TIFF 2013 Diary: Day Two, from dead cheerleaders to a lively Zac Efron

Highlights from the second day of the festival, including some zombie cheerleaders and might-as-well-be-undead parties.

Lucky McKee's All Cheerleaders Die (TIFF)

For journalists, the Toronto International Film Festival is a heady 11-day stew of screenings, interviews and alcohol-soaked after-parties. Throughout this week and the next, I’ll be delivering daily updates on every aspect of this year’s monstrous festival (free booze not included—sorry).

The films: Friday was a lengthy four-film day, alternatively thrilling and frustrating, which is as good a festival experience as I could hope for. First up was The Husband, the latest film from the prolific (perhaps dangerously so?) Bruce McDonald. A slow-burn drama about a young father, Henry (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, who also co-wrote the screenplay), whose schoolteacher wife is imprisoned for having sex with a minor, the Toronto-shot film feels as raw as a fresh wound, with Henry on the verge of tearing his skin off at the close of every single gut-wrenching scene. It’s not as pit-of-despair depressing as it could have been, though, with McDonald frequently injecting stretches of black humour to offset the pathos. And thank goodness for Stephen McHattie, McDonald’s old Pontypool star, who lends a much-needed sense of stability as Henry’s no-BS father-in-law. Although it’s unintentional, the film acts as a perfect flip-side to two zeitgeist-y obsessions: Orange is the New Black (though, yes, Piper Kerman is not a sex offender) and, more appropriately, Alissa Nutting’s gonzo new novel, Tampa.

After the power of The Husband, watching/enduring James Franco’s Child of God was like suddenly coming down with a case of stomach flu, with the only appropriate reactions being nausea and retching. Adapted from a Cormac McCarthy novel, the 100-minute film (which feels like 127 hours long) stars Scott Haze as a mumbling, profanity-prone mountain man who goes through bouts of violent paranoia and…um…necrophilia. It’s a violent, ugly film that earned the most mid-screening walk-outs I’ve ever seen during a TIFF presentation. While it’s admirable that Franco wants to constantly expand his areas of expertise, this project is more of a stain on his ever-expanding CV than anything else.

Things turned around with A Touch of Sin, Jia Zhangke’s masterful survey of those living on China’s fringe, and the desperate measures they attempt to ineffectively free themselves from their damned circumstances. Zhangke won the best screenplay prize at Cannes for this sublime epic, and though it was tempting for me to play the lone contrarian when it came to the much-acclaimed film, it really is as thrilling as everyone says.

I ended things on more of a dispiriting note, though, by catching All Cheerleaders Die. The Lucky McKee film, which I was, er, lucky enough to discuss with the sometimes controversial director on Thursday night, opened this year’s edition of Midnight Madness, but plays more like an homage to the great genre films of festivals past than anything fresh or coherent. With weak characterization across the board, a wildly inconsistent tone (is it a comedy, a horror, a lesbian romance, or a horror-comedy lesbian romance?) this mishmash of The Craft and Bring It On promises much more than it delivers.

The talent: With the majority of my interviews slated for Sunday and Monday, Friday was all about sitting in the air-conditioned dark for a few hours, watching various filmmakers’ visions drift by. (And what air-conditioning it was, especially if you found yourself in the aiming-for-Whitehorse environs of the Scotiabank 13.) However, a gap in the screening schedule did afford me some time to transcribe a quick interview with Megan Park, one of the official “Rising Stars” of this year’s festival.

Park—who by participating in the Rising Stars program gets to immerse herself in both public festival events and industry meetings—stars in the TIFF selection The F Word, one of this year’s several Daniel Radcliffe films premiering at the fest. It’s a breakout role for the Lindsay, Ont.-born actress, who’s currently starring in the ABC Family series, The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Although co-starring in a TIFF production would be enough to make any performer’s CV, Park says it’s the opportunity to explore the inner workings of TIFF that’s truly exciting.

“Not only is it a full-access pass to anything we would want to be involved in with the festival, but it’s also a chance to meet with directors, casting agents and filmmakers to learn how to build up a portfolio,” the 27-year-old says, clearly smart enough to know Hollywood is a game best played with publicists. “It’s the best kind of possible exposure you can get, with meetings that I’d never be able to get on my own.”

As for her role in Radcliffe’s new film, which is directed by the increasingly excellent Canadian filmmaker Michael Dowse (Goon), Park was just thrilled to be a part of the process. “I had seen all the Harry Potters, and it was really intimidating, but Daniel is honestly so down-to-earth and lovely,” she says. “He’s a very serious actor and he wants to be taken very seriously. He knew the script inside out, and he is simply wonderful in the movie.”

So for those hoping for some dirty Radcliffe-gone-wild tales, it appears we’ll have to conjure some gossip magic elsewhere.

The parties: With multiple screenings came multiple parties, so many that they all blurred together around the last-call mark. First up was a post-premiere soiree for Hateship/Loveship, a family drama based on an Alice Munro short story and starring one-time Saturday Night Live-er Kristen Wiig. The party, held at the C Lounge’s Miami-like back patio, was a tastefully muted affair, with the standard “signature cocktails” (peach vodka, which kind of ruined two things) and cruelly miniature hamburgers (calling them sliders doesn’t lessen the sting that you’re getting far less beef than you normally would, does it? It does not.).

Wiig stayed cloistered in a corner for most of the late-afternoon affair, though the real star was a hulking Jason Momoa, who doesn’t appear in the film but likely had no trouble getting through security thanks to his role as Khal Drogo on HBO’s Game of Thrones. I would have approached him if I wasn’t terrified he’d rip my head off in one fell swoop before feasting on my innards. But, from afar, he seemed like a nice guy.

Arguably the hottest ticket of the evening—or, at least, the most complex one—was the Mongrel Media party held in the tucked-away environs of the Evergreen Brickworks. With guests requiring a specially emailed QR code to enter the premises (no mere clipboard list here) the event had assistants running around the entrance with iPads, coolly scanning people’s phones for those elusive bar codes. It was all a bit much considering it’s more of an industry bash than one drowning in out-of-town celebrities. Once inside, though, all the hoop-jumping was worth it, with a massive food area featuring dishes from Holy Chuck burgers, Paulette’s donuts and the pirogi-packed Cafe Polonez.

Besides the excellent eats, the labyrinthine space also boasted a games room complete with air hockey, ping pong and classic arcade video games, live music of varying degrees of tolerability, a hooka lounge, karaoke on request and even a group of Sutherland-Chan massage attendants specially dedicated to offering guests free rubdowns.

But a true TIFFer cannot simply receive a massage, down a few donuts and call it a night, so it was back to the downtown environs later in the evening for a visit to the Soho House, where the cast of Parkland stopped by after their film’s rapturous reception at Roy Thomson Hall. Zac Efron (dreamy!), James Badge Dale (swoony!), Colin Hanks (funny!) and Paul Giamatti (er, also dreamy! In a way!) all mingled and munch on quinoa salad and tuna tartare, with Tom Welling, Rufus Wainwright and True Blood‘s Stephen Moyer also working the Grey Goose-soaked room. The crowd practically swelled to twice its original size once Efron made his way inside, but fortunately, no one broke out into High School Musical song. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Chasing rumours of Radcliffe led me to close the night at the AMC-sponsored Storys cocktail bar down the street, but by the time I arrived, it was clear the Horns/Kill Your Darlings/The F Word star had pulled a disappearing act—although hopefully he avoided the trail of vomit that pasted Duncan Street, thanks to the night’s usual crowd of inebriated university students. Until next time, Potter. Until next time.

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