Posted: 09/08/2007


Toronto Film Festival – 2007

by Paul Fischer

Exclusive: Reporting From the 2007 Toronto International Film Fest!

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Toronto Film Festival Report – Part 1

The Toronto International Film Festival returns with one of its largest and most diverse programs to date. As stars come out for the annual event, the most prestigious film festival in North America, the indie and mainstream worlds collide with a vengeance. Over the next several days, one’s eyes will be bleary seeing a plethora of movies of all genres and budgets, as well as chat to some of the stars and directors behind them. In Part One of my report, here are some films I caught up with already, while tomorrow and the weekend, more to come and stars with whom to chat. Enjoy my potted journey through the frenetic world of this year’s Toronto Film Festival.

First up is Sleuth, the updated story of a wealthy writer of detective stories, and an aspiring yet out-of-work actor who is having an affair with the writer’s wife. The writer’s exquisitely modernized Georgian manor becomes the backdrop for a cat and mouse game that pits one creative mind against another.

Kenneth Branagh’s remake of the 1972 cat-and-mouse thriller is a stylish, hypnotic and flawlessly acted masterpiece. A richly woven work with a deliciously sardonic and witty screenplay by Harold Pinter, in many ways the film redefines the themes of the original by adding heightened tension, a greater deal of malevolence and sexual subtext in the final act that brings out the often complex relationship between these two somewhat misogynistic characters fighting over a woman we never see. As with the original play and film adaptation, this is essentially a two-hander, and for a film like this to work effectively, it requires two essential ingredients: actors who compel us from the outset, and a filmmaker who can make a dialogue-laden thriller visually arresting. The film’s two leads and director Branagh have accomplished both of these, brilliantly and audaciously. Branagh and his cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, along with production designer Tim Harvey, have created a visual tapestry that consistently and elegantly establishes tone and mood, through evocative use of lightning and the interior of a cold, glass-laden house that establishes Michael Caine’s multi-faceted Andrew Wyke, played by Laurence Olivier in the original. Caine’s Wyke is slightly more sinister and less over-the-top, while Law gives the best performance of his career as the unfortunate Milo. A comment on male ego and the games we play to impress one another, Branagh’s Sleuth is inventive, stylish, compelling and witty. The film looks extraordinary and allows two generationally different actors give faultless and ingenious performances. The film is very dialogue-heavy and commercial success is limited to audiences seeking original entertainment, but it shows us the power of cinemas in its purity and the spellbinding nature of performance. As with the original, Oscar nominations are a distinct possibility for Caine and Law who are at the peak of their game, in this dazzling and remarkable film.

Starting Out in the Evening follows a grad student played by Lauren Ambrose who is writing her thesis on Leonard Schiller, a once great but now forgotten author played by Frank Langella. At first, Schiller doesn’t want any part of the report, but he eventually agrees to a series of interviews. Heather is in love with Schiller or, at least, the idea of him. A relationship develops that may shape both their futures. Here is one of those films that beautifully and delicately explores old age, artistry, and relationships. This is an exquisitely crafted, magnificently acted piece that is all about character and performance. It’s a gentle, richly textured work that may have difficulty finding an audience but deserves to do so. Langella is truly extraordinary here, creating an honest, unflinching portrayal of a man both weary and longing for artistic greatness. Lauren Ambrose, of Six Feet Under fame, shows depth and maturity as the manipulative student who enters and changes his life, while Lili Taylor is wonderfully nuanced as Schiller’s daughter trying to fulfill her own empty dreams. Hauntingly directed by Andrew Wagner, making his fictional feature debut, Starting Out in the Evening is a wonderfully human, poignant and vivid character drama for discerning audiences.

Michael Clayton, written and directed by accomplished screenwriter Tony Gilroy, revolves around central character Clayton (George Clooney), in-house “fixer” at one of the largest corporate law firms in New York. A former criminal prosecutor, Clayton takes care of the dirtiest work at one of New York’s biggest law firms, headed by co-founder Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack). Clayton, at 45, is burned out and dissatisfied with all aspects of life, from his job as a fixer, to his divorce, a failed business venture owning a bar and accumulating debt, all of which continue to tie him to the firm and job he has begun to detest, all of which comes to a heads when friend and lawyer Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) sabotages a major case. Michael Clayton is a studio movie that takes risks. Exploring the dark and melancholy facets of humanity, the film explores failure and desperation in a non-linear and unconventional manner, making it a tough film to market, but an irresistible and hypnotic one to watch by a discerning audience, not interested in cinema that plays it safe. Featuring a raw, uncompromising and magnificent performance by Clooney in the title role, the film has a purposeful, riveting tone, as it deals with character, not contrived plot conventions. Clooney has evolved as one of Hollywood’s most remarkable actors, who can go from simplistic movie star roles in the Ocean’s movies, to delivering performances, as in this, that are complex, mature and emotionally rich. He certainly deserves a second Oscar nod. Also compelling is the brilliant Wilkinson, who is multilayered as the tragically flawed Eden. Sydney Pollack is splendid as the torn senior partner of the law firm he is trying to keep together. With an understated score by a subtle James Newton Howard, and the quietly inventive direction of Tony Gilroy who made an impressive directorial debut, Michael Clayton may not be for everyone, but it doesn’t compromise itself. Powerful, intelligent, provocative and compelling, this is a film that will have audiences talking well after its superb denouement.

Paul Haggis’ In the Valley of Elah is the story of a war veteran (Tommy Lee Jones), his wife (Susan Sarandon) and the search for their son, a soldier who recently returned from Iraq but has mysteriously gone missing, and the police detective (Charlize Theron) who helps in the investigation. There is much to admire in Haggis’ first post-Crash directorial feature, from a wonderfully subtle, moving performance by Jones, to pointed comments that explore the nature, futility and effects of war on young men. The film is a gently paced rather careful character study, but box office potential here is rather limited because of its slow pace. There are compelling moments, but strangely, when one ultimately thinks about the film, it offers little new, Haggis thinks he is making a risky film, but there is less risk in its content and narrative than one might think. The film tries to cover too much ground in too little time, from fathers and sons, to sexism in the police (glossed over with an air of utter simplicity). Theron tries too hard to hide behind dour make up, yet her performance lacks conviction and a real sense of purpose. Hers is a character set adrift, about whom we learn little throughout the film’s journey and one feels that the character could easily have been male, but the film needed a female character to act as a counterpoint to Jones. It doesn’t quite work and one has difficulty believing in her skilled detective. In the Valley of Elah is a flawed, but nonetheless fascinating and dark work that does exemplify the subtle power of Jones’ acting. As the camera closes in on his aged, telling visage, we see an actor in motion, and for his performance alone, rather than the overall film, In the Valley of Elah is worth seeing.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a stunning western surrounding the private life and public exploits of America’s most notorious outlaw, Jesse James. As the charismatic and unpredictable outlaw plans his next great robbery, James (Brad Pitt) wages war on his enemies, who are trying to collect the reward money—and the glory—that is riding on his capture. However, the greatest threat to Jesse’s life may ultimately come from those he trusts the most, including introspective Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). While some audiences may need to concentrate on this long, detailed film, Australian director Andrew Dominik (Chopper) has crafted a meticulous, richly layered Western drama unlike anything we’ve seen by a major studio in years. Deftly balancing between traditional Western elements and contemporary sensibilities, this is a stunning, powerful tale of friendship and betrayal, of loneliness and personal isolation. Visually arresting thanks to the work of cinematographer of Britain’s Roger Deakins, and a beautifully evocative score by Australia’s Nick Cave, this is not your traditional Jesse James. The film de-mythologises the character, creating a multi-layered portrait of a man wracked by his own self-doubt, paranoia and violent cruelty. Brad Pitt gives an assured finely nuanced performance, but it’s Affleck’s Ford that is unforgettable, Oscar worthy acting, delivering a complex, heartfelt performance playing a relatively unsympathetic but fascinating character. Clocking in at some two hours 40 minutes, Assassination is a deliberately paced film, intense, and wonderfully character-driven, requiring patience as Dominick, who also wrote the screenplay based on the novel, delves into the psychology of fear and paranoia.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a hypnotic, compelling masterpiece of contemporary cinema, and deserves to be seen and savoured for its intelligence and boldness.

Lars and the Real Girl is a comic tour-de-force that may be the most original film of the year. Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) is a loveable introvert whose emotional baggage has kept him from fully embracing life. After years of what is almost solitude, he invites Bianca, a friend he met on the Internet to visit him. He introduces Bianca to his brother Gus and his wife Karen and they are stunned. They don’t know what to say to Lars or Bianca—because she is a life-size doll, not a real person and he is treating her as though she is alive. They consult the family doctor Dagmar who explains this is a delusion he’s created—for what reason she doesn’t yet know but they should all go along with it. What follows is an emotional journey for Lars and the people around him. One would not expect a film about a man and his doll to be a smart, sensitive, utterly compelling work, but Lars and the Real Girl is that and more. With a sharp script by Nancy Oliver (an auspicious first-time writer), beautifully fluid direction by Craig Gillespie, Lars is a film that is both hilarious and poignant, as it deftly balances the two with succinct precision. Ryan Gosling has proven himself to be an actor of extraordinary range, but here, he is a true revelation, stunning in both his comedic moments and those that are emotionally vivid. He reminds one of a young De Niro with touches of jimmy Stewart thrown in, in this Harvey-type comic gem that is so utterly unique and so meticulously acted. The exquisite Emily Mortimer shines as his sympathetic sister-in-law, and Kelli Garner is exquisite as a co-worker who falls in love with the shy, awkward and totally loveable Lars. With clever marketing, Lars has a strong chance at Oscar contention and box office gold; it’s a rare, unqualified classic.

David Cronenberg’s follow up to last year’s History of Violence, Eastern Promises, doesn’t disappoint. Viggo Mortensen delivers another extraordinarily powerful performance as the mysterious and ruthless Nikolai, tied to one of London’s most notorious organized crime families. His carefully maintained existence is jarred when he crosses paths with Anna, (Naomi Watts) an innocent midwife trying to right a wrong, who accidentally uncovers potential evidence against the family. Now Nikolai must put into motion a harrowing chain of murder, deceit. Cronenberg has evolved as one of the world’s most interesting artists, a fact in evidence when one sees this latest, masterful work. A film that dispassionately and brutally explores the dichotomy of Russian gangsterism in contemporary London, the joy in watching a Cronenberg film is knowing that as his careful narrative unfolds, all is not what it seems. Multi layered and deliberately paced as it builds to a powerful crescendo, the film’s haunting score, and the film’s visual look, all help make Eastern Promises an unforgettable, riveting masterpiece. As with History of Violence, he elicits another tour-de-force performance by Mortensen, who completely envelops his Russian low-level mobster, Nikolai. A lot is going on in this remarkable actor’s body and soul, resulting in one of the year’s most stunning performance. As for Naomi Watts, the actress further demonstrates a commanding depth and presence, further proving why she remains one of the most dynamic and diverse actors of her generation. Here, she is wonderful. The film’s other strong actors, including superb work by French actor Vincent Cassel, all result in the creation of a work that is brutal, intelligent, compelling and total Cronenberg.

Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe may be visually breathtaking, but its flaws outweigh its cinematic inventiveness. A romantic musical told mainly through almost three-dozen Beatles songs performed by the character, the film’s central character, Jude, (Jim Sturgis), is a young man from Liverpool who comes to America during the Vietnam War to find his father. He winds up falling in love with Lucy, (Evan Rachel Wood), who has grown up sheltered in the suburbs. Together they experience the sweeping changes of America and revolution versus apathy. Taymor is definitely a visual artist, and this hallucegenic take on Beatles music is ravishing to the eye, and the songs are performed with melodic style and gusto by the film’s impressive cast. While the movie is one of the most visually striking works of the year, it falls flat by its lack of an emotional core. One of the big problems with Taymor is that she is so determined to make a film that is visually bold, that she forgets to allow her characters to remain emotionally available to the audience. There is a great deal of directorial self-indulgence in many key scenes, that one becomes impressed with sight and sound, but not with the thinly delineated characters who break into a Beatles song never really enhancing the characters’ emotional journeys. While there is an attempt at reaching an emotional climax at the end of film, it is too little too late as our central star-crossed lovers have been set adrift by copious amounts of emotional waffling, visual grandstanding and secondary characters who often hinder, not advance, the film’s convoluted plot. But the music, so richly interpreted by some truly amazing performers, is really what makes the film occasionally come alive, but as a movie, its lack of real emotional empathy and half-hearted love story, will leave most audiences cold and disinterested.

Toronto Film Festival Report – Part 2

Everything is running full speed ahead in humid Toronto on the next day of this Festival overcrowded with the big and the small, the eagerly anticipated and the buzz titles. But sometimes too much buzz and anticipation is not a good thing, as in the case of the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men. Josh Brolin stars as a man whose inadvertent discovery of 2 million dollars amongst a sea of dead bodies, leads to a vicious manhunt, spearheaded by the violent and psychotic Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Though the Coens’ trademark, sardonic humor is sporadically sprinkled throughout this manhunt/revenge tale, the film is an otherwise desolate, meandering affair, slow moving to the point of irrelevant passages that simply do little to advance narrative. There is no real sense of character, in a film that fails to create a sense of tension, or allow the audience to engage with any of the under-written characters. Despite a tour-de-force performance by Bardem, and the film’s visually striking depiction of rural America, No Country for Old Men is the least satisfying of the Brothers’ work in many years. The film’s lack of any real conclusion will not go over with mainstream audiences, and serious cutting needs to take place to provide a stronger, more decisive narrative structure. Commercial success seems as bleak as the film’s landscape.

Reservation Road, the latest work from Terry George, may be bleak at times, but is nevertheless a powerful and intricate drama. Joaquin Phoenix delivers another powerhouse performance as a loving father whose idyllic life is shattered when a hit-and-run driver kills his young son. Mark Ruffalo plays the driver, himself a father, but divorced, trying to consistently connect and savor the relationship with his own son, but his ever-present guilt destroys his life, as the two fathers inevitably meet. Jennifer Connelly also stars as Phoenix’s grief-stricken wife. George’s emotionally resonant masterwork is a film that explores guilt, grief and fatherhood with meticulous emotional depth but rarely beats you over the head with it. Part human drama, part thriller, Reservation Road succeeds on so many levels, but remains an intricately drawn character study, featuring a trio of truly remarkable performances. Ruffalo, so under-used of late, is terrific here, often understated as a man coming to terms with interminable grief, with his climatic scene acting at its most pure. Phoenix remains one of the most accomplished and evolving actors around, who delivers a finely tuned, masterful performance. Skillfully directed by George, Reservation Road is an emotionally rich and exquisite film that deserves to find a wide audience.

Ang Lee’s Lust/Caution is a lengthy, but erotic and fascinating work. The film’s setting is Shanghai, 1942 and the Japanese occupation of this Chinese city continues in force. The film opens as Mrs. Mak, a woman of sophistication and means, walks into a cafe, places a call, and then sits and waits. She remembers how her story began several years earlier, in 1938 China. She is not in fact Mrs. Mak, but shy Wong Chia Chi. (Wei Tang). With WWII underway, her father, who has escaped to England, has left behind Wong. As a freshman at university, she meets fellow student Kuang Yu Min. Kuang has started a drama society to shore up patriotism. As the theatre troupe’s new leading lady, Wong realizes that she has found her calling, able to move and inspire audiences—and Kuang. He convenes a core group of students to carry out a radical and ambitious plan to assassinate a top Japanese collaborator, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung). Each student has a part to play; Wong will be Mrs. Mak, who will gain Yee’s trust by befriending his wife and then draw the man into an affair. Wong transforms herself utterly inside and out, and the scenario proceeds as scripted—until an unexpectedly fatal twist spurs her to flee. Cut to Shanghai, 1941. With no end in sight for the occupation, Wong—having emigrated from Hong Kong—goes through the motions of her existence. Much to her surprise, Kuang re-enters her life. Now part of the organized resistance, he enlists her to again become Mrs. Mak in a revival of the plot to kill Yee, who as head of the collaborationist secret service has become even more a key part of the puppet government. As Wong reprises her earlier role, and is drawn ever closer to her dangerous prey, she finds her very identity being pushed to the limit. A study of identity, the blurry line between lust and love, and the evolving sexual identity of the film’s main character, Lust/Caution is another extraordinary work from a world-renowned filmmaker. Lee knows how to make emotionally vivid films, but nothing compares to the complexity and eroticism of this film. Bold and irresistible, full marks to US distributor Focus for not cutting the film to get an R-rating here, for its graphic depiction of raw, uninhibited sexuality enhances the film’s sense of character. Masterfully acted by Leung and the extraordinary, beautiful and hypnotic Tang, Lust Caution depicts the period with visually arresting detail, and provides audiences with a sharply detailed picture of unique world. This is a dazzling, sumptuous and erotic masterpiece that only Ang Lee can deliver in spades.

Toronto Film Festival Report – Part 3

Toronto continues with tales of royalty and 80-year old Jewish surfers, which exemplify the sheer diversity of this frenetic of film festivals. Documentaries feature in abundance here at Toronto, two of which are worth seeing. Hollywood Chinese is a fascinating look at the depiction of Asian Americans in Hollywood cinema. The film spans the Chinese experience in Hollywood from the turn of last century through to today, and includes interviews as far ranging as Louise Rainer, star of MGM’s The Good Earth, to Nancy Kwan, BJ Wong and Ang Lee amongst others. Film clips abound not only including scenes of many films about Asian society, including of course the likes of The World of Suzie Wong, M. Butterfly, The Joy Luck Club and The Flower Drum Song, but clips of films that inspired those artists. Anyone interested in Hollywood history and the impact of Asian Americans will love this film, which is a simply structured affair, no narration, just wonderfully edited interviews and clips that do remind us of the influence of Asian society within American cinema. Though a theatrical release is unlikely, watch for it on cable or PBS, because docs such as these are a rarity and deserve to be seen.

One of the most unique docs would have to be Surfwise, the inspiring and tumultuous story of 85-year old surfer, health advocate and sex guru, Dr. Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, his wife Juliette, and their nine children who were all home-schooled and raised in a small camper on the beach, where they surfed and had to adhere to a strict diet and lifestyle of animals in the wild. 30 years later, Doc is in ill health but we see his (naked) exercise regiment, and what his ultimate influence on his kids has been like. Beautifully and non-judgmentally directed by Doug Pray, Surfside is a funny, touching and compelling piece about family, discipline, Judaism and the ocean. A film that examines a character that is clearly flawed, he is also one who is complex and truly fascinating. Being a non-fiction film, one can hardly believe what this family went up to 30 years ago and what he got away with, in terms of his kids’ education and view of money and capitalism. Surfing is an analogy to a sense of freedom, and at the end of the day, Paskowitz, who is famous both in the surfing world of America but also in Israel, has lessons for us all. This is an endearing and emotionally rich and compelling work that Indie distributor Magnolia will release in the US later this year. It’s a find worth checking out.

Elizabeth the Golden Age is unquestionably the best film so far at this festival and of the year. In this second, long-awaited chapter I the history of Elizabeth I, Queen Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) finds her rule openly challenged by the Spanish King Philip II — with his powerful army and sea-dominating armada — determined to restore England to Catholicism. Preparing to go to war to defend her empire, Elizabeth struggles to balance ancient royal duties with an unexpected vulnerability in her love for Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen). But he remains forbidden for a queen who has sworn body and soul to her country. Unable and unwilling to pursue her love, Elizabeth encourages her favourite lady-in-waiting, Bess, (Abby Cornish) to befriend Raleigh to keep him near. But this strategy forces Elizabeth to observe their growing intimacy. As she charts her course abroad, her trusted advisor, Sir Francis Walsingham, (Geoffrey Rush) continues his masterful puppetry of Elizabeth’s court at home — and her campaign to solidify absolute power. Through an intricate spy network, Walsingham uncovers an assassination plot that could topple the throne. But as he unmasks traitors that may include Elizabeth’s own cousin Mary Stuart, he unknowingly sets England up for destruction. It is easy enough to forgive some of the film’s historical inaccuracies, because this is the kind of movie the Brits make, that is spectacular, sumptuous, dramatically compelling and featuring an unforgettable array of rich characters, inspired by their historical counterparts. Not that Shekhar Kapur’s stunning film is a work of fiction by any means. Key historical plot points are much accurate, from Walsinghham’s role in the death of Mary Queen of Scots, to the inter-relationships between Elizabeth, Raleigh and Bess. Other plot points are created, such as Raleigh’s involvement in the defeat of the Armada, And the reason Spain’s Phillip II ultimately attacks, is created for dramatic effect. Historical purists may be mortified, but this is, after all, entertainment, and drama needs to be compelling, and Kapur’s new Elizabeth is as compelling and majestic a movie than anything seen in years. Blanchett, of course, is the heart and soul of this film, and breathes an indomitable life into every pore of Elizabeth Tudor. She is vulnerable, powerful, strong-willed, sensuous and tempestuous. The most extraordinary performance of the year, Blanchett surely will receive the Oscar that she was denied first time around, for she is every bit a Queen. Geoffrey Rush returns in full force as Walsingham, and is so much more brilliant here than he was in the first film, so manipulative and Machiavellian. It’s a wonderfully nuanced performance from another great actor. Relative newcomer, Australian actress Abby Cornish, is seductive, luminous and alluring, delivering a delicate and captivating performance, while Owen’s Raleigh, is hypnotic, masculine and unforgettably dynamic. Visually, Golden Age is an arresting, stunning film, beautiful to watch. The Armada sequences are the very best action scenes captured on film this year, and the film’s eye for late 16th century detail is staggering. The Golden Age is a true, stunning masterpiece, an epic drama told in under two hours, which proves that strong narrative and well-delineated characters can all unfold within a reasonable running time. One doesn’t need to be a lover of history to appreciate this film. With its multi layered script and a toured-force performance by Blanchett, Elizabeth the Golden Age is extraordinary, rich and masterful entertainment, and the best film of the year.

