The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Blogging the Toronto International Film Festival

What an amazing lost opportunity.
Who do we blame?

The Toronto International Film Festival is the biggest, most important movie festival in North America, and one of the top three in the world. The Winnipeg Free Press sent their entertainment reporter Randall King to T.O. to do stories for the daily newspaper, but since he's one of their officially sanctioned "bloggers", he advertised he would be posting additional stories on his blog as well.

His production so far has been a series of turgid stories for the paper and one dismal post on his "blog." Just when we thought the official Free Press blogs couldn't get any worse, King proved there was still room to go before hitting rock bottom.

The Toronto Film Festival is a blogger's dream. Events like this are tailor made for the blogosphere as we'll show you. The festival has attracted hundreds of bloggers whose posts let readers feel a part of the show. They let you see and hear what goes on, sort of like what the old-time newspaper reporters did.

King's first and so far only blog post was on the midnight screening of the movie "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" ( ).

Reuters calls it the most "appalling, tasteless, grotesque, politically incorrect slanderous film" of the year. It was also the hottest ticket that night.

The show was cut short after about 15 minutes when the projector went on the fritz. Provocateur and filmmaker Michael Moore was in the audience and got on stage to entertain the crowd until the problem got fixed. Not that Randall King knew it. He went to the toilet and learned about Michael Moore from someone else in the can.

Compare King's half-hearted blog post with this on-the-scene report from Cinematical, a real blogger.

Then go to The Queer Nerdy Girl
and follow the links to hear for yourself what went on at the Borat screening.
Now that's blogging!

King even failed as a reporter if you compare his mewling piece with this from the New York Times...

Equal-Opportunity Offender Plays Anti-Semitism for Laughs
Published: September 7, 2006
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 6 - Fall is traditionally when Hollywood turns to more serious films, and the Toronto International Film Festival is where they are frequently shown. But a new movie that seems certain to raise hackles and induce squirming is a raucous comedy that makes its points by seeming to embrace sexism, racism, homophobia and that most risky of social toxins: anti-Semitism.

Screening at midnight on Thursday in Toronto, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" stars the chameleonlike comedian Sacha Baron Cohen as he impersonates a Kazakh reporter touring the United States, bringing his version of Kazakh culture to real-life Americans.

In one scene Borat insists on driving to California rather than flying, "in case the Jews repeat their attack of 9/11." As he tours the South, he becomes terrified when he learns that an elderly couple who run an inn are Jewish. When cockroaches crawl under the door of his room, he becomes convinced the innkeepers have transformed themselves into bugs, and throws money at them.

Read the entire story at:

The Free Press should have sent a reporter to the Toronto Film Festival, not a tourist. So far, King has sent back interviews with Guy Maddin, the most overrated and least commercial filmmaker in the country, and some nobodies planning to make movies in Manitoba next year.

It's clear he's been told to look for the local angle.

What the Free Press doesn't realize is that at a film festival of this magnitude, whoever you send to cover it is the local angle.

Here's how The Black Rod covers the Toronto International Film Festival.

There has been no breakout movie at the TIFF, but there has been one great big loser.

Film reporter Susan Wlosczyna, reporting from Toronto for USA Today:

The first press screening of All the King's Men, delayed a year and featuring a well-stacked cast topped by Sean Penn and Jude Law, drew an overflow crowd and stuffed two theaters. But the semi-incoherent talkathon about the rise of Penn's corrupt Southern governor proved to be mostly a snore (nod-offs were not uncommon). Only the masterful grace of Anthony Hopkins as a judge who refuses to be blackmailed rose above the choppy storytelling. Meanwhile, James Gandolfini's whack-job of an accent was declared to be more like South Jersey. Snickers were heard.

Stephanie Zacharek, blogging for Salon:

But the big movie that almost everyone is conspicuously silent about is Steven Zaillian's adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men."

I confess that I decided to forgo the Sunday afternoon screening, because I'll be able to see it in New York next week. When I've asked colleagues what they thought of it, I can't help noticing how their lips tighten into grim little lines. They speak about it as if it were an unlikable relative who has somehow embarrassed them -- although one colleague, when I told her I had skipped the screening to go back to my hotel and do some work, asked me outright, "Could you hear how loud it stank from way over there?"

Last year, the Manitoba-lensed movie Capote was the dark horse hit of the festival, going on to garner some Academy Awards. Believe it or not, lightning may strike twice.

Paul Fischer of Dark Horizons

The first question is: How many films about Truman Capote and his obsession with the farmhouse murders of 1959 need one see? If it's as great as Infamous, then, the answer is self-evident.

