cheered all the way through the film. Daybreakers will get a theatrical release in January 8, 2010 and should do pretty well at the box office.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

TIFF Website
Official Movie Website

Posted in 2009 TIFF at 1:36 PM

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Bad Lieutenant

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009). Directed by Werner Herzog.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is actually quite good! It played to a packed house at the Ryerson Theatre and was met with enthusiastic applause. Nicolas Cage and Werner Herzog also delivered one of the best Q&A’s I’ve experienced at TIFF.

You can breathe a sigh of relief. This isn’t the train wreck that many thought it was going to be. The film is far from perfect but it is a return to form for Nicolas Cage. Before the screening Herzog said there is an old Bavarian saying that translates to “it’s time to turn the pig loose” and that is what he did with Nicolas Cage in this film.

This is not a remake of Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. In Herzog’s film, a New Orleans homicide detective, Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) saves an inmate from drowning in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He injures his back during the rescue and is rewarded with a promotion to lieutenant.

To deal with the back pain he is prescribed Vicodin. Within a year he is addicted to pain killers and any other drugs he can get his hands on. When he’s not busy robbing kids and drug dealers he spends time with Frankie (Eva Mendes) his escort girlfriend.

There is a plot to this film which follows McDonagh’s investigation of a drug-related massacre. He knows that a local drug dealer named Big Fate (Xzibit) is responsible for the killings and he’s determined to take him down.

The other supporting cast consists of Val Kilmer, Brad Dourif, Fairuza Balk and Jennifer Coolidge. A pudgy looking Kilmer is hardly in the film which is a shame. This is clearly the Nicolas Cage show where his over the top antics and insanity provide one of the most entertaining performances of the year.

Matched with Herzog’s madness, one scene has McDonagh hallucinating that iguanas are on his coffee table. Herzog filmed the iguanas himself and while the scene feels oddly out of place it works perfectly in the context of the film.

My favourite scene involves McDonagh strong-arming an old woman in a long-term care facility. He rips her oxygen tubes out of her nose and pulls a gun to her head until she tells him what he needs to know. Trust me, you’ll laugh your face off when you see this scene.

Herzog noted that some of Cage’s scenes were improvised. New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz and he wanted to tap into that spirit of improvisation. Letting Cage run loose also plays off the notion of post-Katrina chaos.

Herzog and Cage are the perfect pairing for this offbeat crime drama which is sure to become a cult classic. There is just enough weirdness in this film that it should please anyone that has grown weary of the Hollywood money machine of late.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

TIFF Website

Posted in 2009 TIFF at 11:46 PM

The Ape

The Ape

The Ape (2009). Directed by Jesper Ganslandt.

The description of this film in the TIFF programme looked very promising and in some ways it is similar to The Disappearance of Alice Creed. The plot is slowly revealed to the viewer and along there are several unexpected turns. The less you know, the more enjoyable the viewing experience will be, or at least that is the hope.

The story begins with Krister (Olle Sarri) waking up in a panic and rushing off to work. Something isn’t quite right and the tension builds with each scene as you try to understand what is happening. As the day goes on Krister’s world becomes darker as we learn more about the situation he finds himself in.

I really dislike this film for several reasons. The direction and story is way too loose and at times, frustrating to watch. Apparently the director, Jesper Ganslandt didn’t tell Olle Sarri what was going to happen from one scene to the next. Sarri was taken to each location where each scene was revealed to him. It’s an interesting experiment but the final result feels like a patchwork of scenes that don’t always mesh together very well.

Olle Sarri offers up his best Jack Bauer performance but his constant grunting and loud breathing through his mouth was really distracting. Yeah, we get it, you’re character is feeling very anxious. Now stop breathing through your mouth!

Why is The Ape the title of the film? Is a scene devoted to a painting significant? Can some of Krister’s actions be explained? Unlucky for me and the rest of the audience in Toronto, the director was present for a Q&A following the screening.

Jesper Ganslandt barely answered any of the questions that the audience asked him. He kept turning the questions around and asked the audience what they thought a scene meant or what an object in a scene signified. Even his answer about the title was half-baked. I was dumbfounded. In the time that I’ve been attending TIFF, this was hands down, the worst film and screening that I’ve attended.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

TIFF Website

Posted in 2009 TIFF at 7:32 PM

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009). Directed by J. Blakeson.

J. Blakeson’s debut film is absolutely brilliant. The world premiere of The Disappearance of Alice Creed ranks up there with Jason Reitman’s debut film, Thank You For Smoking. Blakeson is a talented writer and director that has crafted an intelligent thriller.

Danny (Martin Compston) and Vic (Eddie Marsan) convert a British flat into a temporary prison, complete with soundproof walls. After meticulous planning and preparation, they kidnap a wealthy young woman, Alice (Gemma Arterton). She’s tied to a bed, photographed and her father is contacted by Vic who requests a ransom for her safe return.

Vic is explosive, controlling and seemingly unpredictable. Danny follows his instructions and everything seems to go according to plan until a series of twists and turns shift the balance of power more than once. Blake’s clever script will keep you guessing how this hostage standoff will end.

