Thursday, September 30, 2010

12 Angry Men

In honor of the jury duty I just served for the past four days, I decided to revisit the definitive film about jury deliberation.  This 1957 classic was directed by Sydney Lumet and stars Henry Fonda as a lone dissenter preaching reasonable doubt against 11 men who are certain the 18 year old defendant from the slums on trial is guilty of the 1st degree murder of his father.  Fonda has an uphill battle trying to convince the other jurors, including the jaded and aggressive Lee J. Cobb, the pragmatic E.G. Marshall, the racist Ed Begley, the apathetic Jack Warden, and the meek Jack Klugman (TV’s Oscar Madison from ‘The Odd Couple’).
After having just gone through the experience for my first time I can tell you it’s eerily similar to the film.  First of all, It’s pretty interesting how little has changed in the process over the last 53 years, with the notable exception that it’s no longer a jury of white men only.  But many of the details felt the same as in the film.  The trial I was on wasn’t a homicide, but rather a homeless man accused of physical and sexual assault and attempted rape of a homeless woman.  There were no witnesses and virtually no hard evidence whatsoever, so it basically came down to the plaintiff’s testimony.  Unfortunately the plaintiff was a homeless woman who had smoked Crack that very day, and it was basically a ‘he said, she said’ scenario.  And the defendant said nothing because he chose not to testify, which looked very suspicious, but it is his Constitutional right and by law we were not allowed to hold his lack of testimony against him.  Well, even though I (and everyone else) suspected he was guilty of at least something, I saw no hard evidence proving his guilt.  So my initial thought was that, by law, we had to acquit because there was reasonable doubt.  Fortunately, unlike Fonda, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.  (I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I was.)  Unfortunately, I was surprised how many of the other 11 jurors felt so strongly about the credibility of the plaintiff’s testimony that they wanted to find the defendant guilty on all charges just based on the word of a homeless Crack addict.  Needless to say hours of uncomfortable debate, arguments, and attacks ensued.  I preached terms like ‘presumed innocent’, ‘reasonable doubt’, and ‘burden of proof’ for hour after hour.  But a few jurors were adamant about their gut feel of the plaintiff’s testimony.  On the second day of deliberation, after a combined 8 hours we attempted to claim we were a hung jury, incapable of reaching a unanimous decision.  But the judge wasn’t having any of that.  She ordered us to continue our deliberation.  None of us had any idea how long that would have to continue.  Miraculously at around hour 12 we all agreed to a compromise and found the defendant guilty of 2 of the 5 counts against him.  I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it, but I don’t feel great.  Frankly I think I let Mr. Fonda down (not to mention the defendant!)  But I think we all agreed that was a better outcome than countless more days of deliberation, followed by a hung jury, followed by a mistrial, followed by a new trial with a new jury which would likely result in another deadlock.  Needless to say it was not a fun experience.  But that’s not what this blog is about.  This blog is about films, so back to the movie review. 
’12 Angry Men’ is a classic for sure.  It was nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.  All but three minutes of the film consist of just 12 men in a deliberation room.  The claustrophobic nature heats up the intensity as Fonda tries one by one to win over the other jurors.  Having just gone through it, I do have issues with the details Fonda concocts that weren’t made clear at the trial by the defense attorney, and how easily the other jurors accept them as fact.  Trust me, it ain’t that simple to convince 11 angry men and women with just conjecture!  But if you suspend your disbelief it’s an enjoyable film and at only 96 minutes it should be viewed at least once by anyone interested in the classics.
On a side note, Sydney Lumet has directed 72 films.  Some of my favorites include ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ and ‘Serpico’ starring Al Pacino, ‘Deathtrap’ starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, and the 2007 film ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’, which he made at the age of 83.  And trust me, that ain’t no old man film.  I highly recommend all of the above.
Or, if you want to see Henry Fonda on the other side of the courtroom, as a defendant who insists he has been wrongly accused, pair this film with Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Wrong Man’.
Or if you prefer more courtroom drama but with focus on a jury, I definitely recommend ‘Runaway Jury’ with Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, John Cusack, and Rachel Weisz.
And lastly, if you just happen to like claustrophobic films, check out the upcoming ‘Buried’ or ‘127 Hours’ that I briefly reviewed in my Toronto Film Festival entry.
Please feel free to post your thoughts.
Grade for ’12 Angry Men’: B+
Grade for the trial I just served on:  C-

