TIFF 2014: Well, I guess five outta seven ain’t bad…

After last year’s selection success with the back-half pack, I wasn’t all that worried when my screening window for this year’s picks opened today at noon, two days after single tickets went on sale to the general public.  With a six-pack of selections to make, I had identified seven films I really wanted to see, hoping that I’d hafta make one hard decision–or cough up 24 bucks plus tax–if they were all still available.  Well, in the end, I only got five outta seven, but that’s really not so bad.  I’m still a bit bummed out that I won’t be watching a hockey doc about the Russian Red Army team or a based-on-a-true-story oeuvre in which that short kid from the Hunger Games befriends Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar (played by Benicio del Toro, no less!).  But hey, I figure the former will surely be at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema some time soon, while the latter will likely make its way to a cinema near you.  Note to the screaming fan girls: Josh Hutcherson won’t be sticking around for the second weekend of the festival.

In any case, here are the movies I will be watching next week:

Bande de filles [aka Girlhood] (France, directed by Céline Sciamma)

Suffice to say, I wasn’t surprised in the slightest that the premiere of the new Xavier Dolan film on Tuesday was already off-sale.  Instead, I opted for a French-language film from across the pond, described as “a raucous, raw, and tender look at a group of black high-school students living in the tough suburban banlieues of Paris.”  Kinda reminds me of a Swedish flick I caught a couple years back…only this time, I won’t hafta read the sous-titres. ;)

Teen Lust (Canada, directed by Blaine Thurier)

When I read the synopsis of this domestic comedy, it immediately became a must-see.  Set in Winnipeg, the film depicts the perils of a lovelorn teen who finds out his Satanist parents are planning to use him as a virgin sacrifice.  So if he doesn’t lose his virginity by sundown, he’s gonna die.  Did I mention the movie’s set in Winnipeg?  I’m actually heading out to The Peg this weekend, haha.  No, really.

A Hard Day (South Korea, directed by Kim Seong-hun)

Not gonna lie, I mighta scrapped this 9:45 pm screening if all seven of my must-sees were still on sale.  For one thing, the movie’s in Korean, and I have a history of falling asleep at late-night, Asian-subtitled screenings.  (Let’s just say I wouldn’t recommend Ong-Bak 2.)  But that aside, this one seems to be up my alley, a crazy police thriller that reminds me of Bon Cop, Bad Cop…except this time, they’re both the same guy!

L’amour au temps de la guerre civile (Canada, directed by Rodrigue Jean)

No, this is not some Civil War period piece, but rather “a fearless, unflinching look at the reality of addiction … set in the bleak milieu of hustlers and junkies in Montreal.”  In other words, it’s a  romantic comedy à la québécoise. ;)

La French [aka The Connection] (France/Belgium, directed by Cédric Jimenez)

While I wouldn’t say my recent trip to Montreal has turned me into a francophile, this has gotta be the first year I’m seeing three French-language films at the festival.  Hey, I like foreign films, but like I said, I don’t always do well with subtitles, so you could say j’aime ça en français.  And all three of my selections in la langue de Péladeau are the kind of movies I’d be interested in, anyways.  Especially this one, an other-side-of-the-pond take on The French Connection, starring Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin.  I’m even getting up early on Saturday to see it at 9 am!

The Drop (USA, directed by Michaël R. Roskam)

The only Hollywood film I’ll see this year is directed by a Belgian–but most notably, it features Tony Soprano (aka the late James Gandolfini) in his last-ever role.  And sure enough, it’s a mob movie, although most of the gangsters here are Chechen, not Italian.  In any case, it seemed like a good enough way to close off the festival…unless I can get same-day tickets for Escobar: Paradise Lost. ;)

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TIFF 2014: Virtual Waiting Room, how I miss thee not!

Usually around this time of year, I’d be writing an angry rant about how much time I spent in the Virtual Waiting Room for TIFF tickets.  But not this year.  Normally, I’d be fully awake and in front of the computer by nine, but today, I didn’t even get outta bed until 9:30…and it felt amazing!

