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Senseless sensibility 

Halifax-like weather kept the city at a grumpy boil today.

In the morning I crossed the street too early and ended up walking against the flow of the annual Walk for breast cancer, thousands and thousands of people, mostly women, ponchoed out and in high spirits despite the weather and earlyish hour.

I took the escalator to the top of the Cumberland Theatre, its confounding beehive-like structure even moreso considering I’d forgotten to get coffee, for Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Tour, a documentary about the actor’s 30-day, 30-city stand-up trek through the US last fall.

It’s one of the sparser screenings I’ve attended but people laugh to kill themselves throughout. The doc gets some lucky gravity when the latter half of it visits areas hit by hurricanes Rita and Katrina. (A blatant attempt to exploit this falls flat when the four comics on the tour head to a campground where about 200 displaced citizens are staying to hand out tickets to that night’s show in Alabama. Vaughn does not accompany them.)

It’s about 20 minutes too long, worth nothing more than a special on HBO, but it’s an interesting portrait of four up-and-comers and how a break like this could help the careers they want so badly.

Walking to get a coffee on Yorkville Avenue, the rain has stopped. I exit the Second Cup and notice there’s an SUV parked on an angle on the curb and there’s a paparazzo pointing a lens that would make NASA embarrassed at something behind me.

I turn to see who I think is Kevin Spacey, in a crappy jacket and baseball hat, descending some stairs leading from a tailor shop.

The dude fires off photos as I re-route, trying to stay out of the way. I turn back to confirm that it is Spacey, and we make eye contact -- he probably remembers me from the Shoe Shop that one time five years ago -- and he does his best to look blank. I’ve got headphones on and my hands are full; there’s no way I’m infringing on his privacy (well, until now) so I give a sympathetic shrug. He looks back blankly and steps into a nearby car, the door held open by a driver in a vest.

Next: press conference hell!

When I first started coming here, press conferences were held in a spacious room at the Four Seasons. This year and last they’ve been crammed into a tiny conference spot in a hotel on Bay Street -- last year it was called the Intercontinental, now it’s Sutton Place -- which barely holds the row of video cameras plus the platoon of paparazzos.

These guys all have really expensive jeans.

I find a seat in the third row, in a cluster of mostly European journalists. The conference is for The Good Year, a new comedy from Ridley Scott starring Russell Crowe.

The room is packed to capacity -- I find out later that an adjoining room was also full with the conference on a live feed -- and because of all the lights it’s pretty fucking hot.

A guy two seats away from me is reprimanded by a lady with hair like the chick in the Philadelphia Cream Cheese ads.

“I’m sorry sir but that seat can’t be there,” she says. “You have to put it back where it was.”

I didn’t see him pull it up but he must have because he immediately goes on the defense. “Well, you don’t have enough seats for press,” he says, gesturing to the couple dozen paparazzo asses pointed at us. (There are also three in the back with signs that say “Reserved for 20th Century Fox.”)

I can see her fighting to remain civil. “There are a finite number of seats and it is first-come, first-served,” she says.

“Well I don’t understand how it’s so poorly organized,” he retorts. “Why is it in this tiny room?”

“This is the room we use for press conferences,” she says. Then she gives up and walks away. Score one for the little dudes.

A nearby lightning storm signals the arrival of the “talent.” Crowe is dressed in crappy sweatpants and a zip-up that says “South Sydney.” He looks like they just pulled him out of the hotel gym.

The first 20 minutes is hogged by moderator Henri Behar, an insufferable dope whose job, as far as I can tell, is to travel the world moderating movie press conferences. Lucky bastard. The woman to my right is practically apoplectic -- “Is this conference for him or us?” she asks me, as if I can answer that.

It’s all pretty standard -- how did you like filming in France, why comedy, how do you do so many accents, et cetera.

The guy on the left knows Jodie Foster. The guy on the right directed Thelma and Louise.

Forty minutes later the Stranger Than Fiction conference starts, and it makes the whole day worth it.

