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

Thompson on Hollywood By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood September 7, 2012 at 12:57PM

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...
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Kinshasa Kids
'Kinshasa Kids'

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.

Kristen Stewart in "On the Road"
Comme au Cinema Kristen Stewart in "On the Road"

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.

This article is related to: Toronto International Film Festival, Festivals, On The Road, Anna Karenina, Jason Reitman, Kristen Stewart, Reviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.