Toronto International Film Festival Announces Lineup

 

The Toronto International Film Festival has unveiled its upcoming roster of films, which includes the North American premiere of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born.

The festival, which takes place in September, will also see the debut of Barry Jenkins’ James Baldwin adaptation If Beale Street Could Talk, as well as Damien Chazelle’s Ryan Gosling-led First Man, marking both directors’ followups to their Best Picture hot contenders (in Jenkins’ case, winner) from two years back.

Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carrell’s drug addiction drama Beautiful Boy will also premiere. Robert Pattinson will be seen in High Life, Viola Davis, Cynthia Erivo and Michelle Rodriguez will appear in Widows, and Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges in Ben Is Back, making it quite the star-studded affair.

Here’s the full lineup:

 

Gala Presentations

A Star Is Born, dir. Bradley Cooper
Beautiful Boy, dir. Felix Van Groeningen
Everybody Knows, dir. Asghar Farhadi
First Man, dir. Damien Chazelle
Galveston, dir. Mélanie Laurent
Hidden Man, dir. Jiang Wen
High Life, dir. Claire Denis
Husband Material, dir. Anurag Kashyap
Life Itself, dir. Dan Fogelman
Red Joan, dir. Sir Trevor Nunn
Shadow, dir. Yimou Zhang
The Hate U Give, dir. George Tillman, Jr.
The Kindergarten Teacher, dir. Sara Colangelo
The Land of Steady Habits, dir. Nicole Holofcener
The Public, dir. Emilio Estevez
What They Had, dir. Elizabeth Chomko
Widows, dir. Steve McQueen

Special Presentations

Ben Is Back, dir. Peter Hedges
Burning, dir. Lee Chang-dong
Can You Ever Forgive Me?, dir. Marielle Heller
Capernaum, dir. Nadine Labaki
Cold War, dir. Pawel Pawlikowski
Colette, dir. Wash Westmoreland
Dogman, dir. Matteo Garrone
Giant Little Ones, dir. Keith Behrman
Girls of the Sun, dir. Eva Husson
Hotel Mumbai, dir. Anthony Maras
If Beale Street Could Talk, dir. Barry Jenkins
Manto, dir. Nandita Das
Maya, dir. Mia Hansen-Løve
Monsters and Men, dir. Reinaldo Marcus Green
MOUTHPIECE, dir. Patricia Rozema
Non-Fiction, dir. Olivier Assayas
Papi Chulo, dir. John Butler
Roma, dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Shoplifters, dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
Sunset, dir. László Nemes
The Front Runner, dir. Jason Reitman
The Hummingbird Project, dir. Kim Nguyen
The Old Man & The Gun, dir. David Lowery
The Sisters Brothers, dir. Jacques Audiard
The Wedding Guest, dir. Michael Winterbottom
The Weekend, dir. Stella Meghie
Through Black Spruce, dir. Don McKellar
Where Hands Touch, dir. Amma Asante
White Boy Rick, dir. Yann Demange
Wildlife, dir. Paul Dano

TIFF in Review Part Two: Small Wonders

Last week I dove into the six fall movies I saw at the Toronto film festival, including Oscar hopefuls 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and August: Osage County. This week will be devoted to the smaller films—foreign and indie—that came to TIFF seeking distribution( with the notable exception of Asgar Farhadi’s The Past, which had already secured a release for December). Fortunately, as they’re isn’t a dud among them, each one has  been picked up by a US distributor, and will be released sometime on the 2014 film calendar.

     

Can a Song Save Your Life 

John Carney’s follow-up to his micro-budget smash hit Once, was at the center of the largest bidding war at this year’s TIFF, with various distributors negotiating deep into the night immediately following it’s world premiere. The Weinstein company won that battle, and they undoubtedly have a feel-good musical hit on their hands, with a tentative release date set for next summer. It’s a smart move on their part, ideal counter-programming against the onslaught of sequels and blockbusters – and yet I wish I could say I liked the movie more. While undoubtedly charming and uplifting, it’s basically a US remake of Once, with an almost identical blueprint: a down-on-his-luck musician  restores his will to live by recording an album with a younger, talented female emigre – and their connection remains platonic despite the profound influence they have on each other’s lives. Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley are engaging enough, but they are ill-served by a predictable script that repeatedly substitutes musical montages for character development – which would not be so problematic if the songs themselves were anything as raw and authentic as the film portrays them to be. Whereas the songs in Once were genuinely beautiful, this time around they’re slick, borderline-cheesy top 40-ready hits that immediately evaporate from memory, and seem strangely misjudged within the indie-spirit vs. corporate music business theme of the movie’s storyline. It all goes down easily enough, and many will no doubt adore it, but for my taste, it’s a distant, vanilla cry from the gem I hoped it would be. (Acquired by The Weinstein Company, for 2014 release.)  

 

The Selfish Giant 

Clio Barnard’s fiction follow-up to her fascinating documentary The Arbor, is a stunningly crafted realist fable that manages to re-configure Oscar Wilde’s classic children’s fairy tale into a deeply moving story of two teenage boys trying to make money from scrap metal hunting in the bleak landscape of Northern England. Reminiscent of both Lynne Ramsey’s Ratcatcher and Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, which similarly found poetry in miserable, working class English settings, the film adopts a deceptively meandering, episodic pace as the boys’ friendship is tested by a harsh adult world—exemplified by the Selfish Giant of the title:  the tough, exploitative boss of a large scrap metal yard, who becomes a cruel father-figure for both of them, in very different ways. The two boys, both played by non-actors, are mesmerizing, and together paint one of the most believable screen friendships I’ve ever witnessed. The thick Midlands accents are hard to understand, but it doesn’t matter, as the film tells its story in startling, strangely wondrous images, weaving a slow spell that builds to a devastating conclusion, full of surprising, hard-earned grace. With The Selfish Giant, Clio Barnard joins the small but ever-growing ranks of incredibly talented female directors with a highly distinctive artistic voice, and I seriously can’t wait to see what she does next. (Acquired at Cannes by Sundance Selects for VOD and cinema release in 2014.)

   

Bad Words 

Jason Bateman’s directorial debut is an often very funny black comedy about a foul-mouthed 40-year-old man who finds a loophole that allows him to compete with school kids in a national spelling bee contest. And yet, despite venturing into potentially dark territory, the film’s soft heart is never in doubt, and an irritatingly on-the-nose, punch-pulling voice-over prevents it from being more than an effective R-rated laugher, a far sight better than its studio cousins, but lacking the subtext or soul needed to even enter the same league as a Rushmore or Big Lebowski. Perhaps the comparison is unfair (we’re talking major classics after all), but with a few tweaks and some heavier testicles, this could have been something really special, instead of an entertaining but ultimately disposable few hours. It’s a good one to discover on cable, on a plane, or as a weed-assisted rental, where low expectations can turn it into a pleasant surprise rather than anything of lasting value. And having said all that, it’s a worthwhile debut for Bateman, and a vast improvement over his likeable turns in mostly terrible studio fare. (Acquired by Focus Features for a 2014 release.)  

 

The Past 

Asgar Farhadi’s follow-up to the incredible, award-winning A Separation is not quite the masterpiece that film was, but a very, very good film nevertheless, cementing his reputation as one of the most skilled, compassionate storytellers on the foreign film circuit. Set in the suburbs of Paris, what begins as the story of an Iranian man come to sign his French wife’s divorce papers gradually splinters into an examination of secrets and consequence as the truth of a past, hidden event reveals itself piece by piece, touching the lives of everyone that comes into its orbit. The cast is uniformly strong, most notably Berenice Bejo who follows her silent-turn in The Artist with a layered, subtle performance that shows she’s the real deal, and the next great French actress poised for international acclaim. As with his other films, Farhadi is most interested in the complex, multi-faceted nature of truth, and how every participant has their own reasons for doing what they do. He never picks a side, and manages to widen the audience’s sympathies so expertly that it becomes impossible to predict which way the film go, or with whom. Part family drama, part mystery, The Past attains ethical resonance through undiluted, unsentimental compassion for everyone involved, and an endless fascination with the messy entanglements of our human desire to both connect and be validated. And when the ending comes, it ripples outward with a sad, unexpected beauty from the least expected corner of its world. (Acquired by Sony Pictures Classics for a limited December 2013 release.)  

 

Under the Skin

Sexy Beast and Birth (savaged on first release but critically re-appraised since) —my expectations for Under the Skin were arguably too high, as I was expecting nothing short of a masterpiece. Way off the deep end of art house cinema, this is not a movie for anyone seeking traditional narrative rules of engagement, as it bravely, obtusely leaps and stumbles to create a new cinematic language in tune with its themes of literal and metaphorical alienation. What story there is centers on Scarlett Johansson’s alien predator as she cruises the streets of Glasgow to pick up horny Scotsmen, who she then takes to a between-the-worlds lair where they sink into an ink-like ocean for some unexplained, presumably alien-benefitting purpose. Withholding any exposition, and defiantly resistant to creating any momentum or pace, Glazer’s thoroughly bizarre and undoubtedly unique film is by turns excruciating and stunning, with endless, poorly filmed sequences through Scottish streets interspersed with mind-blowing scenes that could belong in one of Stanley Kubrick’s dreams. There are a handful of images here that are still burned into my mind, and at the risk of being too literal, it really does get under your skin, but I find myself wishing I could edit my own 40-minute version and cut out the parts that I found myself struggling to stay awake for. Admittedly, it’s a film that suffers at the tail-end of a festival-movie-marathon, and I will certainly revisit it in the future, but I find myself unable to recommend it to all but the most die-hard fans of cult art house cinema, even as I continue to wrestle with my own conflicted feelings toward it. (Acquired by A24 Films for 2014 release.)  

 

  So that’s that for this year’s Toronto reviews. As most who were there will attest to, it was an especially strong year, which  bodes well for the upcoming fall season. And while it’s always impossible to see every great film at TIFF, especially as most are crammed into its first weekend, I’m sorry to have missed Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, Ned Benson’s The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Richard Ayoade’s The Double, and Richard Shepard’s Dom Hemingway— each of which I’ve heard great things about. More than anything though, I strongly recommend the Toronto Film Festival for anyone who needs their faith in movies restored, as there’s no medicine for the Multiplex Blues quite like seeing a ton of great, diverse movies with a whole town filled with people who love them. I know It’s enough to fill my geek-tank until spring, at the very least.

