Sunday, September 14, 2014

My Tiff 2014 diary


Sep 3:  It's the night before TIFF 2014. I'm going on my usual conference pass which is like flying in the cargo hold with drinks. Bring it on.

Tiff Day 1: 

The Voices - talk about diving right into tiff, my first film is a ultra black comedy from Germany but set in an unknown American town, where a sympathetic schizophrenic played straight by a nerded-up Ryan Reynolds, hears voices. His dog and cat talk to him. He's sweet on the loveliest girl in the factory where he works, only to accidentally murder her. A boatload of onscreen dismemberment later, and her head, still talking to him, finds a new home in his fridge. 

It gets blacker and stranger from there and no female character is safe. A kind of odd combo of John Waters meets David Lynch with the comic sensibility of the Farrelly Brothers on acid thrown in. All superior to this. Highly original, quite stomach-churning, yet ultimately uninteresting. Good performances, particularly from Reynolds who also does all the "voices" -- his cat talks to him in a perfect Scottish brogue -- all around make it watchable as long as you haven't eaten.

My annual first Tiff party, Actra's YEAA bash. Some dancing even occurred. (Love how the city has turned the blocks around the Tiff Bell Lightbox into a pedestrian only street fair.)


Seeing all the diversity among the YEAA reminded me that in the few decades since I joined ACTRA and was often the only non-white member in the room, things have changed profoundly. It's about time. — at 333 Zet King Street West.

Tiff Day 2: Missed today's Tiff masterclass with Barry Levinson because of stupid crazy traffic in all directions due to construction around Queen's Park. Not to mention the dead body found on Rosedale Valley Road. Living in Toronto is getting to the point where there's no point in leaving the house.

Only one film today, The Narrow Frame of Midnight, a title I find impossible to remember. Gorgeously shot but underwritten with honking story holes that blast all credibility away, which is a shame since the subject is so powerful--a meditation on a world where children are sold into sex slavery and torture by secret police begets jihadists. Too slow by half, and inching towards the pretentiousness of the title, yet redeemed by the utterly convincing cast, particularly the little girl. (Where do these cinema children come from? Not an ounce of acting going on. Pure truth recorded on film.) The kind of film that you can only see at Tiff because I can't imagine it getting any kind of theatrical release.

Tiff Day 3:

Kristen Wiig and the cast and director of Welcome to Me at Indiewire at Tiff


Jake Gyllenhaal at Indiewire.  #Tiff14Conference
Financing panels, excellent if you have a $4M movie. Celeb sightings, Kristen Wiig and Jake Gyllenhaal at Indiewire, (pics posted already) and 2 of the tiffiest movies I've seen at Tiff.

Letters to Max is a docu travelogue where on screen printouts of letters to someone named Max are answered in VoiceOver by the titular Max who turns out to be a former politician of the breakaway former Georgian republic of Abkhazia while scenes of life in this somewhat dreary land are shown. It is exactly what it is. At least I now know where Abkhazia is.

Impunity is a thriller from South Africa, populated by the dumbest renegade couple in movie history, only matched by the dumbest cops. The plot twists are bizarre to the point of being laughable--at least there was laughter during the screening from the sold out house. Underwritten, to say the least, by the director, I really wanted to stay for the Q & A after to ask her if she bothered to read the script after she wrote it, but the tepid applause and stream of audience bailing at the end, prevented me from staying. I felt sorry for the actors who were required to be naked a lot and do some pretty gamy things. The question of characters' motivation could only be answered by the word "because." The ridiculously high body count was not mitigated by long stretches of dreamy shots of the ocean intercut with actual footage of security cameras showing the kind real of violence that plagues South Africa. Pretentious nonsense.

Tiff Day 4:  The annual CFC Barbecue!  1 hour line up for hamburgers, a new CFC BBQ record!  But I did get to hug Pat Mills and Tracy Hoyt.  Pat was in the first year of the Bell Media Diverse Screenwriters program I led and has written, directed and starred in his first feature premiering at Tiff, Guidance, to rave reviews internationally.  Tracy also stars in it.  So proud of him and her!  (After all, I taught him every thing he knows.  Well, not really.)

Tiff day 5. Not one but TWO celebrity sightings. Saw Steve Carrell get into a black Suburban while waving to fans after his film premiered at the Lightbox. Then Ethan Hawke walked with someone down John St and I walked right behind him until he went into the CBC building. And he IS shorter in real life.

