I'm not going to complain about 10 days of watching films all day and hob-knobbing with some of Hollywood's most beautiful and most powerful. That said, I cannot be happier that TIFF has wrapped up with another highly-successful year.

Chicken burgers at 9 a.m., popcorn for lunch and late-night after parties has my body screaming in agony for sleep and exercise. I've been scolded by publicists, yelled at by fellow photographers and shamed by a certain young actress.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Here's my final, but not necessarily deep, thoughts on the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival.

Most buzzed about film: Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan." It's proven to be somewhat divisive but it was certainly the most talked about film among critics at the after parties.

Second most-buzzed about film: Danny Boyle's "127 Hours." While rumours of people fainting during this film were thought to be a PR stunt, this reporter talked to several people who witnessed such collapses during its premiere.

My personal favourite films: Gareth Edwards' micro-budget indie-sci-fi mashup "Monsters", Daniel Espinosa's Swedish crime-doesn't-pay saga "Easy Money" and Ben Affleck's "The Town."

Favourite interviews: Edwards and Espinosa are both young, intelligent directors who I could have sat around with and talked film for hours. Amy Ryan was a real sweetheart, as well.

Least favourite interview: No names, but talking to an actor or director when you think their movie sucks in an awful experience.

Biggest disappointment: Coming into TIFF I had two goals, take a photo of Megan Fox and meet Roger Ebert. I took photos of Fox but I did not meet Ebert.

Best Trend: Canadian movies starring big name American actors and more conventional Hollywood style of filmmaking. Canadian films such as "Barney's Version," "The Bang Bang Club" and "The Beginner's Guide to Endings" told stories with household names and budgets that are more suitable to mainstream audiences' tastes. While Canadian arthouse movies remain world-class, they rarely are watched in middle Canada.

Best premiere: "Black Swan" had Natalie Portman, "Passion Play" had Megan Fox but "Fubar 2" had Terry and Dean singing AC/DC on a parade float with a full band that included a bagpipe.

Funniest scene from a subpar movie: "The Wheel of Misfortune" from "The Beginner's Guide to Endings."

Funniest scene from a good movie: When Deaners' testicular cancer brings good fortune to his music career in "Fubar 2."

Best performance (I saw): Amy Ryan in "Jack goes Boating."

Best performance (I didn't see): Everyone is talking about Canadian Ryan Reynolds in "Buried." Way to go, Van Wilder.

Worst hair: (Tie) Phillip Seymour Hoffman in "Jack goes Boating and Robert De Niro in real-life.

Best TIFF party: The Festival House parties, showcasing amazing Canadian talent such as Stars, Born Ruffians, Diamond Rings, City and Colour in the intimate confines of the Roosevelt Room. Seeing Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip perform there for about 200 people was a real personal highlight of TIFF.

Most awkward encounter: Talking to someone for five minutes when you think they said they worked in the auto industry, when they actually said "adult" industry.

Worst film: While I haven't seen it (or every film at TIFF), I have heard especially awful things about "John Carpenter's The Ward"

Most important lesson I learned: There is such a thing such as a stupid question, I don't care what your teachers told you. During a roundtable with Phillip Seymour Hoffman I nearly reached over the table to punch some reporter/blogger who kept asking Hoffman inane questions about his Oscar win from years ago.

Second most important lesson I learned: Horror movies are still scary at 9 a.m. I hate horror movies. I'm looking at you "Insidious" with your scary old ladies and jump cuts and loud noises.


Sept. 12 -- Hollywood remakes are a no-win scenario

Remakes are the cinematic equivalent to the Kobayashi Maru -- that is, for non-Trekkies -- a no-win scenario.

When it was announced that a Hollywood remake was being made of 2008's near-perfect Swedish vampire film "Let the Right One In" -- fanboys howled in fury. They would change the story, Twilight-ize it, make it less grim, turn it into a traditional horror film, were some of the worries.

