Arts and the Men

esq-schwartzman-xlg-40506378Thirteen movies open in Toronto today, and no fewer than four of them are about creativity, artists and the importance of being true to one’s own vision.

A couple of those are even pretty good.

Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Yes, that is a stupid and pretentious title. It’s a pretty stupid and pretentious movie, too.

Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity: Rad is not captivated by this documentary about the aerial choreographer. I can’t say I’m in any rush to see it myself.

Eternity: The Movie: Susan would have liked a little more substance from Ian Thorpe’s retro ’80s spoof about wannabe popsters in Hollywood. And maybe less hair gel.

The Irish Pub: Yes, I am a sucker for movies that spend enough time in bars that you can see what’s available on cask. This is a movie about nothing else.

John Wick: Keanu Reeves kills a whole bunch of people in this remarkably entertaining action movie, which invites the viewer to enjoy its spectacle, Kill Bill-style, while still delivering a grim revenge story.

Laggies: Lynn Shelton’s latest casts Keira Knightley as a Seattle woman facing a quarter-life crisis, and Sam Rockwell and Chloe Grace-Moretz as the father-daughter pair who give her a place to crash.

Levitated Mass: Michael Heizer said “Hey, let’s make art out of a huge boulder.” And Doug Pray said, “”Hey, let’s make art out of your art.” This is a great little documentary.

Listen Up Philip: Alex Ross Perry follows The Color Wheel with a brilliant, withering dramedy about an egotistical author (Jason Schwartzman, perfectly cast) and his toxic relationships.  You’ll laugh, you’ll feel dirty, you’ll laugh some more.

Mall: Linkin Park frontman Joseph Hahn makes a movie in which the fates of random characters cross during a mall shooting. Susan is not feeling it.

Ouija: Hey, Hasbro’s made four Transformer movies and a Battleship feature; they were bound to get around to this eventually.

A Thousand Times Good Night: Juliette Binoche is a traumatized war photographer trying to cope with the return to normal life; Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is her husband. Rad is unmoved.

Whiplash: A lot of people are going nuts over Damien Chazelle’s Sundance breakout, which pits a talented drummer (Miles Teller) against an authoritarian conductor (J.K. Simmons) in an increasingly ludicrous battle of wills. Well-acted? Absolutely. But almost as bollocks as Birdman, in its way.

White Bird in a Blizzard: Gregg Araki’s melodrama stars Shailene Woodley as a teenager struggling with the disappearance of her mother (Eva Green). It isn’t groundbreaking cinema, but Woodley’s fantastic and Araki does some interesting things with the Sirkian millieu.

Next week there are only eight movies opening. It will feel positively tranquil.

Kids in America

whiYeah, I do too many interviews.

This week’s NOW finds me chatting with Shailene Woodley about her new movie White Bird in a Blizzard and her admiration for its director, Gregg Araki, with whom I have a web Q&A now live.

I also talked to Alex Ross Perry, writer and director of the exceptional Listen Up Philip, and to Lynn Shelton, whose new film Laggies is pretty damn good too.

And while that may seem like a lot of interviewing, I would remind you this covers just three of the 13 films opening in town tomorrow. Because the world is insane.

Consorting with Royalty

princess-kaguyaSo I’m the special guest at the 6:40 pm screening of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya tonight at the Lightbox as the monthly guest of TIFF’s new Critic’s Night program.

It’s quite an honor, really; I’m only the second person to be invited, after Jason Anderson did 20,000 Days on Earth last month. And the movie will be a splendid experience even in spite of my participation, which amounts to an introduction and a post-screening discussion.  It’s a gorgeous visual experience and a deeply emotional allegory for … well, stuff you’ll discover when you come and see the film.

Because you are coming, aren’t you? C’mon.

Back into the Muck

shia-labeouf-furyAfter two weeks of the cool, chilling Gone Girl, audiences chose to embrace the blood and thunder of Fury this weekend.

David Ayer’s ultraviolent WWII actioner opened to a $23.5 million gross, while David Fincher’s couples’ thriller dropped down to second place with $17.8 million.

Guillermo del Toro’s animated fantasy The Book of Life took third with $17 million; Disney’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day placed fourth with $12 million and the Nicholas Sparks weeper The Best of Me opened to a disappointing $10.2 million to land in fifth place.

Maybe people are getting tired of the patented Sparks formula. That’d be nice.

Mass Effect

Best-of-Me-trailerYeah, there are far too many movies opening this month. This week is busy, but next week is nuts — trust me, you’ll see. For now, though, let’s just deal with what’s in front of our faces.

The Best of Me: I am contractually exempt from seeing movies where Nicholas Sparks appears in the credit block, so we sent Rad to this latest timeless weeper. He was very brave.

The Book of Life: You know, you hear “Guillermo del Toro’s Day of the Dead movie” and you imagine something else. Instead, it’s an elaborate CG family movie which Rad calls “a magnificent mess”. I’m intrigued — though I’d really like to see the three-hour version.

Felony: The last time I saw Joel Edgerton, he was about to start work on this Australian cop thriller. He also said he was hoping to change the title to something ridiculously evocative, like A Tear on My Pillow.  Looks like that didn’t take.

Fury: David Ayer — writer of Training Day, director of Harsh TimesEnd of Watch and Sabotage – switches from the policier to the WWII tank picture, and still manages to tell the exact same story he always does. That’s some kind of accomplishment.

The Green Prince: Nadav Schirman’s documentary tells the story of Mosab Hassan Yousef, recruited by the Mossad to spy on his Hamas leader father for Israel. Susan has some issues with Schirman’s choices, but gives the film a pass.

