Toronto International Film Festival

tiff14How long after an event can you write up your thoughts and still have it be relevant? I think I missed that window for recapping my first Toronto International Film Festival experience, but since the Vancouver International Film Festival starts tomorrow, and many of the same films are showing there, I’m doing it anyway.

I saw nine films over the 11 days of TIFF (I’m totally going to do better next year), and in totally subjective order from most to least enjoyed:

Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal is creepy as fuck in his role as an ambitious petty thief who develops  an eye for capturing seedy if-it-bleeds-it-leads TV footage. This film will be of particular interest to anyone working in media, or with an opinion on the current state of local TV news.

Kill Me Three Times

Simon Pegg as the gun-toting bad guy? Yes please. A small Australian beach town is full of secrets and lies and shady characters, with intersecting storylines and jumps in time with a bit of a Pulp Fiction vibe. Violent and funny in the best possible way.

Laggies

Yeah, it’s a rom-com, but with some surprising depth. Keira Knightley plays a woman whose friends are getting married, having babies, starting businesses — while she’s still emotionally stuck in high school. And Sam Rockwell is pretty damn sexy as the father of the teenage girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) that Keira befriends while trying to figure out her life.

Cake

I’m not typically a Jennifer Aniston fan, but she impresses in this role as a not-easy-to-like woman dealing with chronic pain who fixates on the suicide of a woman from her support group (played by Anna Kendrick). Perhaps a long shot, but this might be the role that gets Aniston an Oscar nom.

Men, Women and Children

According to Jason Reitman in his remarks prior to the screening, this movie “is about the Internet and how it changed our sex lives.” But it really felt more about alienation in the digital age — why can we tweet and text about our intimate thoughts, but not say anything real to the loved one sitting right in front of us? Alas, the movie was almost too ambitious — it felt sprawling, and could have benefited from trimming back one or two of the many storylines. But Ansel Elgort continues to make me want to cuddle him, and Jennifer Garner continues to make me want to punch her in the face.

The Equalizer

A pretty standard action movie, but it has Denzel Washington taking on Russian bad guys… with a nail gun… in slow motion… as a sprinkler rains down. That alone was worth the price of admission. Chloë Grace Moretz has a much smaller role than I expected, but it was fun… right up until the fire alarm went off in the movie theatre just before the final action sequence.

A Second Chance

What happens when a good cop commits an illegal and immoral act for the right reasons? Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (best known for his role as Jamie Lannister on Game of Thrones) shines in the lead role in this Danish film. Hopefully this movie makes it on to Netflix someday.

Tusk

This was a weird movie — parts of it were clever, parts of it were fucked up. I enjoyed the pre- and post-movie talk with Kevin Smith — and in particular his story about the origins of the idea for the film — far more than the movie itself. He’s a hilarious dude.

Cut Bank

The only true disappointment of all the films I saw at TIFF, Cut Bank was pretty blah. According to IMDB, the screenplay “made the 2009 black list as one of the best un-produced screenplays in Hollywood” — but I think it would have been better off staying that way. Liam Hemsworth can not carry a movie, and what seemed on paper to be a pretty awesome supporting cast (Billy Bob Thorton, John Malkovich, Bruce Dern) turned out to be lacklustre. Admittedly, I may have nodded off at a few points during the film so perhaps there were some moments of brilliance I missed… but I doubt it.

There were a great many other movies that I really wanted to see during TIFF but due to scheduling (stupid work hours) or popularity (stupid pre-sale to TIFF members), I missed out on, such as Foxcatcher, Hector and the Search for Happiness, and The Imitation Game.

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Race Report: Emperor’s Challenge 2014

Runners tend to obsess over their ‘personal best’ times, but I’m ridiculously proud of my ‘personal worst’ time on the Emperor’s Challenge. With an official distance of 20km, it’s just shy of a proper half marathon, but my finish time was a good two hours slower than my best half time of the past year. What made this race special was that I ran it with my 66-year-old mother — her first (and unless I can somehow sweet-talk her into joining me for a RunDisney event, last) race EVER!