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Love and Other Drugs

There aren’t many films released each year that successfully pull off both comedy and drama.   (‘Please Give’ and ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ are two of the best I’ve seen so far this year.)  So when they do, they generally rank high on my list.  And this one certainly qualifies.  It begins as a pretty funny romantic comedy and slowly works its way into the drama category.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays a pharmaceutical sales rep for Pfizer in 1996 when drug companies were just beginning to push little known miracles like Azithromicyn, Zoloft, and Viagra.  While trying to convince a way-too-easily pursuaded doctor (well played by Hank Azaria) to recommend these drugs to his patients, Gyllenhaal meets and falls for Anne Hathaway.  Lots and lots of sex and nudity ensue.  (Yay!)  Unfortunately, Hathaway’s character has Parkinson’s, so therein lies the trouble in paradise.  (Boo!)  But don’t worry, there are plenty of laughs early on to balance out the heavy drama that follows.  New rule:  If you want to make a film better, add Oliver Platt and Judy Greer in supporting roles.  It’s just that simple!  Oh and there’re some good tunes in the 90’s soundtrack.  (Man, I miss the Spin Doctors.)
The film isn’t scheduled to be released until late November, and the fact that they’re screening it to select audiences this far ahead of time means the studio is proud of the film and trying to generate word of mouth.  Well, consider this a recommendation.
Grade:  B+

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Toronto Film Festival

Hello and thanks for stopping by.  This is actually my very first blog.  As an avid film viewer and regular film festival attendee, I have been asked to share my thoughts on my recent trip to the Toronto Film Festival where I saw the following 38 films, ranked in rough order from best to worst.  I hope you enjoy my opinions.  Don’t worry, I avoid spoilers as I’m very sensitive to that.

1)  The Way                   Grade: A+
This film starring Martin Sheen and directed by and co-starring his son Emilio Estevez was not one of my must-see films.  But it was the most appealing in its timeslot so I gave it a shot.  It was only the second film I saw at the festival but as soon as it was over I knew it was the one to beat, and nothing did.  Emilio Estevez plays a wandering soul with an adventurous spirit.  Much to his dad’s dismay he opts to walk El Camino (or The Way, translated in English), a long trail in Spain that takes months to walk.  Due to a mysterious storm he dies on day one.  His father (played by real life dad, Sheen) gets the dreaded call that his son has been killed.  Devastated, he flies to Spain to identify the body and take his son’s remains home.  But instead, he decides to walk El Camino in his son’s honor.  Sheen’s journey is both emotional and spiritual, as he meets others along the way with various issues of their own.  The film is not quite as polished as a lot of the other films I saw at Toronto, and in the wrong hands it could have been overly corny and felt like a made for TV movie.   But Estevez and Sheen hit all the notes right and it works tremendously.   And, given the subject matter, it’s not overwhelmingly depressing, but rather life-affirming.  For those of you who aren’t into the ‘Grieving Parent Mourns Child’ genre, you may opt to skip this one.  (Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen gave an excellent Q&A after the film, and they were looking for distribution, so I don’t even know when or how it will be available.)  But if you do like this genre, then I recommend the 2009 film ‘The Greatest’ as well.  That film stars Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon, and Carey Mulligan, and is also tremendous, although more of a tearjerker.  But Brosnan’s performance alone was Oscar worthy.

2)  It's Kind of a Funny Story                       Grade: A+
A teenage overachiever gets overwhelmed by stress and, contemplating suicide, decides to check himself into a psychiatric ward.  He quickly decides that wasn’t the best move, but unfortunately can’t check himself out for five days.   Zach Galifianakis costars in an Oscar worthy supporting role.  That’s right, I said that sentence.  You may stop reading now, but I think his half comedy/half drama performance is pitch perfect.   The film opens in Philly on 10/8 and I highly recommend it.  (FYI, the trailer isn’t quite as good as the movie itself.)

