Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Two more world premieres open and close 43rd annual TIFF

Pine stars as Scottish "Outlaw King" Robert the Bruce.
"Outlaw King," David Mackenzie’s much-anticipated period drama chronicling the rise of a 14th-century Scottish hero, has been announced as the Opening Night Gala Presentation at the 43rd annual Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, Sept. 6.

This epic David-versus-Goliath tale reunites award-winning director Mackenzie ("Starred Up," "Young Adam") with his "Hell or High Water" actor Chris Pine, who takes on the starring role of  legendary Scottish king Robert the Bruce leading a band of outlaws to reclaim the throne from the clutches of the English crown and its army. The film also stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, and Billy Howle.

“TIFF’s Opening Night Film tells a powerful story that is rich in drama, excitement, romance, and adventure,” Piers Handling, Director & CEO of TIFF, said this morning. "Audiences are promised a thrilling journey back in time, as David Mackenzie masterfully unwraps history with taut dramatic flare and brings to life the true story of a real Scottish hero."

Dern and Stewart co-star in this year's TIFF Closing Night film.
The closing night film, also announced today, is "Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy," from director Justin Kelly and based on one of the most famous literary gambits in American history. The true story "goes beyond the headlines to reveal the most compelling literary hoax of our generation," with Laura Dern starring as an author who writes under a fictionalized persona, a disenfranchised young queer man named JT LeRoy. The movie also stars Kristen Stewart, Diane Kruger, Jim Sturgess, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Courtney Love, James Jagger, and Dave Brown.

“I am beyond honored that my film will premiere at TIFF as the Closing Night Film,” Kelly said in a festival press release. “I can’t wait for people to see the fascinating true story behind JT LeRoy, brought to life via incredible performances by a total dream cast.”

The 43rd Toronto International Film Festival runs from Sept. 6-16. For film synopses, cast lists, images, and more information, see tiff.net/galas. Festival tickets go on sale Sept. 3.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

'Predator' and 'Halloween' get Midnight Madness treatment at TIFF

TORONTO — Midnight Madness has just announced its lineup for the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival, including world premieres of "The Predator" and "Halloween." Screening to an audience of die-hard film fans every evening at 11:59 p.m., the 2018 program also features eight other "quintessential genre movies that are guaranteed to either terrorize or mesmerize."

“This year’s Midnight Madness slate promises another idiosyncratic confluence of established and emerging genre filmmakers,” said Midnight Madness Programmer Peter Kuplowsky.  “That includes the section’s two much-anticipated sequels,  'The Predator' and 'Halloween', each of which boldly and brilliantly builds upon its mythic iconography to thrilling and surprising effect.”

Shane Black’s 'The Predator,' the director’s reinvention of the iconic film series, will begin the series on festival Opening Night, Sept. 6. "Halloween," directed by David Gordon Green and starring Jamie Lee Curtis, follows later in the festival and features one final confrontation with serial slasher Michael Myers.

Michael Myers in "Halloween" and "The Predator" will get world premieres at this year's Toronto Film Festival.

The program closes with the North American premiere of "Diamantino," Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s bizarre, genre-bending film that fascinated audiences at Cannes earlier this year.

Midnight Madness also will present the North American premiere of "the electrifying" Gaspar Noé’s "Climax"; Peter Strickland’s highly anticipated "In Fabric," which follows the life of a cursed dress; the Canadian premiere of "Assassination Nation," directed by Sam Levinson, and Vasan Bala’s "The Man Who Feels No Pain," the first Indian film ever selected for TIFF's Midnight Madness.
All 10 MM films are listed here.                                                       

Friday, August 3, 2018

Pooh and pals help 'Robin' fly, but 'Minds' remains more vacant than dark

McGregor's "Robin" shares a balloon adventure with Winnie-the-Pooh.
The 2018 dog days of August movies begin today, with a decent Disney family offering easily topping a teen centric sci-fi flick we've seen way too many times before.