And no, I haven’t abandoned the festival, an annual ritual ever since I moved here almost exactly nine years ago.  But just like last year, I bought the back-half pack–and unlike last year, I’ll be outta town for the first weekend of the festival.  So I wasn’t gonna spend all that time in line just to snag a couple screenings on Monday.  Especially not when regular tickets are now 24 bucks before taxes and service charges, roughly twice the price of my local Cineplex.  Hey, the festival was never cheap, but I remember when screenings cost me 20 bucks after tax–and they didn’t even have under-25 pricing in those days!

Hey, inflation’s a bitch, but with the back-half pack, I’m paying 13 bucks a ticket after taxes and fees.  So, y’know, it’s pretty much the same price as a regular night at the movies.  And since the back half begins on Tuesday the 9th, I might even get to see a couple premieres (non-premium screenings, mind you)…provided, of course, that they aren’t already off-sale.

Alas, just like last year, the window for back-half passes doesn’t open until the 2nd, a couple days after single tickets go on sale.  But considering that every single screening I had pegged for my pack last year was still available at the time, I’m not all that worried.  Hell, at 13 bucks a pop, I might even go see one or two movies that’ll be playing at the Cineplex next year!

(More on that come Tuesday.  I don’t wanna jinx it, after all…)

TIFF 2013: So… many…. subtitles!

Now, I don’t always seen foreign films at the Toronto International Film Fest.  I mean, the other year I was at the premiere of Goon at the Ryerson Theatre, where I also remember seeing a few other big-budget screenings.  For one, I was there for the Robert De Niro/Edward Norton vehicle Stone, where Dalton McGuinty was in attendance–but neither male lead.  I’ve also seen Darren Araonofsky’s The Wrestler (brilliant), Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla (forgettable), and a few other Hollywood films that eventually made their way to theatres.  Hell, the best movie I saw at last year’s festival, Disconnect, was Made-in-America, though it never got a widespread domestic release.  (I guess Hollywood just wasn’t ready for Jason Bateman in a dramatic role…)

But this year, I didn’t see one single Hollywood film.  From Arabic to Icelandic, Spanish to Finnish, Dutch to Japanese, there were a whole lotta words scrolling across the screen at my eight screenings.  Twas just as well that I attended Canadian indie film The Dick Knost Show at 9 am–I’m not sure my brain was ready to do much reading at that hour of the morning.  Anyways, you might not actually get a chance to see any of these movies again, but here’s what I thought of ‘em–from best to worst.

1. Heart of a Lion (Finland/Sweden, directed by Dome Karukoski): Much like Disconnect last year, this movie saw a stream of festival-goers stuffing the ballot boxes upon exiting the theatre.  So it didn’t win People’s Choice, but it certainly left an impression.  As I suspected, this was sorta like Finland’s answer to American History X–call it Finnish History X if you must–albeit with enough violence and brutality to make the former look like Driving Miss Daisy.  (Who knew those Finns were so feisty!?)  Heart of a Lion does take a similar approach in following a neo-Nazi skinhead who’s realized the errors of his ways, but while Edward Norton comes to his conclusions in prison, Karukoski’s character is placed in an awkward situation where his new girlfriend happens to have a black son.  So there’s a lot of humour amongst the violence, albeit of a decidedly dark nature.  It’s hard to walk away from this movie unmoved, put it that way.

2. The Dick Knost Show (Canada, directed by Bruce Sweeney): A clever take on concussions in sports, this Canadian film turns the issue on its head by following a radio shock-jock who suffers a severe head injury playing squash.  The titular character, who’s clearly patterned after Bob McCown–although the film’s set in Vancouver–must deal with the incessant urging of his colleagues to hurry back to work as an unqualified rube tries to run his show into the ground, much to the network’s delight.  I won’t spoil anything, but the closing scene had me laughing so hard I almost choked on vomit… and yes, that Spinal Tap reference is in the movie, too!

3. Metalhead (Iceland, directed by Ragnar Bragason): A heavy-metal coming of age tale in a far-off land, where I just happen to have ancestral ties.  I’ve never been to Iceland, but this movie could really have been set in rural Manitoba, or any other wintry farm country for that matter.  Alas, this movie’s not just about the rebellious girl who terrorizes the town, it’s also about dealing with loss.  The female lead only gets into metal after her older brother dies in a bizarre farming accident, and his memory still haunts her parents several years later.  Speaking of closings, this movie just might make the best use of Megadeth of any motion picture–including Last Action Hero!

