2003 Toronto International Film Festival

PTU (Johnnie To) viewed 9-2-03 on dvd
59 2003
Typical Johnnie To film, which is to say fairly untypical of anything that is recognizable to action films from the US or Honk Kong.  The film is shot in cool tones on darkened streets that perfectly suggest the nighttime setting of the story.  The tone is all right, but the film meanders on the plot side turning corners that are both predictable and overly convenient.  The middle section also drags a bit between the excellent setup and the final shootout.

FRIDAY Sept. 5

All over the map tonally, this film plays like a serial killer film filtered through elements of nostalgia, silly comedy and routine police procedural cliches.  The comedy scenes are not funny enough and the serial killer elements are not suspenseful or surprising enough for the film to overcome its length (it’s over two hours – and feels like it) or my lack of involvement with the characters.

IN THE CITY (Cesc Gay)
23 2003
First I cope to the fact that I generally dislike films that focus on a group of characters who all know each other and seem to be going through similar problems as each other, at the same time as each other.  Though I don’t think I’ve ever been as repelled by a film of this type.  The characters are all so bourgeois and self-centered, suffering through their often petty problems.  They drone on depressed and self-repressed to the point where I wished death upon each of the characters.  Death never came for any of them – thus 23 (which is probably extremely generous considering how much I loathed it).

CYPHER (Vincenzo Natali)
34 2003
Sci-fi film that grows from merely silly to stupid and finally almost painful.  The film screams straight-to-Sci-fi Channel with its cheesy action scenes, redundant visual style (shot for most of the first half like a film noir – Note to Sci-fi Directors: Film noir has been done to death in sci-fi, Please stop!).  Lucy Liu gives the flattest line-deliveries of her career (a mighty feat) and her chemistry with Northam is one of the many things that doesn’t work in the film.  I’m too tired right now to type more of them.


71 2003
A slick actor’s showcase with three superb performances (Cage, Rockwell and the previously unknown to me Lohman) and expert direction from Ridley Scott: who does simple things to enhance the film – like switching across the axis during Cage’s breakdown.  The ending is a bit of a letdown, but mostly because I didn’t want the plot to get in the way of the characters.

64 2003
A fascinating film, for at least one-third of it: with the film layering data (including other takes of the same scene and auditions for the characters we are seeing) over the film in little boxes so they float through the frame like ghosts, commenting on the information age with internet pop-ups and dvd’s with extra features that give you a clear idea of some of the work that went into making the finished product.  They are flattened against the film like they co-exist in the world of obsessive cataloguing and labeling: each chapter of the film is labeled, the characters are numbered and named and other random objects are selected for the “92 Objects to Represent the World.”  What does it all mean?  Is it a comment on fascism?  Uh, maybe I’ll know with another viewing.  Greenaway said that the films were to be released in a 92 dvd set and gave an interesting introduction to the film calling it “arrogant and deeply immodest,” I would have stayed for Q&A after the film but had to rush off across town to see Zatoichi.

ZATOICHI (Takeshi Kitano)
55 2003
I’ve seen some of the original Zatoichi films and although I appreciate what Kitano added into the mix for his version of the film (deadpan wit, more extreme gore and a wacko ending), I sorely missed the relationship between the characters that are more strongly felt in the original Zatoichi films (especially in the first film – where Zatoichi and the bodyguard he is facing have deep respect for each other).  Fun but far from essential, I’d recommend buying the first film instead.

12 2003
I mistakenly thought that In The City would be the worst film I saw in this festival, but just the next day came The Tesseract.  Like In The City, The Tesseract features an ensemble of characters that are all deeply interrelated by fate and maddening conveniences of the plot.  Oxide Ping seems to have no clear view of how to direct the film: throwing useless stylistics and strangling the time-line back and forth, for no apparent reason.

44 2003
Some beautiful images and strong sequences but the film is so pat and preachy that I never really bought it, even though I feel that the film really believes the shit it is trying to pawn off as major life lessons.  Also the films opens and closes badly: with its most obvious, contrived and didactic material.

