Friday, September 16, 2005

Jackie Chan to World: Take Me Seriously

The best moment in the new Jackie Chan film The Myth, where he plays a modern-day archeologist and an ancient Chinese general, is a frantic fight on a sticky conveyor belt in an Indian glue factory. Chan does everything his fans want of him: twists, spins and kicks with his trademark comic panache. Speaking at a press conference the day after the film’s late-night screening, Chan speaks repeatedly about everything but his funny fighting stunts. Chan wants people to take him seriously.

“I don’t want to do Rush Hour 1-2-3-4 and 5,” he tells the roomful of press. “I’m tired of Shanghai Knights, Shanghai Dawn, Shanghai everything. I want something new; really want to change my look to my audience. Jackie Chan is not just an action star. Jackie Chan is a dramatic actor who can fight.”

Later in the press conference, Chan admits meeting with acclaimed filmmakers Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou to discuss possible projects only to be told they’re only interested in making a Jackie Chan action movie.

For now, the only person convinced of his newfound status as a dramatic actor is Chan himself.

At Celebrity’s Doorstep

Prize for the hardest workers at the Toronto Film Festival -- even more so than press, publicists and festival staff -- goes to the thankless autograph hounds and junior league paparazzi who line up every morning outside the Inter Continental Hotel and stay through the evening for a chance at an up-close celebrity meeting. Their efforts seldom pay off due to the quick entry and exit celebrities like Julianne Moore and Pierce Brosnan make to and from interviews. But the celebrity junkies remain; stalwart in their need for an autographed picture or photo. One important note: This festival mob is well behaved, even by Toronto standards. Told that they are not allowed past a certain patch of sidewalk, they never rush the hotel’s front door, although they outnumber hotel security staff 100-to-1.

Keira Knightley is Watching You

Doe-eyed British actress Keira Knightley knows firsthand about being the celebrity deer in the headlights thanks to constant paparazzi and tabloid reporters interested in her every move. It’s the cliche price of stardom. But turnabout is fun play. So Knightley and a posse of pals accompanying her to Toronto start her first morning interview with the playful prank of staring out their hotel room window and spying on a woman in her apartment in a nearby building. Before speaking with enthusiasm about playing Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bennet, the female heroine of director Joe Wright’s lush adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Knightley wants to have fun.

Asked if it feels good for someone watched to become the watcher, Knightley laughs hard.

“Absolutely,” she says, eyeballing the woman’s breakfast routine. “It’s only fair that I get watch too.”

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Pierce Brosnan: Standing Out of Bond’s Shadow

Photographers gather outside the window of the Toronto hotel bar where actor Pierce Brosnan sits for interviews on his latest film, the sharp, comical hit-man tale, The Matador.

Brosnan remains in the news thanks to continuing speculation about his long-running role as iconic British spy James Bond but he has another film to talk about.

“The door is slowly closing because people keep asking me about it.” Brosnan says. “Until someone like Daniel Craig steps in or until someone like whomever the next man is or until they ask me back the story is till open. For me it’s unfinished business and we might get to stand there again.”

The breaking news today is that Brosnan gives the best performance of his career as lowlife assassin Julian Noble, the booze-soaked, sex-obsessed killer at the center of first-time director Richard Shepard’s exhilarating film. Audience response to The Matador has been positive since the film debuted at Sundance earlier this year. Toronto audiences continue the momentum.

Brosnan looks dapper this afternoon but sports a beard and mustache that’s worlds apart from the clean-shaven Bond.

If Brosnan wants to remind people of his range as an actor and his ability to have a long and successful post-Bond acting career, then The Matador is as good as it gets.

For the time being, The Matador is where he stands.

“It’s a good one,” he says laughing. “It’s a good place to stand.”

The Shit Brown World of Liev Schreiber

Leiv Schreiber is a familiar face thanks to numerous stage roles and films like director Jonathan Demme’s excellent remake of The Manchurian Candidate. But his unbearable task of the past few years, meaning a project he could not give up despite its numerous challenged, was adapting Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2002 novel Everything Is Illuminated. Schreiber had limited resources, a limited budget and limited production time to tell the story of Jonathan (Elijah Wood), a Jewish-American author obsessed with family mementos who travels to the Ukraine to learn about his late grandfather’s life.

