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TIFF, Day Four: Egoyan's 'Devil's Knot,' Hendrix Biopic 'All Is By My Side,' Jonze and Reichardt Q&A and More

Thompson on Hollywood By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood September 11, 2013 at 11:48AM

I forgot to mention one of yesterday's highlights: while Maureen O'Donnell and I were waiting in line for the excellent documentary "Finding Vivian Maier," we were stunned to see a long phalanx of orange-t-shirted volunteers with linked arms making a human shield on either side of Susan Sarandon, protecting her from the hoi polloi as she left the first public screening of "The Last of Robin Hood."
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Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in 'All is By My Side'
Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in 'All is By My Side'

I'm old enough not only to have seen Hendrix live (one of the best live performers I've ever seen), but to remember where I was (going to school in Paris) when I heard about him dying in London in 1970. He's one of the dead-at-27 club that includes Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain.  The baggy, impressionistic Ridley film introduces us to Hendrix when he was a back-up guitarist with processed hair named Jimmy James.  Somehow a well-connected rock chick (played by the knowing Imogen Poots) discerns his talent and wants to promote him (without bedding him; she's Keith Richards' girlfriend, it seems).  

Eventually she finds him a manager, who gets him to London and the arms of a new girl (Hayley Atwell), and another predatory groupie (Ruth Negga), who tries to awaken his political feelings.  Musician Andre Benjamin gets the soft, trippy sound of Hendrix' voice right, and can be charismatic onstage, but he's too short and not, alas, handsome enough -- Hendrix had IT!  Oddly, the movie ends (abruptly) as Hendrix is on the verge of superstardom -- weeks before his epochal, star-making appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.  Hendrix' most famous songs, likewise, do not make an appearance.  It's a case of rock tease.

Afterwards, in my attempt to try everything Toronto has on offer, I jet over to the posh Bell Lightbox to see Spike Jonze in conversation with Kelly Reichardt. 

43-year-old Jonze and 49-year-old Reichardt are noticeably boyish and girlish, in mien, in (charming) affect, and in dress: Spike in blue sweater over button-down shirt, grey pants, sneakers, no socks; Kelly in plaid shirt, blue jeans, desert boots.  We see an overcut clip reel tribute to Jonze's prolific career -- in addition to movies (including "Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation," "Where the Wild Things Are"), television (notably "Jackass"), music videos, and commercials, whereupon Reichardt (director of half-a-dozen features herself, including "Old Joy," "Wendy and Lucy," "Meek's Cutoff," and in Toronto, "Night Moves"), says "I only wrote down one question for you: Why are you so lazy?"

Jesse Eisenberg in 'Night Moves'
Jesse Eisenberg in 'Night Moves'

These are the jokes, folks.  And they're off and running.  It was lovely, with only one awkward moment -- when Reichardt rightly (and mildly) objected to Jonze characterizing his new cameraman, Hoyte von Hoytema (regular Lance Acord is prepping to direct), as having "feminine" attributes. Jonze was flummoxed.

Most of the presentation involves the showing of a number of intriguing clips from Jonze's new feature, "Her," in which Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with an operating system, or O.S., named Samantha.  The most interesting revelation is that, in post production, the voice of the O.S., originally done by Samantha Morton, was replaced by Scarlett Johansson -- and that Phoenix's performance was left untouched.

I take in a half-hour of Stephen Frears' new picture, "Philomena," starring the radiant Judi Dench and the acerbic Steve Coogan, and am loathe to tear myself away, but I have to hotfoot it over to the Elgin to see Godfrey Reggio's new documentary, "Visitors," in glorious black-and-white, with its Philip Glass score played live by 66 members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.  I am excited, probably over-excited, as "Visitors," wittily introduced by presenter Steven Soderbergh -- "Can I describe a movie without words with words?  I can't and I will" -- does not induce the same kind of fevered bliss that his previous wordless essay-assemblage of poetic images have done for me.  "

Visitors," unlike "Koyannisqatsi,"  "Powaqqatsi," and "Naqoyqatsi," is in black-and-white and features long takes, most of faces, as well as shots of Louisiana bayous and rivers, and repeat shots of a placid female gorilla.  Afterwards Reggio tells us that there are 74 cuts in "Visitors," versus 383 in "Koyannisqatsi," 483 in "Powaqqatsi," and 565 in "Naqoyqatsi."  Apparently for me, less is less.

I stick around in the same theater to take in Atom Egoyan's "Devil's Knot," a fictional version of the well-documented (literally) case known as the West Memphis Three, young high school kids convicted of the murder of three 8-year-olds.  Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky made three documentaries about the case (the "Paradise Lost" trilogy), which were instrumental in getting the three released (but not exonerated). Another documentary, "West of Memphis," also summarized the story.  

Sixteen actors and producers accompany Egoyan onstage, including Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, the glorious Mireille Enos in a sexy red dress with cutouts, Stephen Moyers, and Alessandro Nivola. If I didn't already know almost every beat of the story, I would probably be more intrigued and moved by Egoyan's careful handling of it.  Some of the performances -- notably Dale DeHaan as a sullen suspect that I was previously unaware of, Mireille Enos as the mother of a playmate of the three murdered boys, and Kevin Durand as the voluble John Mark Byers -- are excellent indeed.  

The sold-out house is loathe to let the actors depart. But eventually we all do.

This article is related to: Toronto, Toronto International Film Festival, Festivals, All Is By My Side, Philomena, Kelly Reichardt, Spike Jonze


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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.