Out of the Furnace
"Out of the Furnace," about two suffering brothers (Christian Bale and Casey Affleck) in Pennsylvania steel country. hits some of the same notes as "The…
One of my favorite pastimes, especially when I should be doing something else, is moseying around the blogs of my readers. You may have noticed that when the name of a poster is displayed in blue, that means it's a link -- usually to the author's blog, although you might be surprised. Assembled here is a distinctive readership of interesting people, not least because I am vigilant about never posting idiotic or perfunctory comments. A certain civil tone is (usually) maintained, avoiding the plague of flame wars.
More than a year ago, when the blog was somewhat new to me, I wrote: "Your comments have provided me with the best idea of my readers that I have ever had, and you are the readers I have dreamed of. I was writing to you before I was sure you were there. You are thoughtful, engaged, fair, and often the authors of eloquent prose. You take the time to craft comments of hundreds of words. Frequently you are experts, and generous enough to share your knowledge."
O'Rourke's was our stage, and we displayed our personas there nightly. It was a shabby street-corner tavern on a dicey stretch of North Avenue, a block after Chicago's Old Town stopped being a tourist haven. In its early days it was heated by a wood-burning pot-bellied stove, and ice formed on the insides of the windows. One night a kid from the street barged in, whacked a customer in the front booth with a baseball bat, and ran out again. When a roomer who lived upstairs died, his body was discovered when maggots started to drop through the ceiling. A man nobody knew was shot dead one night out in back. From the day it opened on December 30, 1966 until the day I stopped drinking in 1979, I drank there more or less every night when I was in town. So did a lot of people.
Jay Kovar and Jeanette Sullivan behind the bar
Every year good films show at the Toronto Film festival that never open anywhere near you. This year some good films played that may never open anywhere, even if you live in Toronto--or New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin or upstairs over a Landmark Theater multiplex. Toronto is traditionally a lively marketplace for the purchase of film rights for new non-studio product: Indies, docs, foreign films. This year Harvey Weinstein paid $1 million for "A Single Man," and that was that. One sale, one movie, one million -- probably as little as Harvey has paid for a movie in some time.
Stands at yellow, rising toward orange
The makers of independent films don't have to send to learn for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for them. The bottom fell out of the market. That doesn't mean there were no other offers, but it means there were none that the sellers felt able to accept. It shows a collapse of confidence in the prospects of independent film distribution.
Don't take my word for it. Listen to Anne Thompson, who always knows what she's talking about. In her blog Thompson on Hollywood, she leads: "The old independent market is over." She quotes the producer Jonathan Dana: "It's a massacre. It's the end of funny money."
Thompson names a few of the films going home without deals, and it's depressing:
"Precious," the story of a teenage girl who seems to have everything going against her, won the coveted Audience Award here Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival. Toronto has no jury awards, but last January at Sundance, "Precious" swept both the jury award and the Audience Award. Both festivals invite audiences to vote as they leave after a screening, and use systems to correct for audience and theater sizes.
Gabby Sidibe as "Precious"
This could not be a better omen for the Oscar chances of "Precious;" it is all but certain to win a place on the expanded list of the Academy's 10 "best picture" nominees. Its star, Gabourey (Gabby) Sidibe, is also a real possibility for an acting nomination.
It was my last film of the festival, on the morning of the day I was flying home, and it turns out to have been my favorite one. Tim Blake Nelson's "Leaves of Grass" is some kind of sweet, wacky masterpiece. It takes all sorts of risks, including a dual role with Edward Norton playing twin brothers, and it pulls them off. It is certainly the most intelligent, philosophical and poetic film I can imagine that involves five murders in the marijuana-dealing community of Oklahoma and includes John Prine singing "Illegal Smile."
Tim Blake Nelson
Sometimes you cannot believe your luck as a movie unfolds. There is a mind behind it, joyful invention, obvious ambition. As is often the case, I had studiously avoiding reading anything at all about "Leaves of Grass" before going to see the movie, although I rather doubted it would be about Walt Whitman. What I did know is that the actor Tom Blake Nelson has written and directed three films enormously admired: "Eye of God" (1997), "O" (2001) and "The Grey Zone" (2001), all three dealing in a concrete dramatic way with important questions: Religion, redemption, race, the Holocaust. And that the actor Edward Norton has never agreed to appear in a film he didn't believe he had reason to respect.
