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September 9, 2013 at 9:21 AM
TORONTO — Funny how the insane crowds at the Toronto International Film Festival never seem to show up for the 8:30 a.m. screenings. (An unfortunate side effect to watching a movie that early: You sit in the darkened theater, waiting for the movie to begin, and it can be a little tricky to keep the eyes open.) Anyway, a small but stalwart group of us gathered for an early screening of Alex Gibney’s documentary “The Armstrong Lie.” Gibney, a prolific and acclaimed documentarian (“Taxi to the Dark Side,” “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks” and many more), had been working on a film about cyclist Lance Armstrong’s 2009 “comeback,” when it suddenly became a different kind of film: a story about a lie, and the village it took to tell that lie, and the consequences when it was finally revealed. Gibney comments that he was one of many who found Armstrong, a cancer survivor and multiple winner of the Tour de France, inspiring and heroic — until the evidence that he was using banned performance-enhancing drugs became too hard to ignore. The film’s a little overlong (Gibney’s got a bit too much footage of the 20o9 Tour de France crammed in), but it’s a meticulous, thoughtful presentation of a story that should have lost its power to shock, but still does.
“People loved the beautiful lie,” says Gibney, pondering on how he and others were so taken in, “more than the ugly truth.” (more…)
September 8, 2013 at 7:47 PM
TORONTO — It’s Sunday, i.e. Day 4 of the Toronto International Film Festival, and the crowd control is, by consensus, out of control. For the hastily added additional screening of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity,” a TIFF volunteer told me, the first press person showed up at 9 a.m. — for a 12:15 screening. By the time I arrived, around 11-ish, a large clump of people had assembled, but weren’t in line, because the staffer said the line wouldn’t start until 11:15. But — how can you not start a line when a line is already there? Something to ponder, while standing in a vast assemblage of anxious people that is, by definition, Not a Line.
And “Gravity” is good — very good, even to this not-terribly-interested-space-travel viewer. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney (and yes, they need to be in that order, because this is Bullock’s movie, by a mile) play a pair of astronauts who must quickly abort a mission due to unexpected debris falling through space. Things go wrong — well, everything goes wrong — and “Gravity” becomes both a suspense thriller in a unique environment, and a moving meditation on the idea of home. I’ve never seen anything like this movie, which took Cuaron 4.5 years to make; both Bullock and Clooney are mesmerizing. See it in 3D IMAX, as I did, when it opens in Seattle October 4. (more…)
September 7, 2013 at 4:04 PM
TORONTO — Today I noticed, while waiting in line at the Scotiabank multiplex (where the majority of the Toronto International Film Festival’s press screenings are offered, and where today they were mysteriously serving pina colada-flavored popcorn), a crowd of orange-T-shirted TIFF volunteers, moving forward in a sort of wedge formation with their hands clasped. Inside the wedge: Susan Sarandon, holding a little dog. This is, indeed, a full-service festival, though no one’s offered me a wedge escort. Sarandon’s here with “The Last of Robin Hood,” about the last days of Errol Flynn; I don’t know what the dog’s gig was. Maybe he was in the movie too.
At this point in the festival (I’m up to double digits now in my movie total), you start noticing themes: For example, I’ve seen two movies with deeply upsetting scenes of torture (“Prisoners,” “The Railway Man”), two in which somebody bashes a wall with a hammer (“Prisoners” again, “Dallas Buyers Club”), two middle-age rom-coms (“The Love Punch,” “Enough Said”). That last film, the latest from Nicole Holofcener, features the next-to-final screen performance from James Gandolfini, who died earlier this year — and it’s a charmer. Cast opposite a very, very funny Julia Louis-Dreyfus (interesting to see two icons of television paired up like this), Gandolfini gives a sweet, wry performance as a divorced man brave enough to fall in love again. It’ll be in Seattle theaters later this month. At its end, the screen reads simply “For Jim.” (more…)
September 7, 2013 at 3:51 AM
TORONTO – A little bit of Seattle came to the Toronto International Film Festival last night, and got a standing ovation. Megan Griffiths’ “Lucky Them,” a sweet and wise romantic comedy about a rock journalist (Toni Collette) looking for the musician boyfriend who disappeared long ago, had its world premiere at the Isabel Bader Theater, and it’s definitely a crowd-pleasing hit. Cinematographer Ben Kutchins captures the night neon of Capitol Hill and the Market and turns it into a wonderland, and Collette and Thomas Haden Church (as a friend who aids her in her search – by making a documentary out of it) make a marvelous screwball comedy duo. I saw Griffiths at the post-screening party and she was having a wonderful time, as was writer/producer Emily Watchtel – who spent 11 years getting this project made. Expect distribution buzz to start soon, maybe even today.
