Report from Toronto International Film Festival - Day 8
7th Oct 08
My final day of film-going began with another headache; not through over indulgence I hasten to add, just another schedule clash. After the intensity of Martyrs the night before I decided to pass on What Doesn't Kill You (crime drama) and Nothing But The Truth (political thriller) and instead go for something lighter.
Jessica Biel and Ben Barnes in Easy Virtue
Easy Virtue from director Stephan Elliott (The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert) is a comedy of manners based on a Noel Coward play - and it's jolly good. Larita (Jessica Biel) is a race-car driver who impulsively marries John (Ben Barnes) and then travels with him to his family's country home to meet the in-laws (Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas). Needless to say there's quite a culture clash, with John's sisters especially disapproving of his new bride and attempting to sabotage their marriage.
Easy Virtue is a period comedy but maintains a contemporary feel with a reworked soundtrack of modern anthems. It's light, frothy and, crucially, very funny with Kris Marshall (star of those annoying BT ads, and more recently The Amazing Trousers short film) stealing every scene as the family's deadpan butler. Firth and Scott Thomas excel at these types of characters of course but it's Biel who is the revelation here, showing previously untapped depths to her acting and a natural flair for comedy. A pleasant surprise and a great start to the day!
Michael Fassbender in Hunger
I was pleased to bump into Ian at the Easy Virtue screening as that gave us time to catch up and make plans for the Midnight Madness party later in the day. After grabbing a quick coffee I returned to the Cumberland for Hunger. Starring Michael Fassbender (Eden Lake) as Bobby Sands, the film depicts the Irishman's last six weeks inside the Maze prison as he goes on hunger strike. Set in the infamous H-block the film focuses on a handful on inmates as they protest and are systematically victimised by prison officers.
Based on true events this is real life horror at its starkest and most unpleasant. Forget the escapism of Deadgirl or Acolytes, this actually happened - and watching these events play out on screen was, for me at least, the most upsetting, depressing experience I had during the entire festival. British artist Steve McQueen, making his directorial debut here, coaxes a strong performance from Fassbender and includes an audacious 22 minute scene in which Sands talks to the prison chaplain, all filmed in one-shot by a single fixed camera. Hunger is defiantly hard-hitting and well crafted but not something I'd ever wish to sit through again.
With Vincent Cassel outside the Sutton Place Hotel
Now, being a massive fan of Vincent Cassel I had been toying with the idea of going down to the Roy Thompson Hall later on to see if I could spot the actor at the public premiere of Public Enemy Number One. Having now made arrangements to meet up with Ian instead, that idea had been scrapped, but as luck would have it fate had a surprise in store for me. As I approached the Sutton Place Hotel on my way to the Screening Library I spotted the man himself stood idly outside with a couple of his assistants. People say that you should never meet your heroes - I say bollocks to all that! Without even thinking I strode up and introduced myself. I have no idea what I said, it was all a bit of a blur, but Vincent was extremely gracious and keen to hear my thoughts on his latest film. Luckily for me I still had the press booklet in my bag which he happily signed, and after I enquired if I could get a photo he volunteered to take the shot himself. For someone like me, funding this trip out of my own pocket just because of my passion for the job, it's unexpected moments like this that make it so special.
Macarena Gomez in Sexykiller
It would be wrong to imply that I enjoyed Sexykiller simply because I was still experiencing a huge adrenalin rush after meeting Vincent Cassel! This Spanish horror-comedy is narrated by Barbara (Macarena Gomez), the titular 'sexykiller', a Barbie-meets-Hannibal-Lecter character as much obsessed with the latest fashions as she is with copious bloodletting. Dubbed the Campus Killer, she stalks the medical school randomly killing any boy who annoys her, all the while searching for the one guy who'll be her perfect soulmate. Tomas (Cesar Camino) seems to fit the bill but he's just invented a machine that decodes brain impulses and which could unmask Barbara as the killer! As the wacky plot unfolds all hell breaks loose (literally), the dead come back to life, and Barbara has to call on all her resources to survive.
It's such a shame I saw this film as a screener disc as it demands to be seen on a big screen with a baying audience - a perfect Midnight Madness film then. Sexykiller never takes itself too seriously - witness Barbara's frequent comments to camera - and it plays perfectly to genre conventions with zombies, chainsaws and skimpy clothing all thrown into the mix. Sure, the story is wafer thin but the sheer exuberance of its execution from director Miguel Marti and the joyful performance from Gomez carries the film. Great fun!
