Monday, September 15, 2014

Call Us to Cancel Service

Not all call center workers smile like this.
Why it is so easy to establish the service of a product via the Internet and downloading some software, but if you want to cancel that service a few weeks later, you have to CALL to CANCEL? I didn't call anyone to set up, so why do I need to call someone to cancel? But of course I was not aware of this when I signed up for the trial service. They made it seem so attractive to easily sign up, and they said that cancellation before the trial period ends is easy. In August, I received a special offer from stamps.com to upload their software so that I can print stamps at home. I have a new business venture and in anticipation of needing to mail things to people, and to save me time from going to the post office, I thought it would be a great idea to print postage from home.

After I signed up, I had to wait just a few days for stamps.com to send me the trial package of blank stamp stickers and shipping stickers. Only after I started reading the additional information they sent me, that's when I learned of their monthly fee for this service, on top of adding money to my account to cover postage fees. Well, the monthly maintenance fee for the lowest level professional account was $15.99. But that was hidden from me in the beginning. Had I known that there would be any monthly fee, besides the monies I would deposit to cover postage, I would not have signed up. At the present, the monthly fee itself would be more than the actual postage I'll use in a month and it would cut into any meager profits I would earn. If I was selling hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of product, $15.99 a month to use stamps.com service would be a bargain. But that's not my situation at the moment. The primary reason why I canceled the service is because the software is not compatible with the printer I use. Plain and simple. I wasted 12 envelopes trying to print out one .48 cent stamped envelope.

I kept getting error messages, and incorrect alignment problems, etc. My assessment was that this was not going to work, and I'm perfectly fine with it. I wanted to use this trial service, which gave me a free $5 postal balance, to see if it worked as easily as I thought. But it did not. With a monthly fee that was excessive for my needs, and incompatible equipment, it was clear that stamps.com was not the product for me. I tried to cancel online, but there was no cancellation option. I found a short paragraph that read "To cancel, call us at 1-800..." I knew then that cancelling was not going to be simple.

This morning, I called them and I spoke to a customer service rep quickly, and I told him that I wanted to cancel. He feigned concerned as to why would I want to cancel when I haven't given them 30 days to change my life with their product. I explained that after ruining a dozen envelopes to try to print out just one stamp, and getting error messages that said that my printer was not compatible with this software, it was clear that I could not use stamps.com service. He then said, 'Well, perhaps you should have just called our technical department they would have fixed this for you'. I then just curtly said, 'Cancel the service, it's not working for me'. Then he said that he'll be happy to extend the trial service for me so that I can call their tech department or buy a new printer. Can you believe this? So I repeated, 'Cancel the service now please'. Then he went on to say he'll cancel the service but that if I change my mind, they'll have on my file a free month of service when I decide to come back within twelve months. I calmly repeated, almost robotically at this point, 'Just cancel the service and please email me the confirmation'. And he did it, and moments later I received the confirmation.

I'm not a confrontational person, I don't like conflict, but I will, under no uncertain terms, stand up for myself, and stand my ground when I want something done, especially when it comes to customer service. I know the man was only doing his job, but there is something wrong with a company when they make it so easy to enroll/subscribe to their product, without contact with customer service, but then if you decide to cancel, you have to go through an orchestrated psychological game of dare and to justify why you want to cancel. This process is known as retention, and it's basically strong arming the customer to continue to use and PAY for a service they no longer want. Period. Many years back, I had to call a marketing company for a business I worked for at the time to cancel service. We totally weren't using it and for over a year, accounting overlooked that we were paying $125 a month for a service that they didn't even remember why they opened it. So they left it up to me to call and cancel.

I thought it would be simple, but it was a horrendous call. I believe I was on the phone for at least 45 minutes talking to a loud mouth, persistent saleswoman with a strong East Coast accent who felt she knew my company better than we did and knew what was best for us. I think I got dehydrated after telling her so many times that we just want to cancel, and apparently my 'excuse' for canceling just wasn't good enough for her, so due to exhaustion and completely not giving a damn, I conceded to her and ended the call without having the service cancel. She was a wizard of retention and probably that company's go to girl to confuse and bewilder clients out of canceling their service. I felt frustrated with myself for giving in, and very angry with that company. And from that moment on, I realized that if for my own personal vested interests, if I ever had to engage with someone like that, I would not tolerate it and get the service cancel, period.

