Day One of the Toronto Film Festival
I don’t know if it’s Canadians, Hollywood types, or all the Foreign filmmakers, buyers and fans but they sure do like to smoke up here. Outside every movie theater, hotel, nearby restaurant or cafe is a huddle of well-dressed smokers. And black is the color of choice. It’s a sea of fume-spewing PIB (people in black).
Inside the venues it’s just a crush. The lines are Disney World long and the orange-shirted volunteers (all faultlessly pleasant) struggle to keep the complainers happy. Well, as happy as complainers can be. Not surprisingly, I’ve seen the same 6 people pop a neck vein at several of the screenings. The intensity of their unhappiness instantly calls to mind Louis C K’s routine about how Everything is amazing and nobody is happy.
Ultimately, the best way to tell the difference between the movie industry people and the critics at the TIFF screenings is to size up their hair cuts and skin tone. The pastier and more unkempt the audience member the more likely they’re a member of the press (present company included).
My first day began with a panicked dash to get credentialed and then a 9:30 AM screening of Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia.” Nothing like the end of the world to kick things off.
As the day wore on I learned how to strike a balance between frantic attempts to make it to venues and long waits in line. Run, wait, watch. Run, wait, watch. It’s frustrating and fun in equal doses.
Discovery of the day: unless you really like popcorn or theater food (I don’t) it can be 10+ hours between meals.
MOVIES: THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 8
It’s no secret Von Trier struggles with depression. Rumor has it that he directed the execrable “AntiChrist” while visiting a particularly dark place. “Melancholia” as it’s name implies, suggests that Mr. Von Trier’s world outlook hasn’t improved much. After all, he does smash the Earth to pieces in the film’s first 20 minutes. Although in his defense it’s a hauntingly gorgeous act of destruction, as our planet shatters like a glass globe.
From there we topple into the past and an hour-long return to Von Trier’s dogma style of verite filmmaking. It’s Kirsten Dunst’s wedding and she’s struggling to make it a happy one as she suffers through crippling depression. Ping ponging from one character to the next, pulling us into the lavish and emotionally fraught festivities, Von Trier is at his best. Some characters work better than others (Udo Kier is very funny as a prima Dona wedding planner) but the swirl of family and colleagues is engaging and emotionally engrossing. Once things take a turn for the apocalyptic, however, the results are much more mixed. Von Trier, always a literalist, turns subtext into text and marches the audience toward the end… well, everything. The last shot is a doozy but it says something when just a moment later the exiting crowd started chuckling.
Steven Soderbergh was originally slated to direct Aaron Sorkin’s and Steve Zallian’s fizzy adaptation of the bestseller. But then he rewrote the screenplay and the studio grew nervous with his approach. Enter Bennett Miller, hot off the accolades he earned for “Capote.”
The result is a baseball movie that should easily appeal to fans and non-fans alike. Brad Pitt, who just gets better and better over time, is winning as Billy Bean, the Oakland A’s GM who changed the face of the game. Jonah Hill is terrific as the numbers geek who opened Bean’s eyes. The script pops with Sorkin’s flare for fun-to-listen to dialogue and personalities. What keeps the movie from hitting a home run is Miller’s too serious approach to the material, a storyline that’s a tad one-note, and a truly awful score. None of these flaws are fatal, however. “Moneyball” proves that Hollywood can still make smart, engaging films that are well-worth a couple of hours of your weekend.
IDES OF MARCH
Given the incredible wave of people eager to see this movie I can’t help but think that all that anticipation will ultimately result in disappointment. The line was epic, every seat in the house was claimed. Clooney. Gosling. Politics. Gotta be a winner right? Sort of.
“Ides Of March” is a strong recovery from Clooney’s last directing job – Leatherheads – but not the powerhouse many seemed to expect. A cautionary take of political idealism and the inevitable cynicism that corrupts, the movie captures the bare knuckle bustle of back room political campaigns, with their personalities and conflicts. Clooney goes for a 70s political drama vibe and one can’t help but think of Michel Ritchie’s “The Candidate”… with a little “Primary Colors” thrown in for energy and color.
Similarly, the cast is simply first rate, top to bottom. Clooney, smartly, casts himself as the idealistic politician with feet of clay.
Unfortunately, “The Ides Of March” just doesn’t have enough to say to make it dramatically impactful. And as good as Gosling is, his character needed more depth and development to make it’s message about how power corrupts to hit home.
UP FROM POPPY HILL
The son is not the father. Goro Miyazaki (Hayao’s son) delivers lush visuals in his second effort but he’s not much of a storyteller and has nothing to say. The craftsmanship on “Poppy Hill” is truly ravishing but that’s not enough to carry a 2 hour tale of two adoring teens seeking to discover their family histories. With a plot that is both drama and surprise free, his film is little more than beautiful cinematic wallpaper. In the Q&A that followed the screening, Goro said that his father was a “pain in the ass” – always meddling. He claimed he had to complete the film off site. zMaybe he should have let dad interfere more.
Day Two: The Killer Elite, A Dangerous Method, The Skin I Live, Take Shelter, and God Bless America.
Get TIFF tweets at @jephM