TIFF Docs, City to City, and TIFF Cinematheque (updated)

Alanis Obomsawin's Hi-Ho Mistahey!
More films to add to the ever growing line-up for TIFF 2013. The documentaries for this year's Toronto International Film Festival were announced today, and the list looks pretty darn good. Among the films are four Canadian titles set for world premieres. Among the Canuck films are new works by Alan Zweig, whose 15 Reasons to Live was my favourite film at this year’s Hot Docs, and Alanis Obomsawin (Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance), whose NFB doc Hi-Ho Mistahey! chronicles the Attawapiskat First Nation’s campaign to draw attention to the Canadian government’s neglect of Aboriginal children. Interestingly, Canadian filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal (Payback) had been cited in a leak festival preview by Realscreen Magazine as being tapped for the festival, but her film Watermark is not among the films listed in the programme. Nor is Alex Gibney’s Lance Armstrong doc Lance Armstrong: The Road Back, which had been cited by the magazine as being set for a world premiere. Realscreen, however, was correct that new films by Errol Morris and Claude Lanzmann would hit Toronto, so the Baichwal and Gibney films could appear on future announcements.

Update: I missed the news of the City to City and Cinematheque programming for this year. It’s a mistake on my part, but since his year’s City to City spotlights the work coming out of Athens, Greece, I just put some Windex on the blog and it’s now right as rain. Opa!

***Update the second: It should be noted that neither Watermark nor Lance Armstrong were noted in the Realscreen article as being scheduled for "World Premiere"s at Toronto, but simply as "premieres". The information in the aforementioned article does not necessarily entail a press leak either, but is rather the subject of an article that reports bits of information that were confirmed by various sources but not commented upon by a spokesperson for the Festival itself. (It's a question of semantics, but that's another debate; moreover, the word 'leak' was not chosen with any intent to reflect negatively on the publication, the author, or the festival/any of its employees.) As noted above and in other posts on this blog and elsewhere, there are more TIFF announcements to come.***

TIFF Midnight Madness Films and Vanguard (Updated)

The Green Inferno by Midnight Madness staple Eli Roth
I’ll admit that it was past my bedtime when these films were announced at the stroke of midnight, but the night-owls who love to catch a red-eye screening are in for a treat with TIFF’s popular Midnight Madness programme. This year’s programme marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Midnight Madness and it looks to be a fun mix of dead cheerleaders, cannibalism, vampires, and world cinema.


Swan 'Song'

Unfinished Song
(UK, 93 min.)
Written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams
Starring: Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton, Christopher Eccelston, and Vanessa Redgrave.
Terence Stamp in Unfinished Song
Photo Credit: Nick Wall. Courtesy of eOne Films
“Chips and ice cream,” the doctor prescribes, as she tells a dying Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) to go home and indulge in her greatest pleasures. What Marion loves, however, is singing. Marion is part of a troupe dubbed the OAPz (Old Age Pensionerz) and she sings tunes under the direction of a bubbly young music teacher named Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton). Marion’s husband, Arthur (Terence Stamp), an English curmudgeon if the cinema ever saw one, detests the group that Marion loves. Now that it’s come time to say, “’til death do us part” (this fact doesn’t spoil anything), Arthur needs something to fill the silence of his empty house and decides to honour Marion by singing the next refrain.


Pedro Joins the Mile High Club

I’m So Excited! (Los amantes pasajeros)
(Spain, 90 min.)
Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Javier Cámara, Carlos Areces, Raúl Arévalo, Lola Dueñas, Hugo Silva, Antonio de la Torre, Cecila Roth, José Luis Torrijo, José María Yazpik, Blanca Suárez, Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Paz Vega
Javier Cámara as Joserra and Raúl Arévalo as Ulloa
Photo: Paola Ardizzoni & Emilio Pereda © El Deseo,
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics 
Pedro Almodóvar joins the mile high club with his latest comedy I’m So Excited! A light and fluffy sex farce set miles above ground, I’m So Excited! is bound to leave film buffs in the art house crowd feeling lightheaded and dizzy. The film, which tells of the hijinks aboard a doomed aircraft travelling from Spain to Mexico, is the director’s silliest and campiest film in years. It’s a nice break after the darkness of The Skin I Live In, but Mr. Almodóvar might have let the high altitude rob the film of the arty substance that fans have come to expect in his films. However, even the stylish(ish)ness and giddy camp value are outrageous enough to ensure that the great director’s auteur status is not in jeopardy.


