Niagara Gazette

September 17, 2013

CALLERI: When is a Woody Allen movie not a Woody Allen movie? The Toronto Film Festival answered that question

By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The digital landscape has changed the way movies can be seen by the press even during the middle of a festival. Some features shown at the recently completed Toronto International Film Festival were available for streaming in a special media center, but the idea of sitting at a table in a large room watching a movie on a computer surrounded by scores of others doing the exact same thing is not my idea of how to experience a festival.

One of the fun things about attending an event such as this is being able to talk to other reviewers as you wait for the lights to go down, discovering what they’ve seen that was memorable. The press screenings, which is how I saw most of my films, were filled to capacity.

The multi-screen Scotiabank Theatre on Richmond Street was the main screening venue for the press, but it also showed movies to the public, which at times meant long and confusing lines for Toronto’s passionate filmgoers. The theater itself, with its architecturally uninteresting flying saucer-shaped interior, was built in 1999 and is already dated. Its entry space and overcrowded central food concourse were overwhelmed by the hordes of movie fans. The festival needs to consider using another multiplex, such as the Varsity 8 near Bloor Street, to relieve the pressure from the inadequate Scotiabank.

One of the best things about attending film festivals is the chance to be surprised by a movie. Actor John Turturro makes his own special films, and he delivered a good one. Turturro has written and directed four features, including his Toronto entry, "Fading Gigolo," a movie I was eager to see. The others are "Mac," "Illuminata," and "Romance And Cigarettes." Turturro also created a documentary feature called "Passione," which is about the musical traditions of Naples, Italy. His movies have not gotten wide release, although they are popular at festivals. Hopefully, his latest will change that. "Fading Gigolo," a wonderful comedy, does not yet have American distribution. It should. The film tells the story of a hardworking and unassuming middle-aged man named Fioravante (played by Turturro) who runs a New York City flower shop and ends up becoming a grand seducer of women, but for a price. Even he’s shocked by the fact that he’s become a gigolo. Fioravante gets all of his advice about women from an old-timer, a bookstore owner and friend named Murray, played by Woody Allen. In essence, Murray becomes his pimp, and finds conquests for Fioravante, starting with his dermatologist (Sharon Stone). He’s soon lining up women willing to pay for private time with the florist who has a real understanding of how to make a woman feel beautiful. The movie co-stars French actress Vanessa Paradis as a woman whose religion, orthodox Judaism, prevents her from even shaking hands with a man. Also in the picture are Liev Schreiber, Max Casella, and Bob Balaban. Turturro's screenplay is smart, unique, and original. It's also sweet and gentle. And very, very funny. Allen is in the entire film. His Murray is a pivotal character. It's like watching one of his movies, with the difference being that Allen didn't have to do any heavy directorial lifting. Just comic acting. He's a delight to watch. Everyone else in the film is up to the task of matching wits with the master. “Fading Gigolo” was such a hot item, that an additional press screening was scheduled for those who were turned away from the one I attended.

At every Toronto festival I try to see at least one French and one Italian movie. France’s legendary Bertrand Tavernier, who’s been directing since the early 1960s, after first writing film criticism, made the superb drama “Quai d’Orsay,” which is about a speech writer for a French government official who finds himself confronted by all manner of palace intrigue and the true meaning of diplomacy. I also enjoyed “The Great Beauty” (“La Grande Bellezza”), Paolo Sorrentino’s beautifully photographed drama from Italy about a charming novelist who can no longer write because he’s overwhelmed by a lost love and the enchanting allure of the city of Rome. The movie has been justifiably called “a technicolor ‘La Dolce Vita.’”

Because of a gap in my schedule, I was able to fit in a delightful Irish comedy called “The Stag,” about a bridegroom and his pals enjoying his final fling. Director John Butler’s approach to the subject matter was refreshingly different from how an American studio would deliver this kind of material.

As for Oscar buzz, the loudest was for “12 Years A Slave,” which won the festival’s People’s Choice award. You should consider it the frontrunner for best picture. More when it opens in metro Buffalo-Niagara.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com