Emma Thompson, Will Ferrell and Dustin Hoffman are all in great spirits and equally eloquent, irreverent and hilarious. “Who will give one dollar for even 30 seconds of Will’s George Bush impression?” Hoffman asks.

The room responds in kind.

Ferrell doesn’t bite.

“Sorry,” Hoffman says.

Hoffman, notoriously prickly, is quite frank about his dissatisfaction with the way his career is going. “I started off playing supporting roles,” he says, “and now I’m back to playing supporting roles.”

A small, older Japanese man asks Ferrell how he likes doing drama as well as comedy. Before I answer that, I have to ask you something,” the actor replies. “How do you stay so trim?”

Someone asks Thompson if her two Oscars have changed her life. “They say Oscar winners live longer,” she replies. “Every one accounts for eight years, so we’ll both” -- she points to Hoffman, who also has two -- “live to be 128.”

At the end Darryl James comes up to me. You may remember him from his awesome Coast photos but he lives in Portland, Oregon now. He’s here working for Getty images. “Gotta go stake out my real estate, as they say,” he says, moving up to the front for the next round.

Outside it’s cold and gray, just the way I like it. Across from the hotel I run into Walter Forsyth from AFCOOP, here putting together the documentary Cubers, about Rubik’s Cube professionals/obsessees. As we’re chatting a nerd with a video camera comes running around the corner from the hotel, and soon Vince Vaughn, six foot five and in a black suit, strides into view.

He moves too fast for me to dig out my camera, and there’s commotion as they lead him through the back entrance.

“Hey! Hey!” one of the bodyguard dudes yells at the charging people.

Vaughn gets into the building without incident. The general consensus is that he looks better in person. Thinner than expected.

After a quick bite I join a ridiculous line for All the King’s Men. There’s another screening at 10:30 tonight but apparently everyone’s got better things to do. (Including me, I’m going to see Rogue Wave.) it’s the worst line I’ve ever seen in my three years here, stretching from front to back and doubling on itself four times.

Scott Brown from Entertainment Weekly walks up beside me. “What’s this line for?”

All the King’s Men,” I reply. “I guess no one wants to go to the 10:30.”

He eyes the line. “Guess not,” he says. “Thank you.” He walks away.

A woman in front of me asks me to hold her coffee while she gets her crap in order. “I haven’t eaten all day,” she says. “Even this coffee tastes good.”

She’s a freelance Australian journalist and explains Crowe’s craptastic outfit to me. “He wears the same clothes every time so it lowers the value of the photos,” she says, which is actually quite clever. She was in the live feed room for the Good Year conference and has no more time for Monsieur Behar than I do. “We call him a pretentious git,” she declares.

Eventually I get in. To pass the time I start going through the photos on my digital camera, deleting the bad ones.

A man in a security jacket comes up to me. “I’m sorry ma’am, there are no cameras allowed in here,” he says. “Can you put it in your bag?”

I comply because that’s what I do. Then he makes the woman next to me turn off her Blackberry, which sets her off on a tangent about why we’re not prepared for terrorism.

The movie starts with a wrecking-ball score from James Horner, announcing that this is Oscar Bait, Goddammit, hoping that we all forget it was supposed to be Oscar bait last year.

The cast is out of control -- Sean Penn as an honest man turned dirty when he becomes governor of Louisiana; Jude Law as a reporter-turned-staffer; Patricia Clarkson as another staffer who’s sleeping with Penn; James Gandolfini as the duplicitous Lieutenant Governor; Kate Winslet as the girl Law has always loved and Mark Ruffalo as her troubled doctor brother.

Too bad they’re in a ponderous mess peppered with ridiculous lines and overwrought symbolism. Written (“for the screen,” fuck I hate that pretentious credit) and directed by Steven Zaillian, All the King’s Men really wants to be About Something and provide some commentary on the current political climate, but mostly it’s just dudes sitting around talking, the women being wasted and Penn screaming his damn head off.

It’s fairly terrible, but as the year’s Prestige Picture to beat, there’s no way it won’t be showered with -- undeserved, trust me -- critics awards and Oscar nominations, and that is a damn shame.


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