All about Sean Penn

Okay, so I just had my first truly transcendent festival experience of 2007. I don’t think I’ve felt that way in a movie theatre since the World Premiere of Paul Haggis’ Crash a few festivals ago.

I thought today was going to be all about Cronenberg for me, and I did like his film… But WOWOWOWOWOW…

Into the Wild
, the new Sean Penn movie staring Emile Hirsch and with music by Eddie Vedder. Can’t express how moving and riveting this film was. And I was really tired going in. I actually considered going home after my 6:00 pm film, but I’m so glad I didn’t. Worth staying up for.

For me, the truly amazing films at the festival are the ones where there’s no buzz, were there’s been no reviews, because no one has freakin’ seen it yet. That’s the way it was with Crash in 2004 and Into the Wild this year. Those of us lucky enough to be in the room are the first people to ever see it on a big screen. And when a film like that is good… well it’s amazing.

Into the Wild is so beautiful visually, the music’s incredible, the performances are real, the characters fascinating, the story gripping in spite of what many people would consider a slow pace, and then Jon Krakauer’s truly beautiful and deeply meaningful prose as read by Jenna Malone. WOW.

I have three Oscar predictions, no four. Best Actor, Emile Hirsch, Best Score, Eddie Vedder, Best Director, Sean Penn, Best Movie, Into the Wild. That is, assuming this movie hits theatres before the end of the year. I have no idea what they’re planning. [Update: According to IMDB.com, it’s out this month. Go see it.] With Crash, they waited almost a year after I saw it to release the film to theatres… But that was because Haggis was getting all that buzz over Million Dollar Baby. (I assume–and digress.) There are also a few possible supporting actor noms including Hal Holbrook and Catherine Keener who were stand outs for me in a cast where every performance felt so real.

If you don’t know anything about this book, then I suggest not reading it or listening to any reviews before seeing the movie. If you have read the book, I expect you won’t be disappointed. I may be wrong about my Oscar predictions, but if this film doesn’t solidify Sean Penn’s reputation as a stellar filmmaker, I don’t know what it would take. Truly fabulous. Okay, I’m gushing. But the film really blew me away, and if the standing ovation was any judge, it blew everyone else away, too.

And the festival audiences don’t do that for every film just to kiss up to the stars in the room. Last night, there was short polite applause after The Assassination of Jesse James, in spite of half of Hollywood royalty being in the room. (Okay, just the boys. Half the cast of Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, etc. were there to watch Brad in his arty western.) Which I enjoyed, by the way, I know I didn’t blog about it last night… But I did find it beautiful both visually, and in terms of the words. (Like this film tonight, Jesse James has a voice over narration at times, and it was like poetry. Beautiful.) But in spite of Pitt winning best actor at the Venice Festival, I really don’t think that film’s going to do very well. (Nor did I think he was all that great in it.) It was about the same length and overall pace as Into the Wild, but felt about 2 hours longer… And I talked to several people today who genuinely hated it…

Anyway… Another big day tomorrow, starting out with a very interesting sounding movie, In Bloom, starring Uma Thurman, (which sounds controversial enough that it may not hit theatres in spite of Ms. Thurman), and ending with Paul Haggis’s new film, In the Valley of Elah, in the evening… But Haggis’s new film has already been seen by the press and in Venice, so not nearly as exciting. BTW. Haggis was in the theatre tonight to watch Sean Penn’s movie.

Over and out….

Reese Witherspoon made me cry…

True confessions, Reese made me cry. And early in the morning. (Maybe I was crying because it was so early in the morning?)

But seriously. Rendition was amazing. I really liked it. Not only did I find it gripping and emotional and important, but it was my first film this year that made me think about storytelling techniques.

I don’t want to give away spoilers for a film I think everyone should see… but there are multiple storylines and an interesting twist in how the writer/director uses those storylines. Just something I’d never seen before and I thought it really worked to heighten tension, build to a climax, etc. etc.

Another very cool festival experience was the world premiere of Stuart Townsend’s new film Battle in Seattle about the WTO riots in 1999. The audience gave a five minute standing ovation… I’m not sure I thought it was five-minute-standing-ovation good… but clearly others did and Stuart and Charlize were too cute for words. During the Q&A someone asked how each of the actors got involved in the project and they all gave these long-winded answers about how great the script and subject matter were and how badly they wanted to be involved… And then the mike went to Charlize and she said, “I just wanted to sleep with the director.” Seriously, they were too cute.