TIFF in Review Part One: Fall Movies

Attending any film festival, a common dilemma is whether to go for the upcoming fall movies a few months, or weeks, ahead of release, or whether to pick the more obscure indie/foreign films still awaiting distribution. The advantages of  the former are that there’s nothing quite like seeing a world premiere with a rapt audience and the filmmakers in attendance, while also having the space to formulate one’s own opinion before a consensus is formed (or too many spoilers revealed). The advantage of picking the latter, is the chance of finding diamonds in the rough, and championing them—sometimes frustratingly, to a world that may never get the chance to see what you’re on about. My personal way around this dilemma is to mix it up and pick a smattering of both. And since I’ve just seen 12 movies in five days, I’ve decided to split my reviews accordingly, in two parts.  

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12 Years a Slave

It’s hard to talk about Steve McQueen’s searing, masterful film without reaching deep for every available superlative, and a few more besides. It may not be the first film about slavery, but it feels like the first to treat it with no filter, no safety net, no redemptive catharsis , but as an American holocaust, told entirely from the black perspective. To watch it with an audience is to participate in an act of communal, immersive exorcism, and the element that makes it not just bearable, but transcendent, is the pure, jaw-dropping artistry at every level of its production. The true life tale of Solomon Northup’s Kafkaesque nightmare—kidnapped from his free life and sold into brutal slavery—feels like a major step in healing the wounds of slavery’s past, by allowing us to take collective responsibility as we watch horror turned to exquisite art, without lessening any of its impact.  In a perfect world, it would win every Oscar hands down, but given the Academy’s predilection for unchallenging feel-good entertainment, it doesn’t stand a chance.  Fuck ’em. It’s not just the best film of the year, but one of the best films ever made. And here’s a few of those superlatives to underline my point: Unmissable. Essential. Fearless. Profound. Unforgettable. (Opens in limited release October 18th.)  

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Prisoners

I loved Denis Villeneuve’s last film, Incendies, so I already had high hopes for his first U.S movie, but I was still completely blown away by this epic, harrowing, uncompromisingly dark thriller. Hugh Jackman gives the first performance of his career that I’ve unequivocally loved, full of rage and helplessness as the survivalist father who takes the law into his own hands after his daughter is kidnapped. If that synopsis sounds predictable, rest assured the movie is anything but, following its brilliantly realized characters to a true heart of darkness as it explores big themes (faith, forgiveness, revenge, grief) while twisting the screws of its nail-biting premise to almost unbearable levels of tension and dread. Jake Gyllenhaal is equally revelatory in the role of the jaded but determined cop leading the investigation, as is the entire supporting cast. A brilliant script, brilliantly directed, that joins Seven, Silence of the Lambs and Zodiac in the ranks of the all-time great criminal investigation thrillers that resonate far beyond their storylines. (Opens in wide release Sept. 20th)  

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Labor Day

Jason Reitman’s fifth movie in seven years breaks away from the knowing, arch humor of his previous work (Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult) and embraces the genre of the “woman’s weepie” with unabashed, uncynical enthusiasm that will alienate many but reward those willing to be swept along by its charms. Set in 1987and awash in a golden-hued nostalgic glow that brings to mind a Wonder Years episode by way of Douglas Sirk, the story is told from the point of view of a 13-year-old boy living alone with his fragile, heartbroken mother (Kate Winslet) as an escaped convict enters their lives, and proves to be the perfect father/partner for each of them. Josh Brolin sells a potentially ridiculous role with rugged real-man charisma and soul, and Reitman ratchets up the emotional tension and release with old-fashioned skill—though my main criticism would be an over-reliance on score, especially during a pie-baking scene that provided unintentional laughter in the screening I attended. Nevertheless, it’s a good film to take your mother to, or to watch alone if you fancy a good cathartic cry, though I would warn away anyone who has zero tolerance for melodrama or sentiment. (Opens in limited release Dec. 25th)

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Philomena

Another great pick to take your mom to, Stephen Frears’ latest boasts a smart, witty, emotionally satisfying script by Steve Coogan—who in the role of a cynical journalist helping an elderly woman find her long-lost son, may have found the movie that finally sells him to an American audience. His chemistry with Judi Dench, playing the title character, is wonderful, and the story takes some interesting turns into darker territory while always remaining warm, humane and funny. Frears’ direction is solid if uninspired—I always think his films belong on TV rather than on a big screen—but his old-school professionalism is undeniably effective, always finding the right emotional beat in every scene, as well as the laughs. It won’t blow your mind, but it’s good, solid stuff, and easy to recommend, to just about anyone. (Opens in limited release Dec. 25th)

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Gravity

Wow. Beginning to end, I watched this movie with my jaw hanging on the floor and the back of my brain exploded onto the back of the theatre. It’s so rare to see a big-budget special effects driven movie that is so uniquely an auteur’s vision, and while Alfonso Cuaron’s space epic isn’t the philosophical meditation some hoped it would be, it’s a thrilling, genuinely awe-inducing ride like nothing you’ve ever seen. Evolving his use of long takes—so well-executed in the brilliant, underrated Children of Men—to a mind-boggling extreme (the film’s first take is something like 45 mins long), the astonishing visuals on display are used in the service of a genuinely emotional journey, that sees George Clooney use his charming, comforting presence to ably support Sandra Bullock’s moving, fierce and vulnerable star turn, unlike anything we’ve seen from her to date. Of all the films playing at Toronto, Gravity is most likely the one I will return to most often, just to bask in the wonder of its technical achievements, and surrender to its immersive window into zero-g existence, with our beautiful, distant planet circling below. Wonderful. (Opens in wide release Oct. 4th)  

