Toronto International Film Festival 2010 – Part 1

Black Swan

Toronto International Film Festival

9-19 September 2010, Toronto, Canada

TIFF website

Greg Klymkiw tells us about some of the highlights of the Toronto Film Festival.

Black Swan

I love this movie to death! To pinch myself to see if I was dreaming, I attended a second showing during the 2010 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival with my wife and 9-year-old-daughter in tow. Bearing a passing resemblance to The Addams Family we settled in for an evening of prime family entertainment. I wasn’t dreaming. Black Swan is exactly the sort of film we’ll all look upon as a milestone in cinema history. It’s Powell/Pressburger’s The Red Shoes meets Mankiewicz’s All about Eve meets Verhoeven’s Showgirls with heavy doses of Polanski’s Repulsion – and then some!

Black Swan plays at the London Film Festival on Oct 22, 24 and 25. For more information and to book tickets go to the LFF website.

Director Darren Aronofsky etches the tale of Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballerina driven to achieving the highest level of artistry, brutally encouraged by crazed impresario Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), thwarted by her possessive, narcissistic mother (Barbara Hershey), terrified at the prospect of failure exemplified by an ageing prima ballerina (Winona Ryder) and most of all, facing the threat of extinction by Lilly (Mila Kunis), an earthy rival with less technique, but greater raw passion – something Nina desperately needs to wrench from the depths of her soul to move beyond mere technical virtuosity. O, glorious melodrama! Replete with catty invective hurled with meat-cleaver sharpness, corporeal cat fights, blistering mother-daughter snipe-fests, swelteringly moist masturbation, scorching lesbo action, furious anonymous sex in nightclub washrooms and delectable over-the-top blood-letting, Black Swan is one motherfucker of an ice cream sundae with not one, not two, not three, but a jar-full of maraschino cherries in a pool of glistening globs of red syrup on top.

The performances are expertly pitched to melodrama. Miss Portman commands with such bravado that it will be the performance to beat in the coming awards season. Mila Kunis is raw, gorgeous and sexy as all get out. Winona Ryder proves to be a worthy successor to the suffering bitch goddess Susan Hayward. Barbara Hershey drags us into the demonic bilge barrel of great movie harridans. While last, but certainly not least, Vincent Cassel is a perfect impresario: part genius, cocksman and Mephistopheles.

Some have already referred to Black Swan as ‘The Red Shoes on acid’. They couldn’t be more wrong. Powell/Pressburger’s The Red Shoes is already on acid. From my vantage point, Aronofsky’s Black Swan is pure crack cocaine – a free-base dose to rival that which lit Richard Pryor up like a flaming Weihnachtsbaum.

This is a rewrite of a review that first appeared during the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival at Daily Film Dose.



Consider this review a love letter to a true artist, an artist who has created a film so delicate, inspiring, moving and heartbreaking that it connects with all who see it on a very personal level.


To now begin.


You were born in the former Czechoslovakia – Bratislava, to be precise – but you are too young to have experienced the phenomenal rise to power of Alexander Dubcek and his extraordinary Prague Spring – the grand cultural explosion that infused a national pride that threatened to topple Russian domination. As a young adult, you knew the Prague Spring was cool – not only was there Milan Kundera’s great book The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but there also existed Philip Kaufmann’s sumptuously romantic and sex-drenched film rendering of it. And as Kaufmann brought the Russian invasion so sadly to life on film, you can’t – try as you might – remember being clutched in your mother’s arms as your family flees the Russian tanks rolling in during that horrendous year of 1968 when the Spring turned to a communist-ruled Winter once more.

Or perhaps you remember all too well. The brain is a powerful machine, as is the soul. Your parents’ reminiscences of that time, your experience of being the child of immigrants who were forced to leave everything they loved behind to give you the life you never would have had under communism, your sense of childlike wonder that grew within you and stayed in your heart long beyond childhood – all this and more still might have managed to retrieve these memories and allow you to blossom into the artist you are – to blossom within your soul, the soul of a Slovak!

You grew up in Canada – as Canadian as maple syrup (but with more than a few dashes of Neil Young) – and yet something nagged at you about your beginnings, your parents’ struggles, the painful inability to connect with family left behind (for fear of communist reprisals against them) and always wanting to discover your roots. At the age of 17, you visited the ‘old country’ and reconnected with your family and ethnicity. Returning to Canada, you worked as an actor, a producer and eventually a director.

You are Ingrid Veninger – an auteur of the highest order: the real thing and then some.

Frankly, there’s a film in the above, but as an artist you have taken it so much further in your extraordinary solo directorial feature debut Modra. After producing such ground-breaking Canadian feature films as Gambling, Gods and LSD and Nurse Fighter Boy, co-directing the fabulous experimental short URDA/Bone that premiered at the New York Film Festival and the exquisite feature film Only that was feted with a screening at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and festivals all over the world, you took the next logical step and solo-directed Modra.

Like your co-directorial effort Only, you continued to craft a film comprised of tiny, tender moments and infused with the warmth and love of family. Only starred your son Jacob Switzer as a young boy living in a small Northern Canadian town who, along with a young girl the same age, discovers the simple pleasures of life, the glory of nature and most importantly, love.

Modra stars your 17-year-old daughter Hallie Switzer as Lina, a young lady who, like yourself, takes a trip to the ‘old country’ to connect with her roots. Having just broken up with her boyfriend, she drags along a platonic pal Leco (Alexander Gammal) who has a bit more on his mind than friendship. During the weeklong trip, both kids discover that they have little in common and romance is not going to be part of the equation. However, all of Lina’s old world relatives think they’re a couple. As Lina finds her roots, she finds herself and so does Leco. Most importantly, they discover the value of connecting as human beings and the true power of friendship and shared experience.

