Toronto Wrapup: Senh, Jen And Tim's Raves And Rants From The Festival

We saw some great movies, some of them big ("Babel") and some tiny ("The Patterns Trilogy"). We saw some interesting failures ("The Banquet") and some outright bombs ("All The King's Men"). We caught glimpses of big stars (Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Reese Witherspoon, and Sean Penn, among others) and important directors (Brian De Palma, Paul Verhoeven, Darren Aronofsky, and John Waters). (Check the photo gallery for more.)

It's been eight days since we returned from the Toronto International Film Festival, but the films we saw are still fresh in our minds. North America's biggest film fest definitely lived up to its reputation, and we thought we'd cap our coverage with the movies that kept us talking.



Here are the movies that struck a chord with us, both positively and negatively. (Click on the highlighted quotes for full reviews.)



Senh's Top Five:

1. "Still Life" - Set around the Yangtze River and the Three Gorges Dam in China, this is the most beautiful film I've seen this year. It's also realistically acted and filmed and charmingly edited.
2. "Exiled" - Johnny To's film about a group of hitmen is well written, hip, cool, and just plain fun.
3. "Election" - Thrills with efficient plotting and pacing. One of the better Triad films in recent years from Hong Kong. It's also directed by Johnny To. I'm a fan now.
4. "Pan's Labyrinth" - I've never seen a more gory film starring a kid. The character designs are very unique.
5. "The Fall" - Tarsem's ("The Cell") film has narrative problems, but it probably has the most realistic and best acting by a little girl (Catinca Untaru) ever.

Senh's Least Favorite:

1. "Dong" - This is a companion piece to Jia Zhang-Ke's "Still Life," but it's probably the most boring and pointless documentary I've ever seen.
2. "Election 2" - What the original would have been if everything went wrong. I'm still a fan of Johnny To, but let's hope he doesn't make "Exiled 2."
3. "The Fountain" - Don't listen to Tim.



Jen's Top 5 From Toronto (overall somewhat disappointing):

1. "Deliver Us From Evil:" Gripping, emotional and devastating; a documentary on clergy abuse, with intimate access to victims and the offender himself.
2. "The Patterns Trilogy:" It's visually rich, impeccably cute, and wholly mesmerizing. Jamie Travis' stop motion-musical duet-pop meditation on obsessive love is surreal and stylish and wonderful.
3. "Catch A Fire:" Derek Luke is amazing, Tim Robbins is a little less psycho than he was in "War of the Worlds"...overall a great anti-Apartheid, anti-government paranoia story.
4. "The Dog Problem:" Scott Caan's second directorial effort is a comic gem about social estrangement and loneliness and pets.
5. "This Filthy World:" Any John Waters fan must see this feature-length stand-up style show, if not for his hilarious anectodes, then for his insights into sex, politics, and filmmaking.

Screened elsewhere, but enjoyed more than the above: "Volver," "Borat," "Shortbus," "Paris, Je T'Aime"

Biggest Disappointments:

"Bobby" -- A monumental divide between my hopes and the (admittedly unfinished) product, excepting the last 10 minutes. But you can't fix too many thinly drawn characters and virtually no attempt at period detail in post.

"For Your Consideration" -- Considering the cast and their past films, this should have/could have been so much better. The Fred Willard-Jane Lynch infotainment send-up is by far the best part, most everything else is composed of easy insider jokes.

Best Toronto Film Festival Party -- The "Shortbus" Queer Lounge 11pm-4am live music extravaganza!! Burlesque dancers? Great. Awesome bands like Kids on TV and The Hidden Cameras? Great. JCM singing "Hedwig" songs? Priceless.




Tim's Top Five:

1. "Babel:" A work of remarkable craft, a masterpiece of sensorial and emotional intensity.
2. "Pan's Labyrinth:" This awe-inspiring mix of fantasy, horror and drama achieves something rare: it's equally resonant visually and emotionally.
3. "Rescue Dawn:" A thrilling movie, an old-fashioned tale of survival that may be the closest Werner Herzog has come to fashioning his obsession with the struggle between man and nature into a mainstream film.
4. "Little Children:" An adult film in the best sense; it creates three-dimensional characters, sets them loose to do what they will, and trusts that we will understand.
5. "The Page Turner:" A remarkable tale of shattered dreams and revenge, this French thriller in a minor key is tense and absorbing all the way through.

