Movie Reviews

Phantom of the Black Dahlia

I went to see The Black Dahlia last night and I really, really wanted to like this movie. I’m a big Brian de Palma fan, generally, even when he makes it hard to be one.

I had just about completely lost interest in all the subplots and connections and over-the-top-for-no-good-reason characters in The Black Dahlia, when who do I see strangling Aaron Eckhart? Winslow Leach! Okay, not Winslow Leach,
but the actor, William Finley, who played Winslow Leach in one of my all time favourite movies (but which oddly never seems to make my top ten lists when I make them) Brian de Palma’s campy 1974 classic THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE.

If you’ve never seen this movie, why not??? YOU MUST.


To explain my obsession with this movie, I need to fill you in on a little personal back-story. In 1974 I was twelve (which makes me 29, now, right?) and living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Both of these facts are important. For some bizarre reason I’m sure would be worthy of a Phd thesis, Winnipeg went NUTS for this movie. I don’t know the exact statistic, but I think it sold more tickets per capita in Winnipeg than anywhere else in the world. Like double or triple. It was such a phenomenon, that Paul Williams,
who stared and wrote the score opened his world tour in Winnipeg. He was pretty big at the time after writing all those Carpenters hits and had a few hit records of his own accord. (Rainy Days and Mondays, springs to mind.) I only saw The Phantom of the Paradise in theatres twice (I wasn’t technicaly old enough to even get in once) but had friends who saw it upwards of 15-20 times. This, I guess, is where the twelve-years-old detail comes in. My friends and I all actually thought Paul Williams was pretty hot. Maybe it was the idea of a man who was our height? Or his pretty long blond hair? His munchkinesque face?

Anyway, I love this movie. I loved the music. I knew (still know, sadly) every lyric to every song. (Must buy the soundtrack to test this assertion, but I’m pretty confident.)

And in case you think I’m making this whole Winnipeg connection up, or blowing it out of proportion, the third hit when I googled the movie title today brought up this link to something called Phantompalooza held just this year in Winnipeg. Looks like all the major cast members attended. Too funny.

Has anyone else seen this movie? Or am I alone in my crazy obsession.

Bella wins people’s choice

An American independent film, Bella, won the people’s choice award at the festival and I actually saw it.

I wouldn’t have put it on my top ten at the festival list, though… Not that I didn’t enjoy it… it just didn’t seem like anything that special to me. I had to look at the listing to remind myself what it had been about.

Now that I’m remembering it… it was probably a good lesson in slowly revealing backstory. For you writers out there, it’s probably a good one to see when it’s released for that reason alone. Nice redemption story, too… But I saw the ending coming a mile away and I think it was the ending that swept so many people up and caused them to vote for it…

For those of you who don’t know… Toronto doesn’t have an official prize like many big festivals. Rather, the public get ballots at each screening and can rate a movie on a scale of 1-5. (Actually, this process has changed just about every year I’ve been to the festival, but the idea that the audience picks has always been there.)

It’s a strange voting system… because you’re asked to vote right after seeing a film and I don’t know how you can know on the first day whether you’ll like the films you just saw better than the films you’re going to see. Also, some people may see only one film at the festival, others, like me, see nearly 50. But even 50 doesn’t make a dent in the 350 or so films screening… I suppose it’s really a contest of how many audience members the film inspires to actually fill out a ballot — which is, in fact, a test of something.

Suspect system or not, good films tend to win this category each year, (Tsotsi, Hotel Rwanda, Rabbit Proof Fence, The Whale Rider all won in previous years. (If memory serves… I couldn’t find a list online,) so I guess there’s something to the system. One of the reasons film producers like to premiere their films at the Toronto festival is because the audiences are real movie goers for the most part, not just industry people and press.

Amazing Grace an amazing ending

Well. The film festival is over for another year. I feel dizzy and tired and just a little sick.

