Monday, September 22, 2008

Hollywood's new bad guy? The banking industry, of course!

Check out the trailer for The International, the Clive Owen/Naomi Watts globe-hopping thriller coming in February 2009. No more Russians or Arabs or al Qaeda villains, thank you very much. Hollywood's new bad guy: the international banking system -- all those unregulated greedheads at the heart of the current financial crisis! Go get 'em, Clive!

Link to trailer:

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Kisses, and Viggo in the lobby

TIFF '08, Monday, Day Five:

Start the day with Kisses, a wee Irish thing from Lance Daly about a pre-teen boy and girl, neighbors in grim housing on the outskirts of Dublin, who flee their effed-up families and make for the city, where they spend a day and night of bliss and horror. The two kids, Kelly O'Neill and Shane Curry (11 and 12, respectively, when they made the film), are brilliant, and the spirit (and a couple of songs) of Bob Dylan hangs over the tale -- with some bloke named Stephen Rea in a cameo as a Dylan impersonator. The accents are thick as soda bread, and like Ken Loach's Kes and Andrea Arnold's Red Road, subtitles would be a good idea if this gets a U.S. distributor -- which it should. It's the second best love story I've seen at the festival, after Slumdog Millionaire (if we're keeping score).

Also catch Management, a Sidney Kimmel-produced indie starring Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn. A quirky romance about a motel night manager and a traveling saleslady, Management's at its best when Zahn's character's stalker-like obsession takes the plot down unexpected roads: a Zen monastery, a parachute splashdown into Woody Harrelson's swimming pool.

Talk to Wong Kar Wai for Ashes of Time Redux, his reclaimed, restored, 1994 martial arts meditation on memory. The great Hong Kong director traveled Asia, dove into warehouses in San Francisco's and New York's Chinatowns, looking for prints of his old movie, which had been cut, chopped, butchered and lost. Putting it back together again took years.

There's a grand piano off to one side of the lobby of the Sutton Place, TIFF press and industry HQ, and for a while midday yesterday Viggo Mortensen was sitting there in a red T-shirt and jeans, letting anybody who approached sit alongside him on the piano bench, obligingly posing for snaps.

The less said about Richard Eyre's adultery melodrama, The Other Man, the better. With Kinsey couple Laura Linney and Liam Neeson -- and Antonio Banderas in the title role. Oy!

Tomorrow, Tuesday, last day for me (the fest continues through Saturday): interviews set with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Charlie Kaufman (for Synedoche, New York) and The Wrestler himself, Mr. Mickey Rourke.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Keira talks, Spike talks, Josh Brolin walks...

... down Bloor Street and nobody pays attention (Josh Brolin, No Country For Old Men, soon to be seen as the Prez in Oliver Stone's W -- come on people, pay attention!)

Anyway, Sunday, Day 4 of TIFF '08, a marathon interview day, running from the Park Hyatt to the Four Seasons to the Intercontinental (not much of a run -- they're all within a block of each other). First off: John Malkovich, cradling a coffee cup early in the a.m., a far cry from the wild, desperate, drunk and just-fired CIA guy he plays in the Coens' Burn After Reading. He talks about that, of course, and about life in Boston (where he and fam have been living since they moved back from France four years ago), about the two other films he as at this year's fest (Disgrace and Afterwards) and how being the producer of a little thing called Juno hasn't made it any easier for his production company -- Mr. Mudd -- to get projects off the ground.

Keira Knightley, the trapped soul of The Duchess, is in a room at the Four Seasons, her door guarded by personal security guy, personal attendant, publicists, a fellow with an umbrella. Once inside, though, it's just her and her snazzy outfit (Chanel? Target Couture?), bright and beaming, talking about The Duchess, of course, and about how her mum has these deep existential discussions with her in French and how Charlotte Rampling, who plays her mum in the film, has been a hero since Keira was a wee thing. Even before Bend It Like Beckham, Ms. Knightley had a photo of Rampling on her bedroom wall -- the one from The Night Porter, no less! Also chat with Saul Dibb, The Duchess director, who sent his prospective leading lady the script wrapped in three big ostrich feathers -- after he explained to his wife, also named Keira, that doing so was strictly a professional gesture.

Spike Lee's wearing an Obama T-shirt and proud that he sneaked a bunch of references to The Bicycle Thief and other Italian neo-realist classics into his big World War II movie, Miracle At St. Anna. The story of four African-American soldiers trapped behind enemy lines in a Tuscan village, Lee's movie balances weighty issues -- racial, historical, cultural -- and works hard to find the right balance between realistic depiction of atrocities of war and the kind of romanticized old school Hollywood rendering of combat. Next up for the New York filmmaker, he hopes: a pic about the L.A. riots. He and Denzel and Clive Owen are also talking about Inside Man 2.

