A terrific time at TIFF
By Ed Symkus
More Content Now
Though the 2014 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is still unspooling movie after movie through Sept. 14, my time there this time around concluded after spending six days in the Ontario capital, watching loads of movies and conducting countless interviews. Right now it’s kind of a blur, but while it was happening it was an exhilarating rush of going to one movie, hopping next door for the next, cabbing across town to speak with an actor or a director, running down the steps to a subway to catch another screening, going to a party or two, and trying to find time for meals, sleep and a bathroom break. My workdays (yeah, that includes those parties) started at 8 a.m. and usually ended at 1 a.m. Here are some moviewatching highlights of this year’s fest.
Full disclosure: I saw two entries before I left home – the exciting “The Equalizer,” with Denzel Washington, and the gorgeous Mike Leigh bio of artist J.M.W. Turner called “Mr. Turner.” I began the festival proper by drinking some nice red wine at a party thrown by some of my Canadian film critic friends, then attended a 9 p.m. screening of “The Judge,” starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall (classy film, terrific acting, a tad long). The next day at noon I saw the riveting “Whiplash,” the story of a talented and determined jazz drummer (Miles Teller) and his psychotic teacher (J.K. Simmons, in the role of his career). At 2:45, in another auditorium in the same complex, I sat down for “Laggies,” an offbeat take on the coming-of-age genre about the budding friendship between a young girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) who’s quite mature and an older woman (Keira Knightley) who isn’t. At 7:30, way over on the other side of town, I saw what ended up being one of my fest faves, Jason Reitman’s hip, thoughtful, and sprawling “Men, Women & Children,” an ensemble piece (that proves Adam Sandler can pull off a serious part) about how social media and all of those damn electronic devices are taking away our humanity.
A 10:30 a.m. Friday screening of “Hector and the Search for Happiness,” about a psychiatrist (Simon Pegg) who goes on an international voyage to find (see title), was great because the film made me feel good (happy!) and it brought back my hopes for director Peter Chelsom, whose last good film was 1995’s “Funny Bones.” With some time to spare between movies, I hightailed it to the TIFF Screening Library, where just after noon I donned headphones, then sat down at a large computer screen to watch Hal Hartley’s “Ned Rifle,” the third (and final?) part of his “Henry Fool”/“Fay Grim” series, this one about the son of Henry and Faye. A long lunch later led to me standing in a long line for a 6 p.m. public (rather than press) screening of “The Drop,” a dark and nasty adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s short story “Animal Rescue,” starring a Brooklyn-accented Tom Hardy as a bartender with some secrets and James Gandolfini with bigger ones. Four movies in one day? Why not! I made to a hotel’s private screening room for a 9:15 showing of the dysfunctional family ensemble piece “This Is Where I Leave You.” It’s very similar to the soporific “August: Osage County,” but it’s bright and hip and funny.
On Saturday morning at 10:30, I joined a packed house for “Big Game,” a perfect Saturday morning movie, made in Finland, but spoken (mostly) in English about Air Force One and POTUS Samuel L. Jackson being shot down over the Finnish wilderness where, wouldn’t you know it, a 13-year-old kid, alone on a hunting trip to pass into manhood, must save the helpless most powerful man in the world. Silly, but tons of fun. A 2:30 screening of the creepy, sleazy “Nightcrawler” cemented every reason I don’t want to live in L.A., and will likely have bookmakers making good odds on an Oscar acting nomination for Jake Gyllenhaal as a creepy, sleazy wannabe news videographer. The 7 p.m. screening of “The Theory of Everything,” the story of brainy Stephen Hawking, starting with his pre-ALS college days and telling of his life and loves, showcased the multitalented Eddie Redmayne (“My Week with Marilyn”) in the lead, another likely Oscar candidate. A “Men, Women & Children” party capped off the night.
Because of a crazy interview schedule the following day, I only got to see one film: the insane (or should I say depraved?) “Tusk,” Kevin Smith’s horror romp about a twisted dude (Michael Parks) who snares a jerky podcaster (Justin Long) and turns him into a walrus. Yes, you got it right. No need to read that last sentence again. A unique film experience! A “Theory of Everything” party capped off the night.
My final morning and early afternoon of TIFF 2014 consisted of two interviews, followed by a screening of “Love & Mercy,” a music-drenched dramatic look at two different periods in the life of Beach Boy Brian Wilson. He’s played as a young man, brimming with musical ideas, by Paul Dano, and as an older, drug-addled, emotionally frail man seeking help, by John Cusack. A great film to close off my personal edition of a great festival.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.