I can’t speak for the rest of this town’s cinema lovers, but one of the best parts of our film festival for me has always been the surprises. Not knowing which films I’m going to end up seeing, who’s going to be at the screenings, and which ones I will like.
My priorities when choosing what to see usually range in this order:
Availability — As in mine… I actually get a little busy from time to time.
Affordability — Do I pay $40 for a movie ticket or eat for a day?
Accessibility — Will there be any seats left by the time I know what I’m buying?
Exclusivity — Will it be playing in every cinema in a couple month’s time?
Familiarity — Is there a touchstone I can use to contextualize the film, such as a director, actor or story I’m already familiar with.
Hype — Have I heard any?
This year’s festival will actually be one of those rare occasions when I’ll be quite busy. My days will be spent guiding tourists around Toronto on a double decker bus, while my evenings will be spent driving a Cadillac Escalade for one of the festival’s party organizers. The upside is that I’ll have money to buy tickets; unfortunately it also puts most of the event’s screenings out of consideration.
Now legend has it that the mere mention of Dork Shelf’s name had TIFF’s publicity people begging us to take the highest level of media credentials, which we gratefully accepted. This meant that I had the good fortune of spending one of my only days off before the festival officially launches viewing several pre-screenings. I was told to show up at the theater at 10am, state my affiliation and present the necessary documentation, but I wasn’t told which films were being screened. It would be a day of pleasant surprises indeed.
My first surprise was that there were actually three films being screened at the same time: A Prophet, My Year without Sex and a third title I don’t recall. Despite fear of being mistaken for some dude just trying to get into a free movie, I told the theatre employee that I didn’t know what I was there to see and asked if he knew anything about the three films being screened. The only bit of information he had turned out to be quite helpful, which was that A Prophet won top prize at Cannes. That was all the hype I needed to hear, decision made.
Directed by Jacques Audiard – 149 minutes
A criticism of the critics has long been that they are more likely give a movie a poor review because bad reviews are easier to write. B grade films give a reviewer a chance to pick it apart, write witty jokes, and make themselves feel smarter than the filmmakers. There’s a lot of truth to this, which is why the opposite is true as well; it’s difficult to write a review for a movie you can find nothing wrong with. This is how I feel about A Prophet, a film which leaves the critic with little to criticize.
Everything about the film is top notch, particularly the direction and the performance of the lead actor, newcomer Tahar Rahim, who speaks French, Italian and Arabic in the film. While the star may be fresh, director Audiard has made a pretty solid stream of films, though this is the first time I’ve been exposed to his work. My total lack of familiarity with any of the main contributors makes it difficult for me to contextualize the film within a larger film canon other than the prison film. Further limiting what I am willing to write about this film is my belief that the best viewing experience occurs when the viewer knows very little about what events the film will centre on. As I alluded to previously, it is set mostly within a prison, the rest you will have to see for yourself.
Youth In Revolt
Directed by Miguel Arteta – 90 minutes
While in the theatre waiting for A Prophet to begin, I overheard some people saying they were screening a Michael Cera movie at 1pm. I figured 90 minute comedy with some familiar faces would be exactly what I would need after the 2 and half hour foreign prison drama, and it did not disappoint.
Remember those easy-to-write bad reviews I mentioned? This is a film many critics will likely have fun knocking. One reviewer already recommending you put it on your skip list called it ‘the second best movie where Michael Cera plays a character named Nick‘. Of course it doesn’t help matters that Cera is still doing what people began constantly commenting on over 4 movies ago, which is playing the incredibly awkward teen totally preoccupied and perplexed by the opposite sex. I think the fact that he still looks the same age as he did when he first started doing this schtick allows him to continue pulling it off. I’m sure many Arrested Development and Superbad fans will disagree when I say that this film is could actually be Cera’s funniest performance to date. Although most of that is thanks to the alter ego he creates for himself (the hilariously named ‘Francois Dillinger’) in order to be bad and get the girl.
The makers probably would have given his character a more original first name if it hadn’t been an adaptation of a book, the full title of which was Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp by C.D. Payne. It was written for the screen by Gustin Nash, whom I met on the set of the first film to be made from one of his scripts, 2007’s under appreciated Charlie Bartlett. Apparently the original screenplay for Bartlett was bought after he was using it as a writing sample purely to get this adaptation of his favourite book made, which now represents his second feature credit.
