Friday, August 31, 2007

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

2007 "Dialogues" Series Features Von Sydow, Loach, Attenborough, Burstyn

As a film buff old enough to remember when "audio commentaries" were something provided by chatty imbeciles sitting directly behind me in the theatre, I once welcomed any and all opportunities to listen to a director talk intelligently about his/her film from a production and/or philosophical perspective. Mags like "Starlog", "Film Comment", and "Cinefantastique" assuaged my obsessive geekdom until the pioneering folks at the Criterion Collection conceived of the commentary track, the first ever of which was included on their 1984 special edition of the original King Kong. Of course, by the time I could afford to buy laserdiscs, the format was pretty much dead.

These days, DVDs make it easy: everything from J'Accuse! to Just My Luck give their fans the joy of knowing just how great the assistant grip was to work with...

As a film student, live seminars were rare, and usually unenlightening--the odd disgruntled local director complaining about the Hollywood studio system and there not being enough work...

TIFF's "Dialogues: Talking With Pictures" sessions are unique events that offer a screening of a classic or influential title selected and introduced by an esteemed filmmaker, and followed with a lively Q & A (a live, feature length commentary is something I've yet to hear of being performed anywhere...but who knows?). The personality of the hour could also be one of the film's cast members, producers, or writers, or, an admirer from the fields of cinema history or academic study.

Over the years, I've enjoyed countless entertaining and informative discussions: John Sayles on The Organizer (I Compagni), David Cronenberg on Tod Browning's Freaks (although his first choice was Disney's Bambi!), Richard Linklater on Monte Hellman's Two Lane Blacktop, George A. Romero on Powell and Pressburger's Tales Of Hoffman , Bernard Rose on Cammell's Performance, Robert Towne on P & P's The Four Feathers , John Boorman on P & P's The Life And Times Of Colonel Blimp, Don McKellar on Cronenberg's The Brood, and my favorite, a riotous afternoon with John Waters pleading for tolerance for Joseph Losey's notorious Burton/Taylor debacle, Boom!

This year's Dialogues programme is one of the strongest since its inception: confirmed are Ken Loach on Menzel's Closely Watched Trains , Max Von Sydow on Bergman's The Virgin Spring (his sixth collaboration with the late director), Sir Richard Attenborough on his own How I Won The War, Ellen Burstyn on Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More (in which she stars), Sidney Lumet on Wyler's The Best Years Of Our Lives, Peter Bogdanovich on John Ford's silent rarity Bucking Broadway, and actors Nancy Kwan and Arthur Dong on Koster's Rodgers & Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song.

As usual, the screenings will be held at the Alliance/Atlantis Cinemas on Cumberland, where seating is extremely limited, so be sure to get your tickets here at the TIFF box office before they're gone!

Monday, August 27, 2007

TIFF's New HQ Gets A Name

The new permanent home for the Toronto International Film Festival Group has a name and an official logo: Bell Lightbox.

Previously known as "Festival Centre", or "Festival Tower" when first announced in 2003, the Kuwabara Payne Mckenna Blumberg-designed facility--for which Bell Canada paid for naming rights until 2018--will include a five-story condo, five theatres, educational facilities, and an expanded film reference library (check out the advance renders here).

The $196M project became a reality thanks to partial funding ($50M) by the Canadian and Ontario governments, and privately (the remaining $146M) through a unique partnership between The Toronto International Film Festival Group, the King and John Festival Corporation, which comprises the Daniels Corporation, filmmaker Ivan ("Stripes", "Ghostbusters") Reitman, and the Reitman Family.

Vancouver's E + S Inc. (Envisioning and Storytelling) devised a list of four names and a logo from which TIFF Director and CEO Piers Handling ultimately made the call. The name and logo will be featured in a promotional trailer that will be screened through the upcoming 32nd annual Toronto International Film Festival (September 6-15).

On Thursday, Sept. 13, as part of this year's "Dialogues" series, the project's lead architect Kuwabara of the firm KPMB will offer a visual presentation and host a Q & A about the centre's unique features and design. A screening of Chris Marker's 1964 classic La Jetee, which was chosen as (from the official press release) "a new model for telling stories through film, and complements Kuwabara's presentation of a new approach to designing a space that celebrates the wonder of the moving image".

