In Toronto, the folks know film

Posted: September 11, 2007

Steven Rea has been blogging from the Toronto International Film Festival since last week. To read his complete dispatches, go to http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

Thursday, Sept. 6. First film: Slingshot, or Tirador, part of the Contemporary World Cinema program. And jeez, this is part of the contemporary world I don't really want to see: Shot with a jumpy, hand-held digital camera and set in the grim squalor of a Manila shantytown (open sewers, open sex, open shooting-up, open thievery, babies lying unattended on the ground), the film offers a verité ramble among the squatter set. It's hard stuff.

Next up: Control, a biopic of Ian Curtis, the young, brilliant, Bowie-influenced singer/songwriter/front man of the short-lived late-'70s Manchester band Joy Division. A beautiful first feature by the Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn (he photographed Curtis and his mates back in the '70s), it's a sad tale (Curtis hanged himself at 23), but smart, funny and powerful, too.

Friday, Sept. 7. It's 6:30 a.m., and the barrista at Starbucks, a nice Torontonian in her 50s, sees my TIFF press pass and wants to know what I thought of The Brave One. She was at the opening-night gala premiere, and says Jodie Foster's a sure thing for another Oscar. Later, on line for the public screening of Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge, two women chat about their plans for the weekend, pull out a stack of tickets for the coming week's selections, and exchange views on the work of Im Kwon-tack, the Korean director. Torontonians know movies the way Philadelphians know sports - no wonder actors and filmmakers love coming here.

After seeing Caramel, which had some people wowed at Cannes and which is a very pretty, light-infused study of female longing and friendship - written, directed by and starring the light-infused Lebanese beauty Nadine Labaki - it's on to the Coen Brothers' adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. Phew! Set in 1980 Texas (and a key bit in a Mexican border town), this tale of drugs, money and killing with Tommy Lee Jones as a third-generation Lone Star State sheriff and Javier Bardem as a creepily twisted, lethal sociopath, is gorgeous, spare, haunting. Best thing I've seen so far, far and away. Josh Brolin is taciturn and terrific as a kind of modern-day Western loner, out for himself (but also looking out for his wife, played by Kelly Macdonald), who stumbles on a suitcase full of $100 bills - and tumbles into a mess o' trouble. The jolting, graphic, wide-eyed violence is hard to take, but it means something - it's not the Looney Tunes bloodshed of Shoot 'Em Up. A return to form and then some for siblings Joel and Ethan.

Saturday, Sept. 8. I have back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back interviews from 10:30 to 5 p.m. or so, so no movies for me, just movie stars. First up, Juliette Binoche, talking about Disengagement and Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge, and about the other 20 movies she seems to have made in the last year. From the Sutton Place Hotel to the Four Seasons, where, on the sidewalk, a crowd of celeb-gawkers stand well-behaved behind barricades, hoping to spot stars (Clooney! Pitt! Affleck! Charlize!) as they de-limo into the lobby. The lesser-known Affleck, Casey, is first up: He's Robert Ford, the assassin, in Andrew Dominick's Days of Heaven-ish The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Brad Pitt is the legendary outlaw, and it's a slow-moving, poetic, beautifully shot affair. Affleck is easygoing, smart, and the conversation is OK, considering he's been at this for days, and that the army of studio publicists managing print and TV media for three pictures (Assassination, The Brave One and Michael Clayton) come and go, speaking into their walkies, thumbing their BlackBerrys. Two whole floors of press-junket ridiculousness.

Also on my docket today: French actor Vincent Cassel, Sean Penn and the star of Penn's film Into the Wild, Emile Hirsch.

Sunday, Sept. 9. Have to see Elizabeth: The Golden Age for a scheduled interview with Geoffrey Rush (Sir Francis Walsingham). It's a grand-looking sequel to the Cate Blanchett Oscar hit. Grand-looking, but full of kerplunkingly lame speeches and dopey lovemaking montages. The love is being made by Clive Owen (Sir Walter Raleigh) and Abbie Cornish (the queen's first lady-in-waiting), as Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, aches inside, longing to love the dashing plunderer of the New World but not being able to do so. Something about a war with Spain and having to decapitate Mary, Queen of Scots.

Down Bay Street to the Sutton Place, where TIFF has a splendid Internet room for press and industry, with about 40 flat-screen Macs and folks taking a break from deal-making and film watching to check their respective German, French, Japanese and Swedish G-mail accounts. I'm here to talk to Amir Bar-Lev, the director of My Kid Could Paint That, about then-4-year-old Marla Olmstead, a preschooler whose abstract canvases started selling in the five-figure price range. The subject of a brief media hoopla, and a 60 Minutes debunking, Marla and her folks remain something of a mystery - intentionally, and intelligently so - in Bar-Lev's fascinating doc. The Sony Pictures Classics release isn't simply an investigation into the authenticity of Marla's work (did her dad actually do them, or coach her?), but a thought-provoking look at the world of abstract art, the relationship between a reporter and his/her subject, and, just for the heck of it, the nature of truth.

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