TIFF Day 5: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner with Scot

Tuesday, Day 5 in Toronto, featured Scot's arrival to the festival. He couldn't come up early with the rest of us because he was teaching on Monday night. Even before he arrived we were dining witch Scot as you will see in my first movie review of the day. Tuesday also featured the first two industry parties of the festival as we tagged along with Don and Tracy to both the ALL HAT party and the SILK party. Beth, Scot and I also got caught in a sudden torrential downpour. Thank goodness for Dollar Store umbrellas. The Festival really kicked into high gear for us.

BREAKFAST WITH SCOT (Canada; 104 min.)

director: Laurie Lynd

cast: Thomas Cavanaugh; Ben Shenkman; Noah Bennett

BREAKFAST WITH SCOT was adapted from a lovely novel by Michael Downing that I read several years ago, and despite the fact that it features my husband's name (correct spelling included) in the title, I had forgotten that I'd read the book until director Laurie Lynd mentioned the author during the film's introduction. The film is a lovely, heartwarming look at a gay couple and the young boy who changes their lives. Sounds a little too sweet, doesn't it? Well Lynd, screenwriter Sean Reycraft and a talented cast manage to keep it sweet, but make it a delightfully entertaining and relevant film.

Sam and Ed are a successful gay couple. Ed is a lawyer, Sam is a sportscaster. The thing is, with Sam's background (he was a professional Hockey Player on the Toronto Blue Jays until an injury during practice forced him out) keeps him in the closet in his professional life. When Ed's brother's girlfriend dies, the couple find themselves in temporary custody of her eleven-year-old son Scot. Scot arrives on their doorstep smartly dressed and very polite, but they soon find out he has a penchance for boas and jewelry, singing showtunes, knitting, and worst of all, has no idea who Wayne Gretzky is. In a smartly drawn, and funny look at internalized homophobia and the way people perceive others, Lynd tells a heartwarming tale for the whole family.

The cast is terrific. Thomas Cavanaugh is superb as the obstinate, conflicted Sam (the actor is best known for his role in the television series "Ed") and Ben Shenkman ("Angels in America") is solid as Ed. The supporting cast features a host of well-known Canadian faces, all of whom transcend the stereotypes to create well-rounded characters. Most delightful of all was the uncredited turn by the sadly underused Sheila McCarthy (I'VE HEARD THE MERMAIDS SINGING) whose pitch perfect portrayal of the politically correct elementary school principal is divine. The film succeeds or fails on young Noah Bennett's portrayal of Scot, and he comes through remarkably. All the kids do a good job, but Bennett's Scot is sweetly heartbreaking.

JELLYFISH (Israel; 78 min.)

directors: Shira Geffen, Etgar Keret

cast: Sarah Adler, Nikol Leidman, Gera Sandler, Noa Knoller, Ma-nenita De Latorre, Ilanit Ben Yaakov, Zharira Charifai

JELLYFISH won the Golden Camera, and the Screenwriter's Award at Cannes earlier this year. Now it comes to Toronto, and in a couple of months, the Boston Jewish Film Festival co-presented by Chlotrudis! I didn't know what to expect from JELLYFISH, but the movie's synopsis sounded pretty interesting, so when Sara Rubin suggested it as one of our choices to co-present at the BJFF, I figured I would catch it in Toronto, and least be able to promote it properly. Imagine my surprise when it proved to be one of my favorite films of the festival!

The theme of JELLYFISH is disappointment. There are three central stories in JELLYFISH, involving three young women living in Israel. All three of these women have suffered severe disappointments, the first years ago during her childhood, another just a day ago at her wedding. Batya lives alone in a rundown apartment, working as a waitress for a wedding caterer and continuously being overlooked by her parents. Joy is a Filipino domestic who doesn't speak Hebrew and is trying to raise enough money to return to the Philippines to be with her young son. Keren is just married to Michael, but their honeymoon has been curtailed after she ends up in a cast at an embarrassing accident at their reception. The three women's stories intersect at various points of the film, and it isn't until the conclusion that the theme of the film unfolds.

Directors Geffen and Keret employ gentle magical reslism, most notably in the form of a mysterious little girl who appears from out of the sea to Batia and leads her without speaking to a path of realization. To tell anymore of the plot would surely take away from the enjoyment of watching things play out while enjoying the film. This is a delightful film, worthy of the accolades it has already achieved, and definitely worth the time of any Chlotrudis member to see it.

PING PONG PLAYA' (USA; 96 min.)

director: Jessica Yu

cast: Jimmy Tsai, Smith Cho, Khary Payton, Roger Fan, Peter Paige, Jim Lau, Elizabeth Sung

Who would have thought that the first feature narrative by filmmaker Jessica Yu, the brilliant documentarian responsible for IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL and PROTAGONIST, would be a wacky comedy in the vein of THE BAD NEWS BEARS? Co-written by the film's star, Jimmy Tsai, PING PONG PLAYA' hits all the right notes of the genre but more, it's comedy, and it's a film created by and starring Asian-Americans, with many of the issues and stereotype subtly woven into the story.