But after seeing the remake, now titled "Let Me In," I can tell you those fears are unfounded. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) is incredibly faithful -- to a fault. Much of the dialogue is unchanged (but ya know, not in Swedish), and the sets look remarkably similar despite the change in locale (to New Mexico).

The two child leads, Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee, are as strong as their Swedish counterparts as the tender, non-sexualized relationship between a bullied boy and an old vampire (permanently stuck at 12) is explored.

But here's the rub: if you've seen the Swedish flick, you know exactly what's coming next in the American remake, robbing it of any suspense.

"I was bored," a reporter told a table of his colleagues as we talked shop while waiting in a hotel room for interviews.

It's funny, because there is only one scene that differs significantly in the American remake -- a car accident -- and it's probably the most interesting in the entire film. Reeves films an accident from a perspective I can't recall ever seeing (except for a real one I was in) -- which is fairly incredible, considering that car accidents are practically a standard film and television scene.

"Let the Right One In" was a masterful film. "Let Me In," if you haven't seen the original, will impress you. But if you have, you may spend more time trying to spot differences between the pair. You won't find many.

It's a no-win scenario for Reeves. He's made a fine film, but a photocopy. If he tried to make his own film, he would have been seen as plagiarizing perfection, even though he has proven to be a strong director with visual flair.

Hope the paycheque was worth the hassle.


Sept. 11 -- Playboy legend can only lead to disappointment

 

"Life is full of disappointments," my father probably told me matter-of-factly at some point in my life. However, he never finished that sentence with, "even if you are surrounded by half-naked Playboy models."

The much-hyped Playboy party in Toronto came and went Friday, and after attending, I can't help but feel that legendary hype surrounding the words "Playboy party," was only going to inevitably lead to disappointment.

Where was the debauchery? Where were the celebrities? Why did this party resemble an Entertainment District club but only with the addition of girls in bunny tails? Do DJs really sample Metallica with Michael Jackson now? I was promised flamethrowers!

Admittedly, while I did not stay to the end of the party, the celebrities that I saw as a photographer during the red carpet included some guy with a show about baking cakes and the good looking fellow from the Rogers commercials.

Where were the rock stars and athletes I expected to go along with these Playmates? I walked around the party and did not see a single Scarface-sized pile of cocaine. Things were not as I expected, well, minus the Playmates.

There were a lot of women, not dressed very appropriately for the weather. It was my job to take lots of pictures of them. It was hell.

If you're a well-raised Protestant, you know it's not polite to stare at Playboy Bunnies, even if they are spending inordinate amounts of time and effort trying to keep their ample bosoms inside very constraining tops.

I stared at my shoes a lot, then at the sky. Then straight ahead, but trying to focus on the red carpet background behind the ladies. Repeat that over and over for two hours, until you are numb to the sight of live Barbie dolls dancing four feet away from you.

At least, there were friendly conversations to have with other photographers, mostly about trying to deal with the above statement.

I promised a local journalist I wouldn't steal this, but it's too good not to include, as he made a really good point about this party.

"At least you can look at the pretty girls here and you are guaranteed to see them naked when you get home and look them up online. Beats Facebook stalking," he told me.

And then we shuffled around some more, as local men with gold chains, open shirts and blazers, bugged us to take their pictures with their Blackberries of them with the Bunnies.

Finally we were saved by rapper Big Boi of Outkast, who kept us waiting on the carpet until minutes to midnight. That was just late enough for us to miss the open bar, if that was the sort of thing I was interested in.

While I was attending this event solely in the Edward R. Murrow style of serious journalism, a number of colleagues from other media outfits were there for the promise of free vodka and half-naked ladies, if you can believe it.

The problem with obtaining free drinks is that that they generally involve more work than they are worth. While free drinks were eventually scored (as I could tell from the gusto in which the following story was told), those drinking them were less than impressed.

"Most disorganized party ever!" said one hyperbolic journalist, as he sipped his free drink, and told a tale involving multiple guest lists, bouncers who didn't believe in the guest lists, and enough running around to burn through the calories of a few vodka and cokes.

