Elizabeth: The Golden Age - Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett, Shekhar Kapur, Clive Owen and Abbie Cornish
Another day, another early start. First on the agenda for me was a quirky comedy entitled Lars And The Real Girl. It's about a loner (Ryan Gosling) who has a relationship with a sex doll. But wait a minute, this isn't what you expect... it's not a smutty gross-out comedy at all. Lars is actually suffering a delusion after struggling to cope with some family trauma, so in fact what you have here is a sad yet warm-hearted tale of a guy working through his personal issues with the support of the community around him. Sure, with a set up like this there are plenty of humourous situations, but the film never goes for the easy laughs. It's also to the film's credit that the whole cast play it straight, with Ryan Gosling delivering an exceptional performance which will probably get overlooked due to the unusual subject matter. Director Craig Gillespie also manages to make Bianca (the doll) feel like a real character which is quite some achievement. Lars And The Real Girl is one of the best films I've seen in my time at TIFF and I hope it's able to secure a theatrical release and reach a wide audience, it really deserves to.
With just over an hour to kill until the next batch of movies I popped down to the Sutton Hotel to see what was happening there. As luck would have it a Press Conference was scheduled for Elizabeth: The Golden Age, so I thought I may as well sit in for that. It's a shame that none of the Midnight Madness titles are afforded the Press Conference treatment (Eastern Promises is about the closest to my beloved genre as it gets this year) but it's a rare privilege to be able to hear A-list talent discussing their craft so in I went, and I have to concede that I did take a small amount of pleasure being sat in the front row unashamedly wearing my Zombie Diaries t-shirt. On hand for this Q&A session were director Shekhar Kapur and principal actors Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, Geoffrey Rush and Abbie Cornish. I didn't make many notes since it had no relevance to the Eat My Brains audience, but I certainly found it interesting despite not having seen the film.
At 12:30pm I had the choice of two titles - the Simon Pegg starrer Run, Fatboy, Run (currently No1 in the UK) or Pang Ho-cheung's Exodus. Sadly I picked the latter one... Why do girls always go to the Ladies in groups? Exodus takes that question as its inspiration to drive a story about a conspiracy by a network of female assasins slowly eradicating the male population. A cop (Simon Yam) investigates... blah blah blah. The thing with seeing so many films back to back is knowing when to walk out. I don't do it often, but sometimes its the only decision. After an hour of this film the plot hadn't moved forward at all so I gave up. Still, if nothing else, it did provide the oddest movie scene so far - a long tracking shot along a corridor beginning with a portrait of the Queen, then slowly panning back to reveal half a dozen blokes dressed in speedos and snorkels trying to pin down a man and hit him with a hammer. I still have no idea what the relevance of that scene was!
One thing I haven't mentioned about Toronto is the food. It's fantastic - you're spoilt for choice and the portions are so large it's rare that I finish a meal. I had a great meal at the New York Deli opposite the Manulife Centre (as recommended by Paul), then popped back to my room to take a break for an hour or two. My third film choice of the day was a Spanish thriller called King Of The Hill from the same production company behind Pan's Labyrinth and The Orphanage. Ant had seen this one earlier in the festival, so I thought it was worth a look, plus it meant I got to try one of the VIP screening rooms; very much like the luxury theatres at BKKIFF last year, these are much smaller cinemas seating up to forty people, all in comfortable surroundings. The film is a slight piece with a small cast but tells its story well. A guy has a sexual encounter with a girl at a gas station and then persues her after she steals his wallet. By the time he catches up to her they're up in the mountains and under fire by a sniper. The material is limited in scope but it manages to rack up a fair amount of tension, and there's at least one moment involving a broken bone that will make you wince.
I didn't fancy the Midnight Madness selection for Sunday night (Vexille - Japanese animation from the director of Ping Pong, although Bruce reported that it's very good) so instead I had to choose between three heavyweights - Paul Haggis's Iraq drama In The Valley Of Elah, Julie Taymor's Beatles musical Across The Universe, or Joe Wright's romantic tragedy Atonement, based on the bestselling novel by Ian McEwan. The lure of visiting a different venue (the Cumberland) eventually won out, so I opted for the latter and I reckon I made the right choice - it's a terrific drama full of strong performances which kept me fully awake despite the late hour. If you've not read the book then it's best not to spoil the plot here, suffice to say it's about a relationship between two lovers (Keira Knightley and James McAvoy) which is shattered by the actions of her younger sister. Atonement has just opened in the UK this week and is highly recommended if you fancy a change from all the blood and gore.