Screened elsewhere, and still awesome: "Borat," "Red Road," "Lights in the Dusk," "American Hardcore"

Biggest Disappointment: "All The King's Men:" It's is handsomely mounted. It features a stellar cast. And it's a misfire from the opening frames.

A movie that I really wanted to like but just couldn't: "Bobby"

Movies I liked better than my colleagues: "The Fountain," "For Your Consideration"

Best Avant Garde/Black Comedy/Romance/Musical/Short: "The Patterns Trilogy"

Movies I saw in the hotel room: "Executive Decision," "My Voyage to Italy," "Out of Sight," "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"



We'd like to extend greetings to some of the folks with whom we partied, conversed, and screened films: James Berardinelli, Erik Childress, James Rocchi, Kim Voynar, Scott Weinberg, and Paul Zimmerman. We'd also like to extend props to the many critics and bloggers we met in Toronto: Erica Abeel, Peter Debruge, Robert Denerstein, Michael Dwyer, Greg Elwood, Martha Fischer, Phoebe Flowers, Jonathan Hickman, Stephen Holt, Peter Howell, Geoff Pevere, David Poland, Alexia Prichard, Rene Rodriguez, Anne Thompson, Lawrence Toppman, and Sameer Vasta. We'd also like to acknowlge some of the filmmakers we met, including "Stormbreaker" writer Anthony Horowitz and the film's star Alex Pettyfer (Check out Jen's interview), Malcolm Ingram, Ash Christian, and Michael Tucker.



Check out our reviews, photos, blog entries, and all other related content from the Toronto International Film Festival.

Comments

Mikeal420

David Goldman

In the list of stars you mentioned you saw in the first paragraph, 3 out of four were from "All the King's Men". I dont get why they would all show up, since everyone knew before the film's premier it was lousy, did showing up really help their carreers?

Also, when does the film "Still Life" come out?? Mainland China is becoming my favorite country for films, would like to see as many as possible. China is the future, start studying Mandarin, your children will have to learn it someday!!!

Sep 25 - 08:36 PM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

Even though "Still Life" won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, it still hasn't been picked up by an American distributor yet. It's the type of film that's hard to market - a leisurely paced drama about two people searching for their long lost spouses filmed in a documentary style. Hopefully, someone here picks it up.

EDIT: Actually, it hasn't even been shown in China yet because of the somewhat controversial subject matter.

Sep 26 - 12:46 AM

mizzoucritic

Sean Ludwig

Tim, your top 2 are the films I'm most excited about seeing this season. And I'm still looking forward about The Fountain, even though my expectations are realistically lower now.

Sep 25 - 09:08 PM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

Even though "Still Life" won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, it still hasn't been picked up by an American distributor yet. It's the type of film that's hard to market - a leisurely paced drama about two people searching for their long lost spouses filmed in a documentary style. Hopefully, someone here picks it up.

EDIT: Actually, it hasn't even been shown in China yet because of the somewhat controversial subject matter.

Sep 26 - 12:46 AM

Unbreakable Samurai

Unbreakable Samurai

I want to see Pan's Labyrinth, The Fall, Catch A Fire, The Dog Problem, Babel, Rescue Dawn, and Little Children, so it's good to hear that they were all liked. I'm still trying to keep a little hope in liking Bobby, and The Fountain.

Sep 26 - 11:21 AM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

I liked Bobby. I thought it was alright. It's just that most people expected more because of the cast.

The Fountain's one of those films that depend very highly on the ending, and most people didn't think it delivered.

Sep 26 - 11:39 AM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

I liked Bobby. I thought it was alright. It's just that most people expected more because of the cast.

The Fountain's one of those films that depend very highly on the ending, and most people didn't think it delivered.

Sep 26 - 11:39 AM

Jen Yamato

Jen Yamato

[b]Bobby, Bobby, Bobby...[/b]
Showing it as a "work-in-progress" was smart and all, since it seemed terribly longish at times, and depends heavily on archival footage -- and who uses that much archival footage, there's an entire Beatles song or something in the movie with nothing but a History Channel RFK montage!!