“Lucky Them,” with its perfectly cast central pair, made an interesting bookend to today’s first film: “The Love Punch,” starring Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson as a divorced couple who must join forces to get back their pension money by stealing a diamond on the French Riveria. Yes, the plot’s that silly, and the writing and directing sloppy, and the whole thing utterly ridiculous – but Brosnan and Thompson have such chemistry and charisma that they almost make it all bearable. Almost. Collette and Church, though, show you what a difference a screenplay and a director make. (Though Wachtel noted, in the post-screening Q&A, that not all of “Lucky Them” was on the page. “You can’t script Thomas Haden Church,” she said.)
Also good: Ralph Fiennes’ “The Invisible Woman,” in which Fiennes directs as stars as Charles Dickens, in love with young actress Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones). Smart, elegantly filmed and thoroughly literary, it tells a little-known story with grace. Fiennes practically leaps off the screen as Dickens; Kristin Scott Thomas is haunting as Nelly’s stage mother.
And also good: my back-to-back interviews today, with Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Fifth Estate”) and Hugh Jackman (“Prisoners”), which had a few of my friends swooning at just the mention of their names, and had me racing down the sidewalk (they were, of course, at different hotels) and not minding a bit. For the record: Cumberbatch does not like the term “Cumberbitches” (which is what his female fans have called themselves) and has politely asked that they change it to “Cumber Collective” or something like that. And Jackman’s got another movie musical in the works (the story of P.T. Barnum, though it’s not “Barnum” the musical), and some day would love to remake “Carousel.”
Tomorrow: four movies in a row – how will they go? And will I be brave enough to sample the poutine they sell at the main festival multiplex? We shall see.
September 11, 2011 at 7:17 PM
TORONTO — Since last blogging, I’ve seen three movies, done four interviews, and nearly walked right into Darth Vader. First things first: Heading out after a screening yesterday at the Scotiabank, I vaguely registered the presence of a costumed Stormtrooper and didn’t think about it too much (it’ s a festival, weird stuff happens), then swerved to narrowly miss the aforementioned D.V., then noticed with amusement that the vast staircase that parallels the very long escalators leading into the theater was peppered with costumed folk: Spider-Man, Superman, various women in mysterious skimpy costumes. All this was for the premiere of the latest documentary from Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”): “Comic Con, Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope.” Haven’t seen the movie, but the spectacle gets thumbs-up; I’ve never been to Comic Con, but standing around in costume in an organized yet vague way sounds about right.
Nobody was in costume for the world premiere of Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton’s latest, “Your Sister’s Sister”; Shelton herself looked smashing on the red carpet in a gray dress, silver shoes and a wonderfully cobwebby shawl. A small, character-driven tale, in the same vein as “Humpday” (but less claustrophobically filmed), “Your Sister’s Sister” stars Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt as a pair of siblings and Mark Duplass (“Humpday”) as the man who unintentionally comes between them during a retreat at the sisters’ family’s island cabin. (It’s shot almost entirely in the San Juans — Orcas, I think, but will confirm tomorrow when interviewing Shelton — with a few beginning/ending scenes in Seattle.) Like “Humpday,” it s a drama filled with funny moments; like “Humpday,” it’s wonderfully acted, by a trio of performers who never hit a false note. Shelton told the enthusiastic audience at the Ryerson Theatre that the “vast majority” of the film was improvised by the actors (with the guidance of a 70-page “scriptment” she had written), and that the original idea came from Duplass — who called her up wanting her to cast him in another movie. (That’s Duplass, Shelton and Blunt in the photo, left to right, at a TIFF party at Soho House Pop Up Club. Taken by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images.)
Quite possibly “Your Sister’s Sister” will get picked up by a distributor at the festival — it’s a charmer and a crowd pleaser — but so far, according to Deadline.com, acquisitions at TIFF have been slow. Among the more high-profile titles, Steve McQueen’s “Shame” was picked up earlier and Lasse Hallstrom’s “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” (also starring Blunt) got acquired today by CBS Films, but not much other news. I’ve heard good things about WIlliam Farino’s comedy “The Oranges,” starring Hugh Laurie, Allison Janney and Oliver Platt, but it’s still without a buyer as far as I know; as is “Wuthering Heights” (which won a well-deserved cinematography award at the Venice Film Festival, announced yesterday).
