Thursday, September 30, 2010

TIFF Finale: Days 10 & 11 (Saturday-Sunday, 9/18-19)

Note: Click here to see the Metro Times version of this post, which contains video and photos.

Sometime, you just get lucky. Saturday, September 18—the penultimate day of the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival—became that day for me. Let me explain…

Over the first week of the festival, word of mouth began to spread on which movies were the favorites, and one name kept popping up over and over again: The King’s Speech. Starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech is about that friendship between King George VI and his speech therapist. In the weeks leading up to the festival, as I was looking over all of the descriptions and trying to decide which films to see, I read that brief plot synopsis, thought it sounded boring as hell, and didn’t put it on my shortlist of films to try and catch. The film only screened twice, both times occurring in the festival’s first few days, so by the time word began to spread about how amazing it was, I had already missed my chance to see it. Or had I?

For my Saturday volunteer shift, I ended up working a private industry screening of The King’s Speech, and I was one of two volunteers stationed inside the theater to help guard against unlawful piracy in the audience. This essentially meant that I could just stand there and watch the whole movie, which I happily did. I also saw two films later that evening, which both sucked, but my day had already been made.

Movie: The King’s Speech

What Is It? In the mid-1930s, King Edward abdicates England’s throne, leaving his stuttering brother, George VI, to become king and lead his nation into war against Germany. With the advent of radio and the looming conflict, it has never been more important for the King to make inspiring speeches to his people, so he hires a speech therapist to help conquer his stammer.

Director: Tom Hooper—Acclaimed for his TV miniseries work, especially USA’s Elizabeth I and HBO’s John Adams, Hooper’s only previous film was last year’s The Damned United.

Notable Cast: Colin Firth stars as George VI, with supporting work by Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist, Helena Bonham Carter as his wife, and Guy Pierce as his brother.

The Grade: A

Thoughts: If I were forced to bet right now on what will win Best Picture for 2010, I’d lay all my money on The King’s Speech. It is truly a flawless film. Despite a plot that sounds painfully boring, the film races by briskly and is never less than vividly entertaining. There’s a dry British humor that permeates the proceedings, as well as plenty of four letter words courtesy of a radical treatment method. And the acting… oh, the acting. Colin Firth is all but assured an Academy Award, and Geoffrey Rush could quite possibly win a second (he won Best Actor for 1996’s Shine). The King’s Speech is also a beautifully inspiring story about a man’s determination to overcome his disability in order to better serve his country. The film opens in wide release on Thanksgiving weekend, and I urge everyone to make time for it between trips to the mall. My only complaint was that I had to watch the whole thing standing up.

Movie: Stone

What Is It? Filmed at a jail in southeast Michigan, a convict up for parole gets his beautiful wife to try and influence his parole officer’s decisions.

Director: John Curran—Most notable for directing 2006’s underwhelming period drama The Painted Veil, which starred Edward Norton and Naomi Watts.

Notable Cast: Edward Norton plays the titular convict, Milla Jovovich (star if the Resident Evil franchise) plays his wife, and Robert DeNiro stars as the retiring parole officer.

Notable Crew: The film was written by Angus MacLachlan, whose previous screenplay was 2005’s wonderful Junebug.

The Grade: D

Thoughts: The only positive thing I can say about Stone is that it’s an ambitious film that tried to be great. But sadly, that’s where the compliments end. Honestly, this movie is just stupid. All three characters fight for who can be most unlikable, and DeNiro’s parole officer is given a prologue set thirty years ago that not only makes us hate him from the get-go, but feels completely superfluous to the film’s narrative. The acting is fairly serviceable, but anyone who’s seen HBO’s The Wire will immediately recognize that Norton is just doing a really good Bubbles impression, and therefore won’t be able to take him seriously. And you know what’s even worse than a movie with a bad plot and bad characters? A movie with a bad plot, bad characters, and no resolution. When the movie ended (or, more accurately, when the credits started running, since I don’t think it’s fair to say the movie had an ending), much of the audience responded with a disappointing “huh?” And unless you’re a former inmate, you won’t see any recognizable Michigan locations to make the movie worth sitting through. Instead of wasting your money on this, just see The King’s Speech twice.

Movie: Passion Play

What Is It? A trumpet player who’s seen better days and now works for the mob encounters a beautiful winged woman at the circus who might just be an angel. But when his mobster boss wants to claim her for his own, the trumpet player is forced into a tough decision.

Director: Mitch Glazer—a three-decade screenwriting veteran (Scrooged, The Recruit), this is Glazer’s directing debut, and he wrote the film as well.

Notable Cast: Mickey Rourke and Megan Fox play the leads, and Bill Murray uses his dry wit to tackle the mob boss.

The Grade: C-

Thoughts: I saw this movie because I’m a fan of both Rourke and Murray, but I found it to be a pretty forgettable experience. It deserves a little leniency because it is Glazer’s first film as a director, and it’s not totally awful, but I certainly don’t recommend it. The plot feels like Glazer took Wim Wenders’ two masterpieces from the 1980s—Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire—stuck them in a blender, and added a jumbo packet of Cheez Whiz. Murray feels out of place and yet still underused, while Megan Fox is at her best when not speaking. The movie does a relatively decent job maintaining interest with brisk pacing, but the ending is so comically bad that I actually wondered if it was supposed to be funny. I laughed quietly and nervously, just to make sure I covered all my bases as a polite audience member.

The 2010 Toronto International Film Festival came to a close on Sunday, September 19, and I managed to catch two more screenings that morning before I had to skip town.

Movie: The Debt

What Is It? Three retired Mossad agents in 1995 have unresolved issues from a thirty year-old case (the one that made their careers) come back to haunt them.

Director: John Madden—Most remembered for directing 1998’s Best Picture winner Shakespeare in Love, Madden has mostly kept quite over the ensuing dozen years, only surfacing with a few disappointing movies (Proof, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin).

Notable Cast: Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciaran Hinds (Munich, Miami Vice) play the 1995 incarnations of the three agents, while Sam Worthington (Avatar), Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy), and beautiful newcomer Jessica Chastain play their younger counterparts.

Notable Crew: Matthew Vaughn, writer/director of Kick-Ass and Stardust, wrote the screenplay with Jane Goldman (his writing partner) and one other.

