08 July, 2013

Rise of Suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex, happy endings... mainly happy endings

So here's the thing.

If you were passing by the Michael Fowler Centre last Tuesday at 5.45 in the morning, you'd have seen me, a lone figure, standing, waiting in anticipation of film festival tickets going on sale. By 6am, there were three people there. By 6.30am, five people.

And then a sixth person arrived. And this person was unusual. Firstly, each year you see the same people queuing for festival tickets, but I'd never seen this person before. Plus, the film festival attracts a certain type of person, and queuing for festival tickets attracts an even more specific type of person. This guy, I'm not wanting to judge him, but he did not look like a film festival type. But that's okay.

What did bother me was that this guy, rather than waiting at the end of the queue, decided to hang around by the front the queue, over by me. I've expressed my views in the past about the importance of following proper queue etiquette, so I was very disapproving of this, although I didn’t say anything at the time. But I did count the number of people that were there, working out his place in the queue, just in case it came to be an issue.

A bit of time passed, and then a conversation started to take place between those of us at the front of the queue with this guy. At one point, he himself commented that he was number six. (I am not a number! I am a free man!) So I was pleased by that comment, since it indicated he did not intend to queue-jump, he knew his position in the queue. But shortly after, as the conversation progressed, it became clear everyone was talking at cross-purposes. Where we all assumed he was waiting for film festival tickets, he had assumed we queuing three hours in advance for rugby tickets - tickets which had apparently gone on sale the day before, and which he apparently knew had gone on sale the day before. (I don’t understand why he would think that many people would queue so early for tickets that were already available, but never mind.)

The thing is, as soon as we discovered he was there for rugby tickets, everyone was saying “come in front of me”. Including me. Because the problem with people buying film festival tickets, especially those of us that queue on opening day, is that we’re not buying tickets to one event. We’re buying tickets to 20, 30, or more individual events, each of which has to be identified, searched for, seat selections made, and so on. (This year it took 25 minutes for me to get all my tickets.) It’s a long process, so when we discovered this guy needed tickets for one event, we were fine with him going ahead of us – he’ll be gone in two minutes, and there’s no reason to make him wait for 30 minutes to get to the front of the queue.

So, 9am comes, all five ticketing stations were open, and I start to get my tickets. So this year, I’ve bought tickets for:

- Blancanieves
- Utu Redux
- Wadjda
- Like Someone In Love
- Behind the Candelabra
- Stories We Tell
- Oh Boy
- The East
- Upstream Color
- The Spectacular Now
- Frances Ha
- The Past
- In the House
- The Selfish Giant
- The Bling Ring
- Ernest and CĂ©lestine
- North by Northwest
- Mud
- 2 Autumns, 3 Winters
- The Summit
- Mood Indigo
- To the Wonder
- Much Ado About Nothing
- Dial M For Murder (3D)
- Giselle
- The Act of Killing
- The Crowd
- Museum Hours
- You're Next

Plus I’m planning to hopefully leave work early one day to see Only Lovers Left Alive at a late afternoon screening.

There's a lot of films I'm excited about this year. For a start, there's Behind the Candelabra. Normally a biopic about Liberace wouldn't hold much interest for me, but since Steven Soderbergh has announced that he is retiring as a film director and this will be his last film, it immediately becomes a significant film that should be seen.

Earlier this year I watched all four of Sofia Coppola's previous film  over a week or two, and was really blown away at just how good she really is. (Her first film, The Virgin Suicides, in particular is just remarkable.) So I'm excited to see The Bling Ring, her adaptation of this fascinating Vanity Fair article about a group of kids who commit robberies of celebrities' houses. (I also need to point to this incredibly awful clip from an E! reality TV show following one of the real thieves, where she phones the writer of the VF article to complain about key inaccuracies in the article.)

Even if I weren't a Joss Whedon fan, I think I'd be interested in his Much Ado About Nothing, just because of the story behind the film. Whedon famously holds Shakespeare parties, where he gets together with his friends, actors he's worked with, and stages Shakespeare readings. He was planning a visit to Europe for his 20th wedding anniversary, in between the finish of filming of The Avengers and the start of editing. But his wife apparently visited him on set, saw how stressed he was, and suggested they cancel the holiday so that the famously workaholic Whedon could do something to relax. Which meant grabbing all his friends and filming an entire film adaptation of Much Ado in under a fortnight at his house.That's just an amusing story. The fact that reviews indicate it's a good film is almost an bonus.

Upstream Color was one of the first festival films to be announced this year, which made me very happy. It's the second film from Shane Carruth, a director whose brilliant low-budget first film, Primer, is an attempt to make a time travel film that treats the consequences of time travel seriously. (By which I mean that it requires diagrams to even begin to figure out what was going on in that film. Even so, I don't know what was going on.) I know nothing about what happens in Upstream Color, but based on Primer, I'm thrilled to find out.

