TIFF 2008: Preview
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TIFF 2008: Preview

The Toronto International Film Festival lands with a thud today and is going to colour this city in its inimitable fashion for the next 10 days, and, as before, we’ll be there to cover the festival inside and out with reviews, listings, and more each day.
Though it’s only the first day—traditionally a quiet one for everyone except press and industry—there are a surprising number of interesting screenings on tonight. We won’t start our proper listings till tomorrow, but tonight’s picks include opening night gala Passchendaele (pictured above, and pronounced, adorably, by e-Talk’s Ben Mulroney as “passion-dale”) playing at the Elgin at 6:30 p.m. and then at Roy Thompson Hall at 8 p.m.; Canada First stop-motion animation Edison & Leo at the Varsity 8 at 7:45 p.m.; and Animated documentary Waltz With Bashir at the Ryerson at 9 p.m. (followed by the first of a blazing line-up of Midnight Madness films—JCVD, starring Jean Claude Van Damme as you’ve never seen him before).
After the jump, reviews of some of Friday’s screenings (Burn After Reading and Detroit Metal City) plus our overview of the rest of the fest.

Burn After Reading (Gala; directed by Joel and Ethan Coen)
The memoirs of an embittered ex-CIA analyst accidentally fall into the hands of a pair of idiots who work for a Washington gym, one of whom plans to use the supposed “classified” information to pay for cosmetic surgery through either blackmail or by selling it to the Russians—but of course, thanks to the web of interpersonal connections weaved, things don’t /quite/ work out as planned. It’s a classic Coen brothers plot—unfortunately, that’s the only hallmark of the Coens you’ll find in Burn After Reading. The dialogue is flat (and overacted by each of the “big names” in the cast), the visuals lack flair, and as a result this is a dull film that is actively dislikeable by the time you reach the “hilarious” conclusion where JK Simmons (the only highlight) exclaims exasperation about how meaningless the preceding events were (perhaps a technique by the Coens to stop you from doing so yourself once the credits roll). I tell a lie—the sum of this film is actually an exhibition of another classic Coen brothers hallmark: inconsistency. 1/5

Burn After Reading plays Roy Thompson Hall on September 5 at 9:30 p.m. and the Elgin at 11:00 a.m. on September 6.

Detroit Metal City
(Midnight Madness; directed by Toshio Lee)
Consummate sissy Souichi (Kenichi Matsuyama) leaves his country home for the excitement of Tokyo, where he dreams of hitting the top 40 with his brand of saccharine J-Pop—only to find his dreams dashed when he unwittingly becomes the frontman for Japan’s biggest underground sensation, black metal act Detroit Metal City. The band is more Wal-Mart glam than true black metal, but song lyrics and brooding monologue from Souichi’s alter ego, Johannes Krauser ll, lampoon the genre to such unrestrained levels as to make the (awful) content jolly good fun. The film’s one weakness is its need for tighter editing—the final scenes, while essential, are protracted. Despite this small hiccup, Detroit Metal City is a delightful romp for fans of the absurd (regardless of musical tastes) and perfect fodder for Midnight Madness. 4/5
Detroit Metal City plays the Ryerson September 5 at midnight, Scotiabank 2 September 6 at noon, and Varsity 4 or 5 September 11 at 8 p.m..
Our picks from the rest of the fest…


Well, we already mentioned Passchendaele (which we really hope is good; review forthcoming) and as is obvious, the Galas aren’t likely to be where you find the hidden gems that make the festival season exciting. We’ve heard very strong things about Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, despite the fact that it’s an “awkward family reunion at wedding” film starring Anne Hathaway. Other than that, there’s Merine, described as “Scarface, en francais” by the programme book (and starring Vincent Cassel); and The Good, the Bad, the Weird, the biggest budget Korean film ever made.


