Movie City Indie Archive for May, 2009

Indie in a bit…

Side streetMoon above Kensington


Indie returns shortly. Both images, Toronto in Kensington Market neighborhood.

HotDocs in bloom

Victoria


A fuller bloom coming shortly. Here: the campus of Victoria College, near the Rogers Industry Centre and beside the Isabel Bader Theatre. And: Same view from 90 degrees east.

Seasons

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HotDocs: more to come

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More photo coverage, including award winners and awards night, coming in a bit; a final wrap-up with reviews of highlights to be posted mid-week. Watching, running, talking, uploading and posting can get out of balance. Look for a devoted page in next couple of days…

HotDocs: ABP: Always Be Pitching



In the Industry Centre, there are times when every conversation is about finance and sales. The refrain this year: “we don’t know next year’s slots”; “we aren’t buying right now”; “we’re waiting to find out our budget”; “Do you have a relationship with someone with money?”

HotDocs: Toronto always under construction



Walking toward the HotDocs industry center, high-rise construction is displacing small bungalows. Such a typically bucolic Toronto home seems ever more calm next to the bite of demolition.

Getting to Toronto (and Hot Docs) in a hop, skip and jump

Toronto’s not a frustrating city, but getting there can be: from Chicago’s O’Hare to Pearson International to the city proper is a complication of aggravations. Pearson International has some lovely spaces, but it’s huge, takes a lot of time to traverse and customs lines are long. Then there’s the $C50 or so taxi ride into the city center if you’re in a hurry, or a cheaper shuttle service that’s also at the whims of traffic, almost Los Angeles-thick, taking an hour or more. After a weekend that almost canceled my trip to Hot Docs, it was gratifying to have one of the simplest trips of my life. Porter Air serves several cities in Canada and the U.S., flying 70-seat turboprop Bombardier aircraft, including Chicago. Their flights land at Toronto City Centre airport, on Toronto Island in the shadow of the CN Tower at the foot of Bathurst Street. I started with a 40-minute bus ride from my front door in Chicago and a 15-minute Orange Line train to get to Midway. Everyone had checked in early, so the flight took off something like 15 minutes early. Early! And arrived at YTZ half-an-hour early. (New planes, attentive service, lovely in-flight magazine from the same people who publish Monocle magazine. [current issue pdf]) Luggage? Five minutes. Customs? One attendant for one plane landing. Another five minutes. One of the world’s shortest ferry rides, 120 meters, and a shuttle into the business district. A sunny afternoon, and I’m ready for a 10 minute walk to my accommodations before getting my Hot Docs credentials. It’s been a long time since I’ve been cheerful after getting off an airplane. I’m ready for some nonfiction… [I mention this partly because Porter also flies between New York and Toronto… a hint for any New Yorkers heading to Toronto International in September.]

Little Ashes (2009, no stars)

pattinson-little-ash.jpgCome for the surrealism, stay for the gibberish. Terrible in a dull way that used to be more commonly called “unreleasable,” “shelved” or “deservedly forgotten,” Paul Morrison’s Little Ashes, starring Twilight biter Robert Pattinson, doesn’t rise to the level of dreadful. Pattinson plays a young, sallow, flabby Salvador Dali; Matthew McNulty, who looks absolutely nothing like the cockeyed, boxer-stout filmmaker Luis Bunuel, is a classmate and poet-playwright-activist Federico Garcia Lorca (Javier Beltran) becomes the center of the picture, which insists on a sexual obsession between he and Dali. Beltran has sturdy presence, unlike the other actors, but like the other actors, isn’t given a modulated style of performance over the film’s duration. “I’m trying to be constructive here!” a character bellows in a scene that may as well have been played up against construction paper in a high school production. ”Listen! I’m part of this underground movement,” Garcia Lorca explains. The only instant that rises from the doldrums is a scene that draws on the historical fact of Garcia Lorca’s assassination; the reality is touching even when the scene’s shot through blurred frills of field grass in an olive grove to the murmuring in English over the murmuring in Spanish of one of his seriously bloody poems. Also typical of the visual furze is a sunset scene where faces aren’t lit, golden hour replaced with molybdenum. (Call it “day-for-Twilight.”) Seriously, young Pattinson is given help by neither director nor editor, seeming in every other scene like he’s suffering the actor’s equivalent of dreams where you’re naked in a restaurant. To be more charitable, he delivers a rapt portrayal of mild bowel irritation. The gay and/or homoerotic component is negligible, even if you include the carbonated slow-motion scissor kick underwater to suggest twinkly infatuation between Dali and Garcia Lorca as well as a scene where Dali masturbates to the other man fucking a female friend (the fright-coiffed Marina Gatell) in a nearby bed and the composition of two shots centers oddly, even in an unrated film, on the woman’s bared, posturing anus. “We’ll go for breakfast at the Pelican and you’ll paint all afternoon!” A better line might have been “My best friend got executed in an olive grove and all he got was this lousy biopic.” The typing and formatting of the screenplay is credited to Philippa Goslett.

Approaching Hot Docs….

Arto Halonen


A bit of unexpected, painful misadventure kept me from getting a HotDocs preview together for today. Still, I should be arriving tomorrow afternoon for keen insight and swell weather. [Photo: Finnish director Arto Halonen double-palming at a HotDocs 2008 party.]

Movie City Indie

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin