TIFF Review: Manakamana


Two elderly women sit in a gondola while it travels down a verdant Nepalese mountain. Having visited the Manakamana temple earlier in the day, they have purchased ice cream on a stick for the ride down and it is melting in the hot interior of the cable car. They laugh and carry on, unguardedly about the futility of neatly consuming the frozen dessert. The simple joy might be the single best scene seen in film all year. It’s certainly the warmest. How else would this image be possible without Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s super-16mm camera (presumably travelling without an operator) sitting on the opposite bench in the car? They allow us to stare without being impolite or influencing the experience in the Heisenbergian sense. This kind of commitment; the mundane as profound, intimate yet knowing little, makes the experience rich beyond explaining the nuts and bolts of what the film is. While watching I got that special kind of tingle when something truly transportive is happening on the screen in front of me.

Extraordinarily simple in execution, the film Manakamana consists of 11 of these 11-minute-long cable car rides; 5 up the mountain and 6 down. Splices are provided by the darkness of the cable-stations at either end of the trip. We only see one couple make both journeys. Another ride is an open car filled with goats, shipped up for sacrifice, possibly. The etymology of the temple name comes from “heart” and “wish” and indeed wishes are said to be granted by the Goddess Bhagwati to all those who make the lengthy pilgrimage up the mountain, although it is now facilitated with a state of the art tram which cost about $5 for a two way trek.

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Welcome to our sixth annual Toronto International Film Festival Mega-Sized wrap-up post. Getting several Row Three contributors and friends to provide over 100 capsule reviews and a quick identifier tag for [BEST], [LOVED], [LIKED], [DISLIKED], [DISAPPOINTED], [BAFFLED], [WALKED OUT], [HATED] and [WORST]. Collectively we – Kurt Halfyard, Matt Brown, Matt Price, Ryan McNeil, Bob Turnbull, Mike Rot and Ariel Fisher – saw a tonne of stuff and hopefully this list can act as a ‘rough guide’ for films that are coming down the pike, to a cinema near you or perhaps one of the many streaming VOD avenues or even one of those increasingly antiquated shiny discs in the next 12 months.



Personal WORST: BLOOD TIES [Kurt], PARKLAND [Mike Rot], MOEBIUS [Matt B.], THE FAKE [Bob], WORDS & PICTURES [Ariel], CINEMANOVELS [Ryan], and REAL [Matt P.].


The ‘MASSIVE’ version is tucked under the seat. Grab a cup of tea or coffee.

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TIFF Review – Starred Up


There’s a special delight in finding that hidden gem at a film festival – not just to lord it over others that they “missed out” (though admittedly that brings a certain sense of pleasure to it), but because it helps to validate the ongoing search for great movies tucked away in corners or buried under the avalanche of big studio marketing product. I suppose it also stokes that obsessive need to watch “everything”, but when you start getting that little buzz, that little jolt of realization that you’re watching something really damn good when you simply didn’t expect it, it’s totally worth it.

That was my feeling somewhere around the 45 minute mark of David Mackenzie’s Starred Up as everything clicked into place and it dawned on me that I was seeing a great film. Even in my very tired frame of mind at 12:30 in the afternoon (smack dab in the middle of the festival and with four more films to follow that day), I was energized and knew that I was on to something here. As it turns out, Mackenzie’s story of a young man who gets moved up to the big boys prison where his father also happens to reside ended up being my very favourite film of the entire festival. There was a palpable sense of authenticity about the story, location (an actual old prison) and characters that kept a semblance of unease throughout the film and brought unpredictability to each and every scene. These extraordinarily flawed individuals could explode at any given moment, but could also surprise via their cunning, logic and occasional ability to see the bigger picture and not just the end of a shiv. The story kept a strong forward momentum, but also provided an ebb and flow in the status of different characters and overall emotion. Never once did I doubt that any of the prisoners had a grab bag of violent tendencies or the capacity to ignore suffering in others, but I also never quibbled when they showed an ability to change, to consider consequences or to think instead of simply reacting. In other words these were fully realized people on screen.

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TIFF Review – Intruders


If you can generalize about a single country’s cinema, I think the safest statement you might be able to make is “Korean films blend genres better than anyone else”. Whether it’s comedic dark crime thrillers, melodramatic heist films or goofy family drama monster movies, Korea’s filmmakers seem to have a natural desire (perhaps even a need) to morph genres, combine them or simply blow them apart – sometimes within a single scene. Of course, like any other generalization it doesn’t always hold, but it does draw me to their films on a regular basis. Hence my immediate curiosity to see Intruders. Once I realized it was directed by Noh Young-seok (whose previous film Daytime Drinking was one of the best hidden gems from TIFF several years ago), it became a must see.

