Saturday, September 08, 2007

TIFF #5 (Vickie’s Diary): A Cavalcade of Celebrities...Including Roger Ebert!

That’s right. You read correctly: Roger Ebert. After several Ebert-free years in a row, and my fears that our paths would never again cross at a film fest of otherwise, it happened. Roger and me. Same theater. Across-the-aisle buddies. But I’m getting ahead of myself...

I began the day very early, but not early enough. I arrived (admittedly about 15 minutes later than I’d originally planned) at the Ryerson to discover that the ticket holders line stretched around the Ryerson campus so far that it was almost a square. The movie that had so many festgoers up and at ‘em before 9am? Rendition (6/8), the movie known more for the alleged romance between Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal than anything else. Strangely enough, the two actors don’t share one second of screen time throughout the film – which deals with the U.S. government’s policies regarding terror suspects, and the torture tactics employed abroad to elicit confessions and/or gather intel from same. No one from the film turned up for the screening...which was probably for the best because the theater was frrrrrrrrrrrrreeeezing.

En route to the Scotiabank for my next film, I cut through the interior of Jorgensen Hall and stumbled upon a full breakfast buffet set up in a very deserted student lounge. The woman manning the table smiled and said, “Would you like something to eat?”

Um, hell yeah, I would!

There were crackers and cheese, assorted fruits, a bin of juices and pop and a full platter of untouched pastries. I asked what the occasion was, and she informed me that it’s the University’s alumni week. (Please note: I am an alumni but clearly clueless about school events.) I said, “I gather it’s been a little slow?” (because the food and drink were untouched). She said yes. So, I thanked her, grabbed an apple danish and counted that as lunch.

My next film was the documentary My Kid Could Paint That (6/8), a fascinating story within a story about (then) four-year-old “abstract painter” Marla Olmstead and her parents, Mark and Laura. Marla’s paintings sell for tens of thousands of dollars but, just as her fame was at its peak, skeptics began to question the paintings’ authenticity (i.e., did Marla really paint them?). The film itself starts out as a simple profile of the young artist and her family, but slowly morphs into that which it simultaneously criticizes – media attacking a little girl and condemning her parents. (It reminded me a lot of Forbidden Lie$, the brilliant doc about author Norma Khouri and her maybe-it’s-true-maybe-it’s-not book about a friend’s honor killing.)

I high-tailed back to the Ryerson – and just about everyone I know – to see actor Stuart Townsend’s writing-directing debut, Battle in Seattle (6/8), which follows fictional characters through the notorious WTO-related riots in the titular city back in 1999. The screening was the film’s world premiere, so everyone and their cousin showed up...though Charlize Theron appeared to be desperate to flee the venue. She, Stuart Townsend, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Rodriguez, André Benjamin and Martin Henderson were all in attendance after the film for a Q&A, which was cool. And the film received a standing ovation, which felt a little undeserved. I mean, it was good but it wasn’t that good, IMO, and the biggest “OMG, holy crap!” moment comes in a scene where Theron is clubbed like a baby seal. (Now, that scene deserved some sort of recognition because it resulted in a big collective gasp in the theater.) And the film reinforced my long-held belief that Connie Nielsen needs to STOP WORKING IN AMERICA IMMEDIATELY. Just stop, Connie. Please. Once again, despite her proven talent in foreign fare, she clunks up the screen here. Though she does maintain perfect make-up throughout.

A film that was that good was my final, equally star-studded screening of the day, Jason Reitman’s Juno (7/8...very close to a full-pie rating, in fact). Centered on a 16-year-old girl named Juno (Ellen Page), who finds herself pregnant, the film examines the various relationships in her life: with her de-facto boyfriend (Michael Cera), with her father and stepmother (J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney), and with the young couple (Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner) who want to adopt the baby. Wonderfully written and beautifully acted, this film also earned a standing O at its conclusion and boasts the largest Q&A contingent I have ever seen in my 17 years of TIFFing.

Jason Reitman took the stage at the end of the screening and then ushered up a whopping TWENTY PEOPLE (yes, I counted), including the ENTIRE cast – Page, Cera, Bateman, Garner, Simmons, Janney and Olivia Thirlby (who plays Juno’s best friend). Note to anyone keeping score: Ben Affleck was also there accompanying the missus. A surprisingly long, given the late start, Q&A followed, which was a treat, and everyone kept commending the film’s writer (!), Diablo Cody, for her amazing screenplay. That won them all brownie points in my books.

Even more of a treat, though, was Roger Ebert, who sat across the aisle from me! Roger! Long time no see! I gasped internally when I saw him; it was wonderful and sad at the same time. Wonderful because I haven’t seen him out and about at TIFF for the past few diaries, so I was thrilled at his return. But also sad because Roger Ebert of TIFF ’07 is not the same Roger I remember. His cancer has dramatically altered his appearance and rendered him unable to speak. Still, there he was, sitting on the aisle (where else?), watching movies just like always. And I felt glad.

