Sunday, September 25, 2011

Toronto International Flesh Festival

We noticed that this year's films, at least the ones we saw, contained a lot of nudity.  It wasn't necessarily sex or even sensual, but certainly a lot of nudity.  Is it a trend, or did we just pick pervy movies?  We may never know.

Review: Short Cuts Canada Programme 2

Every year, we see a programme (Canadian spelling, eh?) of short films from emerging Canadian directors.  Most of the films in this year's screening were decent, though nothing knocked my socks off.  Here are brief reviews of each the films we saw in this year's batch.

Tabula Rasa - Directed by Matthew Rankin.  A strange telling of people reacting in different ways to natural disaster, in this case flood.  Perhaps I'm dense, but I didn't quite "get it".  Nonetheless, there were some interesting images and subtle humor here and there.  My imdb rating: 6/10.

Solar Wind - This was a rather creepy tale of a mass cult suicide, drawing inspiration from Heaven's Gate and other cult suicides, the director creates great suspense and foreboding with sparse dialog.  The film made me think of early David Lynch.  Rating: 7/10.

The Fuse: Or How I Burned Simon Bolivar - Directed by Ian Lagarde, this film is essentially a short documentary.  Relying primarily on footage from family and friends, it explains how, as a boy, Lagarde thought that he caused civil war to erupt in Bosnia by performing poorly on an art assignment in school.  I liked the film for its personal treatment of a subject which my only previous exposure consisted of the nightly news, and how that subject looked through the eyes of a young boy. Rating: 7/10.

Afternoon Tea - DJ Parmar directs this tale of a boy who seeks out his grandfather, an elderly Indian man who has cut off ties with his daughter due to cultural disagreements.  Apparently, the man doesn't know what his grandson looks like, and the boy claims to simply be a kid who needs to use a phone to contact his parents.  He goes on, though, to probe into the man's family.  The script felt a little contrived, and I felt the film landed a little flatly.  Rating: 6/10.

The Paris Quintet In Practice Makes Perfect - Benjamin Schuetze directs and performs along side four other sharply dressed men in a strange apartment, apparently in the sea, completing one another's actions with precision.  The effect is amusing and intriguing to watch.  The unanswered question from the Q&A: Is it really five guys, or just one guy with multiple personalities?  Rating: 7/10.

The Pedestrian Jar - Evan Morgan directs this short mockumentary.  You have perhaps experienced an office that collects money from associates who are late to a meeting, swear in a meeting, etc.?  This film twists that around into a hilarious public service announcement.  Employees in this office deposit a quarter into the jar for each pedestrian they hit on the drive to the office.  Bicyclists?  $0.15.  This was probably not the most challenging material, but it was executed well, and the result is very funny.  Rating: 7/10.

Sorry, Rabbi - Mark Slutzky directs this odd but funny short, which combines romantic comedy with misunderstanding between Josh, the romantic male lead, and a small group of Hasidic Jews.  They believe Josh has purposely struck one of them with an object in the head, causing minor injury.  It's up to the rabbi to sort through the information, determine the truth, and ultimately negotiate an acceptable outcome.  Josh, meanwhile, also needs to save face with his girlfriend, who he has given a rather unacceptably romantic anniversary gift.  Rating: 7/10.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review: Extraterrestrial

Extraterrestrial was one of the films we picked to lighten up our schedule, in terms of drama, though it had potential for actual social commentary.  We also wanted to see a film from Spain, where we had visited early this summer.  It is the second feature film from Spanish writer/director Nacho Vigalondo, who set the bar high with his debut film Timecrimes.  We have yet to see this one, but we've added it to our Netflix queue.

This story opens with the debris from a one night stand.  Julio, portrayed by Julián Villagrán (Nacho called him the Spanish Adrien Brody), awakes alone in an unfamiliar bed, clothes strewn about the room.  Unable to locate his pants, he wanders into the living room in his boxers.  He and his co-conspirator introduce themselves.  Somehow, he forgot that her name is Julia (Michelle Jenner).

