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Category: Toronto 2011

Toronto 2011: ATO bringing 'The Oranges' to theaters in 2012

September 16, 2011 |  6:10 pm

The oranges stars hugh laurie

Interest in dramatic comedies remains strong at the Toronto International Film Festival, with independent distributor ATO Pictures on Friday acquiring rights to Julian Farino's intergenerational romance "The Oranges." ATO says it will bring the movie to U.S. theaters in 2012.

The movie stars Hugh Laurie (of TV's "House" fame) as a New Jersey father who strikes up a romance with the twentysomething daughter of his best friend, played by Leighton Meester (known for her role on "Gossip Girl"). The affair throws the lives of two families into disarray. The cast also includes Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt and Allison Janney.

The announcement reflects a Toronto deal market that has warmed up as the festival has gone along, particularly for dramatic comedies. CBS Films earlier in the week picked up rights to director Lasse Hallstrom's culture-clash film "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," IFC on Wednesday bought Lynn Shelton's love-triangle dramedy "Your Sister's Sister," and Jennifer Westfeldt's marital tale "Friends With Kids" has drawn the interest of several buyers.

Also on Friday, the movie arm of World Wrestling Entertainment acquired rights to "The Day," Doug Aarniokoski's post-apocalyptic thriller.


Toronto 2011: 'The Oranges' unpeels laughs and unease

Toronto 2011: Clooney's 'Descendants' is fall's big wild card

Toronto 2011: Woody Harrelson and Oren Moverman build a rampart

-- Steve Zeitchik in Toronto

Photo: The cast of "The Oranges." Credit: Toronto International Film Festival


Toronto 2011: An Oscar winner takes an un-'Precious' turn

September 16, 2011 | 11:56 am

If you spend 20 frustrating years trying to get your first movie made, only to suddenly find yourself the toast of Oprah and Oscar voters, what do you do next?

For "Precious" screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, the answer was easy: You go out and make the oddest movie you could possibly imagine. You never know, after all, when you'll get the chance again.

"I have no idea what people will think of the film," Fletcher conceded of his directorial debut "Violet & Daisy," which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday.  "It is pretty strange."

Even that admission may be an understatement. As it played for the public and distributors Thursday night, "Violet & Daisy" showed itself to be one of the odder genre mash-ups (action, drama, comedy and surrealist art film are several of its modes) to cross the screens at Toronto, or possibly any screen, in a long while.

Visually imaginative and told in a deadpan key reminiscent of Rian Johnson's cult hit "Brick," Fletcher's movie, which he also wrote, features two young, stylish women (Alexis Bledel and Saiorse Ronan) who earn a living as hit women for a shadowy boss. They speak in the flip shorthand of teenage girls but also are whizzes with guns, gore and the game of knocking people off. Youthful exuberance and a capacity for violence often merge; the pair, for instance, have an "internal-bleeding dance" atop their targets after they kill them.

The "Gossip Girls"-meets-"Pulp Fiction" conceit would be odd enough if Fletcher didn't toss James Gandolfini into the mix as a sad sack whom Violet and Daisy are sent to off. The women wind up talking with Gandolfini's unnamed character about the dark turns in all of their lives, turning the film in the third act from comedic blood farce to chamber drama.

Overflowing with whimsical dream sequences, cryptic symbolism and surrealist touches (the main characters tool around on a tricycle), "Violet & Daisy" features flavors that won't be to everyone's taste, and it's hard to imagine a major distributor taking a flier on it. But even its detractors will concede the film has a degree of style and ambition.

Continue reading »

Toronto 2011: Moonlyn the sexy butter carver to the rescue

September 15, 2011 |  7:12 pm

Butter party
On Tuesday evening, the Weinstein Co. was set to throw a pre-premiere cocktail party at the Toronto International Film Festival for its new comedy “Butter,” starring Jennifer Garner as an uptight, competitive Iowa housewife who sees her family’s legendary butter-sculpting skills as the ticket to a political career. But three hours before the event, something was obviously missing: a butter carver.

That’s when Moonlyn, a buxom 25-year-old Toronto musician who claimed to go by one name, said she got a call from her agent, who normally books her for modeling gigs.

You know how to do airbrush tattoos, he said, so maybe you can do this butter job? he inquired. Oh, and can you dress like a “sexy milkmaid”?

As luck would have it, Moonlyn had carved butter before: In high school, at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, held each November in Toronto. With that, the deal was sealed.