To say this movie had me squirting tears would be an understatement. I chocked up emotionally at several points, but also wept tears of appreciation for the movie’s consummate artistry. While Modra, much like Only, feels unscripted, it IS, in fact, beautifully scripted, and the natural performances of the kids, the real friends and relatives in Bratislava and your magnificent probing directorial eye, add up to a film where art meets life, and in so doing, creates a lovely collection of those precious cinematic pieces of time that make us realise again how precious life is, and at the same time, what a glorious, wonderful gift the art of movies is.

My love letter draws to a close. It’s nice to review a movie this way – especially when it’s a movie so infused with love.


Stake Land

Imagine Cormac McCarthy’s The Road ejaculating the seed of post-apocalyptic despair into the foul egg of vampirism that is Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend until a putrid vaginal maw barfs out a cinematic love child in the form of Stake Land.

This intelligent, super-cool, super-scary and super-knock-you-on-your-ass dystopian sci-fi horror picture is set in the heartland of America where ignorant Bible Belt Christians bearing arms, hole up in fortress (gated) communities, killing non-believing heathen rather than vampires. Due to a mysterious virus, the bloodsuckers have taken over much of the world and the Jesus-nuts believe this pestilence was wrought by God to rid the world of sinners. Martin (Connor Paulo), a young boy whose parents have been torn to shreds by the creatures, is rescued by the legendary Mister (Nick Damici), a no-nonsense vampire hunter who, like the character of Neville in Matheson’s great novel I Am Legend, is known to the Bible-thumping survivalists as the meanest, nastiest vampire killer of them all. Not unlike The Road, man and boy journey across America in search of a ‘New Eden’ (Canada, no less). The antagonist, a skin-headed, bible-spouting madman is always on the prowl for women – fer rapin’ anna breedin’, uh course. Even the vampires seem benign compared to this whack-job.

In addition to Jim Mickle’s tremendously directed suspense and action scenes, the writing is first-rate. While I might have preferred a bit more humour, I’m thankful it didn’t descend to the annoyingly silly tongue-in-cheek laugh-fest-grabbing level of Zombie Land. The screenplay delivers a nasty, solid, straight-up 70s-style dystopian social commentary that never feels sledgehammer-like. Written by star Damici and director Mickle, it’s especially gratifying that the script distinguishes between fundamentalism and genuine faith – avoiding the kind of knee-jerk pot shots usually levelled against Christianity.

Into the mix, they’ve written a terrific role for Kelly McGillis (Top Gun, Witness) as a middle-aged nun who is saved by Mister from a gang rape. The nun uses her faith to impart the kind of wisdom missing on both sides of the fence and the writers draw the character so that she’s a genuine human being faced with a crisis of faith.

Intelligence and artistry aside, though, this movie delivers what all true genre fans would want. The carnage is superb, the make-up effects on the vampires is first-rate (l love how they look like zombies/demons) and we also get two MAJOR babes all genre films must have in the form of the delectable Danielle Harris (the token female eye-candy) and McGillis – long-in-tooth (as it were) in all the right ways.

Most importantly, and especially given the title, I for one, was utterly delighted that Stake Land features several magnificent sequences involving the driving of wooden stakes into the hearts, throats and bellies of the vampires.

These days, a good stake is rare indeed.

This is a rewrite of a review that first appeared during the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival at Daily Film Dose.


The Ward

A cinematic math equation to demonstrate genre success:

Veteran genre-meister John Carpenter (The Thing, Halloween) directs a horror film set in the 1960s where none of the babes have hairstyles remotely resembling 60s dos. + One mouth-wateringly hot Amber Heard (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane), incarcerated in a creepy old asylum after committing arson in her sexy under garments. + As luck would have it, the ward Amber gets thrown into is replete with babes. + One by one, the babes are butchered. + Amber keeps seeing a weird chick wandering the halls, but is told it’s just her imagination and when she insists and persists, Amber gets manhandled by burly male nurses who zap her with electro-shock therapy and truss her lithe body into a straightjacket. + In one of the more disgusting moments in horror movie history, one of the babes in the ward is electro-shocked until… well, I won’t ruin it for you, but trust me – it’s pretty fucking gross! + The ghost is one super-gnarly monster: mucho-drippings of the viscous kind. + A creepy psychiatrist appears to be engaging in (what else?) unorthodox experiments upon the babes in the ward. + An ultra-butch ward nurse manages to give Louise Fletcher a run for her money in the Nurse Ratched Mental Health Caregiver Sweepstakes. + Tons of cheap scares that make you jump out of your seat and, if you have difficulties with incontinence, you are advised to bring along an extra pair of Depends. + A thoroughly kick-ass climax leads up to the delivery of a Carrie-like shocker ending = One free blowjob for the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes for selecting the film and especially for getting me into the sold-out midnight screening after I fucked up getting my ticket from the right place at the right time. Said blowjob shall occur once someone carves glory holes into the public washroom stalls of the new Bell Lightbox complex where the festival and its year-round Cinematheque are now housed. One free blowjob and rim job shall be bestowed upon John Carpenter for making this film. Said delights for Mr Carpenter shall occur once he finishes (I kid you not!) jury duty in El Lay, which, alas, kept him from appearing in Toronto to do a Q&A session.

And that, genre freaks, is your Mathematical equation for the day. It all adds up. Real good.

This is a rewrite of a review that first appeared during the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival at Daily Film Dose.

Greg Klymkiw