The Grade: B+

Thoughts: For most of The Debt’s running time, it doesn’t distinguish itself as much more than a well-done espionage thriller, but about 2/3 of the way through, there’s a twist that dramatically changes the meaning, as well as the film’s resonance. Without giving away too much, The Debt reminded me of the way films like Atonement and The Usual Suspects have devoted huge amounts of screen time to the dramatization of events that turned out to be of questionable veracity. It’s also a film about the way our greatest failures never quite manage to completely vacate our lives, and in this sense, The Debt is a film people should relate to even if they’ve never been secret agents. As you might guess from the cast, this is an extremely well acted film, but Chastain is the real revelation. She has the unenviable task of portraying a woman who will grow up to be Helen Mirren, and Chastain brings the necessary amount of vulnerability, toughness, and regality that are befitting of her older counterpart.

Movie: John Carpenter’s The Ward

What Is It? A beautiful young woman with no memory prior to being found by police at a burned-down house is institutionalized during the 1960s. Once in the asylum, she seemingly becomes the target of a ghost who may be a former patient.

Director: John Carpenter—Arguably the most influential post-Hitchcock horror director, Carpenter created a string of classics in the 70s and 80s that surely ranks as one of the better hot streaks in modern Hollywood history (Halloween, Escape From New York, The Thing, Starman, and Big Trouble in Little China all came out in an 8-year span). Carpenter also typically handles writing, producing, and soundtrack duties on his films (he wrote the classic Halloween score). Sadly, his idea well mostly dried up in the 90s, and he’s been more or less retired for the last decade or so.

Notable Cast: Amber Heard (Pineapple Express) stars, while Lyndsy Fonseca (the daughter in TV’s How I Met Your Mother) plays one of the other patients.

The Grade: C-

Thoughts: For my final film of TIFF, I had the opportunity to see something of a bit more prestigious flavor, but I hadn’t yet seen any of the Midnight Madness movies, and I wanted to end the whole experience on something fun. So what better than John Carpenter’s long awaited return to the genre that he helped shape? Just about anything, it would turn out. The Ward literally feels like Carpenter went to a screening of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island earlier this year, felt that movie could have just as easily featured a cast of hot chicks, went home and knocked out a screenplay that night, then started shooting a week later. Even at its worst, The Ward is still relatively watchable and entertaining, but it’s undeniably depressing to see a once-great director resort to using genre clichés when he used to be the guy creating them.

And with that anticlimactic note, my great TIFF 2010 experience came to a close. In 11 days, I saw 22 films (though I slept through almost all of one of them), attended one interview and one sneak preview, took part in 7 filmmaker Q & A’s, knocked out nearly 50 hours worth of volunteer work, lost an incalculable amount of sleep, and, at various times, got behind on such luxuries as eating and bathing. By the end of the festival, I was mostly subsisting on Tim Horton’s doughnuts and coffee shop pastries, because my life savings was being so heavily drained on the public transit system. And yet, my first film festival was undoubtedly one of the greatest and most profound experiences of my life, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Really, the only depressing aspect of the week was how many potentially great movies I didn’t get to see. For the record, here are the top ten films that never quite made it off my wish list:

1. Hereafter—New drama about mortality from Clint Eastwood, which should tell you everything you need to know about why I wanted to see it. Starring Matt Damon, this film inexplicably only screened once (most films at TIFF screen three times), which made it one of the most difficult tickets to come by.

2. Biutiful—Starring Javier Bardem and directed by the great Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel), this film won raves at Cannes.

3. Waiting For Superman—Documentary about the failure of the U.S. education system made by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) and funded by Bill Gates.

4. Blue Valentine—The most acclaimed film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this relationship drama stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, who are both expected to receive Oscar attention.

5. Another Year—The new film by Mike Leigh (Vera Drake, Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy), several critics have called this his best yet.

6. Of Gods and Men—French drama starring Michael Lonsdale (best known to American audiences as the evil Drax in Moonraker), I talked to a few people who thought this was the single best film at TIFF.

7. Little White Lies—Starring Marion Cotillard, this was the film I had a ticket for, but was forced to trade in for something else when they couldn’t get the subtitles working.

8. The Conspirator—Robert Redford directed film about Lincoln’s assassination, starring Robin Wright and James McAvoy.

9. Barney’s Version—Life reflection dramedy starring Dustin Hoffman and Paul Giamatti.

10. Machete Maidens Unleashed—A documentary about the huge amount of American B-Movies filmed in the Philippines during the 1970s and the jobs they provided for the indigenous female population. Seriously, just look at that title!

And, lastly, my top ten for the films I did see:

1. The King’s Speech

2. Black Swan

3. 127 Hours

4. Three

5. The Town

6. Inside Job

7. The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town

8. Janie Jones

9. It’s Kind of a Funny Story

10. Tamara Drewe

Thanks to everyone that read along for taking part in my journey. I’m already excited for TIFF 2011.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

TIFF: Days 8 & 9 (Thursday-Friday, 9/16-17)

Note: Click here to view the Metro Times version of this post, which contains photos.

There were a good amount of foreign films I was interested in at TIFF, almost all of which were playing today. I had already struck out on the French film Little White Lies earlier in the fest when the subtitles malfunctioned, so I decided Thursday would be foreign film day, and I woke up at 7:00 a.m. to see what the ticket gods had to offer me.

Sadly, not much. Out of my top five choices, I only scored tickets for two of them. But, both films seemed promising, and the lack of a third film on the agenda meant I had some valuable naptime directly following my volunteer shift.

Movie: Three

What Is It? Hanna and Simon are a happy, middle-aged couple in Berlin, but each begins an affair despite their commitment. Unknowingly, they’ve actually both started seeing the same bi-sexual man, Adam, who doesn’t realize that his two partners are also partners with each other.

Director: Tom Tykwer—One of the best European directors of the last fifteen years, Tykwer took the art house world by storm in 1998 with the widely acclaimed Run Lola Run. He began making films in English in 2002, and was responsible for the underappreciated Perfume: The Story of a Murder (2006) and last year’s good but flawed The International, which starred Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. Three is Tykwer’s first film in his native German in a decade.

Notable Cast: The three principle actors will all be unfamiliar to American audiences, but Devid Streisow, who plays Adam, also starred in The Counterfeiters, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2007.

The Grade: A-

Thoughts: Three has the feel of a modern day Jules & Jim (Francois

Truffaut’s masterpiece, and one of the greatest films of the French New Wave), and replicates the ideal that three people can love each other without compromise. All three actors convince us that they each truly love the other two, and that’s the key to the emotional resonance of the film.

Tykwer’s previous films have all been extremely visually inventive—in Perfume he figured out how to convey scents with color and camera technique, and The International had one of last year’s best action set pieces with the shootout in New York’s Guggenheim Museum—but he really outdoes himself here. The opening credit sequence, which uses power lines viewed from the window of a train as a metaphor for the entire spectrum of human relationships and loves, is jaw-droppingly stunning and should be seen by any lover of film. Tykwer also uses split-screens and image fragmentation in a more ambitious way than I’ve ever seen before.