If a company has to do that to keep a customer, that is not a company I want to deal with. So, sorry stamps.com, you did not impress me with the cancellation process so I will not be back. This mafia style retention process is becoming very common as the marketplace becomes more competitive. Consumers have a right to enter and exit the use of services, especially during trial periods, for whatever reason. Just cancel their service, say thank you, and maybe provide an incentive for them to consider using your services again in the future. But when you put up obstacles to prevent and make it difficult to cancel, they will never, ever use your service again. And in the age of social media and blogging, word gets around real quick about businesses and their practices.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

TIFF 2014 Concludes: Benedict Cumberbatch's 'The Imitation Game' Won People's Choice

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game
Today, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) announced the winners of their awards, but the top prize for the Grolsch People's Choice Award went to The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch. This was my third favorite film from the 14 films I saw, and I knew that either it or Theory of Everything would win. However, the two runners up were Learning to Drive and St. Vincent. Disturbingly, Theory of Everything, the Stephen Hawkings' film, wasn't even in the top three.

In hindsight, The Imitation Game had all the hallmarks and TIFF hype for an eventual winner. After all, the lead actor of the film was featured on the cover of NOW, the TIFF festival guide magazine. Duh! When I left Toronto late Wednesday, I learned soon afterwards that a surprise THIRD screening of 'Game' was going to play at the Princess of Wales theatre on Thursday. Had I not been too stubborn in my support of what I believed to be a slightly better film, I should have known to accurately predict The Imitation Game, a film backed by Oscar Marketing Grand Wizard, Harvey Weinstein. Duh, again!

I do believe that The Imitation Game lucked out in winning this award only because Birdman, starring Michael Keaton, skipped TIFF. That film will have played at all the major Fall film festivals except TIFF, and had it played there, I would be writing about a different winner. Be that as it may, I did enjoy Game and I think it's a very good film, but certainly not the best. We'll see how it manages to hang on with this stamp of approval from Toronto through a tough Oscar season of great films yet to be seen, and see if it could bring home Oscar gold for Benedict and Keira.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

TIFF Review: Benedict Cumberbatch, his fans, and The Imitation Game

A most charming man, Benedict Cumberbatch with his screaming fans (all pictures ©Simone at ToZ)
Not until I started watching Benedict Cumberbatch's version of Sherlock Holmes, I didn't know he existed. But so far, he's my favorite Sherlock, just beating out Jeremy Brett after all these years. As an old fan of the X-Files back in the 90s and early 00s, I knew how rabid and straight-up hard core TV show fans are. But I did not expect to see what I saw on Tuesday from the self-proclaimed, Cumberbitches.

However, I will start off with a review of Benedict's film, The Imitation Game -


The Imitation Game is a bio-pic about the world's first computer genius, but back in the WWII era, it wasn't known as a computer, but simply, a large calculator to help decipher encrypted codes written by the Nazis. Alan Turing was hired by MI6 to break the codes produced by the Nazis, and he had a very tight timeline to do it in the midst of World War II. Turing's demeanor immediately gave people the impression that he was not only eccentric, but anti-social, and quite frigid and autonomous with his work routine. But what really lay beneath Turing's aloof mannerisms was a gay man fearful of persecution in England had it been revealed that he was a homosexual. The director, Morten Tyldum, incorporated three key moments of Turing's life in this movie, with well executed flashbacks to Turing's childhood in school where he was tortured and bullied for being different and smarter than the other boys. However he found friendship with one special boy whom he would think about for the rest of his life. As it would come to be, Alan named his computer after his first love and believed that 'Christopher' would break the Nazi code which will eventually bring down that awful German regime.

