Friday, July 25, 2014

Here comes 'The Judge' to kick-start Toronto

Stop the presses!
Three days after announcing a closing night film, the 39th annual Toronto International Film Festival has announced "The Judge" as its opening night starrer on Sept. 4.
 From Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures, the Big Kid Pictures/Team Downey production stars Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard and Billy Bob Thornton.

Big city lawyer Hank Palmer (Downey Jr.) returns to his childhood home where his estranged father (Duvall), the town’s judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth, and along the way reconnects with the family he walked away from years before.
 “The stars aligned and we are thrilled to announce that we will kick off the Festival with The Judge,” said Piers Handling, Director and CEO, TIFF. “David Dobkin has delivered a moving, textured story about family, duty and the way we remember our past. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to this year’s event.”
“I brought my first film, Clay Pigeons, to Toronto, so 15 years later to actually be on opening night with The Judge is incredibly special and thrilling,” Dobkin said. “The Festival audiences are terrific, and I know I speak for everyone involved in the film when I say we are so pleased to be unveiling it there.”
“We always want to deliver for our audience and we can't think of a better way than kicking things off with The Judge,” said Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director for the Toronto International Film Festival. “Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are terrific in the film, and David Dobkin guides the entire cast to rich, satisfying performances.”
Sue Kroll, President Worldwide Marketing and International Distribution, Warner Bros. Pictures, said, “We are so proud to be taking The Judge to TIFF, and honored to be in the opening night slot. The film is truly deserving and we believe the always-discerning audience in Toronto will appreciate it as much as we do.”
The Toronto International Film Festival runs Sept. 4-14. "The Judge" goes into wide release Oct. 10.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

No TIFF opener yet, but "A Little Chaos" will close it

While no Opening Night film has been announced to kick off this year's 39th Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 4, there will be "A Little Chaos" when the annual 10-day event heads down the stretch on the evening of Sept. 13.
After all, that's the name of noted actor Alan Rickman's first directorial effort in 18 years. And, if Harry Potter's crotchety Prof. Severus Snape isn't enough to count on, please know he'll bring along a supporting cast that includes Kate Winslet, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Ehle and Matthias Schoenaerts.
Rickman plays King Louis XIV opposite the Oscar-winning Winslet's Sabine, a controversial landscaper chosen to design the world-class gardens at Versailles.
“ 'A Little Chaos' is the perfect closing night film – it transports audiences to another time, full of beauty, complexity, rivalry, politics and romance,” said TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey. "It will wind audiences up just as our Festival is winding down.”
"Chaos" is one of 37 world premieres announced today at a morning press conference that unveiled about 60 of the festival's expected 300 titles, mostly from TIFF's popular Gala and Special Presentations offerings.
“Toronto can anticipate another remarkable lineup of films,” added CEO and Director Piers Handling. “Cinema’s collective and transformative experience lives at the heart of our Festival — a sentiment that inspires the global dialogue rippling throughout the selections revealed today.”
For more about films announced this morning, read another story by John here or go to Tiff.net/the festival once today's web traffic slows down.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Clint Eastwood enjoys his time with -- and in -- 'Jersey Boys'

Why would an Oscar-winning screen legend such as Clint Eastwood agree to direct "Jersey Boys," the new movie based on the Tony-winning musical about The Four Seasons and their million-selling ways?
 Because he wanted to. It's really as simple as that. "It seemed like something to do," Eastwood said during a New York press conference conducted, not so ironically, a few hours before he handed out a directing statuette during the telecast of this year's Tony Awards.
Clint Eastwood still looks good behind or in front of a movie camera.
"It's funny," Eastwood continued, "because I hadn't seen the play, but I'd heard a lot about it over the years. When somebody asked if I'd be interested, I was sent a script, which came from a very good writer, but not the one associated with the play.
"When I found that out, I asked where I could find that one. I mean, only in Hollywood would someone give you a script on something else when they already had one that was a hit. When I finally read it, I went to see three different versions of the play -- in New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas -- and saw all these wonderful actors and just thought what a nice project to be doing."
Of course, it helped that well-known jazz aficionado Eastwood liked the pop sound he heard as well.
 "I met (lead singer) Frankie Valli a number of times over the years, and I always liked the Four Seasons a lot," Eastwood explained. "I thought their music was far superior, and I think 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You' was one of the real classic songs of that era and would have been one of the classics of any era, the '40s, '50s, or any time in history. Their music is very energetic and great fun."
So is much of the 33rd feature film behind the camera for Eastwood, who also appears in cameo on a TV screen in what he calls "my Hitchcock moment."
It's a brief glimpse of handsome young Clint from "Rawhide," the CBS western that, not only brought Eastwood the first real notoriety of his lengthy career, but here adds a clever nod to how he was actually an entertainment peer of the subjects in his latest film.
"We're probably talking 1959 or 1960 there," he recalled. "'Rawhide' (which ran 1959-1965) was my first break after doing bit roles and unappealing parts, and it was six years of good learning."
Is there any doubt that the 84-year-old actor/director/producer/composer learned his lessons extremely well? 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

