“Receive with simplicity, everything that happens to you.”
That’s the quote that the Coen brothers use to introduce you to A SERIOUS MAN. But by the end of the film, I wanted to amend it to say, “Receive with appreciation everything you’re about to see and hear,” because it is A LOT. Not in a sprawling, “Dear God, will this ever end so I can try to figure out what has just uncorked itself in front of me kind of way (see SOUTHLAND TALES), but in a compact but detailed to a fault examination and exploration into a very particular time (the late 60s, suburban-style), culture (Jewish), and man (the central character played by Theatre veteran Michael Stuhlbarg).
Stuhlbarg plays ‘Larry Gopnik”, a physics professor at a small Midwestern school that almost immediately faces a shit-storm of unbelievable, if intimate proportions: A Korean student unhappy with a grade tries to bribe him, his potentially violent neighbor is encroaching on his yard, and his own house is filled with strife thanks to a bickering son (facing his own demons from a school bully/dealer) and daughter, his inept brother torn between his obsession with a possible genius mathematical “map of probability” he has discovered and the daily draining of a cyst that terrorizes him, and best yet – a wife that wants to leave him for an overbearing (and I can’t begin to describe how much that word doesn’t begin to do justice to this guy) family friend.
Gopnik’s life as he knows it is turned upside down from the get-go, and as he says during a lesson plan, “Even though you can’t figure anything out, you’ll be responsible for it on the midterm.” He goes to a succession of rabbis for advice, one more practically inept and unhelpful than the last, as he stumbles through a period of discovery and re-awakening in his life that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. But this isn’t simply a comic Job story, because the Coens would be bored with that. No, this is a comic storm that is both messy and sometimes indiscriminate in who and what it targets. But in the end, regardless of how it all plays out – they’ll be responsible for it. And if you’ve been hoping for the Coens particular brand of humor to return after NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, you’ll be happy for it.
Nice start for a film festival, huh. After that I ran into Spout.com’s always delightfully acerbic film writer and critic Karina Longworth. Love her. In a film world video game, you could pit Karina against George Sanders’ classic character in ALL ABOUT EVE and play for hours. Anyway, she gave me the inside scoop on what she had seen. Which is, of course, the “sport” of a film festival. Compare notes and dish out the thumbs up and thumbs down on everything you’ve seen up to that point.
Next up was Diablo Cody’s JENNIFER’S BODY. “Wait,” you say. “Isn’t that directed by Karyn Kusama?” “Yes,” I reply. Pause. Anyway, it’s Diablo Cody’s JENNIFER’S BODY. Which means depending on your predilection with JUNO–style dialogue and verbal toss-offs, it’s either clever and instantly quotable or irritating and quickly wearing out its welcome. Oh, wait. It also stars Megan Fox. Hmm…my last bid was from wearing out its welcome. Do I have another bid…?
“Hell is a teenage girl.” And “Sandbox love never dies” Those are the watch-quotes to go by for the film. The idea is simple: Megan Fox plays the hottest girl in school, who – after inadvertently being turned into a demon by a small beer indie band looking for a shortcut to fame via a sacrifice to the devil, runs gorily roughshod through the boys in school while her nerdy best friend (Amanda Seyfried) tries to figure it all out.
And it’s not scary. Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t succeed in what it’s aiming for. No, my guess is if you’re putting your money down to see this film, then it’s all about Megan Fox. And wisely, Cody and Kusama know that. In fact, it’s so transparent that the boys get a reward practically after every kill. Megan Fox demon eviscerates a boy, Megan Fox hottie is filmed slow-mo skinny dipping. Megan Fox demon has seconds, Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried have a hot girl-on girl make out session. So, it’s like, “one for you and…one for you.”
The fact is, that while I understand the Megan Fox porn star hotness appeal, I am still fascinated over the ability of the hype and marketing machine’s ability to keep that T&A train operating at full speed. And while JENNIFER’S BODY does have some smarts to go with its smart-ass, ultimately it plays a minor key. And not just in horror-land.
Next up was Joe Dante’s THE HOLE. In 3D. That’s right. A film festival movie in 3D! That’s just all kinds a good, right? Here’s the deal about the 3D thing. Either those 3D glasses are the most expensive things ever to produce or there is technology involved that could bring down a nation. Because, I swear there was so much paranoia involved in giving those things back to the people running the screening that it made me long for the comparative lack of concern the airport security displayed as I flew in to Canada in the first place. “You need to leave the theater to go to the bathroom? Fine, hold on to the box cutter, but give me the 3D glasses.”
Anyway, THE HOLE is a story about two brothers that relocate to a new home with their single mom. Upon arriving at the new home, they discover a cute girl living next door and…wait for it….in the basement under their house…wait for it…under an ominously padlocked plank in the floor… A hole.