I listened diligently, but could not bring myself to care, as I had waited outside for several hours, doing the red carpet version of Waiting for Godot.


Things I've learned so far at TIFF 2010:

  1. You can get used to waking up and going to the movies at 9 a.m.
  2. Breakfast options at the cinema are thin.
  3. Burger King sandwiches are not a healthy choice for breakfast, but do in a pinch.
  4. I hope to marry someone like Amy Ryan, she's adorable, very articulate and has a wonderful laugh.
  5. Being in the press does not mean you don't have to sit in the front row if there's no seats.
  6. Being in the right elevator and keeping your head down sometimes allows you to overhear young starlets talk smack about their older co-stars.
  7. Bill Murray may be a bit of a jerk. I love him, anyway.
  8. Red carpet photographers complain more than any other profession. Seriously guys, you are taking pictures of pretty people, not breaking rocks.
  9. It's all a bit of a show, but you can sometimes tell who's just picking up a paycheque, and who is really passionate about a project.


Sept. 10

 

"Emma, this is Josh, who went to the wrong hotel," is how I am introduced to Emma Roberts, daughter of actor Eric Roberts and niece of Julia Roberts.

So, apparently, there is more than one Hyatt in Toronto.

For the first time in my life, I've shown up late for an interview, and it just so happens to be a hot, up-and-coming 19-year-old actress.

Things don't get much better from there.

"So, you are shooting Scary Movie 4," I say as I grasp for questions near the end of the interview.

"I think you mean Scream 4."

Clearly, I'm flustered, as I am pretty sure I just insulted this talented and very nice young lady twice now by suggesting she was filming a four-year-old terrible movie.

Fortunately, the conversation turns to shopping in Toronto, of which my knowledge is about equal to what I know about nuclear chemistry.

I stammer a few things about getting out of Toronto's ritzy Yorkville.

"You're kind of a Brooklyn hipster, aren't you?" she asks.

This can be taken two ways, and if it was an insult, it was well-deserved.


Sept. 9 -- Review of Ben Affleck's 'The Town'

"I guess Ben Affleck isn't a joke anymore," are the first words I hear as soon as the end credits start rolling after director Ben Affleck's "The Town."

One official screening into TIFF and I've already seen what may be one of the most successful films, critically and commercially, to come out of this year's festival.

"The Town" is Affleck's second film in the director's chair after "Gone Baby Gone" and like its predecessor it's a more-than-solid crime drama set in his hometown Boston.

A crime saga of a group of bank robbers, led by Affleck and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) from a tight-knit blue collar Boston neighbourhood, the film tests the bonds of these blood-soaked brother-in-arms.

Much of the elements in this film have been seen before. One last job. A career criminal trying to turn straight. The girl who makes him think of giving up his life of crime. The friends and family who keep pulling him back in.

But strong acting and several wonderfully directed set pieces keep this from becoming yet another standard crime caper.

Affleck's actions scenes are kinetically edited, but recall older films such as "The French Connection," where car chases involve realistic physics.

One gun battle (in Fenway Park no less, also featuring a scene with the Toronto Blue Jays) actually feels like a gun fight, where the noise is deafening and bullets have real weight behind them.

Written by Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, the director obviously had himself in mind for his comeback role as a lead actor.

Affleck's conflicted thief is likeable enough, and perhaps a tad too likeable, as he doesn't quite come off as entirely believable as a supposedly hardened criminal.

But overall, Affleck's casting of Affleck does not drag the film down enough to hurt it, especially thanks to the supporting actors.

Chasing Affleck and Renner's crew is Jon Hamm's FBI agent, whose dishevelled looks, foul mouth and driven intensity, are a world away from Don Draper's Madison Avenue.

Renner, not surprisingly, bleeds menace in every scene he's in. What he lacks in stature, he certainly makes up for in his ability to play a man whose penchant for violence is barely held under his skin.