The former, the A.A Milne-based "Christopher Robin," stars Ewan McGregor as the grown-up title character, but it's childhood friends Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet and Tigger stealing the cinematic thunder.

Those same pals threw a melancholy going-away party for Robin near the end of Milne's classic "The House at Pooh Corner," and a sweet similar  gathering actually starts proceedings here (after some equally neat illustrations during the opening credits).

The farewell picnic in the famous Hundred Acre Wood occurs because young Chirstopher is being sent to boarding school. Then, next thing we know, he turns into McGregor's workaholic adult, who's concentration on fixing things at a stuffy luggage firm seriously keeps him away from his lovely wife (Hayley Atwell) and loving daughter (Bronte Carmichael).

Re-enter Pooh (the nifty bear voiced perfectly by Jim Cummings), along with the rest of his collection of CGI-stuffed animal chums, to maybe save the day -- and a marriage -- even if it's all a lot of fantasy fluff.

Certainly small fry won't care or notice, for that matter, while longtime followers of Pooh might be surprised how the bear-tinged humor gets served up with so much respect.

Rated "PG": for some action; 1:45; $ $ $ out of $5 

On the other hand, nothing really works well in "The Darkest Minds," which plays like a Saturday morning kids' show, complete with TV-level production values, shoddy special effects and Mandy Moore (NBC's "This Is Us").

Moore meets Stenberg's mysterious Ruby in "Minds."
We mention Moore, who only has a supporting role here, because two of her most recent releases, "47 Meters Down" (2017) and "Swinging with the Finkels" (2011), each landed with heavy August thuds. Expect "Minds" to do the same, especially since its abrupt finale literally erases everything that came previously for two of its most appealing characters in an obvious reach for franchise possibilities.

The film stars Amandla Steinberg (from "The Hunger Games," speaking of franchises), Harris Dickinson (TV's "Trust" miniseries), and Skylan Brooks as three "special," on-the-run survivors of  a worldwide mystery event that killed 90 percent of the world's kids.

Of course, the cause of it all never gets explained and, unless we read the Alexandra Bracken young adult novel on which it's based, it says here we'll likely never know.

Rated "PG-13": violence including disturbing images and thematic elements; 1:43; $ $ out of $5

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Dolan's first English language feature to debut at TIFF

TORONTO -- The Toronto International Film Festival today revealed that Xavier Dolan’s "The Death and Life of John F. Donovan" will have its World Premiere at the Festival in September.

The film follows the story of a young actor (Jacob Tremblay) as he reminisces about the letters he once shared with an American TV star (Kit Harington), who passed away a decade earlier, and the impact those letters had on both of their lives. An all-star cast also includes Natalie Portman, Ben Schnetzer, Susan Sarandon, Jared Keeso, Kathy Bates, Thandie Newton, Emily Hampshire, and former TIFF Rising Star Sarah Gadon.

“In only a few short years, Xavier Dolan has drawn film lovers all over the world into his personal vision,” said Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of TIFF. “That vision and his remarkable skill as a filmmaker are on full display in his English-language debut. We are honored to premiere it in Toronto."

"The Death and Life of John F. Donovan" will screen as part of the Special Presentations program when  the 43rd annual TIFF  runs from Sept. 6-16

Friday, July 27, 2018

Don't skip "Eighth Grade" or "M:I -- Fallout," two of warm season's finest

Two of summer’s best films so far open today, and they couldn’t be more different than big and small.

Let's start with the little indie, "Eighth Grade," which features a mostly unknown cast, including some real middle-schoolers portraying dorks, drips and supposedly hip kids, all making the life of the featured Kayla Day a little more tense.

Young Elsie Fisher bangs the cymbals for her work in "Eighth Grade."
Of course, they're also in the last week of their final semester before high school, a thought that likely scares the heck out of everyone, including the tech-savvy Kayla, whose own web cast is designed to put some self-assurance into her anxiety-filled days and social media-driven nights.

