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TIFF 1: Black Squirrels & Poutine

TIFF 1: Black Squirrels & Poutine

I always can tell that I’m back in a metropolitan area by an early black squirrel sighting–I swear the only place I’ve ever seen these critters is Toronto or NYC. And Toronto is the place where the biggest public film fest in the world is currently unspooling, with some 300 films on the docket. The Press & Industry action has transitioned further downtown this year, with all of the screening rooms, headquarters, and the filmmaker lounge situated in the Entertainment District around Queen St W and King Street W. I’m not one to embrace change easily,but a day and a half in and I’m really digging it so far, and we haven’t even gotten to experience the Bell Lightbox screens yet (they open on Monday).

Something I have noticed in this part of town that I never paid attention to up in the Yorkville area of Toronto is the amount of bars and restaurants that promote a dish called “poutine.” This is essentially a bowl of french fries with cheese curds and brown gravy on top, but there’s lots of variations on the toppings. Might sound gross to some of you, but put down a couple of beers with it and the combo is pretty awesome. Are you listening, Orlando? Think of the business from the French-Canadian tourists alone…

Florida Film Festival Opening Night celeb Emma Stone seems to be the “It Girl” of this year’s TIFF for her highly praised performance in the upcoming EASY A–she’s on the cover of two different magazines here in Toronto, including the big festival issue of NOW, one of their two main alternative weeklys.

Every filmmaker’s (and projectionist’s) nightmare happened earlier today at the press screening for Avi Nesher’s THE MATCHMAKER, a new Israeli film I was looking forward to since we screened his THE SECRETS a couple of years ago in the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival. Screening on HD-Cam, the film started and there were no subtitles. The film was stopped, and this was repeated at least 3 or 4 more times, but still no luck. Apparently they were there during the tech rehearsal, but no one in the booth could find ’em again. The screening continued for the dozen people left in the crowd who were fluent in Hebrew, and the rest of us were left scrambling to try and make another screening. Oy! At least it didn’t happen during a public screening.

Film Short-Takes (using the current 4-star highest rating system employed by the Orlando Sentinel and Tribune papers):

MARIMBAS FROM HELL (2-stars) – Great title, but this super low-budget doc/narrative hybrid from Guatemala plays like a bad version of early JIm Jarmusch. Julio Hernandez Cordon’s story follows a paranoid musician who has put his family in hiding(and needs to do the same with his beloved marimba), his glue-sniffing JD godson, and the heavy metal drummer he wants to collaborate with. There is some deadpan humor here and a few ridiculous moments, but the pacing and camerawork are deadly, even for a 72 minute film.

THE KING’S SPEECH (4-stars) – The new film from Tom Hooper (THE DAMNED UNITED) is a terrific period piece featuring Oscar-nomination worthy performances by Colin Firth as the stuttering son of KIng George V and Geoffrey Rush as his unorthodox Australian speech therapist. Beautifully filmed, often funny, and surprisingly moving, the formidable cast also includes Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon,
Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Timothy Spall (as Churchill), and Claire Bloom (!)

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER (2 1/2 stars) – The latest anti-romantic ensemble comic farce from Woody Allen follows a bunch of Londoners in and out of relationships along with all of their desires, anxieties, and scheming. It’s definitely better than a lot of the post-Cannes negative buzz would lead you to expect, and any film that stars Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas, Gemma Jones, and the oh-so-lovely Freida Pinto (from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) is well worth a look.

THE ILLUSIONIST (3-stars) – Sylvain Chomet, director of THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE, returns with another delightfully peculiar and distinctive animated feature, this time based on an unproduced screenplay by Jacques Tati. More subtle and less energetic than TRIPLETS, the late 1950s story revolves around an aging French stage magician who befriends a young Scottish village girl while trying to survive as part of a decaying class of showmen and entertainers soon to be made obsolete by TV, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the modern world.

HOW TO START YOUR OWN COUNTRY (3-stars) – Jody Shapiro’s doc from Canada amusingly explores the question of what constitutes a micro-nation and who has the right to grant sovereignty, taking us around the world on a tour of places (and many kooks) we had no idea existed. From Molossia on an acre of land in Nevada, to North Dumpling Island in the Long Island Sound (founded by the inventor of the Segway), to Sealand, an abandoned gun tower in the North Sea, to the Hutt River Principality (complete with its own cheesy national anthem) in Australia, this is rich material for a doc subject even if the filmmaking itself is nothing special.

IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (2 1/2 stars) – The third film from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (HALF NELSON and SUGAR) features a stressed-out teenage Justin Long look-alike who is borderline suicidal and commits himself to a mental hospital, where he is put in with the adults since the teen ward is under renovation. A younger, gentler One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, this comedic-drama is a little too cute and contrived for its own good, though it does benefit from some nifty animation, a well-cast Zach Galifanakis, and some cool music including The Damned’s “Smash It Up,” Tom Robinson’s “2-4-6-8 Motorway,” and a music video fantasy sequence for Queen & Bowie’s “Under Pressure.”


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