Entertainment Industry

Category: Toronto International Film Festival

The Morning Fix: Big bucks for 'Big Bang'! Weinstein Co. makes splash at Toronto. Reality bites on broadcast.

After the coffee. Before wondering why Fashion Week snubbed me.

Reality bites. The Wall Street Journal uses the overhaul of Fox's "American Idol" to check in on the state of the reality TV biz. Heading into the fall season, the WSJ notes that the five broadcast networks have scheduled 14 hours of reality shows, the lowest number since 2005. Of course, in fairness, a lot of reality shows usually come on in mid-season to replace new comedies and dramas that didn't work. Also, although broadcast may be backing away from reality shows, the story doesn't note how huge they've become on cable. TLC, MTV, Bravo and dozens of other channels are basically reality-show factories these days. As for "American Idol," we're all still waiting for Fox and the producers to announce Steven Tyler, the Aerosmith singer, and performer Jennifer Lopez as the new judges. Actually, does anyone care anymore?

Big paycheck for "Big Bang Theory." Deadline Hollywood has the details on the new contracts for the stars of the CBS hit "The Big Bang Theory." Most interesting was how Warner Bros. TV, which makes the show, managed to get breakout star Jim Parsons to take the same deal as his co-stars. Initially, the Emmy winner had been holding out for a bigger deal, but Warner Bros. played hardball. The raises come in the wake of Warner Bros. selling repeats of the program to TBS. In other words, this is the reward for the last few years as much as it is a raise going forward.

They're back! The Weinstein Co., apparently trying to move on from founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein's unsuccessful effort to buy back Miramax from Walt Disney Co., has been making a splash at the Toronto International Film Festival. According to Variety, the Weinstein Co. picked up North American rights for a British coming-of-age comedy called "Submarine," its second purchase after springing for "Dirty Girl." Lionsgate has also been busy as it and specialty subside Roadside bought U.S. rights to Robert Redford's "The Conspirator," which is from new Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts

Brother, can you spare a dime? Veteran movie banker Clark Hallren, who left JPMorgan last year to create Clear Scope Partners, has a grim financing forecast for the movie industry. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Hallren, who worked on the initial IPO for DreamWorks Animation, said "it's a good time not to be a banker." Why? Well, Hallren notes that foreign banks are not doing as many deals and the risks in the movie business have skyrocketed.

You say show, I say advertisement. An advocacy group is going after Nickelodeon, charging that one of its new shows is nothing more than an advertisement dressed up as a kids cartoon. The show, "Zevo-3," premieres on Nicktoons next month (actually the day after Hub, a new rival kids channel from Discovery and Hasbro, launches) and is based on characters that were created for a marketing campaign by the shoe company Skechers. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has sent a complaint to the Federal Communications Commission asking the agency to stop Nickelodeon from proceeding with the show. The FCC does have rules regarding advertising and kids programming, but Nickelodeon parent Viacom counters that although the characters of the show may have been inspired by the ads, it is not violating any government regulations. More on the skirmish from the New York Times.

Missing the point. The Hollywood Reporter has a story Thursday declaring that "fat is making a comeback in Hollywood" and suggesting that we can all "forget about" the super-skinny actresses that fill just about every show on broadcast and cable. What the story doesn't note is that most of these shows are reality shows about losing weight and that their overall message is that there is something wrong with the people on the show. Although obesity is a real issue, many of these shows are just exploiting people in the hopes of ratings. In other words, Hollywood is not suddenly embracing people who you can actually still see when they turn sideways.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Sirius XM Chief Executive Mel Karmazin said he is confident that Howard Stern will sign a new deal with the satellite radio broadcaster. MGM got its seventh (that's right, seventh) forbearance on its debt payments. Lucas Cruikshank is building an empire with his Fred Figglehorn character.

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter because I said so: Twitter.com/JBFlint

Toronto: 'Slumdog' bites prize

As the 2008 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival drew to a close, during a Saturday afternoon awards luncheon it was announced that “Slumdog Millionaire,” directed by Danny Boyle, was the winner of the Cadillac People’s Choice Award.

Coming into TIFF off strong buzz from its screening at the Telluride Film Festival, “Slumdog” is a vibrant, crowd-pleasing tale of a young man who wins big on the Indian edition of the TV game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” The film is set to be released in the U.S. in an unusual partnership between Fox Searchlight Pictures and Warner Brothers, after the shuttering of its initial distributor, Warner Independent Pictures.

“Hunger,” directed by British visual artist Steve McQueen, was announced as the winner of the Diesel Discovery Award. A stirring, emotionally wrenching telling of the 1981 Bobby Sands/IRA hunger strike, the film had previously won the Camera d’Or prize (best first film) at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. “Hunger” will be released in the U.S. by IFC Films.

