This trip to Toronto is the first time I’ve ever left The States, a fact that I’ve found is surprising to most. The city, in many respects, reminds of New York but less bustling and less intimidating. It’s a strange town in a way, too—a place that has adult cinemas, sex shops, and male strip clubs across the street and up the block a bit from the American Apparel. What’s oddest is that it all seems to fit, and no one—at least from my experience—seems to mind.
This morning, I finally managed to make it from the place that I’m staying, through the subway (“Ride the Rocket” say the placards inside the cars), and to the theater (the Scotiabank, a huge mulitplex owned by Cinemark in the middle of midtown Toronto) for a late morning screening, all without the help of the directions on my iPhone. The only problem was that I thought the movie I wanted to see—Noah Baumbach’s latest, Frances Ha—was starting an hour later. It was suddenly a morning of mixed emotions, so I skipped the film, a movie I wanted to see for no other reason than Baumbach describing it as “something Paul McCartney would make in his basement,” and likening it to a pop song. Instead, I missed the screening and decided to instead wander around Toronto’s Fashion District, where I learned that a homeless man had set the dumpster behind Urban Outfitters on fire. So there was at least some entertainment in my morning.
Much of the time mix-up I’m blaming on being up till three a.m. for the world premiere of Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths at Midnight Madness. This was the first time I’d been to an event of this size, complete with a red carpet and a ton of star-watchers, who will jostle and fight for just one really bad photo of Colin Farrell. The film itself I loved, since much like McDonagh’s In Bruge, it’s mean and nasty, and out to offend—with the added bonus of McDonagh’s razor sharp dialogue. The movie actually goes in directions that its trailer never even suggests, being metatextual without acting smug, and becoming often shockingly gory and wonderfully bloody, right down to a very juicy exploding head. But beneath all the violence is a movie with a heart, since deep down this is a movie about friends. Just very quirky—and even deranged—friends. This might just be the best thing I’ve seen all year.
I watched a couple of films earlier in the day, the first of which being the Midnight Madness selection John Dies at the End. Directed by Don Coscarelli—who’s best known for Phantasm and Bubba Ho-tep—the film revolves around two friends who get caught up in drugs, ghosts, and alternate dimensions. I’m still not sure what I watched.I’m not even sure if it’s good. But it’s definitely strange. Imagine someone taking David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch and turning it into an episode of The X-Files. And adding some dick jokes. You basically have JDATE (as it’s affectionately called), a film that goes out of its way to be weird. And while I wasn’t sure what to think of it when it ended, I’m slowly warming up to its flippant attitude and low budget moxy, though I’m not sure how many people I can recommend it to.
As soon as that was over, I made haste to a screening of Michel Gondry’s latest The We and the I, a film that was pretty much universally panned when it showed at Cannes earlier in the year. While I can understand the issues with the film (it’s occasionally overwrought and often melodramatic) I don’t quite agree with them. For the most part, you really have to like Gondry’s recent output. This is much more reminiscent (at least in its truly clever fantasy sequences, which all seem to be shot on cell phone cameras) of Be Kind Rewind, and it’s almost self-indulgent in its simplicity. Being a film about a group of innercity teens riding the bus home on the last day of school (its vague surrealism occasionally turns the movie into Fellini meets Spike Lee), you have to remember that The We and the I is a movie about teens—and teens can often be annoying. They can also be self-centered and emotional, too, as Gondry is going for an honest account of the difficulty of growing up. The movie is far from perfect—the drama is a bit too much at times and the use of amateur actors is something that you’ll have to adjust to—but I worry that in the end, it’ll be too harshly criticized.
The only other thing I’ve caught in the meantime is Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, a movie that I—and most of the world (apparently, 600 people were turned away to last night’s premiere)—want to see, even despite the fact that it opens in Asheville in two weeks. But using the excuse that I’m impatient and this is the one chance I’ll get to see it in 70mm I went. And even with the distinct possibility that I built the prospects of the film up in my head, I’m still left feeling vaguely disappointed. Not much, mind you—it’s still brilliantly made, and a worthy addition to Anderson’s filmography. But there’s no real emotional center, as the film is less about the early days of Scientology (in this case, a thinly veiled version of it, at least), and instead more about the relationships between two men. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s fictionalized version of L. Ron Hubbard, and the crazed, violent, alcoholic man he wishes to reform, played by Joaquin Phoenix are never likable. One thing’s for sure, this is definitely Anderson’s most mysterious, impenetrable film to date—something that makes The Master difficult to enjoy, but completely impossible to ignore.