4. Border (Italy, directed by Alessio Cremonini): Although it was set along the Syrian border and the dialogue is entirely in Arabic, this Italian-directed film almost has the feel of a gritty spaghetti western.  The anti-hero even looks a bit like Clint… well, he’s got the beard down, anyways.  Alas, this is another film too brutal for Hollywood, with hardly a happy ending.  But hey, it’s not like the Syrian conflict’s gonna end with flowers and valentines.  Though I think that was the plan in Iraq, wasn’t it? ;)

5. Unforgiven (Japan, directed by Lee Sang-il): Speaking of Eastwood, this Japanese remake of his Oscar-winning western is pretty epic.  Then again, so was the original.  And while there’s probably more swordplay than gunfights in this version–though there are plenty of guns, too–they otherwise remain pretty faithful to the original.  Though I hadn’t seen Clint’s film in a little while, I pretty much knew what was going to happen in this one.  What really sets this version apart is the scenery, with the ruggedly beautiful island of Hokkaido serving as an impressive backdrop.  But for my money’s worth, there shouldn’t be any guns in a samurai film.  That just didn’t seem right.

6. Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story (Canada, directed by Barry Avrich): Little did I know that this very film would be screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox shortly after the festival–but at least I got to see Bob Guccione Jr. in the flesh.  Turns out that rumour about his old man wanting to put Pia Zadora on the cover of Spin was true.  Anyways, suffice to say the elder Guccione led a fascinating life, and a 90-minute documentary isn’t going to adequately cover all of it.  But by only interviewing his friends and colleagues, we’re left with a rather one-sided account of this fairly controversial figure.  I mean, I would have loved to see what Jerry Falwell thinks of the publisher of Penthouse–had he not predeceased him by a couple years.  For the record, Hef still refuses to acknowledge his existence, unless Miss America’s on the cover…

7. Borgman (Netherlands, directed by Alex van Warmerdam): Another surprisingly violent foreign film, although this one presents violence in a fairytale kind of way that’s sometimes comes across as comical.  Tis an originally perverse concept that’s almost equal parts Peter Pan, Robin Hood and Tony Soprano, with the underlying message that capitalism is bad, and we should all just live in the woods and spike rich people’s drinks… or something.

8. El Mudo (Peru/France/Mexico, directed by Diego Vega and Daniel Vega): Now, I thought this Peruvian film had an interesting, if somewhat less original premise.  A hard-nosed judge is shot in the throat and left to find the attempted assassin on his own despite losing his ability to speak.  The film equally focuses on the family tensions surrounding not just his muteness, but his difficulty in providing for his family as a result.  There’s also the fact that he lost his mother, a female judge, in a car accident several years ago.  But what has the makings of a pretty decent movie completely falls apart in the end.  Would it be considered a spoiler to say that nothing gets resolved here?  While some low-budget films opt for a quickie ending knowing that they’re almost out of tape, El Mudo simply doesn’t bother to tie up any loose ends, leaving me puzzled and unfulfilled.  On a side note, while I couldn’t quite comprehend what the Peruvian equivalent of “fuck” is, I can tell you it’s not all that different from the Mexican chingar.  So at least I sorta got something outta this screening…

TIFF 2013: Hey, this back-half pass ain’t so bad!

After yesterday, when I only got to buy tix for three of my six flick picks after spending four-and-a-half hours in the Virtual Waiting Room of Doom (and not even true doom–I’m talking like My Dying Bride or something), I was a little apprehensive about the availability of decent screenings for my back-half pack.  But much to my surprise, every single film I wanted to see after Tuesday still had tickets available–and I even had to make a couple tough choices in the process!  As a result, I won’t be catching the new Bruce McDonald flick until it hits (Canadian art-house) theatres, but I will be attending the following screenings:

El Mudo (Peru/France/Mexico, directed by Diego Vega and Daniel Vega)

I gotta say, I’m a big fan of the new FX drama The Bridge–or at least I was, until the super-lameo plot twist in last week’s episode.  That said, I sometimes feel that the show tends to offer an overly Americanized view of Mexico.  Enter El Mudo, a “black comedy and offbeat crime procedural” about a justice-driven judge with a whole lotta enemies.  And while it might be too soon to call the Vega brothers the Peruvian Coens, their first feature did win a jury prize at Cannes.  Hmm, so apparently the movie isn’t actually set in Mexico, but hey, as long as it doesn’t have some dead FBI agent who takes another man’s identity and goes around killing cops and hookers, it should still be good.  Erm, spoiler alert?