3)  Beginners                     Grade: A
Again, this was another great film I had no intention of seeing, but it fit my schedule so I gave it a go.  Ewan McGregor plays a lost soul struggling to deal with his father’s (Christopher Plummer’s) recent announcements that he’s dying of cancer and he’s gay.   Just like ‘The Way’, in the wrong hands this could have been a cheesy made for TV movie.  But the characters feel so real and McGregor gives his best performance since Trainspotting.  But the Best Performance award goes to Plummer’s dog.  Everyone in the theater wanted to take him home.  At the Q&A following the film, one person asked if the dog had a manager.

4)  Barney's Version              Grade: A
This film has Oscar written all over it.  It chronicles the entire adult life of Barney (played by the always spectacular Paul Giamatti) and tells his version of his many complicated relationships and various life changing events.   Dustin Hoffman is very enjoyable as his dad.  An excellent film.  And for other great Giamatti performances, I recommend John Adams, Duplicity, The Illusionist, Cinderella Man, Sideways, Cold Souls, The Last Station, Duets, and Howard Stern’s Private Parts.  He is consistently the most interesting actor working today.

5)  127 Hours                Grade: A
The ever ubiquitous James Franco plays an adventurous mountain climber literally stuck between a rock and a hard place in Utah for 127 hours.  Based on a true story, most of the movie is just Franco trying to figure out how to escape.  It’s riveting, but not for the weak stomach.  It's playing at the upcoming Philadelphia Film Festival as the closing night film on 10/23.  Go see it!  On a side note, Franco is everywhere these days and every project of his is completely different than the last.  I last saw him at the Tribeca film festival where he screened a project for NYU film school called ‘Saturday Night’.  It's the first ever all-access backstage documentary of the process of creating one episode of Saturday Night Live with guest host John Malkovich.  Lorne Michaels granted Franco unprecedented full access.  I highly recommend it whenever it is released in theaters or on DVD.

6)  Buried                  Grade: A
Ryan Reynolds is buried alive.  And this film is literally just Ryan Reynolds in a coffin for 90 minutes.  He wakes up and isn’t sure exactly where he is.   But he does have a cell phone with him and that ties into the plot and helps him figure out what is going on and how he can escape.  Not for the claustrophobic or even the gimmick-phobic, but I really enjoyed it.  And Ryan Reynolds, not surprisingly, was excellent at the Q&A afterwards.

7)  Black Swan               Grade: A
This film, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman, is about ballet.  Specifically it's about the ballet ‘Swan Lake’.   Natalie Portman is thought to be the perfect White Swan, but can she become the Black Swan as well?  Well, that may not sound very interesting, but this psychological thriller is actually very engaging.  And the music is the real star of the film.  The soundtrack is Tchaikovsky’s symphony played at deafening levels, and that really made the film.  It's playing at the upcoming Philadelphia Film Festival as the opening night film on 10/14.  Go see it!  Truthfully, I wasn’t too excited about this film when I was planning my festival, as I have found Aronofsky’s prior work disappointing.  ‘Pi’ was too confusing.  ‘Requiem for a Dream’ was too disturbing.  ‘The Fountain’ was WAY too terrible.  And ‘The Wrestler’ was too overrated.  But, after seeing this one, Mr. Aronofsky, I forgive you for your past sins. 

8)  Super                 Grade: A
This film, starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, and Kevin Bacon premiered at midnight.  And it is truly a perfect midnight film.  It is an over-the-top dark comedy about a man with no super powers who decides to dress up like a super hero to fight crime and save his wife from a drug dealer.  It’s ultra violent at times, and if that doesn’t disturb you, it actually adds to the over-the-top comedy.  I must admit, I have always enjoyed the ‘Man with No Super Powers Pretends to be a Super Hero’ genre, dating back to John Ritter in 1980’s 'Hero at Large', and more recently in the little seen ‘Special’ and the slightly more popular but still underrated ‘Kick-Ass’.  And ‘Super’ is another great addition to this genre.  The cast is perfect and Wilson, Page, and Tyler all participated in a great Q&A at 2:30 AM following the film.  It was surely one of the highlights of my trip.  And I want to give mad props to Ellen Page who totally steals the film.   On stage she seems quite shy and reserved but once the camera starts rolling she becomes a different person and totally goes for it.  I would give her my Oscar, but the Academy surely won’t. 

