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TIFF: Brody Day One – ‘No,’ ‘Anna Karenina,’ ‘Kinshasa Kids,’ ‘On the Road’ & Reitman’s ‘American Beauty’

TIFF: Brody Day One - 'No,' 'Anna Karenina,' 'Kinshasa Kids,' 'On the Road' & Reitman's 'American Beauty'

A leisurely (if lengthy) trip from Telluride to Toronto on Tuesday, intending to get me to the Toronto International Film Festival more than a full day in advance of its Thursday, September 6 opening, hit a snag, after a three-hour van ride to Grand Junction and an hour plane trip to Denver.  

The heat of the day mandated a lighter plane (damn those tiny regional airplanes), and 11 of the 63 people scheduled to fly to Toronto were summarily bounced, me among them. It took four hours after this announcement to process our paperwork and shuttle us to a not-so-nearby hotel, clutching room vouchers and food vouchers (oddly not applicable for the alcohol we all needed) and compensation checks based on some unexplained formula tied to our initial ticket price – I would have been pleased with mine, had I not seen that the check handed to the person ahead of me was 50% higher.

That person was Daniel Dreifuss, the young producer of “No,” the Chilean film about the 1988 ad campaign against the continued dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which I’d seen on my last day at Telluride.  He’d introduced the film, so I recognized him as a fellow traveler, so to speak.  Luckily, because we chatted about Telluride and movies and Toronto for the four hours we were stranded in Terminal B, on the shuttles to and from the airport, and on the cab ride into Toronto.  My memory for filmographies and assorted film trivia is not what it once was – I claim to have turned it all over to the IMDB – but I still usually win one or more trivia contests at Telluride screenings (of which there were disappointingly few this year), giving my hostess the resulting pounds of beef jerky and fat TCM movie books.  But Daniel D. astounded me with his Rainman-like knowledge of Oscar nominees, including not only who won but who should have won, in his opinion.

My plan to pick up my pass and bumph early, and spend a leisurely day perusing the over-450-page catalogue and two screening schedules (public and press & industry) – not to mention seeing a movie or two – went up in smoke.  I arrived in late afternoon on Wednesday, and missed an early-morning screening of “Midnight’s Children.”  (That makes five I’ve missed, counting four at Telluride.)  I did have the distinct and particularly Torontonian pleasure of attending a posh party – even if there was a cash bar! – that was part of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s free Wednesday night, celebrating the announcement of the four photographers (two Brits and two Canadians) nominated for the $50,000 Grange Prize.  The nominees were chosen by a four-member jury that included my friend Sara Knelman; the winner is chosen by the public (and you can vote!).

On the Thursday morning I had a foolish plan to be in line at the 9 a.m. opening of the Press Office, pick up my pass, and waltz into a 9:15 a.m. screening of “Looper,” the uncharacteristically non-Canadian and extremely commercial opening-night film.  In the event, I arrived at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, where the Press Office is located, at 9:15, running into ex-San Franciscan, now New Yorker Chi-Hui Yang, as he rides up King Street on one of those rent-by-the-hour bikes. It’s the first hour of the first day, and we both already feel behind, as he’d thought he might go to the 8:45 press screening of “Rust and Bone” or the 9:15 screening of “Shanghai,” neither of which I was aware of.  In the event, it takes me a couple of hours to pick up the pass, run into John Powers of “Vogue,” whose tale of being unable to extract his computer from the safe in his hotel room outweighs my stuck-in-Denver-overnight one, Robert Koehler of “Variety,” who it turns out had Daniel Dreifuss as a student at UCLA, Jeffrey Wells, James Quandt, and Haden Guest.  We are all somewhat confused about obtaining tickets for some screenings that are combined Press & Industry, and Public; neither the public box office nor the press one seems to know what to do.  It’s the first day!
I find refuge in an 11:15 press screening of “Kinshasa Kids,” directed by Marc-Henri Wajnberg, about which I know very little. I find it to be an exhilarating, fast-moving, highly-colored mock-documentary about kids living on the streets in the corrupt African city, accused of witchcraft, living by their wits, getting in and out of trouble, and making music.  “This is what I love about Toronto,” I tell my seatmate, curator Sylvia Savadjian, “I’ve never heard of this movie and I wander in and I love it.”  She gently points out that it’s playing the New York Film Festival.