Borgman (Netherlands, directed by Alex van Warmerdam)

This Dutch film has been described as Kafkaesque and “somewhat related to the recent home invasion sub-genre,” which I didn’t even know was a thing.  It also features “a tribe of strange nomads,” the “psychosexual tensions” of the bourgeoisie and at least one senseless beating.  Sounds like the perfect date flick–if you enjoy drawing Richard Ramirez-inspired graffiti in your apartment elevator.

The Dick Knost Show (Canada, directed by Bruce Sweeney)

This domestic flick deals with a controversial sports radio host who takes an extended leave of absence after suffering an on-air concussion.  And here I was wondering what happened to Bob McCown…

Unforgiven (Japan, directed by Lee Sang-il)

When I read this synopsis, my jaw hit the floor.  A Japanese samurai flick based on the classic Clint Eastwood Oscar-winning Western!?  This could be the best thing since Sukiyaki Western Django!  (Saw that one at Midnight Madness back in ’07, BTW.)

Heart of a Lion (Finland/Sweden, directed by Dome Karukoski)

This was the most intriguing of my Saturday evening options.  A Finnish film in which a neo-Nazi skinhead falls for a woman with a black son.  Sorta like American History X, but without the curb-stomping.  The TIFF synopsis notes that director “Karukoski’s last film was the raucous hoser comedy Lapland Odyssey.”  Remind me to look for that one in Queen Video…

If you’re keeping track at home, I’m taking in films this year from Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan, Finland, Peru and a couple from Canada (which includes yesterday’s purchases).  I don’t wanna say that my experience with the screaming Johnny Depp fan-girls at last year’s fest ruined American cinema for me… but hey, I live a block away from a Cineplex now, so I can just wait till the Hollywood blockbusters hit regular theatres. ;)

TIFF 2013: And just as I was about to abandon all hope, the seas parted, and I was able to buy my festival tickets…

Don’t get me wrong, single-ticket-sale day for TIFF is always a gigantic clusterfuck, to the point where I finally decided to pick up a ticket pack this year.  But alas, twas the dreaded back-half pack, whose tickets aren’t made available for purchase until September 2nd, the day after non-pack-rats make their picks.  While looking at the schedule, I realized there were a few films that I just couldn’t wait to see, lest they sell out.  As it turns out, after four-and-a-half hours in the virtual waiting room, half of them were already off-sale.  *insert multilingual string of swear words here*

Now, I remember back in the good ol’ days, when the TIFF website would crash as soon as the box-office opened.  Somehow, by a stroke of beginner’s luck, I nabbed tix for Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey before their web infrastructure crumbled, going down for the next 24 hours.  Of course, they’ve made things a bit more robust since ’05, but they still seem incapable of containing the massive one-day surge in web traffic every year.  Case in point: despite joining the queue right at 9 am, I waited nearly four-and-a-half hours before getting in to make my ticket selections.  That’s 16,200 seconds, in case you were wondering. ;)

Now I dunno guy, but I don’t think these constantly-refreshing, to-the-second countdowns make matters any better.  Me, I’d much rather be told upfront I had a four-hour wait ahead than to be given the false impression that it was initially only 1800 seconds–speaking of which, what’s with keeping time in seconds, anyways?  So you figure, OK, I’ll get through in half an hour or so, but in reality, it took me the entire freakin’ morning, and a pretty decent chunk of the afternoon, to boot!

Now to be fair, I think I have waited in line for that amount of time a couple times in my life–but that was only because I wanted to be front-and-centre for Iron Maiden.  (Y’know, back in the day when gigs at the ACC had general-admission floors.)  And hey, when you’re physically standing in line, at least you can talk to people, pass a joint, pick up a bootlegged t-shirt–I actually have one that says Tony Iomi on it cuz I didn’t notice it was missing an “m” after all that, erm, second-hand smoke.  But when you’re in a virtual waiting room, you hafta find ways to keep yourself occupied… and that black screen with the white numbers isn’t much of a masturbatory aide.