Turing needed the assistance of a small group of brilliant mathematicians, including one woman, Joan, played by Keira Knightely. For a short time, Joan would be Alan's fiancee to help her stay with the mission of working with the computer to break the codes. Espionage comes into play and make everyone paranoid in the group, as a secret message to the Russians alerts MI6 that there's a Communist mole in Turing's group, with him as the lead suspect. As the heat is turned up and the pressure is on, eventually Alan breaks the code and helps end WWII. The third moment of Turing's life featured takes place after WWII where an investigator digs too deeply into Turing's life after a robbery in his home is coolly and unfortunately, suspiciously dismissed by Turing. This all leads to a revelation of his homosexuality and the pathetic law of England at the time that fully prosecuted men for being gay. With Turing's secret MI6 work being classified, the police had no idea that Turing was the man in England who helped ended WWII by decrypting Nazi messages. To them, he was just another poof that needed to be chemically castrated and "cured". His homosexuality wasn't cured, he as humiliated and victimized by the country he saved, and died at age of 41. Alan Turing's story needed to be told, and he deserves to be recognized as a frontier in the dawn of the computer age and honored for helping to save the world with his love of mathematics. As usual, the gay aspect is seriously downplayed, it's just a given, a known fact, but not shown in the film.

Grade - 4/5

A PRish person warming up the Cumberbatch fans.

The Cumberbitches

I knew from seeing on the internet that Benedict Cumberbatch fans were in a universe all by themselves. Fans of TV shows have a zealousness that put music fans, fans of Broadway, and sports fans to complete shame. I really don't know why that is, but maybe it's because you don't have to pay to watch TV,  or rather for a nominal fee, and you can watch the TV show and its repeats over and over again. Add a dash of a posh British accent and that voice,  some charisma, genuine talent, a world renowned famous character, two cheekbones, and beautiful eyes, and you have a TV/movie heartthrob.  I watched with calm interest how the fans (many of them well over the age of 30) were queued up since 10 am to pick a spot along the red carpet to have a prime view to see Benedict. Lucky for all the fans, Benedict was very gracious and spent a good amount of time signing autographs and taking pictures with the fans. I saw and heard lots of crazy screaming, but I heard that before at red carpet events. What was going on outside was what I have seen before, but I was not prepared for the behavior inside the theater.

President Cumberbatch
As I explained in my previous blog post about the running of the bulls atmosphere when ticket holders run into the theater to get the best seat. I saw grown women and men, and when I say "grown", I mean people who could be Benedict's parents, or older aunt and uncle. These people looked like seasoned Sherlock Holmes fans who excitedly accepted Benedict as the current Sherlock Holmes. Then there were the 20 and 30 somethings who were giggly as fuck and hyper and very, very excited to be in the theater. I overheard a Canadian or American girl in the row behind me mentioned that she is going to see Benedict "a few times" when he does Hamlet in London (all 100,000 tickets for his theatrical run has been sold out). The rest of the people were like me, TIFFers who wanted to see a movie that they had high hopes for, the bonus was Benedict yes, but for other people, they were there for the movie.


Keira, Benedict, and director Morten Tyldum

When the cast came out one by one, and with Benedict last, there was a crazy scream from the audience by Cumberbatch fans. They were really, really excited. I think back on like last year at 12 Years a Slave and I recall my excitement to see Michael Fassbender. Sure, I adore him, and I applauded for him, but I didn't scream. That's ok, right? I was smiling and I was happy to see him and be there, but I didn't SCREAM for him. As the lights went down to start the film, the Cumberbitches even screamed and clapped when his name was on the screen during the opening credits.

Nearby, I heard some whispering and giggling during the film during certain scenes, and a few times I think I heard some light clapping after Cumberbatch as Turing said something in the movie that provoked some hysteria in a few fans. I remember thinking to myself that these people really needed to chill out and drink some chamomile tea or something. They were just too fidgety for an otherwise serious film about a serious subject.

Only Keira, Benedict,  and Morten spoke.

After the film there was a standing ovation, and when the cast came up on stage, they received another standing ovation. At this moment I felt it was overkill, but I went with the flow, it's rude not to. For the first time in my 11 years of attending TIFF, they had two microphones at separate ends on the lower level ( you were screwed out of asking a question if you were in the balcony). This allowed anyone who had a question to prance up to the microphone and ask a question. What happened next, I never expected in my wildest dreams at TIFF. You see, if an inappropriate or silly question was asked from the audience without a microphone, the moderator would be able to hear the question and recite it in a succinct way to help everyone understand the question being asked. With a microphone, whatever you say in that microphone, is heard by everyone in that audience, immediately, instantly, with no audio malfunction. What I heard in the front row loud and clear, the person in the highest balcony tier in the furthest corner, also heard. Understand?