Christopher "C-dub" Wang dreams of being a professional basketball player, but his victories over the little kids in the neighborhood hardly qualify him for a star player. His mother teaches ping pong at the local community center, while his father runs a local ping pong supply shop, which is successful because C-dub's older brother Michael wins the ping pong championship year after year keeping the supply of students to the school flowing. When Michael and their mom are injured in a minor car accident, it falls to "C-dub" to take over the ping pong classes, and to compete in the championships. Sounds a little silly, but Yu and Tsai have written a script that's just flat out funny. At it's best, PING PONG PLAYA' is reminiscent of the films of Christopher Guest, spoofing a genre that is slightly ridiculous to start with. Even when it stumbles it merely falls to the level of the usual Hollywood sports movie genre.

The cast helps to elevate PING PONG PLAYA' above the usual fare. Jimmy Tsai, not an actor, or even a screenwriter, by trade but an accountant for the production company, does a good job making "C-dub" annoyingly ridiculous, but with a good heart. Jim Lau and Elizabeth Sung turn in fine comedic performances as the parents. Peter Paige (CHILDSTAR; "Queer As Folk") turns in a despicably amusing performance as "C-dub's" ping pong rival, and the actress (I couldn't find her on the cast list at imdb) who played the Ping Pong official is near brilliant. Even the typically stock character of the love interest is elevated into an interesting part as played by Smith Cho.

Okay, it's not a brilliant movie, but it is a thoroughly entertaining film that proves that Jessica Yu is one talented filmmaker capable to handling a wide variety of genres. So see PING PONG PLAYA' if you're in the mood for some wacky comedy... and see PROTAGONIST to see a truly brilliant documentary.

SILK (Canada/Italy/Japan; 112 min.)

director: François Girard

cast: Michael Pitt, Keira Knightley, Alfred Molina, Koji Yakusho, Mark Rendell, Miki Nakatani, Callum Keith Rennie

For his first film since THE RED VIOLIN, François Girard has chosen an historical romance that is masquerading as a sweeping epic. Based on a novel by Alessandro Baricco, SILK is the story of the silk-trade in 19th century Italy, and the man, Herve Joncour (Michael Pitt), who procured the silkworms from the mysterious and barbaric island of Japan for his village's silk mills. Happily married to the lovely Helene (Keira Knightley), Herve makes his first trip rather reluctantly, pressured by Baldabiou (Alfred Molina), the man who built the silk factory. While in Japan, he meets the local baron, and his captivating mistress, who snares him with her mysterious spell. Subsequent trips are undertaken eagerly by Herve, in the hopes of furthering his relationship with the mysterious Japanese woman with whom he becomes obsessed.

SILK is a gorgeous film, with lush Italian gardens, stark Russian steppes, and elegant Japanese landscapes filmed for maximum effect (we see plenty of them as Herve travels back and forth to Japan.) Ultimately, despite the epic feel of the film, we are left with a pretty unsatisfying story... at least the one presented on the screen. A happily married man encounters a mysterious and beautiful Japanese woman who doesn't speak a word to him, and he's willing to cheat on his wife with her, after which he becomes obsessed. This is the kind of film where everyone speaks in hushed tones, and somebody is going to come down with the dreaded swooning disease. The cast is a mixed bag, with the two leads, Michael Pitt and Keira Knightley looking pretty but unable to convey the necessary emotions to make the film convincing. They also lack any energy giving the overal film a lethargic feel. There are a handful of supporting characters who fare slightly better, most notably Miki Nakatani as Madame Blanche, a powerful madame in France, who fires up the screen with her presence. Kôji Yakusho (BABEL; SHALL WE DANCE) keeps things interesting as the Japanese baron; Callum Keith Rennie turns in a lively appearance as a gun runner that Herve meets in Japan; Alfred Molina provides some life as the mill owner; and Mark Rendall (the titular character in CHILDSTAR) has grown up some to play the often referred to but rarely seen, Ludovic.

The lethargy of SILK makes me think that Girard needs his former writing partner (Mr. Don McKellar - with whom he co-wrote both THE RED VIOLIN and 32 SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD) to keep his screenplay's interesting. Not that SILK is a bad film, there's a lot of talented filmmaking on display here; it's just not entirely successful either. Unfortunately it's the screenplay and the two high profile leads that are the weak points in this SILK.

After the movies, the fun really started, as we joined Don & Tracy for a couple of parties. First stop was the ALL HAT party, a film that Tracy was in, but unfortunately her character was cut out of because it was too confusing. This modern, noir/western's after-party was at at country-western bar complete with a live band that would have been right at home at the Brattle's Trailer Treats Party. Star Luke Kirby ("Slings & Arrows") was in attendance, as was our friend (and Ellen Page's agent) Kish. We met the director of ALL HAT as well, Leonard Farlinger, who also acted as a producer for MONKEY WARFARE. We didn't stay long at the ALL HAT party, as Tracy was hungry and there was no food. So we hopped into a cab and headed to the famous Drake Hotel and the SILK party. In addition to the open bar and delicious cheese, the SILK party featured grilled cornbread and cole slaw! Several minutes was spent in discussion with Don about the merits or lack thereof of cole slaw as a party appetizer. The party space was small and crowded, and we arrived fairly late, but there were some recognizable faces there, including Michael Pitt, and Sei Ashina, who played the beautiful Japanese mistress. Director François Girard was much younger looking close up that he was on stage at the Visa Screening Room, and pretty cute too. Turns out he's one year younger than me. Got back to the hotel very late, but felt like I was truly a part of the Film Festival experience, party-hopping and all. More to come.