I live only a few minutes walk from the construction site at King Street West and John Street, so it'll be exciting to see this long-awaited and much-needed property come to life. Stay tuned to this site (for the foreseeable future) as I'll be regularly uploading images of the construction's progress.
-Robert J. Lewis

Sunday, August 26, 2007

TIFF 2007 Most Anticipated: Dario Argento's "Mother Of Tears"

Great news for fans of one of the horror genre's true visionaries: Dario Argento, the Italian master of trippy, often gore-soaked fantasias, will premiere his long-awaited"Mother Of Tears" (La Terza Madre) as part of the Midnight Madness program at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival.

This is the conclusion of his "Three Mothers" trilogy that began in 1977 with "Suspiria" and was left hanging after the botched release of 1980's thematic followup "Inferno". In "Mother", archaeology student Sarah (portrayed by Asia Argento--yes, his daughter) releases the demonic forces of a powerful witch which erupt into a wave of suicide and crime in advance of her resurrection.

Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, who costarred in Argento's "Opera" and in "Demons 2" (which he cowrote and produced), is featured in a prominent role. "Mother Of Tears" also stars European genre vet Udo Kier (Andy Warhol's "Frankenstein", and recently, in Rob Zombie's faux "Grindhouse" trailer "Werewolf Women Of The S.S.") and Daria Nicolodi, Dario's ex-wife (and Asia's mother), who appeared in his earlier films and in Asia's directorial debut "Scarlett Diva".

In the early years of the Midnight Madness program Argento was a staple: his "Opera", "Trauma", and "The Stendhal Syndrome" received their North American debuts at the original Bloor Cinema venue, and the thrillers he produced for Michel Soavi--"The Church" and "The Sect"--made their North American premieres there, too, as did his team-up with George A. Romero, the Poe tribute "Two Evil Eyes".

In recent years, Argento has kept a low profile but has worked steadily--last year's TV movie "Do You Like Hitchcock?" was a return to his giallo roots, as was the Michael Mann-esque police procedural "The Card Player". He also found time to venture to Canadian shores to shoot two episodes in Vancouver for Mick Garris' "Masters Of Horror" series: "Jenifer" and "Pelts" (all of these titles are available on DVD from Anchor Bay Home Video).

The event will mark a reunion of sorts between Argento and fellow guest George A. Romero, who together produced the original "Dawn Of The Dead" in addition to the aforementioned "Two Evil Eyes". Romero has a premiere in this year's Midnight Madness program, too: "Diary Of The Dead", the official fourth installment in his zombie saga that began with 1968's "Night Of The Living Dead".

Argento's films aren't always perfect and can be challenging for the uninitiated to say the least--narrative "logic" isn't a concern ("plausibles", stay home!) and he seems to delight in deliberately polarizing and frustrating the audience. But each effort is always gorgeously designed and a feast for the senses and owe more to Bunuel than say, Wes Craven, but like the suspense masterworks of Hitchcock or DePalma (to whom Argento is often compared), manage to feature at least one extended set piece that's a marvel of timing and intensity.

Here's a list of the entire "Midnight Madness" lineup.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

TIFF 2007: Midnight Madness Offers A Home For The Rest Of Us

The first TIFF I ever attended--back when it was still called The Festival Of Festivals--offered a retrospective of David Cronenberg's early works and features that was coupled with a min-fest of science fiction, horror, and horror titles personally selected by Cronenberg and representative of his eclectic tastes and unique definition of what constituted "genre" (his concept of "horror" included Taxi Driver, and he saw Fellini's Satyricon as a "science fiction film projected into the past"). It seemed to have been designed solely to welcome me to Toronto and reassure me: you've got a home here.

Of course, I went every day--already willing to skip classes during my first week of film school--but outside of that small theatre (the Uptown Backstage, specifically), the event was a decidedly "prestigious" affair, celebrating middlebrow dramas and "art" films ranging the likes of The Big Chill, Moon In The Gutter, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and Can She Bake A Cherry Pie?--stuff that was, y'know, good for you. As a devoted disciple of genre cinema, it was a too-familiar message: "those kinds" of movies don't belong here.

That changed in 1988 when Noah Cowan spearheaded the Midnight Madness programme, which launched with a 12 AM screening of Tony Randel's Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 at The Bloor Cinema. I've attended devoutly ever since, where I've had a chance to meet Peter Jackson at Meet The Feebles, watch Richard Stanley's Hardware with Liam Neeson beside me, and nab Dario Argento at the premiere of Opera just long enough to get him to complete the signatures I needed on my vintage Starlog Press Dawn Of The Dead posterbook.

