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September rain

Essential festival tools forgotten in Halifax

Business cardsLocal band t-shirts (hanging to dry in closet)MP3 playerHeadphones


Sister’s Ipod with permission to replace music“Deluxe” headphones purchased from WestJet ($3 -- slightly too big for head)Re-discovery of In-Flight Safety shirt in suitcaseContact info available upon handwritten request

The first few days of FFing are such an ass-kicker. Toronto, like most festivals, is front-loaded with all the big movies, so all the big stars are here at once, creating a clusterfuck that makes rush hour on the Macdonald feel like a massage. There are people and badges and swag suites everywhere. Nobody knows anything but everyone pretends they do.

In the press office they make me show them a photo id before they’ll issue my pass, even though the pass itself has a photo on it. I sign for it. The name above mine is Beverly Thomson, CTV. This makes me smile -- I love all of the Canada AM peeps. Except Seamus.

I have dinner with mostly Halifax people at a small resto on Yonge. It is 9pm on the first day of the festival and there are two schmoes wearing their passes out in public for no reason. I hate that shit. I’ve got all my schedules and newspapers out on the table -- I’d sketched out a rough screening schedule but that was before I knew the press conference line-up. A complete overhaul of my first three days is in order.

I begin Friday morning, Day One, with Canada Shorts 2, featuring Haligonian Ann Verrall’s film The Wait. The very friendly volunteer who signs me in -- we’ll see how chipper she is on Wednesday -- commends me for coming and tells me I am the third press person here.

This is a bad sign.

Inside the audience just cracks double digits, and three people in front of me leave after the first short, a crazy three-minute Guy Maddin dealy called Nude Caboose which is kind of like Snakes on a Plane because it’s a title, a concept and the plot. Most of the shorts are dark as hell, and two of them have no talking at all while the third, an overlong French film about a girl who gets killed by a bear and her father’s subsequent revenge, has maybe four lines.

Verrall’s short is about a boy and girl next door who can’t admit their feelings for each other. It shot a block away from my house (go north!) and has great cinematography, lead in Seamus Morrison, and music. I actually teared up when the Weakerthans’ “Left and Leaving,” easily in my top 10 of all time songs, was deployed.

I escalator down to the crappy grocery store in the basement for a quick snack and then back up to find myself in a crazy long line, half an hour before the start time, for John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, which you may remember as the movie that nearly got Sook-Yin Lee axed from Definitely Not the Opera. Well, she won, the movie was a hit at Cannes and now CBC has shut its taxhole about the whole thing.

The movie follows a handful of New Yorkers who are having trouble feeling -- attributed to 9/11, “the only real thing that’s ever happened in their lives” -- and how they’re humping their way through their personal crises. The reason the Ceeb was so wary of Lee being involved in this project is because all of the actors have unsimulated sex of all varieties, with nary an artfully positioned prop to be found. Beyond that, the movie is very funny and well-directed -- an astonishing miniature of New York acts as narrative counterpoint throughout -- though it takes a tonal turn near the latter half, making the joyous, absurd ending feel tacked on.

I hit my festival lunch spot -- Harvey’s -- and spend my free 40 minutes reading Now and texting with Jud Haynes of Wintersleep, who are in town for Vfest and who I’m supposed to interview for a feature I’m working on.

Then it’s back to the Varsity for Stranger Than Fiction, currently sitting as my favourite film in the festival.

There’s a fork between two theatres and a volunteer is standing there and, pointing left, saying “end of the line,” and pointing right and saying “Stranger Than Fiction.”

“End of the line is here?” I say, pointing at the entrance to theatre seven, even though my film is in theatre eight. I’m thinking of the Shortbus line, how it turned a corner and doubled back on itself, and thought maybe this was a space-saving measure.

I sign in under someone from US Weekly. Nearby a publicist type is holding up a poster to show someone down the hall behind me. It says End of the Line. I’ve just signed up for the wrong movie.

I fake them out by pretending I’m going to the bathroom then jump in the Stranger than Fiction line. Organized chaos makes me act stupid.

Inside I get stuck next to two guys who have debates about Fatburger versus In N Out and who’s lamer in his old age, De Niro or Nicholson? (Consensus: the former, and I agree.)

It stars Will Ferrell as a man who suddenly begins hearing a narrator. Turns out he’s a character in a reclusive author’s (Emma Thompson) long-delayed novel and her signature is killing her heroes. Dustin Hoffman appears as a literature professor who tries to help Ferrell out, Queen Latifah has the completely thankless role of Thompson’s assistant and Maggie Gyllenhaal, boasting a fake sleeve of tattoos, proves again how good she is by pretending to be in love with someone she would likely never look at in life. (See Arnold, Tom and Happy Endings.)

The movie, directed by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) is quite glorious. (“This is so great!” exclaimed a woman behind me around the halfway point.) There’s some Lake House-style plotting -- and that’s all I will say about it -- but the performances and writing are so great it’s forgivable. The film gets a light ovation ats the end credits roll -- always a good sign, critically.

After dinner I have some time to kill. I’ve been up since 6:30 -- alarm mishap -- and I’m fading. I don’t want to get a coffee cause it’ll throw off my sleeping schedule so I get an iced tea instead, hoping that it’s true there’s more caffeine in tea than coffee.

Forty minutes later I’m yawning through the reduced fiction section at Indigo. I take a coffee into my 10 o’clock movie.

Johanna Schneller, of the Globe and Mail and many a great Premiere profile, is sitting behind me chatting to a colleague.

“I didn’t talk to anyone today,” she says. “Just movies.”

“Me too,” says the guy, as wearily as her.

She then predicts that Penelope Cruz will win the Oscar for Volver and I don’t know if that’s a world I want to live in.

Anyway, the reason I’m even out this late is because I’m stoked about this one -- The Last Kiss, starring Zach (eeeeee!) Braff and Rachel “Summer” Bilson. Zach’s girlfriend (Jacinda Barrett, letting her Aussie accent slip in like Malice-era Nicole Kidman) gets pregnant unexpectedly and he feels trapped so he starts something up with Rachel.

I really wanted to like the movie. It has a stellar cast -- Casey Affleck, Lauren Lee Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner are also on board -- and great music “hand picked” by Braff (apparently a robot usually chooses movie music, because only Zach Braff has ever thought to use Aimee Mann and Coldplay in a movie).

But it doesn’t work. A lot is the script’s fault -- oh, the light, nuanced touch of Paul Haggis. The rest is Tony Goldwyn’s direction. All of the women, each of them treated like shit by their corresponding males, come off like crazy harpy bitches. I’m sick of “late 20s dudes finding themselves” movies, including the upcoming Trust the Man (sucks!) and even Braff’s own Garden State. Mostly because they always make excuses for the general asshattery of their leads, who always get the girl in the end no matter what they do. (Zach actually has a line like “I made a mistake, but I LEARNED!” It’s as if Haggis cribbed it from one of his old Facts of Life scripts.)

Maybe this makes me a bad humanist but I DON’T CARE.

When I escape to the outside it’s raining steadily. Across the street at Holt Renfrew a stage has been erected and soggy rubberneckers line the parade fences set up on the sidewalk. A group is chanting “Fur is dead! Shame on Christopher Bailey!” -- I don't know what this means -- but they are soon drowned out by the arrival of Joshua Jackson. “I love you Pacey!” a girl voice screams. Jackson waves.

I walk eight blocks in the rain.

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