Monroeville-filmed 'Zack and Miri' gets warm reception in Toronto


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TORONTO -- The crowd cheered, whistled and a few audience members even stood, and that was before the world premiere of "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."

In introducing the comedy, a festival programmer called it one of the "sweetest love stories," and it's that, as well as a movie that had a ratings skirmish before winning an R and its suggestive poster censored in the States. But it also has genuine laughs, strictly adult moments and language, and little touches of Pittsburgh in a drunken Steelers fan, a Stanley Cup flag, a crummy old car fishtailing on snowy streets and a main setting of Monroeville.

Earlier in the day, Smith said, "We got to shoot at the Monroeville Mall, and for a movie buff, that's a very cool thing. We had Tom Savini [in cameo], we shot at the Monroeville Mall, it's as close to a zombie movie as I'll ever get."

Smith was at the Sunday premiere along with Elizabeth Banks, Jason Mewes and Katie Morgan, but leading man Seth Rogen was MIA. Smith said he had tried to persuade Rogen to fly to Toronto, but he's making a Judd Apatow movie elsewhere. "What has Judd Apatow ever done for you?" he asked Rogen. Oh, right.

In "Zack and Miri," Rogen and Banks play platonic (but made for each other) roomies and graduates of Monroeville High School who are so broke that their water and electricity are turned off the day before Thanksgiving. As they burn their stack of unpaid bills in a trash can in the living room, they make a business decision about how they can raise money, and that is where the movie's title comes into play.

Banks, who also will be seen this fall as Laura Bush in Oliver Stone's "W," calls Pittsburgh a character in the movie. "I also think it's really fun that Kevin set the hilarity of the movie against this backdrop of just gray desolation, and everything's frigid and frozen and meanwhile, we have all this life in us, and I thought it adds a texture to the movie that some of Kevin's other movies don't have."

Smith had nothing but kind things to say about his shooting experience -- although he could have used more real snow -- but says Monroeville was ideal because it's the "last place in the world you would think about somebody trying to kick off a porn industry." Until now.

"Zack and Miri" opens on Halloween.

Other snapshots from the Toronto International Film Festival, which continues through Saturday:

Feathers and Fire

In "The Duchess," Keira Knightley wears wigs that would give Marge Simpson a run for her money. They're meringues of curls, topped by feathers. In one scene, Knightley's character, Georgiana, drunkenly crashes into a chandelier blazing with candles (it's the 18th century) and catches her hair on fire.

Knightley said director Saul Dibb "wanted to set the wig on fire on my head, and I was actually quite up for it, and I think then the insurance people said you've shot half the movie and if she goes up in flames, then we're not going to be able to finish it, so you're not allowed, so it's actually computer graphics."

Until Knightley received the script, she knew nothing about Lady Georgiana Spencer, who happens to be the great-great-great-great-aunt of Princess Di. "The script came through my door with three very large, huge, white ostrich feathers attached with a gold ribbon, and I thought, oh, I don't care what it is, that's fantastic."

Unintended irony

A couple of restaurant tables were pushed together so a dozen reporters could talk to Bill Maher and director Larry Charles about their comic documentary, "Religulous." It was reminiscent of the Last Supper, with Maher and Charles in the middle to discuss not believing in God.

Armed with talent

Spike Lee is here with his World War II movie, "Miracle at St. Anna," and he appeared at a press conference flanked by novelist and screenwriter James McBride, composer Terence Blanchard and a half-dozen cast members. The one who wasn't here but whose face is on the movie poster is Matteo Sciabordi, a fourth-grader from Nodica, Italy, making his feature debut.

He spoke no English, but actor Omar Benson Miller, who plays the gentle giant who rescues and protects the boy, found a way to bond with him. "Initially, I met with Matteo and I brought a bag of toys," including baseballs and baseball mitts. "And we just played. We played, literally," and it was a respite from a two-week boot camp led by military adviser Billy Budd.

Once Miller got to know the boy, he introduced him to co-stars Derek Luke, Michael Ealy and Laz Alonso. A key scene in the movie in which he and the boy devise a way to communicate with a series of taps was improvised. "The kid could improv with me like he was a professional."

Marriage-minded

In "Rachel Getting Married," there is a confrontation scene between parent and child that makes "Margot at the Wedding" from last year's fest look like a fairy tale.

The movie stars Rosemarie DeWitt as the bride and Anne Hathaway as her sister, a recovering drug addict with choppy, chin-length hair, an omnipresent cigarette and a tragic transgression in her past. And possible Academy Award nomination in her future.

Soul searching

A literal war of words over the festival is being waged in the Toronto Sun. On Saturday, longtime critic Bruce Kirkland, also president of the Toronto Film Critics Association, suggested the festival had turned into an "elitist corporate spectacle." On Sunday, the director and CEO of the festival insisted it's still a "people's festival," but the paper quoted some longtime fans who are upset over ticket availability and prices.

Accredited members of the media have passes that allow them access to press and industry screenings, which can fill up, but they don't scramble in the same way. They also miss the sort of enthusiasm seen at the "Zack" premiere, filled with people who had paid for their tickets and stood in long lines to get inside the theater.


Post-Gazette movie editor Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. First Published September 9, 2008 4:00 AM


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