Like Daytime Drinking, Intruders begins with a young man from Seoul trekking up North by bus to spend some time in the cold and snowy mountainous region of South Korea. While he just wants to get to his friend’s currently unused resort to focus on finishing some writing work, he’s a bit out of place there and this doesn’t go unnoticed by the locals. He manages to grab the attention of a recently released convict who insists on giving directions, providing uncalled for assistance and doing his best to get a good solid drinking session going. The humour is deadpan and is based on the city’s guy’s baffled reactions to the rural guy’s odd yet still friendly behaviour. Unlike the previous film, our city dweller this time manages to avoid too much heavy drinking at the outset, but it’s not like he’s any better focused. He’s a champion procrastinator and keeps finding other ways to waste time and avoid his writing, including traipsing through the woods out back, discovering trapdoors in the woods and running into a bunch of other people – all of whom seem to be just a wee bit off…

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Mamo #322: The Erstwhile Alex Billington

Mamo returns, having survived the wilds of TIFF ’13 – if “survived” is a word you can apply to a festival where Matt Price announced his retirement from moviegoing and a lunatic film blogger in a press and industry screening called 911 because someone else was using their mobile phone. What kind of a future of movies do you call this?!

To download this episode, use this URL: http://rowthree.com/audio/mamo/mamo322.mp3

Mondays Suck Less – TIFF edtion


A few tidbits left over from this year’s edition of the TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. (Look for our Mega-Wrap post of the fest next week.)

12 Years A Slave won the People’s Choice Award, here is the press Conference:

And of the many Public Screening Q&As:

Here is TIFF’s Tribute to Roger Ebert:

Canadian Filmmaker John Grayson Starts Hunger Strike due to being detained without reason in Egyptian prison. (For over a Month and counting…)

Alex Billington (FirstShowing.Net) continues his Tempest in a Teapot complaint of Cell Phone use in Industry Screenings — Where it is Permitted (And the Todd Brown’s HuffPo rebuttal)

Mamo!’s Matt Brown asks if disliking a filmmaker should affect viewing their film over at Twitchfilm

Master Documentary Filmmaker Frederick Wiseman on this ‘novel’ approach to documentary craft.

TIFF Review: Witching & Bitching

Witching And Bitching

They are in every city along the main tourist drags, those living statues of celebrities, comic book characters and horror icons just standing there, silently hoping for your loose change. In Álex De La Iglesia’s latest bit of mayhem, they’re not standing still for long; nothing here is ever silent for long. In broad daylight on the crowded streets of Madrid, Jesus Christ, a Toy Soldier, Spongebob Squarepants, the Invisible man and possibly Mickey & Minnie Mouse knock off a “We Buy Your Gold” shop. In a haze of sweat and bullets, they make off with the booty of a couple thousand golden wedding rings in a hijacked Taxi.

Painted head to to in silver body spray, Jesus, with a shotgun to match his chrome skin and thorny crown, is actually Jose, a single Dad who perhaps unwisely, choses to not only bring his 10 year kid, Sergio, along for the heist, but gives him a fairly active role in the job. While at gunpoint, one of the hostage gives Jose grief for involving a child in the crime for which violence will be inevitable. Jose defends himself stating that he only gets custody a couple days a week. The hostage sympathizes with the unfair court system that favours the mother. At one point during the escape, Sergio is firing two pistols, Chow Yun Fat style, at the police, over the shoulders of his dad who carries him. Do not look for cinéma vérité or neo-realism, or any kind of common sense here, as this is pure ‘id’ filmmaking from a director who particularly excels at this sort of middle-finger to propriety and society. Witching & Bitching may be less operatic than de la Iglesia’s The Last Circus, but more is as gonzo as anything he has done (and considering the man’s lengthy C.V. of genre genius, that is indeed saying something. In his sights here is the impotent machismo of men, and the vindictive revenge of women. And children being shat out the other side. Literally.

The women-bashing continues in the car as the both the cabbie and an unwilling passenger (a hostage taken when the cab was hijacked) also have significant lady problems that they are more than happy to moan about. The cabbie goes so far as to throw is own wedding ring on to the heap of golden bands acquired during the heist and offer to join up. Jose’s phone sounds off with a red klaxon ringtone, where the caller ID indicates his ex as “Armageddon.” She calls to check in on the incompetence of her ex husband and chew him out for the sheer practice of the act. Played by the diminutive but feisty Macarena Gomez an actress who is no stranger to black comedy spectacle – her performances in horror comedy Sexykiller and the over-the-top misogynous gangster picture Neon Flesh could be described as broad, but here that is just a very bad pun. After taking out her frustrations on her patients (she’s a nurse) when she finds out about the heist, she is soon hot on the trail of her ex-husband and child with two police inspectors tailing her to them.

