2003 Toronto International Film Festival Movie Blog

Here is my movie blog and quick review of films that I saw at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival.  I'm not good a rating films or even describing them so I thought I'd just borrow the thumbs up/down thing from Ebert.  You'll see that most of the films have thumbs up, so please take my reviews with a grain of salt and don't expect to garner any tips on movies that are worth seeing as I'm sure that some of these films which I enjoyed may be considered stinkers by others.  Some spoilers may exist so don't read if you don't want to know.  

September 4, 2003

Les Invasions barbares (2003): This was the opening gala for this year film festival.  Funny enough, the regular (non-gala) screening was actually showing prior to the gala opening that was about an hour later.  This was a follow-up to the Canadian Film, The Decline of the American Empire, by the same director, Denys Areand.   A dieing man, his friends and family come visit him in his hospital room to recount and comment on the days of the past. The movie is partially about the reconciliation process of the son and father and also has some social commentary on the state of publicly funded heath care, various political and religious ideologies amongst other things.   Though this movie was supposed to tug at the heart strings, I have yet to see the original American Empire movie so I didn't really have any type of emotional attachment to the main character.  Though I was sorry to see him pass on, it certainly didn't move me to tears.   An interesting film nonetheless. Thumbs up.

September 5, 2003

Zhou Yu's Train (2003): Love story of a china bowl painter and a Chinese poet.  Interesting scenery.  Not too much of a story line but I'm sure the hopeless romantic would enjoy this.  Thumbs up

11:14 (2003) An interesting movie about the circumstances of 2 deaths and the 5 different plotlines that take place surrounding the deaths and are intertwined, with the final result culminating at the end of the film at 11:14.  Coincidently enough, the screening I saw just happened to end at around 11:14.  The director says that it wasn't intentional but the I find it odd that the start of the movie was delayed by almost 30 minutes.   Fast paced, quirky and very well done, especially for a first time, 27 year old director.  Thumbs up. 

Cypher (2002): Science fiction brainwashing movie set in the near future about a man losing/gaining his identity.  Similar to Total Recall but definitely much better.    Thumbs up.

September 6, 2003

Matchstick Men (2003): Nicholas Cage as the quirky con-man who meets his estranged daughter and learns to be her father while at the same time teaching her the tricks of the trade.    Good performances by Cage and Alison Lohman as the daughter.  Fun movie to watch.  Thumbs up.

Bon Voyage (2003): French period film about WW2.  A well known female actress kills her promoter/boss, claiming it was an accident and convinces her longtime childhood friend that it was an accident and that he should take the fall.  He eventually escapes once the Germans start marching into France and the prisons attempt to relocate the prisoners.  The story involves this escapee caught between two women, the actress and a assistant to a professor who has the only stash of heavy water in all of France and is desperate to prevent it from falling into German hands.  Isabelle Adjani plays the perfect role of the pampered actress.  I can't believe that she's almost 50 years old.  Thumbs up.

Hollywood North (2003):  Well done movie about the consequences to Canadian film back in the 1970's where the government handed out tax credits for the making of Canadian films. Matthew Modine plays a producer attempting to make a movie adaptation of the novel Lantern Moon.  In order to get funding, he is forced to cave into demands from the investors for a big named and egotistical American movie star who demand final script approval.  With the film going over budget and the film falling behind schedule, the original story gets lost and the movie turns into a communism vs. capitalism shoot-out.  A very satirical look at the state of film making in Toronto back in the late 70's.  Thumbs up.

Milwaukee, Minnesota (2003): Mentally slow young adult who's smothered by his mom has an incredible knack at winning in ice fishing tournaments.  His mom meets an unfortunate demise and the only child is forced to fend for himself against one con artist pretending to be his dad and another pair of con artists pretending to be a brother sister duo from time magazine there to do a story on him.  A good film however I couldn't help but get the feeling that Troy Garity (who portrays the slow witted boy) was very similar to what Adam Sandler might have done in the same role.  (ala waterboy)  Thumbs up. 