Bill Maher is holding court at Signatures, one of the eateries in the Intercontinental (a hotel that's almost impossible to gain entry to, thanks -- and no thanks -- to the cellphone camera-clicking fans and papparazzi ringing the entrance). He talks about Religulous, of course, his doc debunking religion, and about Sarah Palin and how Americans got stupider as they moved west from the 13 colonies. (Manifest Destiny begat a nation of morons, essentially.) There were Christian protestors at the premiere the night before, but they were "Canadian protestors," he reports. "They were very polite."

(Celeb watch: Waiting in the lobby for my time with Mr. Maher, I keenly observed the comings and goings of Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Atom Egoyan and Anton Yelchin .)

Finally get to see a movie: The Wrestler, fresh from its grand prize win at the Venice festival, screening at the glorious old Elgin Theater on Yonge Street. Mickey Rourke plays a professional wrestling legend whose glory days are long gone, living in a New Jersey trailer park, hanging out at a strip club (where Marisa Tomei does lap dances) and hawking autographs and photos of himself at fan meets. It's a scarily good performance from the legendary Rourke, and Darren Aronofsky introduces his movie to the attendant throng by saying that one of the big deals of his teendom was the Rourke classic Angel Heart. Rourke lumbers out before the lights go down to wave at the crowd. He might be waving at an Oscar nomination in a couple of months.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

"Millionaire" Oscar-bound - TIFF, Day 3

You hope for it to happen, and then, finally, it does: a movie that rocks you to the core, inspires, delights, shocks, compels, surprises. That's what Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire did Saturday morning at the press and industry screening at the Varsity: two separate rounds of applause at the end. The film, left an orphan -- like its main character -- when Warner Independent folded, and now to be released by Fox Searchlight in November, tells the story of an Indian street urchin who grows up and gets on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? -- and improbably, amazingly, keeps answering the questions correctly.

Like a Bollywood Dickens tale, directed by Brit Boyle with the same flash and panache he brought to Trainspotting and 28 Days Later (but on a far bigger scale), Slumdog is a love story, a look at a culture of vast wealth and brutal poverty, and a keen take on a country that's at "the center of the world" in the 21st century. Dev Patel stars as the grown-up hero, Jamil, a gofer who serves tea -- a "chai wallah" -- to the phone workers in a Mombai call center. Two amazing kid actors play him during the hard, scary years of Jamil's youth, as his destiny leads him, his brother, and the beautiful, feisty orphaned girl Latika from one adventure to the next. Oscars, here they come.

Talked to Jonathan Demme and Anne Hathaway (for Rachel Getting Married), in a big round corner booth at the Empire, a closed bar on Cumberland. The red velvet upholstery was riddled with little holes. I conjectured they were cigarette burns, Hathaway said they were from stiletto heels --dancers gone wild. Demme, who'd been there for hours doing interviews with his star, took a look around, startled, and said, "Oh, we're in a bar!?" Hathaway, Agent 99 in Get Smart, the princess in The Princess Diaries, pulls off something altogether different, and darker, in Rachel Getting Married, a verite portrait of a family celebrating a wedding, and still reeling from a profound loss.

Also saw a wicked little black Irish comedy, A Film With Me In It, which shares a dark comic sensibility with the work of Martin McDonough and offers a self-satirizing cameo from Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan.... Interviewed Ed Harris for his loping, likable, Viggo Mortensen co-starring western, Appaloosa.... Saw Amos Gatai's Plus tard, tu comprendras (One Day You'll Understand), which I understood but didn't really get: Jeanne Moreau, Dominique Blanc, Hippolyte Girardot and Emmanuelle Devos as a family in Paris in the late 1980s, still haunted by the Nazi occupation of France and its tragic impact on their Jewish forebears.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

TIFF '08, Day 2 - Lost sons, lost daughters, lost dogs

Have already seen the Coen Brothers' screwball Burn After Reading, so go to 9am screening of Last Stop 174, Bruno Barreto's tough, gritty, grim tale of two kids who share similar names, and who run drugs and rob citizens in the anarchistic crazy-quilt shantytown on the hills of Rio. Yup, another Brazilian bummer about children with guns, about missing fathers, about moral compasses spinning out of control, about poverty, power and powerlessness. The final shot: a mother and one of the two Sandros standing over a grave.

Next up: Still Walking, Hirokazu Koreeda’s quiet, observant portrait of three generations of a family in Japan: the retired, grumpy physician and his faithful but sniping wife, their daughter and her doofus husband and two children, and the second son and his wife (a widow remarried), with her son. Lots of walking and talking, and the rigorous, everyday rituals of the Japanese. The aching loss of the elder couple’s first, favored son – a drowning – hangs over everything. One of the final shots: standing over a grave.

See The Duchess at the super-fancy screening room (leather sofas, side tables with lamps, butlers with cigars – OK, maybe not) at the new Hazelton Hotel, which seems to have supplanted the Four Seasons down the block as the top spot for fans to gawk, scream and try for autographs, while Toronto bike cops pretend to check the crowd but are really checking out the "talent" breezing in and out ringed by flacks. Keira Knightley is fitted in an amazing array of 18th century Euro-noble couture in this based-on-the-true-story of Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire. Ralph Fiennes is drolly despicable as the stuffy, randy Duke, and Hayley Atwell hangs in there as the woman who becomes his mistress -- and kind of becomes the Duchess’ too. Slated to talk to Ms. Knightley and director Saul Dibb on Sunday.

