Wednesday, September 26, 2012

TIFF 2012

Thanks to our good friend Peter who is a patrons member at TIFF, Rich and I were given the chance to attend a couple of pre-festival events that each involved a cocktail reception on the rooftop of the Bell Lightbox.  Needless to say, the views were spectacular and great hors d'oeuvres were provided by Oliver&Bonacini who own the restaurants at this venue.

The first event was a sneak peek screening of the movie Arbitrage starring Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon. A corporate thriller about a hedge fund magnate who is in over his head on several fronts, this movie was not showing at TIFF and had not been released to the theatres yet, so we really did get an early look.  The second event was even more exciting, since it had all the programmers in the festival reveal their picks for favourite movies within their programmes.  Each one provided the hot pick that had the most buzz, a hidden gem and their personal favourite.  This was valuable information that was provided the night before we had to make our movie picks and resulted in our making a few last minute adjustments to our choices.

This was the first year that we were not working during TIFF.  We celebrated by watching a slew of movies - the total was somewhere around 28+, averaging 2-3 per day for the 11 day run.  With the luxury of time and a wide open schedule, we were able to pick a good mix of genres, countries, a few with big stars, and even a selection of documentaries and one short film series.  We saw comedies, romantic comedies, dramas, thrillers, action, and even a horror-comedy film (which I was peer-pressured into watching).  We watched movies from Canada, USA, Ireland, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Germany, France, Lebanon, Sweden, Bulgaria, Spain, Australia, UK, and Senegal.  That many movies will always range in quality and entertainment factor, which to some degree depends on personal taste.  While there were movies we loved and some that were just OK, there were only 3 that we regretted watching, which is a pretty good average.

There were too many movies to describe them all, so I'll just concentrate on my highlights and "low-lights".  We had four favourites which were The Sapphires, Thieves, Key of Life and The Attack. 

The Sapphires is loosely based on the true story of four Australian Aboriginal girls who formed a singing group and went to Vietnam to entertain the troops.  This movie had everything including comedic moments, great 60s music, a budding romance, serious themes regarding Aboriginal separation where children were taken from their families and tension that arose from the dangers of being in the middle of the Vietnam war.

Thieves is an action-packed, fun-filled jewel heist caper that felt like Ocean's Eleven on speed.  Two rival gangs, one Korean and one Chinese, band together to rob a casino that is storing a magnificent gem.  Many of the members have their own motivations and hidden agendas as double-crosses pile up one on top of another.  In addition to the expected car chases, there is an amazing high-wire chase scene where the protagonists swing from building to building and floor to floor.

Key of Life is a hilarious screwball comedy about Sakurai, a down-on-his-luck actor, who switches places with Kondo, a wealthy man who slips on a bar of soap in a bathhouse and develops amnesia.  Sakurai soon discovers that his new identity is that of a professional assassin, while Kondo embraces his presumed life as a struggling actor.  Further complicating matters is Kanae, a highly organized and motivated female executive who has scheduled her wedding date and now just needs to find the candidate to play the groom. 

The Attack is a powerful drama whose back-story is as interesting as its plot.  The movie is about an Arab surgeon who lives in Israel, and has integrated and is accepted by the Israeli people.  His world is turned upside down when he learns that his beloved wife has just set off a suicide bomb in a busy restaurant, killing a bunch of children at a birthday party in the process.  The rest of the movie deals with him trying to understand why she did it and who influenced her.  At the Q&A, the Lebanese director explained that it was illegal for himself and his actors to shoot the movie in Israel and Palestine.  He had to appeal to the Lebanese government and the leader of Hezbollah to get permission.

Every year, we try to watch a Midnight Madness movie.  Starting at 11:59pm, these movies often fall in the horror genre, or are action thrillers that are much darker and more violent. The crowds at Midnight Madness are wild, rowdy and boisterous and often clap, cheer or shout out in the middle of the movie.

This year the big buzz movie was Seven Psychopaths, which boasted an all-star cast including Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Abbie Cornish, Tom Wait and Olga Kurylenko.  Marty (Farrell) is a writer who needs inspiration for his book called Seven Psychopaths so his friend Billy (Rockwell) puts an ad in the paper to try to find some for him to meet.  In the meantime, Billy is in cahoots with Hans (Walken) to steal dogs and then return them for the reward money.  Problems ensue when they accidentally steal the dog of a vicious mobster (Harrelson).  This movie was very funny in the beginning but drags a bit towards the end.

The best short film that we saw was called "Canoejacked" about two convicts who escape into the wilderness while being chased by a law enforcer.  They spot a canoe and decide to steal it for their getaway, but when the owner, a nudist catches them, they take him along for the ride.  My new favourite word is the coined phrase from the movie - canoe-dist .. or is it can-nudist?

We did not like The Walls of Dakar about the graffiti culture in Senegal.  The movie was so boring and unstructured that when I woke up part way through the film, more than half the original audience had left.  This was extra disappointing since it was one of the top picks from the programmer.  I guess we need to take those recommendations with a grain of salt. 

After watching The Color of the Chameleon, we felt that we had fulfilled TIFF's slogan for this year, which was .. "From OMG to WTF".  We definitely experienced the latter after walking out of this film, scratching our heads and wondering what the heck that was all about.

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