Saturday, September 10th, 2005

Never Was

There’s precious little information available for my one and only Film Fest screening this year, a film called Neverwas by first-time director Joshua Michael Stern. It hardly rates as a “small” picture though, with a very solid cast including Aaron Eckhart, Sir Ian McKellen, Brittany Murphy, Nick Nolte, William Hurt, Jessica Lange and Alan Cumming. I guess it’s just so far off from a proper theatrical release – this was the world premiere – that they haven’t gotten any sort of PR machine working yet. I wasn’t able to find any information on the film besides what TIFF had on their own site. No idea if this is a greatly anticipated film by anyone or if it’s completely flying under the radar, and that sort of mystery is part of the fun of the Film Festival.

It’s about a psychiatrist (Eckhart) whose father (Nolte) was the author of a much-beloved childrens book, Neverwas. Though he’s spent most of his life trying to escape his father’s legacy and shadow, he chooses to take a job at a mental institution where his father spent his last days. There, he meets a patient (McKellan) with some mysterious ties to his father and his work… and hilarity ensues. No, not really. It’s a very earnest, open-hearted film and that leaves it open to some somewhat cliched moments. It’s also not helped by the direction, which is rather obvious and lacking in subtlety and nuance, and some underdeveloped or cookie-cutter characters. Jessica Lange in particular is wasted and Nick Nolte is convincing as a mental patient (shock!) but not as much as a man who could write a children’s book. And as always, Brittany Murphy is just annoying.

But these shortcomings – which I’m willing to forgive for a rookie directorial effort – are outweighed by a simply amazing performance by Sir Ian McKellan. The main story of Eckhart’s psychiatrist (who I swear was separated at birth from Six Feet Under’s Peter Krause) trying to unravel his own personal history with McKellan’s mental patient is nothing short of riveting. In the hands of a lesser actor, McKellan’s role could have been a nightmare of overacting and scenery-chewing, but he instead makes his character fascinating and inscrutable, slowly revealing himself as he connects with Eckhart. Whenever he’s on screen, you can’t take your eyes off him. The final scene in particular is marvelous, as he utterly transforms himself with no more than a slouch. Never Was is worth seeing for his performance, if nothing else.

Celeb sightings – the director was in attendance, obviously, as were Nolte, Eckhart and Cumming. A shame McKellan wasn’t there because he should have – and would have – gotten a 20-minute standing ovation. And try as I did, I could not come up with an interesting title for this post. Alas.

Exciting news – the tracks from Galaxie 500’s two John Peel Sessions in 1989 and 19909 will finally be getting a proper release courtesy of Damon & Naomi’s own 20-20-20 label. You can pre-order it now $10.98 plus shipping – it’s out November 14. Meanwhile, in Luna-land, Rhino will be assembling a compilation for the departed outfit, but it won’t be one of their excellent rarities-and-hits combos, just the best-of. Look for that sometime around March, and the farewell tour documentary (currently working titled Tell Me Do You Miss Me) could be out around the same time.

Losing Today has an interview with Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom (Pete Kember to his mom).

Sadly, it seems that rumours of Ear To the Ground’s troubles are true, though their full extent remain to be seen. What is known is that the festival has been reduced in scope (with dance and theatre components apparent casualties) and the festival no longer being held at Exhibition Place. How organizers will manage to shoehorn in all or even some of the acts into other venues in such short notice remains to be seen (though they’re trying), though that might be less difficult than weathering the PR nightmare that is sure to follow. It’s a real shame that things have had to shake out this way – even if they salvage the musical performances, it’ll be a far cry from the giant one-stop multi-disciplinary arts festival it was initially hoping to be.

Comic Book Resources talks to Justice League Unlimited writer Dwayne McDuffie about what is, for my money, the best animated comic book adaptation ever. Of all time. The good news is that the new season starts up later this month (September 17 to be exact), the bad news is that STILL no one is saying those magic words, “complete season DVD set”. I’m sorry, those measly 3-episode discs don’t cut it. I want em ALL. With commentary from Batman.

np – Crooked Fingers / Red Devil Dawn

By : Frank Yang at 10:19 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Super Gay Hero says:

    Ian makes us all proud to be gay.

  2. TS says:

    Hmmm…festivals like ETTG need to start small, then build. Methinks it was a wee bit ambitious to start big. (i.e., look at Hillside as an example).

  3. Frank says:

    TS – exactly right, and it’s too bad because now people will be reluctant to participate or attend any future events, no matter how much better it’s organized.

  4. CL says:

    In hindsight, the problems with the festival were a combination of starting a little too big and lack of financial support. People were seemingly very excited about the festival, but just not buying tickets. Being a new project, we needed people to buy their tickets in advance in order to operate and they just didn’t. Having said that, fundraising for a project this size and trying to maintain "indie" ideals was a very difficult thing to do. It also didn’t help that the venue — despite being donated — was still extremely expensive to operate at. We were actually doing quite well until it came time to rely on ticket sales for cash flow. Then the problems began.

    Toronto is such a tough marketplace that you almost need to start big in order to get noticed, which means only projects with heavy corporate backing get seen. This was a damned-if-we-do, damned-if-we-don’t situation. If we start small, no one would give a shit, and if we start big, we, well… end up like this. Strangely enough, we’ve gotten way more attention from the collapse of the project, than from the idea, and people were hearing about its cancellation as far away as Vancouver, even though it has never been officially cancelled.

    Hillside is not an entirely fair comparison because it started at a very different time and place. Guelph is not Toronto, and this is not 1983. Many people have said (and I tend to agree) that this festival in any other mid-sized Ontario city (preferably a university town) with little else going on would have been a huge success. The fight for financial support in Toronto is just too great — which is why many indie projects tend to start small, and then stay that way.

    One thing I know for sure is that I’ve been quite soured on the whole experience and realize now that only the most commercial events will ever dominate this city. I also agree that this whole thing will have ramifications on the entire scene, as people will be reluctant to participate in or try anything like this ever again.

    By the way, the PR nightmare began for us a week ago, and has not stopped. We’re doing these shows next weekend because there are artists who had planned entire tours around this and people who had sunk large sums of money into it. At least the losses won’t be quite so great.

    The idea is still a good one, but it will probably never see the light of day again.

  5. Frank says:

    Hi CL

    Thanks for chiming in. I’m really sorry to hear about how this all went down, and it’s probably not worth much but if I was around, that would have been one more ticket sold. Good luck and I hope you manage to salvage as much out of this as possible.

  6. dd says:

    CL..sorry to hear your festival is not going so well but I think the starting small comments were right…and the whole "commercial" and "corporate" thing is a bit of BS.

    that huge modest mouse island show was 100% indie

    NO corporate backing, NO commercial sponsers and well NO govenment funding or paypal donations either…maybe you should have asked the organizers of that or Hillside for advice.

    most of the promoters in this city(other than HOB) that do big shows are "indie"..and have been at it for many years..just because something is at the koolhaus does not mean it is "corporate" or "commercial" means the band that may have played the rivoli three years ago now has enough fans to play a big venue now…

  7. CL says:

    I was talking about festivals, not music promoters. Putting together a multi-disciplinary festival is not the same as staging a concert with 3 or 4 acts. And both Pizza Pizza and Molson were at the Modest Mouse show.

    Hillside receives a ton of government funding, as well.

    All of the major festivals in Toronto are fairly commercial in nature. There are a few smaller ones — like the Fringe, for example, that are thriving on a slightly smaller scale, but even they need a lot of funding and sponsors to survive.