Saturday, September 08, 2007

Saturday

Ali reporting from the Toronto International Film Festival

Caffeinated products consumed today: 1
Solid food products consumed today: 3

It's only the first Saturday of the festival, and I already feel like I'm falling behind with my reviews and posts... How do these professional critics and journalists manage to update so frequently? I'm sitting at an internet cafe right now, trying to get as much work done as possible. I suppose I could lug around my laptop with me in the future, but I don't want the added responsibility (and weight) as I run across the city. I only did three films today, but it feels like more with the lack of sleep and commuting drama (thank goodness I was able to make my first screening this morning - I could have missed a key connecting bus and been royally screwed.) Bus/train schedules on weekends = nightmare.

I am pleased to announce that Michael Clayton is my favourite film featured at the festival thus far. Writer-director Tony Gilroy made an appearance to introduce the film (very nervous, very gracious), but did not stay for a Q&A afterwards. No luck getting a Tilda three-peat, who was nowhere to be seen. It seems silly to make Oscar predictions at this point in time (especially since I'm... not that good at making them), but I think he has a great shot at a screenplay nod. Coupled with the success of The Bourne Ultimatum last month, it could be his "year". The film refreshingly opens sans credits, cutting straight to a title card and moving straight into the action. There is little fat or fluff in this picture. A dour George Clooney plays the title character, a lawyer working for a coporate New York firm who serves as the "janitor" - essentially, he makes problems for high paying clients go away. One such client is multinational U-North, facing a costly class action suit. Just as Tilda Swinton personified the soulless movie industry in Adaptation, here she serves as the face of this corporate monster. Michael's brilliant colleague Arthur (Tom Wilkinson, not this magnetic since In the Bedroom) is responsible for representing U-North on this important trial... but he suddenly suffers a nervous breakdown midway through, shaking the once-firm confidence of the defense, especially the firm's head honcho (Sydney Pollack). Now, with billions of dollars at stake (which could utterly dismantle U-North as well as the law firm), all hell breaks loose while Michael tries to protect several interests in the face of moral murkiness and corporate evil(s).

The Interpreter or Syriana this is not - the film is complex without being convoluted, difficult without being impenetrable, twisty without needing to blind its audience. Opening with what will ultimately form the film's biggest "bang" (literally), the narrative is told through one giant flashback before coming full circle. Gilroy touches upon many familiar hot topics, such as the notion of corporate environmental responsibility ("We feel the planet", reassuringly chimes one U-North promotional video) and the notion of bringing one's own ethics to the table in a business that has no place for them. "This case reeked from day one," rants Pollack's Marty in response to Michael's findings; it's just that he turned a blind eye to the disturbing facts. The cast is electrifying: Clooney's "serious" turn may seem familiar in the wake of Solaris and Syriana, but he has some great moments opposite Wilkinson. Tilda Swinton is marvelously good at playing a bad actor; she reads the prescribed lines for U-North with ease, but when the unexpected arises, she is all stutters and gasps. This one actually lives up to the hype. B/B+

I plan to write a greater article on the Four Aids on India short film collection with directors Mira Nair, Vishal Bhardwaj and Santosh Sivan. Watch this space...

The Juno screening was a total madhouse! I have certainly experienecd my share of chaotic movie experiences at TIFF, but this is what is must have been like when Borat premiered at the Ryerson last year. When I arrived half an hour before the scheduled starting time (6pm), I took a look at the lineup and groaned audibly. It was not until quarter after that we got started, with the audience bringing the house down for Thank You for Smoking director Jason Reitman, who offered a few introductory thoughts. The entire cast was present as well for the Q&A afterward, with everyone from Michael Cera to Jennifer Garner in tow.

Reitman's latest effort lacks the bite of Smoking, although the audience laughed hysterically at every other line reading. No, every line reading. Even ones like "fertile Myrtle" and "in my guesstimation" (ugh!) Overly sentimental and mining already-familiar territory, it tells the story of a teenager named Juno (Page) who finds herself pregnant following a night of sexual exploration with socially awkward chum Paulie Bleeker (Cera). She decides to give the child up for adoption after getting cold feet at her appointment at the abortion clinic, and settles on a yuppie couple (played by Garner and Jason Bateman) to raise the child. The film moves through the seasons of one year, exploring her relationships with Bleeker, her father (J.K. Simmons), her dog-obsessed stepmom (Allison Janney), her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) and the troubled adoptive parents. A few cast members are good at elevating the material (Cera, Garner and Bateman in particular), but it did nothing for me when all was said and done. Now watch it win over the crowds in December (my audience gave it a standing ovation. Oy.) C

Celebrity sightings of the day: MIRA NAIR (!!!), Tony Gilroy, Vishal Bhardwaj, Santosh Sivan, Sameera Reddy, Mira Nair, Michael Cera, Ellen Page, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Jason Reitman, Ben Affleck, and Mira Nair. Also Mira Nair.

11 comments:

Chinese Odyssey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chinese Odyssey said...

I really hope Wilkinson and Swinton can both become factors in award season.

Ken said...

I hope Jennifer Garner will factor in the awards season.

Kamikaze Camel said...

So, wait, in Juno Michael Cera's baby is being adopted by Jason Bateman? Fans of Arrested Development will surely be flummoxed at that conundrum.

amir_uk said...

And apparently Cera and Bateman don't share any scenes with each other.

NATHANIEL R said...

i'm not sure i trust these raves. Mainstream comedies can sometimes work wonders at festivals: ideal counter programming and then go plunk when they land in the real world where that sort of thing is playing on every third screen.

what to think. what to think.
anyone?

I'm excited for Michael Clayton again, thank you.

NATHANIEL R said...

Also, Ali. Who exactly did you see yesterday? ;)

Anonymous said...

Nat, are you aware that in your current banner it looks like Ms. Pfeiffer isn't wearing any clothes? I... can't feel my legs. I can't feel my legs!

Anonymous said...

If you see IN BLOOM, please tell us!!!

NATHANIEL R said...

her glorious star wattage has incinerated her clothing!

J.J. said...

At least at Telluride, Juno had a leg up because it was a joyous comedy in a sea of serious/depressing pictures. But objectively, it's a great movie. Sterling cast, snappy writing, and direction that doesn't get in the way of either. And yes, more laughs per film reel than any movie in recent memory. It's fun without trying to force you to have fun (I'm looking at you, Little Miss Sunshine). But let's pull the hype train over and forget about it til it's released. Then see it and enjoy yourself.