The moment when the delusional fan annoyed everyone
The first question was asked and even though she was a fan girl, and gushed on Benedict, she did ask a question and Benedict answered it. Thankfully, Benedict gave long and thorough answers, and thinking in hindsight, this was good because that saved us all from hearing more questions from other stupid Cumberbitches. The second question was the dumb idiot Cumberbitch who wanted to taste his yummy deliciousness. Benedict was clearly uncomfortable and the rest of the stage just laughed and probably thanked whatever deity they praise that they don't have fans like that. The woman was WELL into her 50s... she's one of those senior Cumberbitches, too old to realize that she's lost the plot and crazy in her lust for Benedict Cumberbatch. Why else would she get up to that microphone and say what she did in an audience of over 2000 strangers? And her voice, the way she spoke to him as if he was a child and she desired his complete attention to what she needed to say to him. I wonder if she blacked out and thought she was on a private phone call with him, that's how inappropriate and disrepectful she was to Benedict. But I think he's used to this silliness and after he thought out how to handle this, he did it quite well, but it was still very, very embarrassing. And it didn't help matters that Cameron Bailey told her to sit her crazy ass down while the audience was telling her to shut the fuck up and sit the hell down, some even booed her. The next two questions also mumbled words of infatuation with Benedict and I just could not believe that TIFF allowed this open mic type set up at this very premiere, with an actor who has such a strange following.

Near the end of the Q&A

When they left the stage, I could tell that Benedict couldn't leave fast enough, and I was glad it was over too.

If anyone from TIFF bothers to read this, I implore you to reconsider allowing microphones in the audience at screenings where there will be a huge fanbase of a very popular actor/actress. It's just best to have a moderator ask pre-written questions to help the audience have a better understanding of the film and performances we just viewed. Immediately after the screening of The Imitation Game, twitter was on fire about this stupid Cumberbitch's question. Her vomit inducing 'yumminess' term was used in the headline of an article written about the screening on Variety no less! The media ran with this and pretty much endorsed the behavior of this woman. Maybe some of the articles mocked her, but what I'm concerned about is the mileage she got from saying what she said. This incident will be used by her to align her with Benedict when people talk/write about the TIFF screening. The next morning on Cameron Bailey's tweet feed, he gushed about TIFF having Martin Scorsese at a Q&A, and he took a moment to also write 'behave yourselves'. Even Cameron knows the danger now posed by an immature and overzealous fan who lacked the intelligence and common sense to be mindful of what she's saying to a famous person in a public venue. I certainly hope that TIFF learns from this and don't allow microphones at least at screenings where there is talent with crazy fans in the audience.
Benedict gave thoughtful and thorough responses to some questions

Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor in The Imitation Game. I strongly believe he will be nominated for an Oscar in this role, but his friend Eddie Redmayne will be a strong competitor too with his excellent work in The Theory of Everything.

I grabbed his seat sign for the heck of it.


TIFF Day 5, 6 & 7

I've been attending TIFF every year since 2004 and each year I see changes and improvements when I arrive in Toronto each September. Some changes are good, and some not so good, but overall, I always love TIFF. I saw 14 films in the 7 days I was there. I have determined once and for all that Roy Thomson Hall is my least favorite screening venue, and The Princess of Wales is my favorite, with Ryerson a close second (because they don't allow food, ie. no stinking and loud crunching popcorn). However, I am getting quite concerned about the disturbingly high volume of blocked off 'reserved' seating for posh guests and sponsor companies. The volume of reserved seating is of great concern to me because they are the best seats in the house.

Thankfully for galas and special presentations, I have access to Priority tickets from my dear friend Glenn whom is a Patron member. Without these tickets, I would have to wait in the regular ticket holder line. And to be in the front of that line, one must sacrifice getting in line about 3-5 hours before the screening starts. That's a long time to wait in line just to ensure you nab and ideal seat. Subsequently, the mad scrambling that I had to endure at some screenings, especially the one for Nightcrawler on Friday night at the Elgin, was not fun. Not only was there an unprecedented thunderstorm that hit downtown Toronto at 7:30pm that evening, nearly 2,000 people were in line outside the theater to get inside. Worse yet, there was no protocol in place to allow people to go in early, and I now understand why. Dripping wet, once in the theater, I was shocked at how many reserved seats were blocked off on the main floor and in the balcony, center rows of course. Once I find my seat, I look at all the other people scrambling inside, desperately looking for a seat. The TIFF staff have to re-set up the theater after each screening to block off reserved seats. Some screenings require less reserved seating, others require many, many more. And it takes time to clean up the theater and block off seats. See for yourselves:

Elgin balcony

Elgin main floor

Princess of Wales main and balcony
The hardworking TIFF volunteers protect the reserved seats to prevent commoner ticket holders from sitting in the section without a proper sponsor pass. The first 5 to 6 rows at the Elgin (above) and at the Princess of Wales are open for regular people, but alas, it helps having Priority access so that you can quickly claim those seats, especially if you want to be close to the Q&A action, and take pictures of the talent on stage. But don't forget to bring Tylenol with you, because you'll develop a kink in your neck surely. Like the one I'm nursing right now.  I'm nervous that in the future, more reserved seating areas will be blocked off, and that will leave very few seats for the general public to buy. If this happens, TIFF won't be for regular film goers anymore, and that would be a travesty! I believe that if so many reserved seats are in such demand, perhaps TIFF should just hold screenings for sponsors and their ilk and leave the regular festival goers with their own screening. So if you wonder why a hot screening goes 'OFF Sale' 1 minute after it goes on sale, that's because 60% of the seats are not available for public sale, and the remaining 40% is sold out nearly instantly.

Film Reviews



Cheryl Strayed and Nick Hornby

Wild


Reese Witherspoon stars in this film about a troubled woman with a history of drug abuse and an out of control sex life who goes on a soul searching hiking journey through the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself and chase away her demons. Based on the bestselling book written by Cheryl Stayed, we see Reese in a different light - she's no goody two shoes and she's on display in ways we've never seen her. And she's really challenged in this role both physically, mentally, and emotionally. I really liked this film and as a semi-hiker, this film has inspired me to consider a hike on the PCT, but no way near 1K miles - a quarter of that would suffice. The TIFF screening had a Q&A with Cheryl Strayed, and Nick Hornby.

Grade: 4/5

Cast of Maps to the Stars

Maps to the Stars

In typical David Cronenberg fashion, this film has strange characters with psychological problems. Maybe not enough to be institutionalized, but otherwise functional damage people. The central character is played by Julieanne Moore as an aging and desperate actress who is eager for a prized role that her mother played in her youth. Cronenberg does a great job in highlighting a closer to the truth depiction of what goes on in the private lives of some celebrities. Behind the scenes she's a raving mess, popping pills, cocaine, sex parties, etc. But in public, she's poised and smiles for the camera. An incredibly insecure woman battling visions of her mother to remind her that she's past her prime. Other principle characters involve a young child actor who is a complete asshole brat and gives me the impression that this is how Justin Beiber must be. A spoiled, demanding, rude, asshole. But in a way, with parents that he has, and a mysterious sister Mia Wasikowska, it's easy to understand why the kid played by Evan Bird is the way he is. Because of my own fascination with Hollywood, this movie is quite entertaining, but with equal measures of discomfort. A lot of people walked out of the Roy Thomson Hall during the movie, and the film received an ok applause afterwards, but I thought it was very good. If you like Cronenberg, and if you're interested in seeing a depiction of what the demands of Hollywood can have on the mental stability of actresses and actors, then this is the film for you.

Grade: 4/5


Xavier Dolan at TIFF Bell Lightbox

Mommy

Xavier Dolan's Mommy is a story about a loud and foul mouth, single mother, Diane, and her troubled son, Steve, who is in obvious need of psychological intervention and behavioral management. His father died a few years earlier and as revealed in the film, the boy's temper and disruptive and unruly behavior spirals completely out of control. A new law allows a person to be admitted into a psych hospital for their own good. Initially Diane tries home schooling and even befriending a quite and shy neighbor to help her with Steve. Just as things appear to improve, they do not. Faced with a civil lawsuit for the harm that Steve did to a classmate, Di has to decide to get legal help, or do something drastic with the disturbed son she loves so much. Mommy is about a severely dysfunctional relationship between a woman and her son - she's his mommy, but they get on more like friends/enemies. The vulgar way he speaks to her as well as his oedipal feelings towards Diane leaves the viewer on edge as to what is going to happen to them in the long run because they cannot stay on this track forever. The music in the film is a bit loud, and each song runs its entire length, presenting a music video style during some scenes. One of my favorite scenes played Wonder Wall from Oasis and it was beautiful and fun to watch. A rare high point during this brilliantly made and acted film. Not for the faint of heart or those who experience domestic/family violence.