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Mamo at #TIFF13, Part 3: Evolution

Mamo closes out the Toronto International Film Festival 2013! We talk Midnight Madness’ 25th anniversary, REAL, R100, Why Don’t You Play In Hell, Unforgiven, The Stag, We Are The Best!, Blue Ruin, Blind Detective, Rigor Mortis, Words and Pictures, When Jews Were Funny, Sex Drugs & Taxation, Metalhead, Joe, and Cold Eyes.

To download this episode, use this URL: http://rowthree.com/audio/mamo/mamo321.mp3

TIFF Review: Night Moves (2013)


When purchasing a used boat for an act of extreme vandalism, the young activist, quips that she chose the one named “Night Moves” because it was better in her mind than “Sea Breeze” or “Heart’s Ease.” I tend to pay attention to the names of boats and films because they are usually chosen with care. This is double-so when that happens to be the name of the film. Part of me wants Kelly Reichardt’s choice of names to be based on the Gene Hackman noir from 1975 (directed by Arthur Penn), which does indeed feature a sinking boat, among other things, along with a healthy dose of paranoia and confusion and stylish ineffectuality.  It’s a better boat name than The Conversation, but I digress. Reichardt has become a marquee name on the festival circuit with her last three films, Old Joy, Wendy & Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff.  All three are decidedly different animals story-wise, but all deal with being lost in a way, and are told with an in-camera intimacy that has made her one of the more interesting American auteur filmmakers.  

Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Ross (Jesse Eisenberg) both work at jobs outside the mainstream.  She helps maintain a ‘wellness spa’ that has old ladies dipping in hot pools while soothing music is piped in.  He works on a co-operative farm that puts local organic vegetables into the hands of local Oregon folks who probably are proponents of the local food movement.  Eschewing the feel-good brand of activism in making earnest documentaries as when they watch the earnest footage shown by a cute young girl at a local meeting. The credits reveal that the film within the film was shot by Reichard’s onetime producer Larry Fessenden which I find cheeky considering his own eco-horror films. Anyway, Dena and Ross have bigger, far more hands on plans of direct activism. They buy the eponymous boat and hook up with the rather shifty Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard at his most Sarsgaard-ian) who can turn 500 pounds of fertilizer into a bomb, for which the Night Moves is the delivery vessel.   

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TIFF Review: Felony


In the course of a day, detective Malcolm Toohey goes from participating in a major sting operation that gets him shot, to celebrating and singing Bon Jovi with his officers in the cop bar, to hitting a child with his vehicle while driving under the influence. A good man at heart, he suffers from extremely poor judgement in that moment of trial and choses to hide behind his badge. Weather it is fear of losing his professional shine, or simply the shame of his folly, he tells a big lie that will ripple through out his family life, professional life and of the lives of the boys family. It will also have the audience consider some tricky moral and ethical situations over the course of about three days of Toohey’s guilt compressed into 100 minutes of solid drama, along the similar lines of Mystic River or Copland.

Felony was written by and stars Joel Edgerton, and it was made in the genre hotbed of Australian that produced other sticky crime dramas The Square and Animal Kingdom. There is particularly powerful performance from consummate professional Tom Wilkinson playing seasoned detective Carl Summer, who delivers the big ‘circle the wagons’ movie-speech at the heart of the films headspace: Why should cops or ‘good’ people don’t need the courts or prisons, because their own guilt is punishment enough for their ‘accidental’ crimes? After detective Summer helps cover for Towhee’s misdeeds, he does not take kindly to Toohey’s conscience flaring up, as the little boy’s head wound gets worse. Aggressively pushing the ‘don’t hurt the police brand‘ Summer has also to deal with his Ed Exely type new partner Jai “Son of Diehard” Courtney who plays the crisp, by the book detective Jim Melic. The young and idealized Melic becomes suspicious of the whole situation immediately based on observations on how Toohey’s response in the 911 call placed, and the jittery body language when he is talks with Summer. It doesn’t help things that Melic has taken a bit of a fancy to the boy’s young mother.

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Mamo at #TIFF13, Part 2: Walking on Sunshine

Mamo returns from Day 8 of the Toronto International Film Festival 2013! We follow up with Pitch This winner Daniel Cockburn, and then recap days 5-8, including jabber about OCULUS, Canopy, Tracks, How I Live Now, Man of Tai Chi, Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari, Jodorowsky’s Dune, The Unknown Known, Blood Ties, Sunshine on Leith, We Are The Best!, Paradise: Hope, This Is Sanlitun, When Evening Falls on Bucharest, and The Wind Rises. Plus, Dave Voigt pops by for like eight seconds.

To download this episode, use this URL: http://rowthree.com/audio/mamo/mamo320.mp3