Meredith Brody continues to make the rest of us Toronto attendees look like slackers.
OK, so I decided on the subway downtown to give myself a little treat and go see The Descendants instead of the probably more demanding Wuthering Heights. As I was speeding up John towards the Scotiabank circa 8:30 a.m., Atom Egoyan emerges from an alley and I utter the superlatively clueless phrase “What are YOU doing up this early?”, followed hard upon by “Oh, YOU’RE going to Wuthering Heights.” I confess that I’m headed to The Descendants, whereupon he sighs and says “You know it’s going to be released.” (Yes, I know, I just looked it up, November 19. But back in the Bay Area I’ll probably see it in a mediocre theater with mediocre projection and a mediocre audience.) I say, “I thought of it as a little present I was giving myself.”
I turn towards the Lightbox, but he laughs and turns me back towards Alexander Payne and George Clooney. But a few steps later I run into my friend David Pendleton, who thinks the reason, the only reason possible, that I’m headed away from the Lightbox is that Wuthering Heights is full, so I bow to the inevitable and turn towards Andrea Arnold (whose Fishtank I admired) and the moors.
I like Wuthering Heights – its old-fashioned Academy aperture frames those moors beautifully, the shots of nature (often red in tooth and claw) are rhythmic and poetic, the lives and dwelling places of both the poor and the rich are carefully delineated. But even while I understand what Arnold is trying to do, my Masterpiece Science Theater 3000 evil voice in my head comments on the action rather cynically.As soon as Arnold cast a black man as Heathcliff, she turned Wuthering Heights in the direction of Mandingo, especially after Heathcliff returns all grown up and receives hot-eyed glances from both Cathy and her sister-in-law Isabella. The constant shots of insects, animals, earth, mud, wind and rain – Heathcliff and Cathy all elemental, contrasted with Edgar, overdressed, indoors -- reminded me, once again, that I am at two with nature. I decided that the 18th century's television equivalent was looking into carefully-lit windows, framing bits of essential action. And that a popular pastime was hanging dogs on fenceposts by their collars. (It seemed that absolutely every animal seen in the film was harmed in some way, as attested to by the Inhuman Society.) And so on and so forth.
As the credits roll, I dash out the door and back up towards Scotiabank, for the 11:30 screening of Fernando Meireilles’ star-studded 360. But the incoming hordes are greeted by the information that the screening has been delayed by a least an hour; there were technical problems with the print (or maybe download) of The Descendants. I wish I could be magically transported back to the Lightbox to the 11:30 screening of Urbanized, an intriguing-sounding documentary, but instead I sample a couple of Scotiabank screenings instead: a very few minutes of The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, not on any of my lists and with which I fail to connect, and the French farce A Happy Event, the kind of kinda Americanized Gallic romcom that my French cinephile friends would dismiss as “complètement débile (weak -- or worse), but, hey, I have an embarrassing weakness for slick French comedies. And the leads were cute.
But I leave A Happy Event for about an hour of 360, which is also slick, courtesy of the usually reliable screenwriter Peter Morgan, and certainly star-studded (I watch Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Ben Foster, and Anthony Hopkins whiz by), but unexpectedly dark and fraught with tension.
Since there’s only one press screening scheduled – today at 2-- for the inimitable Guy Maddin’s latest, Keyhole, which sounds like a promising mash-up of fim noir and ghost story, I leave 360 at something more like 170. The parting is less bittersweet because, in a packed house, I’m seated next to a Blackberry addict who checks, scrolls, and texts continually, and I’m too tired to object.
I was touched to see Fandor’s Jonathan Marlow waiting patiently at the very head of the rush line the night before for Keyhole’s first public screening – “I know I could see it tomorrow,” he said, “but I thought what better way to see a Canadian film than with a Canadian audience?”
I guess. I find myself connecting only fitfully with Keyhole, which seems overly tricky and more than usually incoherent. I feel much as I did while watching two films by other directors I revere Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Terence Malick’s Tree of Life– trying to enjoy them while ultimately giving up the effort in disappointment. (I just realized I saw both the Kubrick and the Malick at their first public screenings, one at Grauman’s Chinese and the other at the Sunshine Cinema. Opposite coasts, similar experiences.)
The dark Maddin gives way to the even darker In Darkness, a Holocaust-set drama from Agnieska Holland, based, oy vey, on a true story, of Jews hidden literally right under the feet of Nazis and Polish collaborators in the sewers of Lvov. It’s a hard film to watch (at one point I say to my seatmate Harlan Jacobson that their living conditions make Anne Frank’s attic hideaway look like the Amsterdam Hilton), but ultimately rather exhilarating, both for its masterful filmmaking and its story. The lighting of the sewers, the city streets, the low-ceilinged rooms, the labor camp, is artful indeed: dark, yes, but compelling. (I recently wrote a line about the lineup at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival – “The Holocaust, the gift that keeps on giving,” – that I felt I had to change, pre-publication, to the less inflammatory “World War II, the gift that keeps on giving.” But the thought lingers on.) The inevitable end titles about what happened to the protagonists, especially the heroic-in-spite-of-himself Catholic sewer worker who hides the Jews, falls into the truth-is-more-ironic-than-fiction category.
When we exit the screening room, we’re greeted by hordes of Star Wars characters, in full dress. “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” I hear my colleagues mutter. As we descend the endless escalator, we see another endless line of superheroes and Japanese anime characters. I lose my head and pull out the camera (as does everybody else) and snap shots for the 10-year-old nephew at home, including a couple of me posed with Darth Vader and assorted obliging storm troopers.
They’re window-dressing, it turns out, for the world premiere of Morgan Spurlock’s Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope. I immediately am swept up in the ballyoo, discard my tentative evening plans and get in the RUSH line, hoping to get in. Suspense! The first ten tickets are given to, yes, the ten people just ahead of me. Endless minutes tick by. Five more rush tickets materialize, and I am shown to one of the worst remaining seats, where I thoroughly enjoy roaming around the famous San Diego Comic-Con, following slickly produced stories of an overextended stalwart comics dealer, two aspiring comic book artists, a woman who spends months constructing elaborate costumes to take place in an onstage masquerade that takes a few minutes, and a nervous boy preparing to propose to his girlfriend in front of a huge crowd, all intercut with talking heads both famous (Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon) and un (random fanboys and girls).
Spurlock joyously and amusingly introduces 14 colleagues onstage, including the irrepressibly narcissistic Stan Lee.
It’s the largest onstage crowd I’ve seen -- until half-an-hour later, at the Roy Thomson Hall gala of Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz, where the not-yet-visibly-pregnant Polley introduces more than 16 of her fellow filmmakers, including a majestically pregnant Jennifer Podemsk, and comedians Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman in rare dramatic roles. Take This Waltz is a brightly-colored, slightly twee, rather too equable story of adultery and broken marriage (lightened up with some alcoholism and cheery glimpses of three-way sex). Polley is generous with her actors, and they with her, willing to stand around naked fairly unself-consciously and, in Rogen’s case, improvise at length for a breakup scene that’s ultimately unresolved. (I shudder a little at a private couples’ joke between Rogen and wife Michelle Williams that consists of lovingly telling the other how they want to gruesomely torture them. Sweet! You don’t have to be Dr. Freud of Vienna…)
Tomorrow, I don’t know. I’m thinking French: films by Mathieu Demy, Jean-Marc Vallee, and Philippe Garrel, for a start.