Festival Watch 2006

Festival Watch 2006: Day Four

A brief look at the some of the films and events happening at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

Until now, the anti-piracy security at the festival screenings have been relatively inconspicuous. I generally don't notice them, and actually haven't seen any security at all at many screenings. That all changed today at a screening of Mira Nair's The Namesake. The first thing I noticed when I walked in were the two big security guards standing in front of the screen wielding what looked like video camera guns, ready to shoot down your cameraphone as soon as you pulled it out. They moved to the side of the screen once the movie started, but they sure made their presence felt.

The good folks at Torontoist linked to this ridiculous blog post on one man's journey to Toronto for the festival. Which made me think of a conversation I had today with a lovely old lady from Seattle at the Varsity. Waiting in line for one of the many screenings of the day, I could tell that she was struggling to stay standing up, so I asked a volunteer if I could grab a chair for her, and they complied. After I had set up the chair and she had sat down (legs still trembling) she shared with me a small anecdote: "When I was at Sundance in a two hour line up and asked for a chair, the people at the festival yelled at me and told me if I was too tired to wait in line, I shouldn't be at the festival anyways. You people in Toronto are just so much nicer."

And now for some movies:

The Last Kiss
Tony Goldwyn, USA
Despite being based on the Italian film l'Ultimo Bacio, the best way to describe The Last Kiss is simply by calling it Garden State 2. (Which isn't a bad thing at all; after all, Garden State is one of my favorite films of all time.) While the story might be different and screenwriter Paul Haggis does a good job of making the dialogue feel a little less hipster-influenced by Braff's earlier film, The Last Kiss is essentially a film about Zach Braff — who plays almost the exact same character as he did in Garden State, but a few years older — and his struggle to find the meaning of his life as he turns 30 years old.

For those of you scared off by the Garden State reference, do know that in the capable hands of Tony Goldwyn and with the particularly astute script by Paul Haggis, The Last Kiss is a lot more mature than the 2004 come-drama. Relationships are much more real, and the repercussions of actions are life-altering. If you're dealing with a recent break-up (ahem), this film will definitely be a tear-jerker, but in general, it's a fun yet heart-breaking look at the tumultuous nature of love and aging.

Patterns Trilogy
Jamie Travis, USA
Jamie Travis continues to impress me, with The Saddest Boy in the World being remarkably poignant, and now with the Patterns Trilogy being amazingly unsettling. The trilogy is about a twisted anti-courting ritual between two individuals who have just broken up from seems like a healthy relationship, leaving you to wonder how the characters could have become so weird after the falling apart. In a sense, the entire trilogy is a visually stunning psycho-drama that uses the most intensely vivid color palette I have ever seen (those greens!) and plays with a sense of suburban desolation it a similar way as The Saddest Boy.

The first two parts of the trilogy function as good exposition, with spinning teacups (through a creepy stop motion animation) and extremely personal fortune cookies and such intense color and attention to detail that it's impossible not to hold your breath in anticipation for the finale. The final part of the trilogy, Patterns 3, is by far the most unsettling dealing with some obsessive compulsive behavior and desperation and broken love by having the two characters singing. Yes, they sing, and then do they some crazy coreographed dance number, and then sing some more, dance some more, and then do voodoo. Yup, voodoo. I left the trilogy sufficiently weirded out, but also really impressed with Travis' work so far: he's not your ordinary short film maker.

All The King's Men
Steven Zaillian, USA
Super Hollywood stars and a big name director does not a good film make, as was fully shown by Stephen Zaillian's new film All the King's Men. Adapted from the earlier film of the same name, not only does the new All the King's Men feature writing and directing by Zaillian, but also assembles an all-star cast including Jude Law, Sean Penn, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini and Anthony Hopkins. Alas, it's still a pretty bad movie, despite all the names.

The first 20 minutes of the film were great; Sean Penn's monologues as he launched his political campaign are inspiring and Oscar-worthy. From there, it all goes downhill. Zaillian glorifies his protagnoist Willie Stark a bit too much, and instead of feeling engaged with Stark (Penn) and his PR guy Jack Burden (Jude Law), we just want them to get off screen so the agonizingly-long film can just end. It's clear that Penn took this role not because the movie was good, but because he knew the character was animated enough to get him an Oscar nod.

Pan's Labyrinth
Guillermo del Toro, Spain
I'm going to be quick on this one, because really, you should watch it for yourself. I'm hoping that it will be widely distributed here in Canada very soon, because not only do I want to watch it again, but I want everyone else I know to see it as well. Hands down, Pan's Labyrinth has been the best film I have seen at the festival so far, and probably the best film I have seen this year in general.

Guillermo del Toro's film is part fantastical fairy-tale with magical creatures, and part political drama with violence and war, and each of these different genres interweave with ease and effectiveness. Difficult to explain and even harder to understand completely upon first viewing, the movie will leave you scratching your head and asking whether the fairy-tale sequences are actual supernatural occurences or just the figment of the overactive fantasy of an oppressed and scared child. Either way, you'll be amazed by Pan's Labyrinth: I surely was.

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