All-in-all a great day but I’m a little too tired to blog much and need to get up in less than 6 hours if I want to make my screening of Eastern Promises, and I want to pay the films I saw today justice when I talk about them.

I’m just going to say one more thing. In person, Brad Pitt is the most beautiful human being on the planet. Oh, My, God. (Says Maureen from the third row, realizing she’s not over him like she thought she was when he left his wife for that slut.

Worth the mad dash across Queen St?

Okay, so I’m through my first full day, but it’s 12:44 am and my first film tomorrow (today?) is at 9:00 am… So this blog will be short. My morning film tomorrow is Rendition, and I do want to see it, but it opens Oct. 19, and the premiere was tonight (at the same time as I was seeing an Ang Lee film) so the stars are highly unlikely to be there… so when my alarm rings at 7:30 am I may well decide to give it a pass.

Today was pretty good. First film Pink. A very strange but interesting film. It’s a Greek film and I’m trying to think of how to describe it… All elements were odd/offbeat. The characters, the story, the filming style, everything. But all in all I’m glad I saw it.

Next was California Dreamin’ (Endless). A Romanian film that did end up being well named — endless. I was loving the film for about the first 90 minutes… Then I got restless and realized I had a time problem because I had a 6:00 pm screening at another venue. I’d figured that would be lots of time, since California Dreamin’ (Endless) was at 3:00, so I figured I’d be out by 5:00… But no… I knew there was supposed to be a big explosive ending… so I kept waiting it out, but ended up leaving at about 5:40 (I’m not sure what I missed) and literally ran and then took a cab for 3 or so blocks and ran some more (once the traffic around Yonge and Queen got so bad running was quicker than the cab). But I made it. They only officially hold seats until 15 minutes before the screening, but they were still letting the main line in (hadn’t even started dealing with the Rush folks) when I got there. Phew.

That film was worth the run, I think… But I was in the second row which was kind of difficult. It was called Then She Found Me and the filmmaker/star was Helen Hunt. This is a real “women’s fiction” type story and although the Ang Lee movie is in my head right now… I think I really liked Then She Found Me. Hey, Colin Firth was in it. What’s not to like. (He didn’t show up for the screening, though.) It’s about a woman dealing with her marriage ending, wanting to have a baby, meeting her birth mother, etc. etc. There were a few interesting/unexpected twists and Hunt was really good. Bette Midler plays her birth mom and one bizarre thing I hate to comment on, was that Hunt looked older than Midler. I admire Helen Hunt for not botoxing or eye lifting herself… but it was a bit strange that Midler looked younger. I guess it kind of fit their characters, though. Okay, I officially feel badly about noticing/mentioning this. I’m such a hypocrite.

The Ang Lee film Lust, Caution was pretty amazing. But I’m a big fan of his. During the intros, one of the producers made a joke about Ang Less going from a gay shepherd movie to a 2 1/2 hour Chinese porno… LOL. Lust, Caution is a spy-type story set in Shanghai in the 1940’s and yes, there are some very graphic (and violent) sex scenes. It’ll be interesting to see if this movie gets released in the US. Probably will with a NC17 rating. Can’t imagine how they could cut it to avoid that rating. But then the ratings given by the MPAA are so arbitrary and bizarre, who knows… They showed some clips from 40’s era movies during the film, including Casablanca, and I have a feeling these clips were chosen purposefully, but I’m going to have to think about that a bit more… One character does make a big/difficult/impulsive/tragic choice that’s kind of motivated by love… but it’s not like Casablanca in my mind… Will have to think about it once my head clears a bit. Maybe it was just showing the romantic nature of the protagonist? Hmmmm…

Anyway… I’d better try to wind down and get to bed! (Tomorrow’s Brad Pitt day, not to mention the new Coen brothers movie!)

Good first day

Okay, so it was a good if uneventful opening day. Most exciting, for the first time in years they actually had a pretty funny ad before the film. It involved producer Robert Lantos being pitched a film idea by Gordon, one of those stupid beaver characters from the Bell commercials, but in spite of that, it actually got laughs. I imagine it’ll get pretty old by the end of the festival, no, by tomorrow. But at least it got a laugh on the first run. That’s opposed to the very strange promo piece for the Harold Greenberg Foundation which involved someone (Ian Greenberg?) in a coffin at a funeral, with Atom Egoyan and another filmmaker, I should recognize but didn’t, talking about what an inspiration the dead guy was, then he sits up in his coffin and talks. If it was supposed to be funny, I didn’t get it.