Head down Yonge Street to the new, gigantic AMC Yonge Dundas 24, across the street from a huge plaza where a TIFF concert stage is set up and a band’s getting ready to rock. (And where a guy is standing in the street, in the midst of cars, cyclists and pedestrians, pissing into a grate as if he was all alone in the middle of the woods.) It’s a little jarring to see a modest, blown-up-to-35mm indie that will end up at the Ritz Bourse when it gets to Philly debuting in a cavernous, multi-tiered, giant-screen theater totally sold out, and that’s the deal here: 700 TIFF-goers packed in to see Kelly Reichardt’s heartbreaking Wendy and Lucy. Reichardt made the sublime Old Joy, and this is another shambling Pacific Northwest tale, but a sadder one: Michelle Williams as a neo-hobo, sleeping in her car, shoplifting for food, with only her golden brown mutt, Lucy, for company. Williams is amazing, totally convincing, as Wendy’s world falls apart: her car breaks down and she loses her dog, stuck in a small, busted-down Oregon town. No standing-over-a-grave final shot, but, jeez, I need a good comedy.

Friday, September 05, 2008

TIFF 2008 - Day 1, Thursday, Sept. 4

Pity the poor Torontonian who just wants to get from work to home, or buy a pair of Classic Fits at the Gap -- the one at the corner of Bay and Bloor. Every street in this posh Yorkville district seems to be under construction, there are giant holes in the ground and steel skeletons going up every other block to make way for new lux condos, swankier hotels, sleeker boutiques (no recession in this part of town!). And down on King Street, the Bell Lightbox is erecting -- future headquarters and screen venue for the Toronto International Film Festival.

In the meantime, TIFF '08 goes on with Press & Industry events, news conferences and Reese Witherspoon lookalikes (pretty sure it wasn't really her) at the Sutton Place Hotel. Day One of the Toronto International Film Festival: Italian journos scurrying to get their accreditation, film buyers from Britain, festival programmers from San Francisco, Japanese entertainment reporters, studio execs, publicists, directors, everyone fried a bit from the travel getting here, and everyone running to the Varsity complex, where a dozen screens are turned over to the credentialed throng from 8:30 in the morning til the cows come home.

First screening was RocknRolla, Guy Ritchie's remake of the last Guy Ritchie movie --English thugs and mob types playing cross and doublecross, shooting guns and lookin' cool while the camera whirls and dives and flashes fast-forward around colorful corners of London Town. 300 hunk Gerard Butler (soon to be shooting a new movie in Philly) stars, and Thandie Newton looks lovely, and Tom Wilkinson goes slumming, playing an old-school, no-class gangster. Engaging for a while, but then, well, you can't help but start wondering if Mr. Madonna has no other tricks up his sleeve.

Then L'Heure d'été (Summer Hours), Olivier Assayas' very grown-up and ultimately very moving look at a family coming to terms with the death of their septugenarian matriarch (an elegant and beautiful Edith Scob). Assayas (Irma Vep, Clean), ends his movie (which stars Juliette Binoche and Charles Berliner)with thwacking hip-hop, bouncy French rock and a cover of an old Incredible String Band hippie-ditty -- not where you expect the film to go, and it works.

Luckily (or not), I've already seen Ghost Town, with Ricky Gervais as a New York dentist who can see dead people -- like Greg Kinnear, for instance. Reportedly there was a major snafu with the digital projection early on, and suddenly the English comedy star was walking in front of green screens, interacting with people that really weren't there. Ghostly!

And as triple-crossing con artist pictures go, The Brothers Bloom, with Adrian Brody and Mark Ruffalo as scamming siblings and Rachel Weisz as their mark (or is she?), goes from charming to UNBELIEVABLY ANNOYING in less time than it takes to buy a sandwich at the Varsity concession stand. (Not long -- they're efficient here in Canada.)With quirky '60s pop songs thrown on the soundtrack a la Wes Anderson, and moments of inspired eccentricity and whimsy (a cat with one leg walking on crutches, a montage of Weisz's character's mastery of "hobbies" -- including juggling power saws on a unicycle), The Brothers Bloom aims to please in oddball ways, and then you start hating these guys and their globe-hopping stunts.... Did I say UNBELIEVABLY ANNOYING?

Buzz for Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum and the Turkish pic Three Monkeys, and in the theater before Rian (Brick)Johnson's The Brothers Bloom got off to a late start, wags waggin' about who's going to be cast in the movie about a highschooler who gets pregnant by her boyfriend, decides to have the child, and Mom gets nominated to be Vice President. It's Juno Goes to Washington.