Among other prizes, “Lost Song” won Best Canadian Feature, while “Before Tomorrow” won Best First Canadian Film. “Block B” took home the prize for Best Canadian Short film.

The International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) recognized “Lymelife,” starring Alec Baldwin, and “Disgrace,” with John Malkovich.

Toronto: 'Gomorrah' hits hard

I finally got the chance to catch up with “Gomorrah” on Wednesday night, which I have been reading about since it premiered at Cannes in May. It was worth the wait. An adaptation of Roberto Saviano’s  Italian best-seller directed by Matteo Garrone, the film is a savage, head-on look at the criminal underworld who rule the province of Naples. Told in five interlocking but not overlapping storylines -- perhaps most easily described as some kind of mash-up of “Goodfellas” and “The Wire" -- the film makes plain how the criminal life works from the ground up, from the kids and soldiers who aspire to more, the middlemen with no chance to ever get out and the civilians trying to just stay out of the way.

Shot with a powerfully straightforward style, the film has a life-like vitality that makes the frequent bursts of violence disturbing and unshakable. And there are no Tony Sopranos, no sprawling mansions, no flashy cars. There is just work and blood. Orders filter down, but it can at times be unclear who is calling the shots and why. This gives the film a disorienting quality that makes it all the more gripping.

Chatter amongst those who chatter about such things seems to pin “Gomorrah” as a possible selection for the Italian submission for the Foreign Language Oscar. The main competition will come from another Cannes film, “Il Divo,” which also screened at Toronto but which I wasn’t able to catch. “Gomorrah” would make an interesting addition to the awards race, as it certainly isn’t a typical Oscar film, and its brutal violence may put off more middle-brow Academy members.

While the soundtrack to the film is filled with fizzy Italian pop music that works in grotesque counterpoint to the action onscreen, the final credits roll to "Herculaneum," a new song composed for the film by Robert Del Naja and Neil Davidge of Massive Attack. Its darkly bumping, sinister and freaky sounds are just the right touch for the end of this massively riveting film.

-- Mark Olsen

Toronto: Pirates? (Arrrrrr!)

Pirates_jiezfhnc_400 Taking the stage at the Ryerson for a Q&A following Wednesday afternoon’s screening of “Slumdog Millionaire,” director Danny Boyle said a special hello to the balcony, where he had sat for a screening of “The Hurt Locker."

So, when taking a question from the balcony, Boyle was asked when the “Slumdog” DVD is coming out. Playfully taken aback, Boyle countered with, “Are you a pirate?” This was met with a smattering of “Arrr”s from the crowd. (Imagine the typical sound a pirate makes.)

I have been wondering about these “Arrr”s all through the festival. Before every public screening, a card goes onscreen warning that piracy will not be tolerated and night-vision technology may be used to monitor the crowd. In nearly every screening, this card has been meet by pirate calls.

Where and how did this curious ritual start? I had written this very question earlier in the day to the festival’s Midnight Madness programmer, Colin Geddes, usually the man to turn to for the oddball and arcane.

“The pirate calls all started last year, and I think it was in Midnight Madness.” Geddes e-mailed back. “I can’t take credit for it, but I think that I encouraged it all through the MM screenings. And on the last night someone gave me an eyepatch to wear when I read the 'turn off your BlackBerries, etc.' bit for the last time.”

-- Mark Olsen

(Johnny Depp in "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," courtesy  Stephen Vaughan / Disney Enterprises)

Toronto: "Paris, Not France" -- Hilton, not interesting

Toronto_paris_55691280_400 Paris Hilton was present but not accounted for on Tuesday night at the world premiere of Adria Petty’s documentary “Paris, Not France” at the Ryerson. The film had been one of the very last schedule announcements for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and then had generated some subsequent buzz when its lone press screening and two of its three public screenings were mysteriously pulled. Rumors began to abound -– was Paris trying to suppress the film? Did it reveal too much? There has also been much chatter about rights issues and possible legal entanglements. As with anything related to Hilton, the specter of media manipulation was undeniable.

If the cancellations were intended to drum up interest, it would be tough to say it worked. Tickets were plentiful for journalists, and minutes before showtime, the theater’s balcony was almost empty. Those who did attend could be said to skew slightly younger than most TIFF crowds, whether because of Hilton’s fan base or the fact of a 6 p.m. screening on a Tuesday, although there were certainly a few more pairs of stiletto heels clacking by than for a typical festival screening. (What does one call fans of Paris Hilton anyhow? Paris-ites? Paris-ians?)

