Day Three of the Toronto Film Festival
Saturday kicked off with the much anticipated new George Clooney movie (his second at the fest), The Descendants. Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to call it George Clooney’s movie since it heralds the return of director Alexander Payne (Sideways) after a seven year absence from the big screen. Needless to say the lines were long and boisterous.
The Scotiabank Theater is a downtown multiplex with what could be the longest escalator I’ve ever seen. From street level to the theaters (I think there are 13) is probably three stories or so and when the mechanical staircase went out later in the day you could see the panicked expressions of industry-types as they approached the inevitable climb. Once again TIFF volunteers were remarkably gracious to everyone – the happy and grumpy alike. The fix came quickly. I emerged from a screening and everything was once again in working order.
From the atrium ceiling on the ground floor of the theater hung large models of Star Trek ships. I have no idea why they were there but they were very cool..
To be honest, it’s a bit of a disappointment. I have a feeling most critics will go gaga over the film and incessantly chatter about Oscar nominations but I found it a lesser effort for Payne. My main issue with the film is that Clooney’s character is just too damn perfect. He’s such an upright and decent guy that the obstacles the script throws his way are too tidily dealt with. This makes for pretty tepid drama. Yes, the grief is genuine (he discovers that his comatose wife was having an affair) but other than forgiving her he doesn’t really have anything to struggle against. Plus, without any serious character flaws it’s hard to believe she’d throw him over for Matthew Lilliard. Payne’s instincts for humor are off here as well. There’s a terrific moment late in the film with Judy Greer that’s completely sabotaged by an ill-timed joke. It’s not that the movie is bad. It’s actually very affecting at times, and well acted. It’s that I expected more. BTW caught sight of Elvis Mitchell at the screening.
JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME
The Duplass Brothers follow up their high profile indie, Cyrus, with this shaggy dog comedy. It stars Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon, and that’s-where-she-went Rae Dawn Chong. Segel is a Winnie-The-Poo like shlub who attempts to help his angry and selfish brother (Helms) save his marriage. Sarandon is their long-suffering mom, who fears she’ll be alone for the rest of her life… until a secret admirer at work contacts her. The plot is simple and clunky but, overall, charming. Still, Paramount is going to have a helluva time figuring out how to market it to general audiences.
PAUL WILLIAMS, STILL ALIVE
If you’re old enough to remember when The Muppet Show was on TV, chances are you’ve seen Paul Williams. The guy was a big deal in the 70s, penning songs like “The Rainbow Connection,” Three Dog Night’s “Old Fashioned Love Song,” a couple of Carpenters’ hits and Barbara Streisand’s “Evergreen.” He even wrote David Bowie’s “Fill Your Heart.” Williams also scored and acted in one of my favorite Brian DePalma flicks, The Phantom Of Paradise. Small in stature but large in celebrity, the guys was everywhere. And then he wasn’t. Or so it seemed. Filmmaker Stephen Kessler was a huge fan as a kid and figured that the reason he never saw Paul Williams around anymore was because he died. When he discovered his idol didn’t he tracked him down and decided to make a documentary about it. And it’s a pretty good one. Affectionate, funny, haphazard, and always intriguing, Kessler charts the fall of a 70s icon and his quiet redemption. The movie occasionally gets a bit too navel-gazing, with the filmmaker intruding on the narrative, but as a portrait of ego gone amok and the humility that followed years later it’s surprisingly effective. NOTE: I have been struggling to land an interview with Williams. It looked like everything was a go when I got an email saying my half hour with him was canceled. Total bummer. I suspect the PR person felt guilty because an hour later an invite to a private party with Williams arrived in my inbox. I’m going.
On a line that circled an entire city block I waited to attend the public premiere of Drive. Some around us fretted that they wouldn’t get in but having been inside the theater two nights ago I knew its 1500 seats would accommodate us all. Plus a bought ticket meant a guaranteed seat. Waiting in the warm night my colleague Perry Seibert and I were approached by a small group of women who spotted our press passes. They wanted to know if we knew the location of the Drive after-party. We didn’t. But this is what Ryan Gosling does to women – young and old. They were desperate to track him down. When the film finished and the Q&A with Gosling, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston and director Nicholas Winding Refn was over, women mobbed the exits hoping to catch a glimpse of the star. Nearly two dozen chased after the black SUV that sped him away. So that’s what being a sex symbol is like.
As for the movie, I liked it quite a bit. Drive plays like an art-house action flick. Sleek, violent, and moody, Refn channels Michael Mann’s 80s urban vibe to deliver a heck of an exciting film. At least for the first hour. After that the script goes a bit awry. Still Gosling broods with the best of them and Albert Brooks is just terrific as a likeable yet chilling mob boss. I’ll give the star this: he knows how to work that white silk jacket with the embroidered dragon.
More interesting, I found myself sitting next to the band College and Electric Youth, who provided the film’s signature song, “A Real Human”. It was their first time in a movie soundtrack and they couldn’t have been more excited. In a moment that betrayed my age I couldn’t help but think to myself: These are some really nice kids, I hope they go far. (apologies for the fuzzy pix – I was pretty far away)