Screenings for me have been catch-as-catch-can for Saturday and today, due to having so many interviews set — I’m choosing movies based on what fits into holes in my schedule, rather than arranging my schedule around the movies. This doesn’t always work out (“Elles,” a French film I saw yesterday with Juliette Binoche, was disappointingly dull, despite plenty of sex scenes), but sometimes it does: “Headhunters,” a Norwegian thriller based on the best selling novel by Jo Nesbo, was snappy, smart, and thoroughly bloody. The story of a corporate headhunter who moonlights as an art thief until a heist goes terribly wrong (an irresistible premise, no?), it’s already been acquired by Magnolia and should be in U.S. theaters in 2012.
More movies tomorrow, as my Toronto sojourn winds down (I’m heading home Tuesday night, by which time I devoutly hope the Seattle heat wave will be over). And I’m still keeping an eye on the mysterious stair-tripping situation at the Scotiabank, described yesterday: Today I watched no fewer than four people fall up the stairs in Cinema 11 at the Scotiabank (for the record: all men, all sensibly shod). And I overheard a woman in line explaining to friends that the reason her arm was in a sling and cast was because of a stumble on the stairs at a screening the day before. (Couldn’t tell if she was talking about the Scotiabank; I try to be discreet while eavesdropping but it doesn’t always serve me well.) Clearly this situation requires further monitoring — from the safety of my aisle seat where I’m trying to remain alert, in case I have to catch somebody. Who knew TIFF brought such peril?
September 9, 2011 at 8:35 PM
TORONTO — This is what happens when you get too busy at a festival and forget to double-check things. You head off in the early evening to see Andrea Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights” at the Ryerson Theatre, which is about a mile walk from your hotel but a little fresh air, after three previous movies that day, seems like a good idea. You show up, and note a busy red carpet with zillions of photographers yelling, “Jon, Jon, over here!” You go into the lobby to pick up your ticket from a supposedly waiting publicist and get a pleasant smile from a lovely blonde in a cocktail dress who you recognize as Jennifer Westfeldt, the charming actress, writer (“Kissing Jessica Stein”) and director of the TIFF comedy “Friends with Kids.” You realize that’s Jon Hamm, over on the red carpet, and you realize, like Dorothy in the Land of Oz, that you’re not in Kansas anymore, and certainly not in “Wuthering Heights.” You ascertain where you’re supposed to be, which is of course way too far to walk, and jump into a cab and tell the driver that you are an idiot who needs to be transported to the Bell Lightbox ASAP. He, nice man, does so.
It was a long detour just to get a smile from Jennifer Westfeldt and a very obstructed view of Jon Hamm, but oh well. (It also caused me, in the taxi, to ponder the version of “Wuthering Heights” that these two would make; some very cheery sunny version in which Heathcliff is just mildly cranky; sort of like Don Draper on a Monday.) Anyway, Andrea Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights” is neither sunny nor cheery or romantic — in other words, it’s wonderfully true to Emily Bronte’s book, which is not about romance but about dark, dangerous passion. It’s an often violent movie, and an often beautiful one; shot on the Yorkshire Moors where the mist seems to be a character in the film. Those looking for a pretty period piece will probably flee the theater early (several did tonight); those looking for a brutally honest depiction of a brilliant, disturbing novel will find it. As she did in “Fish Tank,” Arnold uses mostly inexperienced actors here, to good effect; there’s not a lot of dialogue, as those moors do a lot of the talking.
On a lighter note, “The Artist” screened this morning, and it was a joy. This movie, a hit at Cannes, is Michel Hazanavicius’ ode to 1920s Hollywood, shot in black and white and mostly with dialogue (though the music is a kick, particularly when it suddenly turns into Bernard Herrmann’s achingly beautiful score from “Vertigo”) It’s the story of a silent-film actor (Jean Dujardin) dismayed by the advent of talkies and watching a beautiful ingenue (Berenice Bejo) make her way to fame. Love, pathos, tap-dancing, knockout cinematography, a very photogenic dog, and the kind of feel-good ending that has you dancing out of the theater — what’s not to love?
“The Artist” should hit Seattle theaters in November; don’t miss it. “Wuthering Heights” doesn’t yet have distribution, but I’m keeping an eye out. The first big acquisition of the festival turned out to be Steve McQueen’s “Shame,” a drama about sexual compulsion starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. Hasn’t even screened here yet, but Fox Searchlight has scooped it up, despite what’s sure to be an NC-17 rating, with buzz about a possible Oscar campaign for Fassbender (who was first noticed by a lot of us in Arnold’s “Fish Tank”). I’m off now, to finish re-reading “Wuthering Heights” in preparation for a chat with Andrea Arnold tomorrow; more (including reports on the other movies I saw today, “The Skin I Live In” and “A Dangerous Method” later.
