TIFF 2011 DIARY: Back Aches, U2, Van Sant & a Kick to the Head

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) started yesterday and while I had anticipated seeing 7 films to really get my TIFF ball rolling my back decided otherwise.

After only 2.5 hours sleep I rolled out of bed to head to the box office for 7am to pick up the 4 tickets I still needed for the U2 documentary, From the Sky Down. The U2 doc tickets were definitely a pre-festival mess from start to finish as almost no tickets had been released to the public until the day of the screening. Luckily I was able to get the tickets I needed then head home to prepare for my screenings. When I arrived home I grabbed some breakfast and put on Singin’ in the Rain to get me pumped for the long day ahead. I go to grab my laptop to check my email and… ouch. I had pulled the muscle in my back that I semi-frequently have problems with when tired and stressed due to an old art department induced injury. Why me? I could barely move a muscle without shooting pains up my neck and down my arms. Lovely. Since I couldn’t get up I had no choice but to go back to sleep as it tends to relax a bit when I sleep it off.

So as I sleep I am missing 3 of my most anticipated screenings of the day: Melancholia, We Need to Talk About Kevin & This Is Not A Film.

Finally I wake up at 2:30 pissed off and disappointed. Pissed that TIFF didn’t release tickets to the U2 doc earlier so I wouldn’t have had to get up earlier than necessary and hurt my back and disappointed in myself that I haven’t taken care of my body in the past particularly when doing laborious work early on in my art/sets career. ART/SETS DEPARTMENT TIP: Always lift with your leg muscles- not your back. Your legs can take the weight your back can’t as I discovered early.

Considering that I missed my first 3 films I’m determined to turn my day around and head to the industry box office to see what tickets I can get with my industry pass for the next few days. I was able to get a coveted premiere ticket to The Descendants (starring Clooney, directed by Alexander Payne) so I am at once happy again.

I then head next door to the TIFF Bell Lightbox to see the Press & Industry screening of The Ides of March (directed by Clooney) starring my idea of male perfection- Ryan Gosling. On my way to the wait line I accidentally almost run over a crouched down Jason Reitman who’s engrossed in conversation on his cell. Finally I’m in the industry line and I see the golden beacon of film criticism walk through the front doors – it’s Roger Ebert with his lovely wife Chaz by his side. At this point I no longer care that my back is in a quiet agony among all of this madness because I am in the middle of full TIFF opening day glory.

If you know me, you know that TIFF is without a doubt my favourite time of year and I am fanatical about it. I regain all sense that life is beautiful, the human condition is not in dire straits, and I fall madly in love with the City of Toronto once more. In other words, I lose touch with reality and become immersed in the beauty of cinema.

The Ides of March 3.5/5

Now I finally make it in and out of The Ides of March and I really didn’t know what to think of it. It was good but it wasn’t amazing. At TIFF I wrongfully expect amazing every time out of the gate. Clooney basically starred as a married politician version of himself. His direction was uneven and the plot was riddled with holes but the performances by Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti were fantastic. The art direction was weaker than I expected. The many campaign graphics used in the film were a bit hit and miss and they failed to age them or even fold the newspapers in the right spots so I could tell they came straight from the printers. There are moments of greatness in the film, superb acting and some excellent cinematography with a decent enough premise. It’s too bad Clooney couldn’t fully reel it in.

Immediately after I run out of Ides of March I hop in a taxi and head to the new U2 doc. With the horrendous traffic jams I get there just in time to find a decent seat and the official opening night begins after lovely intro footage. It finally looks like TIFF is spending the big bucks to look professional and I like what I see in the intro.

Davis Guggenheim, Bono, and the Edge then take the stage and all three make brief speeches. Bono laments that they have not shown a lot of their behind-the-scenes process in the past because they thought that if we saw how the ‘sausage’ was made we may not want to eat it after. However they changed their minds deciding it was healthy to look back.

From the Sky Down (U2 Documentary) 2/5

In the intro Davis Guggenheim mentions that they made this film start to finish in 6 months and only just finished editing before they came to TIFF and he hoped it didn’t show in the final product. Sad to say- it most certainly did show. The film is scattered and relentless in its self indulgence. By the end of it Bono is so self-congratulating it was unnatural. I now see why people rag on Bono for his big ego. I like early U2 and the movie focused around Achtung Baby but how they chose to do this started with how unhappy Joshua Tree (my favourite album of theirs) made them and tearing it apart saying they didn’t know what they were doing. So they kind of lost me there. However the music sections were not the problem. The problem was Guggenheim had no idea where he was going with this. By the end I was wondering to myself what I was supposed to have gleaned from the movie. There wasn’t much of a story to be had. He even used the same shot of an empty ballroom 3 times. They must not have had enough footage? The movie did have a few saving graces as it’s interesting to see how music is made. There’s a section on the chords in ‘One’ that was pretty cool. Overall though it is my least favourite Davis Guggenheim film by a long shot. I thought I would like it because of the U2 sequence in It Might Get Loud which was excellent. However that film didn’t take 6 months to complete.

Immediately after U2 I headed to go see Gus Van Sant’s latest film Restless. I’ve never seen Gus Van Sant before despite his many appearances at TIFF so I was very excited for this one and he didn’t disappoint.

Gus Van Sant, Bryce Dallas Howard, Mia Wasikowska, and the writer take the stage for a Q&A after the screening.

Restless 4/5

I don’t want to say too much about this one as much detail would really spoil it. I will say that I loved the tone of the film- small, dark with a certain quirkiness I appreciated. The film revolves around the inevitability of impending death and how it’s handled in the film walks that fine line between meditation and cliche. I’m glad to say they didn’t fall into cliches and completely expected territory. The chemistry between Henry Hopper (Dennis Hopper’s son) and Mia Wasikowska was fantastic. They were well-suited to each other therefore the ending for me held more impact. The only thing I wasn’t really loving was the involvement of a ghost in the story. That just didn’t work for me but luckily the rest of the film did.

The Raid 4.5/5

This film makes Jackie Chan look like an amateur. Kick ass fighting like you’ve never seen with truly inventive choreography all packaged in the most well-devised plot I think I’ve ever seen for a action/martial arts film. I can’t wait for North American audiences to see this as it will blow minds. It’s been picked up by Sony for distribution luckily so look forward people. It’s a film you won’t forget.

I finally arrive home at 3am with the pain so bad up my neck I could barely move again but I popped some painkillers and dreamed of kicks to the head.

Perhaps now you have a better sense of the schedule, chaos and adrenaline rush TIFF brings to your average film fanatic. Thoughts? Have you seen any of these films?

Rose Lagacé | @artdepartmental

Posted by Rose Lagacé

Rose Lagacé is a production designer for film & television by day and an emerging filmmaker by night. Rose is also the creator and editor of Art Departmental where she celebrates the art and craft of production design.

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