This year's series, once again programmed by Colin Geddes (who took over for Cowan in 1998), is one of the strongest in recent memory (although it'll be hard to top last year's Borat screening), with several masters of outre cinema in attendance in addition to the usual new faces from the margins around the globe. Here's the complete rundown (all times Midnight ET, of course):

Thursday, September 6

The Mother Of Tears/ La Terza madre (Italy)

Dario Argento returns to the TIFF for his first time since 1996's The Stendahl Syndrome with much-anticipated conclusion of his Three Mothers trilogy, which began with 1977's Suspiria and was left hanging after 1980's Inferno (you’ve still got time to catch up with them thank to Blue Underground's terrific DVD special editions). Dario's daughter Asia (who’s been here for her directorial efforts The Scarlet Diva and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things) stars as an archaeology student who releases a powerful witch upon the world, causing a wave of suicide and crime across Rome. Genre vets Udo Kier and Daria Nicolodi (Dario’s ex and Asia’s mother) round out the cast.

Friday, Sept. 7

Frontieres (France)

As Paris' projects burn in protest of the newly elected right-wing government, a gang of youths flee with stolen money to Luxembourg, only to encounter a mob of neo-Nazi thugs in their hotel. France has been steadily giving us ambitious genre efforts with Haute Tension, Banlieu 13, and Renaissance, so this could be promising.

Saturday, Sept. 8

George A. Romero’s Diary Of The Dead (USA)

After battling the studio system with Land Of The Dead, Romero returns to homegrown filmmaking with the fifth installment in his iconic zombie saga. A group of film students discover that the dead are rising, and create a first-person diary of their fight to survive as social order collapses. Romero lives in Toronto now, so expect him to attend.

Sunday, Sept. 9

Vexille (Japan)

An animated futuristic adventure set in 2077, where Japan has isolated itself from the rest of the world in resistance to a United Nations treaty against bioresearch. Vexille, a female U.S. Special Forces agent, infiltrates Japan to enforce the treaty, and must survive in a social and environmental hell ruled by mega-corporation and “monstrous, android worms”. I saw Legend Of The Overfiend at the first Midnight Madness programme, so all this talk of worms leaves me a bit nervous…

Monday, Sept. 10

Stuck (Canada/USA)

Stuart Gordon, the demented genius behind Re-Animator and From Beyond, makes his TIFF debut with a blackly humorous thriller based on a real-life incident. Driving home drunk after a night of partying, Brandi (American Beautys Mena Suvari) hits Tom (Neil Jordan regular Stephen Rea) with her car on her way home, and with her victim lodged in her windshield, promises to take him to a hospital. But instead, Tom finds himself left to die in her garage, and must find a way to escape.

Tuesday, Sept. 11

Sukiyaki Western Django (Japan)

Ichi The Killer mastermind Takashi Miike has subverted the horror film, the superhero genre, and the kiddie fantasy, and this year, turns his deranged eye on the western! A mysterious stranger breezes into town ala Yojimbo/A Fistful Of Dollars where two clans feud over stolen gold. The press notes promise: “Buddhist temples sit alongside saloons, samurai swords hang from gun belts and sake flows with blood”. With Quentin Tarantino among the cast!

Wednesday, Sept. 12

The Devil’s Chair (United Kingdom)

Adam Mason, a veteran of music videos and several horror films, ventures into Session 9 territory with this intense whodunit in which unstable Nick, convicted of murdering his girlfriend, is released to the care of his psychologist, who returns him and a team of students to the alleged scene of the crime—a derelict mental hospital-- to uncover what really happened.

Thursday, Sept. 13

Flash Point (Hong Kong/China)

SPLs director Wilson Yip and fight choreographer Donnie Yen unleash another adrenaline-surged ride as a rebel cop takes on a fraternity of drug dealers. When his colleague within the gang has his cover blown, both of their lives are on the line, erupting into a chain reaction of operatic violence, which, if you’ve seen Yen’s work in Iron Monkey and Hero, promise to ramp up the current state of the art.

