Monday, September 18, 2017

42nd TIFF award advertises 'Billboards' as a real favorite

The curtain has come down at the 42nd annual Toronto International Film Festival, and
"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" walked off with the "People's Choice Award."

As result, the darkly comic drama from writer/director Martin McDonagh establishes itself as a year-end awards favorite, that is, if TIFF history has anything to say about it. The fact remains, though, that eight of last the nine winners have gone on to Best Picture Academy Award nominations. Those include "Room" and "La La Land" the last two years, as well as such actual Oscar winners as "Slumdog Millionaire," The King's Speech," and "12 Years a Slave."

Frances McDormand stars in "The People's Choice" winner.
The film from McDonagh ("In Bruges," "Seven Psychopaths") features Frances McDormand leading an all-star ensemble as a tough mom who purchases the billboard space to get the local police moving on finding her daughter's murderer. Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish and Lucas Hedges co-star.

The People's Choice runners-up for the festival, which showcased 255 features from Sept. 7-17, were "I, Tonya" (starring Margot Robbie as scandalous figure skater Tonya Harding) and "Call Me By Your Name," the Armie Hammer starrer which has been a critical darling since debuting at the Sundance Film Festival last winter.

Other top TIFF winners included:

Best Canadian Feature: "Les Affames"; Film Critics Fipresci Prizes: "Ava" (in the festival's Discovery program) and "The Motive" (in Special Presentations); Platform Prize: "Sweet Country"; People's Choice in Midnight Madness: "Bodied";  People's Choice in Documentaries: "Faces Places."

Some personal choices (among 30 movies viewed):

Favorite films: The aforementioned "Billboards," which twists and turns brilliantly around McDormand's justifiably angry mom, and "The Shape of Water," co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro's fairytale about a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) becoming infatuated with the subject of a top-secret government experiment. It truly is a movie lover's dream with another smart, superb supporting cast.

Good ones to see: "Battle of the Sexes" (Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs); "Borg/McEnroe" (Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe); "Darkest Hour" (Winston Churchill vs. the Nazis), and "Chappaquiddick" (Teddy Kennedy vs. himself).

Nice surprises: "Breathe" (which first-time director Andy Serkis somehow makes much more than just another disease of the week movie) and "Lady Bird" (which first-time director Greta Gerwig somehow makes a little more than your average teen angst comedy).

And speaking of comedies: Armando Ianucci's "The Death of Stalin" and Louis C.K.'s "I Love You, Daddy" both produced some very big laughs, particularly in the early going. However, the most consistently funny festival film was "The Disaster Artist," from director James Franco, who also stars as the filmmaker credited with making the worst movie of all time. It's consistently hilarious.

Actor accolades: Gary Oldman, as the aforementioned Churchill in "Darkest Hour"; Andrew Garfield in "Breathe"; Denzel Washington as "Roman J. Israel, Esq."; and Michael Stuhlbarg and Timothee Chalamet in "Call Me By Your Name." Their father-son scene at the end is a cinematic masterpiece.

Actress attention: Hawkins in "The Shape of Water"; McDormand in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Claire Foy in "Breathe"; and Laurie Metcalf, as the "mean" mother in "Lady Bird."

Wish I'd seen 'em: "I Tonya"  and "The Florida Project."

Sorry I did: "mother!" I prefer to call it "monstrous!" And, I wasn't the only one. Here's what I overheard walking out: "So Paramount gave (director Darren) Aronofsky a (boat)load of money and basically said, "Go make whatever you want." Sounds about right.

And, on than note, our TIFF coverage becomes a legitimate wrap.

(Info on all of the above films remains available at

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Denzel's latest becomes final Toronto Film Festival entry

TORONTO -- The Toronto International Film Festival this morning announced the world premiere of Academy Award nominee Dan Gilroy’s "Roman J. Israel, Esq." thus completing the 2017 Official Programme Selection.

Written and directed by Gilroy and featuring what's being called "an amazing transformation" by Denzel Washington, the film is the newest and final addition to TIFF’s Special Presentations program, furthering Washington and Gilroy’s collaborative relationship with the Festival.

“The Toronto International Film Festival has a wonderful history with both Dan Gilroy and Denzel Washington,” said Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of TIFF. “Three years ago, TIFF had the honor of premiering Gilroy’s directorial debut, 'Nightcrawler.'