I saw so many great films, but they’re all whirling around in my brain right now, so it’s hard to pick a favourite. Last year and the year before it was easier… Brokeback Mountain in 2005 and Crash in 2004 were easily my favourites… This year, I haven’t decided yet, but AMAZING GRACE, is in the running.

I actually had tickets for 5 films today, but only went to 3 — skipping the first and the last of the day at 9:00 am and 9:00 pm.

I decided to make AMAZING GRACE my final film. It was the official closing film of the festival and was wonderful.

It’s the story of William Wilberforce who, I admit, I’d never heard of before. He was the British member of parliament responsible for the bill which abolished slavery in Britain in 1807.

The film is being released in February 2007 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the passing of this bill — which Wilberforce had been fighting for for nearly 30 years largely against the sugar industry.

Make a movie date in your calendars now for February.

I was supposed to go to THE DOG PROBLEM in the morning… but decided to sleep in. I’m sorry about missing that one. I’ve heard good things and I don’t know if it’s been sold to a distributor yet so it might not make it to theatres. Scott Caan is the filmmaker and it stars Giovani Ribisi.

I also saw two documentaries today. The first was SHOT IN THE DARK and Adrien Grenier of Entourage was both filmmaker and subject. I’ve been a fan of Adrien Grenier since I first saw him in THE ADVENTURES OF SEBASTIAN COLE a lovely little coming of age film, nearly ruined by a horrible fake accent done by Margaret Colin playing his mother, but saved by Adrien and by Clark Gregg as his cross-dressing transgendered step-father.

Anyway, SHOT IN THE DARK is a documentary about Adrien confronting his biological father whom he hadn’t seen since he was five. The film was shot in 1999-2000. I expect he couldn’t get anyone to give him the money to turn it into a real film until Entourage made him a bit famous. HBO Films is the producer of SHOT IN THE DARK. No surprise. Anyway, if it shows up on HBO or the documentary channel, it’s worth a watch. I also saw THE KILLER WITHIN about a man who came close to being a Columbine type mass murderer in 1955 but actually got off scott free after killing a fellow student in his college dorm. There was never a trial, for reasons that are never made 100% clear.

Anyway, this man lived 50 years with no one knowing what he’d done. He told his wife a bit, but his two daughters (one biological, one from his wife’s first marriage who he’d raised since age 4) didn’t know and neither did any of this friends or family or co-workers. (He became a prominent psychologist and professor — an irony not really explored in the film.)
In his late 60’s, he decides to come clean and blames it all on bullying. He tries to turn himself into a victim. The film is largely about his daughters coming to grips with finding out their father is a murderer. Chilling how this man shows absolutely no emotions about what he did. Chilling. On the other hand, he went on to lead a productive life and raised two daughters — one of whom wouldn’t even exist had he been tried and found guilty. The film asks a lot of questions about forgiveness and the ability to reform and frankly about sociopathic behaviour…

Anyway… All in all, a good day at the festival. Over the next while, I’ll blog more about some of the films.

Now, sleep.

Jennifer Lopez shuts down Yonge Street

So, I like to tell people I go to the festival for the “filims” and I have to say, it’s at least 80% about the movies for me…

But tonight I confess, it was 100% about celebrity. And what a lesson in relative celebrity it was.

Yes, there are “stars” at most TIFF screenings, complete with limos and red carpets and press and quasi-body-guard-volunteers to “block”. A few actors I saw earlier in the week — Britney Murphy for one — also had real bodyguards with them. But with all that, most of the stars still act and behave like real people. Not Jennifer Lopez.