Put it on the 'Maybe' List

The To Do List
(USA, 104 min.)
Written and directed by Maggie Carey
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Rachel Bilson, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Scott Porter, Connie Britton, Clark Gregg.
Aubrey Plaza stars in The To Do List. Photo courtesy eOne Films.
The To Do List, loosely inspired by the real-life adventures of first-time feature writer/director Maggie Carey, is a funny case of TMI. Set in the 1990s, for no good reason other than to provide a few good Beaches jokes, The To Do List sees class valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed) studying to get her first big F. Brandy is a virgin, see, and boning up on all things naughty is atop her list of college prep chores. Getting one’s own pair of shower sandals isn’t nearly as important as prepping for freshman year’s biggest exam: sex ed.


Teaser for 'That Burning Feeling'

Ingrid Haas and Paulo Costanzo star in That Burning Feeling
The Canadian titles for TIFF are set to be announced on August 7th and one Canuck comedy  I’m itchin’ to see is the indie rom-com That Burning Feeling. A teaser was just released, so hopefully the buzz will spread like gonorrhea. (But in a good way...) The teaser was presented at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal and debuted online at the film's Facebook page.

'We Need to Lift Oscar Up.'

Fruitvale Station
(USA, 90 min.)
Written and directed by Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer.
Michael B. Jordan stars in Fruitvale Station. Photo Courtesy of eOne Films
“Wake up! Wake up! Up you wake!” cries Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson) in the opening cue for Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing. I last watched Do the Right Thing while working as a teaching assistant for an introductory film class a few years ago. The discussion for one of my two groups hardly followed expectations. Even in 2010, students were actually debating the finale that sees a secondary character beaten to death by the police following a riot at a neighbourhood pizzeria. Several voices seemed more focused on the property damage that incited the event. “Mookie shouldn’t have broken the window,” one student said. “But Radio Raheem died,” I noted, wishing I could remove the mask of diplomacy and instead just my students to “wake up.”


TIFF 2013: Top Picks for the Fest so Far

Festival opener The Fifth Estate
Every Oscar junkie within travelling distance of Toronto was jumping for joy today. TIFF’s first wave of announced films gives a pretty strong indication that the festival is being embraced for its influence on the end of the year races. One could make a case for many of these star-studded pics to go all the way. The list of 70 Galas and Special Presentations isn’t even a third of the festival’s programming, so it looks as if TIFF will be another eleven days of excellent, if insanely busy, festival-going.

Contest: Win Tickets to 'The To Do List' in Ottawa (Closed)

Did you miss the first round of tickets for The To Do List? If so you are in luck! Loosely inspired by the real-life adventures of first-time writer/director Maggie Carey, The To Do List is a heartfelt comedy about close friends and a special summer project. Set in 1993, valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) wants to shed her uptight image before college, so she assembles a to do list of all the “activities” she missed out on in high school. Quickly realizing that she's way out of her depth, Brandy solicits her best friends (Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Donald Glover, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Johnny Simmons), older sister (Rachel Bilson) and burnt-out boss (Bill Hader) for their help and advice. If the group is going to complete the list by September they'll need plenty of imagination and very open minds.

TIFF Announces First Films in Galas, Special Presentations

Streep at TIFF? August: Osage County
August: Osage County at TIFF! The guest list isn’t official, but the film list is! The film boasting an anticipated Oscar powerhouse for Meryl Streep will be having its World Premiere as a Gala at Roy Thomson Hall. August was named when the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) announced the first wave of films for the 2013 edition of the festival. 70 films were listed for the Gala and Special Presentations programmes of the festivals, which boasts all sorts of star-studded Oscar fodder that makes the festival such a major event. The WikiLeaks drama The Fifth Estate, directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) and starring Benedict Cumberbatch (who also appears in the festival selections August: Osage County and 12 Years a Slave), was selected to open the festival. Other notable films heading to Toronto are Prisoners, the new drama from Incendies director Denis Villeneuve that stars (deep breath) Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Violas Davis, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard and Paul Dano; Labor Day, starring Kate Kinslet; Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney; Cannes winner Blue is the Loneliest Color; and Third Person from Crash director Paul Haggis. Thoughts on the selections to follow, but here are the films that were announced for TIFF 2013:



Only God Forgives
(Denmark/France, 89 min.)
Written and directed by Nicholas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Tom Burke.
Ryan Gosling in Only God Forgives
Courtesy of eOne Films
Nicholas Winding Refn states in the press notes for Only God Forgives that “we must not forget that the second enemy of creativity, after having ‘good taste’, is being safe.” Leave it to the film snobs on the Croisette, however, to be the gatekeepers of good taste. It was disappointing to hear that the Drive director saw his latest feature booed by the art house crowd when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, but Only God Forgives was rightfully reviled. It's awful, tasteless garbage.

'Won't somebody please think of the children?!'