At first, I was able to catch up on my emails, then my blog stats, and even my social media updates in a separate window, but after a couple hours, I was all caught up already.  I’d even adopted the habit of tweeting whenever my time-count got reset, which happened at least half-a-dozen times.  That’s when I stumbled across some success stories of people who got in after half an hour–because they had nine browser windows open.  Now, I figured that if TIFF really respected the line system, it shouldn’t matter how many windows you have, as long as you get there early.  But since these time-counts kept resetting to seemingly arbitrarily-assigned numbers, it appeared that it’s not about how long you’ve waited, but whether there’s an opening in the ticket booth when your clock ticks down to zero.  Imagine if you’d waited all afternoon to see Iron Maiden, but then the bouncer started randomly picking people out of the line and letting them in.  That’s kinda how I felt.

Thus, after three hours I opened a second window, and then a third.  By my fourth hour, I was up to six.  I even had them stacked on my screen so I could watch them all at once, rendering my computer otherwise useless.  To pass the time, I read a book, ran down to pay my rent and even made it across the street to pick up a burrito.  Of course, I timed said excursions to occur when each window had at least 600 seconds on the clock, so I wouldn’t miss any potential opportunity.

That said, once I scarfed down my burrito, I was starting to get a bit bummed out.  It was already after 1 pm, and I felt the day starting to slip away.  I even sent out a discouraged tweet, stating “Well, I don’t think it really matters anymore. After 4.5 hours in the #VirtualWaitingRoom, I don’t think I’m getting tix.:(”  But then, the moment I pressed “Tweet,” that’s when the magic happened.  I got in!  Honestly, I would have only given it another half-hour, tops, before I gave up.  But like I said, three of the six films I wanted to see on the opening weekend were already off-sale by then.  Here’s what I am seeing next week, though:

Border (Italy, directed by Alessio Cremonini)

With Obama preparing to go to war in Syria, and the British parliament narrowly voting against it (good thing our government is too busy raising fees on concert venues!), this topic couldn’t be more timely.  Set against the backdrop of the Syrian Civil War, tis a tale of two sisters who must escape to Turkey after their family switches sides.  And yes, this conflict’s been going on long enough already that movies about it are starting to hit the festival circuit…

Metalhead (Iceland, directed by Ragnar Bragason)

An Icelandic film called Metalhead!?  You had me at Halló!  Yes, I am part Icelandic, although the premise of a “darkly comic drama about a grief-stricken young woman who adopts the persona — and decibel-blasting predilections — of her deceased brother” sounds like it would be right up my alley, anyways.  Did I mention that the first TIFF screening I ever attended was Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey?  On that note, there’s no way in hell I’d shell out 25 bucks to see Metallica Through the Never, even if it is screening next Monday. ;)

Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story (Canada, directed by Barry Avrich)

A couple years back, I saw a fantastic two-hour documentary on Hugh Hefner at TIFF (I think it was 2010).  And yes, I’ve also watched The People vs. Larry Flynt a couple of times.  Thus, rounding out the trio of porno impresarios is Guccione, the former publisher of Penthouse.  Truth be told, I was slightly more interested in the Ralph Steadman bio-pic For No Good Reason, but some some (good?) reason, it’s only screening once–and, you guessed it, sold-out.  The two docs were both playing at the same time, anyways, so the virtual waiting room made up my mind on this one.

That being said, while I won’t be going for same-day seats For No Good Reason, there are a couple films that I might be queuing up at 7 am for.  Last year, I very nearly scored a same-day ticket for Spring Breakers, only to have it snatched from my hands before I could check out.  While the Harmony Korine flick did eventually make its way to theatres, I don’t think these two Canadian films will see such a widespread release… so if I can somehow see ‘em at the festival, that would be super:

The F Word (Canada/Ireland, directed by Michael Dowse)

What’s this, a romantic comedy directed by Michael Dowse of FUBAR, FUBAR II and Goon fame–starring Harry Fuckin’ Potter, of all people!?  This, I almost gotta see to believe!  (I presume there’s at least one scene where Daniel Radcliffe stabs a can of Old Style Pilsener with a knife and chugs it all down in one gulp, right?)  That being said, I’m not sure I wanna get up at 7 am on Saturday or Sunday for same-day tickets.  Hey, the guy directed the highest-grossing Canadian film of 2012–surely this one will eventually be showing at the Cineplex, eh?

