Archive: September, 2009
Made for a reported $11,000 on hi-def, Paranormal Activity now has millions of dollars of Paramount activity behind it: the corporate version of a grass roots, street marketing campaign. Opening Friday, Oct. 2, in select cities, the film – by Oren Pelei – is being sold in part on a Paramount-engineered “Demand It” campaign where folks can go to a website and lobby to bring the spook-o-rama “reality” flick to their town.
Let’s see -- 271 movies in ten days, that’s 27.1 movies a day. Which means that most Toronto Film Festival-goers are going to have wildly divergent takes (and tickets) as they queue up with their circled and underlined schedules, waiting for whatever the next show is at the Varsity or the AMC plexes, the Elgin or the Cumberland, or the other venues spread around town. (A town celebrating its 175th year.)
And so far, my festival has been a grim one – thematically, that is. With the exception of the happily loopy, sort-of-true The Men Who Stare at Goats and its tale of secret paranormal military ops and New Age army dudes (including a Dude-like Jeff Bridges), I’ve seen nothing but doom, death and depression.
Sure, the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man – drawn from Joel and Ethan’s experiences growing up in 1960s suburban Minnesota -- is laced with typical Coensian irony and close-up absurdity. But the film’s protagonist, a physics professor played by Michael Stuhlbarg, has the luck of Job: his wife wants a divorce, his brother, a jobless social misfit, has moved into the family house, the tenure committee has been receiving unfavorable, anonymous letters, and a foreign student is threatening to sue. On top of that, the X-rays from this ill-fated father and husband’s most recent doctor’s visit seem ominous. Laff riot.
Never mind health care, here’s the real difference between the U.S. and Canada: Driving into the country from the States side of Niagara Falls, you pull up to the Customs officer’s booth, he asks you the purpose of your visit and when you say you’re covering the Toronto Film Festival his next question is “What’s your favorite movie?” And then he tells you his (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and then he wants to know what’s up with James Cameron’s Avatar because he heard that it’s going to revolutionize the movie-going experience.
And then: What are you looking forward to seeing in Toronto? Are there going to be a lot of stars?
Somehow I can’t picture the Homeland Security dude on my return through New York asking me if the new Pedro Almodovar is as good as All About My Mother.
Speaking of which, Broken Embraces, with Almodovar muse Penelope Cruz as a woman leading (at least) a double life, and her relationship with a blind screenwriter (Lluis Homar) who has his own secret past, isn’t perfection after all. But this moody, labyrinthine soap opera is never less than compelling.
Forget Jennifer’s Body, though. A self-consciously hip horror thing with Megan Fox striking various teen-seductress poses as she gnashes and gnaws her way through Devil’s Kettle High, this might have felt fresh 15 years ago, but then again, maybe not. Amanda Seyfried, as the kinda nerdy good-girl and Jennifer’s improbable best-friend, voice-overs the tale, directed by Girlfight’s Karyn Kusama, from an arch script full of pseudo-cool teen patter from Diablo Cody of Juno fame.
Way more engaging, and truly nutty: The Men Who Stare at Goats, with George Clooney (looking like a fried Clark Gable) and Jeff Bridges as U.S. army intelligence agents trained in paranormal, psychic powers. Ewan McGregor is the reporter along for the ride, covering this seriously strange gang (also Kevin Spacey) as they bring their unique abilities to Operation Iraqi Freedom. The line for the press and industry screening was literally out the door. And there are some Jedi jokes that take on special meaning given that McGregor is, of course, Obi-Wan Kenobi in another life. Not quite the awed audience response that greeted Slumdog Millionaire in the same theater last year, but hearty applause nonetheless.
Brian De Palma spotted walking from one screening to another, and then later out in Yorkville, sitting on a rock in a pocket park in his trademark safari jacket, adjusting his iPod. DePalma is one of the fest’s annual fixtures.