Decided not to go to this one, sleep and eat instead (I'm not worn out or anything - Its just I have 7 films tomorrow that I care about seeing much more). - I now fully regret not seeing this film since I have heard nothing but raves from those who went to the screening.  Expect a review as soon as I get a hold of the film on dvd. (1-5-04 Got the dvd, saw the film, and was disappointed - click for review)

SUNDAY Sept. 7

29 2003
Dull and seemingly endless romantic drivel with a woman obsessively longing after this dude who writes awful poetry.  A film full of pregnant looks and trains crossing the screen, which will make it easy to cut into a trailer but awful to do to me this early in the morning.

ELEPHANT (Gus Van Sant)
53 2003
I’m very mixed on this film, which has sequences that really work but is morally repugnant at times and doesn’t seem to understand its female characters.  The last half hour of the film (as soon as the shooting begins) is powerful and intense, although it continually pissed me off by undermining the slayings with cheap suspense: cutting as a character is being threatened or making a character seem important and then promptly killing him/her off.

LE TEMPS DU LOUP (Michael Haneke)
78 2003
Haneke is great at building extreme apprehension in his audience and he fills this film (American title is Hour of the Wolf) with foggy landscapes and often splashes darkness across his frame.  Two films came to mind while I was watching Hour of the Wolf, the first was Lost Highway which has a similar nightmare logic and uses darkness similarly and the other was Bergman’s masterpiece Shame which the film echoes in its level of post-apocalyptic doom.

11:14 (Greg Marcks)
50 2003
A very immature film (the director looked like he was 14 years old), with hip and violent plots intersecting in unpredictable, playful and stupidly contrived ways: this is another film where every character seems to be tied to one another by the cosmic coincidences of fate.  Some bits of it were fun, but so many movies have done so much better with similar material.

LOVE, ACTUALLY (Richard Curtis)
48 2003
A romantic comedy that has 10+ romance plots running side-by-side, all leading to hopelessly happy endings.  I must be too cynical for this shit because when a wedding suddenly turned into a large musical sequence, I was cringing and shrinking in my seat while all 1500 other theater patrons roared with laughter and applause.  Everyone seems so happy in this film that after awhile I started to feel really depressed, I can only take so much saccharine – I am a diabetic.  Hugh Grant continues to be wonderful, lifting everyone of his scenes with his impeccable comedic timing and a few of the comedic threads have some laughs.  If my audience was any indication (and I think it was) this film will make a lot of money, unless you are a cynical, curmudgeon like me – in which case you will be vomiting sugar in the aisles.

58 2003
Pretty silly and uninspired as far as Maddin goes (it doesn’t help that he is coming off two wonderful features) and often visually redundant with previous Maddin films (something he is usually able to escape).  The last third of the film is almost devoid of laughs and not as tragically moving as it seems to want to be.

HAUTE TENSION (Alexandre Aja)
75 2003
I was surely 80+ on this film before the silly ending came along and gave the film the plot that it had been skillfully avoiding for most of the running time.  The first two-thirds of this film though are masterful at creating tension and working with (and against) typical horror clichés to fuck with the audiences expectations.  The sound design and score are particularly effective at creating tension and dread (often simulating heart beats with bass boomings and ear-piercing noises that sound like glass being scraped with a knife.  The choices in casting were also inspired: especially Cécile De France as the (semi-)virginal protagonist and Philippe Nahon as the killer (he was the butcher in Noe’s I Stand Alone and also had a small part in Irreversible).  Also, there is a great bit of Muse on the soundtrack.

MONDAY Sept. 8

OUT OF TIME (Carl Franklin)
66 2003
Entertaining and skillful neo-noir thriller that doesn’t really build upon the genre like the previous Franklin/Washington film Devil in a Blue Dress, but it is a solid genre entry.

45 2003
Beautifully shot film with a wonderful performance by the stunning Johansson, but otherwise completely forgettable and predictable.  In fact you can probably fill in the story yourself with this brief setup: “Girl (Johansson) moves into a reclusive painter’s house as a servant…”

DOGVILLE (Lars Von Trier)
92 2003
An abstract and beautiful film that is probably the most original and moving film of the year.  I think the film is a parable about the way immigrants are treated as they try to integrate themselves into an established society and also the way corporations suck the blood from the people who devote their lives to them, but the film is so complicated I’m sure there are other more fascinating readings on what the film is about.  At three hours, this film felt shorter than many of the 90 minute films I’ve seen at the fest so far and the closing titles are essential and heart wrenching.