'True Detective' creator beckons Davidson after 'The Signal'

Tyler Davidson, the suburban-Cleveland-based producer who has opened films at the
prestigious Sundance Film Festival four years in a row, is now headed to "Galveston" -- sort of.
Seriously, with his latest film, "The Signal," just opening wide on Friday, Davidson already
has signed on to co-produce the novel-based "Galveston," and it all sounds like a big deal for
a couple reasons.
Tyler Davidson (left) with "The Signal" director /writer William Eubank
Most importantly, "Galveston" will be the first feature film project from Nick Pizzolatto, creator, writer and executive producer of HBO's wildly successful "True Detective." However, there's an extra added attraction that finds Davidson working with legendary TV/theater/film producer Jean Doumanian, whose lengthy resume includes "Saturday Night Live" and seven Woody Allen movies.
"I feel pretty fortunate," Davidson admitted two days ago during a telephone interview. "Before I 
knew about ("Galveston"), I was a huge fan of  'True Detective.'  Then I had an agent friend send me the script, which had been acquired by some New York-based producers (Doumanian and Patrick Daly), and they were looking for a partner, somebody who had the kind of experience I have with films that are in this general budget range and where I can bring the financing to it."
Davidson's own portfolio shows off movies such as "Swedish Auto," as well the three indie hits that preceded "The Signal" at Sundance: "Take Shelter," "Compliance" and last year's "The Kings of Summer."  Obviously, his Low Sparks Films company is very ready to take the trip to "Galveston."   
"I jumped on it," he said with a slight laugh. "I had a number of meetings in New York with the producers, the director (Janus Metz Pedersen) and a nice call with Nic Pizzolatto himself, and it just seemed like a great fit.
"Honestly," Davidson continued, "I fell in love with the script first and foremost. I hadn't read Nick's own novel on which it was based, so I was just going from his adaptation as a screenplay and thought it was an electrifying piece. 
"It takes place in the South, and it's got that great mix of characters that 'True Detective' has. I think fans
of the series are going to be happy with this movie."
Although filming won't start until Oct. 1,  Davidson said "'Galveston" already is in what he calls "soft pre-production."
 As for Doumanian, it sounds as if the two producers are hitting if off quite nicely, thank you.
"When you don't have unlimited financial resources for these budgets, the one ally that you have to take advantage of is time," Davidson said. "We have a few months now to really lay the groundwork and that's what we're trying to do.
"Of course, it's really exciting to be working with Jean. To me, she's one of these iconic New York producers who has done so many cool projects and already has been a tremendous partner. We joked earlier today, in fact, that we should have long-range walkie-talkies because we've been speaking so much lately.
"You know that everyone is gauging the chemistry when you have those first meetings to discuss the production plan, the financing plan and to see if the partnership is going to be a fit. Everyone is paying close attention, but we just hit it off right away and immediately felt as if we were meant to be partners."
As for his current offering, "The Signal," Davidson naturally is hoping that the movie's reception nationally is on par with the reaction it got at Sundance last January.
"Sundance is as good as it gets as far as a film festival in this country and, having gone there now with films the last four years, you might think that some of the luster has worn off, but I can assure you that's not that case," said the Chagrin Falls-raised producer who currently calls South Russell, Ohio home.
"It's just as exciting every time I go because I recognize how difficult it is to get in each and every time and, of course, it boasts the best audiences in the world. You can't have a better launch for the film; the energy is incredible.
 " 'The Signal' was received tremendously well when we played in a section of Sundance called 'Park City at Midnight.' It's focused on genre films, so a sci-fi thriller was a perfect fit. We were playing to audiences that were really geared up for this type of film and they just absolutely loved it. We had really great, high-energy screenings and some terrific reactions."
Since watching how the good-looking tale from writer/director William Eubank (2011 festival favorite "Love") unfolds is part of the fun, we won't give away any pertinent details here. Let's just say that a trio of up-and-coming actors -- Brenton Thwaites ("Maleficent" and late summer's "The Giver"), Olivia Cooke ("Bates Motel," "The Quiet Ones") and Beau Knapp ("No One Lives" and next year's"Ant-Man") -- are joined by distinguished and distinctive vet Laurence Fishburne in a fresh film that mixes a couple of genres into an often surprising one. Northeast Ohio locals also will enjoy some scenes filmed in various area locations, particularly during the first act of a film mostly shot in New Mexico.
"I always have interest in any film that has a screenplay that I fall in love with and a director who I want to work with," Davidson said about Eubanks and his "Signal" story. "I certainly don't immediately think about what the budget limitations are or the budget range of these movies.
"What I will also say," he concluded, "is that I love being an independent filmmaker. You can make these films for $100,000 or $30 million, but I love being  involved in the creative process, I love not having a studio over my shoulder, and I love the freedom of working with our team to make the best film we possibly can. That's what I'm married to."
By the way, Davidson was calling from Virginia, where he was driving home from his Q&A session after a special screening of "The Signal" in Winchester, where the family of his real wife (Lyon) resides.  
Read more about Davidson and his latest film here, then check out John M. Urbancich's Critic's Choice ratings on recent releases here.)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