The Hunt
(Denmark, 111 min.)
Dir. Thomas Vinterberg, Writ. Thomas Vinterberg & Tobias Lindholm
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Susse Wold, Alexandra Rapaport.
Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen). Courtesy of Charlotte Bruus Christensen
“Won't somebody please think of the children?!”
-Helen Lovejoy, "The Simpsons"
“They say children never lie,” observes a character in The Hunt as the film reaches the turning point of its drama. Even road signs on the 401 observe that children are precious and, hence, are reason for adults to use caution, but even the most earnest and gullible of guardians should know that not every child is a sweet innocent angel. Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), for example, is a regular Briony Tallis in Thomas Vinterberg’s maddening The Hunt. She’s a naïve little storyteller and a troubled, if neglected, brat. One little word sends all the Helen Lovejoys of her small churchgoing town into a tizzy and Klara becomes the key witness in a near-comical case of mass hysteria.


Where is Here?

You Are Here
(Canada, 79 min.)
Written and directed by Daniel Cockburn
Starring: Tracy Wright, R.D. Reid, Anand Rajaram, Scott Anderson, Nadia Litz.
If action, explosions, naughty bits, and other facets of mindless summer entertainment are a movie-must, then Daniel Cockburn’s You Are Here probably isn’t the film for you. If, however, the endless stream of sequels and re-dos leave you thirsty for substance, then You Are Here provides more than enough debatable mumbo-jumbo to stop the drought. You Are Here, the first feature film by video artist Daniel Cockburn, is a true thinking-person’s film.


It's Just a Shot Away

Twenty Feet from Stardom
(USA, 91 min.)
Dir. Morgan Neville
Feat. Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Claudia Lennear, Jo Lawry, Judith Hill.
Merry Clayton in Twenty Feet from Stardom
Photo courtesy eOne Films
So many good rockumentaries of late tell stories of musicians that made it big after dogged hours striving for success. Searching for Sugarman, A Band Called Death, even As Time Goes by in Shanghai offer touching stories about how it’s never too late for a performer to see his or her name in shining lights. Enjoying the spotlight, that place in the sun for many musicians, is a treat few artists enjoy. It’s simply a fact that not every aspiring star can make it in the entertainment business. Some people have to step back so that others can have top billing.


OIAF Announces Selections for Festival 2013

Yellow Sticky Notes | Canadian Anijam is an OIAF highlight
The Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) announced today the programme for the 2013 edition of the festival. OIAF, Ottawa’s largest film experience and one of the world’s top animation events, has an impressive line-up once again. The 2013 festival, which runs September 18-22, offers twice as many feature films in competition than it did last year, expanding from four to eight, which will join ninety-eight short films in competition. Fifty showcase films were also chosen for the festival. OIAF received an impressive 1926 entries from 76 different countries.

At Least It's Not a Michael Bay Movie

Pacific Rim
(USA, 132 min.)
Dir. Guillermo del Toro, Writ. Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman.
Pacific Rim seems like the film that Michael Bay always wanted to make, but probably never will. First, it’s a film, for Michael Bay most definitely makes “movies”. Second, it's spectacular entertainment driven mostly by special effects, yet it’s not eye-rollingly bad. Third, it has monsters, robots, and near-apocalyptic chaos, but it also has enough of novelty to string the action together. Pacific Rim, despite its flaws, is a VFX extravaganza that deserves to be seen on the big screen.


Death Lives On

A Band Called Death
(USA, 96 min.)
Dir. Mark Christopher Covino, Jeff Howlett
Feat. Bobby Hackney, Dannis Hackney.
What’s in a name? The title of a movie, album, or book is often a main selling point. If the name isn’t catchy, though, or if it doesn’t fit on a marquee, one can always rebrand and sell a product to audiences anew. However, what if the name and the work are one and the same? The ongoing legal battle with The Butler, for instance, is a good example of how a name change is easier said than done.


RED: Retread Extremely Delightful

Red 2
(USA, 116 min.)
Dir. Dean Parisot, Writ. Jon Hoeber & Eric Hoeber
Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung-Hun Lee.
Helen Mirren stars in Red 2
Courtesy of eOne Films
Growing old is a dangerous game. Hips break and knees crack. The expiry dates on coupons tick down like the timer on a bomb. Early bird dinners pose a race against time. If the old lady in the walker hobbles too slowly, take her out. There’s no need to get soft in old age: put a cap in granny’s ass and be done with it.


'Still Mine', 'Mama' Lead Directors' Guild of Canada Nominations

Geneviève Bujold and James Cromwell in Michael McGowan's Still Mine.
Photo by Ken Woroner, courtesy of Mongrel Media
The Directors’ Guild of Canada announced the nominations for its annual awards. They’re original to say the least. Best Feature Film offers a field of well-received contenders, such as Midnight’s Children, My Awkward Sexual Adventure, and Oscar-nominee Rebelle. Also nominated is Michael McGowan’s Still Mine, which seems like a shoo-in for the win being the only Best Film nominee to receive a nomination for Best Direction. The absence of Deepa Mehta and Kim Nguyen is both surprising and disappointing. David Cronenberg, who swept the awards last year with A Dangerous Method, was shut out for Cosmopolis. Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral, however, earned two nominations. Equally notable are the three nominations for the money-maker Mama, which tied Still Mine for the most citations.


