Toronto Fest: Day 5
For my fifth and final location report from the rather lovely (and lady-filled) city of Toronto, Ontario, I'm pleased to report that my fever is gone, my nostrils are back in working order, and I have one more solid fistful 'o flicks to hype. But I'd like to take a second to tell you, the passionate movie junkies, that you should consider saving your nickels right now, because few film festivals offer a non-stop buffet of cinematic swellness like Toronto does. Yes, you'll spend a pretty penny on food, hotel, airfare, and flick tickets, but few things are as satisfying as seeing 25 movies in five days -- and having most of them rock your proverbial world. Of course there's no such thing as a flawless festival, but with well over 200 feature-length films to choose from...you nuts will definitely end up getting your money's worth.
Plus you only live once, right? And there's only so many times you can read the festival reports while thinking "Damn, I wanna be there!" before you actually pack up your suitcases and spoil the holy hell out of yourself.. (Plus, Toronto's a great town, full of excellent restaurants, gracious citizens, and more random hotties than you can shake your stick at!)
WALK THE LINE
One of the final "A-ticket" titles that I was able to catch was James Mangold's rather satisfying WALK THE LINE, which stars the brilliant Joaquin Phoenix as legendary crooner Johnny Cash, Reese Witherspoon as his partner/longtime lover June Carter, and the movie-geek favorite Robert Patrick as Johnny's disapproving papa. If you're the sort of film freak who marveled at Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin and Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, then trust me on this one: You'll love watching Phoenix as 'the man in black.' No, Joaquin doesn't really LOOK like Johnny Cash, but he inhabits the role with such heart, soul, and passion that after the first five minutes...you won't even notice. Plus Joaquin did all his own singing, and the resulting tunes are dazzlingly impressive.
Ditto the surprisingly excellent performance of Ms. Witherspoon, who does her best work since Alexander Payne's ELECTION. Mr. Patrick doesn't have all that huge of a part, but he makes quite an impression nonetheless. The film as a whole is as much a celebration of Johnny Cash's talent as it is an unflinching look at the tortured soul's rampant drug abuse...plus the music is just awesome. Director Mangold keeps his tale grounded in reality, never once sinking into manipulative emotion or outright sap, and he creates a movie that's both a love letter to a beloved artist and a fair-yet-honest look at how drug abuse can topple even the most talented performer. Look for Mr. Phoenix to earn a well-deserved Oscar nom for his work here -- and don't be stunned if Ms. Reese gets one too!
THE GREAT YOKAI WAR
Switching tracks completely, we have Takashi Miike's THE GREAT YOKAI WAR, which is a 2-hour freak-fest of the craziest order. Perhaps best described as THE NEVERENDING STORY meets MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS (only a lot more entertaining than that combination might sound), it's the story of a kindhearted young boy who gets caught up in the ancient battle between evil beasties and some equally freaky-looking do-gooders. Based on ancient Japanese folklore and the graphic novels by Shigeru Mizuki, the flick's laden with bizarre beasties, crazy contraptions, cute little crawlies, and a solid handful of battle sequences. Certainly not for all tastes, but if you're a fan of Asian legends and strange cinema, you definitely won't be bored!
A movie that I was really enjoying after an hour, but had to bail on because it screened at the height of my nose-clogged sniffledom, was Vincent Ward's RIVER QUEEN, which takes place in the New Zealand of 1860, and stars Samantha Morton as a young Irish mama who searches the whole of the Maori landscape for her kidnapped son. Co-starring Kiefer Sutherland, Stephen Rea, and Cliff Curtis, and directed with eye-popping loveliness by Mr. Ward, this is one of those flicks that works as both a solid history lesson and a straight adventure epic. I only wish I could have stayed for the final 45 minutes, but I was sneezing all over strangers and hacking up lungs left and right.
IN HER SHOES
You might not expect a soapy little chick-flick from L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and WONDER BOYS director Curtis Hanson, but that's precisely what you're going to get if your girlfriend drags you to see IN HER SHOES when it hits theaters on October 7th. Featuring Cameron Diaz as a shallow little manipulator whom you'll want to smack and Toni Collette as her long-suffering older sister, it's a story about growing up, accepting responsibility, and getting your hooks into a nice Jewish lawyer. Based on the novel by Jennifer Weiner and adapted by high-end ladies' screenwriter Susannah Grant, this one reeks of obvious sentiment, pat answers to tough questions, and the healing power of...shopping? Hey, whatever. Guys get 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS; gals get movies about the importance of shoes. Fair's fair, I suppose. I did like the fact that half the flick was filmed in Philly, but I doubt it'll mean anything to those outside my beloved city.
From debut feature director Bennett Miller comes one of the most widely regarded movies of the entire festival. Basically everyone who's seen it has liked (or loved) it. It's called CAPOTE, and it features Philip Seymour Hoffman as the groundbreaking journalist who set out to write a book about a series of murders, and, despite his subsequent successes, lived to regret it. Hoffman delivers an Oscar-lock performance, and he's supported in exceedingly fine form by the always-great Catherine Keener as TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD author Harper Lee, and Clifton Collins Jr. as the soft-spoken killer Perry Smith. The movie boasts a gripping tale of true-life crime and anguish, and the background is capably populated by folks like Bruce Greenwood, Chris Cooper, and Mark Pellegrino. Fans of solid acting will want to keep an eye out for CAPOTE when it opens (limited) on September 30th and wider some time in October.
Oh, and as an extra bonus, offered exclusively to JoBlo.com's most loyal patrons, I can rattle off a few more Toronto titles that I was able to catch at earlier festivals, each of which are scheduled for release sometime soon and all of which are quite probably worth your attention: Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear in THE MATADOR (11/4) is a surprisingly tight and humorous tale of hit-men, mid-life crises, and trips to Mexico; SARAH SILVERMAN: JESUS IS MAGIC (11/11) is a frequently hilarious concert film from the strangely sexy comedienne; THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (10/05 in NY) is an oddly endearing arthouse ensemble; and Mike Mills' THUMBSUCKER (9/16) is kinda like IGBY GOES DOWN & TADPOLE, only quite a bit better than both.
And with that I bid you adieu from the town of French women, expensive cigarettes, and hotel thermostats that confuse Americans by using the Celsius scale, thereby causing horrible illnesses to stupid film critics like me. Thanks very much for checking in this week, and we really do hope you found some flicks to red-pencil for the future. Until next fest, this is your flick-addicted correspondent, signing off, and heading back to Philly!