Toronto Opening: Shangri-La Hotel

With a “phantom” opening cleverly orchestrated in time for the Toronto Film Festival, Toronto’s Shangri-La is now prepped to welcome those not necessarily hunted by the paparazzi.

Taking up just 17 floors of a spectacular new 66-story tower, the Shangri-La’s guests are greeted by Zhang Huan’s epic, stainless steel Rising sculpture, leading to a light-flooded lobby and loung adorned with stunning Chinese calligraphy paintings. The artistic flourishes continue on into The Bar, which features 180 hand-blown overhead glass fixtures. Jean Paul Lourdes, um, lords over the intimate Bosk restaurant, which proffers Asian-influenced international cuisine. Eastern aesthetic accents prevail throughout the hotel, including some particularly extravagant repros of Chinese Emperor chairs. The Health Club features chandeliers, natural light, and a 20-meter saltwater lap pool. As close to “paradise” as the name suggests.

Dispatch from Toronto Film Festival: Exploring Toronto’s Film Locations

Thanks to Michael Cera and Scott Pilgrim vs The World, movie goers finally get to see a bit more of Toronto. Torontonians viewers will recognize Canadian chains in the movie, like Pizza! Pizza! and Second Cup on Bloor Street (next to Honest Ed’s, a major institution), and experience that short-lived high we get when we see, say, Bereket Kebab House on Houston Street in Coyote Ugly (bad example, bad movie, but you get the idea).

Toronto is the third largest movie production city in the world (after Los Angeles and New York City), but quite frankly, that’s about all they get in terms of cinematic chops. Everything that’s shot here is made to look like it takes place in LA or NYC or somewhere else. Remember when the mayor of Chicago wrote that angry article about Chicago being filmed entirely in Toronto? Toronto Stole Chicago, was his big gripe. But it’s not like Toronto wants to be known as the city that looks like a burlesque club circa 1920s America, either. Or the West Village. Or a Northeastern Ivy League campus, for that matter. Toronto wouldn’t mind a little screen time, eh? After all, they gave us Michael J. Fox.

With that in mind, two thumbs up to Scott Pilgrim for giving the city the set-love it deserves, and for giving the world a hilarious Canadian flick (the writer is Torontonian, after all). If you happen to be in Toronto and want to check out some prominent film locations for major Hollywood movies (filmed, but not based, in Toronto), check out these spots.

Casa Loma: Iconic castle/mansion where X-Men was filmed (you’ll walk the halls where Wolverine ran from the snipers, and see the living area for the Charles Xavier Academy. Also filmed here: The Tuxedo, Extreme Measures, and, um, The Pacifier with Vin Diesel (among many other films).

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Fairmont Royal York: This hotel, built in 1929, has weathered many cinematic storms. It’s home to 25 films per year, and includes the majestic lobby, where you can

University of Toronto campus: The Skull, Resident Evil 2, Mean Girls, the original Black Christmas.

Dispatch from Toronto Film Festival: Uma, The Fonz, & Free Booze

Apparently it takes but one word for me to forfeit tickets to both John Carpenter’s new horror flick and the American remake of the Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In: Uma. In truth, I hadn’t really attended many evening events here in Toronto, so when the opportunity to check out celebs in the after-hours arose, I considered checking out the scene. This brought me and a friend to Brassaii, the location for Uma Thurman’s private dinner following the screening of her new movie, Ceremony. And when I say private, I mean a super intimate, no-more-than-50-people party.

My friend and I arrived early, and retreated to the outdoor patio to drink free wine. Just as Uma arrived, a waitress spilled all the drinks on her tray (another waitress defended her, saying it was hard to serve cocktails in high heels on cobblestone). Uma was amused by this, and said something to the effect of “you’re cut off,” breezing right into the restaurant. A small crowd had started to gather when my friend pointed out a “celebrity” with a beard. Having no trained eye for picking out the famous, I studied him and said, “That guy looks like someone who would go to my gym,” a $30-a-month deal in the Lower East Side. Turns out it was Judd Apatow.

We finally wandered inside, where somehow we missed the entrance of Henry Winkler—The Fonz—who sat at a table, his hair as white as Christmas. The director of Ceremony is actually his son Max, an adorable little guy with a freakishly similar resemblance to his father. Cameras were strictly verboten, and everyone began to sit for dinner.

Since we’d already eaten, we walked a few blocks over to the new Thompson Toronto hotel, where Maple Pictures was having an event at Scarpetta, the hotel’s restaurant. While there were no famous celebrities to stalk here, we still enjoyed the free booze until there was no more elbow room at either of the two bars. It got so packed we got sticky, and made our great escape early enough to see that the line outside was almost as bad as it was at Danny Boyle’s screening.

