Seal of Approval Additions from TIFF 2011

About a week ago I surreptitiously put up a new page called ‘Entertainment Maven Seal Approval’. This is the best-of-the-best and the heart of what Entertainment Maven is all about. Post to post, the quality of the products reviewed will vary greatly, but clicking on the seal of approval trims the fat, even very positive reviews are excluded if the product is not GREAT.

Below are my seal of approval additions from TIFF 2011. Also, I realize the irony that the seal of approval does not have an actual visual seal, but I am graphically inept. I will try to change this in the future. Click on the title of the film to be linked to my review.

On to the films!

A Letter to Momo

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An enchanting animated film that was seven years in the making and doesn’t disappoint. The characters feel real and Momo’s animated facial expressions have to be some of the best I have ever seen.

Alois Nebel

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A haunting tale from the Czech Republic. The combination of black-and-white and rotoscope animation creates a gloomy atmosphere will not be easily forgotten by viewers.

Kill List

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One of the most disturbing and shocking films I have ever seen.

The Raid

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The use of a little known martial arts style called Silat provides the genre with a breath of fresh air. Sure to go down as one of the greatest action films ever made.

Sleepless Night

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Cops and robbers all night long in a Parisian night club.

You’re Next

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Scary and funny, always a difficult combination to pull off, but one of the most enjoyable when it is done right. You’re next pushes all the right buttons.

Alois Nebel Review (TIFF 2011)

Alois Nebel Poster

Tomás Lunák’s Alois Nebel was my final screening at TIFF 2011, a whole five days ago. I was maintaining a frantic pace of screening and reviewing, but it caught up with me in the end. I picked this film on a whim, because I am a fan of animation, especially foreign animation, and it looked dark enough to be up my alley. Alois Nebel was not the film noir murder mystery that I thought it would be, in fact it turned out to be something completely different. The film absorbed me from start to finish and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. It’s not that the film is disturbing or keeping me awake at night, it’s just a fine example of something different, executed almost flawlessly.

The story is set in 1989 and follows a middle-aged train dispatcher, named Alois Nebel, who works in Czechoslovakia, close to the border of Germany and Poland. Haunted by memories of the end of the cold war, when he was a small child, Alois seems to find little joy in life, however perusing the train schedules seem to keep him distracted. After losing his job and being admitted to a sanitarium for treatment, two chance in encounters, one with a mute man who has a hidden agenda, and the other with a kind widow named Kveta, have given Alois’s life some sort of meaning again.

The film is entirely in black-and-white and uses rotoscope animation, meaning that actual live-action footage was shot and drawn over top of using computer animation (rotoscope animation could also be done by hand). This unique process gives the film the fluidity of a live-action film, while allowing the director the almost limitless degree of artistic freedom that comes with animated projects; the scope of the artistic vision is only limited by the imagination and skill of the director and animators. Check out A Scanner Darkly for another example of rotoscope animation. The combination of black-and-white and rotoscope animation is stunning to watch, and immediately sets the sombre mood of the film.

None of the characters seem to be very joyous in the film, and the setting seems oppressive. These points are hammered home by the barrels of hard liquor and cartons of cigarettes that the characters consume throughout the film, and the numerous interactions with authority figures, such as soldiers, guards, sanitarium orderlies, doctors, etc. One does not immediately identify with Alois, but as we learn about his past, and the nature of his country in 1989, it is hard not to feel for the man.

I don’t feel comfortable commenting too deeply on the quality of the voice acting during the film, as it was in a foreign language, but I can say that the voice acting never detracted from the experience, and seemed convincingly emotional at the right times.

Alois Nebel is certainly a bit of a depressing film, but there are fulfilling moments. I’m having a difficult time explaining why I am still thinking about the film. The characters, story and visuals certainly possess a sort of ‘je ne sais quoi’ that must be experienced rather than discussed. Alois Nebel will inevitably be embraced by fans of art-house and foreign films, but I urge adventurous viewers to check it out when they are feeling like a totally different experience from mainstream North American cinema. I still feel haunted by the pasts of the downtrodden characters in Alois Nebel, but also stunned into silence by the otherworldly beauty of a lonely train, rolling loyally down the track.

TIFF 2011 – Just Around the Corner!

It’s almost time for one of the best film festivals on the planet! If you’ve been following Entertainment Maven then you know that I will be covering/reviewing the entire Midnight Madness segment of the festival, that focuses on wicked, weird and wonderful films from around the world. Midnight Madness features the programming of Colin Geddes, who in the past has unveiled exciting horror, martial arts, action and black comedy films. If you like to stay up late, experience a few thrills and don’t mind being shocked once in a while, then Midnight Madness is probably for you.

In addition to the Midnight Madness program, I will also be attending and reviewing seven other screenings, for a total of 17 films in 11 days! Gasp! Make sure to check in with Entertainment Maven throughout the festival (September 8 – 18) to see which films impressed and which ones fell flat on their faces. Below is a list of the seven additions to my lineup. Check out the Midnight Madness preview here. If you need to buy tickets or just want to see what is still available, then check out the TIFF website.

Let the madness begin!

388 Arletta Avenue


A thriller set in Toronto, in which a married couple are unknowingly under constant surveillance. Will the privileged couple discover the true nature of the voyeurs or will they fall victim to their own paranoia? The interesting thing about this film is that every single shot is from either a surveillance or handheld camera.



A film that promises to transcend the horror genre by taking a fresh look at the primal fear of the unknown. Clive Owen plays a father who cannot protect his daughter from a faceless intruder named Hollow Face. The film blurs the line between real and imaginary as the family searches for a way to protect themselves from their unseen assailant.

The Moth Diaries


A vampire story set in an all-girls boarding school. Like Intruders, The Moth Diaries will walk the fine line between the real and the imaginary.

Alois Nebel


This is my dark-horse pick of the festival, an animated film out of the Czech Republic. The trailer for Alois Nebel just oozes atmosphere. The film follows a troubled train dispatcher haunted by memories of the Cold War.

The Sword Identity


Although it will probably contain some excellent traditional fighting scenes, The Sword Identity is being billed as a philosophical or historical essay on screen.

From up on Poppy Hill


From Goro Miyazaki, the son of the great Hayao Miyazaki, comes the director’s second feature length film. From up on Poppy Hill tells the story of a group of teens that stage a protest in an attempt to save their clubhouse from being demolished, in order to make way for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

A Letter to Momo


Seven years in the making, A Letter to Momo is a hand drawn animated tale about supernatural events on a small island and young Momo’s attempt to find the source of the disturbances.




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