By 7 p.m., Moonlyn, in blond, Heidi-esque plaits, a black micro-mini and a cropped peasant blouse that covered more of her shoulders than her breasts, was at work at the party at the Burroughs Building on Queen Street, molding dozens of 1-pound unsalted butter bricks into a 2-foot high tower that she would then carve into a form vaguely resembling a bottle of Vitamin water (a corporate sponsor of the soiree).

Soon Garner appeared at the event, and upon seeing the emerging oleaginous objet d’art, exclaimed: “I want to get in there!” Learning about food sculpting from a pro in preparation for her role, she explained, was very tactile and very fun. Not that she really learned how to carve; it was more about holding the tools properly and such.

“The guy told me, ‘Don’t quit your day job,’ ” Garner said.


Toronto 2011: Who's the inspiration for Olivia Wilde's stripper?

Toronto 2011: Harvey Weinstein carves 'Butter' into political statement

Toronto 2011: Sarah Palin gets a Bronx cheer in new documentary

-- Julie Makinen in Toronto

Photo: Moonlyn, butter carver for hire, explains her art to the author of this post. Credit: Chris Libby.

Toronto 2011: Who's the inspiration for Olivia Wilde's stripper?

September 15, 2011 |  3:13 pm

Olivia wilde is in butter Filmgoers who caught Jim Field Smith's political satire "Butter" at the Toronto International Film Festival have been making a sport of guessing just who some of the characters in the Midwestern fable are supposed to represent.

Is Jennifer Garner's smug butter-carving competitor Laura Pickler a stand-in for Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann? (Harvey Weinstein, who is releasing the film, certainly seems to be inclined toward the latter.) Is the 11-year-old African American girl competing against her in Iowa supposed to be a 2008-era Barack Obama?

Movie fans, though, may find some real-world familiarity in another character -- namely, Olivia Wilde's Brooke, a brash stripper who attempts to beat Laura at her own game. As you watch the film, she seems, it may slowly occur to you, an awful lot like Diablo Cody. (The Weinstein Co. isn't releasing any official photos yet of Wilde in the role, but some fan sites have posted some.)

Cody is of course the voluble and self-mythologizing screenwriter behind movies like "Juno" and "Jennifer's Body." The similarities between her and Wilde's character are subtle but unmistakable.

Diablo codyLike Brooke, Cody was once a stripper and is covered in upper-body tattoos. Like Brooke,  Oscar winner Cody has a certain swagger and also sought to reinvent herself in another discipline that doesn't involve pole dancing, in the hope of landing a big prize.

Oh, and Cody's real first-name? Brooke.

Screenwriter Jason Micaleff acknowledges he had the "Juno" writer in mind--sort of.

 "Slightly inspired by Diablo (who is thrilled and excited to see it, I hear)," he replied in an email when we put the question to him.

Micallef said that, perhaps unlike some of the more barbed portrayals of U.S. politicians, he intended the Brooke character as homage. "I was intrigued by the idea of a wickedly smart stripper," he said. ("Butter" is slated for general release next year, but if you can't wait that long, it will get a brief one-week run in theaters at the end of October.)


Micallef also wrote that the character carried a larger meaning too. "Brooke thematically represents anarchy, which is why, in a time when everyone hates the government, audiences love her so much."

He then offered that the character had her own Twitter address (@BrookeTokyoRose)--an act of self-branding that might befit, well, Diablo Cody.


Toronto 2011: Harvey Weinstein carves 'Butter' into political statement

'Evil Dead' remake: Diablo Cody polishing script for first-time director

Toronto 2011: Sarah Palin gets a Bronx cheer in new documentary

--Steven Zeitchik in Toronto

Photos: (Top) Olivia Wilde poses for a portrait to promote the film "Butter" at the Toronto International Film Festival on Tuesday. Credit: Associated Press/Carlo Allegri

(Bottom) Diablo Cody at the Academy Awards in 2008. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times

Toronto 2011: With 'Jeff,' Helms and Segel in a new light

September 15, 2011 |  8:59 am


Indie-film darlings Mark and Jay Duplass want moviegoers to know something about the stars of their new studio picture, "Jeff, Who Lives at Home."

"People expecting that they'll be seeing the Ed Helms of 'Hangover 2' or Jason Segel in a mainstream comedy aren't going to get that," Mark Duplass told 24 Frames. "Audiences will see these actors do things they've never done before."

Indeed, within the first five minutes of the dramatic comedy, Helms is shown running roughshod over his meek wife (Judy Greer)--a  reversal from the defanged neb the actor has played in many of his television and feature roles such as  "Cedar Rapids," "The Office" and the "Hangover" franchise.