But Three has a very specific flaw: there are three or four moments when the explicit imagery simply goes one degree beyond what is necessary, or even comfortable. For example, at one point we see—with graphic detail—a man having a cancerous testicle removed. Being an owner of testicles myself, it was an image that I felt no desire to ever be exposed to, and it certainly didn’t add anything to the film. There are also a few moments where the sexual explicitness goes to similar territory. This is an easily solvable problem; if just 10-20 seconds here or there could be cut from the film, it would have earned an “A,” it might have been my favorite film of the festival, and I would have considered calling it a masterpiece. Luckily, it’s not too late for this to happen before the film’s theatrical release, and hopefully someone with Tykwer’s ear will suggest that it does.

Movie: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

What Is It? The winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (meaning it was selected by a jury as the best of the festival), Uncle Boonmee is a Thai film which tells the story of a man on his death bed with kidney failure, who is visited by the spirits of his late wife and his estranged son.

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethankul—A highly original Thai director whose films are largely unknown in the U.S. but have made a significant impact on the international festival circuit. 2004’s Tropical Malady is probably the most notable.

Notable Cast: Weereasethakul mostly uses unknowns and non-professional actors in his films.

The Grade: Incomplete—Well, it was destined to happen. After seven days of the festival, fifteen films, almost forty hours of volunteer work, and a severe lack of sleep, I finally conked out at the wrong time. I dozed off about twenty minutes into the film, and woke up during the audience applause that greeted the end credits. So, I certainly can’t speak for whether the film was any good or not, but I can comment on the style. Weerasethakul’s camera approach really reminded me of Yasujiro Ozu, one of the great masters of postwar Japanese cinema. Ozu often set his camera on one side of a room and used it as a stationary observer of events; no panning, no close-ups, no quick edits. It’s reminiscent of a one-camera sitcom, except done for artistic reasons rather than economic. It’s a unique and interesting style, and one which we certainly don’t see very often, but the long takes and minimal camera activity did me no favors in terms of staying conscious. I heard during the fest that Uncle Boonmee was picked up for U.S. theatrical distribution, so hopefully I’ll get another chance to see it in the near future.

Friday started to bring a definite feel that the festival was winding down. Most of the stars had skipped out by now, and all of the press & industry screenings finished Thursday. The next three days basically just amounted to a giant public sneak preview of upcoming films… but that certainly didn’t mean there weren’t good things happening. Friday actually ended up being one of my best days at TIFF, as I spent part of the morning on E Street Radio talking to rock critic and Bruce Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh about the various Bruce events we took part in over the previous few days, and Friday afternoon I had a valuable meeting with a former Toronto film critic named David Gilmour, now a renowned novelist. Friday evening also brought about two of my favorite films of the festival…

Movie: Easy A

What Is It? Olive is a normal high school girl, but her reputation turns sour when her closeted gay friend asks for help in creating the appearance that he’s straight. Soon, all of the school’s unfavorable boys are bribing Olive to create rumors that they hooked up with her, and she becomes the most notorious girl around. Inspired by “The Scarlet Letter,” which her English class is studying, Olive confronts her detractors head-on by brandishing a red “A” on her school outfits… which have themselves become increasingly risqué.

Director: Will Gluck—A successful TV writer making his first major foray into film.

Notable Cast: Emma Stone (Superbad, Zombieland) stars as Olive, Amanda Bynes (Hairspray) plays her Christian nemesis, and Penn Badgley (TV’s Gossip Girl) plays her love interest. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson will slay you as Olive’s parents, while Thomas Hayden Church (Sideways, Spider-Man 3), Lisa Kudrow, and Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) all play staff at Olive’s school.

The Grade: B+

Thoughts: Easy A is incredibly ridiculous, but equally funny and endearing, and it dares to be a sexless teen sex comedy. It suffers from the Juno-like “no seventeen year-old could ever be that witty” problem, and it tries a little too hard to remind us of a John Hughes movie (even name-dropping several of them), but these flaws are easy to look past because the movie is just damn fun to watch.

Emma Stone commands the screen with a sassy performance that should turn her into a star, and there are some truly hilarious lines. Plus, anytime a movie features a foxy chick in lingerie belting out Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood,” you can sign me up.

Movie: Janie Jones

What Is It? Thirteen year-old Janie Jones has never met her father, and her junkie mother is in dire need of drug rehab. Not seeing any other choice, Janie’s mother takes her to a concert, where she reveals that the down-on-his-luck lead singer, Ethan Brand, is her father. Of course, this is news to Ethan, who never knew he had a daughter, but when Janie’s mother disappears, he and Janie have no choice but to hop onto the tour bus and get to know one another.

Director: David M. Rosenthal—A Canadian director who has made two previous films, along with a couple of shorts and a documentary, but nothing that has made any impact.

Notable Cast: Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) stars as Janie Jones, with Elizabeth Shue (an Oscar nominee in 1995 for Leaving Las Vegas) and Alessandro Nivola (Laurel Canyon) playing her parents. Brittney Snow (Hairspray) plays a band member and Peter Stormare (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Armageddon) plays the manager that can seemingly solve any problem.

The Grade: A-

Thoughts: This is the kind of movie one hopes to find at a film festival. Of course, everyone looks forward to seeing the next big thing; the movies that will get showered with Oscar nominations and box office bucks, and that you can tell everyone you saw first. But if you get really lucky at a film festival, you’ll make a discovery. You’ll see a little film with no buzz, no distribution deal, and just a small hope of finding a substantial audience, and you’ll recognize something special in it. Janie Jones became that film for me at TIFF 2010.

I admit that I saw this film for no other reason than the title— as a film festival reaches its dog days, I found that a great title becomes a perfectly valid reason to see one film over another, and “Janie Jones” is the name of the first song on The Clash’s first album (the main character in High Fidelity called it his all-time favorite “side one, track one”). But I’m truly happy I saw this, and it was one of the highlights of the whole 11-day excursion.

It’s a rock ‘n’ roll road trip movie that has a vague resemblance to Almost Famous, but with the burgeoning relationship between a father and daughter as the core of the movie. Breslin is truly outstanding. Not even old enough to have a learner’s permit, she does all her own singing and guitar playing, and proves that her career will amount to far more than just being the awkward girl from Little Miss Sunshine. And Nivola delivers a performance that’s really touching in its emotional subtlety, as we slowly see him embrace Janie as his own after initially denying her relation.

