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TIFF, Day Four: Egoyan’s ‘Devil’s Knot,’ Hendrix Biopic ‘All Is By My Side,’ Jonze and Reichardt Q&A and More

TIFF, Day Four: Egoyan's 'Devil's Knot,' Hendrix Biopic 'All Is By My Side,' Jonze and Reichardt Q&A and More

I forgot to mention one of yesterday’s highlights: while
Maureen O’Donnell and I were waiting in line for the excellent documentary
“Finding Vivian Maier,” we were stunned to see a long phalanx of
orange-t-shirted volunteers with linked arms making a human shield on either
side of Susan Sarandon, protecting her from the hoi polloi as she left the
first public screening of “The Last of Robin Hood.”  

Today I start with the press screening
of “The Last of Robin Hood,” co-directed by Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer, about the love affair between Errol
Flynn and Beverly Aadland, who was 15 when they met, based on the book “The
Big Love” by Beverly’s complicit mom, Florence Aadland.  The book has a justly famed first line:
“There’s one thing I want to make clear right off — my baby was a virgin
the day she met Errol Flynn.”  

The
film makes it clear that she didn’t end up the day that way. I love the Ross
Hunter Technicolor gloss, the period clothes, cars, and sets. The three main
roles are marvelously cast: no one else could incarnate the dissipated but
charming Flynn but Kevin Kline; Sarandon, blonded and limping (Florence
Aadland, a professional dancer, lost a leg in a car accident), gives the
ultimate stage mom humanity with blinders on; and Dakota Fanning is delicious
with her winged black eyeliner, porcelain skin, and adolescent cynicism. One of
these girls just wants to have fun; Mom’s eye is on the prize, which slips away
due to Flynn’s untimely demise and sloppily amended will.  Florence attempted to extend the 15 minutes
— Beverly’s night club show after Flynn’s death is one of my favorite scenes
— and I only wish that Beverly, who settled down and raised a family in
Palmdale, had lived to see the movie — she died in 2010.

Next on my agenda, “All is By My Side,” about Jimi
Hendrix en route to becoming a star, written and directed by John Ridley (who
also wrote the script for Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” also
playing in Toronto). As I pointed out yesterday with a (partial) list of movies
in Toronto about writers, you can also fill your dance card here with music
movies, both documentaries and narrative features.  

There’s Mike Myers’ directorial debut,
“Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” about the manager of, among
others, Alice Cooper, Blondie, and (wait for it) Anne Murray;  “Can a Song Save Your Life?,” by
John “Once” Carney, starring Keira Knightley and Adam Levine as
songwriting partners who break up, allowing Mark Ruffalo to restart her career
and his as a producer; “Lucky Them,” with Toni Collette as a rock
journalist on the trail of the ten-year-old disappearance of her rock musician
boyfriend; “One Chance,” about British tenor Paul Potts’ success
after appearing on “Britain’s Got Talent”; “12.12.12,” a
documentary about the Concert for Sandy Relief, starring Bruce Springsteen, the
Rolling Stones, the Who, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, and more;
“Metalhead,” in which a young girl remakes herself in the image of
her brother, a heavy-metal devotee, after his accidental death.  And there are more! 

I’m old enough not only to have seen Hendrix live (one of
the best live performers I’ve ever seen), but to remember where I was (going to
school in Paris) when I heard about him dying in London in 1970. He’s one of
the dead-at-27 club that includes Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, and
Kurt Cobain.  The baggy, impressionistic
Ridley film introduces us to Hendrix when he was a back-up guitarist with
processed hair named Jimmy James. 
Somehow a well-connected rock chick (played by the knowing Imogen Poots)
discerns his talent and wants to promote him (without bedding him; she’s Keith
Richards’ girlfriend, it seems).  

