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TIFF 2016: Natalie Portman is Exceptional in Pablo Larraín's 'Jackie'

Jackie Review

It's never a good time to lose anyone close to you and even worse when the whole world is watching. Every move is watched and scrutinized regardless of context and it's up to you to put your personal feelings aside and keep moving forward. The astounding new film Jackie focuses on one of the biggest icons of class and style in America's history, Jackie Kennedy, and as played by a never-better Natalie Portman we witness the private grief that is human but rarely seen in public. Jackie is the English-language debut of Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín (of No, The Club and this year's Neruda) and as the story begins we are dropped right in the middle of the chaotic aftermath following JFK's assassination on November 22, 1963.

 Posted September 18 in Review, TIFF 16 | Comments

TIFF 2016: Garth Jennings' 'Sing' is a Crowd-Pleasing Musical for All

Sing Review

An extravagant singing competition brings many different creatures of all kinds together in the animated musical Sing, one of the biggest question marks of this year's Toronto Film Festival. However, it turned out to be an enormous surprise once the closing credits started rolling. It's a huge crowd-pleaser and the best family film since Disney's Zootopia, blending a traditional underdog story with gorgeous animation and of course tons of fun. Sing is also the latest endeavor from Illumination Entertainment, the animation studio responsible for Minions, Despicable Me and this year's The Secret Life of Pets. The company is certainly growing with each new project and Sing could be the breakthrough that makes them a household name.

 Posted September 17 in Animation, Review, TIFF 16 | Comments

TIFF 2016: Tom Ford's 'Nocturnal Animals' is Ambitious Sophistication

Nocturnal Animals

Love, revenge and masculinity run deep in Nocturnal Animals, the latest film made by fashion designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford. His previous film was 2009's A Single Man, the elegant and subtle tale of a closeted gay man at odds with himself. Now he's returned to play with those same themes in two different ways, melodrama and pulp. Nocturnal Animals is based on Austin Wright's 1993 novel "Tony and Susan" and among our first character introductions is Susan Morrow (played by Amy Adams). Her demeanor is ice cold and extremely calculating, the type of behavior that suggests deep sorrow and unnamed guilt.

 Posted September 15 in Review, TIFF 16 | Comments

TIFF 2016: Garth Davis' 'Lion' with Dev Patel is an Emotional Journey

Lion Review

The true story of a young Indian boy separated from his impoverished family only to reunite with them 20 years later is told in the emotional new film Lion, directed by Australian filmmaker Garth Davis ("Top of the Lake"), a tale full of heart and perseverance. Some will perhaps find it easy to compare this to Slumdog Millionaire, another fairly recent (and popular) film about an Indian boy beating the odds to make his way back home, but they are both very different adventures. Instead of the fast-paced Slumdog approach, Lion has a more quiet and subtle style in mind. The film begins in 1986 following five year old Saroo Brierley (played by Sunny Pawar) as he struggles to help his mother and older brother make ends meet.

 Posted September 14 in Review, TIFF 16 | Comments

TIFF 2016: J.A. Bayona's 'A Monster Calls' is a Rapturous Experience

A Monster Calls

Confronting the real world through imagination is at the heart of the new fantasy film A Monster Calls, the new visual feast from Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona (of the films The Orphanage, The Impossible previously). Bayona, along with screenwriter Patrick Ness (adapting his own novel), have taken the fairly mundane story of a child coming-of-age and given it a colorful makeover mixing excitement and real-world heartache. The story is about Conor O'Malley (played by Lewis MacDougall, also seen in Pan) who is only 12 years old but he's already dealing with adult problems involving his family and his life at school.

 Posted September 12 in Review, TIFF 16 | Comments

TIFF 2016: Fuqua's 'The Magnificent Seven' is Sheer Entertainment

The Magnificent Seven Review

Seven outlaws come together to save a helpless town from a greedy tyrant in Antoine Fuqua's new version of The Magnificent Seven, a remake of the original 1960 film (directed by John Sturges) which in itself was an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. That's probably the most confusing thing to be said about this new movie since the story its telling is as straight-forward and as expected as you've seen many times before. The good news, however, is what Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven lacks in originality it more than makes up for in sheer entertainment, for those wondering if this one is worth seeing.

 Posted September 10 in Review, TIFF 16 | Comments

AFI Fest 2015 Review: Adam McKay's Banker Comedy 'The Big Short'

The Big Short

The 2008 financial collapse is put under a microscope (again) in the new satire The Big Short, a movie that candidly raises more questions than it answers. Most of its dialogue is dense economics jargon that will fly by most moviegoers but not alienate them. The plot is easy to navigate without fully understanding the fine print thanks to director and co-writer Adam McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers) and his nose for quick wit. This is McKay's first dramatic turn after directing broad comedies like Anchorman, and The Other Guys, and he handles the change well, infusing the film with much needed levity when needed.

