Wednesday, September 21, 2011

2011 Toronto International Film Festival Wrap-Up

I jumped heavier into this year's Toronto International Film Festival than I'd ever had before seeing a total of eleven films over the festival's eleven day run. Overall, I'm glad to say that everything I saw was good to great, although having seen a number of films that were dark, grim, or just plain weird, I'm motivated for next year to see more comedies.

Gus Van Sant's newest film "Restless" was a great start to the festival, a quiet, quirky film about life and death, and the budding romance between two social misfits. There was a very nice balance between the sombre and the uplifting elements of the story and both lead actors, Henry Hopper as Enoch Brae and Mia Wasikowska as Annabel Cotton were excellent. My favourite scene in the film was the graveyard conversation.

Q&A, 'Restless': photo by Michael Ligon

Directed by and starring Ryan O'nan (and who also wrote and performed many of the songs in the film), his directorial debut "The Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best" turned out to be a great little indie comedy. In the film, a pair of fate-matched musical losers come together to form a guitar / multi-instrumentalist indie rock duo and go on tour. Part comedy, part drama, part road movie, this was a fun film with surprisingly good musical performances to boot. The three leads (Ryan O'Nan, Michael Weston, Arielle Kebbel) may be relative unknowns but were fantastic and there were some familiar faces (particularly Andrew McCarthy, Christopher McDonald, Jason Ritter and Wilmer Valderrama) that filled out smaller roles to great effect.

Q&A, "The Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best": photo by Michael Ligon

I took the Sunday route with a laid back screening of the new Todd Solondz film "Dark Horse" at the VISA Screening Room at the magnificent Elgin Theatre. Having rewatched Solondz' 1998 film "Happiness", I was reminded of his skewed perspective on everyday life, even borderline uncomfortable to watch, depending on the company you were watching it with. While Solondz hasn't necessarily changed his world view on things, he's reigned back the weirdness just a tad on his new film. In this new film, Solondz' story of a man-child's pursuit for love is comedic, yet tragic, fantasical yet grounded in real life.

Q&A, "Dark Horse": photo by Michael Ligon

With famed director Jonathan Demme already hemming Neil Young's previous concert films: 2006′s "Heart of Gold" and 2009′s "Trunk Show", it was only natural that he come on board to document Young's shows at Massey Hall in May of 2010. This newest concert film entitled "Neil Young Journeys" is not only of document of Neil's two night stint at Massey Hall in May of 2010 but also intersperses clips of Young's musings of his childhood as he makes the drive from his childhood hometown of Omemee, ON to Massey Hall in Toronto. Concert films will never take place of a real show but this one comes close with perhaps the finest audio quality I've ever heard during a concert film. During the Q & A, Demme and Young spoke about some sort of new audio technology used I believe to record the sound, and believe me the sound quality was fantastic.

Q&A, "Neil Young Life": photo by Michael Ligon

Apparently, if you're Australian, the mention of "Snowtown", conjures horrific stories of serial killings that took place in the impoverished small town in South Australia between 1992 and 1999. In his directorial debut, director Justin Kurzel does a superb job, given the difficult subject matter, in firstly directing mostly unknowns who gave fantastic performances, and secondly, creating an the films appropriately grim atmosphere. It's not really a film I can say I took 'pleasure' in watching, given it's subject matter, but I appreciated the craftmanship that went into it.

Q&A, "Snowtown": photo by Michael Ligon

And what would a film festival be, without at least watching a foreign film with subtitles. "Kotoko" a Japanese film directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, tells the story of the unravelling mental state of a young mother with double vision which affects her ability to take care of her baby, eventually being suspected of child abuse and having her baby taken away from her. The film does a great job with editing and camera shows in illustrating the realm of pyschosis, to the almost unbearable point of feeling the sickening madness myself. Tsukamoto stars in the film as a writer who's drawn to Kotoko's maudlin singing on the bus one day, eventually pursuing her romantically even after realizing her mental unwellness. At this point, this sounds like a Hollywood formula, but believe me this film is far from it.

