Sunday, December 14, 2008

Welcome, Greg Logsted!

I’d like to welcome debut author Greg Logsted whose YA novel, SOMETHING HAPPENED, was recently published under the Simon Pulse imprint. Looks to me like this book would make a great holiday gift for any teens on your list.

Greg and I (and his wife and daughter) all share the same literary agent. So, even though we've never met in person, it's like we're automatic friends. :-)

Welcome Greg. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I remember my third grade teacher telling my parents she thought I’d grow up to be a writer. I loved that idea and unlike me, it never grew old.

Tell me a bit about SOMETHING HAPPENED.

SOMETHING HAPPENED is my first novel (Simon & Schuster, Nov 2008). Five months after his dad's unexpected death, Billy Romero is still struggling with the loss. Billy's mom spends more time talking to her Bluetooth than to him, and his best friend, Ziggy, just doesn't get it. There's no one who understands how alone Billy feels...except his new English teacher, the young and beautiful Miss Gate.

Miss Gate offers support and friendship, even giving Billy extra help with his writing outside of school. Billy isn't really sure how he feels about spending so much time with his teacher. It's a little weird, but it's also kind of exciting that someone like Miss Gate wants to hang out with him. But the closer they get, the more Billy wonders what kind of friendship this really is....

How hard was it to get into the head of a 13-year-old boy?

SOMETHING HAPPENED is a YA set in a middle-grade environment. I found it really easy to get into the head of a thirteen-year-old. Maybe because I loved being thirteen – it was just a fun and magical time in my life. Also as a writer you get the opportunity to look at the old as new again. You get a second chance to say all those things you wished you had said when you really were thirteen.

Yes, there are sure a few events in my 13-year-old life I wouldn’t mind revisiting with adult wisdom. What’s next for you?

I just finished my second novel ALIBI JUNIOR HIGH! It was a whole lot of fun to write. This one has a bit more action than my last. ALIBI JUNIOR HIGH, is about a thirteen-year-old boy, Cody Saron, accustomed to living a globetrotting James Bond lifestyle with his mysterious dad. Cody must suddenly learn to cope with regular school life for the first time after he's forced into hiding when a secret mission turns bad. He thinks after everything he’s done that going to a small Connecticut junior high school will be easy, a piece of cake…boy, is he ever wrong.

That sounds great. Nothing’s ever a piece of cake at that age, is it? What’s your #1 piece of advice for aspiring authors?

My best piece of writing advice is to find what works for you and stick with it. Everybody’s different. What works for one person might not work for the next. I like to read poetry before I write; it helps me focus on the importance of choosing and using the right words. I’m not sure that would work for everyone. What I do think would work for everyone is practice; it might not make you perfect but it definitely will make you better. Write every day. Write hard; live free.

Thanks so much Greg! And good luck with the book.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Zack & Miri (and Kevin) Make a Disappointing Film

I was really looking forward to Zack & Miri Make a Porno. I like Kevin Smith. I like Seth Rogen. I like romantic comedies and this one had such an edgy fun premise.

But it kind of sucked.

I've been trying to figure out why it fell so flat for me. In the end, I think it boils down to weak writing, bad acting and too much reliance on gross-out or stereotype-reliant humor. Re the bad acting: the two leads were fine. (Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) but the actors in many of the minor parts were horrible and, even in fairly small rolls, detracted from the film. Some of the minor characters were embarrassingly bad stereotypes. (particularly the Brendan Routh and Justin Long cameos as a gay couple.)

Casting (early 1980's underage porn star) Traci Lords as a porno actress is kind of funny (and stunt casting Lords worked for John Waters when he did it in Serial Mom and Cry Baby... but we expect bad acting in a John Waters movie (even when it's Johnny Depp). And the stunt casting didn't work here. Besides, Traci Lords is getting a little long in the tooth and it's been too many years since her infamous years as a porn star for the casting joke to be funny.

But beyond the stiff acting, (no pun intended), I think it was the writing that was the real problem. I liked the premise of two long-time platonic friends only figuring out that they were in love when they try to film a porno staring themselves... But it just didn't work. The characters were already so awkward and nervous around each other that we knew what was going on and the sex scene ended up simply being a let down. Either it had to have been a way better sex scene... or there should have been less obvious foreshadowing and they should have started out trying to do porn-style sex more convincingly that turned into somehting else. As it was, it was sex that started out awkward and just got more awkward, except maybe that they had a little meaningful eye-contact. Perhaps it was realistic... but I didn't want realism, I wanted a nice, emotional sex scene... It was a huge turning point for the film. Or should have been.

Then, the "black moment" and resolution were total cliche. A misunderstanding that a short conversation would have solved, followed by the eventual conversation, but only after a forced separation of 3 months. Any beginner writer of romance knows that doesn't work. There was no conflict between these two people except a misunderstanding. Beginner stuff.

Sigh. You'd think Kevin Smith could do better than this. He has done better than this. Jersey Girl was a half-decent rom-com with some real conflict.

On the upside... I found Jason Mewes (aka "Jay" from Kevin Smith's early movies) pretty funny (and disturbingly attractive) in this film. Perhaps my standards are lowering in my old age.

Monday, December 08, 2008

I So Am Going to Read This

My writer BFF Barrie Summy's first book hits the shelves today!!!

I SO DON'T DO MYSTERIES, Delacorte Press/Random House, Dec. 9 2008

I'm so excited for Barrie and anyone who wants a fun read, or who has a tween on their holiday gift list should run out to the store and get their hands on a copy!

It seems like yesterday that I got a phone call from Barrie telling me the good news that she'd received an offer for this book.

Congrats Barrie and good luck with the launch!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Auction for a Good Cause

Author Jo Leigh lost her husband this summer, and is sinking under the weight of the medical bills left behind. (More here.)

Some of her friends have organized an auction to help, with many great things on offer for readers and writers.

If you click on the icon, above, you'll get to more information on the auction.

A group of my fellow '007 Golden Heart classmates and I are offering multiple critiques of 55 pages of either an historical or a contemporary romance. Great deal, as you get more than one detailed critique, if you make the winning bid on one of these items. That is, the entire list of us will each provide a critique. 5 opinions on the historical and 6 on the contemporary. (The contemporary auction isn't up on eBay yet. More items will be added over the next few days.)

Of course, there are also editors and agents and other authors offering critiques, too. But just think... ours is five in one!

Buy yourself a Christmas present. Get one for your friends. Send your hubby to the site to buy something for you. :-)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Life on Mars

Is anyone else watching this show? It's the one where the premise is: a present-day car accident mysteriously sends a detective back to the 1970s. I think it's the only new show this year I've watched more than one episode of. The British version of this show is one I always meant to watch... but never did. Alas. Perhaps some day on DVD.

But I'm really enjoying the American one so far. (And it's yet another American TV series where the lead actor is actually British, well, Irish in this case, by birth... But he was in the Royal Shakespeare Company, etc.) The acting is good, particularly Michael Imperioli, late of the Sopranos, and the story is just interesting enough to keep me going. I loved the pilot and first few episodes. They set up lots of mystery around how this guy was suddenly 35 years in the past and some mind bending things happened. Then, just as I started to worry that they'd made it too obvious what was actually happening, and they were falling into the typical US TV trap of trying to stretch a premise that should have a finite end (the British series had 16 episodes) to a multi-year series -- they added a great twist this past week.