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August: Osage County

This much-hyped adaptation of Tracy Letts’ excellent play, is a mixed, though mostly successful bag. It’s an actors’ showcase through and through, with a cast to die for, and material that’s hard to screw up—boasting great characters, rich, blackly comic dialogue, and enough dramatic turns to fill an entire season of an American soap opera. Meryl Streep acts with a capital A, and she’s unsurprisingly impressive as the monstrous matriarch of a large extended family, but it’s the quieter turns that really stick in the memory—especially Julianne Nicholson as the quiet middle sister, and Chris Cooper as the benign but strong willed uncle. There are numerous meaty scenes for all the players to chew on (everyone gets their big emotional moment under the sun), and it’s a thrill to see Julia Roberts and Streep go head to head, most effectively in the film’s brilliant center-piece, a post-funeral dinner that spirals way out of control. Unfortunately, the film’s impact is dulled by a pace that lags thereafter, and what seems to have been a deliberate decision to soften the play for a wider audience (namely through the amber cinematography, classic Oscar-movie film-making, and obtrusive, somewhat treacly score), as John Well’s fine but uninspired direction never lets the material soar as high or dark as it wants it to go. Still, a very entertaining, very watchable few hours, that while not as great as it could have been, is most definitely worth your time. (Opens in limited release Dec. 25th)  

And that’s it for the big studio releases. Up next: Iranian immigrants in Paris, scrap-metal hunting kids in Northern England, broke musicians in Manhattan, teenage punk chicks in Stockholm, and foul-mouthed adults entering spelling bee competitions, as we round out the films that came to Toronto seeking distribution, and a place on next year’s movie calendar.

Steve McQueen’s Masterpiece ’12 Years a Slave’ Tops TIFF

“Right now I couldn’t do a better film than Shame,” said director Steve McQueen back in 2012. “I couldn’t do better, but I hope the next one that I do will be better. It will be better.” And although Shame was an masterpiece of emotionally gutting intimate psychology in its own right, McQueen’s follow up has proved to surpass everyone’s expectations, and apparently, even his.

As an unflinching and astounding director whose brilliance is evident in everything he touches, McQueen has delivered, what is sure to be, the year’s most epic film, 12 Years a Slave. With a passion and talent for exposing brutality with an honest and emotional eye, McQueen’s film showcases the work of a man who harbors an uncompromising vision and an incredible ability to pull performances from the marrow of his actors. Without pandering to an audience, without trying to dull down the absolute horror of Solomon Northup’s story or the atrocity of slavery, McQueen’s film unravels you emotionally from its very start and leaves you with the sensation that you have truly just watched a film—that feeling you cannot shake even hours leaving the theater, that’s what cinema is about.
 
And after its warm reception at TIFF and in Venice, last night 12 Years a Slave took home the award for BlackBerry’s People Choice award—and rightfully so. Is this an indication of Oscar contention? Will all the ravenous hype thus far elevate the film to a Best Picture award? Who cares. All that matters is that with this film McQueen has created a picture that will last in Hollywood and illuminate an enormous part of American history with an unwavering and beautifully-crafted authenticity. Looking at his progression from Hunger to Shame to this, we can only anticipate what he could possibly do next. “ I’m not reactionary; I’m not trying to stir the pot. I’m just trying to make films that have a reason to be made.”
 
 
The BlackBerry People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (Sion Sono)
 
The BlackBerry People’s Choice Documentary Award

The Square (Jehane Noujaim)
 
NETPAC AWARD

Qissa (Anup Singh)
 
ROLSCH FILM WORKS DISCOVERY AWARD

All the Wrong Reasons (Gia Milani)
 
RBC EMERGING FILMMAKERS COMPETITION

Requiem for a Robot (Christoph Rainer)
 
YOUTUBE AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN SHORT FILM

Noah (Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg)
 
CITY OF TORONTO + CANADA GOOSE AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN FEATURE FILM

When Jews Were Funny (Alan Zweig)
 
AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN FIRST FEATURE FILM

Asphalt Watches (Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver)
 
Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI) for Special Presentations
Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
 
Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI) for the Discovery Programme

The Amazing Catfish (Claudia Sainte-Luce)

The Best of Film Festival Early Reviews: Part One

With the Telluride and Venice Film Festivals premiering some of most highly-anticipated and acclaimed films of the coming season, TIFF just beginning, and NYFF on the horizon, we’ve been watching as the early reviews—both of excessive praise and harsh aversion—roll on in. But such examination can be treacherous territory. So many of the initial reactions appearing over the weekend related the impression and quality for the films seen strictly in terms of how they thought the feature would fare come award season.  

But is that really the mark of how great a film can be and lasting impact it will have? No. Personally, I rarely find myself reading a heavy bit of criticism until after I allowed myself to absorb the film fully and formulate an opinion for myself unfettered by the inflection of other’s words, no matter how compelling. The point isn’t to walk in the theater with an agenda or with a preconceived notion of its greatest or to exit the theater with shame in absolutely falling in love with a film. But let’s be honest, it’s hard to resit seeing what some of our favorite writers had to say thus far.  