Schreiber admits that he and Foer share similar family backgrounds. But his deep connection to the novel focused on its dark humor — something he knows firsthand thanks to his own grandfather and his favorite joke.

“When I was a kid, my grandfather used to get really drunk and he would corner me and he would force me to ask him what his favorite color was and I would ask him what his favorite color was and he would reply, “shit brown,” says Schreiber. “And then he would laugh by himself for an hour with tears streaming down his face. That was his sense of humor and I loved it. I thought it was so bizarre. And the fact that it was not particularly funny, for me, made it even better. But as I got older I discovered that there was something behind it, perhaps a deep sense of irony and darkness. The kind of ecstatic gratification he got from muttering the scatological thing to me was revealing. I know people say that it’s a Jewish sense of humor but I come to believe it is a survivor’s sense of humor. It’s a survivor’s sensibility. You present the fact that if life is excrement, then you have a choice. You can accept that or through irony use it as a fuel for life and art. For me, it was important to try and articulate that culturally through the film.”


Crowds line up morning-through-night for a chance to meet celebrities outside the InterContinental Hotel

Festival Crowds

Festival Crowds line up for tickets outside the Bloor Street box office

Cumberland Theaters

Cumberland Theaters - one of numerous venues for the Toronto Film Festival

Majid Majidi

Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi pleads for tolerance from the United States for hiimself and other Iranian filmmakers

A Cry for Understanding From Iran

Veteran Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi was last at the Toronto Film Festival some five years ago to promote his child-based drama Baran. Like many of his films -- The Color of Paradise and Children of Heaven -- Baran is cinematic sentimentality -- beautiful, poetic and heartfelt -- at its best. It was destined to introduce Majidi to larger Western audiences via a sizable release from its distributor Miramax Films. But the U.S. terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, put a freeze on films from the Iranian New Wave and other Middle Eastern countries. At that time, major U.S. film companies backed off from releasing the newest films from Majidi and his Iranian colleagues despite the apolitical nature of their stories. The Iranian New Wave, arguably the most significant film movement of our time, lost its footing in the West and has since failed to regain its stature.

Majidi, a soft-spoken man with a round face, thick gray mustache and thicker belly, is back at Toronto this year with The Willow Tree, about a Tehran University professor (Parvis Parastui) who regains his eyesight through surgery after suffering blindness at age 8. The Willow Tree is Majidi at the height of his storytelling powers: visually beautiful, modest with its dialogue and rich in life lessons. It is humanistic and intentionally gentle. Yet, because Majidi is from Iran and the tense politics between his homeland and ours, Majidi is unsure about the chances of his film being seen by U.S. audiences. His message for the U.S. is one of tolerance.

“In Iran people are waiting for positive signs from America,” Majidi says, speaking with the help of the film’s producer. “They (Iranian people) are hoping there will be positive signs. But they (United States) think Iran is a small country. How can we have dialogue? How can they expect us to have a positive and open view when everyday they treat us like nothing?”

Do You Know the Way to Elizabethtown?

The United States scrutiny heard at the Toronto International Film Festival is one of consistent criticism due to failed emergency rescues in New Orleans. These days, everyone, from TV commentators to festival attendees, appears critical of the U.S. The non-political exception is filmmaker Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown, a half-baked fantasy of small-town America with kids jumping on a trampoline and everyone waving to the film’s outsider hero, Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), as he drives into the rural Kentucky town to make the funeral arrangements for his father.

Baylor is a failed shoe designer who just lost his Nike-like employer millions but that plot detail is just background for the film’s core themes: coming home again, the joy of simpler lives and reuniting with family.

Orlando Bloom is old fashioned handsome as Baylor, the film’s adrift hero. Kirsten Dunst makes good use of her full moon face and blonde hair as Claire, the flirty flight attendant who wins Drew’s heart.

Susan Sarandon salvages her screeching performance as Drew’s mother with a heartfelt speech at the climactic memorial service.

Elizabethtown is a combo of the Frank Capra film It’s A Wonderful Life and TV classic The Andy Griffith Show but never feels as fresh or as real as it should. (Its distributor, Paramount Pictures describes the film as a “work in progress” with changes expected for its release this fall).

A festival film that sells out at the box office means it claims plenty of stars or it’s very good. Elizabethtown is more of the former thanks to its beautiful lead actors.

Crowe reaches throughout Elizabethtown -- and it’s fun to watch a creative person like Crowe reach even when he fails.