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Into the wild nights with Harrelson, Penn and Alba

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

At the same time that cineastes gathered at Roy Thomson Hall for last night's gala screening, a solid mix of Toronto's fashionable and fascinating took to their seats to watch a 45th-anniversary presentation of Valentino, an Italian fashion house with a long-standing reputation for dressing Hollywood's biggest names. The tent, erected in the former CHUM headquarters at 229 Queen St. W., was a simulacrum of New York's Bryant Park tents as FashionTelevision's Jeanne Beker pointed out. "It's the real deal," she said, having just returned from the spring/summer collections.

And just as in New York, where boldface names stud the front row, this Valentino show boasted a few. L.A. journalist George Christy, giving one last hug to all his Toronto friends until next year; homegrown supermodel Monica Schnarre and Canada's Next Top Model Rebecca Hardy and actress Kristin Booth. Stephen Dorff, fresh from the screening of his movie, The Passage, popped into the swelligent cocktail reception leading up to the 13-minute show (yes, they're always that short). Mr. Dorff, more polished than usual, mentioned he's preparing for a new role which requires being diligent about food and fitness. TIFF, as I can attest, makes that very difficult. "I couldn't believe I ate at McDonald's today," he said. "I feel lucky to get a complete meal, let alone more than four hours of shut-eye."

At 3 o'clock on Monday morning, Woody Harrelson voiced what everyone dancing in the Park Hyatt's Roof II Lounge must have been feeling: "The party is just beginning."

Who would have expected Jessica Alba to stop by as late as 3:15, sharing a few words with mogul Harvey Weinstein; didn't she need her beauty sleep?

When I left an hour later, Sean Penn remained deeply engrossed in conversation with the lovely Catherine Keener. They weren't alone: nearby sat Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder and actress Deborah Kara Unger. Call it Pearl Jam Shaking Hands with the Devil (the Canadian actress plays Emma in the Roméo Dallaire autobiography).

I suggested yesterday that the private party for Mr. Penn's newest opus, Into the Wild, starring Vince Vaughn and Emile Hirsch, could be one of the week's highlights, but I had no idea it would be this much fun.

So let's backtrack a little.

I arrived at 12:30 and presumed I was early, given that the business card-sized invitation called for drinks at midnight. But Hollywood clearly does not believe in being fashionably late.

Within minutes, I spotted the host (seated with a drink in hand), Jena Malone (who plays Mr. Hirsch's sister), David Schwimmer and buddy Joey Slotnick (Nip/Tuck), Marcia Gay Harden, Ben Affleck (off duty after a stellar auctioneer performance for One X One) and Geoffrey Rush, again. I mentioned that this was becoming a regular occurrence to which he responded, "As it should be."

I think I may have blushed.

Outside on the sardine-packed terrace I found Evan Rachel Wood, TIFF's omnipresent ingenue and Marilyn Manson's better half. Her hair romantically swept into an updo that was less prom-primping than haute coiffure, she gave her goth-girl look some elegance. (Elegoth?) I wanted to know why she chose opaque cabernet-coloured tights to wear with her black dress. An important fall fashion statement? Turns out, she wanted to hide her legs. "I'm a tomboy; I have bruises all over them," she answered. That's what all of Mr. Manson's gals say.

She proceeded to tell me that her dress was eco-chic. "It was designed by Linda Loudermilk and it's made from hemp and corn," said Ms. Wood, allowing me to touch the satiny fabric.

Stars often need some positive reinforcement and no matter how many times people say that hair grows back, a substantial cut can leave people in shock. So when I spotted Diane Lane (with husband Josh Brolin), her mane now noticeably shorn, I wanted to tell her how great it looked (it really does). I was not expecting her to tell me she did it herself. "In the bathroom, three weeks ago," she said, adding that she gave it a pre-TIFF touch-up. Never pulling an Edward Scissorhands on herself before, she laughed when I said she could quit her day job, though I suspect it's not worth the pay cut.

Mr. Harrelson, meanwhile, can certainly bust a move above and beyond his yoga posing. Dancing to The Strangeloves' I Want Candy and Soft Cell's Tainted Love (a surefire hit with the celebs; Scott Speedman and Justin Long, a.k.a. "guy from Mac ads" cut a rug to it at the Holt Renfrew party), Mr. White Man Can Jump was upstaged only by his easygoing wife, Laura Louie.

Although Czech producer Rudolf Biermann did show off some fancy footwork. Just as I considered making an exit, the talented teddy bear (his film, Roming, screened yesterday) took me for a spin to Jacko's Billie Jean.

Sustenance in the form of Lilliputian comfort food hit the spot: trays of silver-dollar pancakes, hot dogs (more like puppies) with sauerkraut, two-bite mac 'n' cheese pots, and pint-sized scoops of ice cream.

Whether guests pay attention to the details that make these private parties possible (sponsor Coty Inc. placed its newest Marc Jacobs and Sarah Jessica Parker fragrances in the restrooms) matters less than their overall enjoyment. But I must say that that the Park Hyatt is doing something right. Having played host to Mr. Penn for three days straight in addition to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie on Saturday, Roof II is the unofficial destination for Hollywood's hottest.

The moody blue-green lighting and attentive staff may have something to do with it, but I'd like to think that the view of Toronto is also a draw. From this vantage point, the stars shine bright but the city shines brighter.

averner@globeandmail.com

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