Soon, the pair start to notice that things are not normal in Madrid.  The cable is out, the streets are empty, and eventually they notice that a space ship, miles wide, is hovering in the sky.  Nacho introduces a couple other characters, namely Julia's boyfriend Tipo (Miguel Noguera), and her intrusively creepy neighbor Ángel (Carlos Areces).

The presence of the UFO, which provides the plot with an excuse to keep the characters together, first distracts the characters from the obvious nature of Julio and Julia's relationship.  Eventually, however, Ángel becomes suspicious, and to discredit him, Julia drops the suggestion that perhaps he is an alien and can't be trusted.  This sets off a series of misunderstandings, confusion, and accusations -- all handled with comedic wit.

The script stays true to the self-absorbed characters, avoiding the typical "lessons learned" ending, yet ends satisfactorily.  My imdb rating: 7/10.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Review: Take This Waltz

Our third and final Rush experience this year was for Sarah Polley's sophomore directorial feature film, Take This Waltz.  We got there a solid three hours before showtime, and by the time they were giving out Rush passes, Maureen had already secured a ticket from a woman who approached her in line and said, "Here, take this."  People are always giving Maureen stuff.  She took the ticket and, assuming I'd get into the theater (right, honey?) enthusiastically joined the ticket holders' line.  We entered the theatre simultaneously.

Polley, who also wrote the script, assembled an small but interesting cast for this drama with occasional comedic moments.  Michelle Williams plays Margot, a woman who apparently fears transitions, but at the same time craves the fire of a new relationship.  Seth Rogen is her husband Lou, a chicken-only cookbook writing nice guy, with an odd practical joke sense of humor.  Sarah Silverman plays Lou's (recovering) alcoholic sister Geraldine.  Lastly, Luke Kirby is Daniel, a rickshaw owner/operator and aspiring artist who Margot meets out of town, only later to learn that he lives in an apartment building across the street from her house.

There is an instant attraction between Margot and Daniel, but when she informs him of her marital status, he politely backs away.  Margot and Lou have an odd relationship.  They occasionally pass the time by informing one another of the ways in which they will physically harm and mutilate each other, typically with kitchen implements.  Lou seems quite content with simply being together, and doesn't recognize Margot's restlessness and anxiety.  Daniel's presence so nearby, Margot will eventually have to make a decision between her husband and the new, shiny guy across the street.

Polley's script creates likable characters with depth -- you understand them and believe the course they choose for themselves.  She weaves in a couple of moments of clever foreboding into the film, if you're paying attention.  I was little shocked at a couple uses of nudity and sex, since she seemed somewhat embarrassed about her own "sex" scene (tame by comparison) from Guinevere, in which she starred several years ago.  She was only 20 at the time, though.  My one critique of the film is that I think the finished product could use some editing, as the pace suffers now and then.  Overall, though, I liked the film.  My imdb rating: 7/10.

Renegade Bikers

This was by no means the only bike attached to the scaffolding.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: Juan of the Dead

We've been trying this year to lighten up the mood, after a 2009 season filled with war and other forms of death and destruction.  What better way, we thought, to lighten things up than with a zombie-themed comedy/horror flick?

Juan of the Dead's writer/director, Alejandro Brugués, hails from Argentina, though this Spanish-language film is set in Cuba.  Brugués drops in humor now and then related to the reigning regime, which takes to using typical Communist propaganda to blame the zombie behavior on the Americans.  Zombies are now "dissidents".

Other than that and dark humor moments, such as Juan's sidekick friend's occasional accidental harpooning of a non-zombie, there just wasn't too much much to keep a viewer awake for this one.  Overall, the film had a very melancholy feel to it.  A common theme was various characters' motivation to return to or to leave Cuba.  Juan, meanwhile, is confident he will survive the zombie plague, as he has other catastrophes in his homeland.  He's going nowhere.

I wanted to like this movie.  Despite my best efforts, I just couldn't enough reason to.  My imdb rating: 5/10.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rush to Nowhere

We waited in line for over two hours for a chance to see a documentary called The Island President.  It's about the president of The Maldives and his work with the world's super powers to effect change with regard to global warming.  It seems that his nation is projected to be under water if things don't change, and soon.  The president himself was due to be on stage for an interview and Q&A after the film.