Tonight was the world premiere of El Cantante, staring J Lo and her hubby. I’ve never seen a set up like they had for her… One lane for most of one busy block of Yonge street (a very main drag in Toronto) was shut off. Even the sidewalk for 50 or so yards each side of the theatre was blocked off… (Normally the stars get out of their limo right beside the line… so depending on your timing, you might see them get out of the car, or watch them talk to the press or have a chance to say hello or whatever. Not J Lo. They had the entire area cordoned off. (I don’t know if this is her “fault” per se or whether the size of her celebrity means this is necessary. But boy… no one else attending the TIFF seemed to need this. (That said, Brad Pitt didn’t come to the screening of Babel I saw… But I did hear he shook hands and talked to people at the first screening, so I don’t think even el Pitt got the star treatment Jennifer did. Hey, I’ve seen Bono show up for a screening and just sit in the audience with everyone else (Breakfast on Pluto last year) and Dustin Hoffman (Borat this year), and Ethan Hawke (something last year, can’t remember)… etc, etc.)

Anyway… huge spectacle for J Lo and spectacle-seeking, I admit, is kinda why I picked that film.

Sadly, I didn’t like the movie… (First film this year I didn’t like at all. Okay, maybe the second.) The music is good/fun, but basically I don’t think this guy, Hector Lavoe, had an interesting enough life to warrant a bio pic. I mean… “poor boy from Puerto Rico gets famous, does too many drugs and dies of AIDS.” Nothing really fresh or interesting or revealing in a tale like that. And neither he nor his wife were sympathetic characters in the least–not as portrayed by Jennifer and Marc, anyway. (Now, I know this unsympathetic character complaint flies in the face of my rant… I have no problem with unsympathetic characters as long as they learn something or change or are at least interesting! These two didn’t and weren’t.
Two not-nice-people who led depressing lives. Why make a movie about them? I expect it’s 100% because Marc Anthony was a fan and his wife can get people to do anything she wants.

Oh, and the Idi Amin film THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND was a amazing. Best film I’ve seen this year. I’ll blog about it some time soon.

A Good Day

I skipped my first movie, ALL THE KINGS MEN, and slept instead. I mean, it opens in 2 weeks and the actors never show for the second screening, so I figured, better off sleeping a couple of hours longer.

So, my day started just around 11:00 when me and my caffeine got into a long ticket holders line for FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION, the new Christopher Guest/Eugene Levy movie. I started chatting with the guy in front of me about the movies we’d seen and the fact that we’d both lived in Philadelphia when we got onto the topic of the movie we’d seen the night before and discovered we’d both been in the new Zach Braff movie, THE LAST KISS. Nothing too remarkable there… But then he mentions that he’s actually Zach’s friend. Cool. So I chat with him some more about movies and Toronto and Philadelphia and his wife joins in the conversation a bit, too… and then this older couple come up and join us. Zack’s parents. His dad (Hal, if memory serves?) told me about some creative decisions his son made writing GARDEN STATE and what it had originally been about and how neither of us liked the film PENELOPE much (more on that later in the week on the Drunk Writer Talk blog)…

Anyway… a cool start to a day which just got better.

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION was freakin’ hilarious. Of course, I expected that… but it really is very funny. It was the second screening of this film, (it had premiered at a Gala the night before) and as I mentioned earlier, the filmmakers and actors generally don’t go to the second screenings… Also the festival NEVER does Q&A’s at the Elgin theatre and the film was at the Elgin…. So what happened this morning?
After the screening, we were treated to a half hour (at least) Q&A following the film, with at least 10 of the cast members. Christopher Guest, Catherine O’Hara, Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge, Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, Parker Posey… I’m sure I’m missing someone… I did take pictures. I’ll post them some other time.

Anyway. Great film.

Then I went to see TEN ITEMS OR LESS, also a World Premiere, which is a very sweet movie with Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega.

Then… another Parker Posey movie, FAY GRIM, which was interesting and also starred Jeff Goldblum and made we really want to see a film by the same filmmaker called HENRY FOOL which I think I may have started to watch once on the Movie Network, but didn’t see the whole thing. (My camera batteries died, so no pictures of Jeff and Parker… but I do have pictures of Parker from the earlier film…)

The day wrapped up with the Bobcat Goldthwaite film, SLEEPING DOGS LIE, which actually has distribution and will be in theatres in October. Can’t really say if I recommend it… It was okay. Not really as provocative as Bobcat seems to think it is… and is basically just asking the question of whether total honesty is always the best policy in relationships.

