Toronto film festival turns up intensity


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TORONTO -- Next stop on the Intensity Train: Osage County.

It was one nail-biter or emotionally exhausting movie after another: "Prisoners" (missing children), "Gravity" (missing astronauts), "12 Years a Slave" (see title), "Dallas Buyers Club" (AIDS in mid-1980s) and "August: Osage County" (family dysfunction writ large).

Moviegoers spent 90 or 120 or 150 minutes waiting to fully exhale or inch back from the edge of their seats.

Add to that the retelling of familiar stories such as the murder of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark., this time in "Devil's Knot" starring Reese Witherspoon as a grieving mother, Colin Firth as a private investigator and Dane DeHaan as a possible suspect who left town abruptly after the killings, confessed in California and then recanted.

A year ago, Johnny Depp came to the Toronto International Film Festival to support "West of Memphis," a documentary about this case which kept three innocent young men behind bars (or, in one case, on Death Row) for 18 years.

This year, Taylor Swift in a silky white cutout dress from Calvin Klein Collection turned heads -- and sent cameras into overdrive -- on the red carpet for "One Chance," inspired by the true story of British tenor Paul Potts' meteoric rise to stardom via the TV program "Britain's Got Talent." She co-wrote "Sweeter Than Fiction" with Fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff that plays over the end credits.

Toronto is now a must stop on the award and celebrity circuit, with movies being anointed or, if they played festivals in Venice or Telluride, affirmed. Sidewalks are clogged with lines of moviegoers, auditoriums filled to capacity and hotels bursting with out-of-towners.

A showing of "Gravity" sent hopefuls through the lobby and down the steep, very long stairs at the Scotiabank Theatre. After that, lines of 500-plus were moved outside where they started within sight of the building and disappeared into the horizon.

Some snapshots from the festival that concluded Sunday:

Best film I saw: "Gravity." Although it's not the same sort of movie as previous favorites "Argo" or "The King's Speech," it's a technical marvel demanding 3-D and a big screen.

Isolation breeds bonding: Chris Cooper, sharing the spotlight with six "August: Osage County" co-stars, including Julia Roberts, director John Wells and writer Tracy Letts, said cast and crew "were out in the middle of nowhere" in Oklahoma.

"Hotel accommodations were hard to come by so, God bless 'em, they found these newly finished condos, and everybody was right next door to each other and running into each other every day and we'd have potluck dinners. People would bring things, primarily over to Meryl's apartment. She was such a sweetheart."

The actors watched the presidential debates, tracked Superstorm Sandy in New York, where some of them live, and cultivated the feel of a family.

Ladies day: "Girls, girls, girls! Just the women!" was the shouted request from photographers before the "August: Osage County" press conference. The men stepped aside, leaving Ms. Roberts and the actresses who play her daughter and sisters: Abigail Breslin, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis. Missing due to illness: Meryl Streep, the movie's matriarch.

"Enough Said": This comedy, about a divorced woman who realizes she's dating the ex-husband of a new friend, was a tonic after all the heavy-duty subjects. It stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette and the late James Gandolfini.

"He's an outstanding actor. Let's just start there," Ms. Louis-Dreyfus said of Gandolfini's ability to pull off his role with ease.

"Secondly, you know, he -- Jim, James -- is a gentle giant, and this part that he plays of Albert as this kind and thoughtful and earnest and self-effacing fellow is very, very close to who James Gandolfini was. Much more so than Tony Soprano; he was no Mafia boss ... a dear, dear man."

By George: A long-haired Sandra Bullock, who met the media in a fuschia-toned sleeveless dress, plays a medical researcher on her first space mission opposite a veteran astronaut (George Clooney) in "Gravity."

"George and I have known each other over 20 years; we've known each other since we got out of college ... since we had no work. The thing I can say about George, he's the same exact person I knew then now, in all respects," although with better, less crazily curly hair.

"He's taken his blessed life and done amazing things with it," she said, and her son, Louis, thinks he's a very cool dude. Louis, 3, is a "boys' boy" who likes being around men and once asked his mother, "Where's George and Rande [Gerber]? I need them."