In other words, she's just a nice, quietly ordinary 13-year-old, played extraordinarily by newcomer Elsie Fisher, complete with early teen-age complexion, still-developing body type and the backpack full of apprehension we all carried at that age. I mean, a couple of scenes in this movie -- such as her painfully slow walk toward a pool party and a young hostess who really doesn't want her there, and a later episode that finds Kayla veritably trapped in the backseat of a car with an older boy -- absolutely will make you squirm until your seat breaks.

In between, some wonderful moments, including those with her put-upon single dad (Josh Hamilton) and others with a nervous admirer (Jake Ryan), definitely will make you smile. Certainly the entire result seems very real in the hands of first-time feature writer/director Bo Burnham, himself an actor/performance artist who forged his own career as a teen sharing his comic bits on the Internet.

To borrow a word that must be used hundreds of times in his "Eighth Grade" conversations on the big screen, Burnham's movie truly plays really cool.

Rated "R": language and some sexual material; 1:33; $ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

From the other end of the summer-movie budget spectrum comes "Mission: Impossible -- Fallout," a blockbuster that so easily wears its entertainment value on its sleeve, even an old enemy of preposterous stunts (such as myself) can become an admirer.

In this fascinatingly engaging sixth "M:I" (as based on the classic Bruce Geller TV show of the '60s), our hero Ethan Hunt (the still ultra-energetic Tom Cruise) again drives his faithful motorcycle, and a few other vehicles, through plot holes deeper than the Paramount Pictures pockets it took to make it.

Cruise again leads a tough team that includes Pegg, Ferguson and Rhames.
Regardless, writer and director Christopher McQuarrie inundates the screen with so many story twists and impressive action turns that there's no time or serious room to think about what's being witnessed. It's simply all a concoction of vigorous bursts and solid stops in Paris, Berlin, London and New Zealand (filling in for a thrillingly climactic mountaintop sequence in Kashmir).

McQuarrie, who also helmed "M:I -- Rogue Nation," even begins this one a little differently than the first five films in the franchise, eschewing extra pre-credit action for an intrigue-worthy sequence in which we again meet Hunt, his ex-wife (Michelle Monaghan), high-tech pals (Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames) and villainous Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).

The lovely Rebecca Ferguson (also back from "Rogue Nation") re-enters the picture later to help Hunt, et al. recover the plutonium -- of all things -- the good guys lost almost immediately. Henry Cavill ("Superman" himself), a very bad girl nicknamed "White Widow" (Vanessa Kirby from "The Crown" on Netflix), and a few others also join the non-stop, jam-packed proceedings that might keep some guessing and the rest appropriately amused.

Rated "PG-13": violence, intense sequences of action, and brief strong language; 2:27; $ $ $ $ out of $5

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Neil Armstrong space saga, local 'Rick' among first batch of TIFF films

TORONTO — Piers Handling, CEO and Director of TIFF, and Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of TIFF, today unveiled the first round of titles premiering in the Gala and Special Presentations programs for the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival (Sept. 6 -16).
Of the 17 Galas and 30 Special Presentations, this first announcement includes 21 World Premieres, seven International Premieres, eight North American Premieres and 11 Canadian Premieres.

Ryan Gosling stars as "First Man" Neil Armstrong in Damien Chazelle's latest.
The selections announced today include 13 features directed by women. “We have an exceptional selection of films this year that will excite Festival audiences from all walks of life,”  Handling said. 

“Today’s lineup showcases beloved auteurs alongside fresh voices in filmmaking, including numerous female powerhouses. The sweeping range in cinematic storytelling from around the world is a testament to the uniqueness of the films that are being made.

“Every September we invite the whole film world to Toronto, one of the most diverse, movie-mad cities in the world. I'm thrilled that we've been able to put together a lineup of Galas and Special Presentations that reflects Toronto's spirit of inclusive, passionate engagement with film. We can't wait to unveil these films for our audience,” Handling concluded.