Anyway… Fun day.

Crazy thing is. I have this insane idea that I’m going to get up early tomorrow to go down to see if I can get a ticket for THE FOUNTAIN for tomorrow night… According to my pal, Zack’s dad, if you get to the box office by 7:00 am they have a few tickets for almost any film that day, but they’re gone by 8:30 or 9:00. Problem is, even if it weren’t almost 1:00 am right now… I don’t typically do 7:00 am unless I’ve been up all night… But I do want to see that movie (in spite of the boos in Venice) and it would also make my schedule easier as it’s at the same theatre as the film I’m seeing earlier in the evening… Wish me luck! (Luck in prying myself out of bed, that is.)

(Oh, and my first film tomorrow has Forrest Wittaker playing Idi Amin. Should be interesting.)

Zach Braff and Romance Heroines

Okay. So those of you who read this blog and not the Drunk Writer Talk blog are not only missing out on the wisdom of Molly and Sinead, but you may have missed my rant on romance heroines. I know. I’m not being fair to them. Just 20 odd years ago they swooned into alpha males arms with barely a whimper. I should be glad they’re strong and make decisions now… But I still wish they made some bad decisions along with the good…

So, how does this relate to Zach Braff and the TIFF? Tonight at the world premiere of THE LAST KISS, Zach articulated exactly what I was trying to say in that rant. (okay, not exactly, but he made a similar point.)

I don’t want to blog any movie-spoilers, but Zach was basically talking about how shocked and thrilled he’d been to find a script for a romantic-comedy-type film where the protagonist makes some really bad choices and neither the main plot nor the subplots have nice tied-up-in-a-pretty-bow endings.

Okay, so those are my words, not Zach’s — his contained spoilers, plus I didn’t commit them to memory — but I think he’d agree with my romance heroine rant.

What I’m wondering now… will this less-than-heroic-at-times protagonist make this movie less commercial? Will audiences protest by staying away? Will portraying flawed characters, showing real human behaviours tank this film?

I hope not. I liked it. I guess we’ll find out soon, it opens on Friday.

Here’s a crappy resolution phone photo of Zach and the rest of the cast of the film during the Q&A. The short chick beside him is one of the OC gals. (I don’t watch that show, sorry.) By the way, I think I’ve figured out the whole photos/no photos thing now… I’m 90% sure the ex-marine type thugs who threatened me the other day are hired by the distribution companies, not the festival. they’re only at certain screenings. More oddly, they only seem to care about photos taken before the screening, not after. This sucks for movies with no Q&A, but is better than nothing. I’m not going to point out to anyone that this policy makes zero sense… If the cameras are in the theatre during the Q&A, obviously they were there during the film and the photo ops post film are exactly the same as those pre film so what gives? I figure the security dudes must be off the clock once the end credits role. Great. I’m bringing my camera again tomorrow. Missed some great photo ops this weekend including Christian Bale at the premiere of RESCUE DAWN. Oh, well.

Random cool fest moment: Dustin Hoffman at the rescheduled midnight screening of the Borat movie on Friday night. Just there. Sitting in the audience with the rest of us. Shook some hands. Smiled a lot. Dustin Hoffman is a Borat fan! Dude!

The Last Picture Show?

Very quick post… I skipped my 9:00 am movie (sob, it was VOLVER, which will be released in theatres in November, but still….) They rescreened the Borat movie last night… so I didn’t get home until well after 2:00 am again… 7:30 came way too early.

Need to run to make the next one.

Sad development. It appears the days of snapping pictures of movie stars prior to the screenings of TIFF movies are over. Perhaps during Q&A’s too? Not clear.

What ticks me off is that instead of making a general announcement, they hired security thugs (may not be the festival, may be the film distributors) to threaten people who pull their cameras out to snap a pic.