And when it comes to festivals, reviews can make or break a long-waited anticipation—squashing the thrill or hyping in into an unnecessary realm that will only lead to let down. With the an impressive line-up of films having already debuted this past week, long-lead reviews may not have the ability to hinder your perception as powerfully as it might if you knew you were seeing the film tomorrow, so for those you not attending the festivals for yourself, check out our collection of snippets from the early reviews coming in—featuring some of the most anticipated films of the year from Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave to Xavier Dolan’s Tom A La Ferme.   

 

12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen 

The recent popular revenge fantasy Django Unchained notwithstanding, there have been so few good and strong films about slavery in America that, for this reason alone, 12 Years A Slave stands quite tall. With director Steve McQueen dedicating himself to detailing the “peculiar institution” with as many dreadful particulars as he can, Chiwetel Ejiofor leads a fine cast with a superior performance as the real-life Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into Southern slavery until being miraculously rescued. Perhaps the nature of the story is such that the film can’t help but be obvious and quite melodramatic at times, but it gets better as it goes along and builds to a moving finish.

Despite the upsetting and vivid brutality, Fox Searchlight has a winner here that will generate copious media coverage, rivet the attention of the black public, stir much talk in political and educational circles and appeal to film audiences who crave something serious and different. Ejiofor is terrific in a demanding character who’s put through the wringer physically, mentally and emotionally. One feels his determination to get back to his family virtually at all times even though he doesn’t talk about it, and toward the end there is an unusual extended close-up of him in which he looks out toward the unknown future as his eyes express a quicksilver array of emotions, from wonder to fear to hope. —THR

This radiant aesthetic, coupled with the rousing use of spiritual songs, provide a beacon of optimism amidst so much hate, once again proving cinema’s place as the ultimate human-rights medium. It’s a shame that such injustice was allowed to exist for so long — 12 years for Northrup and nearly 250 for those less fortunate — and an even bigger disgrace that it takes a British director to stare the issue in its face. —Variety

“Amistad,” meet the Marquis de Sade, in the form of slavemaster Michael Fassbender, who puts his victims through more tortures than Mel Gibson ever could have imagined for Jesus. As for McQueen’s work, advance chatter had some wondering whether he had what it took to make a mainstream entertainment his third time around, but there won’t be much questioning of that after doubters see “12 Years a Slave.” It has the strokes you’d expect out of a studio picture but also some moments few other directors would have attempted, like an agonizingly beautiful sequence in which Solomon literally tip-toes his way through a near-hanging that goes on for several silent minutes. If McQueen could forge a career working arthouse moments into multiplex movies, that’d be a case of mistaken identity we’d be happy to live with. —The Playlist

 

 

The Zero Theorem, Terry Gilliam

That’s the major bum note to the film, but if you can look past it, there’s much to like, from Waltz’s performance to the typically rich production and costume design. It might not be a return to the form of “Time Bandits,” “Brazil,” “The Fisher King” and “ Twelve Monkeys,” but it’s a lot better than what we’ve had from Gilliam in the last decade, and we sincerely hope there’s plenty more to come. The Playlist

Those who made it to the end of “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” or “Tideland” will be amazed to find Gilliam sinking even further here than those low-water marks. The production notes, as if trying to forestall inevitable criticism, make many mentions of the quickness with which the production was executed and the challenges of the low budget, all of which is all too apparent onscreen.Variety

It doesn’t really add up to much, beyond a timely reminder that it would be better for everyone to stop uploading and downloading and just unplug and be human. The dialogue and ideas in Pat Rushin’s stuffed screenplay can be quite funny, and the cast carries them off well. Gilliam’s frequent DP Nicola Pecorini bring a strong sense of continuity with the look of the director’s previous work, though the choice to shoot on 35mm film in 2D rather than digital is counter-intuitive. Composer George Fenton, in contrast, creates a romantic-sounding score out of electronic music. The special effects have some high points too, like the rotating Rubik’s cubes that sail across the computer screen to complete a Tower of Babel construction. —THR

For all that, the film has a ragged charm, a Tiggerish bounce, and a certain sweet melancholy that bubbles up near the end. It is a wilfully iconoclastic film from a wilfully iconoclastic man. And it shows, for better or worse, that Gilliam is still in the game and eyeing the prize, despite his spectacularly ill-starred recent career. At the age of 72, Gilliam obviously retains an enormous capacity for hope. In this respect, he’s a little like Qohan, who sits waiting for a phone call that will definitively explain the meaning of life. Of course, there’s no phone call; it’s all a delusion. Yet still he sits, because there’s hope in the waiting and what else is the point?The Guardian

Tom a la Ferme, Xavier Dolan

And indeed, the film marks his growth in all kinds of ways. We’ve found him a little awkward as a performer in his own previous films, but he gives a strong and even likable turn here (matched blow for blow, often literally, by the excellent Cardinal). And it’s his most expansive and impressive work visually too, with the photography by "Incendies"’ Andre Turpin taking full advantage of the rural landscape and claustrophobic interiors. We might not unreservedly love the film, as has been our experience with previous Dolan films (confirmed fans may well have a better time with it). But it’s certainly his best film, and if he keeps growing at this rate, it’s only going to be a matter of time before he comes up with something we really cherish. And in the meantime, it’s great to sit back and watch a fascinating filmmaker continue to find his voice.The Playlist