At times the film can be pretty bleak but Blake injects just enough humour to break the tension and let the audience catch their breath. He admires the work of the Coen brothers and it’s easy to see where he pays homage to films like Blood Simple, Fargo and Miller’s Crossing (forest execution scene). David Lynch is another influence which can be seen in the colour palette of some scenes.

Eddie Marsan’s performance was very strong. At the Q&A following the film he appeared as a gentle, soft-spoken gentleman but in the film he comes across as brutish terror that intimidates Alice and Danny.

J. Blakeson has done an exceptional job with the writing and directing of this film. He manages to keep the audience guessing, right up until the end with a satisfying conclusion. I was also amazed at what he was able to do with just 3 actors and a few sets. At no time did this hinder the movie in any way. The production value is first-rate. I’m already looking forward to his next film.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

TIFF Website

Posted in 2009 TIFF at 12:44 AM



Antichrist (2009). Directed by Lars von Trier.

Off all my movie picks this year, this one scared me the most. I knew very little about the film going in, other than the fact that it was controversial.

I thought this was a good film, a piece of art that can be interpreted in many different ways. I’m not sure I understand all of vonTrier’s film but then again, neither does its star. In the Q&A following the screening, Willem Dafoe said he has no idea why it is called Antichrist, “only Lars can answer that”.

Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg play a couple that are dealing with the loss of their infant son (none of the characters are given names in the film). Gainsbourg blames herself for her son’s death and is stricken with grief. Dafoe’s character is a psychologist and decides that he will treat his wife and help her get better.

Early on he decides that she must face her deepest fears, which happens to be their cottage in the woods that they’ve named, Eden. This place is nothing like the biblical Eden. Instead, it reminded me of a nightmarish Teddy Bear’s Picnic:

If you go down to the woods today, You’re sure of a big surprise. If you go down to the woods today, You’d better go in disguise.

There are a lot of surprises in the woods and as you can imagine, none of them are good. Nothing can prepare you for some of the graphic violence once the film descends into a state of madness. “Chaos reigns” to quote a dead, talking fox in the film.

At the Ryerson Theatre last night, one member of the audience tossed his cookies on the people in front of him! Parts of this film were very difficult to watch but I never felt that nauseous!

Despite all of the controversy around some of the violence there are moments in Anitchrist that are very captivating and beautifully shot. The opening sequence is shot in extreme slow motion, black and white, and scored to Handel’s Rinaldo, Lascia ch’io pianga,:

Lascia ch’io pianga
mia cruda sorte,
e che sospiri la libertà.
Il duolo infranga queste ritorte
de’ mei martiri sol per pietà.

This translates to:

Leave me to weep
over my cruel fate
and let me sigh for liberty.
May sorrow break
the bonds of my anguish,
if only for pity’s sake.

The music and the images will stay with you for days after watching this film. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because part of the strength of this film is the unknown. The sound design also amplifies the tension and fear that you experience when watching this nightmare. You’ve been warned.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Official Movie Site
TIFF Website

Posted in 2009 TIFF at 2:08 AM

The Good Heart

The Good Heart (2009). Directed by Dagur Kári.

The Good Heart

Jacques (Brian Cox) is crusty old bartender/owner of a dingy bar in the bowels of New York City. After suffering his fifth heart attack, Jacques returns to the hospital where he meets a young homeless man named Lucas (Paul Dano), who is recovering from a failed suicide attempt. The two become friends and Jacques decides to groom Lucas to take over his bar.

Lucas is kind-hearted simpleton that is grateful for a second chance at life. He gets along great with Jacques but finds it difficult to follow all of his rules - no new customers, don’t befriend the customers and above all, no women in the bar. Lucas breaks all of the rules and takes in a young French woman (April) that is found wandering in the rain. Before long, Lucas marries April and all hell breaks loose.

The Good Heart is a decent film but I found it to be a tad pedestrian. None of the roles are particularly challenging for any of the actors involved and the plot is a little thin in places. There is little to no back-story to any of the characters which is frustrating at times. Things happen that seem absurd - Lucas and April get married on a whim and then Lucas kicks her out of the bar when she flirts with a customer.

Most of the action takes place in the bar which takes on a character of its own. The dim lighting and moldy walls provide the perfect setting for this story. There are several interesting characters at the bar and some of the dialogue is quite funny but it falls short of the mark for me. Apparently Brian Cox doesn’t view his own work in which case he isn’t missing much by not watching The Good Heart.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

TIFF Website
Official Facebook Page

Posted in 2009 TIFF at 7:06 PM

Roger Ebert’s Journal and TIFF

This year I’m doubling my number of screenings to 21. Roger Ebert is seeing 49 films! That’s 6 films a day! I don’t know how he does it and finds time to write about them.

The film that Ebert anticipates the most is Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans starring Nic Cage, directed by Werner Herzog. I love Herzog’s films and have a ticket to the North American premiere next Tuesday. Can’t wait!

Ebert nails the festival experience on its head when he writes:

How it happens is, you’re standing in line and hear buzz about something. Or a trusted friend provides a title you must see. Or you go to a movie you haven’t heard much about, just on a hunch, and it turns out to be “Juno.”