Tiff Day 5 review "A Hard Day"

Finally a Tiff movie worth seeing. A wild noir-ish movie about a corrupt-ish cop who accidentally runs over a pedestrian and decides to cover it up by dumping the body in the trunk of his car for disposal. The wild twists and turns that result are worthy of the Coen Brothers if Blood Simple was sped up at 78 rpm and in Korean. Bristling photography and performances that are in keeping with the woolliness of the story. There's real discipline to the acting throughout and the fight scenes are jaw-dropingly authentic. And extended. Nobody gets knocked out in a few punches. It must have taken days to shoot some of them and how they kept continuity while the set was being destroyed is astonishing. I have no idea where you'd see this film other than Tiff, though it's perfect for a Hollywood remake.

Tiff Day 5 review 2 "Eden"

A packed press and industry screening that forced me in the front row, dead center for a wide screen movie. Ugh. Had to swivel to read the credits which were on either side of the screen. Not uninteresting, but definitely undramatic portrayal of the rise and fall of popularity of garage music in Paris from the early 90's to today. Based on the life of the brother of the film maker, who was a DJ and also co-wrote the screenplay. Unfortunately, the authenticity of the story kept it from being particularly compelling, but the performances and shooting were almost documentary-like in their naturalism. Great if you like garage music, long and somewhat sad if you don't.

Tiff Day 6.  Mentoring by way of speed dating, this year's ReelWorld E20 emerging film artists.  Hoping they will hire me some day.



Then watched a Telefilm panel about upcoming features, then a meeting with a crowd funding expert who works for indiegogo and then a film, (followed by a screening party for the short films I script workshopped last week--from nothing to finished shorts in 4 days, incredible.)

Review "Itsy Bitsy"


This is the kind of film that makes Tiff so great. Danish biopic about the lead singer of a seminal rock band from the 60's in Denmark, The Steppenwolves. But far more than a mere music movie, in fact there's not that much music in the movie. A real meditation on the 60's, often seen from a north American perspective, it was fascinating to see European characters descend into the sex and drug lifestyle and how the culture and politics of the time changed there. As psychedelic as Stone's The Doors but more honest and less style-y. At the core, it's a remarkable story of a singer who became a seminal source for all modern Danish pop and rock music since and something that I knew nothing about. Harrowing, soulfully acted and remarkable use of Croatia as a substitute for Spain, Gibraltor and Greece and Argentina as a substitute for the Indo-Pakistani border near Nepal. Remarkable and moving. (Itsy Bitsy was the title of one of the band's songs.)

Crashing WIF-T party with Firdaus Bilmoria and Dinesh  Sachdev
Tiff day 23 and counting. Before getting into the glammy WIF-T party despite being severely underdressed, saw a lovely film called Learning To Drive starring Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson. She's a recently dumped wife who decides to take driving lessons from a Sikh instructor played by Sir Ben. A simple unfulfilled romance buds but never flowers as they learn about life from each other. The authenticity of the male Sikh culture felt very true though the portrayal of female Sikh culture rang false in casting and execution, which was the only flaw. The delicate and humane performances by the leads made up for it.

Tiff day 8? 12? 22? Revivre is a soapy melodrama from Korea about a stoic cosmetics exec whose wife is dying of brain cancer. A beautiful young exec develops a longing for him and while the feeling is mutual, he never allows himself to express it. At all. The unflinching portrayal of palliative care giving is hard to watch and makes his suppression of his feelings for the younger woman almost heroic. Impeccably acted and photographed, it is hard to see how such a film would even get made here. The fascinating revelation of life and in particular funeral customs in South Korea coupled with, I suspect a uniquely Korean, down ending made it an interesting experience.

Having seen some Korean and Japanese movies at Tiff, I now understand why Apple is making an enormous phone. Everyone in those movies had enormous phones. This phone isn't for North American pockets, it's for Asian ones.

Tiff review. Kabukicho Love Hotel

A Japanese film about the denizens of a hotel in Tokyo's red light district. Directed by one of Japan's most prolific directors of erotica, I was expecting something akin to a skin flick. Instead the film is a remarkably acted and sensitively written Altmanesque tale of intersecting story lines. Astonishing long takes that are remarkable mini movies themselves. And a fascinating reveal into a hidden part of Japanese culture.

Tiff Day 9.

Review of My Name Is Not Lorena.


