I don’t agree with Rad’s take on Roma, but the optical politics of this year’s Oscar pick will be interesting to say the least. It’s extra-interesting because of the Netflix angle. Honestly I strongly doubt Roma will win, given that two of the four listed here are serious Oscar bait. Also, surely there are some other December releases that could slip in there.
Side note: Roma is the only one of these that I have seen, and I thought it was a masterpiece.
I have been really digging the Libby app that works with OverDrive, which is the ebook system that the TPL uses (as do many libraries). It’s a well done app that works great on phone and iPad reading-wise. On the down side, the system is founded on the artificial scarcity of electronic items, meaning it replicates the “hold” system of physical books – as usual, this is so someone can monetize it. On the plus side, free books! You just have to wait a little, or a lot, depending on what you want. But really, there are always some great, obscure books to be found that have no wait at all. The app also handles audiobooks and I’ve made use of that during this pat leave, taking long walks with the baby in the frigid Canadian winter listening to the icy tales of a doomed arctic expedition. As one does.
There is also a magazine service that uses an app called RBDigital which is not good. It works though, and it means you get pretty much any magazine you want, for free. Furthermore with your TPL card you also get free streaming access to the Criterion Collection, along with many other things I haven’t tried yet – see all of them here. If you live in Toronto you should check it out.
In some ways this is the greatest nightmare for a lot of women: A man who does the right things, who acts the right way, who gives every impression that he’s one of the good ones, but turns out to be one of the bad ones anyway.
Well I definitely fell behind my movie reviews – I saw 15 movies, but only reviewed 6. Oh well!
The ticket selection process was better than ever for me. I haven’t done a TIFF package in a few years, so the process was quite different from the last time, and one of the improvements this year was that members were given first crack at the tickets. This seems like a no-brainer for an organization with a less-than-compelling membership pitch otherwise, but I guess it’s taken a while for them to realize it. But anyway, I wound up getting tickets to movies like mother! and The Shape of Water that I normally wouldn’t have even tried for.
My experience at the actual festival was mixed. I had a more or less pleasant experience (given the limitations, i.e. crowds, lines) at all of the venues except Scotiabank. Sadly it’s the venue with the most screens, so I was there a lot. I’m getting the impression that there is not a lot of money in the Scotiabank Theatre capital repair budget. Apparently their giant escalator, which one must take up about five floors to get into the theatre, has been broken for like six months, and was only just repaired in time for the festival. The problem dogging festival goers was that a lot of the seats are starting to fall apart. They are this sort of springy auto-reclining thing – if you lean back, the seat goes back. Unfortunately on a fair number of the seats, the springiness is starting to go, so if you are above a certain weight or size and you tilt your head the wrong way, the seat will just go for it and essentially deposit you into the lap of the person behind you. It’s all the joy of air travel, except no one’s really in control of when they recline their seat. It was like a social psychology experiment run amok – I saw fights over it, and I was on both sides of the problem repeatedly myself. It may sound fussy, and perhaps it is, but the contrast between the seats at the Lightbox – which are great, and where even the back row has a great view – and those at Scotiabank, whose appeal is even further tarnished by its general crowdedness and disorganization, was so great that next year, if I go, I will avoid Scotiabank like the god-rotting plague. (Sorry, I’m reading a 19th century sailing novel. Arr!)
Finally, here are some quick notes on other films I saw that I haven’t written up properly, and won’t:
Manhunt, by John Woo. If you like John Woo before he got shitty, this is for you. Lots of corny bromance, dual-wielding, and slow-motion doves. And great action.
The Happy End, by Haneke. Solid entry into the Haneke canon. Depression warning! It’s a miracle Mr. Haneke is still alive, if this is how he sees the world.
The Shape of Water – good? Honestly this came later in the fest and I was a bit burned out and I was not blown away by it. But I wasn’t in the best shape to judge. My take is that it’s a good film, not his greatest work or anything.
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches – I really liked this. An intriguing parable, beautifully told, of Quebec emerging from decades of smothering church control.
The Third Murder – my first Kore-eda film! Apparently atypical, but I really liked it. I will watch more.
Simulation – really cool first feature from Iran, told out of sequence, with Brechtian mise-en-scene.
Sweet Country – Australian Western from the Aboriginal point of view. It was good, if languid, although this was toward the end of my week and I may have been a little impatient with it.
Thelma – decent. Sort of a thinking person’s Carrie. Again, slow and/or someone was pressing down on my knees the whole time.
Let the Corpses Tan – wasn’t super amped about it. A very stylish heist-shootout movie that I found myself not giving a shit about. If I was still in my 20s I probably would have liked it ok.
The latest from Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth, Election, Sideways) is a bit of a departure in that it takes a high concept sci-fi premise as its starting point. However, the film that follows from it, a social-issue satire featuring a midwestern white male’s mid-life crisis, will feel familiar to fans of his previous movies. The premise, an eponymous procedure that shrinks people to 5 inches tall, in an effort to save the environment, gives aforementioned white male Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) the opportunity to start again as a rich person – as everything costs less when it’s tiny, people are “downsizing” and then retiring early to bubble communities of like-sized people. But things go wrong, as they do in movies. The procedure works, but Paul doesn’t wind up rich – instead he winds up cleaning houses with ex-activist Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau), befriending grey-market importer-exporter Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz), and generally discovering how the world really works, and his place in it.
The visual irony of the film is that once Paul is shrunk down and living in Leisureland Estates, it is optically indistinguishable from being big. Payne uses this to deploy sight gags when large objects show up in a scene – he just lets you forget about it, and then there’s another one. That and the sharp yet compassionate satire make for a relentlessly funny film. The consequences of the “downsizing” premise are well thought out, and the world presented recalls societal shifts of years past (colonization, growth of US suburbs) while considering many perennial topics (inequality, the environment). Ultimately it imagines a choice for affluent developed-world people: cash out and retreat from the world, or engage with it, even if it is doomed.
Francois Girard (32 Short Films About Glenn Gould) directs this historical epic whose main character, he said before the film, is a mountain.
The mountain in question is Mont Réal (can you guess which modern-day city it lives in?), and its story is told through human characters who encounter it over a span of 800 years. In the 1200s, after a tragic battle, the Great Peacemaker (Raoul Max Trujillo) of the Haudenosaunee expresses his vision of peace to his follower Hiawatha. In the modern day, after a sinkhole opens during a football game in Molson Stadium, archaeologist Baptiste Asigny (Samian) uncovers evidence that the stadium sits above the ancient Iroquois village Hochelaga, where Jacques Cartier arrived in 1535. And we visit several stories at times in between.
Like 32 Short Films, Girard here weaves a mosaic narrative out of smaller independent ones. Some stories (Asigny and the Peacemaker) are crosscut throughout the film, while others are told in one piece and then barely returned to. This film has a powerful affect, blending visceral, emotional storytelling with intellectual significance that follows you for days after. The words used by the Great Peacemaker character in the film are taken from The Great Law of Peace, which is the oral constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy. They express ideas taken up in theory by the US constitution and in practice, in imperfect form, by the country of Canada. So this history of a mountain is really the story of our country, and that its spirit could be so clearly captured by people who lived hundreds of years before European contact should make us reflect. The film is worth seeing for that reason alone, disregarding the expert storytelling, fine performances and the miraculous way Girard’s mosaic form exactly reflects the principles of confederation it articulates.