I snapped this photo of Heath Ledger (gorgeous in person) before CANDY — a quite depressing but well acted Australian film about drug addicts… I tell you. The ex-marine they sent over to beat me for this crime was not nice. I think my camera is officially retired.

I fully understand that they’re worried about piracy… But why didn’t they tell us somewhere… The program, the website, the letter they gave us when we bought our freakin’ expensive passes, that we could no longer take photos during the introductions or Q&A’s. And they seem to be so inconsistent about it… I must have taken 40 pictures the Borat night… Sigh.

PS. Saw my first AMAZING movie yesterday… But no time to tell you about it yet. Interestingly, also Australian (I guess yesterday was Oz-day for me). It’s called 2:37. More on it later.

Day One — From the Surreal to the Ridiculous

Okay, so I’m realy tired so this is going to be quick…

Started the day disappointed… Went to the screening of Kenneth Branaugh’s THE MAGIC FLUTE (the surreal) hoping to see Ken… figuring he’d be there since it was a World Premiere… Only to find out it was a being screened in Toronto 25 minutes before it was being screened in Venice and Ken decided to go to Venice. Venice instead of Toronto? WHAT was he thinking?

Anyway… movie is clever, but very strange and if you’re not an opera buff, don’t bother.

Next was the gut wrenching THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY. Ken Loach’s film that won the Palm D’Or in Cannes this year. Pretty powerful film with obvious parallels to politics today… Who’s a guerilla organization, who’s an elected government, who’s a freedom fighter. Bits hard to watch (torture, that kind of thing) but well worth seeing. Here’s the very talented Cillian Murphy doing the Q&A after the film.

After that, I saw a hilarious new film called FIDO. Every year, I usually go to a couple of Canadian films hoping to see the one that’s actually going to do well at the box office. Well, this year, FIDO might be it. Part zombie movie, part Lassie, 100% satire, I thought it was hilarious.

Here’s the filmmaker who I’m too tired to look up his name (maybe I fix it after I sleep… along with some of the cast including Dylan Baker, Carrie Ann Moss and Billy Connelly.

Then it got even more ridiculous. I had a much sought after ticket to the midnight screening and world premiere (I think) of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit of Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. (That’s the Title, folks.) Already it as a crazy screening. He arrived on a donkey (didn’t witness this, just heard) and no one would take their seats because they were all watching for Borat (Sasha Cohen) to come into the theatre. There were several minor Canadian celebs I noticed in the audience… George Strombolopolous (has a show here and very briefly hosted “THE ONE” in the US before it got cancelled — not George’s fault, I’m sure), Ben Mulroney (host of Canadian Idol and son of former Prime Minister of the same last name), Paul Gross (starred in Due South and currently Sling and Arrows — also a very funny film about curling. Seriously about curling and funny… well maybe only funny if you’re Canadian… well maybe only funny if your parents both used to curl), Robert Lantos (producer of such films as Sunshine).

Anyway… They finally brought Borat up on stage, introduced the film and started it… By this time it was at least 12:30 am. I didn’t check my watch. Now, one interesting thing about these midnight screenings is how many people show up drunk. I almost got loaded just smelling the breath of the guy behind me… And I guy across the aisle and one row back was smoking a hash pipe. (Why he didn’t get caught is beyond me. Not so much for the dope, but for the smoking indoors, thing…) So, with that kind of crowd, you can imagine how excited everyone was when about 20 minutes in, the projector broke!!!!

Yes… Interesting… Well, Borat did a minute or so of impromptu stand up while standing on his seat in the theatre and shouting… It almost made us think — for an instant — that the projector dying was part of the act….
The poor volunteers told us it would be “one minute” every five minutes for about for about fifteen minutes… Then some audience member started to do some pathetic psychic act from his seat… Then finally, Michael Moore (who I hadn’t noticed was in the theatre until then) and Larry Charles (of Seinfeld fame and the producer of the Borat film) took the stage and opened the floor to questions, which ranged from serious ones about how they got people to sign wavers to appear in the film to really silly ones. One kid asked Larry Charles if he’d give him a note to be late for school the next day. He did.