Tyler Labine in Control Alt Delete
My final film of the festival was written and directed by a local guy, Toronto's own Cameron Labine. Control Alt Delete is an independent low budget, extremely offbeat romantic comedy about a guy who has sex with computers. Yes, you read that correctly. Lewis (Tyler Labine - best known for his role as Sock in Reaper, and who also happens to be the director's brother) becomes addicted to internet porn after being dumped by his girlfriend, and his obsession takes a wild and unusual turn when he takes a large drill to his hard drive and actually gets physically intimate with his machine. Set at the dawn of the new millennium, Lewis is a key member of a team of computer geeks working on the Y2K problem and he tries to camouflage his personal behaviour by asking out Jane (Sonja Bennett), the new receptionist. Pressures at work mount up, Lewis is torn between his two very different relationships, and just to complicate matters even further, Jane has a kinky little secret of her own.
As you'll have no doubt gathered already, Control Alt Delete is definitely quirky. In the hands of David Cronenberg it could have become something even darker and more disturbing, but Labine goes for the innate comedy of the story without resorting to the obvious crude, vulgar gags. That Lewis is such a oddball guy, it's to Tyler Labine's credit that he's able to give such a sensitive performance, playing it straight throughout.
With Colin Geddes and Ian Rattray at the Midnight Madness party
My last night in Toronto happily coincided with Colin’s annual Midnight Madness cocktail party, again being held out West at a little bar called The Social. I met up with Ian in the lobby of at our hotel just before 8pm and we shared a cab to the venue, picking up Ant along the way. Once we’d got inside – my name wasn’t down on the list – we were greeted by a free bar so quickly got stuck in! The place soon filled up and it was great to just relax and chat about the festival with friends old and new. In addition to Colin, his assistant Chris and the MM bloggers, a number of MM directors were also present including Gadi Harel and Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), Jon Hewitt (Acolytes) and JT Petty (The Burrowers). Sanjay was our point man, scanning the crowd for familiar faces and it was he who first spotted Prachya Pinkaew (Chocolate, closing the MM strand, and Ong Bak) with fellow director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Kairo – in Toronto with his new non-horror film Tokyo Sonata) so we soon scurried over to say hello to them. Later on in the evening we also managed to catch up with Sexykiller Macarena Gomez along with the film’s director Miguel Marti.
With Prachya Pinkaew at the Midnight Madness party
Ian had to leave before the end as he had an early flight the next morning, but before he left we caught up with Michael Doherty and Paula Devonshire (George A. Romero’s co-producer and editor respectively) who confirmed that George was just about to start shooting his latest movie, a spin-off from Diary Of The Dead. Having also had time to get acquainted with Peter (Toronto After Dark Festival) and Kurt (Twitch) a group of us, including Ant and Mitch, then decided to carry on drinking elsewhere, led by Jovanka and some of her Rue Morgue crew. After a long walk back towards town we ended up in an alternative music bar called the Rok Club where we were able to take over the outside patio area. A few more beers later and I finally bailed with Ant, leaving Mitch and the rest to continue partying into the early hours.
With Ian Rattray, Ant Timpson and Mitch Davis at the Midnight Madness party
And so we come to the end of another fantastic festival experience. If I had to choose then I’d single out Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler and Public Enemy Number One as my favourite films out of the 34 titles that I managed to see at, with Detroit Metal City and Martyrs being the pick of the Midnight Madness selections.
A final few thank-you’s before I sign off: to Colin Geddes, Christopher Sanchez and the Midnight Madness bloggers – Darryl, Sanjay and Robert; the Film Fest Mafia – Ian, Bruce, Ant, Mitch, Todd and James; and a big round of applause for all the TIFF staff and volunteers who were all so helpful and friendly throughout, and facilitated a smooth, stress-free festival. See you again next year!
Easy Virtue screens at the London Film Festival on 28th & 29th October and opens nationwide on 7th November.
Hunger screens at the London Film Festival on 19th & 20th October and opens nationwide on 31st October.
For more information on TIFF including the Midnight Madness blogs please visit www.tiff08.ca.