Alas, only 5 rushers were allowed into the film, and we were numbers 9 and 10.  Bummer, yes, but we still had a good time.  We met a nice couple in front of us, who we stupidly convinced to rush for our film instead of the one they had in mind.  We also were able to witness our first ever Longboarder Flash Mob, and get a peek at a former Canadian prime minister.  You never know what you're going to see in this town.

Seth Rogen Quote

We heard a great quote from Seth Rogen during a Q&A for a film we have yet to finish the review.  Explaining the level of multi-cultural-ness of the city of Toronto:
You guys have little versions of countries I've never even heard of.

Review: Goon

We picked Goon because we are in Canada, and it is a Canadian hockey comedy co-written by Jay Baruchel.  Do you require further explanation?

Loosely based on a true story, very loosely, it tells the story of a Jewish bouncer from New England named Doug Glatt who gets discovered by a minor league hockey coach when Doug beats the crap out of one of his toughest players.  Doug can't skate, sure, but boy can he beat the snot out of guys.

Doug is brought on to protect the star player, Xavier Laflamme, who has never been the same since the crushing knockout he received from the league's predominant goon, Ross Rhea.  The idea is that Doug will beat senselessly the face of anyone who threatens Xavier, who'll once again feel comfortable, and thusly regain his confidence and resume his offensive prowess.

Doug may be the nicest goon ever, even if a little dense, and it's easier than you'd think to get on the side of a guy whose career involves bloodying other guy's faces.  Of course, he has a love interest, whose name I can't recall but I do recall that he found her very pretty.  She was played by Alison Pill, who we'd just seen playing Zelda Fitzgerald in Midnight In Paris.  She has a problem, though, in that she already has a boyfriend, but that can be worked out through a face pounding or two.

And boy, is there blood.  And broken bones, and other body parts.  And more blood.  If you're squeamish about such things, you might want to blink for long periods of time here and there.

There are many laugh-out-loud moments, and Seann William Scott pulls off Doug's aloofness perfectly.  You really feel behind him the whole way, especially since things don't work out so well for the guys in front of him.  Liev Schreiber, of all people, plays the haggard goon Ross Rhea, and I'll admit that I didn't at first recognize him.  He melts into the role.

We enjoyed this movie quite a bit, and you can't imagine the joy of watching it with a bunch of blood-thirsty Canadians.  I don't know if it will make it to a theater near you, but you can surely catch it on Netflix next year sometime.  My imdb rating: 7/10.


Maureen: This movie was my number one choice for the festival. This may be an odd selection, but it just seemed like the right movie for the Festival: fun, unexpected, and quirky.  It was all this, and introduced as "the most Canadian film at TIFF". 

It is a bit violent at times and I am not into brutality at all.  But oddly most of the fighting had a real, yet over the top feel.  The sound used for the hitting was extreme and so it became comical.  I think the strongest point for the movie is the script.  There is a great reference to ET (the extraterrestrial), that is so funny, I want to see the movie again for this one part.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review: The Ides of March

Maureen and I were successful in our first Rush line experience of this year's festival, securing two seats to George Clooney's The Ides of March.  I had extra motivation to see this one because of high demands among my readers (or one reader, anyway) for Ryan Gosling pics.  Alas, George, Ryan and the crew were not in attendance.  It's a shame, because I know that George was in town, if he isn't yet still.

The movie, directed by Clooney, also casts him in a supporting role of a sitting state governor and presidential candidate, Mike Morris.  The story, though, was really of the political behind-the-scenes education of his press secretary, Stephen Myers, played by Gosling.  Rounding out the cast are Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, Morris's and the opposition's battle-tested campaign managers, respectively, and Evan Rachel Wood, a young intern on the Morris campaign.

Myers is idealistic, energetic, and has drunk Morris's metaphorical Kool-aid.  Throuigh a series of events and gamesmanship by the major players on both campaigns, Myers obtains a more realistic view of the world in which he's chosen to dwell.  If he is able to thrive or even survive, he may have to ditch his idealism.

Some of it may be predictable, though some surprises will certainly seep through on occasion.  Overall, the movie is fairly standard suspense fare, though made better than it may otherwise have been due to excellent performances from Hoffman and Giamatti.  I've grown to expect it - these guys are just fun to watch.