It’s a short leap, of course, from Highsmith to Hitchcock — not that “Tom at the Farm” has anything in common with “Strangers on a Train,” barring the obvious homoerotic ancestry. Though he shows an unexpected knack in the film’s opening and closing stages for razor-cut suspense, Dolan fosters the Hitch connection mainly through the lush strings of Yared’s almost ever-present score, one so uncannily in thrall to Bernard Herrmann that viewers familiar with Dolan’s previous output — hitherto reliant on tastefully curated jukebox soundtracks — may initially assume he’s sampling extracts from lesser-known film scores from the Golden Age of noir. So overwhelming and insistent as to constitute a narrative voice in itself, Yared’s work constitutes a significant formal risk, but its sweeping intricacy stands in sufficiently stark contrast to the film’s otherwise contempo-chic construction to make it a thrilling one. —Variety

With his fourth feature completed at the tender age of just 24, Dolan has established a reputation for himself as a director of original and entertaining queer cinema. Tom at the Farm is confidently delivered, its shots composed with a careful eye, and its occasional stylistic flourish – ratios change in moments of danger, for instance – hint at someone pushing at the possibilities of cinema, if not quite breaking through. CineVue

 

 

The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki

Naturally the animation is a joy to behold. The film’s crisp colours and commanding lines summon up a ravishing portrait of pre-war Japan with its puffing steam-trains, huddled neighbourhoods and lulling nocturnal tram-rides through town. Some of the setpieces (most notably the apocalyptic earthquake that leads to the burning of Tokyo) are the equal of anything the director has produced in Spirited Away or My Neighbour Totoro. But the film itself is genteel to a fault. It’s too polite, it needs more bite. It lets enigmatic Horikoshi off the hook, bobbing out to the clouds, forever out of reach. —The Guardian

But even beyond the love of planes, this feels like perhaps the director’s most personal film. He’s careful to portray the designers as artists rather than just engineers, and it’s easy to find parallels between Mitsubishi and Studio Ghibli at work. In many ways, Jiro’s obsessive attachment to his work feels like Miyazaki’s Kunstlerroman—his portrait of the artist as a young man. It’s a touch disappointing that the film’s biopic structure proves as constraining as it does; most of the story beats play out as you’d expect them to in a film like this one. But if the story itself is conventional, the way it’s told is anything but. There’s a lot to unpack here, with debate likely to continue long past its eventual U.S. release (and it should be noted that it’s fairly surprising that Disney have picked up a film that features as much smoking as half a season of "Mad Men," even given the long association between the two studios). It might not be the director’s most immediately accessible films, but it’s among his most fascinating and beguiling.The Playlist 

Power-producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, friends of "Miyazaki-san" who have helped his films secure better North American distribution in recent years, introduced The Wind Rises. Kennedy said that a Horkioshi film has been on the director’s to-do list for years, and that he even considered making it as a live-action film. She also noted Miyazaki’s retirement announcement — which was met with gasps from many audience members who hadn’t heard the news — and Marshall added, "In our opinion, he saved his best for last." THR

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Stray Dogs, Tsai Ming-liang

“With its constant focus on dripping faucets, leaky houses and driving rain, this is unmistakably a Tsai Ming-liang joint. Here, the water that surrounds the characters at every turn – rough weather, bogs, drains, buildings, public restrooms – takes on an almost biblical presence, as if even the inanimate elements bare a grudge against their modest existence. Though Stray Dogs boasts that rare quality of being unlike anything else out there, the film it bares closest comparison to is Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. The similarities only begin to reveal themselves in the climactic stages where the film takes a turn for the poetically existential. The characters appear to have been naturally gravitating towards their own iteration of The Zone, that unusual space which, once inside, professes to offer answers to profound spiritual conundrums.Little White Lies 

The mix of tenderness and dereliction, the constant presence of rain and wind, the eerie sense of a life on the fringes in which other humans pass by like ghosts in the background (or are we watching a family of ghosts?), the possibility that the cabbage, the mountain mural and a patriotic Chinese song the father sings at a certain point may add up to a lament for a lost rural lifestyle, and the other-worldly melancholy that pervades the whole exercise, are the scraps we cling on to in the absence of story. Not enough for a square meal – but sometimes at the movies, hunger is more memorable than satiety. —ScreenDaily

 

 

The Unknown Known, Errol Morris 

“Yet, the film’s failure to offer any big revelations is just as much Morris’ fault as Rumsfeld’s, as he too often feeds questions to his subject in a jokey, barroom manner which highlights a potential intellectual chasm between interviewer and subject. One irony of the film is in its deep focus on torture tactics used in American military prisons, many of which were sanctioned by Rumsfeld himself. You can’t help but wonder what would have happened had Morris’ opted for a ‘what’s good for the goose…’ methodology, and blasted Christina Aguilera tunes at him in a darkened prison cell in order to get him to blab. The format the film adopts is having Rumsfeld rifle through his old memos (referred to internally as ‘snowflakes’), reading them out and then reflecting on them with Morris. The tone of the film is probably more instructional than investigative, as Rumsfeld clearly thinks he’s in front of the camera to merely talk through his political decisions rather than justify them. There are perhaps one or two occasions where Rumsfeld feels the ropes lightly pressing against the small of his back, but he’s always quick with a counter-attack or nifty dodge.” —Little White Lies

It may just be that not enough time has passed—there’s a big difference between the forty years that went by before McNamara sat down for “The Fog Of War,” and the ten between the start of the Iraq war and “The Unknown Known.” And with Rumsfeld in his 80s, you can see why Morris was keen to get him on record when he had the opportunity. From a procedural perspective, the film is an insightful look into the life of a Secretary Of Defense, but as an exploration into how the war in Iraq was allowed to happen, it’s much, much less satisfying.—The Playlist

