Report from Toronto International Film Festival - Day 6
4th Oct 08
So far so good, I've got into all the screenings that I've wanted... my luck had to run out sooner or later, right? My 8am appointment at the Industry Box Office proved fruitless; I was not going to get a ticket for the public screening of Public Enemy Number One. My schedule - planned with military precision days earlier - was thrown into disarray by this hurdle, so I had to take time out to see what remaining screenings I could juggle around in order to make the press screening of the film.
A scattering of Press kits
There was no way around it - I'd have to miss Sexykiller. With no other screening options available for that Midnight Madness title (showing on the Friday, after I flew home) Bruce suggested that I book a time slot at the Screening Library so that I could at least see the film there on disc - a good idea! Leaving Bruce there to catch up on some films he'd missed I then headed to the main press and PR office to pick up some Press kits for a selection of the films that I was covering.
Michael Caine and Bill Milner in Is There Anybody There?
With my bag now heavy with an assortment of booklets and discs it was time to get up to the Varsity for my first film of the day. Is There Anybody There? is the new British film from John Crowley (Boy A) starring Bill Milner (one of the kids from Son Of Rambow) as a morbid young boy called Edward whose parents run an old folks home. Surrounded by the sick and elderly, Edward is fascinated by death and the paranormal, recording the patients in a vain attempt to gain an insight into what happens after someone dies. When Clarence (Michael Caine), a cantankerous ex-magician still grieving for his late ex-wife, arrives at the hospice the pair strike up an uneasy friendship and attempt to confront the nature of mortality together.
Is There Anybody There? is a curious mix, sad and moving yet littered with comic moments - Clarence's revival of his finger-guillotine trick is a doozy. I'm not sure that it has the appeal to reach a wide audience in the way that Son Of Rambow did, but the young Milner again impresses and is backed by a strong cast of British television stalwarts like David Morrissey, Anne-Marie Duff, Peter Vaughan and Leslie Phillips.
Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire
Next up, Danny Boyle's new film which seems to have been made under the radar and has arrived with little fanfare. So, the buzz for Slumdog Millionaire starts now after some enthusiastic reviews and the film collecting TIFF's coveted People's Choice Award - and I'm in full agreement, this is a terrific film. Jamal (Dev Patel, Skins) is one question away from winning the top prize on India's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? when he's taken away for questioning - how could a kid who grew up on the streets possibly know all the right answers? What follows is a series of flashbacks to Jamal's troubled childhood growing up as a 'slumdog' with his older brother Salim and another orphan called Latika (Freida Pinto) who Jamal is especially fond of.
After a slow build up the film really gains momentum in the second half as the adult Jamal reconnects with his childhood sweetheart and attempts to free her from the clutches of a local gangster. After his dazzling sci-fi epic Sunshine (one of my favourite films of last year) Danny Boyle again shows just what a versatile director he is with this film, closest in tone to Millions with its lighter tone and predominantly youthful cast. Boyle has always had a natural flair for directing his actors but in Slumdog Millionaire it's his depiction of Mumbai that impresses most, bringing a bright, vibrant, kinetic energy to the film which excites and draws you in. Culminating in a Bollywood style song-and-dance number over the closing credits, this is the epitome of feelgood movies and even had the jaded P&I audience applauding at the end. Fantastic stuff!
Bill Maher in Religulous
No trip to Toronto is complete without a visit to Bay Street DVD so I spent my next break in there browsing the endless rows of DVDs and wishing I had a lottery win to fund my addiction. In the end my sole purchase the 3 disc American Gangster box set for a bargain $15. Back to the Varsity for some more phone rage; for the third time in one day I witnessed one audience member berate another for using their phone / blackberry during the screening. The film in question this time was Religulous (religious meets ridiculous) the new film from Larry Charles, erstwhile Seinfeld writer and director of Borat. Religulous takes the form of a feature-length documentary following television humourist Bill Maher as he confronts all forms of organised religion on a journey around the globe. Maher is a natural host and the affable way in which he questions faith with a mixture of wit and logic produces great results.
Whether you find this kind of thing funny I guess depends on your own personal beliefs, but it's important to stress that the film doesn't target one particular faith for attack, it satirises the whole notion of religious belief. Myself, I laughed like a drain and I wasn't alone - if you want to find the film that generated the most laughs at TIFF this year, you've got it right here.
With Clancy Brown at The Burrowers premiere
I'd set aside the evening to catch up with friends, so after my screening I headed down to The Foxes Den to have some food with Courtney, Bruce, Ant, Ian and a few others before we moved on to the Imperial for some beers. Always busy prior to the Midnight Madness screenings, we caught up with Todd and some of the Twitch crowd upstairs and I got chatting to Grady Hendrix (Kaiju Shakedown).
Having said my farewells to Bruce as it was his last night in town I then headed down to the Ryerson ready for the midnight screening of The Burrowers, the latest film from JT Petty (S&MAN - which confounded viewers at FrightFest in Glasgow last year). JT had been at nearly all the other MM screenings so I'd already had the opportunity to speak to him earlier in the week, but tonight he had two of his cast members with him in the shape of Karl Geary and the legendary Kurgan himself, Clancy Brown. Us bloggers got to work and Clancy was very obliging, answering questions and posing for pictures - and quoting his most infamous line of dialogue too!
Clancy Brown, JT Petty and Karl Geary at The Burrowers premiere
So who's up for a horror-western? Taking place across the vast plains of Dakota in 1879, The Burrowers is the story of a young man named Coffey (Geary) who joins a group of horsemen and soldiers to search for his girlfriend's family after they're attacked on their farm and disappear. Coffey and his rancher friends (including Brown and Lost regular William Mapother) soon discover that it's not the natives who've been taking prisoners, but something sinister that lurks beneath the earth's surface.
Sounds a bit like Tremors I hear you say, but this has a much different feel to it with its period setting and a more serious approach to the material. However, with all that seriousness it loses the good old fashioned fun of the creature feature, and whilst the film is technically proficient and the performances are fine, I just didn't feel that excited about what was happening on screen. It's perfectly watchable and would make for a good DVD rental but it's no classic and is slightly marred by a rather sudden conclusion as if they weren't really sure where to end the film. Petty is in an intelligent guy and a promising director but I don't think The Burrowers is his break out movie, just a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Still attached to a 'remake' of Faces Of Death which might yet be his next project, it will certainly be interesting to see what he comes up with in the future.
Slumdog Millionaire screens at the London Film Festival on 30th October and opens in the UK on 23rd January.
Religulous screens at the London Film Festival on 18th & 20th October.
For more information on TIFF including the Midnight Madness blogs please visit www.tiff08.ca.