I saw Juno when it premiered at the Ryerson Theatre two years ago. I still remember director Jason Reitman saying that screenwriter Diablo Cody was going to be the next big thing in Hollywood. She went on to win the Oscar that year and Juno became a big hit.

Sometimes you get lucky with your film selections and you get to share in the initial buzz and excitement of a really great film.

The two films I can’t wait to see are Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done. The film I dread the most is Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. It was the first film to sell out and it has crossed my mind a few times to sell the ticket for $100 to some desperate soul in the rush line.

Posted in 2009 TIFF at 1:34 AM

The Men Who Stare At Goats

The Men Who Stare At Goats

The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009). Directed by Grant Heslov.

If the strange title doesn’t grab your attention then how about the stellar cast - George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Robert Patrick and J. K. Simmons. Stranger still is that this quirky comedy is based on a true story about psychic soldiers in the US Army.

The film is based on Jon Ronson’s book, The Men Who Stare At Goats. It examines the origins of the First Earth Battalion which still exists today. This group of psychic soldiers claim to use paranormal powers to fight the enemy.

Bob Wilton (McGregor) is a journalist in Ann Arbor who is looking for excitement. When his wife leaves him for his one-armed editor, he decides to visit Iraq and cover the war. He meets Lyn Cassady (Clooney) and finds out that Cassady is part of the First Earth Battalion. Wilton is skeptical when he learns that members of the battalion can run through walls and kill goats by staring at them intently. Before he can confirm that Cassady is a complete crackpot, Wilton becomes entangled in Cassady’s secret mission to find the former leader of the brigade, Bill Django (Bridges).

The irony runs deep when we find out that these psychic soldiers are often referred to as Jedi warriors (Ewan McGregor played a Jedi Knight in the Star Wars films). I laughed out loud when I learned that Django was a Vietnam Vet turned hippie. Jeffrey Lebowski is back! If you’re a fan of The Dude then you owe it to yourself to see this film. Clooney turns in his best comedic performance since O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

For a comedy, this film was beautifully photographed. There were several scenes where the framing really caught my eye. The attention to costume and detail was also quite good. You’ll notice that every guy in this film sports a short mustache at some point.

Kevin Spacey was the real surprise for me. When did he become so fat and creepy? He’s perfectly cast in his role as an egotistical weasel.

I found the film to be genuinely funny. The absurd situations and witty dialogue will make The Men Who Stare At Goats stand out as one of the better comedies in recent years. Although the ending was a little weak in terms of story, the strong performances by McGregor and Clooney balance things out.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Official Movie Site
TIFF Website
YouTube Movie Trailer

Posted in 2009 TIFF at 5:16 PM

2009 TIFF Picks

The picks are in and I’ll be seeing 21 films. Here are my ticket selections for this year:

THU 09/10/2009 9:00pm

The Ape
FRI 09/11/2009 8:45pm

FRI 09/11/2009 11:59pm

Jean Charles
SAT 09/12/2009 3:15pm

The Disappearance of Alice Creed
SAT 09/12/2009 9:15pm

Up In The Air
SUN 09/13/2009 11:00am

Valhalla Rising
SUN 09/13/2009 2:30pm

SUN 09/13/2009 9:30pm

Precious: Based on the novel “Push”
MON 09/14/2009 12:30pm

The Day Will Come
MON 09/14/2009 9:15pm

Bitch Slap
MON 09/14/2009 11:59pm

TUE 09/15/2009 11:00am

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
TUE 09/15/2009 6:00pm

TUE 09/15/2009 9:15pm

THU 09/17/2009 12:00pm

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
THU 09/17/2009 5:30pm

The Unloved
THU 09/17/2009 9:15pm

The Vintner’s Luck
FRI 09/18/2009 4:15pm

The Double Hour
SAT 09/19/2009 3:45pm

I’m also seeing a few advanced screenings which include:

The Men Who Stare At Goats
The Good Heart

Posted in 2009 TIFF at 4:42 PM


TOfilmfest.ca is a great resource for the 34th Toronto International Film Festival. If you’re researching films and can’t stand the Flash-based TIFF website this year, then look no further.

You’ll find movie trailers, links to IMDB, Wikipedia and movie reviews on TOfilmfest.ca making it a valuable resource for festival goers.

Posted in 2009 TIFF at 12:57 AM

Luck Of The Draw


Earlier today the TIFF website announced that Box 48 was selected in the lottery draw as the first box to be processed for the public Advance Order Procedure. There were 54 boxes in the draw.

I dropped my ticket selections off this morning and my box was number 44. Ugh. This means that I won’t be able to see a lot of the films I selected and will have to choose some alternate screenings. At 7 AM on Thursday morning I’ll be standing in line at the TIFF box office, hoping that I can find some alternate films in my schedule.

This happened a couple of years ago and I had to select a bunch of films that I didn’t know very much about. The suprising thing is that I saw a lot of really good films like Pan’s Labyrinth that won a few Oscars.

I’ll be seeing approximately 21 films during the festival and hopefully a few advanced screenings this week. I’ll post my final list of films in a few days and hope to see a few of you in line at the screenings.

Posted in 2009 TIFF at 8:27 PM