Well, it seems that Anton's time here on Earth is drawing to a close. It seems he is permitted a very small allocated time here on Earth each year at this time. A bit like the Bosnian Witch Doctor. It's sad really because I would love for both of them to be constant spies on the site... Alas... Anton will buzz bomb the Award's banquet. Drink all the Merlot, lay half the women and pick all the pockets before he leaves the planet. Hopefully he'll be able to send us updates from wherever he is up there in the sky. I'd be interested in the Alien Film Industry... They need more distribution here on Earth... and I must admit, I thought that was what Anton was in Toronto to establish. But... enough of that... on to our eyes and ears and fingers in Toronto...
Saturday the 18th
And another festival is done. Where did the time go? How did I miss seeing so many absolutely crucial movies? How can I still be coherent with all this alcohol in my system? Well, actually, that last is easy to answer- your Earth liquors are pretty feeble compared to what we have back home. The only thing I've tried down here recently that had a decent kick to it was some contraband Chernobyl vodka. Thinking about it makes me reminisce about those days sailing lazily down the Mississippi, a bottle of absinthe by my side.
And farewell too to all my festival friends, at least until next year. So long Ulysses- good luck with the Scooby Doo bit. Adios Renny, and Spike, and Lady Bathory, and Mistress Shelob- Midnight wouldn't be the same without you. Back atcha to all the other grubby fringe folk like myself, from the 'zines and the websites who shall remain plugless here.
No tears, though- my brain is way too dehydrated as it is.
I'll check in tomorrow from the awards banquet, and later on as I get the last of the interviews transcribed. Thanks for all your feedback, and should I ever do this again you can be sure yours will be the first suggestion I ignore. Be seeing you!
Princess Mononoke (Japan 1997, directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
Well, congratulations American Beauty- you lasted all of a week on top of my Best Films of the Year So Far list.
Princess Mononoke is a monumental achievement. The best epic film in decades, the aching beauty of its visuals is matched by the depth of its storyline and the genuineness of its characters. The attention to detail, the pacing- every facet of the Japanese end of the production is incredible. There are not enough superlatives in your language to convey how utterly this film sucked me in and make me a part of the story. You will remember where you were when you first saw Mononoke. This is A New Hope all over again. This is magic.
But how did the American end hold up? Neil Gaiman's script might very well be the best writing he's ever done. When you consider the nearly impossible task set for him- condensing centuries of cultural assumptions into brief, natural-sounding exposition, with all the dialogue following a pre-established rhythm, and still finding ways to include some funny, funny jokes- his work here is extraordinary. The dubbed voices are also for the most part excellent- only Gillian Anderson doesn't quite measure up, as she just doesn't sound fierce enough to be a wolf goddess. But Billy Crudup, Claire Danes and Minnie Driver are all truly phenomenal in the leads, and the people most advance word had been complaining about- Jada Pinkett-Smith and Billy Bob Thornton- and great. I can easily imagine Billy Bob playing a character like this one on screen, so why is his voice alone not up to snuff? As for Mrs. Will Smith, for all the complaints about how 'black' she sounded- I didn't even know what character she was playing until I saw the end credits. So much for sticking out like a discolored thumb.
It's the best film of the year. It's on a par with Lawrence of Arabia in terms of epic cinematic storytelling. And Peter Jackson had better pay attention- up until now the only reasonable point of comparison for his LOTR was Willow. The bar just got raised by an order of magnitude.
l'humanite (France 1999, directed by Bruno Dumont)
l'humanite may very well be the most anti-Hollywood picture ever made. From its opening long shot of a man taking his time walking along a hill we know that this is not your ordinary formula job with music video editing, this is cinematic deprogramming. All the normal devices are stripped away until you are left alone with nothing but your feelings to guide you across the unfamiliar terrain.
Unfortunately the film is sometimes handicapped by its good intentions. The first problem is the performance in the lead by Emmaneul Schotte. Dumont used all non-professional actors, and Schotte's Chance the Gardener routine wears thin after a while. Also, while the crime being investigated through the script is horrific, the feeble efforts on the police department's part to actually solve it, or even get themselves on the proper path, is minimal.
l'humanite is an interesting film, one that is worth seeing once even if you're not a film geek, but I wouldn't recommend it a second time.
Guinevere (USA 1999, written and directed by Audrey Wells)
Pro-female movies which don't also feel compelled to be anti-male are a rare breed indeed. That's why this one is such a revelation. Guinevere is the first feature by long-time screenwriter Wells, and while it is isn't a perfect film it will certainly win you over.
Sarah Polley, in the flat-out best work of her career, plays a young rich girl who becomes the latest in a string of 'Guinevere's, young lovers and proteges to aging photographer Stephen Rea. Rea matches Polley blow for blow in this film, and their relationship casts a hard-nosed, realistic eye on the great Cinematic ClichÃ© of the May-December romance (and after this film I hope it's DECADES before someone has the balls to do another.) Jean Smart is also shockingly good as Polley's mother; sitcom refugees aren't supposed to be able to act, are they? Throw in three or four brilliantly funny scenes and you've got a winner.
There are some problems with the film, namely that it is a little too writery. Wells is capable of finding an extraordinary visual to illustrate a point, but she's still go on and explain it anyway through dialogue. And the score has way too much Titanic in it- I kept expecting Sarah to start thumping her chest or something. But these are quibbles. Guinevere is an excellent first effort, and a star turn for Canada's Own Sarah Polley.
George Lucas in Love (USA 1999, directed by Joe Nussbaum)
A 9 minute blast, George Lucas in Love is the 'true' story of how Lucas came to write Star Wars in the first place. It easily sets a new land speed record for most references per foot of film, and is funny even if you haven't seen another Star Wars picture. Check it out if you can.
Gamera 3: the Revenge of Iris (Japan 1999, directed by Shosuke Kaneko)
When a young girl watched her parents get killed by Gamera during his battle with Gyaos she vowed revenge. Many years later the means to that revenge presents itself, in the form of a little baby monster.
Gamera 3 kicks ass. The effects are tremendous and the fight scenes rule. The film even dares to ask the age-old question "Why DOES Japan always get attacked by monsters?" It's not as good as Advent of Legion, the second new Gamera film, but it's close. And it's light years beyond the old flying turtle movies.
What more can I say? It's a giant nuclear turtle movie. Gamera we love you!
Cure (Japan 1997, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
On the surface, Cure is a police procedural with an intricate serial-killer-by-proxy plot. Underneath, however, as in all the best Kurosawa, the genre gets peeled apart before your very eyes. It's a deep meditation on free will and alienation, and the hollowness that can eat away at you inside.
This is a dark, somber film, with a measured pace and an almost Lynchian photographic style, but you can feel the tension building with almost every frame. This is actually helped by its unconventional structure- the cops catch the hypnotist responsible for the killings half-way through the film, which leaves the rest of the film for you to wonder just who's head he's going to mess with. And of course, no Kurosawa film is complete without an ending which totally invalidates everything you think you've figured out about the film to that point. The man is the absolute master of the mindfuck ending. Sixth Sense got nothin' on this flick, baby.
Cure might be available on video near you if you dig for it- it was the first big Kurosawa to get any kind of international attention.
Anton signing out.