ENJOY THE MOVIES
"It was all very difficult…" It's not surprising that it is as wonderful to sit down and talk with the people from Studio Ghibli as it is to watch the wonderful movies they make. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to interview Hayao Miyazaki prior to his retirement during a trip over to the US to promote Ponyo. While up in Toronto at TIFF 2014 this year, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet up with and interview Isao Takahata, the director of the beautiful film The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which was released in Japan last year and arrives in US theaters this fall. He was wonderful to speak with, making my entire trip worth it.
Just over a week ago, we learned that Paramount Pictures had picked up Top Five, the latest directorial effort from comedian Chris Rock, from the Toronto International Film Festival. While we thought the studio would hold on to the film until 2015, it sounds like they think the film which also stars the "Saturday Night Live" veteran in the lead role, might have some potential to make waves . Deadline reports Paramount has set the film for a limited release on December 5th with a wide release the following week on December 12th. That's definitely a prime awards season release date. Is this Chris Rock's own Annie Hall?
At the end of another festival. Over the last weekend I traveled up to Toronto to attend my 8th year at TIFF, or the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the major festivals every fall. TIFF is now best known for scheduling over 300 films in their line-up, from tiny international discoveries to mainstream premieres, which means there's no way any hardcore critic/blogger/cinephile is missing this fest. There's just too many films to see, from various Sundance and Cannes holdovers that I've been waiting for, to major unveilings like the latest films from directors Jason Reitman and Mia Hansen-Løve. This year I was able to see 19 films as part of TIFF 2014, complimenting everything else from Cannes & Telluride. Which ones stand out?
"What is light without dark?" Every once in a while I come across something so unique, so refreshing, so exciting to watch that as soon as the lights come up I immediately want to start raving and telling others about it. This is one of those films, and I hope I can bring some additional attention to it. Thanks to a tip on Twitter from filmmaker @DarrenAronofsky, I caught an Icelandic film called Life in a Fishbowl, from director Baldvin Zophoníasson, an ensemble feature premiering at the Toronto Film Festival. Amidst all the darkness, death, stress, and horribleness in this world, here is a story that finally has some optimism to it.
Weinstein Company's genre label Radius-TWC has already picked up the promising musical romance The Last 5 Years starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan from the Toronto Film Festival, and now they've grabbed a buzzworthy comedy, too. Adult Beginners comes from In the Bedroom and Lost in Translation producer Ross Katz, making his feature directorial debut, and follows comedian and "The League" star Nick Kroll as a struggling young entrepreneur who heads back home to lick his wounds, the childhood home where his sister (Rose Byrne) and her husband (Bobby Cannavale) live with their three-year old son. And then he finds a job as their new nanny, for better or worse. And apparently it's funny and touching.
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.
Another great film has been picked up from the Toronto International Film Festival, and as a fan of great comedy, it's one that I'm particularly excited about. Chris Rock has directed the comedies Head of State and I Think I Love My Wife, but now it sounds like he might have his crowning achievement behind the camera with Top Five, a film that sees Rock playing New York City comedian-turned-film star Andre Allen, whose unexpected encounter with a journalist (Rosario Dawson) forces him to confront the comedy career—and the past—that he's left behind. Rock also wrote the film, and it's been getting rave reviews.
Following a shaky premiere at TIFF this month, Thomas McCarthy's latest indie, The Cobbler starring Adam Sandler, has been picked up for distribution in the United States. THR reports Image Entertainment closed a deal yesterday to the US rights for the film which has been a special presentation at the Toronto film festival. The film features Sandler as a New York shoe repairman (Sandler) who discovers a magical heirloom that allows him to "walk in another man's shoes." However, The Playlist notes it "never generates the high-spirited inventiveness or energy to allow audiences to buy into the premise."
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.
Plenty of films have enjoyed premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival this month, from Kevin Smith's messed up horror thriller Tusk to Jason Reitman's poignant Men, Women & Children. Some promising films like Noah Baumbach's While We're Young and Anna Kendrick's musical The Last 5 Years have already been picked up from the fest too. And now we have a bit of hype for another film that debuted at TIFF a few days ago, Andrew Niccol's timely drama Good Kill, which examines the current state of war through the eyes of a drone-pilot. That pilot also just happens to be played by Niccol's Gattaca star Ethan Hawke and we have a teaser poster straight from TIFF, though it doesn't feature the actor. Look!
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.