On Friday, Sandler and Barrymore try to blend nicely again

Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore have known each other for a long time. Now, in fact, they've officially "Blended" for a third time in the movie of the same name.

Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler create a 'Blended' bunch.
The two recently chatted about what makes them still tick together -- after previous onscreen pairings in "The Wedding Singer" and "50 First Dates" -- during a recent press conference to promote their latest film.

"I would sum it up in one word: Respect," Barrymore began in answering a question about chemistry. "It simply all stems from respect. I've always respected Adam and I love him. He makes us laugh. I was so in love with all the things he has done (in his career).

"I just love this person so much," said the new Mom (her second daughter, Frankie, with husband Will Kopelman was born just a month ago). "Still, when it comes down to that one on one, and it's the two us of doing our thing, it's just total respect. Call it giddy respect."

For his part, the ever-outspoken Sandler opted for the slightly racy. "Our chemistry in three films has only gotten hornier," he said. "Hey, I love Drew, I've known her for a long time. In all three movies we had the pleasure of falling in love. In the first two, I faked it, but in this one I really did (fall for her). 

"Maybe someday we'll do (a remake of) 'On Golden Pond' together," he said. "Only with more jokes."

In "Blended," opening Friday, the very good friends head a kind of a very PG-13-rated "Brady Bunch" for the present day. It's all directed by Frank Coraci, who also guided Barrymore and Sandler through their paces in "The Wedding Singer" more than 16 years ago.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Spider-Man becomes easy favorite for 'Grandpa' Avi Arad

If Marvel characters were grandchildren, then Avi Arad's pride and joy would be Spider-Man.

That became quite obvious during an interview last Sunday morning, when the ex-chairman and
CEO of Marvel Studios was asked if it ever might be possible for movie studios
to collaborate on putting the Marvel Universe back together onscreen.
Avi Arad in familiar spider gear

"Well, studios are usually very friendly with each other and
have breakfast together almost every day," joked Arad, who was
on hand in a New York City hotel room to discuss his latest
production, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (opening today).

Arad, who had been the driving force behind bringing many 
of Marvel's most famous comic book characters to the screen,
branched off to form his own Arad Productions Inc. in June of 2006.

On this day, he's working with Sony Pictures, which owns the 
rights to the Spider-Man franchise. Meanwhile, 20th Century
Fox distributes "The X-Men," among others, and Disney/Marvel
puts out titles bolstered mostly by the "The Avengers" and all
the characters that name entails.

"Seriously," Arad continued, "I think there are stories that would 
fit beautifully into a crossover but, if we want to do that, it has
to be a story that is absolutely centered on Spider-Man.

"We certainly cannot become a second banana to anything else
out there," he said, "because this is the king. This is the one
 that influenced young people from birth.

“I’m not preaching, but I think Spider-Man, Peter Parker, who is
in all of us, is too important to go in and be used as a sidepiece for corporation purposes. Besides, there are already certain stories out there about Spider-Man mixed up with another universe that are just incredible.”

Arad admitted that, "I see all of them," when it comes to films he doesn't produce but do feature Marvel characters.
"Listen, 'The Avengers' was in the plan for a long time. It just had to be built over the years," he said. "And, when we were thinking about doing 'Iron Man,' people thought we were all nuts. No one knew what Iron Man was unless your were a comic guy. They thought it was some kind of documentary about a competition in Hawaii. No one got it.
"The great thing today," Arad concluded, "is that all of our movies are so meaningful. You leave a movie about Spider-Man, and I think you feel better about yourself and you want to do the right things and you're inspired. That's what's important to us
“For me, all these movies, when they’re good and they tell you something, I feel like I’m watching my grandchildren play."

Click here to see John's CriticsChoice rating on "The Amazing Spider-Man 2."