But other than the hunky lead actor, Jason O'Mara, and Michael Imperioli's completely believable performance, what I'm really liking is the music. And oddly, I've read a couple places, that the shows producers have been criticized for the music. People have said they're choosing "obscure" songs from the era. Okay. I beg to differ. I said I was going to stop publicly admitting my age... But I was old enough in 1973 to be somewhat aware of popular music, but not old enough to be listening to anything even vaguely avant guard. Hey, I'm not sure I'd even heard of FM radio at the time (but did carry around a small AM transistor radio I got for Christmas). The only song I've heard on the show that I'm not sure I actually had heard in 1973 was Life on Mars. I don't think North America (never mind Winnipeg) had caught on to David Bowie at that time. (I just Wikipediaed David Bowie and I'm right... Bowie didn't really hit the North American airwaves until 1975.)

All that disclosed, I've recognized and loved virtually all of the songs they've been playing on the show. Cat Stevens. Roxy Music. Bread. The Who. Five Man Electrical Band... Obscure? Only if Winnipeg AM radio stations had obscure music on rotation. Doubtful.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Swedish Dance Band Fashion (Circa the 70's)

This one's tame. Looks positively fashionable and sane after some of the others. To see more click here. Click on the link. Seriously. You'll pee your pants.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On blurbs...

Seems I'm destined not to make any original blog posts these days... Luckily, I keep reading great ones made by other people.

Check out these words of wisdom, from Lauren Baratz-Logsted on Red Room, about asking other authors to blurb your book.

I will blog again... After I get this book off to my agent. Assuming I ever do. :-(

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Lazy linkage

Too busy revising to blog... But just saw a great agent interview posted on Susan Henderson's blog.

Check it out!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Opening Soon

It's so many weeks past the film festival, I'm embarrassed to keep doing my quasi-reviews, but watching TV right now, I saw an ad for Pride and Glory, opening this weekend, and it inspired me to try again.

So, Pride and Glory.

Ed Norton and Colin Farrell, I thought reading through the festival program. How could this not be great?? And it was good.

Me? I liked the performance of Noah Emmerich who I think is an underrated actor who I've been a fan of since I saw Beautiful Girls back in the nineties. (With Timothy Hutton and a tween-aged Natalie Portman as love interests. But it wasn't creepy. Honest. Rent that film if you haven't seen it.)

But back to Pride and Glory. I think this was a decent film and the performances were great. My issue was that I feel like I've seen it before. Perhaps I'm just getting jaded. Perhaps I've just seen too many movies, and read too many books, and watched too much TV, so little seems fresh to me anymore.

It's a story of a family of cops who must face the fact that one of them is a dirty cop and they all must decide whether to put family or justice first. Haven't we seen this before? I used to think Ed Norton could do no wrong... but I didn't even see the recent Hulk film after it got so soundly trashed by the critics...

Looking through my not-yet-reviewed list... I don't actually think any others are opening soon. But, in related news one film I saw at the 2007 fest just opened. Here's a link to my review last year of Battle in Seattle. Okay, it's less of a review and more of a discussion of the star watching that evening. My biggest beef with Battle in Seattle (if memory serves, it's been more than a year since I saw it) is that I felt the big, emotionally-charged moments of the film were fiction masquerading as non-fiction. And that felt a tad dishonest to me. But it did have some great, make-you-gasp moments and didn't too aggressively take sides. The film blends actual footage of the riots at the WTO meetings with the film's footage, and I guess that's why I felt manipulated by some of the story elements.

Okay, one more from this year. One I really liked but might not get a theatrical release. $5 a Day.

Full disclosure on my thumbs up endorsement of this film. I totally heart Alessandro Nivola. In this film, he plays the estranged son of a small-time hustler, played by Christopher Walken. The son ended up doing some time, after taking the blame for one of his dad's failed schemes and has moved on with his life, with a boring job as a restaurant health inspector and a fiancee (Amanda Peet) who's perfect, except she's on the verge of dumping him because he won't open up and tell her anything about his past. Because, of course, he's completely hiding his shady past and his embarrassing dad. But dad calls, claiming he's dying, and the fiancee takes the message, and the son ends up getting pulled into helping his dad, who's convinced he can live on only $5 a day, either by running little scams, or taking advantage of free offers. What transpires is a very unique road film, meeting Sharon Stone and Peter Coyote on the way, and of course, some family bonding.

I thought this film really worked, so I hope I'm wrong about it not getting a very wide distribution. The screen writer also wrote Calendar Girls, so who knows... Check it out if and when it does open.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Season change -- BANG!

Weekend before last was Thanksgiving in Canada. My memories of his holiday are fresh, crisp air, fallen leaves, and a walk in the woods wearing a warm jacket.

This year and last? A walk in the woods, wearing shorts and a tank top, sweating. Okay, this year it wasn't HOT, but it was warm. Probably in the low seventies in that adorably antiquated Fahrenheit system you Americans still cling to. ;-)

Ten days later? WOW. Gloomy and windy and they forecasted 8 degrees (mid forties?) rain, mixed with wet snow for this afternoon!!!! Really?

Haven't seen any evidence of the white stuff yet, but that's too fast for me.

Mother Nature. Slow down. No wonder I had a killer sinus headache yesterday.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October Ovation

My good writer-friend, Barrie Summy, whose debut middle grade book, I So Don't Do Mysteries, will be released in December, asked me to join in a blog round-up today -- an October Ovation.

The idea is to blog about someone you admire.

I spent a fair bit of time thinking about this post, because there are plenty of people, famous or not, alive or not, friends and family or not, whom I admire, but in the end, I decided to blog about my older sister.

I've always admired her. I mean, she's my big sister; ergo, it was my job to look up to her. At least that's what she always told me. ;-) But in the past almost five years that admiration has increased tenfold. (Exactly ten times. I did the math.) Why the increase? Because of the fabulous and brave and mature and caring way she's coped with the, at first devastating, news that her son, my lovely nephew, has autism. Something that was confirmed just a month shy of his third birthday.

Now, before I start getting hate mail, I know that autism isn't necessarily a devastating diagnosis -- certainly not compared to parents who face news that their children have terminal illnesses -- but any parent (or auntie) hates to hear that their child will face special challenges in life. And let's face it, a certain percentage of kids with autism never grow to be independent adults, so the diagnosis is scary.

Scary for that easy-to-guess reason, but also scary because the medical community offers parents virtually no answers, virtually no hope or guarantees or even guesses at whether their child will be able to function at school or in society as a whole. And gives them virtually no guidance or advice in how to improve the odds.

So parents are left to sift through information from a variety of non-medical sources, to evaluate theories that often conflict and are advocated or disparaged by heated opinions, and to cope with stress upon stress upon stress. (It was only a few decades ago, that doctors were still blaming autism on the mothers for not showing their kids enough affection. Can you believe it?) But instead of sticking her head in the sand, or getting overwhelmed, my sister got educated. She sifted through all the conflicting information and fought to get therapies to help her son. If a particular therapy, or supplement, or diet made sense to her and the source recommending it was reliable, she tried it.

As an example, my nephew is one child with autism who responded to a modified diet. I've seen the clear evidence of that. (My nephew, after eating wheat pasta or bread, looks and acts like a drunk on too many martinis, and many foods not only make him spacy, but also give him severe diarrhea. And yet, most doctors still insist these diets are bogus and have no effect on autism!)

So diet helps him, but it's a lot of work to feed a child on a gluten free, cassien free, egg free, many-other-things free diet. It was even a challenge to figure out which diet modifications made a difference and which did not. And who had to deal with all that? Primarily my sister. So she learned how to bake and cook without virtually any grains except rice -- and no corn and no dairy and no soy. (Just read a few labels to see how few foods contain neither dairy nor corn nor soy.) She learned ways to get her son and the rest of her family to eat a very different diet and, for example, make sure knives that had been used to spread something on wheat or even spelt breads don't contaminate food that he can eat.

