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Toronto 2010: Condos, Kidman, etc.

Posted by Wesley Morris  September 15, 2010 10:22 PM

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Rabbit Hole.jpg

Running downtown this morning, I saw a woman speaking to a couple of good-looking young men outside the subway entrance. The closer I got the clearer it was to see that she was upset. The two men backed away and into the station. "This city is not your ashtray," she screamed after them. She was on a bicycle. She wore expesive jeans. She didn't seem especially crazy or particularly Cantabrigian. What she wanted, I think, is what anybody who loves her city wants: an end to litterers. Although, I'd settle for ones as handsome as Toronto's. This city is one worth defending against gum wrappers and cigarette butts. In 2010, can anyone get elected on that platform? Can a Canadian? 

Meanwhile, swaths of Toronto are under construction. Like many Western cities, this one seems to have an endless appetite for condo high-rises. That includes the film festival. Sunday the public got to explore the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the festival's brand-new permanent headquarters. If the films' general lack of excellence, this year, has got people down, there's some comfort to be found in the Lightbox. Its five-story base sits at the corner John and King streets, which has recently been named Reitman Square. Indeed, it's those Reitmans; Ivan and Jason Reitman's family made a major donation (inside there's a plaque dedicated from Ivan and his sisters to their parents). As the local press has pointed out: Better Reitman Square than TD Banknorth Square or AT&T Square. 

TIFF Lightbox.jpgThe Lightbox houses two chic restaurants, one of which, Canteen, is mediocre, overpriced, and overcrowded (there are less chaotic places to get poached salmon and fregola, but there's only one place to be seen eating it). There's a festival gift shop, two galleries, three spacious movie theaters, and two smaller ones. Attached just behind it are 45 floors of condos.   

It's your typical glass, steel, and slate urban slab. But it's modern and has style, not all of it good: To reach the mezzanine men's room, for example, a not insignificant flight of stairs must be climbed (it's a mezzanine within a mezzanine; with any luck, Christopher Nolan with be urinating here a lot). The local firm Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects designed the building, and the only explanation for that restroom is that the firm must be staffed with bladderless workers. 

Naming your festival headquarters the Lightbox is ingenious: When it's mostly cold and dark, fight your seasonal-affective depression here. A colleague, who said he liked the theater, mentioned having trouble with the sight lines, but I haven't experienced any obstructions. 

Many festivals have dedicated spaces. Cannes has its Palais des Festivals. New York has Lincoln Center. Last night, I was at a karaoke party with Graham Leggat, the executive director of the San Francisco Film Society. Before singing a poignant version of Radiohead's "Creep," Leggat told me the Society, which puts on the San Francisco International Film Festival, was building a $60 million building. It makes sense for any city: In theory, the festival can continue all year in a fixed location. Bafflingly, Boston lacks a major international film festival. So a place like the Lightbox, which, admittedly, emits a corporate scent, can actually be depressing, since a lack of serious organization is all that's stopping such a space from popping up in Boston. 

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I wish I could report that my first movie in the Lightbox was special. It was Max Winkler's "Ceremony," a comedy that has all the store-bought ingredients for so-called indie comedy. An obnoxious children's book writer (Michael Angarano) drags an estranged friend to a party Hamptons, where writer's girlfriend (Uma Thurman) has gotten engaged. The movie is all urbane tics and poses. Angarano, an actor I really like, wears a mustache that looks like an animal died above his lip. Thurman, meanwhile, looks mortified. If Wes Anderson paid a college intern to remake "Wedding Crashers," the result would be "Ceremony," a movie so immature and self-indulgently bad it should be at Sundance.      

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One of my favorite movies here is Tom Tykwer's "Three." It returns Tykwer to his native Germany and to actual human beings. It's about three adult Berliners -- a woman (Sophie Rois) and two men (Sebastian Schipper, Devid Striesow) -- and their shifting amorous relationship. Tykwer is still best-known here for "Run Lola Run." But he's been somewhat adrift ever since, making big projects -- "Perfume," "The International" -- that never really caught on. Away from a large productions, Tykwer now seems like a dog off its leash. "Three" is bursting with intelligence, filmmaking, sex, complaints about daily life and comical philosophy. It's a pleasure to be in the presence of a filmmaker who appears to have found himself again.     

At that same karaoke party, I ran into a colleague who said that, earlier in the day, "Rabbit Hole," a domestic dead-child drama with Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, blew him away. He's not alone. I saw it today, and, afterward, several people roamed the corridors proclaiming its brilliance. The applause was hearty when the light came (this was a press-and-industry screening). "Rabbit Hole" arrived here with no distributor. That won't be the case for long, especially in an apparently weak year for Oscar candidates. But this is such an obvious choice. Like a lot of movies about unhappy married people ("Revolutionary Road" comes to mind), it's self-consciously tasteful, which is the last thing I want from John Cameron Mitchell, the trouble-making sybarite whose "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and "Shortbus" are great, sexually avant-garde comedies.

RAbbit Hole 2.jpgHe's well-behaved here, in case rich suitors from the studios are watching. Most scenes are bathed in acoustic guitars and strings. The photography is as pristine as the movie's expensive West Chester homes. The emotions are bottled until their owners can no longer contain their contents. David Lindsay-Abaire adapted "Rabbit Hole" from his Broadway play, which won him a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony for best drama and Cynthia Nixon a Tony for best actress in 2006. It's a good, often perceptive piece of writing and a vehicle for strong acting, but, despite the subject matter (Kidman and Eckhart play couple still dealing with the death of their four-year-old son), it doesn't go very deep. Not as a drama. The movie's best, freshest instincts are comedic. The sarcasm, put-downs, and slights of grief, the little madnesses of suffering, come to Mitchell and Lindsay-Abaire more naturally. Maybe to Kidman, too. Her acerbity is as subtle as a paper cut. Conversely, Eckhart, who gave the second-best performance in "The Dark Knight," is finally a full-blown emotional actor now. As ever with Kidman lately, there is the unavoidable matter of her face. At this point, not discussing it is like going to see Lang Lang, and not discussing how his piano was out of tune. To compensate for a few of her facial limitations, she now appears to be acting with her neck. I'm pleased to report it has amazing range. 

Meanwhile, I don't believe her as the daughter of Dianne Wiest and the sister of Tammy Blanchard. The character got an education and married out of the lower-middle classes. But there's no trace of their genes in Kidman, who, good as she is, can't entirely disguise her Australian accent, either. This is where you're curious to see Nixon, who would at least have eliminated the awkwardness of Kidman's miscasting (she co-produced the film). I understand why people are really going for "Rabbit Hole." Even though it's pretty standard, It's tough. It gives Mitchell a chance to recalibrate his ambition, to show that he can make a tonally (and orientationally) straight movie. He can. Now that's proven that he can keep the peace, I beg him to go back to disturbing it.

Let Me In.jpg
I'd actually like to see him handle the vampires of "Let Me In," which played here a few days ago. It's a remake of the 2008 Swedish film and an adaptation of a novel, "Let the Right One in." It's also unnecessary. The director, Matt Reeves, also made "Cloverfield," and to make his film feel more American than the original, he grafts the Reagan-era 1980s onto a New Mexico setting. Since the movie is still constricted by the source material -- outcast boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) meets 12-year-old vampire (Chloe Moretz); blood flows -- the periodization is really just thematic wallpaper. Reeves has a nice eye and generates almost as much suspense as his source material. The movie comes this close to tragedy. But grim and graphically violent as it is, the American version is so cleanly, tastefully composed that any air of real human emotion or dread is too thin to last. This vampire movie wants an Oscar a lot more than Nicole Kidman does. 

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

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