Writer/director Doug McGrath has crafted a truly magnificent work, stylish, visually arresting and compelling. Every frame is a delicate work of art, and the final result is a film far superior to last year's Capote, which suffered from a languid pace and a detached air of dissatisfaction. The plot of Infamous is the same: While researching his book In Cold Blood, writer Truman Capote (Toby Jones) develops a close relationship with convicted murderers Dick Hickock and Perry Smith [Daniel Craig]. Comparisons between the two will inevitably occur, but Infamous has what Capote lacked: an emotional resonance.

While Hoffman's Capote was a great impersonation, British actor Toby Jones inhabits the character with extraordinary depth and a profound sense of emotional realism.

If there is any justice, the Academy will forget last year's winner and bestow a Best Actor award to Mr. Jones, who is the heart and soul of this work.

But the plaudits don't stop there. While we all know Daniel Craig will be an interesting 007, his Perry Smith is a powerhouse performance, to the extent that one is never aware of the actor delivering that performance. There is no James Bond anywhere to be found, which proves that for the first time since Sean Connery, Bond is played by an actor, not a movie star, and their scenes together are electrifying. Sandra Bullock is a revelation here, delivering a beautifully nuanced performance as Harper Lee, and there's some lovely work from Jeff Daniels as cop Alvin Dewey, and Hope Davis, always a standout as Slim Keith. Even Gwyneth Paltrow's very brief cameo as Peggy Lee is glorious.

Infamous, stylishly directed by Douglas McGrath, with Bruno Delbonnel's glorious cinematography enhancing mood and tone, is a powerful, witty and exquisite film. If you liked Capote, you must see Infamous, superior in every way, and one of the first great films of the year. Hopefully it won't be ignored come Oscar time.

And blogger Bruce Newman of the San Jose Mercury-News
offers his take.

And if it's Toronto, that means it must be time for another Truman Capote biopic, so here comes "Infamous," with British actor Toby Jones picking up the mincing mantle that brought Philip Seymour Hoffman the best actor Oscar last year. One of the most striking contrasts between last year's "Capote" and Douglas McGrath's new film (which was screened for critics before the festival) is how much more distinctively gay the author of "In Cold Blood" is this time.

Hoffman played Capote as someone a little bit outré for his time--both movies are set in the early '60s, when Capote was researching and writing his true crime "non-fiction novel" about the slaughter of a Kansas family--but in "Infamous," Jones flounces around in a way that makes Hoffman's performance look butch. Though Jones is a dead ringer for Capote, and though it is even possible that his behavior is closer than Hoffman's to the way the author--known as the Tiny Terror--actually carried on, this new interpretation has the effect of putting every utterance in italics, and every scene in quotations marks.

* Brad Pitt dropped by for a day to promote his next movie, Babel. Festival goers who saw it say it's powerful and brought many to tears. But you should read between the lines of their reviews.

CTV quoted Director Alejandro Inarritu as saying he "weaves his films of seemingly unrelated stories with a disregard for chronological order."

Paul Fischer of Dark Horizons loved it, but can't say everyone will.

There's a lot of buzz, predictably, for Alejandro González Iñárritu's follow up to 21 Grams, Babel. While we know that Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are the top headliners, this remarkable, complex and very atypical American film is not about star power.

Babel is a monumental epic, but even at near 2 and half hours, it never ceases to impress. Director Iñárritu makes an unapologetic film about 21st century immorality and human foibles, casting an often cynical eye, it seems, on American politics. His is an often angry and depressing film about a society in turmoil, and it's unflinching, raw and consistently gripping throughout.

Performances are superb, apart from solid work by Pitt and Blanchett, the film's strongest performance comes from Japan's stunning Rinko Kikuchi, whose brave, magnificent performance is ultimately the heart and soul of Babel. A very adult film, Babel is destined to score mixed reviews for a variety of reasons, and Paramount Vantage has a challenge to market this highly intricate, but compelling, human drama.

Liam, blogging for Empire Movies, gives a plot breakdown and a strong recommendation.

My fourth and final movie for the day was Babel. The movie is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and stars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Adriana Barraza, Kôji Yakusho and Rinko Kikuchi. It follows a few different stories about the challenges we face communicating with each other.

One story features Pitt and Blanchett who are on a tour bus in the Middle East that is hit with gunfire resulting in Blanchett's character getting shot. While they try to get her medical help, they deal with communication problems with the people in the small village in which they find themselves trapped.

Next, there's the story of their children, who are brought to Mexico by their nanny (Barraza) for her son's wedding. On the way back over the border, they, along with her nephew (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) run into communication issues with some border patrol officers and are forced to flee.

Finally, there's the story of Chieko (Kikuchi) and her father Yasujiro (Yakusho). She is a deaf mute dealing with her own communication problems - and her father's story ties into the Pitt/Blanchett arc.