Pieces of April (2003):  Surprisingly good film staring Katie Holmes of Dawson's Creek fame as an independent young girl (April) who has moved away from home into a little hell hole of an apartment and decides to invite her family (including her mother who has cancer) over for thanksgiving dinner.  The story involves two basic plotlines of firstly April running around attempting to prepare the dinner involving running around trying to cook her turkey in her neighbours apartments as her oven is on the fritz and a second story of the journey of her family in trying to reach her as it seems that some of the family doesn't want to go.  This was apparently shot over a period of two weeks with a very low budget.  One of the better movies that I saw.  I highly recommend it. 

September 7, 2003

Mambo Italiano (2003):  Coming out of the closest story of an Italian gay guy.  Has a very similar feel to Greek Fat Wedding since it has the same voice over commentary but this time about Italian families. If you liked Greek Fat Wedding, you'll probably like this.  Thumbs up.

The Human Stain (2003) Nicole Kidman and Sir Anthony Hopkins star in this film about a college professor with a secret.  After being accused of being a racist upon referring to some absentee students, who he is seemingly unaware are black, as "spooks", he decides to quit his job in defiance.  He goes on to find love with a younger woman (Kidman) that he meets. Having not read the original novel, I can't say if it's a faithful adaptation.  Kidman gives a remarkable performance that is uncharacteristic of her previous roles.  Hopkins gives a solid performance.  Thumbs up.

Lost in Translation (2003)Sophia Coppola's second attempt at directing starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.  Two lost souls meet in a lounge in Japan through circumstance and come together to share a unique friendship.  Murray is quite remarkable in this role considering his previous roles as overacting comic.  His subdued presence with a hint of humor makes for an excellent performance.  Johansson play a character well beyond her real life years and they have some excellent chemistry on screen.  Though the movie is about love it doesn't involve any signs of physical affection other than the odd hug which makes the movie all the more interesting.  We see there affection grow without having to be hit over the head with a love scene.  Thumbs up.

Alila (2003): This is the only movie I screened that was from the Middle East (Israel).  It's essentially a bunch of short scenes of various plots that are somewhat intertwined.  The main plot is about a young man who goes AWOL from his mandatory army duty, but in realty this is only a small subplot of the entire movie.  The gimmick in the movie is that each scene is shot in one take with one camera, with the camera making methodical movements to capture action in multiple rooms if required.  I didn't find the film too entertaining, though the dialogue was interesting to follow at times.Photo Gallery  Thumbs up.

Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)This was a bunch of short skits that were based on an original SNL skit that involve actors going over some dialogue while smoking and drinking coffee.  What I found most interesting about the movie was the fact that Francis Ford and Sophia Coppola were at the screening sitting across the aisle from me.  But other than that the dialogue was a little too dry and slow for me (as are most SNL sketches, I find).  Thumbs down.

September 8, 2003

Out of Time (2003):  Since this film is coming out in theatres, I decided to skip this film and catch up some sleep since it was going to be a long day for me. 

Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003)This movie also starring the remarkably talented Scarlett Johansson demonstrates the tremendous potential that she has as an actor.  Contrast this performance to the one she gives in Lost in Translation and once can clearly see the range she has in her performance.  The movie is about a young girl who goes to work as a maid for a painter's family.  Eventually, the painter is required by his client to paint a picture of her and in the process gains an inspiration for painting.  Thumbs up.

Dogville (2003): This was a quirky little movie starring Nicole Kidman about the one street town called Dogville.  This film is unconventional in the sense that there really is no set to the movie.  The entire thing is filmed on a black sound stage with chalk outlines on the floor indicating where the walls of the buildings should be.  There is very little in the way of props and truly the movie lives or dies by the story and the performances given by the actors.  I didn't think this movie would receive wide release since it is artsy, unconventional and also about 3 hours long.   But it is apparently going to be released.  The story involves a character (Kidman) who is trying to escape from the authorities.  In return for work, the town of Dogville which has a population of 10-15 people agree to protect her.  As the story unfolds, we find the townsfolk beginning to take every increasing advantage of her including several rape scenes which were unnecessary.  The story unfolds to a predictable conclusion that leaves you happy in the end.  Thumbs up.