FOG OF WAR (Errol Morris)
62 2003
Errol Morris’ documentary about the life and work of Robert McNamara is obviously well-compiled and occasionally very topical, but I never really found the topic completely fascinating and I thought the structure hurt the flow of ideas.

21 GRAMS (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
68 2003
The structure of this film keeps it from really working for any strecth: distancing emotional scenes by taking them out of the context and keeping the viewers on their toes trying to recreate what the character is going through.  The cast is game (Watts should get a nomination - even though she deserved it more for Mulholland Dr.) and many scenes work very well on their own, but the film needed to be less fancy and pleased with itself. 

UNDERWORLD (Len Wiseman)
I skipped Underworld thanks to mixed-to-negative reviews and general release next week.


THE COMPANY (Robert Altman)
82 2003
Typical Robert Altman brilliance, taking a subject that seems less than promising (the secret lives of ballet dancers) and turning into a fascinating character study.  Malcolm McDowell is shoe-in for acclaim and awards for his supporting work here, in a performance that reminds people that most former stars can still act when given a proper role.  The romantic subplot is beautifully subtle and the ballet performances amazing and beautiful - the best in a film since Powell and Pressburger.

RAJA (Jacques Doillon)
44 2003
A minor colonialist romantic comedy with some likable moments and characters but far too slight to leave much aftertaste and it doesn't drive home how much is at stake for Raja if the relationship doesn't work out.  Could have used a much harder edge, it seems compromised.

51 2003
Feminist revenge fantasy that creates a tense mood in the first half but grows increasingly manipulative and impossible as it goes along.  Still pretty affecting and I can understand the love-it-or-hate-it effect it seems to have on the audiences - I was just too bothered by the illogical nonsense to invest much in anything that happened.

GOOD BYE, DRAGON INN (Tsai Ming-liang)
47 2003
A very slight film that is neither funny nor moving enough to warrant the time or energy it takes to settle into Tsai's rhythm and excessive long takes (with very minimal camera movement).  Some good moments, especially one of the longest urination scenes in filmed history (think Naked Gun … but longer), but even most of the moments that really work are dragged to mammoth length for little reason.

ANTENNA (Kazuyoshi Kumakiri)
ZZZ 2003
Watched the first third and then fell asleep, woke up and watched the rest (about 30 minutes).  I wasn't impressed with anything I saw in the film, so I think sleep was the right choice.

THE GRUDGE (Takashi Shimizu)
50 2003
A few scattered scary moments and typical nonsensical Japanese horror plot involving creepy, crawling Japanese women and pasty white Japanese kids who appear for boo moments.  I thought the story framing device: broken into chapters each leading to and ending with a big scare before the next chapter, quickly grew irritating and broke the tension of the story.


29 PALMS (Bruno Dumont)
51 2003
Slow-moving and haunting, with an ending that took me the rest of the day to shake.  Yet I am still very mixed on the film, largely due to the aimless rambling feel of the film and its characters.  Also largely due to my screening experience, which was one of the worst I ever attended - with audience members shouting insults at the screen and applauding inappropriately in the middle of scenes.  A film that I will look at again if I get the chance as its still very much a mystery to me.

IN THE CUT (Jane Campion)
54 2003
Campion's touches in this film work very well: her cautions again love or romance in a modern city and the integration of sex as such a major force for the characters.  I also love the way the film looks, with dark colors but not monochromatic.  The whole serial killer mystery plot doesn't really work at all though, seeming second rate especially against so much interesting material.

CHEEKY (David Thewlis)
36 2003
Sappy, sentimental crap

COME AND GO (João César Monteiro)
55 2003
A sex comedy I suppose but unlike any I've ever seen -it's my first Monteiro - and it hardly seems worth spending three hours with it for the small blessings it delivers.  Most of the jokes take time to pay off (did I mention that the film's three hours) and many of them are quite funny, but how much you enjoy the film depends on how much you enjoy Monteiro's persona - which made me laugh.

