More Fun, Less Politics, at Toronto Film Festival

Category: RockNRolla News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: September 5, 2008 | Publication: New York Times | Author: MICHAEL CIEPLY
Publication/Article Link:New York Times

TORONTO — Sometimes it is just about having a good time. That was the message here on Thursday night, as the Toronto International Film Festival got going with a face-smashing, belly-laughing gangster caper from a director best known as Madonna’s husband, an actress who said she’d like to sleep with everyone in the audience, and a producer who wore pink.

The movie was “RocknRolla,” directed by Guy Ritchie, who pretty much wrote the book on boneheaded British criminals with “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” almost a decade ago.

Mr. Ritchie, whose career has never scaled the same heights since, was mobbed outside the theater by a vast gaggle of citizen paparazzi wielding cellphone cameras over their heads and snapping, mostly, one another.

By Los Angeles standards, the crowd got way too close. But this is Canada, where the celebrity stalking is comparatively nice and polite, and it’s not as if the festival — with more than a few abandoned children on its roster this year — couldn’t use the energy.

Onstage Mr. Ritchie and his crew of stars (including Jeremy Piven, Gerard Butler and Thandie Newton) were introduced by the producer Joel Silver, who looked fluorescent, if tailored, in pink sport coat, gray slacks and gray sneakers with what appeared to be pink piping and laces. With a bit of London street slang that will not wind up on network television, Ms. Newton said she would like to be physically intimate with all the fans in attendance. There were whoops, hollers, no apologies, and all those Warner Brothers publicists could tuck themselves into their hotel beds on Thursday night knowing they had done what they could to help push this one on its way toward theater screens next month.

Warner Brothers, oddly enough, has turned out to be the festival’s Big Daddy. The studio that brought you “The Dark Knight” and managed to shake up the indie world by folding its specialty units New Line, Warner Independent and Picturehouse in the course of a year, is all over Toronto’s schedule with pictures, several of them salvaged from operations that are being shut down.

Fresh from its adventures with Mr. Ritchie’s gang, the Warner Brothers team was at it again on Friday morning with Ed Harris and the upcoming western “Appaloosa,” a New Line remnant of which Mr. Harris is a star, the director, a producer and one of the writers.

With titles like that, Mr. Harris should qualify for an enduring place in the (almost) all-superheroes-all-the-time regimen that Jeff Robinov, president of Warner’s movie group, has been knocking into place at his studio. (Warner Brothers is also home to Superman and the rest of the DC Comics stable, and some would say that Harry Potter is a superhero of sorts too.)

But Mr. Harris was in low-key, Western-guy mode on Friday, as were his co-stars Viggo Mortensen, Jeremy Irons and Renée Zellweger.

“They have a good time doing what they do, they’re buddies,” Mr. Harris said, in explaining the main characters in his old-time, small-town story. He got more animated when he danced a little jig in his seat, trying to show what it’s like to shoot guns naked. That came in a roundabout response to a Mexican reporter’s question as to whether the genre doesn’t make “killing people seem like sport for Americans.” Mr. Irons did the honor in tackling the question head-on, elegantly dismissing it with the word “rubbish.”

Another New Line leftover, the New York cop drama “Pride and Glory” — lots more guns, corrupt cops, very American — with Colin Farrell and Edward Norton, is set for a Tuesday night gala.

But the real showdown is supposed to occur on Sunday night, when Mr. Robinov is scheduled to join Peter Rice, the president of Fox Searchlight Pictures, in helping to host a party for “Slumdog Millionaire.” The film, a comedy-drama taking place in India, from the director of “Trainspotting,” Danny Boyle, hews a little closer to the usual festival paradigm of more adventurous and less obviously commercial fare than does Mr. Ritchie’s criminal exuberance.

“Slumdog” is one of those Warner Brothers stepchildren. Originally set up at Warner Independent, it will be distributed and marketed for late November release, and, with any luck, a run at the Oscars by the still extant Fox Searchlight.

It would have been fun to watch Mr. Robinov, whose corporate moves will ultimately result in the loss of jobs for hundreds, engage with some of the festival types, not to mention his prospective encounter with Mr. Rice, whose parent studio, 20th Century Fox, has been suing Mr. Robinov’s company over rights to one of its hottest new superhero properties, the coming “Watchmen.”

Unfortunately, however, Mr. Robinov has sent regrets, though for good reason. His wife, according to one of those Warner operatives, is having a baby.

Politics — national, not studio, that is — is in surprisingly short supply here, given the imminence of a United States election and the festival’s past record.

In 2004 the festival became a launching pad for “Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry,” a laudatory documentary about that Democratic presidential candidate. Two years later, appearing in the midst of a festival heavy with political films like the “Death of a President” and the Dixie Chicks’ “Shut Up and Sing,” Michael Moore roused a midnight crowd by declaring, “You can’t sleep these days if you’re an American.”

If that sort of thing is going to happen this time, it might be early on Sunday evening. That’s when “The People Speak,” a documentary based on Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States” has its moment.

Mr. Harris, certainly, was having none of it on Friday. When a panel moderator fished for a political thought in connection with “Appaloosa,” Mr. Harris said, “The film is meant to be enjoyable.”

“Change happens,” he added, “in very personal, subtle, minor ways more than it does in a big landscape.”