Wonderland (2003)Story about the life and times of John Holmes (played by Val Kilmer) porn star.  I don't know what I thought about this movie.  It's a bit all over the place.  ??

Twentynine Palms (2003):  The description in the film fest guide made this out to be a love story.  Girl who can't speak English meets guy who can't speak French.  They can only communicate by the use of the body language which involves love making.  Sounds touching.  Unfortunately it isn't.  Once you get passed the overacted orgasm scenes, this is a very boring movie with a very shocking ending.  Now not being an artsy kind of guy, I had absolutely no idea what the ending of the movie was supposed to be.    Bad movie.  Thumbs down. 

Underworld (2003): Vampires vs. Werewolves.  Hmmm.   This was an interesting movie to watch if only to see Kate Beckinsale in tight leather.  Being a scientific kind of guy, I enjoyed the fact that this movie tried to bring the ancient tales of the vampire and werewolf into modern times.   No longer are vampires, evil spirits who have no mirror reflection, but rather they are individuals infected with a rare virus.  I found the explanation quite plausible.  Thumbs up.

September 9, 2003

The Company (2003): Stars Neve Campbell from "Party of Five" fame.  Supposedly, this movie was to resurrect her career.  Though I commend the training and devotion she must have had to relearn her ballet moves from  when she was younger, the movie really isn't about anything.  It's basically a snapshot in the life of some ballet dancers with some artificially created tension thrown into the mix.  If you like ballet, you may enjoy this film.  Having only witnessed 2 or 3 live ballet performances in person, I can't comment if it's good or bad.  ??

Veronica Guerin (2003):  Story about a reporter who risks her reputation and life to expose the drug gangs in her town.  She ultimately ends up paying for her work with her life.  Thumbs up.

The Tesseract (2003): This was another movie screened at the TIFF that is shown non-seuquentially, the others being 21 Grams and 11:14.  Though a bit hard to follow, the movie showed some promise.   In general I would give this a thumbs up, but didn't quite get to see the ending since I had to leave early to watch Dragon Inn which in retrospect I should not have.  If anyone can fill me in on what happens at the end, I'd appreciate it. :) 

Good Bye, Dragon Inn, (2003) I originally did not select this movie as one of my choices, but after reading in the Toronto Star about this movie and it having received the most number of recommendations of all the movies that were previewed prior to the Festival, I decided to switch around my schedule to try and see this.  After all, five Toronto Star reviewers can't be wrong.  This movie is either extremely brilliant or extremely boring. For me, it was the latter.  The movie basically involves the happenings in a movie theatre that is screening the movie "Dragon Inn".  Throughout the movie the dialogue of the Dragon Inn movie can be heard in the back ground.  As for actual dialogue in this  movie itself, in total, there are probably enough lines to fill one sheet of paper.  In fact, I believe that the first lines of dialogue don't actually occur until half way through the movie.  The movie is characterized by its very  long and uneventful scenes.  Apparently the director is known for these types of movies and is somewhat unconventional.  Unfortunately, this movie was a little too unconventional for me.  The movie is boring, period.  For example, in one scene, we have a stationary shot from the stage area of the empty seats. The movie isn't showing.   A woman with a limp enters from screen right, shuffles up one of the aisles, crosses over a seating row and then shuffles back down the aisle on the other side of theater and then exits screen left.  This process takes about 5 minutes.  The worst part is that after she leaves, the scene continue to run for a few more minutes with absolutely nothing happening on screen.  We essentially could be looking at one slide of a slide presentation, cause that's what it felt like.  Kudos to the director for doing a Q&A after the screening where people were pretty restrained in their questions, but you could sense that some of them wanted to ask, "What was that?"  Thumbs down. 

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (2003)Skipped.  I lost my ticket.  Though I considered standing in the RUSH line to see this, in the end I decided to call it a day due to lack of sleep. 

September 10, 2003

The School of Rock (2003)Starring Jack Black from Shallow Hal fame, this is a cute little movie about a do nothing rocker who gets kicked out of his band and then in an attempt to pick up some fast cash, poses as his roommates in a schools to become a substitute teacher.  In the process, he discovers that his students have remarkable gifts as musicians/singers.  He decides to form a top secret school band and the story progresses from there.  Thumbs up.

