Day Seven and Eight of the Toronto Film Festival

September 16, 2011
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Day 7 – Wednesday

Morgan Spurlock’s “Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope,” turns out to be better than I expected. Far from a snarky smackdown on the geeks and freaks who descend on this San Diego festival every year, Spurlock offers an affectionate look at those who attend. From a young geek who wants to propose to his girlfriend at a Kevin Smith event, to an obsessive action figure collector, to a costume designer who hopes to impress with her cosplay creations, to the economic travails of Mile High Comics, which views sales at the convention as a make or break event, “Comic-Con” not only captures the passion and energy of the event, it examines how easily subcultures can be exploited by corporate interests. As Joss Whedon hilariously explains in the film, Hollywood and media companies recognize the intense love geeks and fans have for sci-fi, fantasy, superheroes etc .and ruthlessly strategize how they can extract every last dollar from them.

Butter” Great idea, iffy execution. Not sharp enough to wound or scathing enough to challenge, this mildly funny political satire casts Jennifer Garner as a Sarah Palin-like alpha female who is determined to maintain her family’s dominance as Iowa’s top butter sculptors. Olivia Wilde stands out as the sexy and angry prostitute determined to undermine her goals.

Rampart” is Oren Moverman’s follow up to the emotionally powerful Iraq War drama, “The Messenger.” The movie is grim and somewhat meandering character study that relies a bit too much on co-writer James Ellroy’s bleak world view (and chaotic narrative sense). But it boasts a truly remarkable performance by Woody Harrelson as corrupt cop whose misconduct impacts everyone around him. Harrelson is so good in the role it’s a shame the movie can’t keep up with him.

A COUPLE OF NOTES ON TORONTO:  (1) Found a terrific vegetarian/organic restaurant called Fresh. Worth a visit. (2) The bike racks near the museum of art are way way cool. Wish we had something like that here. The subway pillars at the museum station were even cooler. (3) As far as big cities go, Toronto is remarkably clean, unerringly welcoming, and sleepily metropolitan.

Day 8 – Thursday

Only had time for one film today and decided to go with Roland Emmerich’s (Godzilla, 2012, Independence Day) “Anonymous.” The modern master of disaster takes a break from his world destroying career to demolish the claims of scholars who insist that the Bard hailed from Stratford. Instead, Emmerich presents a Shakespearean-like drama that casts Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, as the man who penned Hamlet et. al. Not only that, he suggests de Vere had an affair with Queen Elizabeth and was involved in the Essex Rebellion of 1601. Filled with court intrigue, betrayals, and twisted family secrets it’s rousing, unpretentious fun and bound to infuriate academics who can’t tolerate authorship debates. If you like Elizabeth, you’ll dig “Anonymous.”

Finished out the day interviewing the cast and director of “Hysteria.” That exchange will run when the film’s release is imminent but in a nutshell: Maggie Gyllenhaal was charming and thoughtful, Hugh Dancy was charming and funny, Jonathan Price was charming and clever, and the director, Tanya Wexler, was charmless and combative. It made for a fitfully interesting exchange.

I can’t wait to return next year.

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