TIFF ’14 – Day 6: Big Guns

Give me stamina to survive this festival...
Give me stamina to survive this festival…

Star-studded Tuesday: Had interviews with Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell for Foxcatcher, and J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller for Whiplash. Tatum and Simmons were the highlights (Carell, surprisingly low key). I asked Tatum about what was on his mind while smashing his head against a mirror (the scene is in the Foxcatcher trailer, look it up).
Tatum: Have you ever been in a fight.
Me: Um… yes? (I have, against a 12 year-old Christian Lara. I kicked his ass, but I don’t see how that was relevant. I was also 12, by the way.)
Tatum: Do you remember any of it?
Me: No.
Tatum: It was just like that.
Tatum is cut. He would probably knock me out by breathing on me.

J.K. Simmons was brilliant. The actor -better known for his work as Vern Schillinger in Oz and J. Jonah Jameson in the good Spider-Man movies- is far more easygoing than the characters he plays. An early frontrunner to next year’s Academy Awards, Simmons said he had no problem with musicians recognizing themselves in his character, a tough-as-nails jazz conductor. “The problem is when Oz fans do. That’s more unsettling.”

Enough name dropping. Let’s talk movies.

Maps to the Stars (Canada/Germany, 2014): Even at his most inaccessible (*cough* Cosmopolis *cough*), there is always something interesting in David Cronenberg movies. In the case of Maps to the Stars, it would be the opening fifteen minutes. Cronenberg’s biting satire of Hollywood leaves no room for mercy and the environment he creates is so poisonous, it makes the audience feel uneasy yet curious. Then… nothing. A bunch of recognizable actors (John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Julianne Moore) behave badly and make poor life decisions, but it’s nothing Bret Easton Ellis hasn’t done two or three times before.

At the center of Maps to the Stars is the Weiss family. The father (Cusack) is a self-help guru who can’t forge a personal connection with anybody, let alone his children. The mother (Olivia Williams) is a cutthroat agent (is there another kind?). Yet the real moneymaker at the Weiss household is son Benjie, a child star with more bad habits than Lindsay Lohan. Their barely stable relationship is shaken by the arrival of Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a physically scarred girl who finds a job as the personal assistant of an aging movie star (Julianne Moore).

The plot itself is ridden with Hollywood clichés (struggling to get a part, kids behaving inappropriately, actors’ rampant insecurity), but Cronenberg knows that. His interest lies in the empty souls of the characters. There is no moral here: The filmmaker just want to watch them squirm while pursuing some kind of personal fulfillment they fail to even enjoy. Maps to the Stars is surreal, but not particularly insightful or funny. Doesn’t help much of the film hinges on the Benjie character. The actor, Evan Bird, is too young and too inexperienced to seem jaded and there are scenes he struggles to bring home. Definitely a faux pas for Cronenberg, but a forgivable one. Two coyotes (the prairie dogs are stalling for more money).

Merchants of Doubt (USA, 2014): Remember that conservative argument according to which thousands of American scientists question the existence of global warming? Predictably, turns out to be bollocks (one of the signatures belongs to a “Geri Halliwell”), yet the lie has endured. Merchants of Doubt takes a look at the playbook of professional skeptics, people whose services are bought by corporations in the public eye, once the tobacco pushers, now those looking to prevent public and governmental action on climate change (namely big coal and oil).

Director Robert Kenner (Food, Inc.) puts together an ironclad case against these characters, think tanks and supposedly specialized groups who sell expertise without having any scientific background to back it up. It’s an obscene and aggravating phenomenon that should have your blood boiling. Even though the doc can be a bit dry, makes for necessary viewing. Three and a half Prairie Dogs for Clean Air.

It occurred to me that…

…Toronto is selling the festival as a celebrity bazaar, while the movies don’t have the protagonism of other editions.

The Theory of Everything is getting the most Oscar buzz of all English-speaking films. It’s somewhat surprising, since outside Eddie Redmayne’s performance, there wasn’t anything impressive about it.

…the musical is back! The heart-wrenching The Last Five Years and the Canadian curiosity Bang Bang Baby are leading the charge.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back hanging out with non-famous people.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.