And in stating my admiration for my sister, giving her an October Ovation, I don't want to diminish my brother-in-law's role in dealing with the autism in their family. I know he was initially skeptical about some of the therapies that she wanted to try (my sister already believed in homeopathic health techniques before the diagnosis, and he has siblings who are medical doctors who still scoff at the idea that diet and supplements affect autism) but again, he got educated. He read and went to conferences and listened to the scientific evidence. He, too observed the positive effect that the modified diet and behavioral therapies had on his son and threw his support behind everything they as parents decided to try.

And I should also throw a complementary ovation to my niece. Not yet six when her brother was diagnosed, she saw her life change as more of the family resources and attention became dedicated to him. She's seen the food put on her plate at family meals change. Favorite desserts and meals removed from rotation. The number of treats, dwindle so that her brother won't get jealous or tempted when he gets an apple and she gets a cookie. And she's been a real trooper, a dedicated and loving big sister.

And finally, I'd be remiss to not offer part of my October Ovation to my nephew. He puts up with swallowing pills before meals, and getting shots, and having blood taken, and dealing with a schedule filled with ABA therapists and speech therapists and occupational therapists, that was busier, even back when he was a three year old, than many teenagers have. He's worked hard. And it's paying off. He's a happy, generous, creative kid with a great sense of humour who definitely defies the notion that children with autism don't care whether or not they have friends or whether people like them. He cares. He tries so hard. Even asked me for advice on how to make friends with babies when his cousin was born this winter. And as I was drafting this, I found this fabulous photo of my nephew hugging himself. (Didn't I say he was creative???) One of his favourite things when I come to visit is playing with the PhotoBooth application on my MacBook and I think this self-portrait sums up his desire to love and be loved. I love finding little surprises like this, or the one below, after he's borrowed my laptop. (More than makes up for the fingerprints left on the screen.)

Yes, he's got challenges, he has more trouble concentrating and expressing himself verbally than many children his age, and as a result has trouble forming friendships in his grade 2 class. But he's a voracious reader and a lovely, lovely boy.

And for giving birth to him and supporting him and cooking for him and fighting for the best for him, I offer my October Ovation to my sister and her family.

Here are some links to other October Ovations:

Check out who others are cheering about.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Gigantic, Wrestling, Lyme disease ticks

So, I've been a big blog slacker, but a lot of crap has been landing on my head all at once the past couple of weeks, so some things have slipped--this blog being one of them.

Getting my hair cut yesterday, (couldn't let that slip any longer), my hairdresser asked me about the film fest this year, and I realized that I still hadn't blogged about more than half of the films I saw. In fact, I had some trouble remembering what I'd seen... But scanning my list today, some of them are certainly worth mentioning.

The Wrestler

This is a come-back vehicle of sorts for Mickey Rourke and won the big prize at the Venice Film fest this year, so I assume it'll get a theatrical release--perhaps in time for Rourke to get a shot at the Golden Globes and Oscars. And he does deserve to be considered.

What a committed, fearless performance. Mickey is looking a little freakish in this film and while I first figured that he'd altered his appearance for the film, I since learned he's been boxing since he disappeared from the big screen, so perhaps appearance-wise, this was a part made for him. But I completely believed him in the part of a has-been wrestler trying to make ends meet, reconcile with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Woods), connect with an equally has-been stripper, (Marissa Tomei), cope with his aging steroid-riddled body, and relive his glory days.

This is a "quiet" character-driven film but definitely worth seeing when it comes out. A sad and powerful performance that keeps you guessing about how it'll all turn out. A number of times I was scared that they were going the sports movie cliche route, but the filmmaker avoids that pretty well and builds to a dramatic if ambiguous ending. But perhaps it wasn't that ambiguous. I'll be interested to know what others think when they see it. And you should see it.


Lymelife is a film that's going to evoke comparisons to Ang Lee's marvelous The Ice Storm, and while I found Lymelife entertaining, I fear the comparisons won't be favorable for the most part. (Although, ironically, it might be a more commercial film. Who knows. Only time will tell.)

The film stars Alec Baldwin, Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon, Jill Hennessey (a Torontonian doing a reasonable Long Island accent), and two of the Culkin boys Kieran and Rory, playing, you guessed it, brothers. Now McCauley Culkin's tragic career and personal nose-dive aside, I think the younger Culkin's are very talented. I've seen both in several interesting and entertaining independent films and in this one they're both great. And it was clearly genius to cast brothers as brothers. Some of that sibling chemistry is hard to act. Alec Baldwin was, well, Alec Baldwin and perfect for the charming sleezebag he was playing. It was disappointing he wasn't at the screening. Sounds like he'd been in Toronto that whole day, done all the press conferences, but flew back to NYC before the screening because he had an early morning call on the set of 30 Rock the next day. He's someone I would've like to have seen in person and I was sitting right near the cast. It was amazing to see Timothy Hutton, though. He doesn't look great in the film--but that's kind of the point of his character, who had lyme disease--but he sure is holding up well in person. I think I'll always have a soft-spot for Tim Hutton. Oh, and the young girl in this photo is Emma Roberts, who's Eric Roberts's daughter (Julia's niece).

Guess I haven't said much about the film... Suffice it to say, it's a slice of suburban life in the late 1970's, with all the dysfunctional family heartbreak, infidelity, and nostalgia typical of such kind of film. One thing I was impressed with was the suspense that the director manages to create in the final five minutes of the film. Oddly, when one audience member complimented it during the Q&A, and asked the director to talk about his choices, he merely said he'd wanted to have a "curtain call" of sorts for all the actors, so wanted to show a montage of what all the characters were up to in those final moments... but the effect was so much more powerful than that. Let's just say an unstable character has a rifle. As an audience, we know this. So when the director shows us a montage of all the characters it's hard not to wonder whether one of them (and which one of them) will get shot by said gun, whether accidentally or on purpose. I don't want to wreck the ending, but I can't believe the director did this montage without more purpose. Seemed pretty dang purposeful to me. Maybe he just had an awesome editor.


This was one of the films I was most looking forward to this year and I wasn't disappointed. That said, I'm not sure if it'll get a very big release. It's one strange little film. It stars Paul Dano who I think is pretty amazing (Little Miss Sunshine, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, There Will Be Blood).

Dano plays a young, high-end-mattress salesman who does all he can to avoid confrontation. He is the much younger brother of some over-achieving brothers (about 20 years his elder) and has eccentric, wealthy older parents (played by Jane Alexander and Ed Asner). Since he was a young boy, he's been obsessed with adopting a Chinese baby and finally he's getting close to the top of the adoption agency's long list. (Could a writer give a young, single, male character a stranger obsession???) When an even more eccentric rich man (John Goodman) sends his daughter (Zooey Deschanel) to settle the purchase of his new bed, Dano's character's life is thrown into turmoil. The film is full of lots of symbolism and metaphors I'm not sure I got -- but felt sure they were there (grin). A homeless man who seems to be stalking Dano and out to get him, (or force him to confront something/anything?), a friend who does psychological experiments by dumping rats in tanks of water (to study depression or the will to live or something?) and two very lonely main characters who long for real families and to belong, but neither of whom are willing to let anyone else get close. Ultimately, it's a kind of sweet love story.

I think I'll try to see this one again when it comes out. Assuming it does.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Daytime Drinking, Hunger, Religulous

Seriously. Does anyone who knows me think I could pass up a film called Daytime Drinking? Even one in Korean?