I always try to find at least one film at Toronto that's way off the beaten track. I rarely stray further afield than I did Tuesday night, when I found myself watching "Wake in Fright," a film made in Australia in 1971 and almost lost forever. It's not dated. It is powerful, genuinely shocking, and rather amazing. It comes billed as a "horror film," and contains a great deal of horror, but all of the horror is human and brutally realistic.
Donald Pleasence in "Wake in Fright"
The story involves a young school teacher in the middle of the desolate wilderness of the Outback. The opening overhead shot shows a shabby building beside a railroad track, the camera pans 360 degrees and finds only the distant horizon. and then returns to find a second building on the other side of the tracks. One building is the school. The other is the hotel. To get to either, people must have to travel a great distance.
I'm writing this the day after first posting this entry. I now regret it. The point I make about artists is perfectly valid but I realize I wasn't prepared with enough facts about the events leading up to the Festival's decision to showcase Tel Aviv in the City-to-City section. I thought of it as an innocent goodwill gesture, but now realize it was part of a deliberate plan to "re-brand" Israel in Toronto, as a pilot for a larger such program. The Festival should never have agreed to be used like this. It was naive for the plan's supporters to believe it would have the effect they hoped for. The original entry remains below. The first 50 or so comments were posted before these regrets.
¶ The tumult continues here about the decision to spotlight Tel Aviv in the City-to-City sidebar program of the Toronto Film Festival. The protesters say the festival is thereby recognizing the "apartheid regime" of Israel. The controversy shows no sign of abating, and indeed on Tuesday it was still big news in the Toronto newspapers, with the Star's front page featuring lineups of those opposing the TIFF decision (including Harry Belafonte, Jane Fonda, Viggo Mortenson, Julie Christie and Danny Glover) and those supporting it (including Jerry Seinfeld, David Cronenberg, Sasha Baron Cohen, Lenny Kravitz, Lisa Kudrow and Natalie Portman).
I saw three new movies on Monday. Each one could have been the best film of the day. I can't choose among them, so alphabetically: Werner Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans," Atom Egoyan's "Chloe" and Rodrigo Garcia's "Mother and Child." A story involving a cop uncontrollably strung out on drugs. A story involving a wife who meets a hooker. A story about three woman whose lives are shaped by the realities of adoption. Three considerable filmmakers. Three different tones. Three stories that improvise on genres instead of following them. Three titles that made me wonder, why can't every day be like this?
Nicolas Cage and Werner Herzog were surely destined to work together. Radical talents are drawn to one another. Cage tends to exceed the limitations of a role, Herzog tends to exceed the limitations of film itself. Knowing nothing about conditions during the shoot, my guess is they found artistic harmony. If not, they ended up hardly on speaking terms. Either way would have worked.
There is something about the Jewish way of humor and storytelling I've always found enormously appealing. I memorized material by Henny Youngman and Myron Cohen at an age when, to the best of my knowledge, I had never met a Jew. I liked the rhythm, the contradiction, the use of paradox, the anticlimax, the way word order would be adjusted to back up into a punch line. There seemed to be deep convictions about human nature hidden in gags and one-liners; a sort of rueful shrug. And the stories weren't so much about where they ended as how they got there.
The serious man is consoled by the friend who has stolen his wife
It was two years ago on Saturday night that Jason Reitman's "Juno" had its world premiere here at Toronto. The standing ovation that night was the most spontaneous and joyous I can remember. Still vibrating, Reitman stood on the stage of the Ryerson Theater and vowed, "I'm gonna open all of my films right here in this theater at Toronto." True to his word, his new film "Up in the Air" played the Ryerson at 6 p.m., Saturday--same time, same place.
It stars George Clooney in one of his best performances, as a frequent flyer. His ambition is to pass the 10 million-mile mark in the American Airlines Aadvantage Program, something very few ever do. Asked on an airplane where he lives, he replies, "Here." He's a Termination Facilitator. He fires people for a living. When corporations need to downsize quickly, he flies in and breaks the news to the new former employees. In a lousy economy, his business is great.