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The Dark Knight: David Cronenberg’s creepy obsessions say as much about us as they do about him

The Dark Night: David Cronenberg’s obsessions say as much about us as they do about him

In a way, David Cronenberg put me in the hospital. Last January, I attended a screening of a documentary by the filmmaker Ric Esther Bienstock about the black market buying and selling of human organs, called Tales From the Organ Trade. Bienstock had asked Cronenberg to narrate because his own films traffic in what she called “intelligent discomfort.” His enlistment was a wink, a good match for the director known as the Baron of Blood. Cronenberg, with his nasally, Vincent Price pitch, guides the audience through gruesome images of organ-emptied torsos and desperately ill patients who rinse their blood in whirring machines while awaiting new kidneys. His looming presence, associated with films about the sexual penetration of open wounds (Crash) and talking half-alien typewriters (Naked Lunch) and TV screens pulsating like O’Keeffe vagina flowers (Videodrome), doesn’t exactly lighten the mood. I fainted, then vomited, then went to the hospital in an ambulance.

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Cronenberg Filmography: how one Toronto director changed filmmaking and turned actors into megastars

The Cronenberg Filmography: How one Toronto director turns actors into megastars

Cronenberg on the set of A Dangerous Method with Viggo Mortensen (Image: Sony Pictures Classics and Entertainment One)

Over a 40-year obsession with mutants, fetishists and freaks, David Cronenberg has transformed from avant-garde boy wonder into one of Canada’s most famous director (you can read our feature profile of him here). Below, a film-by-film guide that reveals how Cronenberg influenced filmmaking the world over—by turning actors into megastars, challenging ratings boards and earning Oscar nominations.

See our guide to the Cronenberg effect »

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TIFF 2013: the buzziest movies and biggest stars in this year’s lineup

WikiLeaks thriller The Fifth Estate is opening this year’s festival (Image: Frank Connor)

Judging from the list of galas that TIFF CEO Piers Handling and artistic director Cameron Bailey announced earlier today, the buzzword for this year’s film festival is “earnest.” In a year dominated by dopey Adam Sandler sequels and giant robots fighting giant lizards, TIFF 2013 feels like the guy at the party warning about the hazards of overdrinking and the importance of a good night’s sleep. The big opening night gala, often reserved for slightly schlocky fare, will be The Fifth Estate, a tense-looking and very timely drama about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch with a bleach-job. Below, more of the high-profile films screening during TIFF.

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Silver Linings Playbook wins the People’s Choice Award at TIFF (despite the lame name)

TIFF differs from Cannes and Venice in that it’s not in a glamorous European city its major awards are chosen by audiences rather than by a jury. So, while critics and industry types raved about Argo, it was David O. Russell’s romantic comedy-drama Silver Linings Playbook that took home the BlackBerry People’s Choice Award—plus $15,000, which we imagine the celebrated director doesn’t exactly need, but will certainly appreciate. Ben Affleck will have to content himself with runner-up status (according to Roger Ebert, Oscar season will likely ease Affleck’s pain). Finally, Eran Riklis’s Zaytoun was second runner-up as crowd favourite. Here are the rest of the awards handed out this year at TIFF, and the films that won them:

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TIFF Teasers: Argo, a Ben Affleck movie that finally leaves Boston


After a string of terrible films in the early aughts (Gigli being the most egregious), Ben Affleck reinvented himself by co-writing and directing the critical and commercial successes Gone Baby Gone and The Town. The now credible star’s latest effort is Argo, a highly charged political thriller based on a so-strange-it-must-be-true story. Amid the chaos of Iran’s 1979 revolution, a CIA “exfiltration” specialist (Affleck) makes a plan to smuggle six trapped Americans to safety by having them pose as the crew of a fake Canadian sci-fi epic. Having proved himself capable of gritty tension and action, Affleck was able to attract a cast that is nothing short of an ensemble, featuring Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Victor Garber.

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TIFF 2012: secrets, celebrity viruses and a teenage badass in this year’s lineup of Canadian features

The Canadian films to earn spots at TIFF this year include a range of comedies, dramas and thrillers, but also some that aren’t so easily defined—for instance, Sarah Polley will screen her follow-up to Take This Waltz, the genre-bending Stories We Tell, and David Cronenberg’s son Brandon will show his first film, a horror-thriller called Antiviral that premiered at Cannes. Here’s the rest of the Canadian talent:

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Atom Egoyan taps fellow Canadian Ryan Reynolds for new film Queen of the Night

Ryan Reynolds (Image: Chris Jackson)

Atom Egoyan has an eye for gorgeously rendered depravity and kink, so we can’t help our befuddlement at his latest casting choice: fellow Canadian Ryan Reynolds, who seems about as vanilla as they come in Hollywood. Egoyan’s newest project, Queen of the Night, will feature Reynolds as a father who’s determined to find his daughter after realizing her abduction eight years ago may not have ended as tragically as he thought. Given Egoyan’s penchant for fanciful visuals and Reynolds’ action-ready torso, this just might be the happy marriage between avant garde and blockbuster we’ve been looking for. [Vulture]

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TIFF 2012: sexual abuse in the Catholic church, how to sell drugs and more subjects in this year’s Documentaries programme

The Documentaries programme at TIFF this year is packed full of interesting subject matter, from Ben Johnson’s record-breaking run at the 1988 Seoul Olympics (and the reality that he took steroids to achieve that feat) to Tomi Ungerer and his subversive art to moon worshippers. For those who want to step away from genre films and works of fiction, these 30 docs are a pretty safe bet.