Grade: 4/5

More images from TIFF 2014


Street images are part of the new interactive TIFF on King Street




Paparazzi in queue to cover Imitation Game

The Imitation Game will be featured in a separate article by itself.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

TIFF Day 4 - Anglophile Double Feature Films

Red carpet at the Princess of Wales Theatre
My fourth day of TIFF was going to be light on films and a lot of wandering around town enjoying the city. However, the two films I saw today couldn't be so close and yet so different on many levels, but still touch on British society at its two premiere education institutions in ways we have never seen before.

The first film, The Riot Club, directed by Lone Scherfig, was set at Oxford University and focused on an elite private men's club, the Riot Club, which was drunk on debauchery and ruthless behavior. The 99% is used to seeing films where the majority victimizes the 1% in a myriad of horrible ways. But in the Riot Club, we get a snapshot of how some of the 1% really feel about the underclass. They have so much money and are empowered with the knowledge that they are set for life, that they just don't give a damn and have all their needs met. Even in the case of one fateful night of celebration and destruction, the strength and legacy of the Riot Club depends on one member sacrificing himself for the good of the club to continue their ways unchecked. None of the young men of the riot club has a smidgen of decency, morality, or real class. And the old adage is true: Absolute power corrupts. These guys give a whole new meaning to elitist snobs and the danger they pose to innocent people, and still get away with it because of who they are. The Riot Club is an entertaining film that leaves you a little sick to the stomach with the disturbing mistreatment of people in different social classes.

Grade: 3 1/2 Stars

Actors, director, and producers of ToE.
The second film of the day, and one of my most anticipated films was The Theory of Everything. Now I'll admit, I'm a straight up nerd when it comes to science, quantum physics, and astronomy, so it was a no-brainer for me to want to see Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawkings in The Theory of Everything. Similar to The Riot Club, 'Everything' was set in England at a posh university, and in this case, Cambridge. The Theory of Everything is a biopic on the life of Hawkings starting in 1963 as he was working on his PhD. At this time, his ALS disease started to manifest in his body, and as he slowly degraded, he was informed by doctors at this time that he only had two years to live. As he accepted this diagnosis, he became resigned to his life ending soon and started to remove himself from life and distance himself from his girlfriend played by Felicity Jones. Over the course of time, Hawkings continues to experience the deterioration of his body by ALS and the film wonderfully showed how his wife nurtured and cared for him, as well as start a family and help him continue on with his work. The dedication that they both showed towards each other was inspiring and really revealed how a true marriage of love commits one person to another whom cannot care for themselves all alone, but a time does come when it's too much for one person to handle. The film was light on the science and math, but demonstrated just enough to share with the audience Hawkings' brilliance, and how the disease did not affect his intelligence, just his body, which makes ALS/Lou Gehrig's disease all the more menacing and unforgiving.

Eddie Redmayne was brilliant in the movie, sweet and likeable on stage.
The audience at TIFF absolutely loved this film. The ending credits received a thunderous applause, and when the cast and director came out for a Q&A, they were met with a beautiful standing ovation that was long and loud. Of the 11 years of my attending TIFF, there are only two other standing ovations that remind me of what I witnessed tonight: Argo and 12 Years of Slave. You make of that what you will. The Theory of Everything has all the ingredients to win the People's Choice Award this year, and be a formidable contender at the Oscars - definitely for Eddie, Felicity, best picture, directing, and adapted screenplay, and music. I dislike predicting Oscars so early,but this just goes to show you how impressed I am with The Theory of Everything, and now I want to re-read A Brief History of Time.

Grade: 5 Stars

Director James Marsh, and Felicity Jones.

Images from today at TIFF -

The 'P' on my ticket is Priority. First to be allowed into theatre. A Precious benefit and advantage in seat finding.


Celebrity interviews take place at the high-end Holt Renfrew store.

Fans line up anticipating stars arriving at Holt Renfrew for interviews

Tomorrrow's films are: The Equalizer with Denzel Washington, and Mr. Turner, with Timothy Spall, the Best Actor winner at Cannes.