This film was entertaining, but not destined to change to world or sweep a bunch of awards, I don't think. I was almost more entertained by the Q&A where the young director (through a translator) admitted he was an art student who didn't know much about film making and was pretty floored that his film was now making the festival circuit. When someone asked him why he chose this subject for his film, instead of going into some artsy explanation involving existentialism or other such heady stuff, he said, "I like drinking and I like traveling, so I thought, why not make a film about drinking and traveling."

The protagonist of the film is heartbroken, having been recently dumped by his girlfriend, and drinking with his buddies one afternoon, they all talk him into going on a trip with them to cheer him up. He can't leave right away (as they plan to) because he has to find someone to take care of the family dog, so he agrees to meet them at the mountainous village the next day. Problem is, when he arrives, his friends aren't there and it turns out they just kept drinking the day before, and were too hung over to go and/or don't remember making the plans. And the market they assured him would be there is closed. And the great pension they recommended is less than welcoming. So what's a young man to do? Drink, of course. And he ends up getting into more and more scrapes including being dumped in the snow at the side of the road in his underwear. I laughed quite a few times during this film, and the view into young Korean culture (much the same as student culture here -- only the details are different) made this one worth seeing.


After In the Name of the Father, you'd think the story of Bobby Sands' 1981 hunger strike had already had its time on the big screen. But this film is different. It was certainly one of the "buzz" films and in fact won the prize for the best film in the Special Presentations series. (The first year such an award has been handed out.) And Special Presentations had many really great films... so this is no small achievement.

The film follows not only Bobby Sands, with an astonishing performance by Michael Fassbender, but also a prison guard and other people on both sides of the "troubles" in Northern Ireland. The effect is such that the film doesn't take sides as blatantly as most films that cover politically charged subjects do.

It was made by a first time director, Steve McQueen, a young British artist of some repute (his work has been acquired by the Guggenheim among other major galleries) and certainly the film shows his eye for detail and finding a beautiful way to show many things that are less than beautiful. And the ugliness of things too. Showing the truth in them, I guess.

Many things in this film will make many viewers gag and/or cringe with disgust, but it was worth seeing for Fastbender's performance, alone. Staggering what humans will do to other humans and what one human will do to himself.


This was a highly anticipated film in general this year, partly because Larry Charles and Bill Maher showed 12 minutes of it last year at the festival during a talk they gave as part of the Mavericks series (which are lectures/discussions with filmmakers). It was also highly anticipated by me because it was Bill Maher and Larry Charles (Seinfeld, Borat) and the subject was the ridiculousness of religion. What could be better than that? But to be honest, the film disappointed me a bit. I did laugh, but some of the laughs seemed like cheap shots based on sight gags when they didn't need to be. The words coming out of the people they interview are funny enough with out the "ba-dump-bum". I didn't feel like the film really taught me anything or made me see anything any differently... but perhaps they were literally preaching to the choir in my case, having decided much about organized religion was ridiculous at least 25 years ago.

Another thing that rubbed me the wrong way was Charles' answer to a audience member's question at the end, who wondered why the film mostly makes fun of Christians and Muslims and Mormons and Scientologists, but pretty much leaves the Jews alone (except for a small bit with a clearly fringe sect of Jews) and was that because he (Charles) was Jewish. I don't want to misquote him, so I won't put his answer, but it made me think the audience member had been right to ask the question... He said something about there being fewer Jews in the world than Christians or Muslims so he was trying to be proportionate... but that doesn't explain the bigger bits on Mormons and Scientology.

I'm sure this one will be opening (and being picketed in various US cities) soon. I think some time in October, in fact. Worth seeing for the laughs. I might even go again. I know I missed some lines because of the full audience and raucous laughter, and maybe I simply wasn't in the right mood to fully enjoy this film, having just come out of the very serious Hunger -- a terrifying look at how religion can tear people apart.

Monday, September 22, 2008

More TIFF films

I was going to try to go through these by type or theme or something clever (ha)... but I figure the best strategy now is to just work my way through the fest chronologically, making at least a brief comment about each film I saw. Here goes:

Katia's Sister

This was a strange little film from The Netherlands destined not to come to a multiplex near you. I did find it interesting, though. Sad story about a young, strange girl who is neglected and taken for granted by her prostitute mother and beautiful older sister who's slipping into a life of prostitution herself. The main character, who doesn't get named until the final scene, takes the nurturing archetype character to the extreme, basically running the entire household, although she's the youngest. She idolizes her sister (Katia) and starts up inappropriate relationships with other people in an attempt to be more like her sister. Very different sort of coming of age story and a look at the life of Russian immigrants in Holland.

Wendy and Lucy

This was one of the films this year there was a lot of "buzz" about and I expect it will get distribution, at least to art house type theatres. It stars Michelle Williams who always impresses me. I've seen her in quite a few small independent films and she's always good. Ultimately, this is a very sad story. I cried. Wendy is traveling with her dog Lucy, trying to get up to Alaska for a high paying job in a fish packing plant, when her car breaks down in Oregon. She's carefully budgeted every penny she has for the trip (without any luxuries like motels -- she and Lucy sleep in the car -- or much food for herself -- Williams was skinnier than I've ever seen her) so the extra expense of needing anything done on her car is terrifying and there's no work to be had in this depressed Oregon town. In a moment of desperation, she steals a can of dog food, is caught by a holier than thou shop clerk, and during the 6 or 7 hours she's detained by the police, Lucy disappears. I don't want to say much more about what happens, but it's a real and sad look at living on the edge of pennilessness and shows both the best and worst sides of human nature in terms of the people she encounters while trying to find her dog and get back on the road. Ultimately, it's a story of sacrifice and quite beautiful.

But it's a very quiet film... During the intro, the director called out someone who she'd seen come in with nachos. Her words were something like: they ask you to turn off your phones, but apparently it's okay to chomp on a huge tray of nachos. I didn't hear any chomping, so perhaps that viewer was shamed into saving them until after the film. (An aside... Generally film fest goers do not eat during films. Between films to be sure. One has to eat. But usually the every-seat-filled theatres are completely silent during the screenings. Especially the "quiet" films. People are really respectful of the films and other film goers.)

Is There Anybody There?

I didn't originally find the premise of this one that engaging, because it sounded too sentimental. But I saw the film Boy A during the week we had to make our festival selections this year and was so impressed by that film that I had to see this one by the same filmmaker. Interestingly, during the intro, the filmmaker said that Boy A was a film he did to fill time while waiting to get the funding and cast together for this one. But I really liked Boy A better, although this film certainly has more commercial appeal. It's the story of a young boy who lives in an old-folks home run by his parents and is obsessed with the supernatural and the question of whether there is life after death. A retired magician, played by Michael Caine, moves into the house and the pair strike up an unlikely friendship ultimately helping each other. Sounds schmaltzy, right? But it's actually not as sentimental as it sounds (although I think it is more sentimental than the director thinks it is) and has some truly funny and touching moments and a twist I didn't see coming. Michael Caine, who plays a character at least ten years older than he is in real life, received a standing ovation both before and after the screening, and it was well deserved. The young boy, Bill Milner, who was so amazing in last year's Son of Rambow, wasn't at the screening because, as the director said, he's a victim of his own success and couldn't leave the set of the film he's currently making.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Some of the Docs

I'm not sure whether it was a theme of the festival overall this year, or just the ones I picked, but I saw quite a few films that were either based on true life stories, and/or documentaries about people's lives.