In the Cut (2003)Typical whodunit.  Starring Meg Ryan with her now surgically altered face.  Quite a different role from her blonde romantic comedy days of Harry met Sally.  Thumbs up.

21 Grams (2003)Apparent reference to the weight loss of a human body when it dies.    Stars Naomi Watts from "The Ring".  Since the movie is shown non-sequentially, it can be a bit hard to follow but it all makes sense in the end.  Senn Penn offers a good performance.  Thumbs up. 

Valentin (2002)This is the story of a little 8 year boy who has troubles in life.  He lives with his grandmother since his mother left when he was a child and his father does a lot of traveling.  This was a cute movie as I think it was originally intended to be a children's movie.  The little boy who plays Valentin was perfect in the role.  The movie tells the story his story as he describes his various observations and we witness his innocent behaviour that seem cute when coming from an 8 year old as he attempts to describe his quests to be an astronaut and find a new mom for himself.  Thumbs up. 

The Man of the Year (2003):  Brazilian film about a man becoming a hero after killing a thug in his neighborhood.  The story evolves around the consequences and rewards of his actions as he reluctantly becomes the local hit man for hire having to take care and provide a roof for his victims girlfriend to the cute little piglet that he receives as a present that he keeps as a pet.   Well acted by all, thumbs up.

September 11, 2003

Code 46 (2003): The only movie that I got to see at Roy Thompson Hall.  Story set in the near future, where in order to travel, people are required to have special travel documents.  The movie stars Tim Robbins as an insurance investigator who has been given an empathy virus that allows him to read minds.  He's sent to investigate the forging of travel documents in Asia where he meets Maria, the alleged counterfeiter who he knows is guilty but decides to cover for her.  The story evolves as they fall in love and essentially lose each other to a Code 46 violation and an interesting plot twist.  The movie depicts a dark vision of the future but really can't be compared with other movies/books of its genre (Blade Runner, 1984, Brave New World).  I tend to like movies set in the future (I thought TimeCop was okay) so I don't know if others will enjoy this or not.  Thumbs up from me. 

Rosenstrasse (2003): The story of German wives and their Jewish husbands who were interned in World War 2 Germany and their attempts to get them released.  The main story takes place in the present day with flashbacks to the past. The way the story is told is quite interesting as it gives you a modern day viewpoint and plotline that tells the story of the past.  Thumbs up.

The Singing Detective (2003)Movie adaptation of a British television series.  The story of a mystery novel writer who is bed ridden in a hospital with a skin disease.  He fades in and out of reality visualizing the people in the hospital doing several musical numbers.  Robert Downey Jr. is brilliant in this film as he runs the full gauntlet of emotions in this film.  Mel Gibson is unrecognizable as the psychiatrist attempting to cure him.  Thumbs up.

The Gospel of John (2003): The story of the adult life of Jesus seen through the eyes of the disciple John.  Being somewhat familiar with the life of Jesus as told by bible, but not being that familiar with the Gospel of John itself, I'm not sure what to think, as I'm not sure if the movie was being faithful to John's writings.  If it was, then it was very well done.  I think there are only so many ways you can be truthful to the written word in a movie without over dramatizing the script.  In any event, Henry Ian Cusick, the actor portraying Jesus who is a relative unknown did a fairly good job.  Thumbs up.

The Snow Walker (2003): This was one of the more interesting movies that I saw this year.  It's about a bush pilot in the artic who is transporting an Inuit girl to a hospital in Yellowknife when the plane crashes.  Stuck in the barren wilderness, the pilot decides to make the trek to get help and almost dies in the process.  The girl who was told to stay with the plane then decides to follow him and ends up saving his life and in the process ends up teaching him the ways of survival used by the Inuit people.  It's kind of a love story but not really.  Thumbs up. 