Q&A, "Kotoko": photo by Michael Ligon

The most 'star-studded' film I saw was the co-production between Canadian actor Shawn Ashmore and British actor Dominic Monaghan for their post-apocalyptic film "The Day". The short of it is, the film is about a rag-tag group who try to survive in a post-apocalyptic world but then encounter a hurdle. What is it you might ask? No, it's not zombies. Go watch the film. Not much depth to the plot, but as a Midnight Madness entry it was appropriately fun, especially with some of it's kick ass kill sequences.

Q&A, "The Day": photo by Michael Ligon

Better known as stand-up comedian, Bobcat Goldwaithe's directorial effort entitled "God Bless America" turned out to be a surprisingly affecting film. It definitely has a satirical edge and a sensibility that reminds me somewhat of the 1993 film "Falling Down" starring Michael Douglas. But amidst the film's satirical components, is the unconventional friendship between a middle-aged divorced father and a dissatisfied, independent teenage girl. Albeit, as touching as that sounds, the premise of the story is that they do go on a Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque killing spree. Better than I expected, and admist the violence and satire, there was a wonderfully human message.

Q&A, "God Bless America": photo by Michael Ligon

The zombie film genre is something I've grown attached to over the years and was psyched to see that the Cuban-Spanish co-production entitled "Juan Of The Dead" was in this year's festival. It definitely leans towards the side of "Shaun of The Dead" with it's comedic angle, and the humour while cheesy at times, was at other times uproariously funny. Part of me was a little disappointed at times that the zombies weren't as visually threatening as they could have been, the zombies being of the slow and sluggish-paced variety. Director Alejandro Bruges uses the characters' dialogue at times to make commentary about life in Cuba, which somehow fits in well with the characters' situations. Admirable addition to the zombie film genre.

Q&A, "Juan Of The Dead": photo by Michael Ligon

My penultimate film of TIFF was the midnight madness screening of UK film "Kill List" directed by Ben Wheatley. A strange and suspenseful twist on the hit-man film, I especially enjoyed the pacing and buildup of film. By the end film which turns out to be a suckerpunch, your reaction is like, holy 'eff did that just happen? Intensely, dark atmosphere, maybe too dark for some, it won't be everyone's cup of tea but I'll recommend as an intriguing curiousity.

Q&A, "Kill List": photo by Michael Ligon

My last film of TIFF was the Swedish film "Play". Intriguingly shot entirely in long shot, "the film is based on an actual incident in Gothenburg where a group of black kids manipulated other teenagers, mostly from "ethnic" backgrounds, into surrendering their valuables." As a closer for the festival for me, it was an insightful film and its use of long shots an example of how wonderfully cinematography in filmmaking can be. As a story which touches on issues of bullying, race, and the like, it was an insightful film.

And that's it. Let's do this again next year.

And more of my pics during TIFF below:

Elgin Theatre: photo by Michael Ligon

TIFF Volunteers: photo by Michael Ligon

Red Carpet at Roy Thomson Hall: photo by Michael Ligon

Princess of Wales Theatre: photo by Michael Ligon

Mounties by Mr. Brainwash: photo by Michael Ligon

Spray Cans by Mr. Brainwash: photo by Michael Ligon

Alfred Hitchcock by Mr. Brainwash: photo by Michael Ligon

For my complete TIFF photoset, check out the link below:

Photos: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (September 8-18, 2011)


ps. Apologies to anyone who's stuck around for the last 2 1/2 months hoping for a post. I lost all motivation for posting gig reviews during the summer partially out of laziness but also partially because of the dearth of really anything extraordinary to post about. Mind you, I saw some good shows during the summer, and did the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago this past July but otherwise the bands and artists that I did see, you've all heard and read about anyway. While my motivation for writing has waned, the pleasure of grabbing a few photos at gigs still remains. At the very least, photos will still provide content to this site, but I'm rethinking the writing angle. I'd like to keep the writing off-the-cuff and spontaneous and rather leave the act of music writing to those of who you who do it for a living, or at least do it better. One of the books I'd read over the summer was called "The Cult of the Amateur - How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture", a harsh critique of user-generated internet/web content in many ways, but one thing I've gained from the book is that I'll probably tighten the quality control on what I publish and don't publish.

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