THE BLOG
09/10/2010 04:46 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Woody Allen's Ensemble Comedy Shines in Toronto

We so do NOT like change. We (editorial "we," as the right-wing pundits use it) realized this on arriving at the newly relocated Toronto Film Festival. You see, mastering a film fest is no simple matter. It requires cunning, forbearance, the bladder of a camel, a good sense of direction, and sharp elbows -- and the thing is, after several years, I had the old festival on Bloor Street around the posh Yorkville area nailed. But the city elders have anointed downtown Toronto as the New Entertainment Section. Anchoring it is the almost-completed TIFF Bell Lightbox, an immense glass complex and one-stop cinephile's paradise, ten years in the making, that will house screenings, gallery shows, exhibitions, workshops, multimedia events and more.

Meanwhile we journos must navigate the sketchy streets of Toronto's Entertainment Section. Shawarma and "Jerk" joints abound, along with a shady facade near my hotel called Mansion with a cash machine in its heart. Hard to find a place for breakfast, too. I stumbled over the trolley tracks towards a hole in the wall only to be greeted by a waiter who seemed surprised I wanted food. No one seemed to understand the word "cereal."

Then there's the Scotiabank Theater, the temporary -- let's pray -- venue for press screenings. The place suggests a Third World fantasy of American trendiness and cool. From the lobby's ceiling dangles a hideous space invader thing-y and a three-story escalator bears you to a concourse of slanting, undulating levels and glinting disco balls, not recommended for those with vertigo issues. This venue is free of anything remotely healthy to consume -- in fact, the array of pizza, burger, and pretzel and mustard fare -- plus enough sweets to trigger a hypoglycemic coma -- play like shorthand for the American diet.

Most astonishing, in a theater that can seat upwards of two thousand souls, I could find only one bathroom. Elephants get better treatment. The solution might be to just scatter newspaper shavings in strategic corners. The TIFF volunteers offer good will and smiles -- but ask them the whereabouts ("whereaboats" in Canadian) of something and they'll say, Good question!

Oh yeah, the movies. I'm here to tell you that with You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Woody Allen is in terrific form -- in fact, the best in years. With the usual white titles on black, oldie "When You Wish Upon a Star" tinkling on the soundtrack, you relax back in your seat and happily surrender to Woody-land. A voice-over instantly takes charge to relate a story of two London-based couples with adulterous itches. Josh Brolin is bashing away at a new novel without much success, while wife Naomi Watts works for elegant art gallerist Antonio Banderas. Brolin has the hots for neighboring guitarist Freida Pinto, while Watts covets her boss. The kinks and twists in the characters' destiny amuse without flagging. You will love the scene in which Watts does her damndest to convey her attraction to Banderas, who maddeningly refuses even to acknowledge that she's coming on to him. It's a brilliant new bit in Woody's gallery of miscommunicating couples.

Yet another story concerns a senior, Anthony Hopkins, who has dumped his wife to pursue fitness and who eventually marries a hooker. Easy laughs and Viagra jokes here, but Hopkins lends them gravitas. Of course, this being Woody-land, Hopkins has been prompted to alter his life by a vision of eternity yawning before him, impelling him to live it up NOW. (Cue Larry David in Whatever It Takes who wakes up at night exclaiming "the horror, the horror.") Who but Woody can make fear of death so consistently entertaining? Meanwhile, Hopkins' abandoned wife has fallen prey to a fortune teller who believes in reincarnation. By film's end the lives of the characters are pretty much in a shambles. With one exception: a character who has bought peace and fulfillment by abandoning reason and living entirely in illusion. A sardonic denouement, but delivered with the lightest of touches.

More tomorrow on Darren Aronofsky's controversial The Black Swan.