Alfred Hitchcock is my favourite film director, so I'm excited to see two of his films at the Embassy. North By Northwest is obviously one of his best movies, but I was very pleased by the announcement that they are showing Dial M For Murder in 3D. I saw the 3D version a few years ago, when the Paramount had a mini-3D-festival that consisted of Dial M and the 50s House of Wax. Dial M For Murder doesn't have a lot of showy 3D moments (certainly not when compared to House of Wax with the famous paddle-ball scene), but he does use it to create an atmosphere very well, and the one big showy 3D moment comes at the suspense high-point in the film, in a way that amplifies the effect but doesn't make it feel gratuitous. It's easily my favourite 3D moment ever, and I'm looking forward to seeing that hand reach out of the Embassy screen.

Then there are the new films from Asghar Farhadi and Brit Marling. Both directors have really blown me away over the last couple of festivals - Farhadi's A Separation was my favourite film two years ago, while writer-actor Marling gave us some great low-budget thoughtful science fiction films in Another Earth and Sound Of My Voice in 2011 and 2012. I'm excited to see both of their new works. Rather irritatingly, the titles of the films differ only one letter - Farhadi has The Past, while Marling has The East. I can just see that I'm going to be getting those two films confused for the foreseeable future.

Everyone who has seen it seems to love (if that's the right word for it) The Act Of Killing, a rather horrific-sounding documentary in which a filmmaker interview members of Indonesian death squads about the people they murdered, and even gets them to stage reenactments of their killings in a manner that is interpreted by the killers through Hollywood films. It's a fascinating concept, with the potential to explore some interesting ideas not just about these particular deaths but also possibly the impact of cinema in the real world and the way it influences perceptions. I don't know that I'm looking forward to it, but since every review praises the film unreservedly, it will be an interesting watch.

I'm also glad to see the return of the Live Cinema event for the first time in a couple of years. Watching silent films with live accompaniment is a great experience, so I'm looking forward to The Crowd.

And then there are new films from Michel Gondry (Mood Indigo), and the suddenly prolific Terence Malick (To the Wonder). And there are a few films I've heard good things about: Mud, The Spectacular NowThe Selfish Giant, or Sarah Polley's documentary Stories We Tell that explores her family history.

I had an unusual experience this year trying to book tickets for the new cut of Utu (the official opening night film). Usually I can get very very good seats, close to the best in the cinema - after all, that's why I queue up. So I was shocked when the best seats I could get for Utu were in the second-to-last row of the Embassy - I've never had that before. That was two minutes after tickets went on sale. It turns out that there was a big block booking for filmmakers that took up a huge amount of the seats in the cinema. (I assume there's a similar explanation for my almost-as-poor seats for the screening of Giselle.) And that's all very well. But if so much of the cinema is going to be booked out (and something like that they MUST have known about well in advance), they really should have a extra screening of the film - and no, the off-peak screenings don't count.

I'm also disappointed by the absence of The Grandmaster. I've just started working my way through the films of Wong Kar Wai - I'm only two films in, but so far I'm enjoying it. I'd have loved to see his new film at the Embassy - it looks like a beautiful film that would have been remarkable on that screen- but it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

But beyond that, I found it a bit of a disappointing festival, at least at first glance. A couple of years ago, just reading the programme gave me a long-list of 50 films I wanted to see, and I was disappointed to have to cut it down to the 34 I eventually saw. This year, my initial pass through the programme left me with a list numbering in the teens. After a few more passes, borrowing from the lists of other people, and so on, I'm managed to pull together a list that makes me feel like I'm sufficiently taking advantage of the opportunity the festival offers. But I'm not as excited overall by this year as I have been in the past. Hopefully my excitement will amplify as I see all these films. We'll see.

29 June, 2013

Shadow Redux

So here's the thing,

As happened last year, it's taken me almost a year to post my thoughts on last year's film festival. I originally posted these comments on Facebook to record my immediate response to each film, and the effort in putting all of this into words is apparently nothing compared to the toil involved in motivating myself to paste these comments into my blog and formatting them. But the upcoming sale of tickets for the 2013 festival has finally prompted me to put in the effort. And so...

[Thoughts on my 2012 film festival after the break].

25 February, 2013

1219 minutes

So here’s the thing.

Firstly, a disclaimer: I have been busy this past couple of months. Very busy. So busy that I haven’t really had the time to work on my Oscar post that I would normally do. Instead, I found myself throwing the odd paragraph together where I could find the time. So with ten minutes here and ten minutes there I've managed to cobble together this post – which is still surprisingly long for something so hurriedly written – but I haven’t really had much time to rework my writing, in the way that I normally would. (There are also other things I wanted to say but haven’t had the time to write them.) I would just try to find the time to fix this up, but the Oscars are on tomorrow, and I want to get this posted before then. So, what you'll find here is basically a first very-rough draft. Be prepared for some pretty clumsy and inelegant writing. Apologies for that.

[Spoilers for Les Misérables, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour, Lincoln, and Django Unchained, after the break.]