In sheer contrast to Elizabethan politics, is the endearing and hilarious Run Fat Boy Run, which marks the feature directorial debut of David Schwimmer, and what an impressive debut it is. The wonderfully funny Simon Pegg shines as

Dennis, a charming but oblivious overweight guy who leaves his fiancée (Thandie Newton) on their wedding day only to discover five years later that he really loves her. To win her back, he must finish a marathon while making her realize that her new handsome, wealthy fiancé is the wrong guy for her (Hank Azaria). It’s interesting that Schwimmer chose, as his first feature, to direct a British romantic comedy, and being an outsider only manages to give a sharp, non-precious view of the world created here. Run Fat Boy Run is wonderfully written by Michael Ian Black, who has created a memorable character in Dennis, a guy who never completes what he starts and now has a major point to prove, both to himself and the girl he lost. Both farcically funny and genuinely moving, but never cloying or manipulative, Schwimmer adeptly balances tone without ever feeling forced. He elicits another ingenious performance by the comically complex Pegg, who is multi faceted and remarkable in this piece. Thandie Newton is consistently luminous, while Hank Azaria does some of his best work on screen in a long time. Run Fat Boy Run is destined for commercial longevity when it opens against more serious Fall fare later in the year. This is an irresistible charmer of a movie, deliciously entertaining and pure joy.

Interviews – Part 1

As well as seeing an array of films, this intrepid reporter also caught up with a variety of folks for many exclusive interviews.

TILDA SWINTON. We talked about her role in Michael Clayton as a tough lawyer, and she confirmed that in the next Coen Brothers film, she re-teams with George Clooney as his lover while married to John Malkovitch. Swinton of course is smart and fascinating and her views on Clayton and Hollywood will unfold online soon.

NANCY KWAN.: Anyone interested in classic Hollywood will find Nancy Kwan’s recollections of being a 60s It girl, fascinating. Here at Toronto for both the Hollywood Chinese documentary and a screening of Flower Drum Song, Kwan says she is thinking of writing her memoirs but is doing her own documentary on her life. Charming and graceful, Kwan is an ageless star with greater stories of a different Hollywood.

CASEY AFFLECK talked with great enthusiasm about playing Robert Ford in the new Jesse James and working with brother Ben on Gone Baby Gone. He was funny and insightful, even when putting an Australian accent mocking his James director.

NAOMI WATTS gave one of her only 1:1 interviews to me, because of long history. It was a brief but terrific chat about working with Cronenberg and her views on motherhood. Asked if her choices will change, she laughingly responded “I’ve only been into motherhood for 6 weeks, so we’ll see.” The actress says she’s next flying to Lithuania to join her partner “so that the whole family will be together”. Next up is the release of Fun and Games, which she says, will now be released early next year.

JULIETTE BINOCHE is still one of the most hauntingly beautiful women in the world, and her voice on acting, Hollywood and politics, remain fascinating. We talked at length about her work on the exquisite Flight of the Red Balloon, which says was predominantly improvised, and we spoke about Israel where she shot Disengagement, also here in Toronto, as we discussed Israeli politics. Binoche will next be seen in Dan in Real Life, which we also discussed. A fascinating and ferociously intellectual actor is Ms Binoche.

Another Aussie ROSE BYRNE is here with a dark comedy Just Buried, but we spent a lot of time discussing her first foray into American television, Damages. She denied some kind of lesbian subtext, confirmed that she has a 6-year contract, and discussed her first Australian film she did recently with Hugo Weaving.

JIM BROADBENT has much coming up and as you’ll see, he talks about the new Harry Potter and his role in Indiana Jones. That will appear very soon.

Toronto continues with some more exciting films and people to talk to. Stay tuned.