The project apparently began when Petty (daughter of Tom) was assigned to make a film to go along with the release of Hilton’s 2006 album. It says something about the brutal speed with which culture is moving that the film seems oddly out of date, as the Paris it depicts is not the Paris of today, and there is certainly no mention of her infamous 2007 stint in jail. The film itself provides no time frame for what has been shot when. Paris talks at length about herself while revealing essentially nothing, and there is little true insight in the film into the Paris “phenomenon” of marketing, merchandising and monetizing within the new celebrity economy.

For that matter, the allegations that the Hilton camp is trying to suppress the film are hard to swallow, simply because it sells the exact party line Paris has been hawking for some time -– she’s smarter than the public assumes, her public persona is a put-on indicted by the change in register between her famously breathy girlish voice and her private lower tones.

She also repeatedly portrays herself as a victim at the hands of media culture, and there is a painfully long sequence in which her notorious sex tape is discussed at wearying length. Hilton compares herself favorably to Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Princess Diana, but the irony of their tragic ends is never addressed. The film could easily have been directed by Hilton’s crisis manager, Elliot Mintz, who is given considerable screen time along with Hilton’s parents, sister and aunt, as well as the head of her merchandising firm, photographer Jeff Vespa, gossip columnists, Donald Trump and media critic Camille Paglia.

Although the festival’s initial press release for “Paris, Not France” referenced the '60s-era film “Darling” and Petty mentioned the French New Wave as an influence, there is no explaining away that the film, in the form as screened, is a mess. The sound recording on some of the interviews is shoddy and unpleasant to listen to, while some of the imagery is amateurishly rough. The songs used in the film -– including tracks from Madonna, the Beatles, Django Reinhardt, Belle and Sebastian, Pizzicato 5 and Paris herself -– have presumably not been fully cleared for use, as there were no credits indicating as such at the end of the film. It is hard to imagine any professional distributor wanting to get involved with such a thing, with or without the allure of the Hilton brand.

The Q&A session following the 68-minute film featured a few friendly questions from TIFF programmer Thom Powers for Petty and her editor, John Gutierrez. (Hilton, with her latest beau in tow, never took the stage and quickly left the room.) No questions were taken from the audience.

“Paris, Not France” is perhaps the most damaging, most dangerous thing of all to a global brand based on glamour and fantasy: dead boring.

--Mark Olsen

(Paris Hilton poses with "Paris, Not France" director Adria Petty.  Photo courtesy WireImage.com)

Toronto: IFC picks up 'Che'

After weeks of rumors that a distribution deal was imminent, it was announced this morning that director Steven Soderbergh's controversial "Che" was picked up by IFC Films.

According to a press release, the film will receive a one-week awards qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles in December. The film will reopen simultaneously in theaters and on-demand in January.

Comprised of two parts, "The Argentine" and "The Guerrilla," the movie is screening both as a single 262-minute film (4 hours and 22 minutes) and split up over two nights. The press release does not specify how the film or films will be shown with regards to the qualifying run and subsequent re-release.

Benicio Del Toro won the best actor prize earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of the revolutionary leader Che Guevara.

-- Mark Olsen

Toronto: "The Hurt Locker" sold to Summit Entertainment

"The Hurt Locker," directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, sold early Wednesday, according to Variety, when distributor Summit Entertainment finished a deal with financier Voltage Pictures for the American rights to the film.

The film is a bracing look at the Iraq war from the soldiers' point of view (see the LAT "Hurt Locker" feature). Despite the rough box-office returns so far for films dealing with current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Summit presumably thinks, as do the filmmakers, that the movie will attract audiences with its action bravado.

A subsequent announcement reveals that Summit plans to release the film in 2009. Another Summit title, "The Brothers Bloom," had its world premiere in Toronto on its way to opening in limited release in December.

-- Mark Olsen

Toronto: 'Gigantic' -- a good, small thing

Aselton_dano_k6x6dhnc_500

A rainy Monday night saw the world premiere of “Gigantic,” the debut feature by director Matt Aselton, who co-wrote the film with Adam Nagata. Starring Paul Dano and Zooey Deschanel, with supporting work by John Goodman, Ed Asner, Ian Roberts and Zach Galifianakis, the film puts an oddball spin on what could be a much more conventionally told tale about a young man finding himself (there’s a girl involved and not one but two quirky families).

Aselton's film runs a tight gamut between absurdist humor -- one entire subplot serves no real narrative purpose and became a point of debate during the post-screening Q&A –- and a more realist streak. At times Aselton’s reach exceeds his grasp, but with such a winning cast –- Deschanel typically shines while also reaching for some raw emotional notes that put new shading on her persona –- there is definitely something there. Dano is dependably sturdy as the wayward young man at the center of the film’s action.

