Moviehole at the Toronto Film Festival – Part 4


“Bobby”, “Seraphim Falls”, “Away from Her”


From Alzheimer’s to a Western, through to a disappointing drama set in 1968, Toronto buzzes and hums along with an eclectic array of films for the diverse, cinematic palate.

In her directorial debut, Sarah Polley’s “Away from Her” is one of the most delicate and exquisite films of the Festival. After Fiona (Julie Christie) is hospitalized for Alzheimer’s, husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) is left to face a lifetime’s worth of emotional complications, as well as a major new one after Fiona begins to fall for a fellow patient [Michael Murphy] after a month of hospitalization, during which time she was prohibited from having visitors. Polley directs this mesmerising and heart wrenching masterpiece, with a fluidity of grace and emotional resonance that allows this story to be told without resorting to undue sentimentality yet the film is very much a poignant and emotive masterwork. Seeing Julie Christie here, there is an agelessness about her that is extraordinary, and her performance is one that is hauntingly delicate and full of emotional depth. Christie reveals so much with so little and reminds one of how utterly brilliant and effortless she is as an actor. Her co-star, Canada’s Gordon Pinsent is also a wonderful presence, under the gifted and sensitive direction of Polley, whose career as a filmmaker is well and truly assured here.

Spoke to Ed Harris shortly after the above screening, who laughed off all the Oscar talk surrounding his hypnotic portrayal of Beethoven in “Copying Beethoven”. Harris confirmed that he would be returning behind the camera, to shoot what he describes as “a classical Western”. He hopes to start shooting by early next year, while the formidable Guillermo Del Toro, spoke with great passion about “Hellboy 2”, which he says will be quite different from the original. Watch for these interviews coming soon.

“Dixie Chicks – Shut up and Sing”, directed by the hugely talented Barbara Koppel and co-director Cecilia Peck, have crafted an illuminating and thoroughly entertaining documentary with strong commercial appeal and a possible Oscar nod for documentary. The movie beautifully explores the experiences of the Dixie Chicks over the last three years, chronicling the often bizarre consequences of singer Natalie Maines’ anti-Bush wisecrack on a London stage. Maines’ statement is captured in this sometimes funny and provocative film, as are the meetings where they plot how to circumvent the core country audience and, eventually, how to reroute a tour and cancel shows due to poor ticket sales. An intelligent film about celebrity and politics, the film shows us the human side of this extraordinary trio that supports each other through births and political missteps. It’s a film that shows the often narrow mindedness of Middle America, the Chicks’ core audience, and the impact that the Christian right can play. But the film is also energetic, captivating and compelling, offering mainstream audiences a unique look into the world of three complex musical artists. This is a must see!

Then there’s the much awaited “Bobby”, written, directed by and co-starring Emilio Estevez, in this multi-character drama, set in the Ambassador Hotel, the night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. There are 22 characters here, played by a variety of A and B-list stars. William H. Macy plays the manager of the famous hotel and Sharon Stone plays his wife and hairdresser of the hotel. Heather Graham plays one of switchboard operators with whom Macy is having an affair. Demi Moore plays Virginia Fallon, the alcoholic lounge singer who is set to introduce the doomed candidate of the presidency, with Estevez portraying Moore’s husband and manager being tormented inside by his wife’s addiction. Lindsay Lohan plays Diane, a young bride to be, who is marrying her boyfriend’s brother to keep him from going to Vietnam, with Elijah Wood as the future and very grateful husband. Freddy Rodriguez and Jacob Vargas play Mexican kitchen staff members whom are working a double shift and are in search of equality. Laurence Fishburne is Edward Robinson, an older black kitchen staff employee who is teaching his staff members about offering more to life than anger. Joshua Jackson and Nick Cannon are campaign managers for the infamous Bobby, while real life father of Estevez, Martin Sheen is Jack, a depressed older man who marries a younger woman portrayed by Helen Hunt. Christian Slater is Timmons the very racist kitchen staff manager who is not subtle about his feelings towards minorities, while veterans Sir Anthony Hopkins and Harry Belafonte are John Casey, the owner of the hotel and Nelson, an old friend reminiscing of the old days in the hotel. Bobby is like an over-stuffed Xmas stocking with too much going on, for too little reward. Hampered by an over abundance of characters, some more interesting than others, the movie is hit and miss. However, Estevez does show talent as a director, with some key sequences quite impressive, including a visually memorable LSD moment which is rather stunning. Some sub-plots merely don’t work or are not as dramatically engaging as others. The weakest are the Lindsay Lohan sequence. Her fabled partying and negative PR would be fine if the girl concentrated on her acting, but in this she squanders her screen time, and is insipid and uninteresting, so that sequence should be cut down at best. Sharon Stone looks awful, but Demi Moore is a revelation and is wonderful in this film, one of the only female cast members to be interesting.

Anthony Hopkins and Harry Belafonte give elegant performances and their storyline is consistently engaging, as is the sublime work by Fishburne and Rodriguez, with Estevez slyly and intelligently commenting on race in America post-Martin Luther King. Estevez is a talented filmmaker, and “Bobby” has moments of eloquence and audacity, but for release, the film needs tightening and an objective re-examination of what are the paramount themes he wants, and what works as strong, dramatic narrative. But it’s nice to see Emilio back in the saddle with a flawed, but still fascinating, film.

“Seraphim Falls” is a visually grand and striking Western set at the end of the Civil War. Liam Neeson is magnificent as a southerner who vows revenge on a Northerner [Pierce Brosnan] whom he blames for a major act of atrocity that occurred at the tail end of the war. An impressive directorial debut by David Von Ancken, who also co-wrote the script, pic looks gorgeous, as it shifts from the harshness of the snow-capped mountains to the blistering desert. A film that is purely visual with minimum dialogue, both Neeson and Brosnan give arresting performances, powerful and emotive. Brosnan especially is as removed from his Bond persona as you can get, delving deeply into the soul of a tortured character. A film ultimately about forgiveness, it works splendidly as a visceral chase movie, stripped of the technologies of the contemporary world, thus making it a fiery character piece, but it lets itself down with a rather clumsy ending that needs re-shooting if the film is to work in a mainstream setting. Yet with that flaw, the film is still a majestic and glorious work, featuring two great performances by Neeson and Brosnan.

I also caught up with Forest Whitaker, already tipped for an Oscar nomination for “Last King of Scotland”. Have known him for years, and he remains an energetic, highly intelligent and fun guy. In our interview, he discussed the challenges of playing Idi Amin, his disappointment for not getting an Emmy nomination for “The Shield”, and he spoke at length about his 5 episode arc on “E.R”. Lots to discuss and that interview will run in the next few weeks. Also spoke to Toby Jones, the new Truman Capote who has not seen the other film, and looks uncannily like the real guy. An interesting actor, quietly reserved, he talked about getting into that character and how it all came to be.

Tomorrow is my last day and full of interviews: an exclusive half hour chat with Emilio Estevez is on the table, plus one on ones with Laura Linney, Pierce Brosnan, Ron Perlman and the exquisite Julie Christie. Final thoughts on Toronto 2006 coming soon!

– Paul Fischer