My 2012 Toronto baptism wasn't one of fire, unless you count the fire threatening to shoot down my back standing on the sidewalk as part of the crowd swarming at 8 p.m. in preparation for Thursday's scheduled 9 p.m. screening of "On the Road" that, because of technical issues, didn't get rolling until 10 p.m.
It's nothing new — I'm approaching the 20th anniversary of nearly crippling myself while spending hours standing on the AstroTurf at Three Rivers Stadium before Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, Barry Bonds' last home game in a Pittsburgh uniform. Someone needs to put these Toronto lineups on natural grass.
Anyway, the delay was part of a domino effect that also knocked back the Jason Reitman-led live reading of "American Beauty," with Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Adam Driver, Mae Whitman, Sarah Gadon, Nick Kroll and Paul Scheer in the principal roles. That I missed, but the reactions were enthusiastic — and intrigued by the higher level of comedy the performances generated.
When "On the Road" was finally poised to roll, director Walter Salles was on hand to thank the crowd for its patience. This is a paraphrase, but Salles referenced a Jack Kerouac line about journeying a thousand miles for a reward, putting the hourlong wait in perspective.
Unfortuntately, the post-Cannes revision of "On the Road" didn't quite seem to justify a thousand-mile journey. Craziness abounded, but some of it came across as out of left field, regardless of how it would have seemed in the original Kerouac work, and all in all, the whole seemed to be less than the sum of its parts.
I can offer unequivocal praise for my first two Friday screenings. First, the Chilean-set, Pablo Larrain-directed "No," starring Gael Garcia Bernal in a based-on-a-true-story about how a TV ad man became a key player in challenging the Pinochet dictatorship, was just plain interesting and offered depth without hammering you with it — a challenge achieved that mirrored that of Bernal's character.
Then came the luminous adaptation of "Dangerous Liasons" (above) from Hur Jin-Ho, starring Zhang Ziyi, Jang-Dung-gin and — I'm gonna just say it — breathtaking Cecilia Chung. We've seen this story seemingly hundreds of times, but this rendition felt anything but stale. For pure enjoyment, it jumped ahead among my first three Toronto movies, though the gala premiere of "Argo" will have a chance to top it later this evening.
The players keep sorting each other out, but some potential MVPs still await their moment to take the field.