And in a revelation, a barely recognizable Blake Lively of "Gossip Girls" plays a drug-addicted single mom in love with Affleck's character, who will do anything to keep him at her level.

Opening September 17, "The Town" is a pretty good place to visit to start the fall film season.


Sept. 7 -- A Playboy party to attend, and an existential crisis to deal with


 

For obvious reasons, one of the most talked about TIFF-related parties is the Playboy event this weekend.

Featuring half of this century's top hip-hop outfit (Outkast) playing on stage with Big Boi performing, and performance artists ranging from aerialists to flame throwers, party guests can expect a taste of the legendary Playboy Mansion party atmosphere without having to travel to California.

And yes, it's not a Mansion party without Playmates, and a "bevy" are expected in the 41,000 square foot Muzik club this Friday.

Party host Bridget Marquardt, formally of "The Girls Next Door" reality show, promises me this is "going to be a tonne of fun." (She's second from the left in the above photo)

"They have aerialists that are going to be there and I just love doing aerial stuff, I do trapeze . . . and I'm going to see if I can work myself in somehow," she says in that girlish purr one expects from a buxom blonde who has graced the pages of Playboy.

"It's going to be kind of like a Mansion party with the painted ladies that the Mansion is so notorious for."

I've heard rumours that people like to indulge themselves at these events, and Marquardt doesn't pull any punches about the booze.

"I'm going to be in trouble that night because Stoli is sponsoring it and they have all the flavoured vodkas, which is like, my favourite thing," she says laughing.

The party will be Marquardt's first trip to Toronto, and she says she's been inundated with advice on where to go and what to eat.

"I just tweeted yesterday that I was coming (to Toronto) and everyone was like, ‘Omigod, you're going to love it,'" she said in an interview.

Marquardt asks me where I think she should go, and I mumbled something about us not running in the same circles, and said I preferred dark dive bars (i.e. places I have never seen blonde models at). This leads to a small existential crisis.

Now while being surrounded by (mostly) free vodka and Playmates sounds many a man's heaven, I am having some serious issues with attending. Mostly A) I've lived in Toronto for five years and have successfully avoided all non-rock clubs and B) I have no idea what one wears to a Playboy party (on a journalist's salary).

I assume only one attendee can get away with wearing a housecoat and I don't think I can go out in my usual jeans and T-shirt combo.

This is where I abuse the power of the Internet and ask for advice. Email me @ josh.visser@ctv.ca with your best fashion advice. Best advice will be followed and blurbed (and appreciated deeply.)

Doors open at 9 pm for the Playboy's Good Life Party As Presented By Stoli" and don't close until 4 a.m. For more, visit http://www.playboygoodlifetour.com.


Sept. 3 -- A foolproof system for picking which films to see at TIFF

One of the problems with seeing movies at film festivals is that you have to form your own opinions because no one's seen them yet.

Without the Roger Eberts and A.O. Scotts of the world telling you what to see, you're forced to pick movies based on buzz ("I heard it got a 54-minute ovation at the Venice Film Festival"), advertising ("The poster looks gnarly") or star power ("I love so and so's movies!)

And that dear readers, is not the way to base decisions on what to spend two hours in a dark room watching.

Fortunately, I have an entirely foolproof system for picking which films to see at film festivals.*

Using an advanced, mathematical formula based on YouTube trailer availability, PR blurb use of the word "disturbing" and "visionary," Ain't It Cool News commenters' advice, and director career IMDB.com ratings, here are the 10 films I am looking forward to the most at TIFF 2010.

The Bang Bang Club – This Canadian-South African film by Steven Silver based on a true story of four young photographers during the end of apartheid in South Africa looks riveting. It's a true, and grim, story, and features two hot Canadian actors -- Friday Night Lights' Taylor Kitsch and The Watchmen's Malin Akerman.

Beautiful Boy: Starring Michael Sheen and Mario Bella as parents of a school mass shooter (Kyle Gallner, who also played teenage psychopaths in "The Shield" and "Veronica Mars"), the acting should be extraordinary. Whether first-time feature film director Shawn Ku's script can live up to his actors' potential, is another question.

