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TIFF’s Day 4: New Digs & Bad Buzz

Clint Eastwood’s latest debuts … but is it one of the TIFF entries that’s losing momentum?

Now the festival officially has a new home, with screening rooms and exhibition space and offices and a Toronto International Film Festival gift shop right there on ground level, tempting passers-by to stop in for orange-and-white memorabilia of all sorts.

TIFF Bell LightboxThe TIFF Bell Lightbox had its grand opening on Sunday with an afternoon-long block party featuring a variety of special guests (including Ivan and Jason Reitman), Canadian politicos and festival officials. Canadian musical artists including K’naan, the Sadies and Radio Radio performed on a stage set up to face the intersection of King and John Streets – and finally, four days into the festival, screenings can finally be held in what is supposed to be one of the festival’s prestige screening rooms.

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A couple of Sunday’s galas were films thought to be squarely in the Oscar mix – and its safe to say as the dust settles, Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” is still squarely in the mix, while the jury’s still out on Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter.”

Partly, that’s because the Boyle film had already screened in Telluride, where it won mostly raves and emerged as a strong Best Picture contender and a near-certain Best Actor nomination for James Franco.

The Eastwood film, on the other hand, was kept under wraps until a Saturday press screening and its Sunday gala – and reviews were embargoed until midnight, which means that most critics have yet to chime in on the newest work from a prolific director who’s always considered an Oscar candidate, even if his last three movies (“Gran Torino,” "Changeling" and “Invictus”) haven’t been embraced by the Academy.

The first reviews contained several references to French director Claude Lelouch in the way it intertwines stories of people facing issues of, as Kirk Honeycutt wrote, “fate and destiny.”

Honeycutt largely praised the movie, though he felt its ending was too facile. Leonard Klady, on the other hand, called the film “Eastwood does Lelouch,” and says the result is “a pretty good Lelouch and a pretty good Eastwood … but not great stuff.”

And some of the tweets after yesterday’s press screening were downright brutal: “It might be the worst thing Eastwood has ever directed,” wrote Cinematical’s Erik Davis, who didn’t see the film but was passing along the words of “our writer.”

On the other hand, one Roger Ebert is worth a host of young bloggers – and Ebert’s comments on the film, which were posted just after midnight, began with the confession, “I was surprised how enthralling I found it,” and concluded with the line, "’Hereafter’ is unlike any film Clint Eastwood has ever made, but you'd think he'd been preparing it for years.”

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One of the chief goals of anyone taking a film to Toronto is to come out of the festival with buzz, whether the aim is to translate that buzz into a distribution deal, public attention or awards momentum.

Then there is the wrong kind of buzz – the films that lose  heat at Toronto, that leave with less momentum than they started with, or that enter the festival sight unseen and leave it DOA.

Nothing is quite on that level this year – there are no “All the King’s Men” in the current batch – but the fest buzz hasn’t been entirely kind to a few movies. Julian Schnabel’s “Miral,” for instance, doesn’t seem to be liked any more widely here than it was in Venice. Tony Goldwyn’s “Conviction” definitely has supporters, but Hilary Swank’s Oscar hopes seem to be taking something of a hit; when people talk about the film’s standout performance, more often than not it’s Sam Rockwell, not Swank.

The indie film “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” from “Half Nelson” and “Sugar” directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, meanwhile, had what you might call a lackluster debut on Saturday: Wrote Eric Kohn in indieWIRE, “Straining from a painfully uneasy blend of dramatic clichés and poorly scripted gags, the movie plays like ‘One Flew Over Cuckoo’s Nest’ remade as a rudimentary teen comedy.”

Oh, and Jeff Wells walked out of “What’s Wrong with Virginia,” the directorial debut of “Milk” screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. “I'm sorry but I don't … give a damn about the angry rurals in Black's world – small-town, Christian, cigarette-smoking, fetish-indulging loons all caught up in what I saw as sad, meandering, insignificant crap,” he said at Hollywood Elsewhere.

And David Poland, on The Hot Blog, called Mitch Glazer’s “Passion Play,” which the screenwriter-turned-director spent 20 years trying to make, “an epic, memorable moment in festival history.” But he doesn’t mean that in a good way. Quite the opposite, in fact.

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With “Super” going to IFC Films in the first high-profile acquisition of the festival, the final week of TIFF may start to show some movement on the deal front. Gregg Kilday says that interest is there for Robert Redford’s Lincoln-assassination drama “The Conspirator,” which hasn’t drawn the strongest reviews but has a name cast that includes James McAvoy, Kevin Kline and Robin Wright, and for the smaller films “Beginnings” and “Incendies.”

Others with potential deals on the horizon include John Cameron Mitchell’s “Rabbit Hole,” with Nicole Kidman; David Schwimmer’s “Trust,” with Clive Owen and Catherine Keener; and the Will Ferrell vehicle “Everything Must Go.”

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Documentary filmmaker and Oscar nominee Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”) is in town as well, but it’s not to show off his latest film. Instead, it’s to make an upcoming film – or at least an upcoming episode of a television series.

As he did at Comic-Con a couple of months ago, Spurlock has camera crews working Toronto, following half a dozen directors that include John Sayles (“Amigo”), George Hickenlooper (“Casino Jack”) and a couple of first-time directors. 

Spurlock is documenting the directors filmmakers as they go about their daily rounds at the festival: he’s shooting screenings, Q&As and the like – including the staple of any Toronto filmmakers stay in town, the press day.

And so it was on Sunday that at least one journalist interviewing Hickenlooper (this journalist, in fact) found himself conducting the interview while a full camera crew hovered around the table and lowered a boom mike in between us.

Hey, Morgan: cut out the parts where I sound inarticulate, okay?