She found them and they had "man time" while she stood off to the side, the divorced Oscar winner recalled with a laugh.

Name game: The name Chiwetel Ejiofor still gives questioners trouble, but it might be second nature by Oscar night. The London-born actor stars as Solomon Northup, born a free man in New York, lured to Washington, D.C., under false pretenses, drugged and sold into slavery.

In just one of the harrowing scenes in "12 Years a Slave," a noose is strung around his neck, his wrists and ankles bound, and he is hung from a tree. He is rescued from certain death but left in the same precarious position, on tip toes in the mud and scorching sun for hours.

"The book describes that moment of the hanging in just vivid detail," Mr. Ejiofor said. "To me, it was the first real 'in' I had to Solomon, in terms of his psychology, I think. That, to me, was the moment of change, that you realize this person is going to survive this journey.

"In the book, he references the fact that he would have given more years of servitude if they'd just have moved him a few feet into the shade."

Pottermania: Daniel Radcliffe has graduated from Harry Potter, but his fans are still calling him by his most famous character's name.

One young woman at a Q-and-A session after "The F Word" romcom called him "Mr. Potter" and another outside Roy Thomson Hall where "Kill Your Darlings" was playing kept shouting for Harry, occasionally switching to the name Daniel, joking about the whereabouts of Ron and then lapsing into her non-English native tongue out of sheer excitement.

Give this man a comedy: Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays a Pennsylvania police detective, complete with fake tattoos, a facial tic and workaday wardrobe, was easily the funniest member of a panel promoting "Prisoners," which opens Friday.

Lovely manners: Gattlin Griffith is 14, just starting his freshman year of high school, co-starring in "Labor Day" and seeming to be possibly the most polite teenager to ever walk a red carpet. He calls director Jason Reitman "Mr." and uses courtesy titles for his co-stars, Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin.

"I was a nervous wreck to go in there to meet her," he said. And he even stuttered as he said to the "Titanic" star, "It's such a pleasure to meet you, Miss Winslet."

Now pregnant with her third child, she told him to call her Kate, asked about his obvious anxiety and assured the boy, "I'm going to be here for you throughout the whole movie. You can count on me for anything."

Just say no: Matthew McConaughey took himself out of the mainstream mix for a while, and it paid off. "There were some action films and some romantic comedies that I thought were good and came with beautiful paychecks that I just was able to say no, not for me right now."

Sheer determination powered "Dallas Buyers Club," in which he plays a womanizing Texan with AIDS who refuses to accept a 30-day death sentence.

"I was told many times, stop losing the weight. This is not going to happen in the fall. It's just not happening, and I was like, yeah, it will. And the director was like, yeah it will. There was a lot of just full-on willpower."

Eight days before filming was to start, director Jean-Marc Vallee called him, "We don't have the financing. I don't think I can make this movie on this budget, but we're supposed to shoot in New Orleans next Tuesday. I'll be there and I'll be ready to shoot if you will, and I go, 'I'll be there.' "

The rest of the financing caught up with them, and "Dallas Buyers Club" was shot in a lightning-fast 27 days.

All together now: The little girl in the stroller was parroting the throngs around her as they chanted, "Scar-lett, Scar-lett, Scar-lett."

Her enunciation and pronunciation weren't so crisp, although she wasn't climbing a tree or standing on a table or trying to scale the back of a sign to get a better look at "Don Jon" stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson at the Princess of Wales Theatre. Adults were doing all of those things.

Maps to the stars: Festivalgoers once knew that if they clustered outside certain hotels they might catch a glimpse of Colin Firth or Viggo Mortensen or Keira Knightley.

The Park Hyatt on Avenue Road is still a movie mainstay, but the 2010 opening of the festival home known as the TIFF Bell Lightbox, along with new luxury hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton, Shangri-La and Trump have changed the stargazing map.

Saluting the flag: Food trucks are standard in big cities, but one spotted on Front Street came with a Canadian flag flying from a hockey stick.

For additional dispatches and photos from the festival go to Barbara Vancheri's blog at www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog at: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies. First Published September 16, 2013 4:00 AM


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