TORONTO — The woman looked both earnest and concerned as she corralled a busy Toronto International Film Festival staffer outside the gala opening-night screening. “My daughter wants to take a picture of Benedict Cumberbatch,” she asked urgently. “Where should she stand?”
Yes, the Cumberbitches (and no, I didn’t make that term up) were out in force tonight for Bill Condon’s “The Fifth Estate,” including a couple of nice girls in front of me in line who’d gotten the tickets from one of their dads and were sure the movie would be awesome because Benedict Cumberbatch was in it. It wasn’t bad but wasn’t quite awesome — “The Fifth Estate” is a sometimes awkward mixture of history and biopic, more about the events swirling around Julian Assange than about the man himself. (As played by the talented Cumberbatch, he’s practically a ghost; he seems awfully good at being invisible.)
But it was fun being part of TIFF’s opening night (in previous years I’ve gone to press screenings for the opening-night gala, rather than the public one), which also included a touching tribute to Roger Ebert, long a regular at this festival. His widow Chaz Ebert accepted a plaque, commemorating that there’s now a seat named for Roger in the Bell Lightbox’s Cinema 1. I’m going to guess that it’s on the aisle. I didn’t personally see any celebrities, but the red-carpet was broadcast on the big screen inside the theater, so all of us got to see Dan Stevens (who’s got a small role in ‘Fifth Estate’) apologize for leaving “Downton Abbey” (too late, Dan; I’m going to need a personal apology), and the ‘Batch, as the paper here calls him, looking swanky in an old-school tuxedo.
It was a day of lines, starting with the line to pick up my press/industry pass (by my highly scientific calculations, industry outnumber press by at least four to one here), at a downtown hotel that for reasons I cannot possibly begin to explain has an enormous photo in its lobby of Johnny Depp dressed as a janitor. Not that I have anything against Johnny Depp, or janitors, but, well . . . Then off I went to a screening of Denis Villeneuve’s revenge drama “Prisoners.” I was thinking, from the plot description, that this sounded like a standard Hollywood story, much like Liam Neeson’s “Taken” movies, but I was quite wrong — this is a dark, artful, and thoroughly upsetting examination of the effect of a crime (the kidnapping of two little girls) on a family, and how rage can destroy a person from the inside out. Hugh Jackman is uncannily good as the father of one of the girls, and Viola Davis, as always, is devastating in a role that’s too small. The tone is much like “Mystic River,” but even darker; this one will stay with me for a while.
Also still on my mind, for happier reasons: “Tim’s Vermeer,” a charming documentary from Penn & Teller. Teller (the silent one) directs; Penn (the chatty one) is a producer and the film’s on-screen narrator. It’s the story of a delightful obsession: Tim Jenison, a friend of the filmmakers, has devoted years of his life to studying the work of Vermeer and trying to understand how the Dutch master was able to paint so photographically; ultimately, his goal is to “paint a Vermeer” himself. He does so, and you won’t be able to look away. Great fun; I suspect this will be a big hit when it opens theatrically next year. (A big hit for a documentary, that is.)
Tomorrow: Ralph Fiennes’ “The Invisible Woman,” Megan Griffiths’ made-in-Seattle “Lucky Them,” and a few wild cards. And fingers crossed that I don’t again end up next to the woman I sat next to for “Prisoners,” who not only talked to herself throughout the film (“Oh no!”) but answered her phone and chatted a bit during a crucial part of the drama, got up and left, came back, and then when the movie was over asked me to explain what she missed. Sigh. I pretended not to know what she was talking about, which I’ll admit wasn’t very nice of me. Here’s hoping for quieter audiences tomorrow. More later.