Afterwards I have a hard choice between a 12:45 press screening of the new Abbas Kiorastami film, “Like Someone in Love,” or a 1:15 one for “Tabu,” a highly-touted Portuguese movie by Miguel Gomes (whose second press screening, oddly, is also today, at 6:15, when I have a conflict, having scored a coveted ticket to a staged reading of the script of “American Beauty” organized by Jason Reitman).

I choose the Kiorastami, and I’m surprised when the 548-seat theater seems sparsely attended.  “Like Someone in Love,” which takes place in modern-day Tokyo, feels like a jeu d’esprit, an experiment or an entertainment (pace Graham Greene) made by a master director, who has set many other scenes in moving cars and in foreign countries. A young student/call girl juggles a jealous boyfriend and an undemanding elderly client; something bad might happen, and it does.

Afterwards I slide into “Anna Karenina,” directed by Joe Wright, and starring Keira Knightley, about which I have not had high hopes, as I’d read that it was largely shot in an old theater for budgetary reasons. I’m surprised to be immediately caught by its marvelous, lavish sets and costumes, swooping camera, stylized acting and strikingly-choreographed dancing, and witty script (which I only later discover is written by Tom Stoppard. Talent will out). The cast is fabulous: Jude Law, Kelly Macdonald, Aaron Johnson, Matthew Macfayden, Olivia Williams, Michelle Dockery, Emily Watson, Holliday Grainger, Shirley Henderson.

There are the usual instant defections – after two, five, seven minutes – which make the Press & Industry screenings so fluid and distracting (along with the late entries). I, however, am beguiled and diverted. I have earlier apologized to my companions, Spanish television reporter David Castro and writer/interviewer/Festival bon vivant Henri Behar, that I would run out as soon as the movie was over, as I had to hotfoot it up to the Ryerson Theater, several subway stops away, to make it to “American Beauty” in twenty minutes.

I needn’t have hurried, as I find out when I stand in the longest line I have ever been in (Ryerson holds 1200 people, I was told) – the show starts 45 minutes late.  Favored-son and TIFF regular Jason Reitman has organized stage readings of classic film scripts (including “The Princess Bride” and “The Apartment”) in both LA and NY, they invariably sell out immediately, and I’ve never seen one.  Tonight’s cast includes a marvelous Bryan Cranston in the Kevin Spacey part, a very good, brittle Christina Hendricks in the Annette Bening, and Adam Driver (of “Girls” and “Frances Ha”) in the Wes Bentley role, which he re-interprets in a droll and interesting way.  The rest of the cast is not nearly as starry, or as successful, though it is, after all, a cold reading. (I learn afterwards that Woody Harrelson was supposed to read the Chris Cooper repressed-homosexual part, and comedian Paul Scheer had to step in for him at the last minute.) It’s an interesting evening, and makes me wish I could have seen some of Reitman’s other live reads – Paul Rudd, Emma Stone, James Woods, Lena Dunham, and Jason Sudeikis in “The Apartment” leaps to mind.

I stick around for the 9 p.m. public screening of “On the Road,” a foolish idea, because it starts an hour late, partly due to an hysterical red-carpet shoot of Grant Hedlund, Kirsten Dunst (in a peachy long goddess gown molded to her hourglass figure, to borrow language from “Us” magazine), and Kristen Stewart, in what to these partially-trained eyes looks like a brightly-colored embroidered couture knee-length dress that might just be a Balenciaga, worn with Converse-style sneakers. (I can just hear those “Fashion Police” bitches tearing her to shreds.)  

The beautifully-shot, worshipful adaptation feels even longer than its 129 minutes (I think it was 139 minutes at Cannes, according to trade reviews). The cast seems noticeably uncharismatic, save for Stewart, who seems genuinely free and dangerous. (And a gravelly Viggo Mortensen is A-OK as the William Burroughs-inspired Old Bull Lee, although what the hell Amy Adams is doing as his wife – a wacky crone routine?). Hedlund especially is not my idea of Dean Moriarty/Neal Casady; a slow-talking speed freak. “The only people for me are the mad ones, who are mad to live, mad to talk, made to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time…”?  Thank you, Google, but I find this “On the Road” more mild than mad.

And now I am mad to sleep, desirous of a few hours of rest before I wake up and try to see everything at the same time.

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