Fugitive Pieces was emotionally draining, but good. Well worth seeing in my opinion. I wish I thought it was going to be a huge hit… I love when Canadian films do well, but ultimately I think the story is too sad to be a box office hit and I just don’t know if the performances were strong enough for it to be a contender for Oscars or anything. Except the little kid who played Jakob as a boy. WOW. He was amazing.

I was extremely impressed with how seamlessly the writer/director moved between locals and time periods. The actors, too. The lead had to play his character over quite a long time period, and not in chronological order in the film, but it was always easy by this demeanor etc to determine what stage of the story we were in. The story moves back and forth in time, but it was never confusing. I’d have to see it again to study how he did it.

Persepolis I’d definitely recommend. I noticed on IMDB.com that they list actors for the English version (including Sean Penn, Iggy Pop, and Gena Rowlands) so I assume it’ll be released in North America (and in English instead of French with subtitles.)

The animation is unique and striking and well suited to the subject and while the overall story is kind of heavy, the filmmaker adds a lot of levity. There were a few laugh out loud moments for me, and that’s a lot to say about a film documenting the rise of the Islamic regime in Iran and the Iran-Iraq war.
Persepolis. My first no caveats recommendation from this year’s Festival.

I don’t have a film until noon tomorrow, so I can sleep in! The film is called Pink and sounds interesting. It’s a Greek film but is described as having the style of Richard Linklater or Paul Thomas Anderson. Hmmm….

And So it Begins…

Today is the opening day of the festival and so far I’m still feeling pretty happy about my picks. Sure, there are movies I’d love to see that I sacrificed for others… But all in all, I’m pretty excited.

Bracing too, for 10 days of little sleep, eating badly, and running between movie theatres. It’s also ragweed season and I have terrible allergies which always seem to get aggravated by the no-sleep-bad-food-spending-too-much-time-in-movie-theatres thing. I have tickets for 45 films this year again. And while that sounds like 4.5 per day… I only have 2 screenings today and so there are a few days when I have 6 films. ACK. Time will tell whether I get to them all. As excited as I am about seeing each of the films I’ve picked, there comes a point each year where sleep, or getting a real meal, starts to take precedence.

On deck for today:

Fugitive Pieces. A Canadian film based on a novel by Anne Michaels, about a young Holocaust survivor who comes to Canada via Greece after the war. I remember liking this book when I read it (at least 10 years ago) but only a few strong images have remained in my mind. And often it’s tricky to translate literary fiction to the movie screen… but it’s directed by Jeremy Podeswa who directed many episodes of Six Feet Under and some other interesting TV stuff. And it got a 3 star review in the Globe today… So I’m hopeful. It’s also the first time I’ve gotten a ticket for the opening film. I was so lucky in the lottery this year.

Next is Persepolis, an animated film that’s a coming of age story of a girl in Tehran during the rule of the Shah, the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War. Not your average Saturday morning cartoon from the sounds of it.

I’m going to try to blog about at least one of the films each day. I’m not sure what the camera situation is going to be this year, but if I can take some snaps I’ll post those too… Last year in some screenings they had big thugs trying to prevent people from taking snaps
Not sure what the situation will be this year. But depending on how it seems, I’ll bring my camera to the opening of Jesse James on Thursday night. How could I not take a picture of Brad Pitt????

Maureen is happy…

What is making Maureen happy? Her TIFF pick envelope ended up in box 70 of 75 and the number drawn out of the hat (well, box) was 66. That means she has a better than fighting chance of getting all her first choice movies. Yippee! Let’s hope she didn’t make too many mistakes on her selection form at 4:00 am this morning…

Festival Time

So, it’s festival time again and I’m up late trying to make my picks which are due by 1:00 PM tomorrow. Not that I’m guaranteed to get my first choice picks, but I’ve been incredibly lucky the past few years, which, of course, makes me think this is the year that my second choice picks will be more important or even relevant…

I blogged last year a bit about the festival and I’m always faced with the what-kind-of-festival-do-I-want-to-have question when trying to make my selections from the 350 plus films they’re showing.