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Talking 'Spider-Man 2': Emma Stone cries, Andrew Garfield flies, and villains Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan rise

NEW YORK -- Working on the "Amazing Spider-Man" franchise seriously is a big deal. In fact, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" plays so huge in every way that Emma Stone cried when she saw it. Really.
"Doing these movies has been enormous to me," explains Stone, who once more plays Gwen Stacy, love interest to Spider-Man/Peter Parker, during a brief Sunday morning interview. "It's been three-and-a-half years of my life. It's the longest I've ever worked on something creatively.
"Right now (talking about it), I'm still so in the thick of it that I think the hindsight is going to be more valuable. A year from now, I'll be able to tell you the ways it has changed and affected my life. I mean, it's meant so much to me. It's just been a hugely meaningful experience, and I cried the other night at the premiere."
In addition to Stone mentioning the strength of her character below, other members of the cast, including Spidey himself, Andrew Garfield, and villains played by Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan, talk about a few other things that turned them on about starring in what's bound to be summer's first certified blockbuster.

Once again, Spider-Man suits Andrew Garfield just fine
Andrew Garfield (Spider-Man/Peter Parker): "The way I see our Spider-Man is that we are part of a larger legacy. I celebrate what Tobey Maguire did (in previous movies); I celebrate what Avi Arad did with the cartoon series; I celebrate Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and all these other great artists and writers who have given different great incarnations of this character. All I hope to do is just be another part of that long and much greater legacy and be a part of the team, as opposed to comparing or competing.

"The amazing thing about Peter is that he has always been a working class hero and a genius. He is also sort of a subversive, underground revolutionary, even a Robin Hood in a way. I love that about him.

"The bond we show between Peter and (best friend) Harry Osborne becomes a great thing in this one, too. It's a very deep bond that is rooted in this wound they both share of having lost or of having been perceived to be abandoned in different ways by their parents, but predominately that lack of father. There's this very unsaid thing that, as soon as we see each other, it's 'Oh, my God, I know you and you know me.' "

Emma Stone portrays the brave and smart Gwen Stacy
Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy): "I love that Gwen Stacy is the very opposite of the damsel in distress. She's helped Peter so many times before, including in the first movie with the serum. She was raised by the chief of police (Denis Leary), so I think she has this heroic (nature) or the impulse to search for something greater than herself in the same way that Peter does. I think that's why she understands Peter and is so insanely frustrated about the fact that he won't just accept that she's OK with him being Spider-Man and that she doesn't need to be protected.
"In all honesty, the script was so beautifully handled throughout the film, but the visual effects were what literally blew me away. I saw it in IMAX 3-D and the ripples on (Spider-Man's) suit gave me motion sickness in the best way. I mean, I had positive, go-see-the-movie motion sickness."

Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) comes face-to-face with his favorite superhero.
Jamie Foxx (Electro/Max): “You know what? Doing this (was a result of) fame fatigue.
What I mean by that is any time I get a chance to disappear into some type of character is great to do, because we (celebs) bombard people with our image every single day on  Twitter or Instagram. To be the first black man with a comb-over and to put the gap in the teeth and go back to sort of my 'In Living Color' days (on TV) can really show Max as sort of like broken and really reaching out. Even though the character is broad, he still has feelings and, when he sees Spider-Man, it does something to him. So, we understand that, when he does turn into Electro, he’s really hurting more than he is evil. He’s just let down as a fan.
“And I do understand the fanatic thing, too. I was in Philly shooting a movie, and I get a knock on my door on my condo, and there’s a guy there who says, ‘Hey Jamie, Beyonce told me to come check on you. Can I just come in?’ Eventually I had to slam the door and call security. We actually caught him, but I wanted to take a little bit of that sort of fanatic and put it into Max as well.”

Garfield, DeHaan as pals Peter and Harry
Dane DeHaan (The Green Goblin/Harry Osborn): "Jamie was covered head to toe in prosthetics, so he didn't have any pores on his body that were breathing. I've been through that and it becomes kind of a psychological dying. Then again, my suit was heavier. It weighed 50 pounds and it took an hour to get into. But look, it's funny, we always get asked how hard it is to be bad guys, you know, how much time it takes and all that stuff. But who cares? We get to be Electro, and we get to be The Green Goblin, and that's what's exciting. Even when Jamie was on set with all those prosthetics, he he was never complaining, and we were always just having a good time and doing our jobs. We all spent time on wires, and I spent time in the glider, but that stuff can be fun, too. The temperature on the set during my final fight with SpiderMan was 110 degrees, and they kept pouring buckets of ice water down  my suit between takes. By the time they called action, that water was either boiling or had turned to steam."
Click here to see John's CriticsChoice rating on "The Amazing
Spider-Man 2."