Produced by New York indie veteran Christine Vachon, the film also marks the first executive producer credit for star Dano. While not exactly a full-on buzz screening (the weather, if nothing else, saw to that) there were a healthy number of sales types circling the room. In years past, this is the type of movie that might have made it to theaters with a little fanfare before finding a healthy life as a video rental. In today’s climate, it is exactly films such as these –- a little odd, a little off, but still with much to recommend –- which are really feeling the crunch.

-- Mark Olsen

(Photo: Director Matt Aselton and actor Paul Dano, courtesy Matt Carr/Getty Images)

Toronto: "It Might Get Loud" turns it down

Most people think of "An Inconvenient Truth" as "the Al Gore movie," but that of course is not entirely the case. It was directed by David Guggenhiem, who has a new film here at Toronto called "It Might Get Loud." Ostensibly some sort of exploration of creativity and guitar (or something like that), it's basically just an excuse to throw Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin, the Edge from U2 and Jack White from the White Stripes and the Raconteurs all on screen together.

If there is meant to be some sort of through line to the film, it does not hold, and so while there are certainly plenty of moments that make the film worthwhile, it simply doesn't add up to more. Guggenheim has chosen to shoot the film in a sort of epic portraiture style reminiscent of the photography of Annie Leibovitz, but that only serves to highlight the stunted strangeness of the situations, and make the film seem somehow phony even as the participants are trying to explain themselves honestly. The scenes of the three musicians together on a Los Angeles sound stage are especially off-balance, as none of the trio seems to want to show up the others, while likewise still wanting to hold their own. Only a three-way version of Led Zep's "In My Time Of Dying" with all of them on slide guitar, comes off as fresh and genuine.

It's tough perhaps to pick a winner with who presents himself the best. But it is clear who comes off the worst. That would be the Edge, who often seems pompous and self-serious. Much is made of the Edge's mastery of guitar effects, and his huge racks of gizmos and foot pedals are frequently shown, but not much effort is made to explain what does what. A few times the Edge will play something with effects and then without, and the differences are remarkable, but some explanation of how the sounds are built up layer by layer would have been insightful. Perhaps Guggenheim, in wanting to keep the film accessible for a general audience, shied away from anything to deeply wonky.

Similar to the recent trend of "famous person talking to famous person" like the Sundance Channel's "Iconoclasts" show of the Gwyneth Paltrow-Mario Batali television series, there is a lack of deeper inquiry here that keeps the film from taking off. That said, no self-respecting music nerd would not want to see the room where Jimmy Page stores his record collection or find delight in seeing him dig out a 45 of Link Wray's "Rumble" and then strum air guitar with a huge grin on his face. The moment is the real highlight of the film, and also encapsulates the kind of off-handed insight that "It Might Get Loud" could use more of.

-- Mark Olsen

Toronto: 'American Swing' and 'Every Little Step'

Two documentaries played on Saturday, both touching on aspects of New York City in the 1970s, as well as the ways the city has changed over the years.

"American Swing" looks at Plato's Retreat, the notorious straight sex-club that brought "swinging" into the mainstream, at least as a topic of discussion if not necessarily as a practice. The film focuses on the club's founder, Larry Levenson, but suffers from a shoddy structure that never quite balances the man, the club and the culture. The recollections of the club figures such as Mario Van Pebbles and Buck Henry are a highlight, adding an outside perspective sorely lacking elsewhere in the film. Henry describes the ever-present buffet of dubious food as "tempting but dangerous."

The film's main asset is its wealth of archival material of the club in full, uh, swing. More naughty than dirty (though some of the imagery is certainly explicit), the old footage seems playful and innocent even when people are performing acts that cannot be described in a general-interest publication. Fans of '70s clothes and hairstyles will certainly get a kick out of what's in the movie, as will anyone who appreciates the vast variety of accents that percolate among New Yorkers.

"Every Little Step" had its premiere Saturday night at the 1200-seat Winter Garden, a beautiful, historic
theater that really must be seen to be believed. Though I wasn't present, word from the screening is that the film received a standing ovation. I saw "Every Little Step" in Los Angeles before heading to Toronto and found it to be smartly constructed and extremely engaging and entertaining.

The film intertwines the origins of the musical "A Chorus Line" with some behind-the-scenes glimpses of the recent Broadway revival. Following a handful of auditioning actors and actresses, mirroring the show itself, the contemporary portions of the film are put together in a manner reminiscent of "Spellbound" -- a film that has become hugely influential on documentary structure -- bouncing from person to person. The archival sections sketch in the genesis of the show, how choreographer Michael Bennnet turned to the people he knew for inspiration, recording his friends as they talked about their lives in the theater and then turning those tapes into the seeds of the show.

-- Mark Olsen

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