September 08, 2011

It’s TIFF Time!

If it’s the first Thursday after Labor Day, it must be time for this blog to veer abruptly into all Cinema Hut, all the time...or at least for the next eleven days, as my wife and I once again plunge into our endurance-challenging celluloid staycation, hitting the Toronto International Film Festival for all it’s worth. Tonight kicks off with a Werner Herzog death row documentary and Danish pre-pubescent delinquents, and ends on Sunday Sept 18th with a day 60% devoted to Japanese madness and mayhem. In between we’ve got Cuban zombies, Norwegian punks, and Korean Kazakhs. Provided all goes according to plan, I’ll be checking out new works from Johnnie To, Ann Hui, Shinya Tsukamoto, Michael Winterbottom, and other past favorites.

This is my 25th year doing the festival in earnest, which was back when it was called the Festival of Festivals. This seems mathematically impossible.  I guess they let two year olds attend back then. It was a different time.
Here’s the standard drill, if you’ve forgotten how it works around the Cinema Hut at TIFF time or are joining the festivities for the first time:

I’ll be writing capsule reviews of everything I see, and then gathering them up in order of preference in the festival’s aftermath. Until then, I’ll be giving provisional ratings to the films, which are bound to change as they settle into memory. Ratings range from 0 to 5, with 0 arousing my active ire and 5 ascending to rarefied heights of masterpiece-dom.

Interspersed between the capsules will be expansions on the reviews, stray observations, and whatever logistical complaining I fail to suppress.

If you’ve heard of a release that’s playing TIFF, chances are that it’s because the film will be coming out shortly and is getting a big PR push. I tend to skip films that have distribution in place in favor of those I might never get another shot at. So I’m not the one to ask about the Oscar-bait movies with the big stars in attendance.

Do you want to see these movies right away? Well, these titles are beginning their long journey through the distribution chain. Many will continue to appear on the film festival circuit over the next year or so. The high profile releases I tend not to schedule at the fest may appear in theaters as early as next week. Indies and foreign titles will score theatrical releases over the next year or so, and DVD releases after that. Some may appear only on DVD, or vanish completely.

While a few of last year’s films still await theatrical release, most have made it through the chain. So if you want to enjoy some fine cinema right away, you could do worse than to check out my recommendations from last year.

King of Dragon Pass Now on iOS

It’s time to party like it’s 1999, because the once and future tribe-building game King of Dragon Pass has returned like settlers to the kingdom of Sartar. What was once a beautiful computer game without a category has joined the handheld era as a game for iPhone and iTouch, also playable on iPad. Get ready for hours of addictive play as you advance the unique history of your Orlanthi clan, straight from Greg Stafford’s classic world of Glorantha, as also seen in RuneQuest and HeroQuest. Decide whether to build your cattle herds, or raid the cows of clans weaker than yours. Learn the secrets of the Orlanthi gods, entering a sacred realm to recapitulate their myths and gain their power. Puzzle out the agendas of helpful but disparate-minded advisers. Deal with crises ranging from concupiscent poets to angry beast men. A single game will more than justify the price—though you will likely fall prey to its compulsive replayability.

I was fortunate enough to work on this project as a scene writer; when my scenes started showing up with numbers in them, my credit was upgraded to designer. I’m told I wrote 450,000 words, which for comparison’s sake comes out to about three Ashen Stars or four and a half novels.

For this new iteration, A-Sharp supremo David Dunham has leavened the formerly cruel economic model, in which one could undergo the notorious herd size death spiral, with a dramatic rhythm. This furthers easier, more entertaining game play. My role in the port has been of a eagerly anticipating spectator. I’m happy (and addicted all over again) to revisit those scenes. Hint: be harsh with the ducks, but not too harsh.

The game’s core format, alternating resource shepherding with scenes of crisis management, is one I’d love to see explored with other settings. You could do a great Hollywood studio game with much the same framework. The one I’d really love to see would follow the history of the mob in America from before Prohibition to the present day. Here’s hoping that the game will finally get its commercial due in the new format, possibly allowing such blue-sky thoughts to inch closer to reality.

The original game became a phenomenon in Finland, for cultural reasons that seem both obvious and elusive. Now that a new era of gaming has dawned on portable devices, it’s time for the rest of the world to catch up and get building their shrines to Lhankor Mhy. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a feud to prosecute against the accursed, dog-loving Herani…