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Toronto Film Festival: Talent, comedy, crotchety directors

Our critic dives into the pool of 312 movies and finds what's fresh.

By Peter RainerFilm critic of The Christian Science Monitor / September 12, 2008

‘CHE’: Benicio del Toro, in Madrid to promo film, plays Che Guevara in biopic.

Juan Medina

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Toronto

The Toronto International Film Festival is no country for old men or lazy critics. With 312 movies screening from 64 countries in 10 days, your faithful bleary-eyed cinéaste will end up seeing about a tenth of that total.

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The festival is both a one-stop shop for Hollywood's fall lineup and a panorama of movies from far-flung destinations. It's a matchless way to see terrific films that, alas and ever increasingly, may never break out of the festival circuit. It's also a market reminding you yet again that the movie business is a business.

The yin butts up often against the yang in Toronto. For example, Steven Soderbergh's two-part, four-hour-plus biopic "Che," starring Benicio del Toro, received the red carpet treatment. (The carpet seemed especially red to me.) This event was somehow tied in with the "creation" of an "ecofriendly night-life destination."

Another example: Walking out of a movie about slum conditions in Brazil, Bruno Barretto's "Last Stop 174," one is greeted with the news that Paris Hilton has ordered the festival to press screen only once the documentary about her, "Paris, Not France." (Usually movies are previewed two or three times.) Apparently she feels there is not enough buzz about her – despite a recent poll showing that, in "certain demographics," more people identify the name "Paris" with the woman than with the city.

Considering how often Toronto is used by Hollywood as a movie location, I am always amazed at how star-struck Torontonians can be. They mass for hours in front of the major hotels and bistros. Actually, you don't even need to be a full-fledged star here to get the fan treatment. Sam Neill and Brad Pitt coexist quite nicely in this universe. Neill was in town for his movie "Skin," and held up a sign saying "Remember. Be Kind!" Pitt, here to promote "Burn After Reading," was also promoting his new biodegradable liquid body cleanser.

This is a movie-mad city and, for the duration of the festival, its denizens behave as if Gods Walk Among Us. Poor Colin Firth, who was here with Jessica Biel to promote "Easy Virtue." Especially for women of a certain age, Firth is the great god Pan. Not for the first time at this festival, I was asked by one such lady, "Have you met him? Is he a gentleman?" I assured her he was. (He is.)

One disappointment for me was the no-show – at least I think he was a no-show – of Colin Farrell, who stars with Edward Norton (who showed) in the police corruption drama "Pride and Glory." Last year Farrell befriended a homeless man, took him on a shopping spree, and paid for a year's lodgings. I'd be interested in the second act to that drama.

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