A couple of these documentaries: Yes Madam, Sir, and Waltz with Bashir, I already blogged about, and here is my attempt to fill you in on a few more.

More Than a Game

This wasn't one of my first choices and to be honest, while I'd heard the name Lebron James before, I had no idea who he was or that he was even one of the subjects of this film when I put it down as a second choice. I just knew it was a film about high school basketball and I didn't have anything better to see in that time slot.

Well, I'm glad I went, if only for the experience of being in the theatre which was filled with hundreds of teenage boys who were clearly there to see LeBron more than they were there to see the film, but were extremely excited. The room really buzzed. And it's a good film. The filmmaker followed Lebron's high school basketball team over it's career and the director must have been very young when he started shooting this, because he barely looks 30 now. The film also contains TV and home movie footage of the boys playing as young as eight years old and their story of friendship and loyalty and hard work really was inspirational. (Although the grainy TV footage was a little hard to watch from my 2nd row middle vantage point. But being at the feet (literally, I think I could have touched his pant leg had I tried) of Lebron during the Q&A almost made up for that.) It was touching during the Q&A to see 4 of the 5 young men on stage (one, Sian, couldn't come because he's currently playing College football and had a game) and all the men were in tears a few times. My favorite part of the story was how they ended up playing for a mostly white Catholic high school, instead of the mostly black high school everyone expected them to go to. One of the boys (now men) Dru, was very small at 14 and it became clear to him that the coach at the school they were expected to go to was not going to let him play. So he went to talk to the coach at the other school who recognized the kid's talent (in spite of his size) and made it clear he'd give him a chance. So Dru announced to his Dad and friends he was going to this mostly white Catholic high school and all of this friends followed him there including Lebron. The school went from not even being on the charts in high school basketball land in their first year to being the National Champs by their senior year. It was a great documentation of not only the friendship/loyalty/sportsmanship that I mentioned before, but also how hypocritical the media/system is toward amateur sport. They build this kid up to be a huge celebrity while still in high school, and then penalize him for it. Great film. Not sure if it'll get a wide release, but I'm sure it'll at least end up in rotation on cable TV channels.

Paris, Not France

Jumping from inspirational to the ridiculous, was another documentary about celebrity. This doc film maker followed Paris Hilton around for a few years and the movie was touted to expose much about the heiress we didn't know... But I have to say, there was nothing new in it for me. Yes, this woman is smarter in real life than her reality TV persona would imply. But the constant "I work so hard" started to grate when the evidence of her working was simply jetting around the world to show up at meetings to approve the hard work other people have done on her behalf. She was at the screening (in spite of some rumors she was trying to block the film and the number of screenings being cut from 3 to 1 after the festival programme was published) and it was interesting to have her there. But I was proud of most of the audience members. Yes, there were a few truly obnoxious people who stood in the aisle with their camera's taking multiple photos of her while the film was being introduced, but for the most part people were pretty cool. The one thing I wondered about... There were several moments when I think things she said might have received a laugh from the audience had she not been there, but like typical Canadians, we were too polite to laugh at her expense with her in the room.

Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love

On the same vein of docs about real life people, this film about African musician Youssou Ndour was also entertaining, but didn't blow me away. He first rose to World attention when he sang with Peter Gabriel, but he's quite famous both in Africa and in many countries in Europe -- particularly France. He is talented and his story was interesting, but I felt like it pulled back from discussing the main topic, which was the negative reaction he received in his native Senegal an in other Muslim countries, when he released an album of sacred music. The original planned release of this album was very near September 11, 2001. He held off for a few years, but the negative reactions didn't come from non-Muslims, but from Muslims who believed it wasn't right for a "pop singer" to be singing religious music. I must admit much of this film has faded from memory, as I saw it early in the festival, but I doubt it'll get a theatrical release in North America. One interesting sidenote. I saw a man in the audience (amongst the reserved seats) who looked a lot like Danny Glover, but older. The next day, I saw a photo of Danny Glover at the TIFF that made me think it had been Danny Glover I saw... But I'm not 100% sure. He sat across the aisle and about 5 rows up from me, so mostly I was looking at the back of his head.

And to round out my list of documentaries:

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

I exchanged a ticket for a Colin Firth film (Genova) to see this one, based on the recommendation of some friends from Indiana, (Brian and Michael), I met at the 2002 Film fest and have seen most years since then. I figured the Colin Firth one will hit theatres and this one might not.

And it was really entertaining. Especially considering it's about a college football game that happened nearly 40 years ago. But it was excellent story telling. The film is interspersed with clips from the game in chronological order, so that you feel like you actually have seen the game by the end, and most of the footage is interviews of the players (including Tommy Lee Jones who was one of the Harvard team members.) Really interesting how "characters" came out in the interviews and how the men remember (or misremember) so many details so many years later. By clever editing of the clips, the filmmaker really paints a picture of the rich, priveliged (and very talented at football) Yale boys against the not-so-privileged (or talented at football) Harvard boys. A really fun underdog comes from behind story and a great view back to the late 60's when so much was going on at American Universities (although not so much at Yale, it seems.)

Even though you know the outcome of the game from the title of the film... it was really exciting to watch and impossible right up to the end to imagine how the score will come out that way. Audience members were cheering or groaning as plays were made or missed.

The film also has lots of fun little surprises (like Tommy Lee Jones) who was such a sourpuss it was funny. Yes, most of us know that Al Gore was Tommy Lee Jones's college roommate, but it was fun to watch TLJ reluctantly talk about that. Hilarious when he tells the interviewer how funny Al Gore was and then tries to think of examples... but TLJ is so not funny that even if these things were funny when Al did them, they aren't funny now. Another of the players (a Yale player, if memory serves) was dating Meryl Streep during college (and there were photos of them together) and other players knew a rowdy, drunken rich boy who was constantly in hot water named George W. Bush. Fun film. Don't know if it's commercial enough to get a big release, but like More than a Game I'm sure it'll show up on cable TV and/or on DVD at a minumum.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

So, I was going to wait until tomorrow to start writing/posting my comments about the films I went to this year, but since Slumdog Millionaire won the People's Choice award and I LOVED this film, I thought I'd make a few quick comments tonight. (Actually, I guess it's technically tomorrow, already.)

First a disclosure. The director, Danny Boyle, can do little wrong in my books. Shallow Grave is one of my all time favourite films (and not just because it was my first introduction to Ewan McGregor. Okay, that actually might have been a big part of it.) But if you've never seen Shallow Grave, you should rent it (as long as you're prepared for something quite dark. Come on. It is called Shallow Grave).

Then Danny Boyle did Trainspotting, cast Ewan again, and both he and Ewan got famous. Since then I haven't love-love-loved any of his films quite that much, but I have enjoyed them all, even Millions, which didn't do well at the box office. (Mostly, IMO, because it's like a sweet kid's film for the first 3/4 and then like a violent action film for the last 1/4.) That said, Millions is another good rental.

Many people didn't like his adaptation of The Beach, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tilda Swinton, but I was one who did. And I had read the book. I also greatly admired Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, which is so not my kind of movie, but I went because Danny Boyle was the director. (and got my first intro to Cillian Murphy, another favourite actor, now.)

So, back to Slumdog Millionaire. I don't want to ruin anything, but it has a very clever plot device that I sure wish I'd thought of. The film's about a young man who grew up in the slums of Mumbai who wins the big prize in the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. It's based on a book called Q&A, if I remember correctly. The screenwriter was at the premiere and he said that the book was pretty much a series of disconnected but vivid stories and he had to devise a through line for the film so he created.... a romance. And it was a sweet one. I think this screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy, should be a new hero for me. He also wrote The Full Monty and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, among others.