Besides Francois Dillinger, other highlights of the film include several delightful sequences done in different styles of animation and the immensely funny supporting cast that includes Zach Galfianakis, Jean Smart, Fred Willard, Ray Liotta, Justin Long, Mary Kay Place, M. Emmet Walsh and Steve Buscemi.
Youth in Revolt is more more Hollywood than a lot of festival goers want to see, but with several genuine laugh out loud moments, I found it very easy to enjoy.
Youth In Revolt gets a wide release on October 30th.
When I came out, the only other film playing was Agora, which had already started. I left the theater thinking that may be it for the day. I grabbed some cheap fast food (to avoid any product placement or sponsorship conflict, let’s just say it was a restaurant by the name of Baco Tell). I then bought an Inglourious Basterds poster before re-evaluating my day and deciding there was no reason not to go back to the cinema to see if I can still take in a third film. It was my lucky day, as I arrived 15 minutes prior to:
Directed by John Hillcoat – 119 minutes
Directly following the TIFF ’08, I took a few weeks with a friend to drive to Canada’s West coast. My reading material for the road would be Cormack McCarthy’s The Road which came highly recommended. I became jealous of my travel companion who was so into her vampire series that she read all four books in the time I took to read this one very simple 300 page “tour de force.” The book, like the film, was very much a mood piece, but I guess I wasn’t in the mood. I probably wouldn’t have finished it if I didn’t think the film, which was supposed to see its release almost a year ago, had tremendous promise. I’m a big fan of John Hillcoat’s first film (The Proposition), and thought he and Viggo Mortensen were excellent choices for director and star respectively.
My complaints with the film are the same I had with the book, as it is a very faithful adaptation. The beginning is incredibly strong. We have these haunting images of a gaunt father and his ragged son making their way across a post-apocalyptic America, pushing all of their possessions in a grocery cart adorned with side-view mirrors so they can watch for cannibals. But then all there is after that is… the road. I get it, it’s not supposed to be a conventional three act story with suspense, exposition and plot twists, but I still need a little more than what they give me. I’ve always thought this whole story could be the first 20 pages of a really good Stephen King book.
Hillcoat does make some nice visuals out of the barren wasteland and Viggo is solid as always. Perhaps the most disappointing credits belonged to Nick Cave and Warren Ellis who did the music for the film. I was such a big fan of the presence that was their score in The Assassination of Jesse James; the fact that I never once took notice of the score in this film was an unpleasant surprise.
During the film I did get a little distracted by the closest thing I had to a celebrity encounter all day, actually by his nachos to be more precise. Sitting one seat over from me was The Hour‘s George Stroumboulopoulos. Even though I’d met him once before, I still got a little starstruck by the guy who got a really good interview out of Noel Gallagher. The only thing on George’s resume longer than his last name is the list of famous people he’s interviewed. We were in one of those nice VIP rooms with a side table between us where he put down some unfinished nachos and cheese. As I’ve already mentioned, I have a predisposition towards this kind of authentic Mexican cuisine. While the characters starved on screen, I became distracted by my own hunger, which a value menu item did little to abate. I contemplated what I would do if Mr. Stroumboulopoulos needed to excuse himself for the restroom or a call from Brian Adams. Of course the cheese would be cold by this point, but I hate to see good nachos go to waste. Then there was the guy sitting behind us that George was talking to before the movie, surely he would notice this depraved act and judge me accordingly. As I get to this point of the story, I’m realizing how anticlimactic it is. I never enjoyed more than an occasional whiff of those tantalizing concessions. After all, the reputation of Dork Shelf was on the line, it’s not like we’re a bunch of JoBlos over here.
This ultimate father/son camping trip can be seen in theatres everywhere on October 16th.
Now the only thing lacking in my festival sneak peak was any of the Q & A sessions that make the real screenings so much fun, though I guess all the glitz and glam of the real festival crowd has its appeal as well. I’m hoping to squeeze in a film or two in the next 9 days, and if I do you can be sure it will be reviewed here. Thanks for reading these rambling reviews/ personal musings/ stories about nachos that go nowhere, hope you found them somewhat informative or at least mildly amusing.