The First Three Days of TIFF 2014

Welcome to TIFFland!
I have been so busy since I arrived in Toronto on Thursday morning that all I could do are basic tweets, post some images via Instagram, and write a few quick film review updates at Awards Watch. It is just past midnight Saturday night and I have seen five of my 14 films thus far. I am thrilled and happy to be in Toronto for my 11th TIFF trip and the organizers of TIFF continue to pull up all the stops and put on a great event for visitors and the talent.

I have seen Sunshine Superman(Thursday), The Clouds of Sils Maria, The Drop, Nightcrawler (all on Friday), Ruth & Alex, and The Face of an Angel (these two on Saturday). Both 'Sunshine' and 'Sils Maria' were great films, with the former being a documentary. It was nice seeing Juliette Binoche do a Q&A afterwards, she is very smart, talented, and lovely.

Juliette Binoche Q&A at The Clouds of Sils Maria

The Drop started over 25 minutes LATE, prompting me to exit it earlier so that I can go across town from Princess of Wales to the Elgin for Nightcrawler. Then a thunderstorm hit Toronto and I got soaking wet while standing out in the rain for an excessive amount of time outside of the Elgin.  My frustration with the surprise rain was heighten when I got inside the theater to see that 60% of the prime seats were RESERVED for sponsors and special people. This was ridiculous and highlighted a concern of mine regarding TIFF last year with each passing year revealing a pandering to sponsorship for special presentations and leaving the commoner movie fan relegated to the side and less ideal seats. The seating at the Elgin for Nightcrawler was so bad, I took a picture of the reserved seating.

A section of at least 300 seats reserved for sponsors - in this section alone.
With so many seats reserved for special guests and sponsor groups (in the balcony and on the lower level!), why not just have a private screening for those folks? This pisses me off! They get the best seats in the house! Along with being cold, wet, and desperately finding a good seat, I was very glad that Nightcrawler was a great film. Jake Gyllenhaal is a fine actor and he played a creepy sociopath with perfection. And on Saturday, the day started off Ruth & Alex, a wonderful, warm, funny, and sentimental film starring Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton. Afterwards, Morgan made a surprise visit and he was met with a standing ovation. It was really sweet.

Morgan Freeman of Ruth & Alex

Morgan, the writer of Ruth and Alex, and the director
And later in the day, I watched The Face of an Angel directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Kate Beckinsale and Daniel Bruhl. I thought the film was going to be about that Amanda Knox murder trial in Italy. But the plot was focused on Bruhl's screenwriter character who was assigned to write about the trial to make it into a movie. So it was a movie about a real-life crime being written into a movie. Bruhl's character suffers from drug abuse and becomes paranoid due to his writer's block during the trial. The applause after the film was tepid and I didn't stay after for the Q&A, even though I briskly walked into the theater with high anticipation for this film and the Q&A and sat in the front row. If I don't like a movie, I'm no longer interested in the Q&A.

Director and cast of Face of an Angel.
Although I have complained, again, about the HungerSeating Games shenanigans of TIFF, the organizers went all out in blocking off 4 blocks of King Street so that festival goers could have more room to walk around that area. It's safer, spacious, and allows more access for fans to gather and watch the celebrities on the red carpet. There's still not much improvement for all the actual ticket holders to watch the red carpet, and that's why it's all the more important for talent to do Q&As if just for the PR and audience interaction.




For Sunday, I am seeing The Riot Club and Theory of Everything. And on Monday, The Equalizer, and Mr. Turner. My next update will be posted later on Monday. Meanwhile, continue to follow my tweets and Instagram.



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My TIFF Time 2004-2014


It's TIFF time again and it's like Christmas in August when the Toronto Int'l Film Festival releases the final titles of films that will be screening at the annual event, as well as releasing the full film schedule.  A lot of speculation has been made this year about how the new rules for films that decide to screen at Telluride would have their TIFF scheduling affected. I must admit, the star wattage is slightly dimmer this year and there aren't, IMO, films that are saturated with the aroma of Oscar Bait this year, and that's good! The past few years in particular at TIFF have been a bit obnoxious with the bragging rights and all the major A-listers coming into town. There's no Michael Fassbender this year, and I'm perfectly fine with that. The man can't attend every year. So instead, I will be giddy in seeing Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game. There's no Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie this year (them in town is close enough to media apocalypse as it is), or Werner Herzog with Queen of the Desert, but that's ok too.