But come on, there are tooo many players in the story, even for an "Altman-esque" flick, and that includes for sure a few too many big names/celebrities (say, Ashton Kutcher looking sillier in 60s garb than he does on That 70s Show)...which means that Estevez could pare it down, at the expense of his "impressive" cast that's the movie's biggest draw anyhow. Axe RollerGirl and her five-odd lines, or excise Helen Hunt and Daddy Sheen altogether. Who had Keep Le Bouef though, that kid's got talent.

Too bad they can't go back and reshoot the first 100 minutes, maybe hire an actual set dresser or art director in an attempt to make it look something like 1968. That would be nice. And what's with Frodo looking like he just popped onset without going to wardrobe? With the exception of Sharon Stone's makeup and Nick Cannon's 60s fro, did anyone have to dress for the period?

Blah. I wanted better.

Sep 26 - 04:25 PM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

There are four other guys who agree with me, including critics from Variety and Hollywood Reporter:

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/bobby/ (80%)

I think it'll drop by the time it opens though.

Sep 26 - 04:31 PM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

There are four other guys who agree with me, including critics from Variety and Hollywood Reporter:

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/bobby/ (80%)

I think it'll drop by the time it opens though.

Sep 26 - 04:31 PM

Elixir

Birdy Man

fountain someones least fav? that person has horrible taste.

Sep 26 - 05:18 PM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

That someone includes most of the critics at the Venice Film Festival, where it was booed, and the Toronto International Film Festival. Go in with low expectations.

Sep 26 - 05:55 PM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

That someone includes most of the critics at the Venice Film Festival, where it was booed, and the Toronto International Film Festival. Go in with low expectations.

Sep 26 - 05:55 PM

jeremyd4

jeremy d

Who boos films.. I mean really... it's so ridiculous.

Sep 26 - 11:27 PM

ayu_rocks

Max Sterling

Senh, are you sure you actually saw both Election and Election 2? I saw the first film last year sometime and Election 2 a few months ago and find Election 2 to be the truest film sequel in recent memory. You need to explain your vague phrase a bit more - "What the original would have been if everything went wrong." I'm beginning to wonder how many triad films you've seen. There have been quite a lot of good and excellent triad films and crime dramas released in Hong Kong in recent years.

Also, Exiled is already a sequel to To's 1999 film "The Mission". Check it out.

Sep 27 - 12:20 AM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

Yeah, you're right about Exiled. I'll definitely watch "The Mission."

Election 2, I felt was pretty much a retread of the first film, except the pacing wasn't as tight, and the focus was more on gore and blood rather than a more streamlined script. I also felt it would have been much more interesting if the sequel started exactly where the first film left off. Now that Simon Yam had assembled this awesome team of triad members, show us what they can do as a group. Why have another election? We already saw it in the first film. It's way too predictable.

Sep 27 - 01:57 AM

ayu_rocks

Max Sterling

I don't think To was worried about predictability in Election 2. In the first film, he already established the characters were all cold blooded and heartless, so there was no reason to change that. As for the story, To was less concerned about what Simon Yam's character did during his term as chairman than bringing the whole election process to a natural conclusion. First off, in the end, Louis Koo's character Jimmy is no better than anyone else. Second, the election process is de-legitimized as Jimmy is essentially (and unknowingly) backed by mainland China. The focus was definitely not on the blood and gore. Like the first film, much of the violence was implied rather than explicitly shown. To me, these films represent To at his most mature. If you watch especially his past films, he's a very commercially savvy director who occassionally crosses the line into art, as is the case with Election and Election 2.

Sep 27 - 01:41 PM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

I noticed I've seen a decent number of his previous films - Love on a Diet, Fulltime Killer, Heroic Trio, My Left Eye Sees Ghosts. He has a very diverse filmography.

I disagree about the gore. Yes, in the first film, it was mostly implied - and that's what I liked about it. In the second one, especially the scene with the meat grinder, the violence was pretty explicit.

I noticed all of the little differences you mentioned, but overall, it was still more of the same, but not as well crafted.

Well, you obviously liked Election 2 a lot more than I did. To each his own. I was very disappointed by it. I saw the two films at Toronto back-to-back, so the flaws in Election 2 seem all the more glaring to me.