Slumdog Millionaire will do really well I expect. The films that win the People's Choice award at the TIFF almost always do well, (past winners include: Whale Rider, Fahrenheit 911, American Beauty, The Big Chill, Hotel Rwanda, Life is Beautiful, etc. etc.) and I think this one has some great ingredients. A main character who's really fabulous and heroic, lots of action, lots of interesting detail about slum life and gangsters in Mumbai, and, like I said before, a fabulous plot device/structure I'd have killed to have thought of myself. I'm breaking down. I don't think this spoils it. The structure is basically the TV quiz show we all know. For each question we get a flashback to the kid's life to see why/how he knows the answer. It's slightly more complicated than that, but I thought it was a genius structure for showing someone's life story. Vignettes to show how he knows certain details but also show so much more and contribute to an overall plot -- actually to more than one plot. We have the "how did the kid get to the point where he's on the show" plot, the romance plot and the "will he go all the way and get to keep the money he wins on the show" plot. Brilliant storytelling the more I think of it.

No idea when this film will be released. The only release info listed on is January 2009 in France. Keep your eyes open for this one. I'm sure it'll be coming to theatres soon.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Celluloid Burn out

I really wanted to blog during the festival, but am finding it too hard... Gee. I haven't even been adding the titles to my sidebar list of movies seen in 2008. Quelle slacker.

Rest assured I will post reviews of more films starting next week. Promise. I've seen films ranging from bleak Scottish art films, to a Korean film about getting drunk, to a documentary about Paris Hilton. (and she was sitting across the aisle from me.)

Saw 5 films today. First one started at 9:00 am and I just got home and it's nearly midnight... Have tickets for 6 tomorrow... Ack!

All 5 films were good today. Better day than yesterday... (although at least one yesterday was amazing, too...)

Today's films:

50 Dead Men Walking
The Brothers Bloom
Maman est Chez Le Coiffeur (excellent)
Uncertainty (interesting)
Me and Orson Welles

I'm not sure about Uncertainty (ha!) but I think all of the rest of these had their world premiere at the festival and they are all worth seeing. Wish I could describe why right now.

Again... will blog more about these films, but not now. :-)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Seven Down -- 38 to go

So, I'm 7 films in now and this is starting off as very different kind of festival year for me.

Fewer stars, less glitz, more challenging films.

And I'm too tired to really do justice to the films I've seen so far, but here's a quick summary.

Plus Tard, Tu Comprendras (French with English subtitles.)

French film introduced by the Festival director as one of the best films of the year, that fell slightly flat for me. Compelling topic -- 43 year old man in 1987 finds out that his mother is Jewish, right before she dies, and struggles with learning one side of his family all died in the holocaust and that his mother hid this information from him. Like I said. Powerful topic. And Jeanne Moreau plays the mother, but I didn't ever feel very invested in the story. I think part of it was the film maker's decision to have the protagonist talk to himself -- basically listing all the facts we needed to know, fairly often. Storytelling "telling" of the most blatant kind -- not that I have a better solution for the film maker... Just saying I found the choice kind of weak.

Waltz With Bashir (Hebrew with English subtitles.)

Arguably the best film I've seen so far. But as the director said while introducing it: "I wish I could say "enjoy", but it's a difficult film." It's an animated documentary about events that happened in the war between Israel and Lebanon in the early 1980's. Interestingly, it's also about genocide and memories of war and how we cope with them (like the first film) but this one did a much better job of it in my opinion. In a nutshell, the director was a 19-year-old soldier in the Israeli army at the time and realizes 20 years later he has no memory of the events and tries to piece it together to regain his memories by talking to his friends and journalists etc. Highly recommend this film, as long as you're prepared for something dark and thought provoking.

JCVD (French with English subtitles.)

I don't usually go for the "midnight madness" selections both because it's hard to do midnight movies and get up the next day, and because they're usually horror and/or very violent action films, which just aren't my thing. But I couldn't resist this one. JCVD stands for Jean-Claude Van Damme and yes, he's the star -- and playing himself. And the film was quite fun and an interesting look at celebrity in our society -- or I guess in this case, Belgian society. And the Belgian society thing really just heightens the issue of celebrity because he's so singularly important to the Belgians in terms of being the only serious movie star to come from there. If this one gets released, check it out. I was amused and I expect if I'd ever seen even one Jean-Claude Van Damme movie before, it would've been even funnier. (Although I really did laugh when he loses a part to Steven Segal because Steven agreed to cut off his ponytail.)

RockNRolla (English, perhaps could've used a few subtitles, but not as badly as some of Ritchie's previous films needed them.)

Drum roll.... Guy Ritchie is back. (And boy is he good looking in person. What a charming cutie Mr. Madonna is.) I really enjoyed this film. By far the most enjoyable film I've seen so far this year. Very funny in parts and I think a great lesson in sub plots, too. (But don't really have the brain power to do a proper critique of it now.) Filled with great characters each with his/her own story and all those stories interconnect and impact each other so that the stakes escalate for just about everyone and at various points in the film the audience knows much more than the characters which is always fun. Very fast paced, great sound track, Gerard Butler. Need I say more? Oh, and film's narrator was played by another good-looking British actor named Mark Strong who, especially in profile, is the spitting image of Andy Garcia. (Where are all these great looking British actors coming from lately???)

Yes Madam, Sir
(English with some highly unnecessary subtitles at times, as was pointed out by an Indian Canadian during the Q&A, who was offended by the subtitles.)

Documentary about Kirin Bedi an Indian woman who was the first female officer in the Delhi police force and thus far (I think she's just in her 50's) has lead a very impressive and inspirational life. It was a pretty straightforward documentary in terms of structure, etc. but it really held my interest, and she's certainly someone to be admired. Both the film maker (a young Australian woman) and the film's subject, Kirin herself, were at the screening, so it was a good Q&A at the end.

Tony Manero (Spanish with English subtitles.)

This Chilean film wasn't one of my picks and frankly I think I could've lived without seeing it. In fact, if not for the Q&A I think I would be posting that I hated it. But as the director answered audience questions, I started to understand and appreciate the film a bit more. But it is not a film for everyone (or most people for that matter.) The "hero" of the film (an anti-hero if I've ever seen one) is obsessed with the Saturday Night Fever character Tony Manero and goes to some pretty violent and hideous extremes in order to feed this obsession. And his childish and brutal reactions to jeaously were disturbing -- but the most disturbing for me display of jealously was something his girlfriend does... I literally raised my hand to my mouth when I realized.
After the film, my first thought was "why the hell make a film about this horrible man?" but what I figured out during the Q&A was that the protagonist's character and actions were a metaphor for the Pinochet regime in Chile at the time (1970's) and also a demonstration of how that regime was obsessed with American capitalist ideals to the point where the regime used extreme cruelty and horrible crimes were committed to ensure those who got in the way of those ideals were eliminated. The more I think of this film, the more powerful and kind of genius it was, but, I repeat, on the very off chance it comes to a theatre near you, proceed with extreme caution. There is not one character to like in this film and there's some pretty extreme and unexpected violence.