As a side note, we were both dismayed to have our vacation from American politics interrupted by this film, a vivid reminder of the constant ugliness in which we are constantly drenched back home.  Sadly, I can't print a line of dialog spoken by Gosling's character in the film, as it contains a major spoiler, but for me it is a sad truth of American politics and what is important to the public.  Stupid scruples.

The film has strong performances from the entire cast and the script and production are solid, even if there's no new ground broken.  If for some reason you feel like you haven't gotten a strong enough dose of political figures dumping on one another, this movie should serve you well.  My imdb rating: 7/10.

Maureen's notes:  The Ides of March page on is missing a principle cast member.  Jennifer Ehle, who is a big name in BBC circles, played Morris' wife.  She is missing from the cast list as of now.  It seems like an odd oversight on what is considered one of the best sources of film information available. ... Although I feel Giamatti and Hoffman steal the show from the leads, George Clooney has again thrilled many female fans by signing autographs and posing pictures as long as his handlers will allow.  We have heard from fans and some industry folks he is as good of a guy as he is said to be.  Oddly, we also heard the same about Woody Harrelson.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Brush with Fame, part 3

Sarah Silverman, saying hi to the crowd after the Q&A following Take This Waltz.

Rush 102 - What Not To Do

The Rush line is a simple concept - if a show sells out and you want a ticket, you wait in the Rush line.  If you're fortunate, you get a ticket when others don't show up.  See the first picture for an idea of just how people will kindly wait around for hours in hopes of a ticket.

See picture number two for the bozo standing toward the front of the Rush line holding a sign proclaiming his need for a ticket.  Hello, so do all these people.

Review: Sons of Norway

Maureen and I had a plan for our opening day of the festival.  We were going to start with a potentially depressing movie starring and produced by Lauren Ambrose, followed by the lighter Norwegian coming-of-age tale Sons of Norway.

Delta foiled our plan when our first flight was cancelled, our second flight was delayed, then delayed more, and then we missed our connection by mere seconds.  So, our festival was to start of with Sons of Norway.  Before the show, much to our delight, they brought out the film's writer, director and producers -- four Norwegian guys and John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten.  Johnny, true to form, thrilled the crowd with his conclusion to the introduction, "You'll really enjoy this, and if you don't you're f---ing c-nts."  (he left out the dashes)

The plot revolved around the relationship between a young teenage boy named Nikolaj (Niko) and his father Magnus.  Åsmund Høeg, who played 13-year old Niko, gave a wonderful performance with strikingly sparse dialog.

It's 1978, and the punk scene is hitting Norway, but Niko is too happy with life and enamored with his mother Lone to buy into its anger and discontentment.  Magnus, an idealist, atheist, banana-themed celebrater of Christmas (because we descend from apes) and architect, writes off the movement as a fad.

Things take a turn with the sudden and tragic death of Lone.  Niko begins to rebel, giving himself a punk hairdo, piercing his ear, and joining a punk band named "Dirt".   Magnus, meanwhile, is suffering his own heartache.  He quits his job and takes Niko to a nudist camp.  Frustrated by the lack of Magnus's attention and perhaps competing for rebellion points, Niko steps it up.  He lashes out at government officials, takes drugs, and angrily pierces more of his face.  It all culminates with a dream sequence where the boy is visited by a current day Johnny Rotten (missing teeth and all), a scene we learned was filmed in -20 degree weather.

While the film certainly had its comedic element, it certainly was not the lighter fare that we anticipated.  The director takes you on a rollercoaster ride with moments of light laughter followed by gut punching sadness and even disgust.  The drug-riddled cake eating scene was particularly difficult to stomach.  The ride was intended, though, and it was skillfully delivered.  My imdb rating: 7/10.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Brush with (Canadian) Fame, Part 1

We were walking down the sidewalk when we were suddenly brushed aside so that Jimmy Kimmel could emerge fro a late 70's model Mercury 4-door sedan unscathed and, we can only guess, check out his new star on the Mervish Walk of Fame.  Jimmy, if you're not familiar with him, is the white guy.