The Emperor’s Challenge takes place on Babcock Mountain, south of Tumbler Ridge, BC — about an hour south of my parents’ farm. With a total elevation gain of 2,000 feet from the start line to the summit before you head back down to the finish, you get some amazing views to distract you from the uphill slog.

Going into the race, my main goals were to 1) finish within the 4:30 course time limit, and 2) not be last. (And secretly I hoped to pace my mom to an age group medal, but alas, northern BC has some fast old broads in the 65+ Super Masters division.) My mom and I crossed the finish line — hand in hand — at 4:17:12! Cutting it a bit close, but I’ll take it!

One good thing about running a half marathon at half my usual pace — lots of time to stop for photos:

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Trash into Treasure?

What do you do with all the stuff you’ve amassed over the years, when it no longer holds any sentimental value but isn’t quite ready for the trash bin either?

One of the downsides of downtown condo living is that holding a traditional garage sale is logistically complicated. And the online sites like Craigslist and Kijijijiwhatever tend to be more hassle than they’re worth… too much back-and-forth with strangers who want to haggle and then never show up for pick up anyway. Donations to charity-supporting thrift stores are another option, but if given the choice, I like knowing that the items in question are going somewhere they’re wanted… not just tossed into a bag that maybe will get sorted and priced and maybe bought but maybe tossed into the trash after all if they don’t find a home.

So, as part of a general clean-up of my apartment and storage locker, I’m going to post photos of various items that need a new home. For the most part, they’re going to be free to anyone I know that actually wants them and can pick them up in Yaletown; a few exceptions will be noted…

BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS

ASSORTED SPORTS MEMORABILIA

FREE KNICK-KNACKS AND PADDY-WHACKS

BIG-TICKET ITEMS

I’m so sad about this one, but I’m selling my almost-brand-new KitchenAid Architect Series food processor. It’s got a 13-cup bowl with a 4-cup mini bowl, tons of different accessories for slicing, dicing, grating, whipping, mixing, et cetera. Full specs here. I’ve only used it about 5 times, but quickly realized that it’s just too big for my small kitchen. Retails for $400CDN + tax — I’m selling mine for $200.

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Pretty purple John Fluevog boots, Adriana Lunas, women’s size 8 (they fit snug):

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Only wore them a few times, and the boots are in great condition except for some light scuffing around the toes because I’m a klutz who can’t walk up stairs without banging my toes.

These boots sell for $299 brand new at the Fluevog stores. Original specs and description here.

Also selling this barely-worn men’s leather jacket, Armani Exchange, originally $400, selling for $100:

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If you’re interested in any of the above items, email or tweet me. More will be added as I work my way through storage.

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Istanbul (not Constantinople)

After spending three weeks in Russia for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, I met my husband at the airport in Istanbul for a week of exploring the city. We absolutely loved Istanbul, and are already thinking of a return trip with more time to check out the rest of the country.

First stop, the Aya Sofya. Although it was partially under refurbishment, it was still awe-inspiring. Albeit full of stray cats.

Next up was the Blue Mosque. The photos don’t do it justice.

And the Topkapi Palace, the former residence of the Ottoman Empire Sultans.

We visited the Grand Bazaar as well as the smaller Spice Bazaar, eating a lot of Turkish Delight and having our first sip of Turkish coffee.

And speaking of delicious treats, oh my goodness, the food in Istanbul was amazing… especially coming off of three weeks of unappetizing workforce meals in Sochi. It didn’t matter if it was a street food donair, a fancy sit-down restaurant or a neighbourhood lokanta, every meal was a delicious adventure. Especially when the menu wasn’t in English — more than once we just pointed at what looked good, and were never disappointed.

Even the breakfast buffet at our hotel was extraordinary. How many places have a slice-your-own-fresh-honeycomb station?

