Jay Stone goes from cornflakes to a promising Canadian movie, stopping along the way to check in with Tommy Wiseau and Margaret Atwood
By Jay Stone
TORONTO — A lot of people have been wondering what I do here all day — most of them are film publicists, to be honest — so here is a typical Tuesday in the life of a movie critic at the Toronto International Film Festival.
4:30 a.m. Wake up in a sweat wondering where I put my press pass last night. Find it where I left it. Move it to a safer spot.
6:30 a.m. Breakfast of cornflakes, which is what I found in the cupboard of the Air B&B where I’m staying. They were pretty fresh, too.
6:45 .m. Go back to bedroom and spend five minutes looking for my press pass. Find it in my hat.
7 a.m. Check the weather forecast. If it’s too cold outside for a T-shirt, it inevitably will be too warm inside for a jacket. My professional advice is to dress in layers unless you forgot where you put them.
8 a.m. Go to Milano, a festival-friendly cafe on Adelaide Street where the owner kind of remembers me and has offered me coffee for life if he decides to use the name I suggested for a possible second location (Java The Hut.)
9 a.m. Drop in on Ex-Libris, Frederick Wiseman’s three-hour-and-17-minute documentary about the New York public library. Wiseman is a famous verite filmmaker who turns on his camera and disappears from sight, leaving audiences — typically delirious film critics — to watch what goes on without commentary. Ex-Libris was reviewed in this week’s New Yorker magazine by Anthony Lane, an enormous favourite of mine, so I felt kind of obliged to go. There were some interesting scenes of people like Richard Dawkins and Elvis Costello speaking at library events, plus some other scenes of the library board discussing how they were going to expand their on-line presence and find more private funding. I stayed for an hour and a half and emerged with the distinct impression that the New York public library sure has a lot of books.
11:15 a.m. Joined the huge line for the screening of The Disaster Artist, James Franco’s film version of the book, by actor Greg Sestero, that gives a behind-the scenes look at the famous bad movie The Room. Franco plays Tommy Wiseau, the director-producer-writer-star of The Room — a film about a romance gone bad that stands as a metaphor for Wiseau’s own torments — and he perfectly captures his oddly Transylvanian accent, his otherworldly demeanor (Wiseau is famous for his madly inappropriate laughs at the film’s tragic events), and his creepy, long-haired look. Imagine a pirate from Mars.
It’s a kind of modern-day Ed Wood and it provided the same so-bad-it’s-delicious thrills of The Room itself. Tuesday’s audience laughed with the same ironic glee that The Room has evoked in midnight screenings around the world.
I met Wiseau once at a screening at the Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa, which has been showing it regularly for years. The theatre owner introduced me to him as the person whose review was responsible for its immense local popularity (I had given it one star out of five.) Wiseau told me to see it a second time and it would be even better. I did, and it was.
1:45 p.m.: Time for Alias Grace. Margaret Atwood’s 1996 novel, about a young housemaid in 19th Century Canada who was imprisoned for murder, has been turned into a six-part CBC/Netflix miniseries, and the first two episodes were screened at the festival. Starring Sarah Gadon, written by Sarah Polley and directed by Mary Harron, it’s an excellent evocation of a muddy, violent, difficult era when women were vulnerable to every sort of abuse. Atwood — whose A Handmaid’s Tale was recently made into an acclaimed miniseries — has become the voice of the modern dystopia, a prophet of our dark new age.
4 p.m. Had a late lunch and felt much better about things.
7:15 p.m. Went to see Don’t Talk to Irene, a comedy by Canadian writer/director Pat Mills. (Full disclosure: he is the son of Russ Mills, former publisher of The Ottawa Citizen where I worked for many years.) It’s about an overweight high school girl who wants to be a cheerleader and — inspired by the spirit of Geena Davis, who has a cameo in the movie — organizes the residents of a seniors’ home into a pep squad. It was a messy, energetic film that sprinted forward on the strength of its good spirits. There were some pacing problems but it was made with great confidence, and I suspect Mills is a talent to watch.
9 p.m. Arrive home to find a box of something called Cookie Crisp, a cereal that is even better than cornflakes. It was totally unstale.
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