Canada at TIFF. Movies Reviewed: Modra, Daydream Nation, You Are Here

Posted in Acting, Canada, comedy, Coming of Age, Communism, Conspiracy Theory, Cultural Mining, Drama, High School, Movies, Sex, Uncategorized by on September 10, 2010

What’s going on around here? Toronto looks different. The atmosphere has changed. Something feels… cooler, buzzier.

Why are all these people marching down Yonge street in matching baggy, coloured T-shirts, shouting some unintelligible slogan? Are they religious cults or political parties? I’m not really sure… Do the ugly yellow-shirt marchers belong to the same political party as the silly purple jumpsuit marchers? Or are they enemies? And are they all going to pull out there weapons soon?

Oh, wait… never mind. They’re not political at all. They’re freshers, newly-arrived students at the downtown universities, getting used to the big city, and bonding with their dorm-mates so they can feel patriotic toward one building over another.

But that’s not all. There are guys in po-boy caps with bad complexions and three cameras around their necks, lurking in hotel doorways. Wait – are there paparazzi In Toronto? That only happens once a year, when the Toronto Film Festival, (now known affectionately as TIFF) blows into town. Noooww I get it.

What is TIFF?

TIFF is one of the top-ranked festivals in the world now, up there with Cannes, Sundance, and Venice, and usually considered the most accessible of any of those, with numerous public screenings for every film. There are mainstream movies, soon to be released, that have big galas with the stars. There are drive-in or genre movies, filled with gore, zombies, or explicit sex. There are unusual movies chosen by festival programmers in various categories, there to get some buzz, and, ideally, to get sold to distributors. And then there are a whole lot of others, which, even though they may be amazing, or warm or original, are not considered commercial enough to release.

So every which way you look you’re bound to see some deal being made, and idea being pitched or a nascent story gelling inside a writer’s mind.

Where is it playing? It’s at all the downtown theatres, especially AMC Dundas, The Scotiabank Theatre aka the Paramount, at John and Richmond st., the Varsity at Bay and Bloor, and the brand-spanking new theatre complex called the The Light Box which was built especially for this film festival.

How do you get tickets? There are tickets still available at lots of movies – there are over 300 movies and they run through the next week. It’s easier to get a seat if you try for a daytime screening, rather than a nighttime one, and weekdays are better than weekends.

Do you have to stand in line for hours? Not really. Once you have a ticket to a movie, you’re guaranteed a seat as long as you show up on time – 15 minutes before the movie starts. They release new tickets at the box office each morning at 7 am. Or you can take your chances with a rush ticket – so even if a show is sold out, there may be some empty seats left, but they only determine that right before the movie starts – and rush seats are first come first served.

So check it out on-line at for the right info.

What about Canadian movies? Well, this year there’re a lot to choose from, in both French and English. Bruce McDonald, who’s been making movies that premier at TIFF since it was still called the Festival of Festivals, has directed Trigger, about two female rockers who reunite ten years after their band called it a day. It’s starring the amazing Tracy Wright in one of her last roles. Incidentally, there’s a free public screening of one of his first film, Roadkill, at TIFF. If you’ve never seen it you should definitely catch that one.

Score (the Hockey Musical) – yeah you heard me right, it’s a musical about hockey – opened the festival last night.

Bruce LaBruce, the always controversial, always surprising, and always interesting, gay/punk/independent director, is showing his movie L.A, Zombie, about a dead homeless man, played, of course,by an actual porno star. There are no lines in the movie, but lots of sex and lots of blood and gore.

Other Canadian movies with big expectations include Barney’s Version, from Mordechai Richler’s last novel; 20-year old Montreal director Xavier Donat’s Heartbeats;

Repeaters, dir by Carl Bessai, about 3 young guys in a drug rehab centre; A follow-up to the amazing mockumentary FUBAR, called FUBAR II, about the two longhaired rockers in their lumberjack jackets; Patrick Demers’ Jaloux – an improvised thriller; and Jacob Tierney’s Good Neighbours – about the odd people living in a montreal apartment building – (Tierney’s the guy who directed the Trotsky last year).

Here are some short reviews of three more Canadian movies playing at TIFF:


Dir Ingrid Veninger

Modra is about a 17 year old girl named Lina (Hallie Switzer). She breaks up with her boyfriend just before they were supposed to fly to visit her relatives in Slovakia. On an impulse she invites a guy, Leco (Alexander Gammal) from her high school to go with her instead. So they land in this very small town, with orange rooftiles in a green valley. And Leco, who speaks no Slovakian, is introduced as her boyfriend – they’re given a room to share.

Lina and Leco’s – who make a very cute couple – relationship shifts gradually from non-existent to estranged, to warm, and back again over the course of their week long visit. This is not a conventional, mainstream boy-meets-girl drama, with revealed secrets, and big plot turns. And Slovakia is not thought of as a cool or trendy place, just the opposite. It’s rustic. The locals wear their traditional costumes for special occasions – embroidered dresses, men with black feather plumes on their hats as they sing or dance folk songs. There’s the town mute, the local ranch, the local hood who hits on Lina. Loudspeakers on poles make echoey announcements harkening back to Stalinist precedents.

“Modra” is a very sweet, low-key, naturalistic film, with first-time actors – and non-actors – experiencing things on camera at the same time as the audience. It’s a gentle, verite travelogue of two kids on the cusp of adulthood. I like this kind of almost-documentary film when it works — and in Modra, it really works. It had the same great feel as those other Toronto summer movies, like “No Heart Feelings”, and “This Movie is Broken”.

“Daydream Nation”

Dir: Mike Goldbach

In this movie, another 17 year-old girl, Caroline (played by the appealing Kat Dennings) moves to a small town. She finds it boring and stupid so she seduces her young teacher (Josh Lucas). Uh, oh. And there’s a also a kid in her class who likes her. And maybe his mother will like her father? Meanwhile, there’s a serial killer going around the town leaving bodies. And a little girl who loves to scream when she finds them. Seems like you can’t do anything in this burg before someone finds out…

Who’s the killer? Will her secret relationship be exposed? Who does Kat like more, her sleazy teacher or the brooding adolescent in her class? And what about the smokestack in the town?

Who cares? Caroline is alienated, I get that. But the story keeps wavering between serious, and flippant, from edgy, experimental ideas, to conventional TV sitcom-style plot-turns… This movie just doesn’t do it for me. Too muddled. (The title BTW, comes from the Sonic Youth album from the 80’s.)

“You Are Here”

Daniel Cockburn

This ones a real gem. Confusing as all get out, but a great movie. I reviewed this about 5 months ago, and finally it’s at this year’s TIFF. The movie is like a series of matrushka dolls dancing on a moebius strip, being fed through a reel to reel tape recorder. Each plot turns is revealed to be connected to an earlier scene, but if you look to closely you miss the connection with the other story-streams. OK here goes:

On a You are Here sign on a map, wherever you are should appear as a red dot. But how does anyone know where they really are? What if there were people who made it their job to keep track of your red dot?

And then there’s the question of how do you know who you are? When you’re working at a desk job with no real point, how do you know what you’re saying makes any sense at all? How do you know you’re not a cog in a vast machine that takes in and spews out information, like an old mega computer.

Anyway, you really should check out this abstract, and at the same time totally watchable, narrative of linked plot threads, interwoven into a seamless bolt of shimmering whole cloth. (Read the full review here.)

I’ll be posting frequently during TIFF.

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