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TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Aniston manages to endure it

September 10, 2008|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

TORONTO -- An appearance by a star of the magnitude of Jennifer Aniston can certainly be a force to be reckoned with and really does change the temperature of the room. There she was at the intimate Isabel Bader Theatre for the world premiere of her romantic comedy "Management," costarring Steve Zahn, and the crowd was abuzz.

In an unusual announcement by organizers at the screening before Sunday's Q&A session, the audience was told twice that questions should pertain to the film and that those of a personal nature would not be answered. Once Aniston, Zahn and writer-director Stephen Belber took the stage, it seemed as if half the people in the room had a cellphone or digital camera parked in front of their face, beeping and clicking and whirring. The first few rows were shoulder-to-shoulder with souvenir takers and amateur paparazzi.

If it all seemed a little much, sure enough, the second question came from a man in the front row who announced he had a letter that he wanted to give Aniston. There were a few moments of awkward tension before Zahn cheerily piped in, "I'll take it." It still took a few minutes for the session to feel back on track. Aniston, for her part, seemed just a little shocked, more embarrassed really, and dealt with the moment with what can only be described as a certain warm steeliness. Just another day in the celebrity factory for one of the world's most famous people.

Playwright Belber's feature film debut is perhaps more Sundance quirky-cute than Toronto sober-serious, but that also makes it a somewhat breezy change of pace. Based on the emotionally convincing performances by its two leads, "Management," about the relationship between an art dealer (Aniston) and a motel worker (Zahn) who falls for her, largely holds up. Every time I felt my interest waning, a moment would come along that would lure me back in.

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'Might Get Loud' isn't too piercing

Most people think of "An Inconvenient Truth" as "the Al Gore movie," but that of course is not entirely the case. It was directed by Davis Guggenheim, who has a new film here at Toronto called "It Might Get Loud." Ostensibly some sort of exploration of creativity and guitar (or something like that), it's basically just an excuse to throw Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, U2's the Edge and Jack White from the White Stripes and the Raconteurs all on screen together.

If there is meant to be some sort of through line to the film, it does not hold, and so while there are certainly plenty of moments that make the film worthwhile, it simply doesn't add up to more. Guggenheim has chosen to shoot the film in a sort of epic portraiture style reminiscent of the photography of Annie Leibovitz, but that only serves to highlight the stunted strangeness of the situations and make the film seem somehow phony even as the participants are trying to explain themselves honestly. The scenes of the three musicians together on a Los Angeles soundstage are especially off-balance, as none of the trio seems to want to show up the others, while still wanting to hold their own. Only a three-way version of Led Zep's "In My Time of Dying," with all of them on slide guitar, comes off as fresh and genuine.

It's tough perhaps to pick a winner in that contest. But it is clear who comes off the worst in the film. That would be the Edge, who often seems pompous and self-serious. Much is made of the Edge's mastery of guitar effects, and his huge racks of gizmos and foot pedals are frequently shown, but not much effort is made to explain what does what.

Similar to the recent trend of "famous person talking to famous person" like the Sundance Channel's "Iconoclasts" show, there is a lack of deeper inquiry here that keeps the film from taking off. That said, no self-respecting music nerd would not want to see the room where Page stores his record collection or find delight in seeing him dig out a 45 of Link Wray's "Rumble" and then strum air guitar with a huge grin on his face.

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Maher gives thanks for Palin

A small group of protesters paraded outside the world premiere of "Religulous," the comedic inquiry of religious faith directed by Larry Charles and starring Bill Maher, Saturday night at the Ryerson Theatre. Waving placards with the slogans "Pray for Bill," "Don't Mock My Religion" and "Hate + Fear = Religulous," the dozen or so protesters marched in a small circle near -- but at a safe remove from -- the front doors of the auditorium before and after the screening.

Inside, the film was met with a standing ovation. Among the first questions during the post-screening Q&A was whether the filmmakers had hired the protesters. "It wouldn't have been so lame if I had hired them," came Maher's withering response.

Maher continued to say he'd been assailed by all sorts of groups, including those who believe President Bush was involved in the destruction of the World Trade Center.

"Which I prove is not true because it worked," he added.

After Maher noted that he is also reviled by Australians for a Halloween costume he was photographed wearing that poked fun at the death of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, a decidedly Aussie-sounding voice shouted from the crowd, "I love you though, mate!"

Maher made a few jokes about Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin both before and after the film. During the Q&A he looked upward and added, "Thank you, God, for that woman."

When asked if their movie, which opens Oct. 3, was intentionally being timed to come out just before the presidential election, Charles noted dryly, "It's a miracle."

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For more on the Toronto International Film Festival, go to latimes.com/toronto.

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