In the last decade, John Travolta hasn't really done much work that stands out. He's either a menacing villain who doesn't amount to much, a wacky goofball, or some other weird character that just doesn't seem to work. Finally, after all this time, he's in a role where he can really prove himself again and it's a fine film, with an excellent script and solid performances all-around. From a screenplay by Richard D'Ovidio, the film is titled The Forger, directed by Philip Martin (Emmy-winning TV director making his feature debut). It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival where I randomly caught a screening, despite not knowing anything about it or the director going in. I was thoroughly entertained and mostly impressed by the film's dialogue.
As a die-hard Studio Ghibli fanboy, I always feel like I'm way behind when I finally see the latest film they originally released a year ago in Japan. But I'm so glad I finally caught up with Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya, originally released in Japan in November of 2013, but just now making its way to North America thanks to the Toronto Film Festival. I'm even happier I saw the original version with Japanese dialogue and English subtitles, the way it was meant to be seen, rather than the dubbed version coming up for the US. It's a wonderful film, incredibly charming and so much fun to watch. Of course, the animation is remarkably beautiful, unlike anything I've seen before - hand-animated to look like old watercolor scrolls.
This year there seems to be a number of outstanding films about the struggles of the most intelligent people in recent history. At the Telluride Film Festival, I was blown away by The Imitation Game (read my review), which told the story of English mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing, who was medically castrated for homosexuality after helping crack the Nazi’s Enigma code during WWII. At the Toronto Film Festival, I was just as impressed with The Theory of Everything, which tells the story of English cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who lost control of the his muscles in his body due to motor neurone disease, yet still wowed the world with his mind. The Theory of Everything has some issues, but is still a very powerful film.
Ever since first seeing Searching for Bobby Fischer when I was a young kid, I've been intrigued by chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer and the very odd life he lived. While a few other films have been made about him, or the brilliant game(s) of chess he played, I haven't come across too much that has covered his life or dramatized it in a way that has provided this much depth. The latest film from Edward Zwick (of Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, Defiance), titled Pawn Sacrifice, was once in the works with David Fincher at the helm, and stars Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer telling his life story from young chess prodigy to grandmaster and world champion. It's a solid reexamination of an eccentric historic figure.
What did I just see?! Beloved/hated filmmaker Kevin Smith has returned to the Toronto Film Festival this year to premiere his latest film Tusk at midnight, an unlike-anything-else creation straight out of the mind of Kevin Smith, and it's ridiculous. By now most people are familiar with the cult horror Human Centipede, where a sick doctor surgically links humans to create a disgusting "human centipede". But what if some sick individual wanted to create a walrus out of human? Is that man funny, or interesting, or totally insane? How about a bit of everything. Tusk is cult horror comedy done right, with silliness creeping around every corner.
"That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives." This is where we live, all of us, on this pale blue dot floating in the Milky Way. Jason Reitman's latest film, Men, Women & Children adapted from Chad Kultgen's novel of the same name, is framed within the context of Carl Sagan's timeless quote called "Pale Blue Dot" and the Voyager spacecrafts that we launched in 1977. Men, Women & Children is Reitman's most sensitive work yet, a deeply moving, sensual film about all of us on this planet. I've been a fan of Reitman for a longtime, and still love his early work, but he seems to keep getting more mature with every film he makes.
As human beings we live in a universe where time is constantly ticking, the world never stops turning, and we're all constantly moving, whether we like it or not. Before we know it, 5 or 10 or 20 years pass by and we don't even have the ability to pause and look back, to reflect on what has happened and why. Why did we make this choice? How did we end up here? Films like Boyhood are able to capture that relentless progress in an immensely beautiful way, showing how the little moments inbetween make up more of our life than all the big ones we live for. Following in those footsteps, French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve has created her Boyhood, a film called Eden back looking at 20 years in the life of a French house/garage DJ named Paul.
When we look back on our lives, there are always key individuals who have an immeasurable influence on us. Not just our family (and relatives), but friends, mentors, teachers, those with learned wisdom to impart and lessons to teach. If they say the right things they can alter our destiny forever, or remind us why/how life is worth living in the midst of the constant stress and chaos of this world. Seymour: An Introduction is a documentary by actor Ethan Hawke introducing us to his inspiration - the piano legend Seymour Bernstein, who is such a humble, charming, considerate man. This wonderful doc spends intimate time with him, showing us his own history, who he is, and how much the emotion of music is important to life.
Does our ego control us, or do we control our ego? Where can it/where does it take us? Will we fly or will we fall? Alejandro González Iñárritu's latest film Birdman is easily lovable for many reasons - from its honest characters and original story to the technical prowess behind the lens and many layers of its style. It's also one of those films where there are so many moments, so many lines, so many scenes where as soon as I've watched them, I want to pause, rewind, and watch them again to delve deeper into the context. Birdman is a sensational, extraordinary creation of artistic elegance that examines the great struggle of growing older.
You never know who will change the world, it might be someone we can't imagine. There's nothing like that feeling of euphoria after sitting through an outstanding film, one that surpasses expectations and provides so much more on top of any/everything one could imagine. That's how I felt at the end of The Imitation Game, a film by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) about British mathematician Alan Turing, who helped crack the uncrackable Engima code during World War II. The film tells his life story jumping between his youth, his work during WWII, and time after when he was prosecuted for "indecency" because he was "a homosexual". It's an exceptionally compelling film lead by remarkable performances.
Premiering at the 2014 Telluride Film Festival is Jon Stewart's Rosewater, his directorial debut based on a true story he was involved in about Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, played by Gael García Bernal. The film tells a rather straightforward version of the story, focusing on the weeks leading up to and surrounding Bahari's arrest, eventually leading to his time in prison. While the film has some impressive creative choices (including a hashtag moment and some other sleek visuals) it's obviously made by a first-time director, and lacks a bit of the nuances that more experienced directors include. That said, its heart is in the right place.
The use of found footage has become a bit of an eye-rolling endeavor in horror, almost nearly as much as the penchant that iconic horror slashers like Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees have for defying death. It has become hard for horror films to use the narrative style effectively without just being a gimmick, and the explanation for this approach is usually weak, with characters inexplicably never putting down a video camera in moments of terror or being shown in what couldn't possibly be "found" footage. But with As Above, So Below, an engrossing adventure plot mixed with familiar horror elements from Legendary Pictures, those problems are not only explained, but make for some real suspense and terror. More below!
What's that? Pierce Brosnan needs a new action franchise now, 12 years after his James Bond stint ended? There's a series of novels ripe for the action genre taking that would suit him perfectly? Let's make that deal. But The November Man, from the novels by Bill Granger, ends up being more than a run-of-the-mill spy thriller. Aided by some superb action directing from Roger Donaldson and a nice turn from its charismatic lead, the film trumps most of the recently standard "old guy in an action flick" turns we've gotten. Brosnan joins the ranks of Liam Neeson and Kevin Costner, and the former 007 prevails.
Like Marv and the people in The Projects or the girls of Old Town, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is slumming it. The long-gestating sequel to Robert Rodriguez 's 2005 adaptation of the gritty and profane comic series from Frank Miller, you may be fooled into thinking it's more of the same, low-brow fun. You'd be wrong and probably a little disappointed. Sin City was a stylish and sadistic twist of the knife that laid its gallows humor on thicker than water. This one has the markings of a quality follow-up for fans of the first, it ultimately fails, its super serious attitude producing extremely dull results that border on tedium.