Denzel Washington is "Roman J. Israel, Esq."
"In addition to previously screening 'The Equalizer' and presenting the world premiere of 'Training Day,' which earned Washington an Oscar for Best Actor, the Washington-starring 'The Magnificent Seven' was our Opening Night film last year."

“We always hoped to premiere at Toronto and couldn't be happier that TIFF audiences will be the first to see the film,” said Gilroy.

"Roman J. Israel, Esq." is a dramatic thriller set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system.  Washington stars as a driven, idealistic defense attorney whose life is upended when a turbulent series of events challenge the activism that has defined his career.

Colin Farrell co-stars as the ambitious, monied lawyer who recruits Roman to his firm. This star-led cast also includes Carmen Ejogo, Lynda Gravatt, Amanda Warren, Hugo Armstrong, Sam Gilroy, Tony Plana, DeRon Horton and Amari Cheatom.

The 42nd Toronto International Film Festival runs from Sept. 7-17. For film synopses, cast lists, images and more information, see

For even more on the festival, continue to read John M. Urbancich's TIFF stories at John's first festival preview is here right now.

Monday, July 31, 2017

'Borg/McEnroe' tennis drama will open Toronto Film Festival

TIFF will serve up one of the most exciting duels in sports history to kick off the 42nd annual Toronto International Film Festival. The world premiere of "Borg/McEnroe" will be the Opening Night Gala film on Sept. 7 at Roy Thomson Hall.

"Borg/McEnroe" tells the story of the epic rivalry between Swedish tennis legend Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and his greatest adversary, the brash American John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf), which all came to a head during the 1980 Wimbledon Championships. The movie is directed by Janus Metz and written by Ronnie Sandahl, 

"The film has a powerful tension about it that is on par with the electric energy of Toronto on opening night,” said Piers Handling, TIFF's Director and CEO. “The story of this nail-biter matchup changed the sport of tennis forever, and the outstanding performances from LaBeouf and Gudnason will be a spectacular way for festival-goers to kick things off.”

LaBeouf and Gudnason take center court in Toronto.
Added director Metz: “I am extremely honored by TIFF’s selection of 'Borg/McEnroe' as the opening film. It is a great celebration and recognition of everyone in the cast and crew who worked so hard to make this film what it is. We had very high ambitions for this project and have come such a long way together. I'm very excited that we can finally let the film out into the world, and I couldn't dream of a better way of doing this.”

Cameron Bailey, artistic director of TIFF, compared Metz's latest film to his 'Armadillo,' a gripping war documentary that took home the Critics Week Grand Prize at Cannes in 2010. "Amazingly, Metz brings that same urgent tension to 'Borg/McEnroe'," Bailey said. "The on-court scenes have the dynamism of a street battle, and the drama peels back layers from what we know about both players.

"This was more than a simple conflict pitting an icy European against an impulsive American. Audiences are in for one hell of a showdown.”

The 42nd Toronto International Film Festival runs from Sept. 7-17, Festival ticket packages start at $105. Purchase packages online at, by phone (416.599.TIFF or 1.888.599.8433), or in person at TIFF Bell Lightbox until Aug. 13 while quantities last.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Latest from duo behind 'Intouchables' and 'Samba' closes TIFF

Piers Handling, CEO and Director of the Toronto International Film Festival, and Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of TIFF, this morning unveiled the first round of titles premiering in the Gala and Special Presentations programs of the 42nd TIFF. Of the 14 Galas and 33 Special Presentations, this first announcement includes 25 world premieres, eight international premieres, six North American premieres and eight Canadian premieres.

“Festival-goers from around the world can anticipate a remarkable lineup of extraordinary stories, voices and cinematic visions from emerging talent and some of our favorite masters,” Handling said. “Today’s announcement offers audiences a glimpse at this year’s rich and robust selection of films, including works from Canada, USA, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, India, Chile, Egypt and Cambodia.”

Today's list includes the World Premiere of "C’est la vie!", which was announced as the festival's Closing Night Gala. Written and directed by award-winning filmmakers Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, the film stars Gilles Lellouche, Suzanne Clément, Eye Haïdara, and Jean-Pierre Bacri. "C’est la vie!" will screen at Roy Thomson Hall on Sept. 16.

"C’est la vie!" tells the story of Max, who has begun to grow tired after running his catering company for 30 years. While planning a large wedding for clients, a series of mishaps upends a very tight schedule, and every instant of happiness and emotion could veer into disaster and chaos. From the preparations to daybreak, we get a behind-the-scenes look at a wedding party through the eyes of the people working the event. They will all have to count on their one common quality: knowing how to throw a good party!