All the Wrong Reasons (Canada, directed by Gia Milani)

This was the movie that killed Cory Monteith, so I can sorta see why it sold out.  Well okay, perhaps the shooting didn’t directly lead to his death, but methinks the former teen idol might have needed a whole lotta heroin to get into his character of a jilted department-store manager.  In any case, the Glee fan-girls know he won’t be showing up at the screening, right?

Putting the back (of the line) back in back-half pack…

It’s almost September, which means it’s totally TIFF time in Toronto.  They just unveiled the full film schedule yesterday, actually, although I haven’t had time to take a look yet.  (Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out when I can make it down to the Lightbox to see A Band Called Death–it’s only showing till next Thursday!)

This year, I decided to switch things up and purchase a ticket pack.  Never have before, but I figure I’d be good for at least six screenings anyways, so what the hey.  It just so happens that the back-half pack was offering six films for 68 bucks, which is actually cheaper than Cineplex.  And hey, I’ve done TIFF every year since I moved here in ’05, and I’ve had the odd occasion where I’ve been outta town for the first weekend, so I don’t really mind seeing movies on the backstretch.

Granted, most of the movie stars don’t stick around for the Q&As during the festival’s second week, and there might be less prestige in attending the third-ever screening of something instead of the premiere, but really, I’m just here for the movies.  Last year, I had to endure the whole media/fangirl circus when Johnny Depp made a token appearance when all I wanted to do was watch a documentary on the West Memphis Three.  Shouldda just waited till it hit Bloor Hot Docs, but anyhoo…

Alas, an added perk of the ticket packs is that you can make your selections before single tickets go on sale September 1st.  That is, unless you purchased–you guessed it–a back-half pack.  While I’m sure this was clearly stated when I bought the thing a couple months back, I had promptly forgotten about said sinister clause until the TIFF chatter recently began anew.

Can I just say this sucks more than a Dyson convention at the Hoover Dam?  I mean, I get that the second week isn’t the most popular part of the fest, but still, I’ve pre-committed to seeing (at least) six screenings this year.  How come I hafta wait until a full day after all the peons make their picks!?  Now, if there’s a movie I really, really, really wanna see, I’m gonna hafta join the crowds in the clusterfuck next Saturday to make sure I get a seat.  Let’s just hope their computer system doesn’t crash, or boot me to the back of the queue or something…

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time. :(

My take on TIFF 2012: The end of the world as we know it…

If the world does indeed come to an end in a couple months–provided there isn’t a rapture between now and December, that is–at least the Toronto International Film Festival will have gone out on top.  I’ve been going to TIFF for seven years, and this would hafta be the first time that I didn’t see one film I truly disliked.  I sure know how to pick ‘em, I guess.  That said, there were three other films on my hit list that completely sold out before I could get tickets through the much-improved online order system, so I’ll be marking at least a couple potential release dates on my calendar next year.  (Note to self: Spring Breakers, the new Harmony Korine film with a buncha Disney princesses doing very unprincessly things, is set to open March 5th.)  But of the seven movies I did see, here’s how I would rank them:

1. Disconnect (USA, directed by Henry Alex Rubin): Rubin was nominated for an Oscar in 2006–albeit in the documentary film category for Murderball.  That said, I would not be surprised to see this one up for Best Picture in 2014, based on artistic merit, anyways.  What 2006 Oscar-winner Crash did for racism, Disconnect does for the internet, and while some of the former’s scenes seemed a little over-dramatized (the burning car on the freeway, for instance), the latter feels very real.  I overheard several people muttering about how they were going to go home and change their passwords as they dropped their tickets in the People’s Choice ballot box.  Disconnect may lack the starpower of People’s Choice winner Silver Linings Playbook (starring a certain Mr. De Niro), but the ensemble cast does an excellent job here.  It likely won’t be a blockbuster, but I’d definitely suggest you see this movie.