 

 

Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier

Of course, perhaps Saulnier’s greatest asset is his lead actor – Macon Blair was faced with the unenviable task of making Dwight at once both childlike and savagely capable, a feat made all the more demanding by how the narrative requires him to resist caricature at every turn. While Saulnier is happy to indulge in the pulpier side of things (perhaps even a tad too much at the very end), Dwight’s adventure only works if his flexible morals and slippery sense of purpose remain relatable so that viewers can be allowed to appreciate the character’s struggle with his dissolution into violence. Blair, who makes a memorable bid to become the Joe Lo Truglio of the genre world, is more than up to the challenge, combining wide-eyed deadliness with the disarming lucidity of his conviction to create a memorable antihero worthy of Saulnier’s exquisitely crisp cinematography (continuing the recent trend of polymath filmmakers, the director shot the movie himself). —Film.com  

Saulnier’s first film was the underseen but wickedly funny “Murder Party.” That picture was a lark; a comedy about a group of hipsters who were torn between natural sadism and the thought that killing innocents was passé. That ironic distance is absent from Saulnier’s much more accomplished second feature, one that never leaves Dwight’s perspective, and therefore his broken prioritization of what will keep him out of danger. There are no moments of safety once Dwight has committed his first sin, and as such there are no moments of safety in “Blue Ruin.” Saulnier has made a film of almost unbearable tension, a no-frills pressure cooker that rattles the senses not just for what occurs (the brief moments of violence are convincingly staggered and upsettingly abrupt), but for what’s waiting just off screen at every turn. It’s easily the most suspenseful American film of the year, a thriller that feels like lightning across a quiet night sky; sudden, terrifying, and excitingly singular. —The Playlist

Under the Skin, Jonathon Glazer

Johansson is nothing short of iconic here; her character is a classic femme fatale in the film noir tradition, down to the plump red lips and deep fur coat, but with a refrigerated nothingness at her core. She looks at her fellow cast members as if they are from another planet – which is, of course, exactly as it should be. Even the Scottish landscape looks alien: dawn mist rolls across lochs like curls of space dust.   Glazer’s astonishing film takes you to a place where the everyday becomes suddenly strange, and fear and seduction become one and the same. You stare at the screen, at once entranced and terrified, and step forward into the slick.The Telegraph  

And so it goes, for a needlessly protracted 108 minutes, as initial intrigue gives way to repetition and tedium. Glazer has always been longer on atmosphere and uncanny moods than on narrative, but the fatal flaw of “Under the Skin” isn’t that not much happens; it’s that what does happen isn’t all that interesting. The world as seen through alien eyes, it turns out, looks much like the world as seen through the eyes of a schizophrenic  (“Repulsion”), a paranoiac (Lodge Kerrigan’s “Keane”) or a sociopath (Cristi Puiu’s “Aurora”) — which, if it’s Glazer’s point, is one he makes early and often, Johansson doing her best to convey varying degrees of blankness and incomprehension at her own actions and those of others.

Owing to the dominant GoPro video aesthetic, “Under the Skin” becomes visually monotonous, too, only in a few more conventionally staged sequences featuring the kind of sharp, painterly images that graced Glazer’s prior features and the opening moments of this one. Similarly, all of the pic’s tech qualities are intentionally rough-hewn, with the combination of noisy location sound recording and cast’s thick Scottish brogues rendering large swathes of dialogue incomprehensible. —Variety

Whether or not there’s much feeling to take away in the end is another story. Eerily scored throughout by Mica Levi, “Under the Skin” is a deliberately oblique piece of work that prizes rhythms and textures above hows and whys. If that very notion makes your skin crawl, then don’t bother, but more curious audiences may find that Glazer’s film does that well enough on its own.Film.com      

Watch the Trailer For Teen Crime Film ‘Violet & Daisy’

Between Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring, 2013 is already shaping up to be a year of films about young women portrayed by popular actresses turning to a life of crime. But if neither the Skrillex-soundtracked haze of the former nor the based-on-a-true-story appeal of the latter tickle your fancy, there’s the more traditional life on the dark side story of Violet & Daisy, the long-germinating crime action-comedy-drama from Precious: Based on the Novel Push By Sapphire writer Geoffrey S. Fletcher. The film premiered back in 2011 at the Toronto International Film Festival to favorable reviews, and is now finally ready for the big time.

Violet & Daisy’s florally-named characters, played by Oscar-nominated Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel, most recently of Mad Men, are two teens who take on assassin jobs. When an enigmatic man named Michael (James Gandolfini) becomes their target, he seems like an easy mark, but as tends to happen in these kinds of movies, things aren’t always what they seem. And summer action movies may be a dime a dozen, but this one has quite a cast—in addition to Ronan, Bledel and Gandolfini, we have the fantastic Marianne Jean-Baptiste and, because he should be in everything, Danny Trejo. Watch the trailer below.

Explore the Relationship Between Sam Shepard & His Best Friend Johnny Dark in ‘Shepard & Dark’

Upon reading anything Sam Shepard has written—whether it be his plays, memoirs, poetry, etc.—you can almost hear the faint whistle of the wind blowing in background or feel the heat of the sun casting its light on your skin. His words conjure up a very particular feeling, and your mind wanders to the vast plains of America, the sweeping vacant landscape of the southwest, and long, dark nights driving through the deser alone for miles on end. He brings you deep inside his tormented and beautiful state of mind—but it’s never bleak. It’s existential with the gentle touch and rough tongue of a man searching to understand the duality that lives within himself and the endless search for identity and meaning that plagues us all.

