Finally! I have come to it. The end of TIFF’12. Okay, so there were actually two more days. But I skipped them! Including Day 9, I saw 29 films and a special live event. That’s 30 ticketed events in 9 days. I know some people who do more than that, but those people are crazy and my load just about killed me. But before I could officially call it quits, I did have to, you know, watch some more movies.
For my last day at TIFF I decided to go all out. I had four tickets, plus I planned on rushing one of two possible movies. It would be a long day, beginning with a movie at 11am and ending with a movie starting at midnight. I was also pretty confident that my line-up of films would be stronger than the last couple of days. As it turns out, I was right.
Much Ado About Nothing
It’s Joss Whedon’s world and we’re all living in it. He started off the year by finally seeing the release of The Cabin in the Woods, a brilliant comedy-horror film he co-wrote and produced. Then we got The Avengers, and I think that story is pretty well-known by now. Amazingly, during post-production on The Avengers, Whedon decided to shoot an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, Much Ado About Nothing.
Whedon gathered together a lot of his regular cast, including Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Nathan Fillion, Fran Kranz, Clark Gregg and Tom Lenk. In some ways it’s almost like a community theatre production of the play, which could be a bad thing, except that Whedon has a really strong grasp of how to bring the play into a modern comedic context, and his cast is damn good and know how to sell it.
One of the criticisms I’ve seen thrown at Much Ado About Nothing is that Whedon makes it much more of a slapstick, low-brow farce. It’s a funny charge considering Shakespeare himself was writing broad comedies for the masses, including all sorts of vulgarity, slapsticky and low-brow humour. The play IS a silly farce, and that’s how Whedon approaches it. That he modernizes those farcical rhythms is a testament to his understanding of both the original style of the play’s comedy, as well as how best to translate that comedy for an audience used to a much different style.
In fact, through all the productions and films of Shakespeare comedies I’ve seen, I’ve rarely laughed more than a chuckle. During Much Ado About Nothing there were points where I was practically in stitches, barely containing myself. And it wasn’t just the scenes of slapstick that did it, either. In many cases, the funniest scenes involved Shakespeare’s own words, and the hilarious delivery given them by the actors. Really, there’s nothing to complain about. It’s not the most professional production, and it does feel a little bit like a bunch of friends having a good time, but it really is a good time, and it’s one of the better films I saw at the festival this year.
After Much Ado, a few of us went to grab a bite to eat, and then it was onward to the Lightbox to see a silent film.
Last year, one of the biggest films at TIFF was The Artist a black-and-white silent film paying homage to a long lost Hollywood. I quite enjoyed The Artist when I finally saw it, but I came away from it feeling like not only was it a fairly slight entertainment, it also failed to capture the very things that made silent films of the late 20s so great. Thankfully, another silent film has come around, this time from Spain, and it does almost everything right that The Artist did not.
Blancanieves translates in Spanish to Snow White, and that’s what the film is. It’s the third adaptation of Snow White to come out this year, and easily the best and most interesting. In this version, the character is set in the world of bullfighting. There are a number of clever changes to the story, including the evil stepmother using a fashion magazine to judge the fairest in the land. But really, it’s the style that makes the film beautiful.
Director Pablo Berger approaches silent cinema with reverence, but also with understanding of its greatest traits. Blancanieves doesn’t quite feel like a film made in the 20s, but it feels directly informed by the style of those films. There’s the expressionistic camerawork, the fairly high-contrast approach to light and shadow, the melodramatic-but-raw acting, and even the optical special effects. This method could be gimmick, but Berger makes it a part of the tone of the film. I do wish I had been more emotionally attached to the narrative of the film, but in some ways it plays much more through tone and mood to convey its fair tale story, not unlike Cocteau’s version of Beauty and the Beast. It’s a gorgeous piece of work and one I can’t wait to soak myself in again when hopefully it gets released.
From the silent film I decided to get in the rush line for a film all kinds of people recommended to me as one of the most fun films at the festival.
Imagine, if you will, that instead those kids from The Breakfast Club walking away from detention having learned something about themselves and each other, they’d accidentally set the library on fire, died and been stuck haunting the school for twenty-five years. Throw in a high school teacher who’s able to see and talk to ghosts and you’ve got the premise of the new Spanish comedy, Ghost Graduation. The plot is slight, and the premise is silly, but the film is fantastic.