Nakache and Toledano make films that the whole world has embraced. We're thrilled to welcome them back with their latest,” said Bailey. “This will be a terrific way for Toronto to close out the festival.”

Bailey later added that the festival's Opening Night film has not been selected so far. However, he said the choice likely would be announced by mid-August, if not sooner. The 42nd annual film festival runs from Sept. 7-17.

Other festival world premieres announced today include: "Breathe" (directed by Andy Serkis and starring Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy); "The Catcher Was a Spy" (Guy Pearce and Paul Rudd) ; "Mary Shelley" (Elle Fanning); "The Wife" (Christian Slater and Glenn Close); "Woman Walks Ahead" (Jessica Chastain and Sam Rockwell); and "The Children Act" (Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci).

For more on festival films named today, read John's piece here.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Trevorrow opens 'Book,' but dreams about galaxies far away

A lot of people talk about their big dreams these days, but it's extremely rare to meet someone whose huge ambitions really do come true.

Last week, 40-year-old writer/director/producer Colin Trevorrow came through northeast Ohio to talk about his latest film, "The Book of Henry," a very small movie compared to the anticipated blockbusters and sequels dotting the big-screen landscape during these warm viewing months.

Trevorrow seems content with a busy future.
Regardless, the Fandango movie site, among others, calls "Henry" this summer's "most anticipated thriller," and that's likely because Trevorrow, the dreamer with the track record of getting things done -- and very successfully -- is directing it.

The Oakland-raised youngster, who sang with the San Francisco Opera Chorus, later interned at NBC's "Saturday Night Live" while attending NYU, and just a few years later wrote and directed a short film ("Home Base") that eventually enjoyed more than 20 million online hits, has become THE Man to co-write and direct "Star Wars: Episode IX," now set for a trilogy-ending debut in May 2019.

"So, Colin," we asked, "in all of your wildest dreams, did you ever imagine that some day you would play such an important role in the 'Star Wars' saga?"

"It's weird," THE Man answers, "but it's like yes and no, because that's what wildest dreams are for. So, yes, in my wildest dreams I did imagine it, but there was a moment when they announced that they were doing these new 'Star Wars' movies that wasn't exactly a spiritual moment, but it went pretty deep, and I felt that I had to do this and, so, would do anything it takes to evidence that I can actually do it."

That "evidence" came up in spades in 2015 when Trevorrow followed-up his small sci-fi comedy, "Safety Not Guaranteed," by directing and co-writing (with college pal Derek Connolly) the massively budgeted "Jurassic World," which now, by the way, ranks as the fourth highest grossing film of all time at a remarkable $1.671 billion.

"Of course, I always loved the 'Jurassic Park' franchise," Trevorrow recalls, "so when they came to me with what was essentially 'Jurassic Park 4' and I was always a 'Star Wars' kid, anyway, my own thought process became: 'OK, if I do this well, and I make a film that shows that I can do this, then maybe I can get 'Star Wars.' So, 'Jurassic World' was really an audition."

 Certainly, that's nice work if you can get it. As a result, Trevorrow has moved his wife and two children (ages 4 and 8) from their Vermont home to what likely will become a three-year residence on "a really beautiful farm in the country (near London) with horses, and chickens and cows and rabbits around us all the time."

That's because, in addition to the much-discussed 'Star Wars' gig taking him there, he is also co-writing (again with Connolly) and executive-producing the untitled "Jurassic World" sequel, which began shooting in England last year for release next summer.

"The Book of Henry" family: Watts, Tremblay, Lieberher

Meanwhile, a theater filled with rabid movie fans warmly received Trevorrow's "The Book of Henry," when it was shown last Wednesday night at the Cinemark in Valley View. Believe it or not, it was the first public screening of the film, which opens Friday.

"I made a request that I could take this film to cities that were not just New York and L.A. to talk to people everywhere because I really feel like it can connect with audiences everywhere," Trevorrow explains. "I like to drive around the country and meet different kinds of people. I think it's important, especially for a filmmaker, to understand your audience and their needs and what their lives are right now because their lives are always changing."

In "Henry," Naomi Watts stars as a single mom with two sons, one the bordering-on-genius 11-year-old title character (played by Jaeden Lieberher of "St. Vincent" fame) and his adoring younger brother (little Jacob Tremblay from "Room").