It will probably be next summer or later before this film shows up in theaters (it’ll almost definitely try to build momentum at Sundance in January before even considering a release date), but if you can keep a file open for it in your mind’s hard drive, you won’t regret it.

On Tap For Tomorrow: TIFF 2010 draws to a close as I see a Michigan-filmed movie that truly sucked, and, by accident, the movie that I’m picking to win 2010’s Oscar for Best Picture.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

TIFF: Days 6 & 7 (Tuesday/Wednesday 9/14-15)

Note: Click here to check out the Metro Times version of this post, which contains photos.

Today began the Great Bruce Springsteen Adventure…

For those of you that don’t know, I’m quite a big fan, and I contacted Backstreets (Springsteen’s fan club/magazine/site), in the weeks prior to TIFF to see if they needed any help covering the gala premiere of his new documentary—The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. Luckily, they did, and they arranged with Springsteen’s publicist, a very nice lady named Marilyn Laverty, to get me into everything. It was an unbelievable degree of treatment that I was truly not expecting, but incredibly grateful that I received.

It actually started last night, when I had to trek over to the hotel of the stars, The Four Seasons, to pick up my tickets. I got there at about midnight and figured, what the hell, why not hang out in the hotel bar for a drink and try to stalk the rich and famous? One thirteen-dollar beer and no sightings later, I made a quick exit.

At the volunteer shift on Tuesday morning, I was working again in the TIFF Bell Lightbox, which is where Bruce Springsteen’s 6:00 p.m. interview with Edward Norton would be happening. There was an indescribable buzz about the place all day, and Bruce fervor reached a high enough decibel by early afternoon that the volunteers were actually instructed to tell people he wouldn’t be in the building (a blatant lie). It’s funny that the entire week of TIFF overruns Toronto with a gaggle of Hollywood celebrities, and yet the lone rock star seemed to be a much bigger deal than all the rest.

Just as I was heading out for lunch and a nap before the big evening, a cab pulled up and Jon Landau—Springsteen’s longtime manager/producer, and the man responsible for probably the most famous quote in the history of music criticism (“I saw rock ‘n’ roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen”)—and Dave Marsh, Bruce’s biographer, got out right in front of me. I quickly ambushed them and introduced myself, and told them I was looking forward to everything that would be happening that night. “You’ll be blown away,” Landau said to me. This seemed like a good omen.

First up was the interview actor Edward Norton would be conducting with Springsteen (presumably) about the documentary. This was part of TIFF’s Mavericks series, which happens every festival and involves interviews between attendees that might not normally be associated with one another. It turns out this event didn’t even go on sale to the public; all tickets were either press or “know the right person” status, the rush line to get any vacant seats formed the night before, and the rumor of the day was that tickets were being scalped for thousands of dollars. This caused a momentary crisis for me; if I were just willing to ignore my writing obligation and have Springsteen’s publicist potentially send a hit out on me, I could pay off quite a bit of credit card debt. Nah, bad idea.

One of the tenets of the amazing access I was given to the Springsteen camp was that my reviews of the content I became privy to were exclusive for Backstreets, so I can’t actually write about the Mavericks interview on this forum, but you’re welcome to check it out here.

Next up came the movie premiere, where I was seated in a small closed off section with the Springsteen entourage. Landau, Marsh, Marilyn Laverty, Barbara Carr (Springsteen’s co-manager and Marsh’s wife), Thom Zimny (the director of the film), and Patti Scialfa (E Street Band member and Springsteen’s wife) were all present, along with a lot of people from Sony Music. And there I was, seated three rows directly behind the boss himself. Again, I can’t cover the documentary here, but you’re welcome to check out my Backstreets coverage.

After the lengthy standing ovation, Bruce went on the handshake rounds for those of us in his section, and I briefly met the man… though it’s fairly likely he had no idea who I was. Still, it was pretty awesome.

But meeting Bruce wouldn’t even be the best part of the evening. No, that came a few minutes later when Marilyn Laverty and Jon Landau invited me to a special sneak preview of the upcoming six-disc box set being released in November. Taking place at a small theater the next morning, a handful of foreign journalists were being shown never-before-seen video footage and previously unreleased recordings from the late 1970s. Only two Americans were invited—someone from Rolling Stone, and me.

This preview ended up being one of the highlights of the whole TIFF experience (even though it wasn’t associated with TIFF and nobody knew about it except the invited). You can read my Backstreets coverage of the preview here. Bruce and Patti were there, and Bruce even gave a sort of impromptu press conference for us. I also had a good long talk with Dave Marsh, and he invited me on his radio show Friday morning to talk about the preview we were given.

The Bruce Experience ended early afternoon on Wednesday and I spent the bulk of the rest of the day writing my Backstreets coverage, but I did have time to hit up two TIFF screenings…

Movie: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

What Is It? A 3D documentary about Chauvet Cave, which was discovered in southern France in 1994, and contains elaborate cave paintings dating back over thirty thousand years—human kind’s earliest know works of art by a pretty substantial margin. To preserve its pristine condition, the cave has never been opened to the public and images from it have rarely been seen. Director Werner Herzog and his small team were granted access by the French government to fully explore the cave and its evocative imagery.

Director: Werner Herzog—One of World Cinema’s most ambitious and interesting directors over the last forty years, Herzog’s films often involve quests that border on the insane. His greatest films starred Klaus Kinski, and include Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972) and Fitzcarraldo (1982). Recently, Herzog has been on a bit of a tear with the great documentaries Grizzly Man (2005) and Encounters at the End of the World (2008), as well as the Christian Bale starring Rescue Dawn (2007).

The Grade: A-

Thoughts: First thing’s first—this is a two hour documentary about cave paintings. If that doesn’t immediately sound interesting to you, then it probably won’t be.

But warnings aside, this is a great film, and it turned into one of the talks of the festival. Herzog fulfills two purposes here; first, and perhaps most importantly, he shows us the cave. In 3D. This cave is the greatest historical record we have of an entire era of pre-history, and this film is the closest the public will ever get to it. In that sense, we’re simply lucky that Herzog has created this historical document for us. The 3D works extremely well here, and, unlike most 3D films, it feels necessary rather than superfluous.

But beyond just showing us the cave in obsessive detail, Herzog guides our thinking with pointed questions about what it all means. Is this, he asks, “the beginning of humanness?” Is it the origin point of the human soul? The images in this cave predate all evidence we have of any human activity other than simply surviving… so what are we to ascertain from this? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions when you see the movie, but if you’re interested in reading more, check out Roger Ebert’s long journal entry about the film, which contains several images from inside the cave.