9)  Never Let Me Go                  Grade: A
Films like this one are the reason I like to go in cold and see them before I know anything about them.  This film stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly, and the new Spiderman, Andrew Garfield.   It is apparently based on a popular novel, so many I spoke to in the audience seemed familiar with the plot.  I knew nothing, however, and that seemed to serve this film best.  So I won’t describe the plot much except to say it takes place mainly at a boarding school.  And as with every film she stars in, Carey Mulligan steals the show.  She is the standout rising star of the last year, starring in ‘The Greatest’, ‘An Education’, 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’, and this film.   I’m smittened.  And not just because I met her in person at the Telluride Film Festival last year.  She shines on screen as well. 

10)  Casino Jack                     Grade: A-
This film has Oscar written all over it, but almost too-much-so.  Kevin Spacey plays real life super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and the film shows his rise and eventual fall on K Street.  From the very first scene with Spacey talking to himself in the mirror you can tell it is going to be a typical meaty, chewy, hammy performance by Spacey.  And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way.  Kevin Spacey is at his best when he has meaty, chewy, hammy material to deliver.  And I really thought I was loving the film until it was over and then I began to think it was a little too meaty, chewy, and/or hammy.  I think it feels more like a made for HBO film (a la 'Recount') than one for the big screen.  But it certainly ain’t bad.  I still recommend it.  I just want to see Kevin Spacey try an understated role next.

11)  The King's Speech                      Grade: B+
This film won the audience award at Toronto.  And I’m not surprised because it does have  all the ingredients of an Oscar nominated film, and the leads played by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are great.  Firth plays the King who suffers from a really bad stutter.  Rush plays a doctor who specializes in correcting said stutters.  The film is well done and it seems if you’re going to make a British period film, Firth is the new go-to guy.  But I don’t think it’s the best film of the festival.   It does, however, have some pretty great and memorable scenes between Firth and Rush.  The scenes with just the two of them are definitely the best parts of the film.

12)  Let Me In                     Grade: B+
This film is a remake of the 2008 Swedish film ‘Let the Right Ones In’ about a young bullied boy who befriends what he thinks is a young girl, but is actually a much older vampire.  I was hesitant to see the film because I just saw the original last year, and American remakes of good foreign films are often terrible.  But this remake works very well.  My only complaint is that it is very similar to the original which gave me the distinct feeling of Déjà vu.


13)  I'm Still Here                      Grade: B+
This ‘documentary’ about the erratic latest two years in the life of Joaquin Phoenix, filmed by his brother-in-law Casey Affleck, has different meaning to me now than when I saw it ten days ago.  For those that don’t know, Phoenix has been behaving strangely for the past two years, growing his hair out like a mountain man, and announcing that he is retiring from acting and aspiring to be a hip-hop star, for which he displays no talent whatsoever.  The pinnacle of his odd behavior was an appearance on David Letterman in early 2009.  When I originally saw that interview I wasn’t sure if Phoenix had lost it completely or if he was just putting on a goof.  No one really knew in fact.  And even as few as a week ago I still had no idea.  All I can say is that after seeing the film, it seemed hard to believe but also seemed real.  Well, if you’ve heard the news, Phoenix and Affleck have come clean that it was all a hoax.   A two year hoax!  That’s a long hoax!!  Anyway, regardless, the movie is still entertaining.  And so was Phoenix’ return to Letterman a few days ago.  The original interview is featured prominently in the film.  But I also recommend YouTube-ing the latest confession interview.  It’s a great companion piece that will hopefully be an extra on the DVD.  I won’t ruin it, but it’s priceless.