Brush with (Canadian) Fame, part 2

Ex Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney chats up the crowd outside the TIFF Bell Lightbox center.  A local told us, "Mind your wallet."

When Longboarders Strike

While in the Rush line today got The Island President (we did not get tickets - boo hoo), we witnessed a flash mob of longboarders take over King Street in Toronto.  It was zany.

Plight 2670

We arrived in Minneapolis and quickly logged into  There, we were happy to discover that our connecting flight was delayed.  It was going to be tight, but with a little luck, we'd make it to the gate on time.

After a good half mile jog, I arrived at the gate (Maureen was a mere 50 yards behind).   I looked up at the board and saw the destination "Cedar Rapids" listed.  With desperation in my voice, over the telltale alarm clock style ring of the jet bridge, I ask, "Toronto?"

See the previous post "Words You Hate To Hear" for her response.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Back On Track

We got some lunch and a drink, and we're getting back on track mentally.  We're on vacation, we're not at work, and we still get to hang out in Toronto for a solid week.  Life is good.

Words You Hate To Hear

"Yeah, they just pulled the jet bridge away.  Sorry."


At Long Last

Were on a plane!

Playground Tactics

Our plane emerged from the hangar, and is now sitting a few hundred yards away, doing nothing, except for taunting us.  The board still says we're leaving at 9:00.  But it's 8:57 right now, so I'm thinking that's not going to happen.

After Thought

We left for the airport at 4:45 this morning.  If we had just driven to Minneapolis, we would have easily made our connecting flight.


You know how sometimes a sequel is okay, but not as good as the original, but the third or fourth in the series almost assuredly sucks?

Well, we've been delayed again.  New departure time out of Des Moines: 9:15, arriving in Minneapolis exactly one minute after our connecting flight leaves.  So now it looks like we'll miss our first film.  Sorry, Ms. Ambrose.


So as it turns out, we weren't leaving at noon, but rather they just didn't know when we were leaving.  I guess they figured if they sent a confusing enough message, we'd probably get in touch, which was the desired outcome.

Anyway, they rebooked us through Minneapolis, and not too much later (7:00) than we were originally scheduled.  So that's nice.

Of course, no sooner than we finished our rather flagrantly priced airport breakfast sandwiches, we received another message from Delta.  Our new flight has been delayed, departing at 8:00, arriving at 8:39.  I guess we're going SST.  Unless they really just mean, "Hey, could you give us a call?"

The Miracle

Delta says our flight has been delayed.  Our original itinerary had us leaving at 6:35 AM, arriving at 9:39 AM.  Our new departure time is noon, but still arriving at 9:39 AM.  Delta has discovered time travel.  They're going to make billions!

Monday, September 05, 2011


TIFF called back, by the way.  Apparently, they've had a recent surge in "Contributor" level memberships, or at least that was the explanation I was given as to why we only received 80% of our first choice selections this year, after we got 19 of 20 in 2009 and 17 of 20 in 2008.  Do I buy it?  Not completely.  But if it is true, then it raises a frightening question: If I wasn't a "Contributor" level member, what percent of our selections would we have received?  And now I am to believe that I have to renew my membership to get the level of service I had grown to expect by merely buying tickets?  It's not a happy thought, and I love the festival.

The man who called from TIFF was nice enough to throw in a couple extra vouchers for the mix up in our order, though, so it appears you, faithful reader, have 21 reviews forthcoming.  There are a few of you out there, right?

Meanwhile, if we want to see The Ides of March, Take This Waltz, and The Island President, we'll have to rush for them (see Appendix B of my "How To Festival" post).  Sadly, we didn't get tickets to those films.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

TIFF, we have a problem...

Yesterday, I received an email notifying me that my ticket selections had been processed.  I excitedly opened up the email, performed a quick count of movies on our schedule, and sure enough, we had 20.  Then I looked a bit closer and noticed that once of our second choice picks was among them.  "Bummer," I thought, "we didn't get all of our first selections."  I set out to see which ones we didn't get, and discovered that we received all of our second choice picks, and rather indiscriminately.

We are double-booked three times in two days.  I don't know if you've tried it, but watching two movies at once is quite challenging, particularly when the theaters are over a mile apart.