"This was a very special film for Naomi because she has two boys of her own," Trevorrow says, "In fact, though, I think this movie has values that we all share. We have children, and we have fears about their safety, and we all live in the same world that is very scary and dangerous right now. In the same way that maybe a Grimm fairytale might address the darkness in the world in a sort of fable-like way, I think this movie allows us to confront those fears."

May the Force remain with us all.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Liev goes from TV 'Ray' to movie 'Chuck,' a fight flick with some local ties

"Chuck," a historically connected fight flick, finally gets a an opportunity to flaunt its cinematic stuff Friday when it opens at the Cedar Lee Theater in Cleveland Heights.

Cleveland even gets some mention in this funny and, at times, touching tale of boxer Chuck Wepner (engagingly played by Liev Schreiber), though, director Philippe Falardeau ("Monsieur Lazhar") makes it more of an affable profile/period piece than a sports movie. Still, for those who don't know, it actually was Wepner who inspired Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" movie franchise after taking champ Muhammad Ali into the 15th round at the former "Coliseum" in suburban Richfield, Ohio.

As detailed in Falardeau's film, Ali pummeled the never-say-die Wepner endlessly during the bout, Stallone certainly took notice, and the former New Jersey butcher became the still-living legend known as the "Bayonne Bleeder."

That's why "Chuck" was originally titled "The Bleeder" when it enjoyed its North American premiere at last September's 41st annual Toronto International Film Festival. That's also where Schreiber, the Emmy-nominated star of Showtime's exceptional, if grim "Ray Donovan," talked about Wepner and some other things.

Schreiber, as Wepner, in "Chuck," originally called "The Bleeder."
"It started with the story," Schreiber said, "but then it got personal for me. People knew I liked boxing but, to be honest, I wasn't that interested.

"I mean, I love Chuck's story, and I love who Chuck is but, over time, I started to parse it as this kind of cautionary tale about the pitfalls of celebrity and fame and narcissism and that got more interesting to me.

"Then I met Chuck," the actor continued. "He's a very likable character in a difficult story line, and  I thought, 'Well, that would be fun to play.' At least for me, I felt like as many mistakes as this character makes, you never stop wanting him to succeed. You never stop liking him. I thought, 'That's a really unique person.' 

"I rather quickly found out why Chuck is the kind of person who could do what he did that night in Cleveland (on March 24, 1975). It takes someone very special to accomplish that. Chuck doesn't perceive it as pain. You put him in front of a crowd and he simply wants to entertain, I think he uses it as motivation and inspiration in the ring as well."

By the way, the only real scene defined as "Cleveland" in the film actually was shot on a street in Yonkers, N.Y., Also, Ali is played by Schreiber's "Ray Donovan" co-star Pooch Hall.

"Pooch is a tremendous boxer," Schreiber said. "We've been fighting together for years on the ('Donovan') set. "Ray Donovan" begins its fifth Showtime season on Aug. 6. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Besson's new 'Valerian' film inspires comic book giveaway

An exclusive comic book featuring the stories that inspired the upcoming film Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets will be available to fans around the world for free at local comic book stores on Saturday, May 6, as part of “Free Comic Book Day.” 

In anticipation of the July 21 release of  the film, this 32-page, free issue will feature a preview of the story from the comics that inspired the movie, as well as exclusive, behind-the-scenes content from the summer flick developed and produced by EuropaCorp and distributed in the U. S. by STXfilms.

DeHaan and Delevingne star as Valerian and Laureline
The original ground-breaking French comic series of VALERIAN AND LAURELINE, published by Les Éditions Dargaud, was created by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, and inspired a generation of artists, writers, and filmmakers. The series ran for 43 years and is collected in 23 volumes. This year, it is celebrating its 50th anniversary, thus coinciding with the feature film. 

”It gives me incredible joy to finally bring to the big screen, 50 years later, the work of comic book creators Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières that originally sparked my imagination and set me on this incredible journey,” said writer/ director Luc Besson. “I look forward to introducing a new generation of fans to the adventures of Valerian and Laureline.”

Besson's film is expected to be a visually spectacular new adventure film, starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, and Rutger Hauer. The film is produced by Virginie Besson-Silla,

STXfilms thanks Cinebook and Bliss on Tap, both apparently instrumental in bringing this preview issue to fans on Free Comic Book Day. The 32-page preview issue will be printed at its original, European size. Check with your local comic book shop for more details. Availability will be limited.