Segel at first seems like he's in a more familiar Apatowian mode as a slacker stoner with his own sense of moral rightness. But his character, too, is soon given a more dramatic spin.

Six years ago, the Duplass Bros. burst on the low-budget indie scene with the crowd-pleasing road movie "The Puffy Chair." Last year they made a leap to the speciaized film world, teaming with Fox Searchlight on the Marisa Tomei-John C. Reilly relationship black comedy "Cyrus."

This film sees them taking the next step, making a movie with Paramount, producer Jason Reitman, Oscar winner Susan Sarandon and au courant stars Segel and Helms.

At a world premiere Wednesday night at the Toronto Film Festival, the duo took the wraps off "Jeff," at least a full four months before the movie hits theaters. (The studio has not dated the picture, but the Duplass' say it will probably come out in early 2012.)

Set in their home state of Louisiana, the movie begins as the titular Jeff (Segel), a 30-year-old layabout living in his mother's basement, receives what he thinks is a sign from the universe (this right after a funny opening monologue about the movie "Signs"). The cosmic indication -- or is it just stoner-perceived coincidence? -- prompts Jeff to start doing strange things, or at least stranger things, like running around the strip malls of Baton Rouge stealthily pursuing strangers and delivery trucks whom he believes are also sending him signs. Each new foray seems to lead him into a new pickle.

In the meantime, Jeff's mother (Sarandon) is getting messages of her own at work, from a secret admirer, while Jeff's toolish and dislikable brother Pat (a goateed Helms) begins running around the city following, by himself as well as with Jeff, Pat's wife, whom he believes is having an affair.

"It's a more densely plotted movie than we've ever done, and it's probably the most dramatic," said Mark Duplass, who also acts and stars in the festival breakout "Your Sister's Sister."

"But there are still squirm bombs," added Jay Duplass, referring to the brothers' penchant for milking comedy out of characters' uncomfortable situations.

The Duplass' had the idea for "Jeff" years ago, but the film, with its street chases and other more lavish shots, couldn't be made on the shoestring budgets they were working with early in their careers. So they waited until they had the standing to get it financed. (At the post-screening Q&A, Mark Duplass, who shares writing and directing credits with his brother on the film, thanked Paramount and others who've "let us make weird movies.")

Perhaps the most personal element of the film for the New Orleans natives is that it concerns two male thirtysomething brothers, which might prompt some filmgoers to see a parallel between art and life.

Asked about the connection, Mark Duplass said, "People always ask how we work so closely and creatively without destroying each other. And this is the opposite: These are two brothers who are estranged and don't know how to talk to each other but because of the events of one day need to learn how to try."

If you want to show that kind of complicated relationship, it helps to land two of the more respected comedy actors out there. When queried about how they pulled off a feat that would have been difficult to imagine earlier in their careers, the brothers put it in symbiotic terms. "We get movie stars," Mark Duplass said at the Q&A, "and they get to do something different."


Toronto 2011: 'Your Sister's Sister' finds a parent

Toronto 2011: Madonna says she has auteur dreams

Toronto 2011: Real drama behind Michelle Yeoh's 'The Lady'

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jason Segel and Ed Helms in "Jeff, Who Lives at Home." Credit: Paramount

Toronto 2011: 'The Lady,' starring Michelle Yeoh, finds a buyer

September 14, 2011 |  8:03 pm

The lady michelle yeoh

"The Lady," French director Luc Besson's new film about Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, will be coming to U.S. theaters before long. Cohen Media Group inked a deal Wednesday for U.S. distribution rights to the film, which stars Michelle Yeoh as the Nobel Peace laureate.

The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, focuses on the years between 1988, when Suu Kyi returned from England to her homeland and took up the campaign for democracy, and 1999, when her British husband, Michael Aris (played in the film by David Thewlis), died of cancer. It chronicles the personal sacrifices Suu Kyi made to remain in Myanmar.

Those involved with the film clearly have hopes for an Oscar nomination for Yeoh, the multilingual former Miss Malaysia known for her roles in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Tomorrow Never Dies." Yeoh said this week in Toronto that to prepare for the role, she studied the Burmese language for six months (and learned a British accent as well), lost weight and visited Suu Kyi personally in Myanmar. 

"Preparing for this role was really a very great responsibility because she is such a well-known, iconic figure," Yeoh said at a news conference in Toronto. Among the biggest challenges was delivering, in Burmese, Suu Kyi's well-known 1988 speech at Shweagon Pagoda in Rangoon, Myanmar's capital, Yeoh said. 