Sep 27 - 02:04 PM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

Yeah, you're right about Exiled. I'll definitely watch "The Mission."

Election 2, I felt was pretty much a retread of the first film, except the pacing wasn't as tight, and the focus was more on gore and blood rather than a more streamlined script. I also felt it would have been much more interesting if the sequel started exactly where the first film left off. Now that Simon Yam had assembled this awesome team of triad members, show us what they can do as a group. Why have another election? We already saw it in the first film. It's way too predictable.

Sep 27 - 01:57 AM

ayu_rocks

Max Sterling

I don't think To was worried about predictability in Election 2. In the first film, he already established the characters were all cold blooded and heartless, so there was no reason to change that. As for the story, To was less concerned about what Simon Yam's character did during his term as chairman than bringing the whole election process to a natural conclusion. First off, in the end, Louis Koo's character Jimmy is no better than anyone else. Second, the election process is de-legitimized as Jimmy is essentially (and unknowingly) backed by mainland China. The focus was definitely not on the blood and gore. Like the first film, much of the violence was implied rather than explicitly shown. To me, these films represent To at his most mature. If you watch especially his past films, he's a very commercially savvy director who occassionally crosses the line into art, as is the case with Election and Election 2.

Sep 27 - 01:41 PM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

I noticed I've seen a decent number of his previous films - Love on a Diet, Fulltime Killer, Heroic Trio, My Left Eye Sees Ghosts. He has a very diverse filmography.

I disagree about the gore. Yes, in the first film, it was mostly implied - and that's what I liked about it. In the second one, especially the scene with the meat grinder, the violence was pretty explicit.

I noticed all of the little differences you mentioned, but overall, it was still more of the same, but not as well crafted.

Well, you obviously liked Election 2 a lot more than I did. To each his own. I was very disappointed by it. I saw the two films at Toronto back-to-back, so the flaws in Election 2 seem all the more glaring to me.

Sep 27 - 02:04 PM

gay4god

Bob Cool Guy

One man, One quest, One name, One love:

BORAT

Sep 27 - 08:31 AM

ayu_rocks

Max Sterling

I don't think To was worried about predictability in Election 2. In the first film, he already established the characters were all cold blooded and heartless, so there was no reason to change that. As for the story, To was less concerned about what Simon Yam's character did during his term as chairman than bringing the whole election process to a natural conclusion. First off, in the end, Louis Koo's character Jimmy is no better than anyone else. Second, the election process is de-legitimized as Jimmy is essentially (and unknowingly) backed by mainland China. The focus was definitely not on the blood and gore. Like the first film, much of the violence was implied rather than explicitly shown. To me, these films represent To at his most mature. If you watch especially his past films, he's a very commercially savvy director who occassionally crosses the line into art, as is the case with Election and Election 2.

Sep 27 - 01:41 PM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

I noticed I've seen a decent number of his previous films - Love on a Diet, Fulltime Killer, Heroic Trio, My Left Eye Sees Ghosts. He has a very diverse filmography.

I disagree about the gore. Yes, in the first film, it was mostly implied - and that's what I liked about it. In the second one, especially the scene with the meat grinder, the violence was pretty explicit.

I noticed all of the little differences you mentioned, but overall, it was still more of the same, but not as well crafted.

Well, you obviously liked Election 2 a lot more than I did. To each his own. I was very disappointed by it. I saw the two films at Toronto back-to-back, so the flaws in Election 2 seem all the more glaring to me.

Sep 27 - 02:04 PM

The Senhman

Senh Duong

I noticed I've seen a decent number of his previous films - Love on a Diet, Fulltime Killer, Heroic Trio, My Left Eye Sees Ghosts. He has a very diverse filmography.

I disagree about the gore. Yes, in the first film, it was mostly implied - and that's what I liked about it. In the second one, especially the scene with the meat grinder, the violence was pretty explicit.

I noticed all of the little differences you mentioned, but overall, it was still more of the same, but not as well crafted.

Well, you obviously liked Election 2 a lot more than I did. To each his own. I was very disappointed by it. I saw the two films at Toronto back-to-back, so the flaws in Election 2 seem all the more glaring to me.

Sep 27 - 02:04 PM

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