Eventually she finds him a manager, who gets him to London and the arms
of a new girl (Hayley Atwell), and another predatory groupie (Ruth Negga), who
tries to awaken his political feelings. 
Musician Andre Benjamin gets the soft, trippy sound of Hendrix’ voice
right, and can be charismatic onstage, but he’s too short and not, alas,
handsome enough — Hendrix had IT! 
Oddly, the movie ends (abruptly) as Hendrix is on the verge of
superstardom — weeks before his epochal, star-making appearance at the
Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.  Hendrix’
most famous songs, likewise, do not make an appearance.  It’s a case of rock tease.

Afterwards, in my attempt to try everything Toronto has on
offer, I jet over to the posh Bell Lightbox to see Spike Jonze in conversation
with Kelly Reichardt

43-year-old Jonze and 49-year-old Reichardt are noticeably boyish and
girlish, in mien, in (charming) affect, and in dress: Spike in blue sweater
over button-down shirt, grey pants, sneakers, no socks; Kelly in plaid shirt,
blue jeans, desert boots.  We see an
overcut clip reel tribute to Jonze’s prolific career — in addition to movies
(including “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,”
“Where the Wild Things Are”), television (notably
“Jackass”), music videos, and commercials, whereupon Reichardt
(director of half-a-dozen features herself, including “Old Joy,”
“Wendy and Lucy,” “Meek’s Cutoff,” and in Toronto,
“Night Moves”), says “I only wrote down one question for you:
Why are you so lazy?”

These are the jokes, folks. 
And they’re off and running.  It
was lovely, with only one awkward moment — when Reichardt rightly (and
mildly) objected to Jonze characterizing his new cameraman, Hoyte von Hoytema
(regular Lance Acord is prepping to direct), as having
“feminine” attributes. Jonze was flummoxed.

Most of the presentation involves the showing of a number of
intriguing clips from Jonze’s new feature, “Her,” in which Joaquin
Phoenix falls in love with an operating system, or O.S., named Samantha.  The most interesting revelation is that, in
post production, the voice of the
O.S., originally done by Samantha Morton, was replaced by Scarlett Johansson —
and that Phoenix’s performance was left untouched.

I take in a half-hour of Stephen Frears’ new picture,
“Philomena,” starring the radiant Judi Dench and the acerbic Steve
Coogan, and am loathe to tear myself away, but I have to hotfoot it over to the
Elgin to see Godfrey Reggio’s new documentary, “Visitors,” in
glorious black-and-white, with its Philip Glass score played live by 66 members
of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.  I am
excited, probably over-excited, as “Visitors,” wittily introduced by
presenter Steven Soderbergh — “Can I describe a movie without words with
words?  I can’t and I will” — does
not induce the same kind of fevered bliss that his previous wordless
essay-assemblage of poetic images have done for me.  “

Visitors,” unlike
“Koyannisqatsi,” 
“Powaqqatsi,” and “Naqoyqatsi,” is in
black-and-white and features long takes, most of faces, as well as shots of
Louisiana bayous and rivers, and repeat shots of a placid female gorilla.  Afterwards Reggio tells us that there are 74
cuts in “Visitors,” versus 383 in “Koyannisqatsi,” 483 in
“Powaqqatsi,” and 565 in “Naqoyqatsi.”  Apparently for me, less is less.

I stick around in the same theater to take in Atom Egoyan’s
“Devil’s Knot,” a fictional version of the well-documented
(literally) case known as the West Memphis Three, young high school kids
convicted of the murder of three 8-year-olds. 
Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky made three documentaries
about the case (the “Paradise Lost” trilogy), which were instrumental
in getting the three released (but not exonerated). Another documentary,
“West of Memphis,” also summarized the story.  

Sixteen actors and producers accompany Egoyan
onstage, including Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, the glorious Mireille Enos in a sexy red dress with
cutouts, Stephen Moyers, and Alessandro Nivola. If I didn’t already know almost
every beat of the story, I would probably be more intrigued and moved by
Egoyan’s careful handling of it.  Some of
the performances — notably Dale DeHaan as a sullen suspect that I was
previously unaware of, Mireille Enos as the mother of a playmate of the three
murdered boys, and Kevin Durand as the voluble John Mark Byers — are excellent
indeed.  

The sold-out house is loathe to
let the actors depart. But eventually we all do.

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