14)  The Conspirator                        Grade: B+
This film directed by Robert Redford is a courtroom drama about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  James McAvoy (who is pretty decent here but I often think should stick to his native Scottish accent) plays a lawyer pressured to defend a possible conspirator to John Wilkes Booth.  I really wanted to love this film because of the director, the cast, and the subject matter.  But in the end I only liked it.  Truth be told, I may be a bit harsh because Redford didn’t bother to show up for a Q&A at the second screening of his film.  Shame on you, Mr. Redford.  Shame on you.

15)  Easy A                  Grade: B+
This teen comedy is already out in mainstream release.  It’s really quite enjoyable.  I do lean towards darker films, however if you want a light, feel-good film with a great lead (Emma Stone), and a great supporting cast (including Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thomas Haden Church, and Lisa Kudrow) then this movie is for you.  But although it wants to be the new Breakfast Club, I don’t think it’s quite John Hughes worthy.  Then again, maybe it is?

16)  Another Year                     Grade: B
A British dramedy revolving around a group of over-the-hill family and friends and their relationships.  I haven’t seen many of Mike Leigh’s films but from what I have seen he makes interesting films with interesting characters targeted for adults.  And I find that refreshing.

17)  Kaboom                         Grade: B
Yet another film I had no initial intention of seeing, but it turned out quite enjoyable and I’m glad I did.  If you know anything about Gregg Araki’s films (e.g. the Doom Generation), you know you’re in for an unexpected, wild, surreal ride with good looking teenagers.  And also probably some gay sex scenes.  Well, this film definitely has all the above.  And if the latter makes you uncomfortable then you may want to stay away.  But I recommend giving the film a try because it is a wild ride with some definite homages to Donnie Darko, which is one of my favorite films.  My biggest complaint is the super abrupt ending which I found less than satisfying.  But nevertheless, I enjoyed the film.


18)  The Town                 Grade: B
By now everyone has seen the commercials and is aware of this movie.  It’s a bank heist film with a strong cast led by and directed by Ben Affleck.  I love heist films.  And I thought Gone Baby Gone, Affleck’s directorial debut, was a great film.  So this was one of my most anticipated films of the festival.  Nevertheless I only thought it was ok.  I found it predictable, and the characters stereotypical.  This is not a major spoiler, but as soon as you’re introduced to Jeremy Renner’s renegade wild man character you just know he’s that guy in the group that’s gonna F everything up.  There’s always THAT guy.  But, with that said, the reviews I see everywhere are spectacular, so I may have missed something.  I should take this opportunity to point out that I attended the World Premiere Gala.  And I will now define what that means at the Toronto Film Festival.  It means you pay twice the price of a normal ticket, or $43.  The stars all walk down the red carpet which you can’t see from the ticketholders line.  The $43 ticket only gets you into the balcony of Roy Thomson Hall, which is huge and seats 2630 people, so you're far, far away.  Lower levels are for VIP’s (read:  nieces and nephews of the Gaffer), who undoubtedly got their tickets for free.  From the balcony, I kid you not, when they introduced Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, and Blake Lively, I couldn’t even tell which one was Blake Lively.  Now if you can’t tell Blake Lively from Jon Hamm then you’re too far away.  And I was.  So that may have affected my opinion of the film.  Caveat over.

19)  Henry's Crime                 Grade: B
Henry (played by Keanu Reeves) is a nice guy who works in a Toll Booth.  His relationship with his wife (Judy Greer) is rocky.  He doesn’t have much going for him and he makes the mistake of agreeing to drive his friends to a softball game.  But before the softball game they make a quick stop at a bank, to rob it.  Henry, who was patiently waiting in the car unaware of what was happening, is the only one arrested for the crime.   Nevertheless, Henry doesn’t name his ‘friends’.  Does any of that sound believable?  Not at all actually.  But what the film lacks in plausibility, it makes up for in charm, especially due to Keanu’s cell mate played by the always entertaining James Caan.  It’s a nice, light, enjoyable film which is a breath of fresh air at a film festival, but nothing more.  Of course I give kudos to Keanu and costar Vera Farmiga for showing up for a Q&A at the second screening of their film.  Actors don’t normally do that.  They were very nice and Keanu even stopped to sign autographs for fans, which I didn’t see anyone else do for the entire festival.  Nice going Keanu.  Robert Redford, pay attention!