I'm sure TIFF will rectify the situation by replacing our second choice tickets with vouchers for the three double-bookings, but that overlooks another little issue.  This year, we bought a membership to TIFF.  At our contribution level, I was told that our ticket order would be processed "before the general public".  It would appear that we're in a rather large group and that all of us pre-general public people picked the same films.  Or perhaps our order was processed among all the other John Q. Public's orders.  I'm more than a little irritated, and less than enthused about renewing my membership next year.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


When we were putting together this year's schedule, I thought I noticed a trend toward shorter films.  Being a math geek, I set out to calculate the average length of this year's films versus the 2009 films (the last time we went).  Now, I don't have the kind of time on my hands that I can average the lengths of 300+ films for each season, so I stuck to the films we'd picked.  Sure, perhaps we just happened to pick the shortest films they had out this year, but I doubt it.  For the sake of argument, I'll treat it like a random sampling.

Last year, our average screening was just over 111 minutes long.  This year, we nosedived to just over 98.5 minutes, over 12.5 minutes shorter than 2009.  Is it an industry trend?  Sheer luck?  I don't know, but maybe, just maybe, producers are trying to play into the hands of our short attention spans.  Either way, we could call this year the Toronto International Short Film Festival.

Monday, August 29, 2011

2011 Schedule

Maureen and I spent the better part of five days reading film summaries, rating films, negotiating (which she does professionally -- not fair), sorting, scheduling, etc., and came out with this year's schedule.  We were participants in a pilot program to enter selections online, instead of the traditional and tedious method of circling entries on a printed schedule and using color-coded highlighters to denote order of preference.  Unfortunately, we still had to pay the full cost of the Out of Town Selection Service, which includes overnight freight back to Toronto.  But, if the pilot goes well, perhaps we won't have to next year.

But I digress.  The point I was going to make is that the schedule of our picks is attached to the blog for your viewing pleasure.  See the link in the upper right hand corner for a pop-up version, or the full schedule is embedded at the bottom.  We had to make a few second choice picks, so you'll notice some overlapping.  I colored the second choices differently, but for whatever reason, the second color is lost when I embed the calendar.  I say hrmph to blogger on this point.  Our second choices are thus noted by the text "(2nd)" following the title of the film.

We tried to balance light-themed films (Juan of the Dead and Sons of Norway) with more heavy themes (The Ides of March and Think of Me).  We also made sure we would spend enough time reading during the festival -- at least in term of subtitles.  Lastly, we arranged for a new novelty -- a complete day off.  That's right, on Thursday, September 15th, we're not attending a single screening.  What will we do instead?  Whatever we feel like, of course.

One other note: If you click on a movie in the schedule, and then click on More Details, there is a link that will take you to the TIFF film summary for that screening.  While you're there, you may find yourself perusing the 300+ films showing this year and subsequently complaining to us about a film that we should have seen.  Happy reading!

Monday, July 25, 2011

I'm back...

After a rather action-packed year off, Sean On Film is back.  Last year, Maureen and I opted to go to Hawaii instead, where we pedaled bikes around Oahu for 100 miles, hiked around Waimea Canyon, took an aerial tour of Kauai, went snorkling, and got engaged.  If you're going to miss the festival, that's pretty much the way to do it.

The Honolulu Century Ride was the culmination of a significant fund raising effort for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through Team In Training.  Maureen is a survivor of what she affectionately refers to as The Hodge, so it was a great way to give thanks for being able to hang out and have such a great time together.  If you would like to take on a physical challenge, get free training to meet your goal, and raise money for a great charity, give them a try.  It's a wonderful organization.

But this year I'm back, and with help.  Now that we're married, Maureen owns half of this blog and will not only be running from theater to theater with me, but also offering her own reviews.  Say hi, Maureen!

We're ticketed, both air fare (thank you frequent flier miles!) and festival-wise.  We have a room booked at a B&B in Cabbagetown, a new neighborhood for both of us, as the last room was, as a certain Canadian songwriter might say, ungood.  Alas, not much blog action will be coming in the near future, as the film schedule doesn't get released until sometime in the vicinity of August 23rd.

Hang in there, film fans.  It's only 6+ short weeks away!