After three nights in a fancy-schmancy boutique hotel right in the heart of the old city, we switched to a lovely Airbnb apartment in the neighbourhood of Beyoglu, a conveniently short walk from Istiklal Caddesi (the main pedestrian street)… and a Starbucks.

The north end of Istiklal Caddesi was also where there had been major protests and riots in Istanbul over the prior few weeks. We did see a few peaceful but heated protests during our time in Istanbul, and a heavy presence of riot police. On our final night in Istanbul, we detoured off of Istiklal Caddesi for a few blocks when things seemed like they were about to get out of control, and when we went back on the main street, the faint scent of tear gas was noticeable.

One of my favourite things to do in Istanbul was just meandering down some of the winding (and steep!) streets, checking out the different neighbourhoods and districts.

Have you been to Turkey? Where should we visit on the return trip?

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Wrapping up Sochi

Two months after leaving Sochi, I finally get around to writing a final wrap-up post on my experiences at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Those last few days in Sochi were an amazing whirlwind. After the excitement of watching the women’s gold medal game followed by some very interesting Russian karaoke, I had a day off to explore the mountain venues of the Krasnaya Polyana region. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate.

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It was very rainy in the mountains, and I didn’t particularly feel like paying big bucks to stand around in the mud for a few hours at the extreme park, so after a quick look at a few venues, I ended up taking the bus back down to Adler.

A former colleague from Vancouver 2010 was now working at the speed skating venue, and she arranged an upgrade pass for me to attend the evening’s team pursuit event. Turns out that long-track speed skating isn’t as much fun as a spectator as short track.

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Afterwards, I popped back out to the medals plaza where Canadian ski cross athletes Marielle Thompson and Kelsey Serwa were receiving their gold and silver medals.

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The Games community can be such a small world sometimes. A friend-of-a-friend who was working for NBC in Sochi turned out to be the son of a former colleague, so we met up for a few minutes at the MPC… and he snuck me out a coffee from the not-so-secret NBC Starbucks. I was practically giddy.

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Then it was time to work the men’s ice hockey bronze medal game. And by work I mean take some cool photos around the venue before the game, sit in the first row to watch the game, and then record some awesome quotes from Teemu Selanne during the post-game interviews in the mixed zone.

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And then there was the day that these three weeks in Russia had led up to – really, the culmination of a year of the volunteer application process and planning. The gold medal game. Back in 2010, I didn’t even get to watch the men’s gold medal game on TV – I was on a bus coming down from Whistler when Crosby scored the winning goal – but now I was right there in the thick of things.

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I had my iPad with me during the game, and thanks to Twitter rumours I was able to tip off my ONS reporter colleagues about the Backstrom suspension for suspected doping, so they could to jump into action and be ready to report that breaking story. After a couple of shot-off-the-crossbar moments, I also tweeted what ended up being my most popular comment during the entire Games:

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Following the game, we headed down to the mixed zone for the final time. I gathered quotes from Daniel Alfredsson, Sidney Crosby and Carey Price, and input them into the Info2014 system.

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And then after making sure the team had enough people that they wouldn’t miss me, bailed on the post-game press conference because I HAD A TICKET TO THE CLOSING CEREMONY.

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The friend who I’d helped out at the figure skating venue had emailed me early that day: she had an extra ticket to the closing and would I like it? Um, yes, please.

I couldn’t get many decent photos due to the dim lighting, but loved the ceremony.

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And then that was it. The Games were over. There were high points and low points, and don’t even get me started on the actions of Russia in the past two months. But when people ask me about my time in Sochi, I always say that I had the experience I wanted: I spent three weeks in Russia, had lots of fun, got to see several different sporting events and worked at some of the most exciting hockey games ever.