I’m betting the title gave it a way.
And, of course, the boys, not knowing any better, unlock the padlocks and free the evil force residing inside the seemingly bottomless hole. And since it’s their mess, they – along with that cute girl next door will have to clean it up. Or something bad will happen to them. Which is the appropriate way to describe the stakes because this is a horror film for the kids. A gateway drug, if you will. So scary stuff happens and there are various threats to people. But in a “safe”, un-gory, limited exposure to evil kinda way. The film is so completely aimed at a specific age demographic that Teri Polo (the go-to actress for sexy but safe) is cast as the mom.
And the movie IS amusement park ride fun. The scares come from things like malevolent clown dolls (your kids homework will be a follow up viewing of POLTERGEIST) and those stop-motion walking a crawling spirits (okay, do an assignment on THE RING too), courtesy of your not-so friendly basement dwelling hole.
And then there is the 3-D thing. Which is cool. I’ll just give myself up to that willingly. However, is it just me or – like the perfunctory tricks that gymnasts have to accomplish in their Olympic routines – does every 3D movie have to throw a baseball at you? Or they get 3D points deducted from their overall movie score? Just curious.
So, take the kids to this thing so you can speed along their horror-film development and you can also enjoy yourself as well – as opposed to just napping, like so many of my friends who are parents did during G-FORCE.
That was it for the films. The next order of business was something new for me. The red carpet. Or specifically: being a journalist on a red carpet. This is ironic in that I practically live on red carpets – or to be more direct – running them. I am frequently that guy managing the traffic at the beginning of the filmmakers and movie stars entrances: welcoming them, assigning escorts to them to walk them down the thing, introducing them to the photographers, etc. That is frequently my little show.
And I take care to not just manage the placement of the press on my red carpets but to also pay attention and ensure, as best I can, that everyone gets the photos or interviews they need and want and no one goes home empty handed.
This was different. A first come, first serve policy combined with the fact that I was “print” and didn’t have a video camera joined at my hip meant that I was destined to not only be at the end of the line – I was also going to be relatively inconspicuous.
The entrances were for Steven Soderbergh’s THE INFORMANT! And the potential interview targets on hand would be Soderbergh, Matt Damon, Scott Bakula and Melanie Lynsky. Not a bad group at all. So, I am standing next to a guy writing for a national tabloid that like me has not seen the film yet. However, unlike this guy, I had read reviews and stories and did some background on the film. In addition, I also had a decent knowledge of popular culture pre-Jonas Brothers. Because, for the life of him, he could not think of a question to ask anyone not named Matt Damon. After spying Lynsky at the front of the carpet, he asked me, “Does she kiss Matt Damon in the movie?” To which I replied, “Well, I haven’t see it but she does play his wife. So I’ll hazard a guess – yes.” Next question, “Do their characters have kids together?” Desired response: “I don’t have that much insight into their pretend home life.” Out loud: “I don’t know.”
But now I was feeling the pressure to come up with good questions myself for everyone. Something that wouldn’t have been asked twenty times immediately before me or at the very least, phrased in a creative, yet concise way that would send each of them off to the races with clever, funny, witty and insightful sound bites for the readers. So thinking quickly, I put together my winning question for each of them – knowing that this far down the line I would get one and only one question. Because, by this point in the line, they just want to get in the house and be done with it.
Well, I needn’t have worried, Because each one of them – Soderbergh, Damon, Bakula and Lynsky – passed us by. Didn’t give us a shot at the question or even acknowledge us. Publicists rushed Damon through – typical – that’s routine. “He’s got to get in now. Quick! The movie’s gonna start in a half hour, so he needs to be inside RIGHT NOW! Soderbergh literally stood in front of me – with his back to me – for ten minutes but would not turn around to answer a question. And Bakula and Lynsky even brushed us off. Melanie Lynsky!
But to be fair, this is all on the publicists. The film’s reps and the Toronto Film Festival publicists. It’s their job to regulate the traffic flow and make sure that everyone gets some love. It’s something that I work my ass of to achieve at AFI FEST, DALLAS and each of my other film festivals and agonize as it is happening to ensure that fairness and equal play. And it was great to see first hand, exactly why it’s so important that I do that. Because the personal publicists DON’T WANT TO – bottom line. You should have seen the look Bakula’s sawed-off little guy gave us before he shielded us with his back from being able to get to Scott. (Honest Disclaimer – I have a long ago and far away Hollywood history with that little wiener dude and it’s possible he recognized me. Regardless…) If the film festival’s publicists aren’t on point (at best) or just don’t care (at worst), then the end of the line is exactly that for a journalist at those red carpets.
To paraphrase Diablo from JENNIFER’S BODY, “That’s not just high school evil. That’s actual evil.”