Time to review the theatres themselves. Thus far, we’ve only been to three of the different theatres showing festival screenings, with two others to experience later this week. A majority of our screenings have been at the Ryerson Theatre, which is a large amphitheatre for the college, seating 1200 people. This is the third big venue for the festival, following Roy Thompson Hall (home to the big gala premieres) and The Elgin Theatre (home to the Visa Screening Room, which features other big gala premieres and second screenings of stuff from the Thompson). Screenings at those two theatres aren’t eligible for use with our Festival Lite packages (which is, of course, complete bullshit – especially when it comes to repeat screenings at the Elgin. I can understand reserving gala premieres for those willing to pay $40, but repeat screenings? This is what has shut us out of films like Burn After Reading, The Duchess, Rachel Getting Married, and The Good, The Bad, and The Weird). So the Ryerson is the only place we can go for third-tier gala premieres (such as Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Slumdog Millionaire, and tonight’s The Brothers Bloom), and the odd big name repeat screening (Passchendaele, RocknRolla). Luckily, because it’s such a big venue, we were able to get into all the screenings we chose for it, and have always been able to get seats where we want (which is generally close to the front to get a good view of the celebs, and off the side as close to the aisle as possible).
The bad side of the Ryerson is that it’s a pretty shitty place to watch a movie. The sound is fine and the picture quality is great (using Dolby Digital when they can), but the seats are terrible, meaning that you spend most of the film squirming from one uncomfortable position to another. The washrooms are also a mess, down the stairs and across a hall, with the ladies room usually a solid 15 minute wait (of course, the dude’s line is never that long, so I’m good. But I can still sympathize for my wife, right?).
The Scotiabank Centre is your typical modern cineplex, with comfy seats, cup holders, and stadium seating, plus fast food in the concourse. It’s also the only one that lets us line up inside, so that’s a nice touch on the rainy days (oh, and Kim wants me to add that it takes our Scene card for concessions). No complaints there, although you’re not gonna get any premieres here (that said, Ed Harris still showed up to introduce Appaloosa). The AMC is a new venue, similar to Scotiabank in that it has the modern amenities of a multiplex, but better. Every theatre is digital, the seats are more plush, the armrests pull up so we can sit closer to each other without the barrier, there’s a nice individual snack plan. So far, AMC is our favourite venue, with the only flaw being that they make you wait outside (although today we able to get out of one screening in time to walk into the next, foregoing the line). Too bad there’s no AMC theatres where I live.
Read on for musings on The Wrestler, More Than a Game, The Dungeon Masters, and The Brothers Bloom…
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Confession time: this is my first Darren Aronofsky film. The Fountain seemed too wacked out, while Requiem for a Dream may be a lot of things, but a fun time isn’t one of them. From what I know of Aronofsky, The Wrestler is nothing like an Aronofsky film. Before the film (which he just completed six days ago, just in time to win the fan’s choice award in Venice), the director himself admitted that this is a departure for him, saying that he learned a great lesson that to make a great film, one only needs a camera and a strong, true performance. That’s exactly what he gets from Mickey Rourke, who is absolutely devastating here as a past-his-prime professional wrestler living out his days in small union halls and junior high gyms, barely scraping by as a result of his terrible life decisions that brought him to this point. Eschewing the special effect mindfucks of his last film, Aronofsky goes completely low tech and gritty here, and achieves a brilliant film in the process.
For years, boxing was the sport of choice for directors wanting to do a gritty tale of a fallen warrior, in the tradition of Raging Bull or Requiem for a Champ. Here, Aronofsky proves that pro wrestling is a perfect match for this sensibility, despite the fact that the action is staged and winners and losers are prearranged. He accomplishes what David Mamet failed to do earlier this year with his look at Mixed Martial Arts in Redbelt, in that it’s obvious he has great respect for those who partake in the profession, but is unafraid to show the real underbelly beneath it. Rourke’s character, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, is far from the big stage of WWE television and the big stadium shows of his prime, instead plying his trade on weekends off from his supermarket stocker job in tiny shows, where the gate shares aren’t enough to pay the rent. He’s a broken piece of meat who has failed as a human even more than he failed in the ring, but Rourke manages to find the sympathy of the character without brushing past his many flaws.