 Posted November 18 in Review | Comments

AFI Fest 2015 Review: Peter Landesman's 'Concussion' with Will Smith

Concussion

The new film Concussion centers on the real life expose of NFL head trauma, a condition so common and infuriating that it's surprising the information took as long as it did to leak to the public. It's an important subject that demands considerable attention yet director Peter Landesman only manages a serviceable film. Instead of being the NFL version of The Insider or All the President's Men, we get a version of the story that covers most of the bases but without any real depth or insight. Yet as it stands this lightweight indictment of the NFL is still enough to make audiences think twice before watching one of their favorite sports.

 Posted November 17 in Review | Comments

AFI 2015 Review: Angelina Jolie Pitt's 'By the Sea' Starring Brad Pitt

By the Sea

The strained marriage of an artistic couple is at the heart of By the Sea, the new directorial effort from Angelina Jolie Pitt. She and husband Brad Pitt star as the unhappy pair and while most will be quick to prejudge and deem this a vanity project the movie while not perfect is much deeper than its superficial exterior. By the Sea is a deliberate departure for the Hollywood power couple, the kind of movie that was commonplace in the 70s but can only be made now with the influence of these two megastars. Everything from the immaculate cinematography by Christian Berger (The White Ribbon) to the lush score by legendary composer Gabriel Yared (The Talented Mr. Ripley) evokes a forgotten era of filmmaking. An era Jolie Pitt is obviously very familiar with and despite a few bumps in the road manages to create in her own unique style.

 Posted November 14 in Review | Comments

TIFF 2015: Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes in James Vanderbilt's 'Truth'

Truth TIFF Review

The CBS News scandal in 2005 that ended anchorman Dan Rather's relationship with the network is put under a microscope in the film Truth, an adult drama that pulls no punches and is massively entertaining. Robert Redford plays the legendary newsman, and seeing him in the role will immediately bring back memories of All the President's Men. Truth never reaches the heights of that previous masterpiece but soars just fine on its own. In fact, writer-turned-director James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, The Amazing Spider-Man) doesn't even focus his film on Rather, he's a background player to the bigger story. Truth really centers on Mary Mapes, Rather's producer and trusted ally. She's played by Cate Blanchett and her performance is ferocious and unflinching, matching Redford's supporting role and Vanderbilt's screenplay beat for beat.

 Posted September 21 in Review, TIFF 15 | Comments

TIFF 2015: Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman's Stop-Motion 'Anomalisa'

Anomalisa

As a screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman has crafted some of the best and weirdest cinematic mind trips imaginable. Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are among his best but his work in the director's chair has taken his writing to another level. Synecdoche, New York is a work of soul-searching genius and his latest Anomalisa continues to cement Charlie Kaufman's reputation as one of the greatest filmmakers working today. Originally conceived by Kaufman as a short play to debut in composer Carter Burwell's "Theater of a New Ear," the idea to translate the material to the screen quickly became an option but with a twist.

 Posted September 20 in Animation, Review, TIFF 15 | Comments

TIFF 2015: Ilya Naishuller's First Person POV Action Film 'Hardcore'

Hardcore Review

Ilya Naishuller's Hardcore (watch the trailer) is a movie so violent, loud and fun it's guaranteed to offend and entertain in equal numbers. It's also the first of its kind, a first-person action adventure that plays out like a cinematic video game. Think of it as a hybrid of Crank and Robocop and you'll start to get an idea of how unique and insane this movie truly is. Those looking for plot and structure in their cinematic diet will have to look elsewhere because Hardcore is visual fast food all the way. The movie opens from your POV as "Henry", a man with a disfigured body and no memory of how he got knocked out in the first place.

 Posted September 18 in Review, TIFF 15 | Comments

TIFF 2015: Jeremy Saulnier's 'Green Room' Set at a Punk Rock Concert

Green Room Review

A punk rock concert goes horrible awry in the violent new suspense thriller Green Room, a movie filled with loud music, buckets of blood and white supremacists. The film has a cat-and-mouse structure for most of its running time but thankfully is smart and entertaining enough to have more tricks up its sleeve. The "Ain't Rights" are a punk band on the verge of breaking up for good. As they're introduced, they constantly bicker, continue to play dead-end gigs and as a result are ready to throw in the towel and go home. A last minute opportunity to play a final show in rural Oregon has them reconsider their plans and off they go.

 Posted September 17 in Review, TIFF 15 | Comments

TIFF 2015: Marc Abraham's 'I Saw the Light' Starring Tom Hiddleston

I Saw the Light Review

Country music legend Hank Williams was a tortured man plagued by his own success and exuberance. Dying way too young and leaving behind a treasure trove of inspiration, many musicians still credit him to his day. These facts are given a very light touch in Marc Abraham's new biopic I Saw the Light, a movie that tries to encapsulate what made Williams so special but never digs deep enough to get any real answers. British actor Tom Hiddleston slips on a cowboy hat and gives it his all as Williams and the result is a surprising knockout. He is fully devoted to the part so it's a shame the rest of the film can't keep up with him.

 Posted September 17 in Review, TIFF 15 | Comments

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