Friday, Sept. 14

Dainipponjin/The Great Japanese (Japan)

Hitoshi Matsumoto, one of Japan's famous comedians, is bland, middle-aged Daisato, who goes through his banal life for a documentary crew who are surprised to learn of his alter-ego: a giant, tattooed superhero in purple tights and an Eraserhead ‘do who battles outrageous villains and monsters to the lament of the Japanese public, who blame him for the destruction of public property and society’s social ills. Could be the funniest superhero spoof since Miike’s Zebraman.

Saturday, Sept. 15

A L’interieur (France)

The event concludes with a psychological thriller, from the country that gave us one of the first and best: Diabolique. Pregnant widow Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is still grieving over the month’s old death of her husband when she receives an unexpected visitor on Christmas Eve, who asks to use the phone. Sarah is immediately suspicious of the caller (Betty Blues Beatrice Dalle) and calls the police. But when they arrive, there’s no trace of the stranger. Sarah locks her doors anyway, unwittingly trapping herself in the house in a battle for the life of her baby.

For more details, check out the TIFF's official page or Colin Geddes' Midnight Madness blog.

Festival Factoids

The Toronto International Film Festival has come a long way since its 1976 debut at Ontario Place as "The Festival Of Festivals", intended modestly as a showcase for titles that had already made a splash at other film festivals. Only 127 titles were screened--compare that to this year's tally:

· 349 films screened in total
· 261 features
· 91 shorts
· 234 that are world, international, or North American premieres (85%)
· 4156 Total Submissions from 55 countries
· 71 First Features
· 28 Screens
· 17 Programmes
· 29,764 Minutes of Film
· 540' Longest Film
· 2' Shortest Film
· 41 Canadian features
· 54 Canadian shorts
· 22 Canadian features making their world premiere
· 9 Installations mounted in venues across the city as part of the "Future Projections" programme
· 340,000+ admissions annually (including industry professionals and the general public)

Info courtesy of The Toronto International Film Festival Group's official site.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Movieforum Returns For TIFF 2007

Welcome back!

The kind folks at The Toronto International Film Festival have invited Movieforum back for our eighth straight year, and with the first screening only weeks away, we've resurrected our blog incarnation for daily coverage of the 32th annual Toronto International Film Festival, which officially begins Thursday, September 6, 2007.

As always, Robert J. Lewis will be our indefatigable (and over-caffeinated) Canadian correspondent from his home turf of Toronto, and your source for daily news and reviews from the earliest AM press screenings to the splashy Gala presentations, and most importantly (well, at least for him), the after-midnight premieres from such fringe iconoclasts as Dario Argento, George Romero, Takashi Miike, and Stuart Gordon, as well as behind-the-scenes industry workshops and presentations.

A complete film list by title, the Gala schedule, and the Visa Screening Room Schedule will become available on Wednesday, August 22 at noon ET. Here are few more important dates:

On Saturday, August 25, Gala (Roy Thompson Hall) and VISA Screening Room tickets (the Elgin Theatre) go on sale on the TIFF website and at the official Manulife Centre box office. Tickets are extremely limited and go fast, so prepare to be disappointed (take some comfort in that most of the Gala Presentations will find their way into theatrical release within mere months of the festival).

Tuesday, August 28: Advance order forms for pass and coupon book holders are available. Remember, it's the yellow ink for your first choice, and green for your backup.

On Friday, August 31, all advance ticket orders must be handed in at the College Park box office by 1:00 PM. Remember, it's a lottery process, so just because you get your selection envelope in early doesn't mean you'll get all your choices. Prepare to have a "B", "C", "D", and "oh, forget it!" plan, as increasingly fewer downtown screening venues make tickets even harder to acquire, even if you invested hundreds of dollars in a pass.

Thankfully, you'll be notified by e-mail about which tickets you got and those you didn't. So on Monday, September 3, you can pick up your tickets and join the first of many lines to choose replacement screenings.

On Wednesday, September 5, whatever remaining tickets there are go on sale to the general public.

And of course, on Thursday, September 6, the 32nd Annual Toronto International Film Festival begins at Roy Thompson Hall with the Opening Night Gala (and world premiere) screening of Jeremy Podeswa's Fugitive Pieces, based upon the novel by Anne Michaels.

Click here for the official site of The Toronto International Film Festival.

Updated 22/08/2007: here's the link to the complete film list and schedule.