It’s difficult to explain what’s so great about Ghost Graduation without just saying everyone should find a way to see it if they can, but what it really comes down to is that the movie is fucking hilarious. More often than not, foreign language comedies just don’t translate all that well, especially with subtitles. The regional humour and wordplays are usually too specific. Ghost Graduation works even with English subs because most of its humour stems from John Hughes movies of old.
That’s not to say the film relies on references, though it has a number of funny ones. The film pays homage to those 80s classics, but it also borrows their style of humour. It’s all character-based, and situational, and any cultural references are ones anybody in North America would understand as well (like an ongoing joke about a character whose dream was to stay over at Michael Jackson’s house.) It’s the funniest film I saw at TIFF, even moreso than Sightseers, and though it’s not quite as brilliant as that film, it’s hard to argue with a film that has you laughing and smiling the whole way through.
Also, Ghost Graduation has already been acquired by Will Smith for an American remake. There’s a really good chance the film will translate well in a remake, but if there’s any way you can see the original, please do.
Anyway, from there it was back to the Lightbox to see one of my more anticipated films of the festival.
Ginger and Rosa
Elle Fanning is probably one of the best kid actors around. She’s been excellent in everything I’ve seen. For that reason I was quite excited for Ginger and Rosa. It helps that the film is a coming-of-age tale set in the early 60s with the cold war as a backdrop. The film basically lived up to my anticipation, though not without some reservations.
Ginger and Rosa is about two girls, Ginger and… Rosa, who were born on the same day, which also happens to be the day America dropped the bomb on Japan. Now, as teenagers in 1962, they’re coming out of their shell, Rosa moreso than Ginger. In fact, Rosa goes as far as to start a relationship with Ginger’s newly separated father.
Ginger is an interesting character in that she has these great ideal, she’s incredibly smart, she reads philosophy and wants to be e poet, but she also uses all of these intellectual methods to shield herself from the reality of her day-to-day life. It’s easier for her to confront the threat of nuclear apocalypse than to confront her father over this horrible thing he’s doing. It’s easier for her to go out and protest against the bomb than it is to have a meaningful, emotional conversation with her mother.
The cast of the film is almost uniformly great. The only weak link is Christina Hendricks, who does a decent job with a minimal role, but unwisely puts on a British accent that’s acceptable at best. Fanning is truly great as Ginger, and the rest of the actors, including turns from Timothy Spall, Anette Benning and Oliver Platt, are all great. The only other reservation I have about the film is its ending, which while admirable in its attempts at forgiveness, doesn’t feel justified given what Rosa and Ginger’s father were up to. Then again, maybe that’s the point. Also, it’s a pretty depressing film, which might not be the best way to end a festival.
Then again, it wasn’t my last film. No, I decided that my last film would be a Midnight Madness entry. Always a risk, but in this case I had a good feeling the risk would largely pay off.
The ABCs of Death
26 horror short films by 26 different directors, one for each letter of the alphabet. The great thing about anthology films, especially ones with so many little shorts, is that even when one short is bad you know it’ll be over soon and something good might be right around the corner. The ABCs of Death fits perfectly into that description. I’d say that of the 26 shorts, about two thirds were at least good, and maybe about 10 were really good or great.
Some of the highlights include: D is for Dogfight, which features a man fighting a dog. I have no idea how it was accomplished, but it looks brutal, and the twist ending is nice. A is for Apocalypse, the short from Nacho Vigalondo, was a bizarre and hilarious way to start everything off. F is for Fart is perhaps the weirdest sustained fart joke I’ve ever seen and I’m in awe of the people who made it. T is for Toilet is another super weird one, but it’s claymation and it’s hilarious. The undisputed best short in the film was Adam Wingard’s Q is for Quack, in which Wingard and his producer play themselves in a meta mock-doc about struggling to come up with a good idea for a short based on the worst letter in the alphabet. It wasn’t really a horror short, but it was amazingly funny and clever. The only sad part is that the last short, based on the letter Z, was basically the worst one in the whole anthology. Not the nicest way to end things.
All that being said, The ABCs of Death was overall a blast, and a really fun way to close out the festival.
Remember to follow me on Twitter @CoreyAtad, and be sure to keep an eye out for my big TIFF’12 Wrap-Up, which should be hitting the blog very soon.