Still, she said, the intimate moments were perhaps even more significant. "I hope we showed the real human side of her," Yeoh said.

Judging by early reviews, though, the film may face a bit of an uphill climb. Hollywood Reporter reviewer David Rooney called it "a well-intentioned but pedestrian retelling of a stirring true story" and said "Yeoh radiates regality, poise, compassion and quiet conviction, but never generates much of a charge." Reviewer Justin Chang predicted in Variety that "a marketing campaign emphasizing Michelle Yeoh's performance in the title role will precede muted public reception."


Toronto 2011: Real-life drama behind Michelle Yeoh's 'The Lady'

A murky Oscar picture emerges at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival

Toronto 2011: 'Shame' director says he's surprised by controversy

-- Julie Makinen

Photo: Michelle Yeoh in "The Lady." Credit: Vincent Perez © 2010 EuropaCorp/Left Bank Pictures/France 2 Cinéma

Toronto 2011: Banned Iranian director's film lands a deal

September 14, 2011 |  6:43 pm

Jafar panahi and igi in this is not a film
There will certainly be bigger sales, dollar wise, at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, but perhaps only the deal announced Wednesday can be said to represent a blow against a repressive regime.

That's when distributor Palisades Tartan said it had acquired U.S. and British rights to "This Is Not a Film," Iranian director Jafar Panahi's non-movie movie that he made after being sentenced last year to six years in prison and was banned from making films for 20 years. 

"This Is Not a Film" was shot entirely in Panahi's apartment, partially on an iPhone, and the footage was sneaked out of the country on a USB drive hidden in a cake for a last-minute submission to the Cannes Film Festival in May. It played last week at the Toronto fest.

Panahi ("Offside," "The White Balloon," "The Circle") was a supporter of the protest movement that arose after Iran's disputed 2009 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was arrested, along with another director, in March 2010 on charges of conspiring to make an unauthorized movie that chronicled the movement. They were convicted of national security violations, including propagandizing against the system. He was at home, appealing his sentence, when "This Is Not a Film" came into being.

"This Is Not a Film" captures Panahi's day-to-day life of sequestration. Viewers watch as he talks to his family and lawyer on the phone, discusses his plight with fellow director Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, reflects on the meaning of filmmaking and feeds the family's giant pet iguana, Igi (who amusingly roams around the apartment, over the sofas and even up the walls).

At first it seems like nothing is happening, but slowly it becomes clear that this is a message in a bottle, and one can learn a lot about life in Iran just by observing the minutiae of Panahi's existence.

Continue reading »

Toronto 2011: Hallstrom sees a little 'Gilbert Grape' in 'Salmon'

September 14, 2011 |  5:53 pm

Combining a sweet comedy with pointed satire is never easy. But try doing it in an absurd environment--say, a buttoned-down scientist attempting to transport an entire river to the Yemeni desert -- and you can quickly find yourself underwater.

That was the challenge faced by Lasse Hallstrom, the Swedish-born director who brought his heartfelt but at times barbed comedy "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" to the Toronto International Film Festival last weekend.

The movie tells of said scientist (Ewan McGregor) who's coerced into creating a fishing habitat in the driest parts of the Arabian Peninsula by ruthless press secretary Bridget Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas, in a turn reminiscent of Peter Capaldi's acid-tongued press man from "In the Loop"). Maxwell wants to create a feelgood story about the Middle East to distract from news of violence and terror, and McGregor's ordinary-seeming  Fred Jones, aided by a wealthy sheik (Amr Waked), is the man to do it.

Whether veteran director Hallstrom and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy succeeded in pulling off the high-wire act will be for audiences to decide when CBS Films releases the movie in the coming months (some critics, like The Times' Betsy Sharkey, strongly believe that he has).

Hallstrom said he used a proven equation to keep the whole movie in balance. "What I tried to do was create bizarre elements in a realistic world," Hallstrom told 24 Frames. "In that way it's like 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape,' " he said, referring to his whimsical 1993 dramedy starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Lewis. "You make things as realistic as possible so that we'll believe the unusual."

Hallstrom sandwiched this project between two Nicholas Sparks adaptations, 2010's "Dear John" and the upcoming "Safe Haven." With its dare-to-dream idealism competing with a cynicism about the image-management of war, "Salmon Fishing" strikes a somewhat different tone, although Hallstrom admits he had to play down some of the satiric elements from Paul Torday's 2007 novel for other reasons.

"We couldn't really make it about  Tony Blair anymore," Hallstrom said dryly.

But the director said what the movie lost in cultural specificity it gained in resonance. "It's that wonderful dream of crossing cultural waters," he said. "i think everyone can relate to that."