Well after a string of good ones, I was bound to hit a wanker movie. Disappointing Chilean movie whose intriguing premise of identity theft gets lost in a grossly underwritten and wildly implausible screenplay and an oddly detached and sullen performance from the lead actress. Padded with a lot of extraneous material to fill out a story that would barely flesh out a short. I want my 89 minutes back.

Tiff review. The Men Who Save The World. A wacky Malaysian movie set in a rural village where a zany group of villagers cope with haunted houses, corrupt bureaucrats, sacrificial camels and an intruder covered in oil, among other things. I have no idea what was going on, but each scene was a hoot. The acting from what looked like real villagers had zing-perfect comic timing and an hour and half in the Malaysian forest was fun, even if I couldn't make sense of the plot.

American Heist starred Hayden Christensen and Adrian Brody as a pair of brothers caught up in a bank heist thanks to loser brother Brody. The entire thing smacked of a vanity project, (both actors are executive producers), which built from a what was clearly the calculated ending that then required a reverse engineered story full of plot holes and a lot of ACTING!--mostly scenes of the brothers waling on each other either physically or verbally. The heist itself is a bombastic blow 'em up, which makes little sense but allows for lots of racked-with-pain acting coupled with more brotherly fisticuffs. Indulgent and stupid.

Tiff Day 10 - I'm tiff'ed out.  Hope to be back in a year with Love/Sick.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Love/Sick look book

I've been working on a feature film called Love/Sick which is currently raising financing.  In anticipation of production, I've been collecting images for a "look book" which will be given to anyone working on the film to get a sense of the look, the colour palette and the cast for the film.

Follow Sugith's board Love/Sick look book on Pinterest.

Check out the look book and feel free to comment here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Nobody, an ACTRA co-op short film I was in

Just spent a day shooting a scene for Nobody, an ACTRA co-op short film.  ACTRA co-ops are where ACTRA members band together and agree to work on a project for no fee but a percentage of any revenue.  Usually, co-ops are initiated by an ACTRA member who wants to write or direct their own script and rounds up others he or she knows to help.  I've done a few and am always happy to give the time to help out an aspiring film maker.  As I used the ACTRA co-op agreement to make the trailer for Love/Sick, formerly called Dany Boy, it would be hypocritical if I didn't.  (Subject to wanting to work with those involved and liking the part.)

Here's a still from Nobody, where you can see I'm behind the wheel of a rather nice Mercedes.

The film has an indiegogo campaign going to raise finishing funds.  Please consider helping them.




Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nebraska - a mini-review

Finally saw Nebraska, which is an austere, though surprisingly funny, road trip about fathers and sons. Not much happens and what happens is ridiculously low-stakes, and every character looks like they stepped out of a lost Grant Wood painting, (American Gothic). It all actually works though without much catharsis. Bruce Dern has his one-note stubborn old-guy shtick down pat, but Will Forte plays it straight and graduates from sketch comedy--even in the scenes that are almost sketch comedy as filmed by Fellini. In the end, there's less here than meets the eye but it entertained me far more than Payne's past movies, ("About Schmidt" - god help me) have. Could be because someone else wrote the screenplay.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I'm giving a seminar at the ACTRA winter conference

Late notice, but ACTRA members can attend the winter conference Wednesday through Friday of this week.  Wednesday at 1:30, I'm giving a session on writing for TV 101, hosted by Ryan Fisher.  Check out the link for the conference for more info.

Monday, February 3, 2014

I started at the top

I'm so proud to have begun my career writing every word of every draft of ten episodes of this show. Jim even directed one of my episodes.

Rush - 1 of the best of 2013

Finally saw Rush, Ron Howard's film of Peter Morgan's script of the real life Niki Lauda-James Hunt formula 1 rivalry in 1976. Fantastic, though admittedly I'm a race movie nut, (I own Le Mans and Grand Prix.) For a film filled with racing, there's only enough to understand the sport and the stakes. The real story is a clash of values.

Wolf of Wall Street re-review

Saw Wolf of Wall Street again, given the number of people who lambasted me for not liking it the first time. I liked it more, though it was more admiration for the bravura film making. Interestingly, I was less enamoured of Jonah Hill's performance, having seen Jared Leto's similarly transformational performance in Dallas Buyer's Club, which felt much more honest than Jonah Hill.

But I still think the film celebrates more than castigates the lead character. Still bothers me. I also felt that it could have been an hour shorter with no loss.

A review of Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club is quite remarkable as an indictment against the US Food and drug administration and their complicity with big Pharma. No soft pedalling, McConnaghey gives a terrific performance but it's Jared Leto who really deserves a nom.