Takeshi Kitano isn’t what he once was but we always check his films out each year at the Festival, so this year it’s Achilles and the Tortoise. The buzz is all about the Dardenne’s latest, though—Lorna’s Silence (pictured above), likely a typically depressing flick about an Albanian woman involved in a dangerous immigration scam in Belgium. Terence Davies celebrates his place of birth with the Liverpool documentary Of Time and the City, while Taxi Driver’s writer Paul Schrader offers “Holocaust Comedy ” (programme book again, there) Adam Resurrected.

Special Presentations

Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler is probably one of our most anticipated films—not really because we think it’s going to be any good, though. We just want to see his possibly wacky take on the world of “sports entertainment.” We’ve heard good words about Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq film The Hurt Locker (there’s a lot less of those this year) though almost nothing good about Blindness, which is so disappointing what with Don McKellar writing it. Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut Synecdoche, New York is apparently love it or hate it, but we’re sure we’re going to hate Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. We really hope it isn’t “this year’s Juno“—by which we mean idiotically terrible. Idiotically terrible, however, is apparently the word for Atom Egoyan’s Adoration, according to what we’ve heard—our eyes have instead been drawn to Vincente Amorim’s Good (Viggo Mortensen as a Nazi!) and Yu Lik-Wai’s Plastic City.

Discovery, Vanguard, Visions

Vanguard isn’t doing a very good job of distinguishing itself from Visions again this year, so let’s lump them together (and throw in Discovery for good measure.) The hot tip in Discovery is Steve McQueen’s Hunger (no, not that Steve McQueen) and because we rather like Norwegian films we’ll be checking out Cold Lunch (an ironic pairing, there). Pablo Larrain’s Tony Manero is a concept too rich to ignore (Chileans obsessed with Saturday Night Fever), too. Vanguard is led by Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool (pictured above), which we’re very excited about, though we’re also intrigued by Tears for Sale and Sauna (though we keep in mind for Sauna that we weren’t that impressed with Director Antti-Jussi Annila’s previous film Jade Warrior). As for Visions, there’s Mamoru Oshii’s The Sky Crawlers, and Lisandro Alonso’s Liverpool has been receiving a lot of buzz.

Contemporary World Cinema

As always, there’s a vast selection of movies to choose from here, including the film we’ve heard talked about more than any other so far—Kelly Reichart’s Wendy and Lucy (starring Michelle Williams as Wendy, and the director’s dog as Lucy). But there’s an intriguing selection of other films, such as Christopher Walken as a grifter in $5 a Day; the Icelandic White Night Wedding (there are a lot of films set at weddings this year; two of them Icelandic—the other is Country Wedding, also in Contemporary World Cinema); Ole Christian Madsen’s Flame & Citron (starring Mads Mikkelsen); So Young Kim’s Treeless Mountain; and Ian FitzGibbon’s A Film With Me in It, which also has Dylan Moran, er, in it.

Real to Reel

There’s a strong showing from Real to Reel this year, and, gosh darn it, we have to admit to being sort of intrigued by Paris, Not France, the doc following Paris Hilton—hope it includes the footage of her trashing a local porn store. Other films include seventies sex club doc American Swing; The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World; More than a Game (featuring a young LeBron James) and Nollywood documentary Peace Mission. If you don’t know what Nollywood is, YouTube it—you’ll be amazed.

Canadian Programming

This year’s Open Vault is Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, and the Canada First selection includes Cooper’s Camera, which stars Jason Jones and Samantha Bee. We’ll cover Short Cuts Canada in more detail at a later date.

Midnight Madness

We’ve been saving the best for last, in the spirit of Midnight Madness, where often the best film you see all day is at the very end of it. JT Petty (director of one of our favourite films of previous festivals, S&Man) returns with his take on the western, The Burrowers, while Martyrs is described in the programme book as making last year’s brutal house invasion horror Á l’intérieur feel like “an amusement park ride” in comparison (a concept that has us almost too scared to see it). The series (and the festival) closes on a high note, with a new film from Ong-Bak‘s director—Chocolate.
We can’t wait to get started.