September 11, 2010

Day 1 of John Foote's Toronto Film Festival Diary!

Here's John's report:

What a busy day to start off the Toronto Film Festival!!! Having covered the fest for fifteen years I have a set pattern, but damned if they haven’t moved everything on me and screwed me up!!! More on that later.

Three films got me started with the TIFF, including the goofy night Opening Night Gala, Score: A Hockey Musical, which left me all but giddy. That said, I am not sure who else will want to see the movie, as it does not appeal to hockey purists and musical lovers may be put off by the manner of dance and song. However, merging some of what is going on with TV’s Glee, with some Busby Berkley, and singing and dancing, the filmmaker did an excellent job of making an entertaining film that likely has little reach beyond these borders. Hockey remains our passion up here, and we still wait for that great dramatic film about out sport, or a biography of one of the greats. The excellent Quebec film The Rocket (2006) accomplished at least a part of that a few years ago.

Despite a powerful performance from Edward Norton, Stone goes nowhere fast, taking on every cliche used or seen in a prison film. The plot contains a development so incredibly ludicrous, irresponsible and unprofessional by Robert De Niro’s character (who has given no indication he would fall for such nonsense) that we wanted to scream at the movie screen for him to stop!!! It just does not work for the story, and yet despite that the performances in the film are very good. Norton gets off to a great start as his character goes through a sort of spiritual rebirth, losing none of his menace by the end. His tale to De Niro (who portrays a parole counselor) of how he felt about his crime is chilling, and it is our first peek behind his mask. De Niro is a strange bird, as we see through flashbacks the bizarre control he exerts over his wife. We know his daughter will not talk to him (we see it) and that the marriage is a terrible mess, but he seems like a religious man, a decent man behind the drink that is constantly in his hand at home. I just did not buy that the De Niro character would get trapped in the manner he did, or that he would allow himself to go so off protocol to help someone…anyone. God, the entire film paints him as a selfish brute…why help anyone???

The Town is quite good, another solid directorial effort from Ben Affleck, who is growing into a fine filmmaker. This time there are echoes of early Friedkin in his work, gritty and authentic, displaying a deft touch with his actors, who clearly trust their director. Jeremy Renner is superb as a trigger happy hot head member of the bank robbing gang, who blows a gasket during the robbery and takes a hostage, releasing her almost at once, but not before the event has traumatized her. Hoping to get it all out of mind, Affleck follows her, befriends and then falls in love with her, seeing for the first time a chance at an honest life. This enrages the dangerous Renner. In order to keep her safe, Affleck must betray the gang, and in doing so they will both become targets. The performances are terrific, especially Renner and the great Chris Cooper as Affleck’s father, settled and truthful in his work. Affleck, often mocked as an actor, does an excellent job here on screen as well as behind the camera. This is a solid movie, one that with the right sort of push from the studio could be heard from come Oscar time.
Very hectic day overall as it seems the entire festival has moved south in the city closer to the new festival home the Bell Lightbox. We no longer frequent the lovely Varisty Theatre for our screenings, as the Scotia Bank Theatre is much closer so there was some fumbling to get around a bit. I found that the Richmond/John area is not as taxi cab friendly as the rest of the city, so there was some walking involved (remember I walk with a cane and constant pain) and I paid dearly for the extra walking last night. My friends and allies in pain management (Oxycontin and Percoset) took away the pain for the night but it is back this morning and I can take a bit to take the edge off. Worth it for the movies man…so worth it.


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