20)  Last Night               Grade: B
This was the closing night film of the festival and I found it ironic that it was called ‘Last Night’.  Of course I now realize I was misinterpreting the title.  It just means the night before tonight.  Silly me.  But I digress.  Anyway, the film stars Keira Knightly and Sam Worthington (who is apparently in everything now, despite his lack of charisma), as a couple struggling with fidelity.  On one evening when Worthington's character is traveling on business, each of them has the opportunity to sleep with another person.  Will they or won’t they?  It’s well done but not ground breaking.  But it was nice to see a small appearance by Griffin Dunne.  ‘After Hours’ anyone?  Who’s with me?

21)  Inside Job                Grade: B
This documentary about the collapse of the economy was my first film of the festival.  And it’s pretty well done.  Their mission was to break down a very complicated series of events that caused the real estate and financial market collapse into its simplest explanations.  And I think they succeeded.  But two weeks later I'm not able to explain it as eloquently.  I guess I need to see it again.  But the fact is a few rich people got even richer while most of us lost our shirts.  If you’re angry now, this film will make you even angrier.  It's narrated by Matt Damon and has a killer instrumental soundtrack.

22)  Stone       Grade: B
This film starring Edward Norton as a convicted felon up for parole and Robert DeNiro as the parole officer who has the power to release him, is enjoyable but fairly predictable.  And Norton and DeNiro are doing the same old Norton and DeNiro things.  So I feel like I’ve seen it before.  Plus, if you’ve had the misfortune of seeing the trailer then you’ve definitely seen it before!  The trailer shows the whole movie.  And that is exactly why I hate trailers.  Don’t get me started…

23)  Insidious                   Grade: B
This midnight horror film experience was great, but not primarily because of the film itself.  Don’t get me wrong, the film is good.  But the whole experience was great.  Directed by James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, famous for giving us Saw 1 through Saw 16 or whatever they're up to, the film is intended to be the next big horror franchise.  I wouldn’t go that far but it’s good and I believe it was purchased at the festival, so it should be coming to a theater near you.  But it's the intro and Q&A that were great.   Before the film we were treated to a creepy Jigsaw puppet thing from Saw on a tricycle wheeling out on stage.  That was great.  Then we got a hyperactive intro from Wan and Whannell.  Those guys were pumped for sure.  And the Q&A afterwards was just as fun.  I think they should both go to every screening of all of their films.  It’s just more fun that way.

24)  The Debt                        Grade: B
This thriller about three Israeli Mossad agents whose mission it is to capture and return a Nazi war criminal to Israel sounded thrilling to me.  It’s good, but not quite thrilling.  Helen Mirren is always good and Tom Wilkinson is one of my favorites.  But unfortunately Sam Worthington and his emotionless acting is everywhere these days.  Of course he’s not the reason this film isn’t excellent.  He just doesn’t help.  For a better entry in the 'Jews Fighting Back' genre, see 'Munich' and 'Defiance'.


25)  Little White Lies                    Grade: B
The French Big Chill.  A group of unrealistically good-looking, yet unbelievably selfish friends vacation together while one of their friends lies gravely injured in the hospital.  The movie was well done, but the characters were a bit too self centered and unlikeable for my taste.  I’ll take the original Big Chill.

26)  Passion Play               Grade: B
I’m torn on this film.  It’s a fable involving a circus-freak beauty with wings (Megan Fox), a down-on-his-luck gambler (Mickey Rourke), and a mobster (Bill Murray).  I give it credit for originality.  But I give it criticism for casting Rourke and Fox as the leads.  (Not my favorite actors.)  But Bill Murray can make any movie palatable.  Unfortunately he wasn’t in enough of it.  So I give it a mixed review.  And the same goes for the Q&A.  If Bill Murray shows up live in person, let the man speak.  He just walked on stage with that Murray swagger and waved and that’s it.  Bummer.  Oh well, at least I got to hear him do a Q&A at Tribeca for ‘Get Low’.  Now THAT was a treat.