Do I go for the avante guard? Foreign films? Base it on trying to stick to one theatre for a few films in a row, rather than dashing around Toronto? Do I try to maximize the number of celebrities I see? I mean, is seeing The Assassination of Jesse James only a week or so before it’s released, but seeing Brad Pitt in the flesh during the introductions, worth passing up on Alan Ball’s new movie Nothing is Private? How does one decide these things?

And to get more absurd, do I choose to see Michael Clayton, which opens Oct 5 (in NY, LA and Toronto) but have a possible Clooney sighting — he is going to be in town, but will he show for the second screening? — or see My Kid Could Paint That, a documentary about a six year old girl whose paintings sell for big bucks. I’ll see Michael Clayton regardless of the festival, which makes me think I should go for the documentary… And what about the new Elizabeth film which looks amazing… Is it worth missing Jason Reitman’s (Thank you for not Smoking) new film Juno that starts Michael Cera who’s in Superbad right now??? And the only other screening of Juno is the same time as the new Coen brothers’ film No Country for Old Men.

A few films in the festival, I want to see regardless of the fact they’re opening in theatres soon. First is Across the Universe, mostly because it just looks so cool and if it gets reviewed badly I don’t want the reviews to spoil my possible amazing movie-going experience. Of course, seeing a trippy film like that at 9:00 in the morning may not be so trippy… The other is Eastern Promises, David Cronenberg’s new film. It’s the film that Toronto’s NOW Magazine picked as “THE FILM” of this year’s festival, plus the reviewer seemed to think that it’ll get slashed to pieces once the US censors see it… And I’d rather see it uncut.

So, back to my picking… Must get this done… I know. Tough life.

Intelligent choices…

I went to see The Lookout last night. And while I can’t say it was the best movie I’ve seen this year or anything quite that strong… it did strike me once again what interesting and intelligent choices Joseph Gordon-Levitt has made in his career.

I mean, here’s a kid who got famous very young and presumably made a lot of money for acting in a very silly sitcom. How easy would it have been to move from that into either another silly sitcom or into teen-exploitation movies. He’s cute and looks even younger than he is, easily passing for a teenager even now. I’m sure he must have been offered tons of hollywood teen movies.
Instead? He’s been doing really interesting smaller films.

(Okay, he was in 10 Things I Hate About You. But I’d argue that was, as teen movies go, a pretty smart one. I mean, doing a modern remake of Taming of the Shrew is a pretty bold idea. And that director was smart enough to cast an almost unknown at the time Heath Ledger, too.)

I first saw Gordon-Levitt, post 3rd Rock, (which, for the record, I thought was hilarious when it first came out, but quickly tired of), in a film at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival called Mysterious Skin. It’s my favourite type of film to see at the festival, but a hard kind to pick just based on the programming schedule. Maybe if I knew more about directors, etc… but I usually find these ones by luck alone. By favourite type, I mean interesting, bold, smaller films — usually with a young, new director, and often with hollywood stars or up-and-coming young actors — but which, in spite of its impressive cast, will never be released into the theatres, or if it is released, will be hard to find because of a very short run/small number of screens.

I picked this film totally by luck. I think I was literally at the theatre, had a few hours to kill before my next screening (or was too lazy to truck over to whatever theatre my next screening was at) and there were tickets available.

What an interesting film. His performance is still with me. Now, a small warning before you go out to rent it. Here are the “Plot Keywords” listed on imdb.com for Mysterious Skin. “Gay Lead Character / Disturbing / Nose Bleed / Alien Abduction / Coming Of Age”

Interested yet? I’m re-interested and will have to see it again.

Also very interesting was Brick, made in 2005, but which I’m pretty sure I just saw last year some time. Very cool movie. The director completely transfers the film-noir genre into a high school setting. Worth it for the stylized dialogue alone.

And The Lookout, in theatres now. A slowly building suspense film with great character development and, for me anyway, tons of quiet tension.

Gordon-Levitt is either a very smart young man, or he has very smart people around him. Oh, and I just noticed on imdb that he was in A River Runs Through It when he was only 10. Huh. Must have been one of the boys as a kid? Will have to see that again. Okay. For more than just Gordon-Levitt :-)

Bella wins people’s choice

An American independent film, Bella, won the people’s choice award at the festival and I actually saw it.

I wouldn’t have put it on my top ten at the festival list, though… Not that I didn’t enjoy it… it just didn’t seem like anything that special to me. I had to look at the listing to remind myself what it had been about.