Having read more than a few wrestling biographies in the past, I felt that the movie stayed true to the inglorious stories of wrestlers away from the show, while matter-of-factly revealing the show behind the show. If you’re a wrestling fan (as I once was), this film is an absolute must see. But even if you’re not (such as my wife), this will be one of the best dramas you’ll see all year.
Verdict: Absolute success – Emotionally devastating, yet still engaging and entertaining. Rourke could contend for Oscars.
More Than a Game
Director: Kristopher Belman
Starring: LeBron James, Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee, Coach Dru Joyce, Gloria James
More Than a Game is a sports documentary following the high school team of NBA star LeBron James, with footage following he and his teammates and friends from grade schoolers to the State Championship game of their senior year. What’s great about this film is that it’s not simply a LeBron James promotional film, and instead makes you care about the stories of the rest of the team. It’s one of the best sports docs I’ve seen, taking the standard sports films motifs and cliches and making them feel fresh again when applied to reality. Also interesting is how it takes a team that rarely lost and featured perhaps the greatest high school basketball player of all-time, and is still able to get some underdog sympathies from the audience. A must see for basketball fans, as it gives one of the most intimate looks you’ll ever get from a modern athlete, but it also serves as a true crowd-pleaser even for non-basketball fans (again, like my wife).
Verdict: Success – A rousing, well produced docs that had four seasons worth of Friday Night Lights-type action with its high school stars. Seeing the rapport James had with teammates as a teenager gives you an insight into the kind of player he has become as a pro (a dominant force who is still willing to use his teammates… even when they suck).
The Dungeon Masters
Director: Keven McAlester
Starring: Scott Corum, Richard Meeks, Elizabeth Reesman
For this sort of documentary to work, a look into the world of Dungeons & Dragons and the lives of those who play it, the makers have to find people who defy the stereotypes so the audience can identify with them to hopefully understand their unusual passion. This is why films like Wordplay and The King of Kong work, while films like Word Wars and this one don’t. Instead, the featured three D&D players fit the stereotypes you’d expect, basically coming off as Geek Girl, Comic Book Guy, and Dwight Schrute. There were some enjoyable moments to be had with this film, but they were mostly when you were cheering for the suffering wives of the pathetic losers onscreen. I kinda don’t want to live my life knowing that people like this are out there.
Verdict: Fail – Not an utter failure, as the film gets a little interesting when touching on the reasons why these broken people choose to live their lives in a world of fantasy, but not interesting enough to make up for the lack of fun.
The Brothers Bloom
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Maximilian Schell
This is the screening I was most looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. Not only did we get Rian Johnson in the house, but also the three main stars, and a surprise appearance by Ethan Hawke (whom I’m guessing was supporting Mark Ruffalo, as the two co-star in What Doesn’t Kill You, which screens later this week). But more than that, they delivered a fantastic movie that is pure entertainment. The film is stylish like Johnson’s debut (Brick), but in a much different way. Instead of high school noir, we get a fairytale look at the world of two grifters (Ruffalo and Adrien Brody) who set their sights on an eccentric millionaire who collects hobbies (Rachel Weisz who is absolutely delightful here, while Rinko Kikuchi steals a tonne of scenes as the brothers’ silent accomplice). The plot is twisty like you’d expect from a con man film, but tightly planned, much like with Johnson’s debut.
Verdict: Success – An absolute blast. Probably the most entertaining film I’ve seen thus far, and possibly the best.
All in all, a great movie day. It’s easier to see four movies in one day when you love three of them, with each energizing us for the next.
Tomorrow: Back to a three-movie schedule, with two Canadian movies and our second Viggo Mortensen movie of the Fest.