27)  Everything Must Go                Grade: C+
I’ve never been the biggest Will Ferrell fan.  I’ve even said things like ‘He’s everything that’s wrong with comedy films today.’  Well that’s kind of harsh.  I just think a lot of his films are stupid.  But he is truly a funny guy.  And when he’s kind of serious, a la ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ I think he can be great.  That’s why I put this film high on my list of films to see at the festival.  I had a feeling he’d be great in a dramedy about a down-on-his-luck alcoholic.  And he was great.  Unfortunately the script was lacking.  The thing I don’t like about the ‘Down-on-his-luck-Alcoholic’ genre is that it’s so predictable and repetitive.  I get it, Will’s character drinks too much.  I get it, it interferes with his job.  I get it, it ruins his relationships.  I get it, he has hit rock bottom.  I get it!  Get it?  Anyway, it was an ok film.  But as I suspected the Q&A with Ferrell and Rebecca Hall was better than the film itself.  My favorite part of the Q&A was when someone from the audience casually referred to Will as ‘The Funniest Man in America’, and Ferrell accepted the title with no fuss.  Later on, when another audience member referenced Ferrell in his question, Will chimed in, ‘The Funniest Man in America?’  Maybe you had to be there, but it was great.


28)  A Beginner's Guide to Endings                  Grade: C+
I can see how this film from a first time writer-director attracted Harvey Keitel as the lead.  The script is clever.  But something went wrong in the execution.  The film is about a loser (played by Keitel) who decides to kill himself because of all the dumb things he’s done, with the biggest being accidentally poisoning his sons.  Yup, I said that correctly.  I won’t go into detail on what that means, but he decides to kill himself and his many sons (including Scott Caan, son of James, and Paolo Costanzo) have to deal with the death of their dad as well as their impending doom.  As I write this it still sounds like a movie I really want to see.  It just didn’t end up that way.  It has its moments but the constantly overly-aggressive brothers are just annoying to watch for the bulk of the film.

29)  Hereafter                 Grade: C+
This was easily the movie where the crowds were the most out of control.  I’m not sure if it was for director Clint Eastwood or for star Matt Damon, but it was a madhouse in and around the theater.  Eastwood came out and did a very brief intro.  (He's a man of few words, but at least he was there.)  Damon and Bryce Dallas Howard smiled and waved to the crowd.  And then the movie began.  It began strong with a tremendous special effect.  I was particularly blown away by the opening special effects, and I’m not usually.  Maybe it’s because it was a film festival and festival movies don’t generally have massive F/X.  But I thought it started strong.  And then it slowly went nowhere.  Perhaps I should see it again, but it didn’t strike me as great.  I remember thinking at the time I was happy to be Here but even happier when it was After.  HA!

30)  What's Wrong with Virginia               Grade: C+
Ed Harris plays a married sheriff who’s been having an affair with a woman with mental health issues (played by Jennifer Connelly).  There was a lot I liked about the film, particularly the cast.  Ed Harris can do no wrong.  (I met him once in person and he was as nice as they come.)  Jennifer Connelly and Harrison Gilbertson also give strong performances.  And I actually like films about mental health as much as the next guy.  But sadly I only found the film itself about average for the fest.  But at Toronto, average isn't all that bad.

31)  You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger              Grade: C
Woody, Woody, Woody.  I love your body of work, Woody, but this one not-so-much.  It’s just the same old Woody Allen schtick, which I have forgiven before but this time I just can't.  I didn’t even really like the cast in this one.  I find Josh Brolin to be really unlikeable.  And I think Sir Anthony Hopkins is overrated.  There I said it.  But my favorite parts of seeing this film weren’t even in the film itself.  I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Woody Allen introduce the movie.  He is very charming in person, exactly like in his films actually.  And I also thoroughly enjoyed seeing an overzealous fan leap out of his seat and almost attack Sir Anthony just to tell him what a big fan he is.  I though Sir Anthony was going to have a heart attack.  That would have been a memorable world premiere.  Good times.
32)  Vanishing on 7th Street                Grade: C
I stayed up to see this movie at midnight because it was directed by Brad Anderson, who directed 'The Machinist’ and ‘Transsibberian’, two excellent suspense thrillers of recent past.  Unfortunately, this film, starring John Leguizamo, Hayden Christenson, and Thandie Newton is not so great.  I love the premise:  Most people on earth seem to have mysteriously disappeared instantaneously and only a few remain.  Although I liked it better the first time I saw it when it was called ‘The Quiet Earth’ from 1985.  (Has anyone else but me seen that?)  But as with many midnight films, the experience was half the fun.  I’m glad I went.  (Although I’m still not caught up on my sleep.)