BUS 174 (José Padilha)
80 2003
An intense and rewarding documentary, that takes you behind an impossible situation and gives you an insider look at all the people involved.  The final sequences of the film, showing the resolution of the hold-up, impressively stretches a few seconds to minutes - turning the stock news footage into a doom-laden poetry. 


A TALKING PICTURE (Manoel de Oliveira)
46 2003
Basically a tour guide picture for the first half and bored me almost to sleep.  Recovers during the second half whenever Malkovich is onscreen and has a wonderful ending that almost makes the flm worth seeing.  May be better apreciated by fans of the director, this was the first Oliveira film I saw and I might revisit it when I see more of his work.

IKIRU (Akira Kurosawa) - Fourth Viewing but first in theater
96 1952

THE 5 OBSTRUCTIONS (Jørgen Leth, Lars Von Trier)
84 2003
Fascinating documentary approaches the creative process through two directors inspiring each other, and although that may make The 5 Obstructions sound like a new agey artistic masturbation I assure you that this is one of the most entertaining documentaries in recent memory.  I saw Lars Von Trier's film Epidemic a few weeks prior and noted some similarites in the two films as to how the creative process is represented and how life interferes and connects with it.

GOZU (Takashi M
87 2003
Full review with heavy auteurist reading coming soon.  Until then I will say that Gozu is Miike at his most personal, dealing with themes which should be farmiliar to anyone with an even passing knowlege of his films.  There are many highlights throughout the film, including a closing birth scene that had the midnight audience (myself included) roaring with applause.  As usual, many said it ran too slow but I found the film completely fresh and fascinating for its entire running time - and not once did I glance at my watch.

FRIDAY Sept. 12

NATHALIE... (Anne Fonta
I missed this because I forgot to get a wakeup call and slept in past

70 2003
A fascinating and emotionally complex film, that borrows elements of ghost stories and infuse them with humanity in a way that reminded me of last years Solaris.  The film's rhythms absorbed me completely from the start but fair warning: many viewers fled from the theater as if it were on fire.  I think it is time for me to check out some more Rivette films, I would love to see some of his films get released on dvd (not you Winstar).

20H17 RUE DARLING (Bernard Émond)
49 2003
I never much cared about the mystery at the center of this film and felt that the mystery elements only really existed to give Gerard something to do as the film studies his character.  As a character study, however, the film is a bit more rewarding and Luc Picard's performance as Gerard is quietly astonishing.

62 2003
More of the same, literally in this case since a significant chunk of this film overlaps with Antwerp (see above on Sept 6th).  The constant experimentation is not quite as fun or fresh the second time around (hence the slightly lower grade - which might have been flipped had I seen this film first), but tons of brownie points to Greenaway for the mammoth world he has created here.

40 2003
Playful and edgy at times but trying way too hard to be a playful and edgy midnight film.  Everything seems strained far beyond the fun premise; until it just seems strained, unfunny and dull.


DALLAS 362 (Scott Caan)
50 2003
Retread of similar elements from Mean Streets and Good Will Hunting, has some fun tangents and twists to expectations (I especially liked Goldblum's pot smoking shrink).  First two-thirds are fairly likable but it falls apart badly in the clunky last third and ultimately feels overwritten: Rusty's destination is Dallas and Dallas is also the friend keeping him from achieving it, leading to the revelation of the title which is annoyingly cheesy.

LOVING GLANCES (Srdjan Karanovic)
zzz 2003
Oh My God does this film suck!  I wasn't really sleepy going in nor was I excessively sleepy during the screening, rather sleep was my best escape from this cloying piece of Foreign-Oscar-and-Miramax-pandering trash.

NINE SOULS (Toshiaki Toyoda)
W/O 2003
Not as bad as Loving Glances or Tesseract but dull and annoying for the 40 or so minutes I stayed, I decided my time would be better spent walking around Toronto and trying to find "In An Aeroplane Over the Sea" at one of the local music shops.

CREMASTER 3 (Matthew Barney)
70 2003

THE BROWN BUNNY (Vincent Gallo)
74 2003

UNDEAD (The Spierig Brothers)
24 2003