Toronto 2011: Film critic Betsy sharkey on 'Yemen'

Toronto 2011: Madonna says she has auteur dreams

Toronto 2011: Pearl Jam comes out of its shell

--Steven Zeitchik in Toronto


Photo: Amr Waked and Ewan McGregor in "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen." Credit: CBS Films

Toronto 2011: Real-life drama behind Michelle Yeoh's 'The Lady'

September 14, 2011 |  5:28 pm

Aung san suu kyi

French writer-director-producer Luc Besson has worked on many movies in his career, including “La Femme Nikita” and “The Fifth Element,” but his latest, “The Lady,” posed a fresh set of logistical and ethical questions.

First was whether to even make the film about Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, who led her National League of Democracy to victory in a 1990 election but was prevented from taking office by the country’s repressive military rulers. She spent much of the next two decades under house arrest in the Southeast Asian nation; winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 did not alter her circumstances. 

In part, Besson wanted to make a movie about her plight in hopes of drawing attention to her cause. Yet he knew that doing so might harden Burmese officials’ stance toward Suu Kyi, and set back her struggle.

Luc besson director of the lady“I wanted her to know we were doing a film. If the message came back negative, saying, ‘I don’t want you to do this,’ then I wouldn’t have done it,” Besson said in an interview this week at the Toronto International Film Festival, after premiering the movie, which stars Michelle Yeoh. “But she’s fighting for freedom, freedom of speech, and so the answer came back positively.”

Once he had her blessing, there were other hurdles. Filming a Suu Kyi biopic in Burma (also known as Myanmar) would be impossible. He set up production in neighboring Thailand, and managed to surreptitiously record 16 hours of footage in Burma, later using green-screen effects to add authentic locations into the story. He also incorporated clips filmed by Suu Kyi supporters in the country.

He enlisted Burmese people living in Thailand to act in the film, but when it came time to finish the credits, there was another issue.

“It’s the first time I’ve made a film where I’ve had an actor ask me not to be on the credits,” Besson recalled. “All these wonderful young actors who play in the film, the small parts, they’re too afraid that [the government] will do something to their families.”

Just what effect, if any, “The Lady” may have on the situation in Burma remains to be seen. Much has happened since the film was conceived:

Continue reading »

Toronto 2011: 'Your Sister's Sister' finds a parent

September 14, 2011 |  3:38 pm

Sweet, tender dramedies have started to emerge as a Toronto International Film Festival trend, what with "50/50," "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" and "Friends With Kids" all landing acclaim in the first seven days of the festival.

Now you can add another movie to the list: "Your Sister's Sister," Lynn Shelton's heartfelt film about a bluff but lovable man (Mark Duplass) and two sisters with whom he becomes entangled (Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt).

On Wednesday afternoon, the movie sold to distributor IFC, ensuring it will soon be made available to a larger consumer audience. (The company has not announced a release date.)

Earlier in the day, "Sister" played for the media, the latest in a series of good-vibe screenings for what is turning into one of the festival's sleeper titles.

Written and directed by Shelton, "Sister" is a follow-up to her 2009 bromance "Humpday," a Sundance hit which saw Duplass and Josh Leonard back themselves into a corner of machismo when they dare each other to make a male porn movie.

Sex is also on the docket here, but so are weightier themes, including grief. And while close relationships among members of the same sex again rule the day, this time it's the women taking center stage as Iris (Blunt, who also appears in "Salmon Fishing") and Hannah (DeWitt) hash out jealousies and grievances over a few days in an island house in Shelton's native Washington state.

The linchpin between the sisters is Jack, whose late brother once dated Iris. Jack, who a year later hasn't gotten over his brother's death, has now become close to Iris, a complicated enough dynamic if Hannah didn't further come between them.

The development process on “Sister” again followed Shelton's favored method of allowing actors to develop characters and improvise lines, although there's a slickness to "Sister" not found in other movies of this ilk and budget; the more elaborate plotting puts it a good distance away from the stuttering-and-stammering mumblecore movies that quickly rose and sunk in the 2000s. It may be made for less money, but the idea of a movie that makes you feel something sad before allowing you to walk out of the theater feeling something good is right out of the “50/50,” and perhaps Toronto '11, playbook.


Toronto 2011: Madonna says she has auteur dreams

Toronto 2011: Shame director says he's surprised by controversy

Toronto 2011: Francis Ford Coppola's Twixt not wowing the critics

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt in "Your Sister's Sister." Credit: Toronto International Film Festival


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