To wrap up my day, I saw yet another film I didn't pick, but rather picked me, because it still had tickets available when I was filling all the gaps left by my horrible luck in the lottery, and I noticed Rufus Sewell was the star (and I love him). Vinyan was another difficult film. (Like I said... so far difficult films are the theme of the festival for me.) Perhaps if I'd been a bit more prepared for a horror type film, it would have been easier... It's more psychological horror than slasher, although there are a few bloody bits, too. For both this film and Tony Manero the audience sat in stunned silence at the end... no applause. Very surreal to sit in a full theatre of people who sit silently through credits. No talking. No leaving. Just silence.
This film is about a couple who lose their very young son while on vacation in Thailand when the Tsunami hits and then 6 months later go to Burma trying to find him when the mother thinks she sees a glimpse of him in a DVD shown at a charity fundraising event. The film turns into something that makes the kids in Lord of the Flies look sweet. Looking at this photo from the film used in the TIFF programme... I have to wonder: Why did I pick this film after seeing this image? And the final image of a huge group of little boys rubbing mud on Emanuelle Beart's bare body... well, disturbing doesn't quite cover it. (But I guess compared to the image of my beloved Rufus earlier being disemboweled by this same little gang was worse.)

So... to sum up my first 2 days... Probably the only film I've seen that's likely to get a wide theatrical release is RockNRolla and I give it my thumbs up. In fact, I might see it again when it opens at the end of October.

Tomorrow I have an odd list of films, too. In fact, I've already decided to skip my morning screening. (Do I really need to get up for a 9:00 am screening of a black and white Bulgarian film? Even if it's had a lot of buzz? I don't think so. Especially since it's already 1:30 am and the screening's at the theatre farthest from my house.

(I do have some films I'm really excited about later in the week, though... They aren't all so depressing. I promise. At least I hope not...)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

5 Hours in a line and a movie

So, my pessimism turned out to be well founded re my selections for the festival. I only got about half of my first picks and not even all my second picks for those slots, so had a lot of holes in my schedule to fill. I went down just after the box-office opened at 10:00 am this morning and immediately kicked myself (which takes talent) because the line to pick up envelopes already wrapped around a very large city block. (For you Torontonians... Line went from Dundas and Victoria, down Victoria to Gould, across Gould to Yonge, and was back at Dundas again when I found the end to join it. (Of course if I'd been bright enough to ask, or even fathomed the possibility the line was that long, I could have just walked across Dundas to join the end of the line... but no... I had to walk all the way around.

That line took about 2 hours and then once I had my tickets, I got in the line for the box office where one could make exchanges... Actually, I got to jump that line a bit, because in the first line I was chatting with two women who were together and one of them got in the box office line before we got to the front of the pick up line... So we got to jump that 2nd line a bit.

The box-office line was much shorter--only about half-way down Victoria--but moved much, much more slowly and took another 3 hours to get to the point where they let you in the building and up to the box office (where another line snaked around for 20 minutes or so.)
Luckily, only the last 90 minutes outside were in the sun, but that was long enough to give me a sunburn and make me feel like I had heat stroke by the time I got up to the box office where I scrambled to make sense of my tickets, and the gaps in my schedule, and compare it to what was still available. I managed to get a few more tickets, including the second screening of the new Charlie Kaufman film and the second screening of Religulous (for both of which I'd picked the first screening, but didn't get). Sadly, I missed some holes and need to to back again tomorrow morning. Let's pray it won't be so bad tomorrow.

Then after all that, exhausted, sweating and still suffering from heat stroke, I decided to see what was starting at the big air conditioned multi-plex upstairs and was just in time to see Get Smart, which has been playing for a million years, but is still at this huge 24 screen cinema.

Funny. Silly to be sure, but a few really big laughs and I like that they set up Patrick Warburton to play Hymie in the sequel, so all in all it was a good way to recover from the 5 1/2 hour line ordeal. No way would I have been able to accomplish anything productive if I'd gone home, anyway.

I really want to get down there by 9:00 tomorrow morning... but since it's 2:00 am already, and I'm blogging and doing laundry instead of sleeping... We'll see.

Over and out.

BTW. The TIFF starts on Thursday evening and hopefully I'll have the brains and energy to make a few posts during the following 10 days. I've got 43 tickets right now... and hope to score a few more tomorrow and maybe try the rush line for a few others. I'm torn about the Religulous thing... Because I do have a ticket for the 2nd screening... but if Bill Maher and Larry Charles don't show up for the second screening, I'll be bummed I didn't go for the RUSH tickets... At the same time, I'll be bummed if I wait in line for RUSH for 2 hours, don't get in, and wasted the chance to see other films.... Hmmmmm... Oh, my life is so tough.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Finding out how the other half lives

Well, it might not be so bad. But I've been so lucky in the past...

For those of you who've been reading my blog for the last couple of years, you know I go to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) every fall -- whether I have time to or not, which I really don't this year, but that's another topic.

Anyway, there's this lottery system. Basically you hand in your selections in an envelope, your envelope goes in a box that's assigned a number. They draw a number out of a hat to determine which box gets opened first and then continue in order.

The last few years I have been VERY lucky. I think last year I was in box 69 and the number called was 64 or something crazy like that. So, my order was one of the first couple of hundred orders processed.

This year my order's in box 68 (yes, I went at the last minute, again) and the number pulled out of the hat was 9. Yes, nine. At least I'm not in box 8. That would suck.

It'll be interesting to see how I do with my picks. I have a bad feeling because I picked a lot of the films that the weekly newspaper NOW listed as "BUZZ" films and must sees. I'd already picked all but one of them before I picked up a copy of NOW... I fear this may be the year where I see a lot of my second choices.


Also, because of the new policy about films at the Elgin I'm bummed I'm not going to get to see the new Coen brothers film, with Clooney and Pitt... But it opens before the festival's over, anyway... Still, it's very exciting to be at the premieres of those films and I'm still angry that the TIFF have basically excluded all the package holders (their best customers) from going to see most of the bigger films.

Their response when I complained? You can always purchase a ticket when they go on sale to the public on Wednesday. Great. I already spent $600 on a ticket, good for 50 films (seeing 50 films is a very strenuous feat... I picked 45), and they expect me to purchase more tickets??? And pay for them??? And line up at about 6:00 am to even have a chance of getting one? I don't think so. Humph. Not even to see Brad and George in person again this year.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Boy A and Bottle Shock

What does one do when one goes to pick up the programme book for the 2008 TIFF when one knows one will be seeing over 40 films in 10 days starting Sept 4? Well, one goes to the movies, of course. Call it warm ups.

I really wanted to see Boy A, which was a film that was in last year's festival. Wow, what a story.

It's about rehabilitation and second chances and vigilantism and I'd say it's about how easily someone sweet and lonely and abused can be lured into doing something terrible based on peer pressure.

Ultimately, it's a movie that supports the idea that most minors who commit crimes should be given a second chance.

The film opens with a young man being released from some kind of detention. I'm not sure if we'd even know what kind of isolation or detention, if we hadn't read the description of the film going in. But this young man has clearly been isolated from society for a long time and is trying to start fresh and learn how to be an adult and live in the real world. And it's clear he's sweet. The story is interspersed with glimpses of flashbacks to when he was about eleven and those flashbacks build until we ultimately see the horrible crime he was a part of as a child.

At the same time, he does very well in the real world. His main problem is the guilt he feels for not telling his new friends and the girl he's fallen in love with, who he really is, but his case worker keeps telling him not to, knowing if anyone finds out who he is, his life will be in danger.

Ultimately a very sad story... But I'm glad I saw it. The filmmaker, John Crowley, has another film in the festival this year: Is There Anybody There. Another story about a young boy and starring Michael Caine. I have to say, this new film doesn't attract me by it's description (a ten year old boy living in an old-folks home, is obsessed with death and the question of an afterlife) but based on Boy A, I might see if I can fit it onto my schedule.

