Pete Hammond

Harvey Weinstein just set a new air, land and sea world record for attending movie premieres. The Weinstein Company mogul managed to show up at three, count ‘em, three different premiere events in two different countries all on Monday night. “Yeah, this was some fun wasn’t it?” he deadpanned when I asked him about his landmark photo-op achievement.

Although he has been in Toronto this week, Weinstein had to go back to New York City on Monday night to attend the premiere of his company’s romantic comedy I Don’t Know How She Does It, which stars Sarah Jessica Parker and opens nationwide Friday. Then it was right back to Canada and two more North American premieres: Madonna’s directorial outing W.E. and the Ralph Fiennes-directed Coriolanus – and he made ito to both post-parties at Soho House. On one floor he was dining with Madonna and her exclusive guest list, then he did a walk-through one floor down at the Coriolanus preem. Then it was back up to the third floor, where he huddled with Jennifer Garner and Olivia Wilde, the stars of yet another Weinstein Company movie, Butter, which premieres here on Tuesday (I saw it in Telluride). I am told they will open the film for a one-week Oscar-qualifying run October 28 and reopen it sometime in early 2012.

As for the Madonna film, which was critically lambasted in Venice, the spin I got from one of its international reps was that it’s really not all that bad. It’s just that it’s not all that good either. There are some nice visual touches, but the material about the romance between King Edward and Wallis Simpson (written by the Material Girl herself) just isn’t all that compelling. My overall impression is that she is to be commended for trying something different with this British period piece, but for someone normally so edgy, this film very much lacks edge. It is undoubtedly an older person’s movie and facing a daunting commercial climb.

Before the film started (a half hour late), Madonna told the hometown crowd, “As you know I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, so I almost feel Canadian. Even when I have been arrested here I had a heck of a time,” she said. At the earlier Monday morning press screening, a paltry crowd of less than 100 reportedly showed up for their first opportunity to see her directing and writing effort. By the time it was finished, less than half remained in the massive 555-seat Scotiabank Theatre. But following the evening screening at the Roy Thomson Hall, the crowd gave Madonna a brief standing ovation before heading for the exits. But it wasn’t the kind of enthusiastic standing applause heard at the Machine Gun Preacher screening just one night earlier.

Speaking of that film, I caught up with its star Gerard Butler after the premiere of his second film at this festival, Coriolanus. The response was far more subdued for that one. “You could hear a pin drop in those final scenes,” he said. He said he was awestruck by Vanessa Redgrave, who should emerge as the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress when this contemporary treatment of one of Shakespeare’s most obscure plays opens later this year. I asked Butler if he was enjoying his festival experience with two different films in play, and he said it would be a lot more fun if he wasn’t stuck in a hotel room all day doing interviews. He does give the city of Toronto high marks though. He reeled off a list of cities he’ll be taking his films to next, beginning with San Francisco, so he’s a busy guy. His next film will be Oscar-winner Curtis Hanson’s surfing drama Mavericks, in which he plays a surfing mentor to a 15-year-old kid. He’s just getting into the surfing training now. I suggested he check out the new Greg McGillivray documentary Hollywood Don’t Surf, which screened at the end of Telluride this year. It’s an enormously entertaining look at the checkered history of Hollywood actors and surfing and could be very instructive for Gerry.

Michael Fassbender is another hot actor with two films at the festival – Shame and A Dangerous Method — and he also showed up at the Weinstein party. He was in their Inglourious Basterds although the boys lost the bidding for Shame to Searchlight. We both hit the fourth-floor ping-pong room at the same time along with his Shame director Steve McQueen, and he told me he was pretty much speechless about getting the Best Actor award for Shame at the Venice Film Festival last weekend. I told him I saw the controversial film on sex addiction at Telluride last week and he said he was really sorry about having to miss that fest — he heard it was great. Fassbender emphasized that he hopes people will appreciate the challenging film the way filmgoers did regularly in the 1970s, before Hollywood lost its creative mojo. He’s very proud of Shame and appreciative that Fox Searchlight had the courage to pick it up.

Another actor with two films to push at TIFF is Jessica Chastain, who gets my award for nicest new star in the business. She waited years for her long list of finished films to actually be seen and now she is doing nothing but traveling around promoting them as they either hit festivals  or come out one after another. She was also at the Weinstein party. Consider The Help and The Debt, which were No. 1 and No. 2 at the box office a week ago. Then there was Wilde Salome with Al Pacino and Texas Killing Fields at Venice and now Coriolanus and Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter at TIFF. And don’t forget about The Tree of Life, which finally got the ball rolling in Cannes earlier this year. Although it has to be a bit of a pain to do all this promotion at once, she’s got a good attitude and sense of humor about it. “I told Jeff Nichols before he hired me on Take Shelter that there is a Chastain curse and if you hire me your movie will never get released, but he said he wanted to take the risk anyway,” she laughed (Take Shelter opens September 30). Chastain is worried that Wilde Salome still doesn’t have a distributor but it should get one eventually. It is Al Pacino after all.

Among other movies premiering here I caught the charming Lasse Hallstrom comedy Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, with two terrific performances from Ewan McGregor  and Emily Blunt. As Deadline broke on Sunday, the film was picked up by CBS Films, which in its young history has been known more for far less charming films including The Back-Up Plan, Beastly and The Mechanic. This will class up the joint and give newly installed Academy member Les Moonves something decent to push to his fellow members. I have heard that they want to turn this film around quickly and get it qualified for awards consideration in 2011, another case of a film taking the Toronto ball and running with it. It may be too whimsical for Oscar but could certainly make a strong Golden Globe run, and maybe even win there.

The Lady was the premiere that followed Madonna’s film tonight at Roy Thomson Hall. It’s director Luc Besson’s true story of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Aung Saan Su Kyi, who became a Burmese resistance leader only to be held under house arrest for 15 years. She was released last year but is still prevented from bringing her people’s struggles against a tyrannical government to the outside world. Perhaps that’s why stars Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis and Besson feel such a sense of urgency to get this film out this year (when Yeoh and Thewlis would be strong Oscar nomination contenders). I talked with all three earlier today and will post the best of that discussion soon, but their hope is that this film’s release will make a real difference  in her situation just as winning the Nobel Peace Prize did, albeit briefly. It’s a real departure for the more action-oriented Besson and played extremely well in its screenings here Monday. I am told there are a couple of likely distributors circling this one already.

Finally, Summit held a post-premiere dinner and party for their 50/50 cancer comedy starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, and Focus threw a sit-down dinner at the Roosevelt Room for their Pariah, a film the distributor will be pushing for Oscars. In light of the success of the Oscar-winning Precious, they could have a real shot, although a top Focus exec likens the movie more to Winter’s Bone, a Best Picture nominee last year. Star Adepero Oduye is a real discovery and in person is nothing like the character she plays in the film. Writer-director Dee Rees said the ride since Sundance has been wild but well worth it.

The ride at TIFF has been wild too, but everything good has to come to an end. I’m heading back to L.A. for Emmy week, but I will continue to keep my eye on Toronto. A wrap of all the fall fests will come after TIFF winds down this weekend.

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