Movie: The Bang Bang Club

What Is It? The true story of four ambitious and slightly crazy young photographers, who captured the end of white rule in South Africa from 1990-1994. Their names were Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek, and Joao Silva, and they came to be known as The Bang Bang Club. Collectively, their works earned a hefty amount of controversy, as well as two Pulitzer Prizes. But two of them wouldn’t make it out alive.

Director: Steven Silver, who had only worked in TV documentaries prior to this.

Notable Cast: Ryan Phillippe and Taylor Kitsch (TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) star as two of the photographers, while Malin Akerman (Watchmen) plays a newspaper photo editor and love interest.

Notable Crew: Silver wrote the screenplay, while one of Nelson Mandela’s grandchildren, Kwelu, is an executive producer.

The Grade: B

Thoughts: From a directing perspective, this is an extremely well made film, with a plentiful amount of evocative imagery. Silver gives us a lot to think about, and this could be the launching pad to a notable career. But as a screenwriter, Silver leaves a bit to be desired. The movie just feels like it glosses over too many important aspects, and it seems unfair that two of the subjects are given first rate treatment while the other two feel like background characters. The pacing is generally good, but that comes at the expense of developing enough emotional investment in South Africa’s political climate.

The actors do a pretty good job with the accents, though they are by no means perfect. It’s actually Akerman, who had never exhibited any previous evidence that she even could act, who does the best job in that department. But even though his accent wanes in and out a bit, Kitsch is the revelation here. In his first major role outside of TV, he just exudes movie star quality.

On Tap For Tomorrow: My only two foreign films of the Festival, one of which won the coveted Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Friday, September 17, 2010

TIFF: Day 5 (Monday 9/13)

Note: You can check out Detroit's Metro Times version of this post (with pictures!) by clicking here.

The big deal for the first Monday of the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival was that the brand new TIFF Bell Lightbox officially opened for business (and I had my first volunteer shift there). TIFF’s state of the art new headquarters in the middle of downtown Toronto’s Entertainment District, the Bell Lightbox features five theaters and screening rooms, lecture halls, gallery and exhibit space, a film reference library, a gift shop, and, of course, the TIFF offices.

The doors officially opened yesterday, celebrated by a huge block party and live music on the streets, but today is the first day that TIFF screenings are being held there. The building is being called “the house that film built,” and to celebrate it’s first year, the TIFF brain trust created a list of 100 Essential Films from throughout history, each of which will screen in one of the Bell Lightbox theaters sometime over the next several months. (Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey will screen in December in their original 70mm prints—an event I’m strongly considering trekking back up to Toronto for.) Also opened at the Bell Lightbox today was an exhibit showcasing art and memorabilia from each of these 100 Essential Films, including gorgeous original posters, costumes, props, and photographs from the productions. For my volunteer shift at the TIFF Bell Lightbox today, I was one of many people assigned to help patrol the exhibit and help answer patron questions.

After the shift, I caught three screenings (all of which were pretty heavy and serious in subject), and two of them were among the best of the Fest… as well as potential Best Picture nominees.

Movie: 127 Hours

What Is It? The true story of hiker/mountain climber Aron Ralston, who got trapped under a boulder in a Utah canyon in 2003. After 127 hours, and running out of both food and water, Ralston severed his own arm to free himself.

Director: Danny Boyle—Winner of the Best Director Oscar for his last film, Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle is also responsible for the modern classics Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, as well as the interesting-yet-flawed The Beach and Sunshine.

Notable Cast: James Franco (Milk, Pineapple Express, Spider-Man) plays Ralston, who is really the only character on screen for much of the film. Kate Mara (Shooter) has a small part as another hiker Ralston encounters prior to his entrapment.

Notable Crew: Boyle worked mostly with his Slumdog crew again, as Simon Beaufoy adapts Ralston’s book, and A.R. Rahman provides the score

The Grade: A-

Thoughts: The first thing you need to know is that James Franco WILL be receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. I’m not saying he’ll win, but a nomination is absolutely in the bag. The second thing you need to know is that this movie becomes difficult to watch at times. It’s an extremely intense experience that is often grueling for the viewer, and when Ralston finally has to resort to cutting off his own arm, it’s a pretty gruesome sequence. The third thing you need to know is that Danny Boyle continues to prove why he’s one of contemporary cinema’s most interesting directors. The exciting opening credits alone are worth the price of admission, and the vivid colors and landscapes are truly gorgeous. Boyle also gets creative with how to hold the audience’s attention, but I won’t spoil anything there.

And the last thing you need to know is, if you can stomach through the hard parts, this is the year’s most uplifting movie. I actually started tearing up at the end watching Ralston gain his freedom (remember, even after lopping off his arm, he then had to get out of the canyon with one arm and having gone well over a full day without food or water). Boyle chooses his music at the end perfectly—it’s a Sigur Ros song called “Festival”—and the film closes with the real Ralston with his wife and daughter. It’s a truly inspiring tale of the human spirit, very similar to 2007’s Into the Wild, but without the downer ending.

Movie: Miral

What Is It? The true story of Miral, an orphaned Palestinian girl growing up in Israel in the wake of the Six Days War. She finds herself drawn into the conflict before eventually becoming a sympathizer for both sides.

Diretor: Juilan Schnabel—One of the modern era’s most renowned visual artists, Schnabel entered filmmaking in 1996 with the biopic Basquiat. He has since made 2000’s Before Night Falls, which starred Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp, and 2007’s outstanding The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which earned him a Best Director nomination.

Notable Cast: Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) plays Miral. Vanessa Redgrave and Willem Dafoe are also in the movie, but their parts are so minuscule and inconsequential that I don’t understand why they bothered.

Notable Crew: The real Miral helped adapt her own autobiography with Schnabel.

The Grade: B-

Thoughts: The first movie of the festival that I was disappointed in; it certainly wasn’t bad, but Schnabel’s previous film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, simply set the bar too high. With that film, Schnabel found remarkably interesting ways to tell the story that could seemingly have only come from a visual artist. With his follow-up, I was expecting another masterpiece, and sadly, I didn’t get one. Miral definitely has some interesting moments, and there are a few flashes of the brilliance Schnabel showed with Butterfly, but for the most part, it’s nothing more than a well-made film of a fairly conventional story that does little to distinguish itself.

Movie: Black Swan

What Is It? Nina, a New York ballerina wins the starring role she’s always coveted, but the director forces her to lose control and embrace her dark side to fully commit to the character. In doing so, Nina begins a decent into her own psyche that just may cause her to lose her grip on reality.