33)  Monsters             Grade: C-
Let me start by saying I love monster movies ... in theory.  Unfortunately many of them are bad.  Peter Jackson's 'King Kong' wasn’t great, and does anyone even remember the 1998 'Godzilla' fiasco?  'Cloverfield' is the best monster film in recent history.  And the Japanese film 'The Host' was decent as well.  This one, not-so-much.  The premise is great, but it was made for almost no money and unfortunately that hurts a monster movie.  Although the special effects are actually pretty good, especially considering the director, Gareth Edwards, told us at the Q&A he did them himself on his computer.  (He said it like we should all be able to do that.  I’m fairly computer savvy but I’m pretty sure I can’t create a monster on mine.)  Anyway, his Q&A was better than the film, as he’s got a pretty wicked, dry sense of humor, but it almost sounded like the film didn’t turn out the way he wanted.  But he will no doubt fail upwards and his next movie will probably be spectacular.  I expect to see big things from him.

34)  Cave of Forgotten Dreams                  Grade: C-
This documentary from famed documentarian Werner Herzog gives us exclusive access to the world’s oldest cave drawings.  And it’s in 3D!  Truthfully this film may be better than I’ve ranked it here, but I was pretty tired going into it.  (It was towards the end of my festival, and 4 to 5 films a day for 9 days will take its toll.)  Plus, the very distinctive sound of Werner’s narration is like a sedative to me.  Something about his voice lulls me to sleep.   The same thing happened when I watched his 2007 film ‘Encounters at the End of the World’.  They both may be great films, but for me they were great naps.  I should see them again when I’m less tired.  Of course they surely won’t trump Werner’s 2009 non-doc, non-remake ‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans’ starring Nicolas Cage.  Jeepers, is that a great movie!

35)  Peep World                   Grade: C-
Peep World, you had so much going for you!  You easily had one of the most interesting casts of any film at the festival  (Michael C. Hall, Rainn Wilson, Sarah Silverman, Judy Greer, Ron Rifkin, etc…).  And I love dysfunctional family comedies!  (Two of my favorite films of this year are ‘City Island’ and ‘Please Give’.)  Plus, there are so few comedies at a film festival that finding one is almost like finding a unicorn.  Unfortunately this unicorn turned out to just be a horse with a cone surgically attached to its head.  What a disappointment.

36)  The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town             Grade: D
This documentary with original footage from the creation of one of Bruce Springsteen’s more successful albums had promise (pun intended) but didn’t pay off.  Granted, I’m not the biggest Springsteen fan, but the word on the street was that others shared my opinion.  The only revelation for me was that it was completely Bruce’s show, and he was a real pain in the ass to work with.  If I were a member of the E Street band back then I would have beat him over the head with Clarence Clemons’ sax.

37)  Red Nights                Grade: D
An erotic Asian thriller.  Sounds good, yes?  Not really.  This was a midnight screening that I debated whether to stay up and see or go to bed.  I chose unwisely.

38)  Rio Sex Comedy                Grade: F
I thought to myself, with a title like this, how bad could it be?  Oy!  Pretty, pretty, pretty bad.  Bill Pullman, what are you doing in this movie???  Its only marginal appeal is the always entertaining Fisher Stevens.  But not enough.  Not nearly enough!

And that’s about it.  I also attended an hour long conversation with Philip Seymour Hoffman and got to ask him a question about one of my favorite films, 'Synecdoche New York'.  That was most definitely a highlight of my trip.

Well then, If you made it this far, then either my thoughts were somewhat entertaining or you have too much free time on your hands.  Either way, thanks for listening.  And feel free to post your thoughts on my thoughts.

Brian