On departure day, my roommate and I decided to pop back into Olympic Park one last time, in an attempt to get our photos taken at the Olympic Rings without anyone else in the background. Well, that didn’t work out as planned. As we waited patiently for a few people to get out of the way, all of a sudden a big group of people in red-and-white uniforms showed up. Hey, that’s Evgeni Plushenko. And huh, these are all the Russian medalists. Cool. Hmm, what’s with the five black vehicles pulling up so quickly in the middle of the park? Is that the secret service? Oh look, it’s President Putin.

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So yeah, I inadvertently broke my promise to my mother to ‘stay away from that Putin guy’ because there he was right in front of us.

After that little bit of excitement, my roommate and I walked back along the seashore to the volunteer village, stopping to dip our feet into the Black Sea.

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до свидания, Sochi! I’ll be really curious to see what happens to the area and the venues over the coming years. Will there be a legacy of the Games for the people of Russia, or will we see photos like these from Sarajevo down the line?

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Hockey Night in Sochi

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The week has just flown by in Sochi. I can’t believe I’ve just got three more days before I say “до свидания” to Olympic Park and my new friends.

I spent last night watching the gold medal game for women’s hockey, and honestly, I’m not sure if the men’s game tonight will compare, no matter the outcome.

Being in the stands — and seated so near the many Canadian athletes who came out to cheer — was unbelievable, and ranks as one of my favourite hockey experiences. Seeing Patrick Chan and Scott Moir freaking out when the tying goal was scored was quite possibly the cutest thing ever, and then the entire contingent of Canadian Olympians in the stands rushed over to serenade the women with O Canada. So proud of our athletes.

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A few more hockey-relates photos and highlights from my week:

The men’s hockey game between Russia and Finland was intense. The Russian fans were the loudest I’ve ever heard — the atmosphere far surpassed any NHL game I’ve ever attended, including the Stanley Cup Finals, Game 7. It was tough working the mixed zone and press conference afterward, seeing the Russian players and coach just at a loss to explain their early exit from the tournament.

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It was definitely more exciting than the Canada versus Latvia game later that night. I was off shift but was able to change out of uniform and grab a seat to cheer on Canada. Seriously impressive performance by the Latvian goalie.

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During a morning off, we checked out the Russian Fan Experience, where you can get photo ops representing each of the Olympic sports. Maybe if the Russian team had called me up, the outcome would have been different. Couldn’t have been worse, right?

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From Russia with Love

No flowers, no chocolates, but I did get a day off for Valentine’s Day.

Earlier in the week, I stood in a slow-moving line at one of the ticket booths in order to buy a ticket to see the Friday morning curling draw. I really wanted to watch Canada play Norway, aka Team Awesome Pants.

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Sadly, Norway’s good pants must have been in the wash, since they were wearing some still-loud but not as stylish floral pattern.

I am by no means a curling expert, but have tried the sport a couple of times, attended the World Championships when they were in Victoria as well as a Continental Cup, and worked as mix zone supervisor for wheelchair curling during the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. But I think I just confused the poor American couple who asked for help understanding how the scoring worked.

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Canada made some amazing shots to beat Norway, but the really exciting sheet turned out to be Sweden v China (who were undefeated after 4 games by this point). The arena never did fill up, and all of the Canadian and USA fans left after their games were over, but Sweden v China was a nail-biter that went to extra ends, with Sweden eventually emerging triumphant.

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After a bit of shopping and pin trading (a long-standing Olympic tradition), i headed over to Iceberg once again to help out with the mix zone for the men’s free skate. Wow, I thought ice hockey mixed zones were intense but they’re a walk in the park compared to figure skating. I can’t even imagine how much crazier it would have been if Plushenko had stayed in the competition.

The highlight of the night — and I will count this as my Valentine’s Day gift from the universe — was riding the bus back to the Main Press Center at 1am and realizing that ohmygod that’s Kurt Browning on the bus with us! My inner fangirl was jumping up and down, but outwardly I remained calm and professional — unlike a few other volunteers during the competition who did ask the competing athletes for autographs/photos/hugs in the mixed zone. A big no-no!

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