The Guest: Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett follow You’re Next with another playful genre exercise, this one built around two terrific performances from Dan Stevens and Maika Monroe. And the release-date shuffle means it’s opening just in time for Halloween, where it belongs.

Rudderless: UPDATE! I completely forgot that William H. Macy’s modest drama was opening today, and that I reviewed it, which seems awfully insulting. But it’s that kind of picture — a small project that radiates decency and compassion without ever really registering harder. It’ll play well on VOD.

St. Vincent: I’m not nearly as high on Theodore Melfi’s dramedy as some, but I will say this: If Bill Murray doesn’t get an Oscar out of it, Harvey Weinstein needs to take a long, hard look at his life choices.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya: Isao Takahata’s animated adaptation of a Japanese folk tale plays like a delicate epic, if you can imagine such a thing. And it was a pleasure to see the man who made Grave of the Fireflies deliver something that didn’t leave me in pieces afterward.

These Final Hours: A young man and a much younger girl forge an unlikely friendship in the last day of human existence in the Australian answer to Last Night and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

Tu Dors Nicole: I’ve never been the biggest fan of Stephane Lafleur’s films, but Rad is dazzled by his latest, which follows two young women through a lazy Quebec summer.

Watchers of the Sky: Edet Belzberg’s documentary examines the attempts to understand genocide as a war crime over the past century; Andy feels it stands with The Act of Killing as both a documentary and a catalyst for social change.

Until next week …

A Late-Arriving Guest

Tguest34562he new issue of NOW finds us finally running my TIFF interview with Dan Stevens — and an attendant web Q&A with filmmakers Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett — now that The Guest is finally opening in Toronto after multiple rescheduled release dates. And hooray for that, because it’s an awful lot of fun.

But wait, there’s more! I also talked to Melissa McCarthy when she came through the festival with St. Vincent; we spent far too much time discussing The Nines, a great weird thing she made with John August and Ryan Reynolds back in 2007. (Which, it turns out, is on Blu-ray! Buy that!)

Oh, and I took a look at the ImagineNATIVE film festival, which gets underway early next week. Could have used a lot more space on that one, but then I say that every week.

Lowered Stakes

cdn.indiewireIn one of those moments that gives you hope for the future, David Fincher’s Gone Girl kept the un-good Dracula Untold from topping the weekend box-office, which with any luck will make Universal reconsider its fairly stupid plan to build a shared universe out of its classic-monster properties.

(Said shared universe would presumably stitch together Luke Evans’ unimpressive Dracula with Hugo Weaving’s newly anointed Wolf Man and have them stare daggers at Brendan Fraser for two hours while waiting for some new version of Victor Frankenstein to arrive. Bleah.)

But yes! Gone Girl made $26.8 million to Dracula Untold‘s $23.5 million, so pulp-literary adaptations win out over CG monster mashes and all is right with the world.

Disney’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Very Bad Day came in third with a just-okay $19.1 million, while The Judge opened in fifth with $13.3 million. And the Conjuring prequel Annabelle dropped to fourth with $16.4 million, because scary dolls are a lot less scary on their second weekend.

Okay then.

Bleah, Bleah, Bleah

Dracula UntoldOctober means endless openings — though once again The Guest was bumped from release at the last minute. Which is actually okay, since every delay brings it closer to Halloween, when the movie itself is set. I could think of worse release strategies.

In the meantime, here’s a list of what is arriving in theatres today. Some of them are even worth your time.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: The beloved children’s book becomes a movie! Because all is entropy and everything you love dies! Also, Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner make faces in it. Rad was unmoved.

Bjork: Biophilia LiveSusan is wowed by the Icelandic pixie’s latest concert movie. Co-director Peter Strickland made Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy, so I can see how that would happen.

Dracula Untold: No, Universal’s latest monster reboot isn’t very good, but at least it isn’t very good in a different way from the incoherent flailing of The Wolfman. I mean, I guess that’s a net positive.

God Help the Girl: Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch makes a musical. It is a mess, but if you’re a fan you might enjoy some of it. God knows I tried to.

The Judge: Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are so frickin’ good in this movie — and Vincent D’Onofrio and Vera Farmiga are as well — that it almost doesn’t matter that the movie itself isn’t that great.

Kill the Messenger: Speaking of actors being good in movies that aren’t exactly punching at their level, Jeremy Renner does a fine job of playing California journalist Gary Webb in Michael Cuesta’s middling biopic. Also very good, in smaller roles: Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Michael Sheen.

Mudbloods: This is a documentary about the brave lads of the UCLA Quidditch team, which demonstrates that you really can make a documentary about anything. Rad ain’t buying it.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared: Susan doesn’t have a lot of time for Felix Herngren’s Swedish satire, and from the way she describes it I can’t say I would either.

And there we are. Enjoy your Turkey Day, everyone!

The Legend Is Real

10520409_1539193362984978_284915736_nOn the cover of today’s NOW: Robert goddamn Duvall, ladies and gentlemen. This one was pure pleasure, both to research and to write; play the audio clips to understand how much fun it is just to sit and listen to the man speak. (I especially love his pronunciation of the word spoon.)

I also take a look at his five best roles as part of the package — though this particular Top 5 could have gone to a Top 15. And here’s my TIFF interview with Duvall’s equally engaging co-star Robert Downey Jr., just because you’ve been good all week.

And in the film section proper, I preview the Reel Indie Film Festival, which takes over the Royal as of next Tuesday. Because I am a comprehensive sort of fellow.

My other other gig.