Director: Darren Aronofsky—The director of some of contemporary cinema’s most disturbing and memorable films, including Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, and 2008’s The Wrestler.

Notable Cast: Natalie Portman stars as Nina, while Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Winona Ryder play rival ballerinas. The great French actor, Vincent Cassel (Ocean’s 12 & 13, Eastern Promises) plays the Ballet director.

The Grade: A

Thoughts: I managed to score the last ticket available at 7:00am this morning, and it was worth it—the best of the Fest so far, and a truly absorbing movie-going experience. The beautiful visuals and the epic slow-build of tension and intrigue ensure that you simply can’t take your eyes off the screen.

If you can imagine a cross between The Shining and Showgirls (only an alternate reality version where Showgirls was really good), then you’re just about there. There’s also some substantial similarity to Aronofsky’s previous film, The Wrestler, which is no accident. Aronofsky said he views them as companion pieces—one is about what people might call the lowest art form, and one is about what could be called the highest art form, but both are about people who sacrifice every aspect of themselves for their art.

Portman is extremely impressive with the range of emotions she captures, and it appears that she did most of her own dancing. She’s nearly as much of a lock for an Oscar nomination as James Franco.

Word of mouth on this film has been great throughout the Festival, and it inspired the longest standing ovation I’ve seen thus far.

On Tap For Tomorrow: The Great Bruce Springsteen Adventure: will your fearless author get to meet his idol? Stay tuned…

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

TIFF: Day 4 (Sunday 9/12)

Note: You can check out the Metro Times version of this post (with pictures!) by clicking here.

Not too much to report today besides the screenings (I caught three), so I’ll cut to the chase…

Movie: The Town

What Is It? Four bank robbers from the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown take a beautiful young woman hostage during their latest heist. When the leader of the crew visits her a few days later to try to find out if she knows anything, he begins to fall in love with her.

Director: Ben Affleck—A major Hollywood star since the late 90s, this is Affleck’s second go behind the camera. The first, 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, I picked as one of that year’s ten best.

Notable Cast: Affleck, Jeremy Renner (an Oscar nominee last year for The Hurt Locker), Rebecca Hall (Vicky Christina Barcelona, Please Give), Jon Hamm (star of AMC’s “Mad Men”), Blake Lively (TV’s “Gossip Girl”), and Chris Cooper (an Oscar winner in 2002 for Adaptation).

Notable Crew: Affleck helped write the screenplay, his third co-writing credit after Gone Baby Gone and Good Will Hunting, for which he won an Original Screenplay Oscar. And the film was shot by Robert Elswit, who was responsible for the incredible imagery of Good Night, and Good Luck and There Will Be Blood.

The Grade: A-

Thoughts: I left The Town feeling absolutely certain of two things—1) Blake Lively has breast implants, and 2) Ben Affleck is ready to enter the upper echelon of American filmmaking. The first one needs no explanation, so we’ll concentrate on number two. The Town isn’t going to be getting any Best Picture love or anything, because, at its heart, it’s just an excellent genre film. But excellent genre films don’t grow on trees, and I expect this one to be a critical and commercial success.

As an actor, Affleck has inspired more jokes than praise, but he does an admirable job here, holding his own with a great cast. Renner proves The Hurt Locker was no fluke (he’s great), and the gorgeous and talented Rebecca Hall looks ready for the big time. Hamm, looking like he’s enjoying the chance to sport a bit of stubble, provides reliable supporting work as the FBI agent on the case.

In many respects, The Town is like Michael Mann’s 1995 bank robber epic Heat, but an hour shorter. I would have been the first to argue that Heat couldn’t—and shouldn’t—be any shorter, but at just over two hours, The Town doesn’t feel like it short changed any aspects of the plot. This is only Affleck’s second film behind the camera, but he’s proven with both that he’s got the goods. Other than an ending that veers a little too much towards Shawshank Redemption territory, The Town is without flaws, and Affleck’s natural story-telling ability is incredibly apparent.

Movie: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

What Is It? We follow four related Londoners in committed relationships as they each begin to wonder about meeting someone else. The idea of finding a new romantic interest is followed within each of them to varying degrees, and the outcome of each real or imagined infidelity is explored.

Director: Woody Allen—I’m hoping he needs no explanation, but it should be noted that he’s enjoyed a bit of a resurgence lately since he began setting his films in Europe with 2005’s Matchpoint. 2008’s Vicky Christina Barcelona was his best in almost twenty years.

Notable Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire), Gemma Jones, and newcomer Lucy Punch.

Notable Crew: Allen wrote the screenplay (as usual), and the film was shot by the great Vilmos Zsigmond, who worked on such classics as The Deer Hunter and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The Grade: B+

Thoughts: The key quality of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is that it’s not about people having affairs and then arguing about it. In fact, we barely see a single scene of couples arguing about affairs. Instead, we see circumstances and encounters that attract people to the idea of an affair, and then we see how they feel about what decision they made. It’s a new approach to an ancient subject, and it feels quite fresh. All of the actors do well, but particularly outstanding are Gemma Jones as Naomi Watts’ mother, and Lucy Punch (who may find herself with an Oscar nomination) as a vacuous hooker that Anthony Hopkins tries to turn into a trophy housewife. Like many Woody Allen films, we don’t reach a conclusion so much as a stopping point, but it serves the story well and humorously.

Movie: Tamara Drewe

What Is It? After many years away, Tamara Drewe returns to her English countryside home with a new nose that makes her startlingly beautiful. A writer’s retreat is occurring at the neighbors, which she has a profound effect on. Meanwhile, two local teenage girls become very jealous of Tamara’s latest love interest, the drummer of a popular London rock band.

Director: Stephen Frears—One of the most dependable directors of the last twenty-five years, it’s unfortunate Frears doesn’t have more name recognition. Among his many films are The Queen (for which Helen Mirren won an Oscar in 2006), Dirty Pretty Things, The Grifters, Dangerous Liaisons, and High Fidelity—one of my personal favorites.

Notable Cast: Gemma Arterton (Strawberry Fields in the latest Bond flick) plays the title character, and she gets excellent supporting work from a handful of British character actors and newcomers.

Notable Crew: The screenplay was adapted from the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds.

The Grade: B+

Thoughts: Most of what happens in Tamara Drewe defies explanation. The plot involves a ton of shagging, a stampede of cows, a failing American crime writer, and a hilarious teenage girl with a vocabulary that George Carlin would approve of (played by Jessica Barden, she does the best scene stealing work of the year so far; I simply couldn’t wait for her to get back on screen). Sadly, though, without any stars (Arterton isn’t quite there yet, though she will be), I don’t think this little British countryside comedy will be lighting the box office on fire. But if you do get the chance to see it, consider it recommended. It’s an extremely funny film made by a director whose work always has the utmost care and integrity.