Overall this was a pretty powerful movie - although if I had one complaint it would be that, because it is told in a non-linear fashion, they kinda give away the end of the movie in the opening scenes which really took away from the urgency of the story. However, I would still easily recommend this movie.

Babel sounds like it may be the Syriana of 2007.

* But fear not. A festival of this size has something to tickle every palate. And if your taste doesn't lie with the artsy-fartsy, you would be lining up for some of these gems.

Fido is the Canadian zombie movie everybody's talking about.
Oh, sure, like you wouldn't be caught dead at a Canadian zombie movie.

Space dust brings the dead back to life as zombies in the 1950's. Somebody invents a collar that lets you control the undead, who are then turned into pets. It stars Carrie Anne Moss (remember her in the Matrix movies) and comedian Billy Connolly as the main zombie.

As one blogger called it: It's George Romero meets Douglas Sirk. And by all accounts its very funny. Not to mention which, Lionsgate has picked it up for worldwide distribution and it may be that very rare Canadian movie, one that makes money.
You can see a video clip of Fido at:

The hard-core porn movie starring CBC Radio host Sook-Yin Lee. Read the interviews with the actors and director in the mainstream press and you'll hear how this movie is all about communication. Uh huh. Everybody knows its all about watching Sook-Yin Lee masturbate on the big screen. You ain't fooling anyone.

The Host
A South Korean monster movie everybody's talking about. Read more about it and see the movie poster for this and almost every movie mentioned here at Wongies Movie World

* It's no secret that the theme of the festival this year is George Bush is evil, America is evil, and the West is Evil.

Provocateur and filmmaker Michael Moore screened segments of his next two movies, Sicko, about the American health industry, and The Great 2004 Slacker Uprising, about the last presidential election. Or at least he tried to screen the segments.

A blog post at Indiewire
tells what happened.

In its opening moments, "The Great 2004 Slacker Uprising" is described on screen as the story of "one filmmaker's attempt to turn things around," but festival technical problems marred Moore's attempts to show segments from the film, ultimately forcing him to cancel the clips.

"This is painful," Moore said, after a second clip was scrapped due to persistent sound problems. While praising the festival as one of the best in the world, Moore was clearly frustrated with the situation, as he and Charles had taken the stage late Friday night in Toronto when a projector problem forced the cancellation of Charles' "Borat".

Festival insiders indicated that Moore had planned to screen up to 30 minutes from "Slacker Uprising" on Friday night, but once tech issues were finally resolved, it was too late to re-visit the clips as Moore and Charles had to make way for the rescheduled "Borat" screening that was on tap.

Festival tech issues were resolved in time to show three segments from Moore's "Sicko," which is either anticipated or dreaded, depending on your political views. The new movie about the U.S. health care system will no doubt stir an even greater debate about the issue. Two month's into editing this new movie, Moore admitted that he made the rare exception of showing something as a work-in-progress out of loyalty to the festival, where he first screened "Roger and Me." Normally, he explained, he avoids talking about or showing a new film until it is completed. "I have to [keep it secret]," Moore quipped, "Because I am up to no good."

The visibly slimmer Michael Moore said Friday that he had already lost some 60 lbs. by changing his eating habits and walking a few miles each day.

Explaining that he still has another 60 lbs. to go, he asked rhetorically, "How the hell can you make a film about health care when you aren't taking care of your health?"

As for the film itself, clips depicted life-threatening encounters with the U.S. health care system: from a woman whose emergency ambulance ride to the hospital wasn't pre-approved by her provider to an older Canadian couple who buy health insurance even for their short days trips to America, and another Canadian man living in America who had to return to Canada to have a tendon repaired for free, rather than pay $24,000 for the procedure in the U.S.

But to those aforementioned anonymous health care industry reps in the audience, Moore cautioned that his film, "Will not be necessarily what you think its going to be." In one example, the director compared the no holds barred tactics of American football with the seemingly more fair regulations that guide international soccer, as a way of apparently explaining that his movie will consider the deeper reasons for America undervaluing health care.

"Why is it that the rest of the world is wired the way they are wired," asked Moore, on stage Friday night. "We are filled with anger and revenge and are beating up on those who have it the worst," he continued, "That won't change until we change who we are."

Another blog carried this update:
(Word is, Moore was so angry with what Charles called their "bad techno-karma" that he treated the Toronto staff rudely and refused to speak to fest director Noah Cowan.)

* There's one thing you come away with after reading the blogs from the Toronto Film Festival. It's a sense of fun. The bloggers are passionate about being there and they're having a ball. Although none of them seem to be sourcing their stories from conversations held in the washrooms for some strange reason ...

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