41st Toronto International Film Festival Coverage: Day Five

September 12th, 2016 by Ian Evans

It’s day five of the Toronto International Film Festival and I’ll talk about some of the movies that premiered today and then tell you about the movie Sing, which I saw in a work-in-progress screening.

The first gala of the night at Roy Thomson Hall was Joseph Cedar’s Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, which stars Richard Gere as a fixer in the Jewish community of New York. Norman is one of those people who “knows people” and “gets things done” including making connections with a visiting Israeli dignitary. When that dignitary later becomes the Israeli prime minister, Norman suddenly finds himself without access, and can’t make the contacts and deals his friends and clients expect him to make. Gere is joined by a cast that includes Michael Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Steve Buscemi, Hank Azaria and Isaach De Bankolé.

The second gala of the night at Roy Thomson was for a sci-fi drama from TIFF regular Denis Villeneuve. Arrival follows a linguistics expert (Amy Adams), a theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner) and a colonel (Forest Whitaker) as they try to make contact with, and understand the motivations of, multiple alien spacecraft that have arrived on the planet. Though Villeneuve was not in attendance (he’s helming the Blade Runner sequel) his stars sang his praises. Asked about working with him at an earlier press conference, Renner said that, “Anyone who is good at what they do is really easy” adding that the Quebecois director was “collaborative, patient, thoughtful, he can seemingly be quite shy but he is actually gregarious and funny and he has a really interesting sense of humour; I love him!”

Adams had equal praise, saying that, “It is such a bummer he is not here because he is so much fun and he has no much passion, so much love, for what he does. You feel it every day when he arrives on set. So I always felt so supported. He’s the best.”

Over at the Princess of Wales, filmgoers were eagerly awaiting the screening of La La Land. Directed and written by Damien Chazelle, who brought Whiplash to the fest in 2014, the film follows a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and actress (Emma Stone) who fall in love as they chase their dreams in this love letter to the classic Hollywood musical. The film opened the Venice Film Festival about two weeks ago. Stone told the press in Italy that she loved the film’s lack of cynicism, saying that, “This movie is in no way cynical. It’s about dreaming and hoping and working towards something to achieve something. I think young people have fallen into a lot of cynicism and making fun of things and pointing out the flaws in everything and this movie is anything but that. So it’s a huge joy to be able to show it to young people. This is what I hope young people will do is work hard to achieve their dreams, and hope instead of being cynical.” The film is already earning a lot of awards season buzz.

It’s almost poetic that the next film at the POW starred Chazelle’s Whiplash actor Miles Teller. Written and directed by Ben Younger, Bleed for This is a biopic about boxing champion Vinny Paz, who returned to the ring after suffering a devastating injury in a car accident. Despite being told he might never walk again, Paz works with his coach (Aaron Eckhart) to make the impossible possible.

There were no Monday blahs over at the Ryerson Theatre as the red carpet was kept humming with multiple premieres. Jim Jarmusch, whose Gimme Danger doc we screened earlier, is also at the Festival with his new film, Paterson, which stars Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani. Driver plays Paterson, a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey who leads a perfectly normal and regulated life with his perfect and loving wife. But in the hearts of this couple beats the souls of artists. Each morning Paterson writes a poem and each night his wife Laura greets him with a new piece of art.

Jarmusch’s film was followed by Alex Lehmann’s Blue Jay, which stars Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson as two former high school sweethearts who reconnect by chance after 20 years. As feelings begin to rekindle, the question is whether their feelings are real or just nostalgia. The film was shot in black and white and though Duplass was originally wary that it would come off as pretentious, he said at a post-screening Q&A that, “we ultimately just wanted to strip away all — as much stuff — as we can and just get down to the two faces.”

From film to television, Ryerson than played host to two episodes from the anthology series Black Mirror. In the episode San Junipero, Mackenzie Davis plays a young woman in a seaside town in the 80’s looking for a bit of excitement. When she meets Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), she realizes that more is at stake than just one night. The next episode, Nosedive, was written by Rashida Jones and stars Bryce Dallas Howard whose character is trying to get an apartment in an exclusive complex. In a world where everything is rated and can change your social standing, she finds a mishap at a rehearsal dinner for a friend’s wedding might alter her life.

The Midnight Madness entry tonight was the first feature from director Julia Ducournau, Raw. In the film, a vegetarian veterinarian student (Garance Marillier) must eat a raw rabbit liver as part of an initiation ritual. Things begin to change for her immediately and she suddenly develops all kinds of cravings for flesh. The cannibalistic action was a little too much and paramedics were called to the Gerrard Street cinema to deal with a couple of fainting patrons.

A film about a veterinarian is perhaps a clumsy segue into my thoughts on a film I screened earlier today, the animated comedy Sing. Matthew McConaughey voices Buster Moon, an eternally optimistic koala bear running a broken down theatre. He thinks he can turn its fortunes around with a signing contest and soon a variety of animals have entered the contest to pursue their dreams. The film was screened as a work-in-progress and we were told that some elements were still be worked on, but even in the state we saw it in, I thought it looked gorgeous. The voice cast, which includes Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Seth MacFarlane and John C. Reilly, brought the laughs and I think it’s a film the whole family will enjoy when it’s released in December. Check it out.

And that’s day five…we’re halfway through the Festival.