On Tap For Tomorrow: The grand opening of the new TIFF headquarters (where my next five volunteer shifts will be), new movies by Danny Boyle and Julian Schnabel, and my last ditch attempt to get in the Black Swan premiere—arguably the fest’s hottest ticket.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

TIFF: Day 3 (Saturday 9/11)

Note: Click here to see the Metro Times version of this post, which features many photos I took through the day.

Woke up at 7am today to try and get more tickets—at TIFF, shows often go off sale when there are still some tickets left, and then those remaining tickets are released at 7am the day of the show. I already had tickets today for Little White Lies and It’s Kind of a Funny Story, but I was really hoping to add Biutiful (Javier Bardem drama by the director of Babel) and Never Let Me Go (adapted from the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and starring Carey Mulligan & Keira Knightley). Struck out on Biutiful, nabbed a ticket for Never Let Me Go, then promptly went back to bed for three more hours.

My day then commenced with the revelation that the showers where I’m staying were temporarily out of commission, which meant no bathing for me today because I’m on a timetable. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this would be a powerful omen for how the rest of the day would go. After lunch and some writing at a café, I headed to Roy Thomson Hall for the gala premiere of Little White Lies, a film I was really looking forward to. Directed by Guillaume Canet (who starred opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach and directed the great 2006 French thriller Tell No One), Marion Cotillard heads an all-star French cast on a weekend picnic outing of Parisian high society. I arrived at the premiere about thirty minutes before it was scheduled to start, and then waited in line for almost an hour and a half. When they finally herded us in, Canet and Cotillard came out on the stage to announce that they had just flown from Paris to present the film to us, but the new state of the art projection system wasn’t registering the subtitles. So, here was the compromise: anyone that spoke French could stay there and watch the film, and anyone that didn’t could take a four block walk to another theater where the film would be shown with subtitles. Sadly, that means the new show time would be shortly after 3pm, the movie was two hours and thirty-five minutes long, and my ticket to Never Let Me Go was for 6pm and a long trek across town. So Little White Lies and I were not destined to be, at least not today.

After some more writing I headed to the Ryerson Theater, where my next two movies were showing back to back. I bet you’d love to believe this meant I could just stay in the theater, but ooohhhh no, not that easy. After the first showing I had to exit and get in line for the next one, already wrapped around the block. After both films (reviews are below), I then tried to rush the midnight movie, Bunraku. Allow me to translate: TIFF holds a midnight movie at the Ryerson every night of the fest. These are often horror, sci-fi, lowbrow/low budget action, etc. The midnight movie for Saturday was Bunraku, some sort of crime noir with Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore, and Josh Hartnett that sounded interesting. It was sold out, but I tried to rush it, which is an option for every screening at TIFF. Basically, a rush line forms at a screening for anyone that wants to see the movie but doesn’t have a ticket. Then, when the show’s about to start, festival staff counts the number of empty seats and lets that many people in from the rush line. The production and distribution companies for each film are usually allotted an obscene amount of tickets, most of which don’t get used, so this is where the empty seats get created. Often times, over 100 people from the rush line will get into a screening. But for whatever reason, last night at the Ryerson, there was only one person working the box office to sell tickets to the people in the rush line. So by the time they got to my spot in the rush line, the movie had started twenty minutes ago. The guys behind me didn’t seem to think this was a big deal, and they happily shuffled in, but I’m a purist; if I can’t see a movie from the first second, I’m not interested. So I called it a night.

End result for Saturday: tried to see five movies, succeeded with two, and waited in three hours worth of lines for movies I didn’t even get to see. Hopefully Sunday will be better.

Movie: Never Let Me Go

What Is It? Taking place in an alternate present-day England with no disease, people are bred to be organ donors. By their mid-20s, these people begin their donations, and after three or four, they “complete” (die). Living sheltered lives away from real society, three of these people—Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy—have a romantic triangle that plays out against their short, devalued lives.

Director: Mark Romanek—known as one of the best music video directors around (he’s responsible for two of my all-time favorites: Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” and Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”), Romanek made his feature film debut with 2002’s Robin Williams drama One Hour Photo. This is his second film.

Notable Cast: Carey Mulligan (an Oscar nominee last year for the wonderful An Education), Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield (star of the upcoming The Social Network and recently cast as the next Spider-Man) play the three lead characters.

Notable Crew: Alex Garland, writer of The Beach, adapted the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.

The Grade: B-

Thoughts: Overall, it was good, but I liked it better when it was called Blade Runner. Sure, the movies are radically different, but the themes they tackle are so uniquely similar that it’s impossible not to draw comparisons. You can safely think of this as Blade Runner minus the sci-fi elements, with a touch of British class drama thrown in.

As is the case with all of Romanek’s videos, the visuals are generally quite stunning, and the three leads do a wonderful job, particularly Mulligan’s melancholy narration and a scene towards the end where Garfield’s character lets his whole soul pour out.

But the film still has a major flaw that will be obvious even to people who haven’t seen Blade Runner. After we find out who these people are and what they’re destined for about twenty minutes in, very little happens over the next hour. In fact, I started to nod off at times, and I talked to a few other people who felt the same. The film’s final act, where our three characters meet their fates, is truly phenomenal, but the story just didn’t know how to get them there in a way that the audience cares about. I don’t know how to solve this problem, but it’s a problem nonetheless. Even still, the last twenty minutes make the film overall worthwhile.

Movie: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

What is it? Craig, a typical sixteen-year old in NYC, is feeling suicidal, so he checks himself into the psych ward at a hospital, without realizing that means he must stay a minimum of five days. He meets Bobby, who’s sort of like a fat Yoda to the rest of the ward, and Noelle, also a teen suicide risk, but a foxy one.

Director: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, the same team that made 2008’s Sugar and 2006’s Half Nelson (which earned Ryan Gosling an Oscar nomination).

Notable Cast: Zach Galifianakis (the break-out star of last summer’s The Hangover) plays Bobby, while relative unknowns Emma Roberts and Keir Gilchrist plays Noelle and Craig.

The Grade: A-

Thoughts: A really enjoyable film that I suspect will find a sizable audience through great word of mouth, a la Little Miss Sunshine and Juno. The most amazing aspect might have been the ability to craft a mental institution dramedy without really recalling One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is about as easy as making a nuclear war comedy without referencing Dr. Strangelove. Using a dazzling array of styles and visual techniques, Fleck & Boden recall the look of films like (500) Days of Summer and The Science of Sleep, but make the outcome feel original.