Toronto Film Festival Report – Part 4

This final part of my Toronto report includes some unqualified gems and disappointments, beginning with the exquisite A Girl in the Park. Delivering one of her purest performances in years, Sigourney Weaver plays a mother, enduringly traumatized by the disappearance of her three-year old daughter 16 years ago, who has cut herself off from her ex-husband and son. However, when a troubled young woman (Kate Bosworth) with a checkered past enters her life, old psychic wounds painfully resurface, as does the illogical and increasingly irrational hope that the young woman may be the daughter she lost so long ago. Written and directed by playwright David Auburn, this is a powerful, provocative work that so brilliantly explores the effects of grief and the power to believe in an unbinding sense of hope and optimism. Girl in the Park explores so many facets of human behaviour as the film’s central character deals with an emotional emptiness that grows as she believes that this manipulative, troubled woman to be her long lost daughter. For Weaver, it’s the role of a lifetime and an Oscar calibre performance that is richly layered and meticulous, beautifully controlled at every turn. One is reminded of how a powerful a presence she has on the screen, and here she is breathtaking. But it’s Kate Bosworth who is a revelation here. Always incredibly talented and insightful, her portrayal of the young girl who is manipulative, tough yet intensely fragile, is a performance steeped in emotional truths. She delivers a rich, mature and riveting performance, her best in her short but diverse career, and both actresses may receive Oscar noms if the film is picked up. Clearly, this is a tough little movie that explores some very emotive issues, but director Auburn treats his material with balance and sensitivity. This is a superb film that is bound to receive attention throughout the awards season.

Unfinished Sky from Australian director Peter Duncan is one of those unexpected films one comes across that is simply flawless, that rare breed of accomplished filmmaking that is pure narrative without any pretensions and characters that are beautifully and skilfully delineated. William McInnes plays an Outback farmer with a seemingly troubled past, who thrives and survives on isolation, with his dog, in rural Queensland, who takes in an Afghani woman (Monic Hendrickx) who is bleeding and bruised, but from what we don’t quite know as yet. Initially a relationship of antagonism and mistrust, complicated by cultural differences and a lack of clear communication, the relationship develops while the couple’s individual past issues catch up to them. Duncan hasn’t made many films, but looking at his work, from the heavily satiric Children of the Revolution, to the slight but affable Little Bit of Soul, none of his previous work would prepare one for this rich and quite staggering masterwork. A film of remarkable accomplishment, the film is essentially a two-hander, with much of the movie resting on the hands of its principals. McInnes is a huger talent in his native Australia, with a command of the screen that is both sardonically funny and dramatically powerful. No Duncan script would be complete without the writer/director’s wry view of contemporary humanity, and in this landscape of bitter isolation, he finds much humour within the folds of two contemporary characters and their profound, cultural differences. Newcomer Monic Hendrickx is actually Dutch and plays the ferociously independent but troubled Afghan refugee with great emotional depth and power. Her final scene is heartbreaking. Beautifully shot on location, cinematographer Robert Humphreys so perfectly captures the harshness of rural Australia with his browns and greys in a visually striking collage of scenes. International audiences will find much in Unfinished Sky to resonate outside of its parochially Australian setting, and one can hope that this stunning film, which is both funny and poignant, will find a home in the U.S and beyond. It truly is a masterpiece.

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly also combines a dark humour with dramatic and visceral power. The film, superbly directed by Julian Schnabel, revolves around Elle France editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who, in 1995 at age 43, suffered a stroke that paralysed his entire body, except his left eye. Using that eye to blink out his memoir, Bauby eloquently described the aspects of his interior world, from the psychological torment of being trapped inside his body to his imagined stories from lands he’d only visited in his mind, to his past and recalling the events leading to his stroke. From the very first image of Diving Bell, his world is seen through his eye as one blink tells us that here is a man who is speaking to us from within. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski uses his camera as Bauby’s eye, and the result is cinematic depth that truly reinforces what he is going through. Mathieu Amalric delivers one of the most original and startling performances of the year, one that relies on the purely visual to reveal so much. He is extraordinary. Yet this is not as depressing or as bleak a work as one might think. British screenwriter Ronald Harwood uses the source material but enhances it with some devilish humour and, with director Schnabel, creates various worlds that border on the imaginative and the real. This is a dazzling, fascinating and hypnotic work that is both a visual and allegorical masterwork, and a film of deep humanity and visceral power. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a shoe in for Best Foreign Film at next year’s Oscars.