Now that I’m remembering it… it was probably a good lesson in slowly revealing backstory. For you writers out there, it’s probably a good one to see when it’s released for that reason alone. Nice redemption story, too… But I saw the ending coming a mile away and I think it was the ending that swept so many people up and caused them to vote for it…

For those of you who don’t know… Toronto doesn’t have an official prize like many big festivals. Rather, the public get ballots at each screening and can rate a movie on a scale of 1-5. (Actually, this process has changed just about every year I’ve been to the festival, but the idea that the audience picks has always been there.)

It’s a strange voting system… because you’re asked to vote right after seeing a film and I don’t know how you can know on the first day whether you’ll like the films you just saw better than the films you’re going to see. Also, some people may see only one film at the festival, others, like me, see nearly 50. But even 50 doesn’t make a dent in the 350 or so films screening… I suppose it’s really a contest of how many audience members the film inspires to actually fill out a ballot — which is, in fact, a test of something.

Suspect system or not, good films tend to win this category each year, (Tsotsi, Hotel Rwanda, Rabbit Proof Fence, The Whale Rider all won in previous years. (If memory serves… I couldn’t find a list online,) so I guess there’s something to the system. One of the reasons film producers like to premiere their films at the Toronto festival is because the audiences are real movie goers for the most part, not just industry people and press.

Amazing Grace an amazing ending

Well. The film festival is over for another year. I feel dizzy and tired and just a little sick.

I saw so many great films, but they’re all whirling around in my brain right now, so it’s hard to pick a favourite. Last year and the year before it was easier… Brokeback Mountain in 2005 and Crash in 2004 were easily my favourites… This year, I haven’t decided yet, but AMAZING GRACE, is in the running.

I actually had tickets for 5 films today, but only went to 3 — skipping the first and the last of the day at 9:00 am and 9:00 pm.

I decided to make AMAZING GRACE my final film. It was the official closing film of the festival and was wonderful.

It’s the story of William Wilberforce who, I admit, I’d never heard of before. He was the British member of parliament responsible for the bill which abolished slavery in Britain in 1807.

The film is being released in February 2007 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the passing of this bill — which Wilberforce had been fighting for for nearly 30 years largely against the sugar industry.

Make a movie date in your calendars now for February.

I was supposed to go to THE DOG PROBLEM in the morning… but decided to sleep in. I’m sorry about missing that one. I’ve heard good things and I don’t know if it’s been sold to a distributor yet so it might not make it to theatres. Scott Caan is the filmmaker and it stars Giovani Ribisi.

I also saw two documentaries today. The first was SHOT IN THE DARK and Adrien Grenier of Entourage was both filmmaker and subject. I’ve been a fan of Adrien Grenier since I first saw him in THE ADVENTURES OF SEBASTIAN COLE a lovely little coming of age film, nearly ruined by a horrible fake accent done by Margaret Colin playing his mother, but saved by Adrien and by Clark Gregg as his cross-dressing transgendered step-father.

Anyway, SHOT IN THE DARK is a documentary about Adrien confronting his biological father whom he hadn’t seen since he was five. The film was shot in 1999-2000. I expect he couldn’t get anyone to give him the money to turn it into a real film until Entourage made him a bit famous. HBO Films is the producer of SHOT IN THE DARK. No surprise. Anyway, if it shows up on HBO or the documentary channel, it’s worth a watch. I also saw THE KILLER WITHIN about a man who came close to being a Columbine type mass murderer in 1955 but actually got off scott free after killing a fellow student in his college dorm. There was never a trial, for reasons that are never made 100% clear.

Anyway, this man lived 50 years with no one knowing what he’d done. He told his wife a bit, but his two daughters (one biological, one from his wife’s first marriage who he’d raised since age 4) didn’t know and neither did any of this friends or family or co-workers. (He became a prominent psychologist and professor — an irony not really explored in the film.)
In his late 60’s, he decides to come clean and blames it all on bullying. He tries to turn himself into a victim. The film is largely about his daughters coming to grips with finding out their father is a murderer. Chilling how this man shows absolutely no emotions about what he did. Chilling. On the other hand, he went on to lead a productive life and raised two daughters — one of whom wouldn’t even exist had he been tried and found guilty. The film asks a lot of questions about forgiveness and the ability to reform and frankly about sociopathic behaviour…

Anyway… All in all, a good day at the festival. Over the next while, I’ll blog more about some of the films.

Now, sleep.