Contest: Win Tickets to 'The To Do List' (Closed)

There are so many good indies to see this summer that the list keeps growing and growing. Luckily, ten readers can scratch the upcoming comedy The To Do List off the ever-expanding roster of films to see. Loosely inspired by the real-life adventures of first-time writer/director Maggie Carey, The To Do List is a heartfelt comedy about close friends and a special summer project. Set in 1993, valedictorian Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed) wants to shed her uptight image before college, so she assembles a to do list of all the “activities” she missed out on in high school. Quickly realizing that she's way out of her depth, Brandy solicits her best friends (Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Donald Glover, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Johnny Simmons), older sister (Rachel Bilson) and burnt-out boss (Bill Hader) for their help and advice. If the group is going to complete the list by September they'll need plenty of imagination and very open minds.


Daniel Cockburn at SAW Video July 19-20

Daniel Cockburn's You Are Here has its Ottawa premiere at SAW July 19.
Ottawa cinephiles will want to head over to SAW Video later this month for a special presentation of the unique work of Toronto-based video artist Daniel Cockburn. Cockburn will be at SAW July 19-20 to present the Ottawa premiere of his first feature film You Are Here, a strange, thought-provoking, and boundary-pushing puzzler that Variety called “a charming, Charlie Kaufman-like metafictional puzzler.” You Are Here is also the last film to be released starring the late Canadian actress Tracy Wright, whose final performance in Bruce McDonald’s Trigger made my list of the ten best in 2010. You Are Here thus presents Canadian film fans in the Capital a chance to bid adieu to one talent as they discover another.


'How Much Better it is to Weep at Joy...'

Much Ado About Nothing
(USA, 109 min.)
Adapted for the screen and directed by Joss Whedon
Starring: Amy Acker, Alex Denisof, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher, Spencer Treat Clark, Ashley Johnson.
Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker in Much Ado about Nothing.
 An eOne Films release. (Credit: Elsa-Guillet-Chapuis)
“He hath indeed better bettered expectation than you must expect of me to tell you how.”
-William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing 1.1.13-14


Guy Maddin's 'Seances'

Canada’s cinematic crazyman Guy Maddin is taking his avant-garde filmmaking to new levels in Montréal. Maddin is currently at Montréal’s Phi Centre shooting Seances, a live film experience. Seances is being performed and filmed before a live studio audience. Maddin is shooting twelve films in thirteen days for the project, which will culminate as an interactive work for the National Film Board of Canada and as a feature film by Phi Films, Buffalo Gal Pictures and the NFB.

Scenes from the first day of filming were released today, which offers footage of Karine Vanasse (Polytechnique) starring in Maddin’s unusual project. We’ll keep you updated as Maddin continues Seances through to July 20. Take a look:

Meryl Streep and Blue Rodeo Headline My Bluesfest Line-up

Meryl Streep performs with Blue Rodeo in Postcards from the Edge
Bluesfest is underway! The ten-day outdoor music festival, one of the ten biggest in the world, kicked off last night with the Black Keys headlining the main stage. I probably won’t be attending any of the festivities this year (re: $$), but I hope many readers will enjoy the week-and-a-half that lets Ottawa escape its title of being The City that Fun Forgot. I’m tempted to see The Tragically Hip again, or go the day Cold Specks and Neko Case are playing, but recent TIFF budgeting and such makes attending Bluesfest impractical. (Daily admission is more than a TIFF Gala.) It might be one of those years to just stay home, grab a six-pack glass of tap water and listen to a bluesy playlist on the deck.


Faith Gets Freaky

The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh
(Canada, 82 min.)
Written and directed by Rodrigo Gudiño
Starring: Aaron Poole, Vanessa Redgrave, Julian Richings, Charlotte Sullivan
Being home alone can feel creepy. Sleep seems troublesome on a dark and stormy night, especially when the lights are out and strange noises are coming from every angle. Now imagine trying to feel comfortable staying in a house after leaving it years before. It’s a childhood home, which was recently vacated by its sole occupant, the mother, who departed in a strange and unusual death.


Bring a Barf Bag

(Canada, 88 min.)
Dir. Egidio Coccimiglio, Writ. Floyd Byars
Starring: Heather Graham, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Mantegna, Kevin Dillon.
Canadian cinema of the late 1930s saw a dark period known as the age of the “Quota Quickie.” These wham bam thank you, ma’am type jobs were essentially low budget productions financed by Hollywood, but shot in Canada so that the Brits could make a goal of filling their cinemas with at least a quarter of their programming composed of British and/or Commonwealth products. These negligible pieces, rightly fallen into obscurity, were rarely set in Canada and offered a cultural value that was negligible at best.