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TIFF 2012: these 14 films are expected to defy conventions in this year’s Vanguard programme

There are films at TIFF with Hollywood polish, and then there are the Vanguard entries, which are meant to be cutting edge and genre-defying. This year, TIFF will host films by singer Peaches, directors  Soi Cheang and Michel Gondry, musician Ben Drew and more. According to TIFF, these entries are darker than the Midnight Madness selections and they have a “confrontational and transgressive core.” That does not sound like a very pleasant core at all.

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TIFF 2012: Alfred Hitchcock and Roberto Rossellini among directors in this year’s Cinematheque programme

TIFF isn’t just about bright, shiny and new blockbusters. Sure, it requires celebrities and world premieres to get international attention, but the festival’s emphasis continues to be on showing great films from around the world. This year’s Cinematheque programme features restored classics like Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, Roberto Rossellini’s Stromboli and Roman Polanski’s Tess. Tickets to all TIFF Cinematheque screenings during the festival are complimentary and will be distributed at TIFF Bell Lightbox on a first come, first served basis two hours before each film screening

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TIFF 2012: Finding Nemo 3D and more to premiere in this year’s TIFF Kids programme

TIFF isn’t just for adults, which is why there are always a few choice children’s films to check out during the festival. This year’s big gets are American films Finding Nemo 3D (apparently, it wasn’t visually compelling enough as-is and needs to be shown in 3D) and Hotel Transylvania, but Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey have also picked some great films from around the world to show the kids in the city there’s more out there than just Dreamworks, Disney and Pixar.

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TIFF 2012: 17 galas, 45 special presentations and a lot of star power at this year’s festival

This morning, TIFF CEO Piers Handling and Artistic Director Cameron Bailey announced TIFF 2012’s opening night gala, galas and special presentations. The big surprise? Genre film Looper, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, is opening the festival, and not Midnight’s Children as some had hoped. It appears that TIFF is continuing to have fun by “mixing things up,” evidenced by the fact that in the last two years, TIFF has opened with hockey musical Score: The Musical (2010) and U2 rock doc From The Sky Down (2011). But besides the surprising opening night gala, there’s a lot to be excited about, including the star power that could be coming through Toronto this September.

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The Argument: In Take This Waltz, Sarah Polley transforms Toronto into a brightly coloured urban fantasy

The Argument | Unreal City

The urban fantasy depicted in Take This Waltz is as as beguiling and instantly nostalgic as an Instagram pic (Image: Mongrel Media)

In the middle of directing Take This Waltz, recently released in theatres, Sarah Polley hit a snag. She desperately wanted to get Leslie Feist to record a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time” for the soundtrack. Given how in demand the singer-songwriter is, it was almost impossible to pin her down—even for Polley, a bona fide Canadian celebrity herself. And then one night, around 2 a.m., while Polley and her crew were shooting on a small street in Little Portugal, she heard someone call her name. It was Feist—she and fellow singer Howie Beck, both on bicycles, were on their way to Trinity Bellwoods Park to play glow-in-the-dark Frisbee. Polley asked about the Cohen cover, Feist agreed, and her version of the song is heard at a pivotal point in the film. “That kind of moment is very specific to Toronto,” Polley says now. “It’s a really special place that way.”

The whole scenario sounds like a parody of the lives of hip, young downtowners—the punch line for a skit from a rejected Torontolandia pilot, maybe. But it’s exactly the kind of bohemian and pleasantly casual community that Polley, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, set out to capture.

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VIDEO: Watch Mia Kirshner being terrorized in Toronto

Found footage films have become very popular these days, and Toronto is getting in on the action: 388 Arletta Avenue, which was shot in Toronto, is opening in theatres on Friday.  The film stars Nick Stahl and Toronto-born actress Mia Kirshner, and the story is very creepy. A stalker’s cameras are tracking every move they make, Stahl’s character gets weird phone calls from someone who says he can see him, and Kirshner looks pretty unhappy being taped up in what appears to be a closet. It’s a lot of action, which, in a found footage film, means the camera is very shaky and almost dizzying. It’s nice to see Stahl revisiting Gavin Strick–like roles, but we wish Kirshner would give comedy another shot.