Black Swan: It's a psychological thriller set in the world of ballet but that's not scaring me away. With Natalie Portman starring and directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream), I'm willing to bet this is one of TIFFs best.

Essential Killing: Starring Vincent Gallo, the premise has my interest peaked. A Taliban prisoner is captured by NATO, sent to a snowy European wilderness prison and then tries to escape. Can a North American audience sympathize with the Taliban? I'm looking forward to finding out.

Fubar II: A rural headbanger myself, I grew up with guys like our beloved Terry and Deaner, and I've been waiting to giv'er with these fellas again for a while. The sequel to one of the funniest Canadian movies ever made, this will be a riot.

Jack goes Boating: It's character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut and it looks as quirky as the rest of his storied work. I would also watch co-star Amy Ryan (The Wire, Gone Baby Gone) read the phone book.

I Saw the Devil: South Korean director Kim Ji-woon's (A Tale of Two Sisters, The Good, the Bad, the Weird) new film has already caused controversy in his homeland where the rating board said it ""severely damaged the dignity of human values." Nobody does revenge films like the South Koreans.

Monsters: Hyped as this year's "District 9," Gareth Edwards low-budget aliens-land-in-Mexico movie should be sweet, Midnight Madness fun.

Super: The formula seems similar to "Kickass", but this real-life superhero features a fun cast including Rainn Wilson (The Office), Kevin Bacon and Canadian sweetheart Ellen Page (Juno).

The Town: Ben Affleck directs Ben Affleck in this Boston-set crime family noir, but the director was wise in picking his co-stars. With Mad Men's Jon Hamm and the Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner, there is going to be some seriously intense talking in this movie. Affleck's acting career aside, the man has some serious directing chops (see "Gone Baby Gone" if you don't believe me). I'm calling it now, Affleck is the next Clint Eastwood, unless this sucks, in which case, Ben Affleck is the next Kevin Smith.

* In theory


Aug. 31 -- Covering TIFF is an exercise in cool cred

While sitting around a Toronto bar with a few arts reporters the other day, the talk eventually turns to TIFF.

We're journalists, and Toronto residents, so there's a little contest being played of who can name the biggest celebrity they are interviewing with the greatest amount of bored indifference.

Sample dialogue: "I have to interview Matt Damon for his new movie, but I'm really looking forward to speaking with (insert name of a Norwegian documentary filmmaker so obscure his mother goes to IMDB to figure out what he's done)."

This is of course, to use polite vernacular meant for public consumption, complete and utter malarkey.

Last year, a 12-hour day covering TIFF felt like a vacation. I was out in the sun, taking pictures of pretty girls, inside air-conditioned theatres watching movies and by the end of the night, having a chat with hilarious drunk actors.

But to anyone that asks, I am treating TIFF with no more interest than I would treat an annual general meeting for a Canadian mining company. In fact, I may even complain about the extra workload involved in interviewing celebrities, taking pictures of beautiful starlets and watching movies.

If I ran into my potato-farming self of 10 years ago, he would punch me out for that opinion.

But I know I am somewhat giddy at the prospect of taking pictures of "The Most Beautiful Woman on the Planet" Freida Pinto -- or having a living legend like Clint Eastwood answer something I've asked.

It's hard not to just be a fan and get sucked into TIFF's celebrity-powered energy.

Deep inside, I just really want to have a beer with Colin Farrell, have my picture taken with Natalie Portman and get arrested with Paris Hilton.

And if I have to watch a dozen free movies and attend late night parties to do so, so be it. Just don't expect me to act excited about it -- I have two slivers of credibility I need to maintain.

Josh Visser has been writing the news for CTV.ca for two-and-half years, with some entertainment on the side. He once got nauseous with nerves before interviewing William Shatner. Last year, he covered TIFF for the first time and discovered it's really hard work. No, seriously.