And although he’s expressed himself thoroughly throughout his work over the years, it’s his best friend Johnny Dark that knows him more deeply than probably anyone else ever will. After meeting in Greenwich Village in the 1960s, two became swift friends and eventually family when Sam married the daughter of Johnny’s wife. And although Sam went onto become one of he most profound and brilliant American writers, Johnny’s life remained closer to home. And with the new documentary Shepard & Dark that premiered at TIFF, director Treva Wurmfeld takes an intimate look at their decade-spanning friendship and the correspondence they’ve 

Filmed back in 2010, the film centers on a time when Sam & Johnny decided to publish their letters to one another—and the result looks absolutely remarkble. As if yesterday it was announced that Music Box Films had acquired the rights to the doc and hopefully, we’ll have more word on a theatrical release soon. 

So in the meantime, check out the trailer and if there’s  box of tissues handy, I suggest you grab that now.

Watch the First U.S. Trailer for Abbas Kiarostami’s ‘Like Someone in Love’

As the companion piece to Abbas Kiarostami’s European drama Ceftified Copy, the internationally-acclaimed writer and director’s latest work, Like Someone in Love, takes us to the other side of the world. Setting the film in Japan, Kiarostami’s new drama is more enigmatic than his last—truths blooming to the surface and dissolving before our eyes.

After playing at Cannes, TIFF, and the New York Film Festival, Like Someone in Love will have its theatrical run beginning next week. And just in time, a U.S. theatrical trailer has finally been released. This time around, we get a glimpse at the characters, as seen through Kiarostami’s signature use of pacing and framing to capture the confoudning nature of connection. In the trailer, we see that the film follows a young female student who works as a prostitute on the side and her elderly client. When I sat down with Kiarostami back in September (interview coming next week), we talked a lot about love and relationships and why he makes such cryptic films.

Like Someone in Love played to mixed reviews from critics but watch the trailer and definitely make sure to check back next week to see what the filmmaker had to say about his daring work. 

Clooney, Gosling, & Everyone Else: Your TIFF Party Wrap-Up

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival was touted the biggest in years, as far as pure star power goes, with the trifecta of Clooney, Pitt, and Gosling topping most people’s to-stalk list. If last year was any indication, Grey Goose Soho House would again be ground zero for all things A-list, and it was, with The Ides of March duo and a host of others descending on the members only club’s weekend pop-up on Saturday night. The venue–3 levels of typical Toronto loft, exposed brick walls and floor-to-ceiling windows–was retrofitted to suit Soho House’s sophisticated but comfortable palette: pillowy, velvet couches, rustic lamps and table sets, and tribal rugs strewn across the hardwood floors. The party, which was officially the post-game for David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, quickly achieved shit-show status when Clooney arrived with his ex-girlfriend-to-be Stacey Kiebler, as lesser stars lined up to greet the couple.

But the real star of the night was Win Butler. The Arcade Fire frontman (with his ethreal date Regine), had Hollywood’s elite geeking out, and in particular, Blackbook cover boy Alexander Skarsgaard, who was spotted showing Butler footage he had shot of Arcade Fire on his phone while a nearby Bono chatted with Clooney, most likely about future let’s-save-the-world initiatives. Upstairs in a battle of crushes old and new, Gosling took on Dave Matthews in a game of ping pong, while lovebirds Chris Pratt and Anna Faris, and Kate Mara and Max Minghella,looked on. And though Pitt didn’t show, his Moneyball co-star Jonah Hill did, and was seen chatting with Keira Knightley, probably about how to handle all those eating disorder rumours.

The sheer wattage of Soho House was hard to match, especially after Harvey Weinstein closed it out Monday with his annual bash. But we have to hand it to the folks at Blackberry who mounted a valiant effort at King West’s newly-renovated haunt Brassaii, for a trio of nights that doubled as the perfect pre-drink spot for Soho House’s late night shenanigans. Tops of the three was the after party for 50/50, the buzzy cancer comedy (trust us, it’s good) starring Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Both leading men showed up to fete their premiere, along with co-stars Anna Kendrick and a very pregnant Bryce Dallas-Howard, who was a good sport all night despite being as big as a house. Speaking of good sports, Rogen who came off as one of the most approachable stars throughout the fest, happily obliged photo-seekers all night, while his beaming fiance stood by and watched.

So with Soho House and Brassaii establishing themselves as the biggest star magnets of the fest, the Gansevoort Hotel’s partnership with the low-key Toronto speakeasy goodnight provided a low-key but just as exclusive alternative to the usual TIFF red carpet clusterfuck. Although “Goodnight Gansevoort”, as it was dubbed, started with typical TIFF bombast–we were chauffered to the festivities in a shiny black BMW X6–the Moet and Belvedere sponsored evening was much less Hollywood, much more Toronto scenester than the typical TIFF bash. But after standing around awkwardly all week, guzzling double vodka sodas and hoping that tonight is the night Emily Blunt finally notices us, Goodnight Gansevoort’s deluge of equally wasted Torontonians (most in really short skirts) proved to be a welcome relief.