September 12, 2003

The Republic of Love (2003):  Film set in Toronto.  Involves typical guy and girl meet, guy and girl fall deeply in love and then guy loses girl.  I'll leave it to you to guess the ending.  A hint, the film is set to be released on February 14, so take a guess if the two end up together in the end.  A good date movie.  Marginal Thumbs up. 

Nathalie... (2003): Story about the relationship of a woman who pays a hooker (nathalie) to seduce her husband to discover if he is cheating on her.  The film is built on the relationship between the hooker and jilted wife as she lives vicariously though the sexual relationships described by Nathalie.   Very good film.  Thumbs up.

A Good Lawyer's Wife (2003):  Korean film.  I think the director described this film best when introducing it as being a movie containing "nudity and sex that the audience should enjoy" cause there's a lot of it in the film.  Some shocking moments in the film.  I didn't care much for it.  Thumbs down. 

Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)A Japanese horror flick about the negative karma that exists in places where evil events have taken place.  My only real experience with Japanese horror films is the Hollywood remake of The Ring and there are many similar elements in this film.  It's scary with an interesting plot twist at the end.  Though I still don't quite comprehend the ending.  Apparently there are a series of other films that involve the same grudge concept.  Thumbs up. 

Nine Souls (2003):  Japanese film about 9 convicts who escape from prison in a big red van and set out to find a counterfeiters fortune.  The story isn't so much about the fortune as it is about each of the convicts trying to reintegrate themselves into society and most of them failing.  Some pretty graphic violence is present and some pretty odd humor (nice, soft sheep...)  Thumbs up.

September 13, 2003

The Boys from County Clare (2003): Love story of sorts surrounding a ceilidh band competition (of traditional Irish music) set in the 50's or 60's (i think).  Well acted and the movie is interesting to watch if only for the the music.  Thumbs up.

Good Morning, Night (2003):  Historical movie about the kidnapping and assassination of Italian prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978.  Tells the story from the terrorist perspective and in many ways is almost sympathetic to their cause.   Thumbs up.

Go Further (2003):  Starring Woody Harrilison from Cheers and Will and Grace fame.  This is a documentary on the Simple Organic Living (SOL) tour that Woody and crew took in 2001 trying to teach people about the dangers of things such as genetically modified foods, milk, fossil fuels and clear cutting.  we get to see protestor boot camp where activists are taught how to peacefully resist, worm tea which is a natural miracle grow and a whole bunch of other natural things.  It was interesting to watch, but I don't know if there's enough substance here to warrant wide release.  Thumbs up.

Purple Butterfly (2003): Love story/spy movie set in Japanese occupied Chinese city of Shanghai.  Stars Zhang Ziyi from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame as a member of an underground Chinese resistance  movement bent on making trouble for Japanese forces in Shanghai.  Nothing particular memorable, but not particularly bad.  Marginal thumbs up.

The Brown Bunny (2003):  This movie produced, written, directed and starring Vincent Gallo was called the worst film ever screened at Cannes by Roger Ebert.  I will admit that it's infamous advertising prompted me to want to see this.  The movie was supposedly reedited for showing at TIFF and had 30 minutes cut from the film.  The movie basically describes the journey of a man to California.  It describes the mundane happenings of his journey and is quite boring throughout most of the movie, in fact it's so boring, that it can be surprisingly funny at times.  The real action really happens in the last 15 minutes or so of the movie that includes a very graphic oral sex scene that doesn't leave much to the imagination by Chloë Sevigny (who also stared in Dogville, also screened at TIFF) on Gallo.  Though not a well known actress, she is fairly mainstream, having  been nominated for an Oscar for her work in Boys Don't Cry.  I can honestly say that this is not the worst movie every made and in fact was probably not the worse movie that I saw at TIFF this year, that distinction goes to twenty-nine palms.    However the last few minutes of the film do serve at least to partially explain why the rest of the film was shown and written the way it was.  Though I still question if the ending makes up for the 1:15 of absolute boredom, I can see why it got panned at Cannes if the viewers there were subjected to an additional 30 minutes of non-interesting fluff.  Thumbs Neutral.

 My comments on the 2004 films can be seen at the following link. TIFF 2004