Dispatch from Toronto Film Festival: Tokyo Police Club & Canadian Film Center

It was one of those nights where you get home at 5am and hit snooze on your Blackberry until 1pm. If you’ve never experienced this, I don’t recommend trying. Anyway, I was cutting it close to completely missing CFC’s Annual BBQ. CFC—Canadian Film Center—is a reputable institution in Toronto that offers advanced training and production in film, TV, and media. And they throw one hell of a party. Because it was more of a “Canadian” experience than a clusterfuck of international industry folk, I decided to miss the screening of Dustin Lance Black’s new film, What’s Wrong with Virginia?, and high-tail it up to North York, a posh residential area just north of downtown.

As soon as I arrived, I was introduced to prominent Canadian actors, directors, producers, and screenwriters, all of whom packed the outdoor, green-grass garden of the CFC while the local band, Tokyo Police Club—one of my favorites and an appropriate band for the function—played live on the deck. Despite the brisk weather, it was an event that couldn’t have been more streamlined: effortless access to open bar, free food, cool Canadians just being cool Canadians with seemingly no ulterior motives. It was a nice moment, a truly underrated event, where I found myself casually drinking a beer in what felt like your best-friend’s backyard, all the while knowing I was supporting a good cause.

The annual CFC BBQ raised more than $200,000 in support of their training programs. Let’s churn out some great Torontonian filmmakers, CFC!

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Dispatch from The Toronto Film Festival: Danny Boyle Has Feelings

One must have a really good reason to miss New York City Fashion Week (including the debauchery of Fashion’s Night Out), and for me it was hopping on a short, hour-long flight to attend the 35th annual Toronto International Film Festival. TIFF, as locals call it, kicked off last Thursday, but it didn’t pick up heat til Friday. Thousands of industry folk and movie lovers flocked to the metropolitan city, known to be one of the top film production destinations in the world. It’s 11 days of exclusive events, 300 films and—naturally—a score of celebrity sightings. Truth be told, the last movie I saw was The Crazies, if that’s any indication of how frequently I make it to the movies. So I was glad this trip would primarily involve catching up with my old friend cinema and checking out the latest films, which may or may not get picked up by a distributor.

My first screening choice was rather ambitious. I went to check out 127 Hours, the new film by Academy Award-winner Danny Boyle, even though I knew the line-up would be a shitshow, considering the memorable films he’s delivered like Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, and Trainspotting. And—surprise!—it was a shitshow. Loyal fans in the industry started lining up early at Scotiabank Theater, and then there was a technical problem that delayed the screening. As friends and co-workers continued to cut in line before me, beefing it up substantially and adding to the chaos, others simply left, considering we had already been waiting an hour. At the two-hour mark, the line started to move. Even though the screening room held more than 500 seats, I was fortunate enough to be one of the last ten people to barely make the cut (I do genuinely feel bad for those behind me that waited hours for nothing).

Of course, being picked last, my only seat option was the very front row. I’m the type of guy who likes to sit in the last row, and before I began checking my Blackberry for alternative movie options in the same theater complex, I was thrown off by the sound of applause. I looked up to see Danny Boyle standing literally in front of me. He appeared with deep apologies for the technical difficulties. It was something about subtitles or opening another room or something else I can’t remember—I wasn’t really listening, a little dumbfound that one of my favorite directors was standing so close I could see his nose hairs.

In any case, the movie started, James Franco may get an Oscar nod, and I left the theater (not 127 hours later, thank goodness) feeling 100-percent confident that the screening was well worth the wait.

Dispatch from Toronto Film Festival: “The Town” the Most Buzzing Flick in Town

The last time I ran into a celebrity in a public bathroom was back in 1998, when Blur played a sold-out show in Atlanta. I had been home for summer break, watched the band perform, and afterward driven my friend, who was flying back to Boston the next day, to the airport. It was her lucky day: Blur was on her flight. Maybe it was my lucky day, too, as I ran into Damon Albarn at the Hartsfield Airport Terminal B bathroom and congratulated him on the show, swooning the whole drive home. My most recent celebrity bathroom run-in? Jeremy Renner at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall, where the premier of his new movie—The Town—was held this past weekend. Renner wasn’t my only celebrity encounter that night, either. During the screening, I found myself seated between Edward Norton and Channing Tatum, while an unusually red-faced Greg Kinnear sat just a few rows away. The Town, debuting in theaters on September 17, is Ben Affleck’s new Hollywood blockbuster, a crime thriller that he directed and stars in. Before the movie began, he came out with co-stars Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Blake Lively (who surprisingly plays the “ugly role” real well in the film) to introduce the film.

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Crowds waited in the rainy night outside the theater for celebrity red-carpet entrances. Post-screening, Belve-doused afterparty options abounded. Hayden Christensen was hosting an event at Ultra, Mickey Rourke was partying at Cabin Five, and other parties were dispersed throughout the city’s hot-spots. But I’d had my fair share of celebrity run-ins and headed back to Fairmont Royal York, where I didn’t even have to do a double-take when I spotted True Blood‘s Jason Stackhouse in the lobby. It looks like Toronto is the new Tinseltown (for eleven days, that is).

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