Celebrity Sightings: Stuart Townsend, Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson, André Benjamin, Michelle Rodriguez, Martin Henderson, Jason Reitman, Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Thirlby and...

Roger Ebert Sightings: YES! (cue the Hallelujah Chorus)

Random Factoid of the Day: Juno is the name of Jupiter's wife.

Weather For Tomorrow: Boo (though Eric will be happy). Showers. High of 20ºC.

Line Buzz: Good buzz for The Visitor and meh buzz for Michael Clayton.


Lou said...

Aw, I got a little tear reading about Roger Ebert. Finally. I love his photo. I would love to lay eyes on the nutcase that is Woody Harrelson.

P.S. Zeus' wife is Hera. Juno hung with Jupiter in the Roman pantheon.

Anonymous said...

how were rodriguez and andre's performances?

ERS said...

Oh, thank you for the update on Roger Ebert. I just returned from living and working in the Middle East for almost two years. And I caught an episode of Ebert & Roper, but there was no Ebert. I was wondering what happened, and now I know. :-( I wish him the best. It seems he's had a very rough go of it while I've been gone.

Coincidentally enough, I was working in Jordan on "honor" killings and just published a nonfiction book about them called "Reclaiming Honor in Jordan" (available on

I've not seen "Forbidden Lie$," but I've read Norma Khouri's book, and I know some Jordanian activists have been gunning for her since at least 2003 for writing about this subject and for bringing international attention to something so negative that happens in their country. The intensity with which they went after her seemed a little rabid to me, considering the situation on the ground in Jordan.

While the specific details of Norma's book may be fictional (yet neither she nor her publisher labeled the book as such), situations such as the one she wrote about do happen in Jordan on a fairly regular basis. Some are even more brutal than Dalia's. So I find it a bit disingenuous, to say the least, for the activists in Jordan to spend so much time trying to nail Norma, when the fact is that there is so much work to be done to help the at-risk girls and women in Jordan. Three articles of the Jordanian penal code need to be overturned (i.e., the ones that result in the perpetrators receiving an average sentence of six months). At least one shelter needs to be built and a network of safehouses developed to give at-risk people somewhere to run. Right now they are warehoused in Jweideh Correctional Centre (a prison) outside Amman in what is termed protective custody for an average of seven years, while the people who threaten them walk free. They can be released only with the signature of a male family member and a promise from him to ensure safety. However, too often, upon release, they are killed by these same people.

There is other work that needs to be done, but these two items are just for starters.

So, in this context, it seems like a case of misplaced priorities to go after Norma. If she's done wrong, let the law enforcement and legal authorities take care of her. But, meantime, people are dying. The activists need to keep their eyes on the ball and not get caught up in the circus-like atmosphere, not seek the limelight so much for themselves. There isn't time to get so sidetracked for so many years. I'm still pretty surprised at that. Makes me question the sincerity of their commitment to addressing this problem in any meaningful way.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author

Vickie said...

Oops. Corrected, Lou. I did know that. Blame it on the lack of sleep. ;-)

anonymous, Benjamin was very good, but Rodriguez was just Rodriguez. (I'm not her biggest fan, so I'm a tad biased and can't really take her seriously as an actor.) Charlize, though, was fantastic.

Thanks for your comment, Ellen. If nothing else, Norma has succeeded in generating discussion wherever she goes.

Linda said...

It is interesting that Juno was written by Diablo Cody. I read that and tapped my chin thoughtfully... "Why does that name sound familiar???" I asked myself. Then I looked up the name on Amazon. That's right! She wrote a hee-larious book called Candy Girl : A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper... about a "regular suburban gal" taking a walk out of her comfort zone and becoming a stripper for a spell. It is a highly entertaining read, so I'm curious about her produced screenplay!

As far as the pic from the WTO movie Battle in Seattle, I swear at first I thought that was Britney Spears front and center. Baffling. And you know everyone here in Seattle is dying of curiosity about that flick!

The Mad Hatter said...

I was at that BATTLE IN SEATTLE screening too, and I couldn't help but ask myself...was Woody Harrelson wearing his dress sandals that day?

I made fun of how decked out some patrons get for the Film Festival, but at the same time I find it amusing that Woody shows up to these things looking so carefree.

Jennifer said...

OMG Roger Ebert and Jason Bateman in the same day?! Ten years ago, I would have given my right arm to be in the same theater with Jason Bateman. My crush has since waned, but still, I'd give, like, the price of admission to see him in person. Lucky!

Paul said...

Charlize was barely even IN the film.

Do what I've been doing for standing O's, including the Battle and Seattle one: Don't stand. I didn't think it deserved it so I didn't stand :) I didn't stand for Pan's Labyrinth either. I stood this year for Juno, and so far that's been about it.

(I was outed by Michael Moore in the second showing of his film when I didn't even applaud him coming in, "The guy in the orange shirt didn't applaud...")

I think we *should* be doing what they do at other festivals and be willing to boo when I movie is bad, but so far I only know our audiences to leave before Q&A if we're not satisfied.