Wish I could remember something else… cause a lot of it was funny. Oh, Michael Moore going on about how Canada is going to hell in a handbasket now we have a conservative government was funny with Ben Mulroney sitting right there… Wish I’d had the guts to point it out to Michael. Then, after MM and LC had been on stage at least 20 minutes… Borat got up and did a fairly staged but funny Q&A with one of the TIFF programmers, until they finally announced about 1:45 that the screening was cancelled, but they’d show it tomorrow at midnight at the Elgin… Sigh. Not sure I can do a midnight screening two nights in a row. Especially because I’ve now spent 45 minutes doing this (which is why you’re not getting pictures of Borat–may post some tomorrow) and it’s 3:15 am. Crap.

I don’t have a film until noon tomorrow… But that still means leaving the house by 10:30 am or so (7 hours from now) if I want a half decent seat…

On another film fest note… When I opened my browser, I couldn’t help but notice a link to Orlando Bloom promoting the film HAVEN on the Today Show.

It reminded me of why I love the festival; why it’s all worth while. Although I expect all of the films I saw today will open soon, I saw HAVEN at the 2004 festival. Yes, not 2005 — 2004. I saw that film — which is great, by the way — TWO YEARS AGO and it’s just getting released into theatres now.

Ciao. Must sleep.

Helen Mirren Rocks!

I’ve always been a fan of Helen Mirren. She’s a fabulous actress and a beautiful, bright woman, but last night during the Emmy’s my admiration for her expanded.


Because she thanked writers for creating good parts for women on TV
Because she said “ass over tits” on TV
Because she sublty spanked entertainment execs for not having enough good roles for women.
Because she looked so damned lovely.

The British TV series Prime Suspect, which started in the early 1990’s and continues today, is one of the most clever, tense, best written shows I’ve seen on TV, and created a fabulous character in DCI Jane Tennison, played by Mirren. DCI Tennison is a woman, working in a man’s world, who’s tough enough to put up with the crap her male bosses, peers and subordinates thjrpw her way, get the bad guy and still remain a feminine and emotionally vulnerable. In fact, it’s that vulnerability that makes DCI Tennison so good at her job.

I read a number of years ago that Hollywood, recognizing an amazing character when they saw it, (or perhaps just noticing the ratings of the series), wanted to create a movie version of Prime Suspect but didn’t want to cast Helen Mirren. Rather, they wanted to cast a younger, more conventionally beautiful woman in the role.

How sad. How misguided.

Brother. I’m nearly 20 years younger than Ms. Mirren and could only wish to look half as good as she does.
I know this is hardly an original thought… but why don’t we value older women more when we hero worship so many older men, particularly male actors?

I don’t get it.

The Big Lebowski — Love it or hate it?

Last night, during a protracted and productive drunk writer talk session, a debate arose about The Big Lebowski and Coen brothers’ films in general. I sense this may be a future dwt topic as strong well argued views were heard on each side…

But I thought I’d toss it out to anyone out there… Hate that film, or love it? It seems to be a polarizing one.

Me? Any movie, with fascinating well-developed characters I enjoy watching, entertains me… Sinead? She likes a tightly told story. And, well, tightly told it ain’t. What role in the overall story did Julienne Moore’s bizarre artist character play???

In writing popular and genre fiction… we’re told to make every scene count, make every character serve a purpose, make every line of dialogue, every subplot, well, everything serve the core story.

I think this is great advice and makes for a page-turning book… BUT… I’m still entertained by movies and books that don’t do this, too…

I guess what I’m not entertained by, are movies and books that aim to be genre or popular but break these rules… (or even follow them so obviously they make the writer-in-me roll her eyes.) But put facsinating, well-written characters whose lives/world I can get sucked into, in literary fiction or an indie film , and I don’t care about the story so much… A few of my favourite films/books, I can barely remember what they were about… just that I loved the characters.