Welcome to the Larry411.com Guest Columnists! April 27, 2013
In my travels to the best film festivals in…
It's mid-October -- the time for falling leaves, candy corn, and carved pumpkins...while pleasantly air-conditioned multiplexes are packed with Oscar-baiters, quirky little indies, and end of year Hollywood releases. This period after the Toronto International Film Festival is when studios trot out their awards hopefuls. Here are a few rolling out now which, if not already, might hit your town soon. As per my policy, there are NO spoilers in these comments.
FURY -- This started out as a capsule review of the movie but all I've been thinking about is one masterful performance. So, if it's okay with you, let's talk about Logan Lerman. Brad Pitt's name may be above the title, but Fury's heart and soul belongs to this 22-year-old, one of the best and most in-demand young actors in America. Earlier this year he won the prestigious Chopard "Male Revelation" Trophy at the Cannes Film Festival, awarded to one young actor who exhibits true star potential. His filmography rivals those of thespians twice his age. The Patriot, What Women Want, Riding in Cars with Boys, The Butterfly Effect, Hoot, The Number 23, 3:10 to Yuma, my Toronto International Film Festival 2007 Top Pick Meet Bill, My One and Only, and Gamer helped cement his place as one of the industry's most versatile and talented teens. Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and The Three Musketeers took him out of the art house world onto the Hollywood stage. And many discovered him as Charlie in the award-winning coming of age hit The Perks of Being a Wallflower, one of my Toronto 2012 Top 8 and one of my Top 15 of 2012. He had a second film at Toronto in 2012, Stuck in Love, reprised his demigod role in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, and played Ham in Darren Aronofsky's Noah.
Lerman's ability to play across genres owes itself to a physical transformation he brings to every role. His mastery of this technique has been well-established in a career that already includes 17 features and over 20 television episodes. In this case, widening his eyes and keeping an expressionless face that projects puppy dog innocence as young soldier Norman first enters the tank named "Fury." His posture, walk, and pattern of speech all serve to underscore Norman's youthful vulnerability. Of course, this is a war movie, and we know his demeanor is bound to change. It's that chameleonic quality that writer/director David Ayer and Executive Producer Brad Pitt saw in Lerman, and why they made the wise decision to cast him in the role that truly defines this film. The performances are uniformly solid, but it's the relationship between Pitt's Don 'Wardaddy' Collier and Lerman's Norman Ellison that drives Fury. Lerman's star has been on the rise for almost 15 years. Maybe it's time for the Academy to take notice. A cautionary note: War is hell, and some of the action depicted in Fury is gruesome and may be hard to take for some. The horrific opening scene as soldiers hit the Normandy beaches in Saving Private Ryan helped establish a new wave of authenticity in modern day World War II films. Fury has some similar depictions, along with some graphic images I've never seen in a movie before.
KILL THE MESSENGER -- From Emmy-winning (for Homeland) director Michael Cuesta, Kill the Messenger is another (well-deserved) fall awards-baiter. This taut political drama from Focus Features -- in the works for over six years -- is based on the chilling true story of San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb. Peter Landesman's cerebral screenplay combines two books, Gary Webb's "Dark Alliance" and Nick Shou's "Kill the Messenger." The takeaway from this slow-burn thriller is the Oscar-worthy performance of Jeremy Renner, who may soon be joining the ranks of contenders on pundits' lists. He helped shepherd this project as one of the producers himself. The film boasts a massive supporting cast of familiar faces, all up to the task, including Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Robert Patrick, Michael Sheen, Ray Liotta, Michael Kenneth Williams, Rosemarie DeWitt, Baz Vega, Andy Garcia, Gary Pepper, Oliver Platt, and Richard Schiff. Archival footage supplements the authentic biopic. Although the basic idea is revealed fairly close to the beginning of the film, I'd still rather not discuss it as it would be a spoiler for anyone who isn't aware of the story. The events depicted were as shocking in the 80s and 90s as they are seeing the re-creations today. This is heady stuff, and a reminder of the positive power of journalism -- and its pitfalls.
GONE GIRL -- Hitchcock is smiling from the grave. David Fincher's Gone Girl is the suspense thriller of the year. This is what a movie should be -- totally engrossing, gorgeous to watch and listen to, with stellar acting and an unpredictable story. The challenge after seeing it is to avoid spoilers. For that reason I can't say much. I also recommend earplugs until you do. If you liked Prisoners, you'll love Gone Girl. If you didn't like Prisoners, you'll love Gone Girl. It's got that same noir nailbiting tension with a much more intense, multilayered storyline. The work of twice Oscar-nominated cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (for both The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is as good as it gets. The score is simply breathtaking. Credit Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who also collaborated with Fincher on Dragon Tattoo and The Social Network (for which they won the Oscar). Gone Girl's slow burn pace forces them to maintain a calm, steady quiet roar throughout. I know I mainly cover indies, and this is a Fox film, but it's got indie sensibility written all over it. It probably would have been if not for the names involved. It sounds cliche and I don't say this too often -- but I can't wait to see Gone Girl again. In fact, it demands a second viewing.
MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN -- Four-time Oscar-nominated director Jason Reitman made some bold choices with this adaptation, based on the novel by Chad Kultgen. On the face of it, the (very) multi-layered narrative focuses on a slew of parents and their high schoolers as they wander the minefield of life and love in the Internet age. While I have seen this theme tackled in an even more powerful way (more about this in a bit), I still left feeling emotionally drained, with a great deal to discuss -- because there's a lot more going on here, much of it left undiscovered until the latter portion of this two-hour film. Sexuality is the predominant thread but there's a less obvious examination of gender roles and a pointed message about our place in the universe, not to mention porn addiction, bullying, anorexia...it's all here. I have to admit I was ready to check out mentally even past the first act. This is a slow burn, character-driven film that takes quite awhile to start hitting the mark. But, oh boy, once it gets deep it really drags you in (even as it drags). Despite the slightly Kafkaesque tone and tempo, I gave it that rare "wow" as the credits rolled -- as did many of the typically cynical press folks surrounding me. It takes patience, and it met the high expectations I had since I was originally supposed to see it a month ago.
This was another film I missed while in Toronto, and one of two TIFF titles with the awesome J.K. Simmons (the other was Whiplash, my favorite film of the festival and one of the best of the year) although he has a relatively small part in this ensemble piece. Men, Women & Children features subtly intense performances from both adults and teens. Standouts among the parents include Adam Sandler (in another shot at a dramatic role) and Jennifer Garner (also playing very much against type). The "kids" are led by Ansel Elgort (of The Fault in Our Stars, playing a similar character) and upstart newcomer Travis Tope (22 playing 15), fast becoming one of the most sought after young actors in Hollywood. Also starring Judy Greer, Kaitlyn Dever, Dean Norris, Rosemarie DeWitt (who was also in Kill the Messenger), Dennis Haysbert, Timothée Chalamet, Olivia Crocicchia, Katherine C. Hughes, Elena Kampouris, and Will Peltz.
Get ready to sit for awhile...this is another two hour film (as was Kill the Messenger, which I saw the night before, and the three I saw last week, and the four I saw the week before that, and half the films I saw at TIFF three weeks ago) -- and does feel it, although it's worth the wait if you can hang on. I'm afraid many aren't however, as the film has begun to see the light of day (or dark of theater). In the three weeks since Toronto, it has played Vancouver, Catalina, Aspen, Rio de Janeiro, and Mill Valley. Rated R, and deservedly so for its language and gobs of sexual content (although there's little explicit sex or skin on display), Paramount opened it at 17 locations to less-than-stellar box office and reviews. I suspect many checked out early on, as I almost did. But I didn't, and just hope viewers will give it the time to develop.
Now, a note. One of my Top 8 from the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival was Henry Alex Rubin's Disconnect, which remains one of my favorite films of the past three years. That picture, starring Jason Bateman, Max Thieriot, Colin Ford, Paula Patton, Frank Grillo, Alexander Skarsgård, Jonah Bobo, Aviad Bernstein, Haley Ramm, Andrea Riseborough, and Hope Davis, focuses on the harm caused by our web-connected lives. Several examples of the Internet age's unfortunate downside are examined in three compelling storylines, all based on actual cases. As one tends to have intense feelings about a film in its immediate afterglow, I expected the emotional excitement to die down after awhile. But Disconnect has continued to haunt me after two years, and it was all I kept thinking about throughout Men, Women & Children. Another fine example is the fact-based British drama uwantme2killhim?, which I saw at Santa Barbara and is another one that flew under the radar but deserves to be seen. Both these films cover similar subjects and do so in a more streamlined, coherent way, for those so inclined. They're worth seeking out.
THE BEST OF ME -- Women will surely love it. Of course this goes without saying, as director Michael Hoffman's picture is based on a Nicholas Sparks love story, adapted by J. Mills Goodloe and Will Fetters. The men seem to whip off their clothes randomly. I felt like I was watching auditions for the cover of a romance novel. Shirts fly off, they strip to boxers for another swimming hole plunge, there's the requisite pool party...it seemed humorous at first but I got used to it. Kind of like joining a bunch of old ladies at a Chippendales show. But, as an engaging story told with excellent production values, The Best of Me delivers for all genders. It's exactly what you expect it to be. James Marsden and Luke Bracey shine as the older and younger versions of Dawson, the main male character. Ian Nelson (Young Derek Hale on MTV's Teen Wolf) plays the teenage son of Dawson's love interest Amanda (older Amanda, of course). Model-turned-actor Robby Rasmussen, in his first film, has two roles -- he plays Dawson's cousin/best friend Bobby and then returns later in the movie as another character. Big pluses: The lush cinematography of Oliver Stapleton and Aaron Zigman's score. He's one of my favorite composers. Discovered him on Alpha Dog and been a fan ever since. Rated PG-13, from Relativity. The Best of Me is simply one of those movies where you suspend disbelief and let the images wash over you. And keep a tissue handy.
Official trailers are below. Keep in mind they may have spoilers. In lieu of a trailer for Fury I have included a short clip of one powerful scene.
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In my travels to the best film festivals in…