(Photo: “The Artist,” Jean Dujardin as George Valentin and Berenice Bejo as Peppy Miller in Michel Hazanavicius’s film/The Weinstein Company.)
September 8, 2011 at 8:40 PM
TORONTO — At the first screening I attended today, the first day of the Toronto International Film Festival, something unthinkable happened in this supremely well-run fest: a misstep. As a long, long line of press and industry types was being herded into Cinema 1 at the Bell Lightbox (the splashy, enormous, and beautifully designed new year-round base of the festival, complete with five cinemas and taking up an entire city block downtown), one of the volunteers noticed that the house lights weren’t turned on, and people were stumbling around in the dark. “Could you all just wait?” she said pleasantly. Nope — everybody just kept on marching, into the darkness, waving their cellphones like torches in a mine, tripping and lurching. “They’re all disobeying!” said the volunteer, who couldn’t help laughing. A little darkness, it turns out, isn’t about to stop determined TIFFgoers.
It’s nice to be back at this vast but welcoming festival, with a new downtown setting but all of its trademarks intact: the army of smiling volunteers in orange TIFF T-shirts; the way TIFF venues always seem to feature people decoratively standing around for no reason, like they’re waiting for a camera that hasn’t shown up yet. This morning I saw a young woman at the foot of the escalator at the Lightbox, dressed in a teeny-tiny minidress and very high-heeled shoes, just standing. An hour later I went by again and there she was, still just standing, but now she’d swapped out her shoes for flats. Very sensible, I guess.
Maybe she was waiting for Brad Pitt and George Clooney, but they were only present on the big screen (today,anyway; I think they arrive tomorrow for red-carpet galas). And both acquitted themselves like the movie stars they are. Pitt stars in “Moneyball,” a smart comedy about the business of major-league baseball, directed by Bennett Miller (“Capote”). It’s a sports movie without a lot of sports in it, but with a lot of guys sitting around engaging in funny dialogue and spitting into cups. Pitt plays Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane as an appealing mixture of laid-back and stressed-out; he’s trying to crack the secret to fielding a winning team, with young statistics expert Pete Brand (Jonah Hill) at his side. It’s not quite “Bull Durham” — my favorite baseball movie — but Pitt and Co. have a winner on their hands, and the movie’s full of moments that made me laugh out loud., and a few that just made me smile, which is infinitely more complicated. (I loved Pitt’s response to a grateful player who announces that he’s praying for Beane and his family: a half-smile, a shrug, and a breezy “No problem!”) (Credit for photo of Pitt and Hill, above, is Melinda Sue Gordon.)
Very different, but just as entertaining, was “The Ides of March,” with Clooney as director, co-writer, and star — well, kind of the star, as he generously hands the movie to Ryan Gosling. It’s a political thriller, based on Beau Willimon’s play “Farragut North” (I’ve never seen it; anyone?) about a Presidential campaign facing a crisis. Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman (who’s also in “Moneyball” as a disgruntled manager) and Paul Giamatti are wonderfully cast as a trio of political operatives, each with his own degree of obsession, and Clooney is almost alarmingly Presidential as a candidate who seems too good to be true. Snappy, swift, and smart; and even though I often could see the path the movie was travelling on, I was happy to walk it, right down to an enigmatic final long close-up that reminded me of “Michael Clayton” (seen here at TIFF, with Clooney, a couple of years ago).
And, as always, part of the fun of TIFF is chatting with people in line. Today I had a pleasant conversation with a woman who told me she was a festival donor, and that she planned to see 50 films. I blinked; remember, this festival isn’t SIFF, but is only ten days long. Sure enough, she showed me her schedule: five films a day, for ten days. I asked her if she lived nearby in town, and she pointed upwards. “Pardon me?,” I said, thinking, what, this lady lives in heaven? No, turns out she lives in movie heaven: She owns a condo directly above the Lightbox — and bought it, she said, “so I can go to movies in my pajamas.” I believe her. Sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it?
Also saw today a Major Movie that I’m embargoed from blogging about until Saturday, because that’s when the official press screening is. So I’ll just say that it was great, and you can wonder until Saturday. An excellent first day; and now, to bed, with four movies tomorrow. Talk to you then.