Then, after an hour and a half break, during which I did some actual editing of my own work... I went to see Bottle Shock.

Not super impressed by this film, but it would make an okay rental. Love the story it's telling, though. It's the fairly true story of how the wine world was completely turned on it's head when a blind tasting of French and California wines took place outside of Paris and both winners (in red and white) were California wines.

This event is credited for opening up all the new world markets for wine. That part is fun and the Napa scenery is beautiful but ultimately the story lacked a strong protagonist for me. Was it about the British wine connoisseur (played by Alan Rickman) or the struggling winemaker (Bill Pullman) or his son (Chris Pine -- whom I'd never seen before, but it looks like he's in the new Star Trek movie)?

I guess, ultimately the protagonist is the California wine industry... Anyway, not a fabulous example of storytelling, but an interesting and pleasant film none-the-less. And Alan Rickman. Really. Do you need to know anything else?

Monday, August 25, 2008

It's all relative

I've been giggling a little these past few weeks (in between the cursing) as I work on coordinating my local chapter's writing contest.

The source of my amusement: the number of compliments I'm getting on my organizational skills.

I do admit that I like figuring out and setting up systems (even if I'm not always great with follow-through) and I got a system mostly figured out for the contest this year. I also admit **Maureen pats herself on the back** that it did go quite smoothly (so far) compared to some prior years... But why this is funny to me is that in my previous career, I had a reputation as a disorganized flake. (Okay, I may be overstating... but that's how I felt.)

Guess it's all relative. Now, I'm the slightly square writer, but before I was the artsy/flaky accountant.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mama Mia -- Cast singers in musicals!!!

I really wanted to like Mama Mia! In fact, I was convinced that I would like it. I don't remember who talked me into seeing the stage version and I went to it in a very skeptical state of mind, both because of some snobbish bias against such blatently commercial theatre (I know, I'm a hypocrite) and by my life-long hatred of Abba music. But I liked the stage version of the musical. I had fun. I thought the way they managed to link the lyrics of the songs together into some kind of a coherent, if simple, story was clever.

Then I saw the previews for the film. Meryl Streep! Colin Firth! That girl from Veronica Mars and Big Love! Beautiful scenery! Mama Mia! I was so sure it was going to be great.

But it wasn't. Not for me. And in trying to figure out why, the only thing I can think of is that if you're doing a musical, you need to cast actors who can sing. Most of the women (save Julie Walters) sang quite well, but the men were sad. Especially poor Pierce who's the romantic lead of the film. It's hard to get emotionally involved in a story partly told by song, if you're distracted by the so-called singing.

Two other films in the fairly recent past were similar "types" in that they were stories that cleverly linked together well-known songs: Moulin Rouge and Across the Universe. These were two of my favorite films of the past 10 years. And I really think the difference was not only was there good storytelling and acting, but also good singing. The music parts were enjoyable and entertaining, not mildly painful and uncomfortable.

And I think that's why the stage version of Mama Mia worked so much better for me, too. They cast singers...

But what the heck do I know? Obviously my taste differs from most, because Mama Mia! has been a box office success, while the fabulous Across the Universe was not. Go figure.

(but I expect that's more to do with star power and major studio distribution, etc.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Seeing Your Home Town on TV

This might not be a big deal for most people, but I live in Toronto and a lot of movies and TV shows are filmed in Toronto. Thing is, usually these same movies and TV shows are set someplace else. So, they avoid shots of the skyline and change the mailboxes from red to blue and put trash in the allies.

Funny story, and I don't think it's an urban legend... During the filming of one particular Toronto-shot, NY-set film, the crew left their downtown alley set and took a break in the wee hours of the morning and came back an hour later to find the lane they'd been filming in had been cleaned up... So they needed to cover it with trash again. LOL.

So, why this post? CBS is showing a CTV show right now called Flashpoint and it's not only filmed in Toronto, it's set in Toronto, so there are lots of nice shots of the city. Fun. And the mailboxes are the right colour and the police cars are real Toronto police cars etc.

Supposedly this show is getting good ratings both north and south of the border... but frankly, it doesn't have much competition right now. Hope it lasts. Cop shows aren't usually my thing, but I like how this one works through all the psychology of the situations and how most of the situations aren't so black and white. Fun to see all the Canadian actors, too. If you watch BSG you'll recognize a lot of actors... In fact, Col Tigh's (Michael Hogan) real life son (Gabriel Hogan) was in the first episode and I thought he was going to be a series regular, but haven't seen him since the first one... It's a nearly all Canadian cast, though. The only series regular who isn't Canadian is the girl, I think... (Oh, I also like that they have a girl SWAT team member... And that they aren't called SWAT, because that's not what it's called up here... They're called SRU (Strategic Response Unit). I like that they don't try to just make it American.)

Plus, I really like seeing the shots of the T dot.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Molly in the National Post

So, I could be blogging about the RWA National conference, and likely will, but how did I miss this??? Molly was interviewed for the National Post newspaper talking about "the sexiest place in Canada". How fun is that?

Go, Molly, go!

Her latest book, Worth Fighting For, hits the shelves this month.

Great cover, isn't it? What girl doesn't want to be in his arms (and wearing that red dress.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

My friend and critique partner Danielle Younge-Ullman's debut novel, FALLING UNDER, has hit the streets!!

She's guest blogging on the Penguin website all this week. Today, her post is **hush** about the sex.

Check it out!

Monday, July 21, 2008

RITA trash talk

Okay, so I totally stole this from Kwana's blog, but it was too funny not to post. Hey, a few people read my blog but not Kwana's. Not saying they're smart people, just that they might exist. ;-) (How's that for trash talk...)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight

Okay, I'm going to do another post on this film when I get time and gather my thoughts... but one cool little thing... Cillian Murphy has a cameo right at the beginning of The Dark Knight... If you haven't gone yet, see if you notice him. If you have seen it... Did you notice?

I was kind of expecting him to show up again and when he didn't I started to wonder if I'd made a mistake, but a brief google reveals that in fact I was right. It was him. In one 3-4 second scene.

I need to see Batman Begins again... because I don't remember what happened with the Scarecrow character at the end... So I'm not sure whether Cillian's presence in the scene in The Dark Knight was just a fun little thing for the actor/director or whether it was important to future films in the franchise. Cool, anyway. Oh, has him listed as playing The Scarecrow in The Dark Knight... so I guess it was supposed to be the character. But like I said... 3 or 4 seconds of screen time.

I thought of this right now, because I'm watching an Irish film on DVD called Disco Pigs, staring Cillian. Also, in the book I just finished, the hero has very distinctive eyes and while he looks absolutely nothing like Cillian Murphy... His eye color is similar, I think... This photo doesn't really capture their astounding color...

Reading list

So, I found this on Sara Hantz's blog. The Big Read, an initiative by the National Endowment for the Arts, has estimated that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books on this list. How do you do?

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.

I'm adding a #4) make blue ones you've started more than once, but never finished...

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (cheating here. Haven't read the last 2 yet)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible (well, bits of it. Who hasn't?)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan

52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens (I played the title character in my high school musical, does that count?)
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry (Have had this on my TBR pile for ages...)
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Guess I'm better read than I thought. When I've seen this kind of list before, I've barely read any, but this one included more modern books and more kids books, and more stuff I read in high school, so people who didn't take English Lit in University have a chance of actually reading a few of them... A few others I'm really not sure. I feel like I've read Emma and Sense and Sensibility, and Hamlet, for example... but I think I've actually just seen the movies/plays a bunch of times...
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