Woody Allen returns to dramatic thriller mode in the sometimes compelling. The title of this dark piece refers to a boat that two brothers decide to buy despite their lack of success. one is a mechanic up to his neck in gambling debt (Colin Farrell) while the other works in his dad’s restaurant and is filled with idealistic delusions of grandeur (Ewan McGregor). The two are abnormally close to each other and to their uncle who wants them to show their gratitude by murdering a business colleague. From this point on their lives unravel. Phillips Glass’s pounding music insistently suggests a continuous sense of foreboding in Allen’s attempt at fusing Hitchcock with Shakespeare, and there are times when those elements succeed in teasing the audience. yet regrettably that’s all this ultimately is, a tease that never quite resolves itself into a satisfying denouement. The pay off lacks any real suspense and presents the viewer with a kind of ho hum at the end. The movie lacks the wit and edginess of his Match Point , which remains the director’s best film in this current period. though it is an admirable piece featuring a superb turn by Farrell in particular, the movie is slow and never lives up to its potential.

Todd Haynes cannot be accused of ever playing it safe. his latest film, I’m not There, is a bold, audacious and truly original film that is bound to divide audiences. A meditation of fame and celebrity culture, the film explores the almost mythological life and times of a folk singer who may or not be Bob Dylan in various facets of his life. Each aspect of the character has a different name and his story takes on varied tones and styles. Heath Ledger, in another arresting turn assumes the role of a young idealist falling in love with a French girl, played with eloquence by Charlotte Gainsborough. while the magnificent Cate Blanchett plays a conflicted public figural refusing to conform to 1960s expectations. Her scenes are lyrical and surreal shot in gorgeous black abductions white and Haynes’ evocative use of music, sharp cutting and his visual exploration of those times that are a changing, all encapsulate the essence of the parts that up a complex musical poet. while the film may have a tough time commercially those who love being challenged will be enthralled and exhilarated by this totally original cinematic triumph.

Veteran Australian director Gillian Armstrong is in Toronto with her latest film, Death Defying Acts, a film that explores the nature of fantasy and romanticism through the eyes of a Scottish hustler and superstar of his day. The film revolves around Harry Houdini’s (Guy Pearce) tour of Britain in 1926, during which time the master escapologist enters into a passionate affair with a Scottish psychic (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The psychic and her daughter attempt to con Houdini during a highly publicized séance to contact his mother whose death has haunted him for many years. However all does not go to plan. Armstrong is a visual stylist, whose eye captures the detail of the periods she explores. Her latest film is pure Armstrong, yet this time we see her doing justice to both sexes equally. A film that is lush, fascinating and compelling, this is a sumptuous masterful work, intricately plotted and stunningly crafted by a true filmmaker. It is also nice to see her take advantage of the true talents of Catherine Zeta-Jones, who delivers her finest performance to date as the fictional con artist, outwardly tough but seeking a degree of emotional solace. Guy Pearce is always good and here he is strong, masculine and vulnerable all packaged into a wonderfully rich and complex performance. The cinematography of the brilliant Haris Zambarloukos enhances the film’s visual mood of time and place, and the film, as with any Armstrong work, looks stunning. A compelling and fascinating drama, Death Defying Acts should prove a modest hit for Weinstein Company when it hits the US in 2\early 2008.

Interviews – Part 2

I caught up with another slew of celebs and directors.

EMILY MORTIMER. Talked to me about Lars and the Real Girl, as well as Pink Panther 2. Despite the first one being panned she thinks the new one is funny in its own right “and it’s a role Steve Martin was born to play.” More on Mortimer close to the release of Lars next month.

KATE BOSWORTH has been kept busy, and we chatted about her upcoming caper movie 21, The Girl in the Park, and even some properties she is optioning on her own. Always gorgeous, there’s more to Kate than meets the eye.

RYAN GOSLING, here for Lars and the Real Girl, talked about his role in Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, his disdain of the press and parallels between Lars and Jimmy Stewart’s Harvey.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX in as rare 1:1 interview was candid in his attitude towards acting, the media and lack of his own self-esteem. Always funny and honest, this was a great interview which will be posted shortly.

GILLIAN ARMSTRONMG and I first met nearly 20 years ago, and in a restaurant at her Toronto hotel, we talked at length about her latest movie, shooting in London, and her evolution as an artist.

GUY PEARCE and I spoke about the lengths he went into preparing to play Houdini, and all his latest films, including one he’s currently shooting, in which he plays an FBI agent in pursuit of a terrorist played by Don Cheadle.

MICHAEL DOUGLAS is always great value and we spoke at length about King of California, how his priorities have changed and his role working for the UN on disarmament.

So for this tired journalist, Toronto 08 is at a close. Spoke to many people, saw a lot of films that continue to challenge and enthral. While not every film is great, it’s good to see a small percentage of the festival’s 340 films that truly represent who we are as a society. Well done Toronto.

Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.

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