This fall's Gala presentations will include:
Beautiful Boy,” Felix van Groeningen, USA, World Premiere; “Everybody Knows,” Asghar Farhadi, Spain/France/Italy, North American Premiere; “First Man,” Damien Chazelle, USA, Canadian Premiere; “Galveston,” Mélanie Laurent, USA, Canadian Premiere; “The Hate U Giv,” George Tillman Jr., USA, World Premiere; “Hidden Man,” Jiang Wen, China, International Premiere; “High Life,” Claire Denis, Germany/France/Poland/United Kingdom, World Premiere; “Husband Material,” Anurag Kashyap, India, World Premiere.

Matthew McConaughey is dad to newcomer Richie Merritt in "White Boy Rick."
The Kindergarten Teacher,” Sara Colangelo, USA, Canadian Premiere; “The Land of Steady Habits.” Nicole Holofcener, USA. World Premiere; “Life Itself,” Dan Fogelman, USA, World Premiere; “The Public,” Emilio Estevez, USA, World Premiere; “Red Joan,” Sir Trevor Nunn, United Kingdom, World Premiere; “Shadow,” Zhang Yimou, China, North American Premiere; “A Star is Born,” Bradley Cooper, USA, North American Premiere; “What They Had,” Elizabeth Chomko, USA, International Premiere; “Widows,” Steve McQueen, United Kingdom/USA, World Premiere.

Highlights among 30 other films announced this morning as part of TIFF’s “Special Presentations” include the North American premiere of “White Boy Rick,” which was shot predominately in northeast Ohio last year and stars Matthew McConaughey in the true story about a teen who becomes a drug informant; the world premiere of “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk”; and Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges in the world premiere of “Ben is Back,” a Christmas tale from director Peter Hedges.

More festival selections, including the Opening and Closing Night films, will be announced as the summer continues. To keep up, go to www.tiff.net.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Second 'Equalizer' uses same violent blueprint to emerge a bit better for it

Though it produces a somewhat more exciting result, "The Equalizer 2" certainly doesn't work very hard to get there.

Denzel sits in waiting to equalize the odds -- and then some.
I mean, the 2014 original featured ever-ultra cool Denzel Washington as the '80s TV-show-inspired Robert McCall. He was newly retired and working in a big-box store. Oh, by the way, his hobbies included trying to save a teen-age hooker from the streets, helping a chubby co-worker pass his exam to become a cop and, ultimately and most importantly, giving no quarter while taking no spit from way too many ruthless Russian mobsters.

In this latest and, perhaps, even more gratuitously violent incarnation, McCall has similar intentions. He is now a Lyft driver, attempting to rescue a talented teen artist ("Moonlight" youngster Ashton Sanders) from becoming a gangsta on even meaner streets, helping a Jewish codger (former talk- and quiz-show legend Orson Bean) recover a few very meaningful moments stolen during his Holocaust-heavy past and, finally, battling tooth and nail with bad guys who, well, you can try to spot them for yourselves. (It says here that you will.)

The former CIA operative (or something like that), opens the proceedings disguised as a devout Muslim in another sidebar thread that serves no purpose except to re-introduce his ongoing bad-assing on some leftover Russians. (Or, are they Turks?)

The main plot finally reveals itself with the appearance of always-steady Melissa Leo, again playing McCall's mentor in the government-backed business of black ops. A brutal and alleged murder/suicide occurs in Brussels, from which Leo's world-class investigator, who had been sent the to scour for clues, never returns.

The whole shebang is once again directed by the action-competent Antoine Fuqua, who helmed three other movies starring Washington, including "Training Day," for which his star earned his only Best Actor Oscar.

We've already mentioned that "Equalizer 2" offers more of the same, with its main attraction still giving his all while looking as if every vigilante move comes so very, very easily. That likely will be good enough for loyal Denzel fans of all ages. So, doesn't that mean everybody?

Rated "R": strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references; 2:09; $ $ $ out of $5