2. West of Memphis (USA, directed by Amy Berg): Speaking of blockbusters, this one is set to hit theatres on Christmas Day.  But while people paid 40 bucks a pop to catch a glimpse of Johnny Depp, he only appears on screen for about a minute in this extensive documentary about the ongoing West Memphis Three murder case.  Berg, herself an Oscar-nominated documentarian (Deliver Us from Evil, 2007), followed the case for several years, capturing footage from outside the courtroom when the wrongfully-accused were set free–along with the three men’s separate reunions with their loved ones.  It’s pretty powerful stuff.  Alas, as the Three copped an Alford plea, they’re still considered guilty by the state of Arkansas, and the fight for a full exoneration continues.  Depp was just doing his part to help the cause by drawing so many people to this screening. ;)

3. Liverpool (Canada, directed by Manon Briand): This is one you won’t get to see in theatres–even if you live in Quebec, where its theatrical run is probably over, having been released August 3rd.  Though the Quebec press seemed pretty lukewarm on Liverpool, it received generally positive feedback from regular folks, and I’d have to side with them.  The story seems a little far-fetched at times, but it’s certainly an original tale blending romance and action with some charming young stars like the très cute Stéphanie Lapointe.  Overall, it’s an original take on an epic crime story, much like personal favourite Bon Cop, Bad Cop–though it doesn’t really have much in common with said film, aside from a slight scent of Canadiana.  On that note, I’ll definitely hafta rewatch Bon Cop a couple times over the NHL lockout, rewinding that scene where they lock Commissioner “Harry Buttman” in the trunk of a car a few times, at least…

4. 9.79* (UK, directed by Daniel Gordon): For a film loaded with Canadiana, look no further than this doc.  While directed by a Brit, the latest installment in ESPN’s 30 at 30 series focuses on one of our countries greatest athletic achievements–albeit one that’s forever tainted.  Usain Bolt may have shaved two-tenths of a second off Ben Johnson’s time at the ’88 Olympics, but Johnson was still incredibly fast.  Of course, he was also on drugs–but so were most of his competition.  While catching up with Johnson and all the other finalists from that race in Seoul, the film also sheds a new light on Golden Boy Carl Lewis, and it’s perhaps here that this doc benefits from a British–or at least, non-American–perspective.  If you walk away from 9.79* believing that Lewis never used PEDs, well, chances are you probably believe there were WMDs in Iraq, too.

5. Underground (Australia, directed by Robert Connolly): Albeit not a straight-up documentary film, Underground is certainly based on real-life events.  Following WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from his years as a teenage hacker up to his arrest by Australian police, the film seems to romanticize the actions of Assange while poking fun at the bumbling cops who tried to keep up with him.  It’s hard to believe now, but back in 1989 there were plenty of grown men who had never seen a computer before, whereas the 17-year-old hacker was already uncovering U.S. military targets through a dial-up modem.  On the other hand, it doesn’t paint Assange as a very good teenaged father; he knocked up his  girlfriend (apparently on their first roll in the hay), and clearly put family second to being a shit-disturber.  Yeah, I suppose that doesn’t surprise me…

6. A Liar’s Autobiography — The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman (UK, directed by Ben Timlett, Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson): This film being so low on my list shows that it was a bit of a disappointment.  Don’t get me wrong, the animation was awfully impressive, as they employed a dozen different studios and about as many different styles–albeit without making full use of the 3D technology.  (Neither do most 3D movies, mind you.)  However, the pervasive emotion here was sadness, not silliness, despite a few bursts of cheeky Python humour here and there.  Not only was this film a bit of a drag, it also seemed to drag on a bit, and I was starting to lose interest by the end of it.  Although it’s an ambitious effort to capture Chapman’s mockubiography on film, I think this might be another case where the book is better than the movie.

7. Wasteland (UK, directed by Roman Athale): Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a terrible film by any stretch–though it was hardly a ground-breaking cinematic effort, either.  Festival curator Cameron Bailey might have oversold it a bit as Ocean’s Eleven meets The Usual Suspects, though.  To me, it was more of a low-budget, less-action Guy Ritchie-type film; a less bloody Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels meets a less ambitious RocknRolla.  (For what it’s worth, I actually saw the latter at TIFF ’08, and didn’t find it particularly memorable.)  Though the young cast tackles the dark subject matter admirably–and, I gotta say, love interest Vanessa Kirby is a total knockout–the storyline seemed vaguely familiar, and I was able to foresee the dramatic twist a few minutes before it unfolded.  Not a bad directorial debut, but I’m not sure Athale is the next Guy Ritchie, either.

And there you have it, folks.  I’m already looking forward to TIFF 2013, as long as we’re not all underwater by then. ;)