Some of the best scenes involve slight departures from reality, such as an animated sequence of the cityscapes Craig likes to draw, and a fever dream music video of the ward patients performing Bowie & Queen’s “Under Pressure,” which looked like one of the most fun days of shooting any movie could ever have. Galifianakis also shows in the movie that he has true acting chops beyond just his obvious comedic talent, and I’m making a bold prediction: he’ll get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

The flaw of the movie is that it acts as though a sixteen-year old can solve many of the problems in a hospital psyche ward after a five-day visit, which is, of course, a slightly over-simplified reality. But the conclusion leaves the characters not with happily ever after, but instead just happy to be, and that should be the dream of any mental patient.

After the screening of It’s Kind of a Funny Story, the cast and directors stuck around for a pretty engaging Q & A, with Zach Galifianakis inciting some uproarious laughter simply with his mannerisms. I even managed to get a question in for the directors; I asked about whether they write scenes with specific songs in mind, and what happens if they can’t get the rights to some of the songs they envision being in the film. Fleck said that sometimes they have backup plans, but it almost always works out. Though he added that in the case of “Under Pressure,” when a bit of difficulty arose, he and Boden told their producers that they wouldn’t make the movie without that song in it. One thing that amazed me at the Q & A is that, while most high school characters in TV and film are played by actors in their mid-twenties, Keir Gilchrist played a sixteen-year old but didn’t even look Bar Mitzvah ready in person.

On Tap for Tomorrow: I have a ticket for Ben Affleck’s The Town, and I’m hoping to get several others (plus it’d be nice to actually see all the movies I have tickets for).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

TIFF: Day 2 (Friday 9/10)

Note: I'm having trouble with pictures on this blog, so I'm abandoning them for now. But, you can check me out at The Metro Times for the version with photos!

Today I went to my first volunteer shift and my first gala premiere. My volunteer shift was about five hours long and I was stationed at the Scotiabank Theater complex. This, I found out, is the site of the majority of the Press & Industry screenings, which I didn’t even know existed. Apparently, the huge schedule that’s given out to everyone which has the times & locations of nearly 1,000 screenings ONLY lists the public screenings, and there are another few hundred screenings just for Press & Industry. So, my job for this shift was to help with line control and crowd organization inside the Scotiabank complex for the P & I crowd.

A bit of knowledge I gleaned from this experience: people with Press & Industry credentials DO NOT like waiting in lines. They seem to think that, even though there are probably a few thousand people with the exact same P & I lanyards, they should be able to go directly to the front of the line. But what fascinated me was that it wasn’t the true media big shots that were disgruntled about the crowds; they, clearly, have done this before and know what to expect. Instead, it was the people who write for some paper in Delaware that’s surely about to go belly-up, or some website that maybe gets ten hits a month, and they think they’re P & I lanyard is a free pass out of ever waiting for anything. I solemnly vow that once I’m successful enough to be lanyard worthy, I won’t be that guy.

The best part of this experience was that two of my true writing heroes, Roger Ebert and Lisa Schwarzbaum, went through the line I was working and I got to check their credentials (as though I didn’t know they belonged). I was really thrilled to see Ebert, jawless, unable to speak, having difficulty moving around, and yet still doing what he loves. I once read an interview with Dustin Hoffman, where Hoffman said, “people retire from a job, but you never retire from your work.” Ebert’s livelihood is about seeing movies and helping to guide the public decision of what is worth our time and money, and he’s still doing it, no matter that it’s become infinitely more difficult, and he certainly doesn’t need the money. You gotta respect that. And Schwarzbaum, it should be noted, was one of the few P & I people through the entire day who took the time for basic social graces; she said hello to the volunteers, and said thank you when we let her in. Sometimes it’s the little things.

After the volunteer shift, I started to get ready for the big gig of the night, the world premiere of the film Trust, much of which was filmed locally in Ann Arbor this past spring (The Gandy Dancer is visible at one point, and Clive Owen & Catherine Keener spin the cube sculpture in front of the U of M administration building). This event brought out the full red carpet, paparazzi, and a line that was the longest I’d seen yet. The general demeanor of the crowd made it seem like we were about to enter a New York opera. Everyone was decked out, and the feeling that we were at something important was inescapable (even if inaccurate). The screening started about 20 minutes late, and I’ve a hunch that’s going to be a frequent occurrence with the gala screenings. David Schwimmer, who directed, was on hand to introduce the film, and stars Clive Owen and Catherine Keener were also present, but apparently just to wave and elicit applause, as neither were given an opportunity to speak.

Movie: Trust

What is it? A domestic drama about fourteen-year old Annie, who starts a romance with a boy online she believes to be sixteen, but who turns out to be a sexual predator in his thirties. Clive Owen and Catherine Keener play the parents trying to handle Annie’s emotions, and their own.

Director: David Schwimmer—Ross from “Friends,” who’s lately turned to directing. His first film, Run, Fatboy, Run, starred Simon Pegg and played at TIFF a few years ago.

Notable Cast: Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, Viola Davis (an Oscar nominee for Doubt), and newcomer Liana Liberato as Annie.

Notable Crew: The screenplay was co-written by Robert Festinger, who also authored 2001’s Best Picture nominee In the Bedroom.

The Grade: B

Thoughts: I won’t lie—I was prepared to completely write this movie off about 1/3 of the way through. It had the feel of a Lifetime movie whose purpose is to be shown in seventh-grade health classes, and Annie makes so many horrendously illogical decisions in the film’s first act that it’s actually difficult to sympathize with her character (even when taking into account that fourteen-year olds are illogical by nature)

But, to the credit of David Schwimmer and his cast, and a subtle shift in focus from Annie to her parents, I got pulled back in to what turned out to be a pretty decent movie. The acting is a huge part of it; Keener is one of Hollywood’s most reliable actresses, Clive Owen is a master of domestic rage (which he harnessed wonderfully in 2004’s Closer), and Liana Liberato is a revelation as Annie, who makes what initially felt absurd actually sort of resonate. Schwimmer hasn’t developed much of a visual style yet, and for the most part he plays it safe, but he does two things here that may point the way to a good career behind the camera: he draws a wonderful performance out of his cast, and he has the balls to end the movie at a place one might not think an ending ought to go. One of the most important abilities a filmmaker has is to control what their audience feels as they leave the theater, and Schwimmer does that quite well with Trust.

On Tap for Tomorrow: My first full day of film going, with tickets to movies starring Marion Cotillard, Keira Knightley, and Zach Galifianakis… but it didn’t quite go off without a hitch.