Overall I was pretty impressed with the film list for TIFF's 39th year, and I will be arriving in Toronto early in the day on Thursday, September 4th, and leave very late afternoon on Wednesday, Sept 10th - giving me seven full days to see some great movies! But I have learned my lesson from the past two years. I have seen on average of 17 or 18 films, and that's a bit too much. I love the city of Toronto so much, and doing shopping, and participating in the people watching, and spending time meeting up with my TIFFy friends. So I want to lighten the load of films I'll be seeing so that I'm not in the dark all day. Did you know that the theaters are almost like an ice box and I have to wear a sweater or scarf to keep from freezing? It's been messing up my sinuses big time, and that's a buzz kill.

Below is my tentative schedule filled with obligatory Anglophile themed films, a gay themed film,  and a mandatory Gala viewing of a Cronenberg film. I'm waiting for my host Glenn's schedule to be unveiled so we can compare. I may piggyback off of  him if he selects something I overlooked, but I think I covered the bases of the films I really want to see. To note, I will miss out on Foxcatcher because I prefer to see Reese Witherspoon in Wild. So that's really the only major schedule conflict. I do appreciate TIFF spreading out the love of the films because there are some great titles I wanted to see that screen hours after I leave. I'm sure one day I will be able to attend TIFF from start to end, but right now, I'm a regular working girl on a budget. This September will be the first in four years that I did not have college stuff messing with my mojo. I will be a completely free woman and I'm so excited!

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game

THURSDAY 9/4

The Clouds of Sils Maria - Princess of Wales @ 9:45pm (this will a long day because I have to hit the road at 4:15am to catch the train to Toronto - I may take a cat nap at my host's home)
See, just that quick I made a change. My body will knonk out around 11pm, so:

Sunshine Superman - Scotiabank - 7:00 pm

FRIDAY 9/5

The Judge - Roy Thompson Hall (I hate this place but I have no choice) 12:30 pm
The Clouds of Sils Maria - Tiff Bell Lightbox - 9:30 am
The Drop - Wales - 6:00 pm
Night Crawler - Elgin - 9:00 pm

SATURDAY 9/6

Ruth & Alex - Elgin - 10:30 am
The Riot Club - RTH - 9:30 pm
The Face of an Angel - Winter Garden - 8:00 pm

SUNDAY 9/7

Do I Sound Gay? - Ryerson - 12:00 pm
The Riot Club - Elgin - 11:30 am
The Theory of Everything - Wales -  6:00 pm

MONDAY 9/8

The Equalizer - Ryerson - 12:00 pm
Mr. Turner - Elgin - 5:45 pm

TUESDAY 9/9

Wild - Elgin - 11:30 am
The Imitation Game - Wales - 6:00 pm
Maps to the Stars - RTH - 9:30 pm

WEDNESDAY 9/10

Mommy - TIFF Bell Lightbox - 12:00 pm

This year is particularly special because it's my 10th anniversary (2004-2014) of attending the film festival in Toronto and I remember the first time I went there and my confusion and awe about everything. I only saw two films because I was very, very poor back then and unsure about attending a film festival. But I got the hang of it and was bitten by the festival bug and was hooked. I have visited Toronto in September each year ever since as I will continue to do so for the next 10 years and beyond. Looks like Champagne is on the menu for my opening night dinner on the town!


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Scenes from the New Apartment Neighborhood

This Saturday marks two whole weeks since I moved into my new apartment. After having AT&T come back out again and properly hook up my U-Verse Internet/phone service, I am now officially all set up in my  new place. Here are some pictures I took in the past week to show you the location of my apartment, and a walk on the property grounds and to a park that is next door. Yes, my new place is a marked improvement from whence I came from.

My apt is on the top floor end unit. Perfect.

That's my blue car, and the lake peeking through the trees.

A path on the South side of my building.

Which leads to a broader view of Ford Lake.


It's like a recreation park.



A path to a park next to my apartment community.

This path reminds me of walks in Killarney Nat'l Park (Ireland).

The 'beach' of Ford Lake. Can't swim, too many boats.

Boat launch. 
This is my new neighborhood. Much quieter and calmer than a busy intersection in the middle of a city. This is just a 15 minute drive away from the old apartment.