The week in film: ‘Labyrinth of Lies,’ ‘Mississippi Grind’ and others 

September 23, 2015


Depending on which source you believe, there are between one and two dozen — yes, you read that right, dozen — films opening this Friday in New York. Here is a brief look at a half-dozen of them:

‘Labyrinth of Lies’: This German film tells an uncomfortable story about Cold War-era Germany in the 1950s, when Johann (Alexander Fehling), a young prosecutor, hears a story about a former Auschwitz guard, who is now a schoolteacher. When he decides to try to prosecute the man, he runs into stiff resistance. He’s never learned about Auschwitz and is outraged that his countrymen — who perpetrated these crimes — have gone unpunished and faded back into daily life as teachers, bakers, bankers and the like. (More…)


Live from the Toronto Film Festival: Wrapping up

September 18, 2015


It’s been a number of years since I started scheduling myself for the second half of the Toronto International Film Festival, rather than the first few days. I’m not someone who either is assigned to or feels the necessity to be the first person to see a film and register my opinion.

As a result, by the time I get here and start seeing films, others have already rushed to judgment. I counted no fewer than a half-dozen films being touted by different bloggers as “the best film of the year” before I even arrived in Canada. A couple of those turned out to be far less impressive than the hype would have you believe.

But, during my final day at TIFF today, I saw what may, in fact, be the best film of the year. While I’ve seen films that will definitely make my list of favorites for 2015, “Spotlight” was the one that gave me that tingle: that giddy feeling that I was seeing something important, something special, something that will be hard to top before year’s end. (More…)


Live from the Toronto Film Festival: Wednesday, September 16

September 17, 2015


I saw three films in a row today at the Toronto International Film Festival that have generated heavy buzz in the early festival days of fall – and found that none of them actually has the makings of the awards-season juggernauts they’re being touted as.

In other words, don’t believe the hype.

“The Martian” is being hailed as this year’s answer to “Gravity.” But as is usually the case with the films of Ridley Scott, there’s much less here than meets the eye. (More…)


Live from the Toronto Film Festival: Tuesday, September 15

September 16, 2015


There were probably those who thought that “Bad Words,” Jason Bateman’s outrageously funny directing debut, was a one-off: just an actor stretching his wings or perhaps exercising his ego. But that film was too self-assured and wickedly witty to be an exercise in self-glorification.

As Bateman’s new film, “The Family Fang,” shows, Bateman is a filmmaker with an edge and a vision. It was one of the better films I saw during a four-movie day Tuesday at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Bateman and Nicole Kidman play Ann and Baxter Fang, who were known as Child A and Child B when they were younger and drafted to be part of their parents’ performance art pieces. Their parents, Caleb and Camille (played by Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett as senior citizens, Jason Butler Harner and Kathryn Hahn as their younger selves), have disappeared and may have been murdered, and the siblings are convinced that the entire thing is yet another piece of performance art. (More…)


Live from the Toronto Film Festival: Monday, Sept. 14

September 15, 2015



Three-fourths of the way through my second day at the Toronto International Film Festival today, I realized that, beside the documentary I’d seen Sunday, all the movies I’d chosen turned out to be dramas based on true stories. And every one of them dealt with an injustice of some sort.

Sunday, it was “Trumbo” and “Truth.” Today, the day began with “The Program,” a Stephen Frears film about Lance Armstrong. I followed that with the shattering “Freeheld,” based on the true story of a New Jersey police woman who, as she faces death from cancer, discovers that the county for which she works will not let her assign her pension benefits to her female domestic partner.

It wasn’t until “Forsaken,” my seventh film in two days, that I saw a work of fiction. I enjoyed it, though I knew it wasn’t much more than a middling western. (More…)


Live from the 2015 Toronto Film Festival: Sunday, Sept. 13

September 14, 2015


The Toronto International Film Festival, in its 40th year, is, at this point, North America’s largest, sprawling across this massive city with more than 300 films vying for the attention of the public and the press.

I’ve been attending this festival since 1984 – which would seem like a lot to me, had I not been in the audience to see Barbara Kopple’s moving and uplifting new documentary, “Miss Sharon Jones!” As the film was introduced, the programmer doing the introduction pointed out that Kopple was one of three filmmakers with work in this festival who also had films in the very first Toronto festival: her 1976 documentary, “Harlan County USA,” which went on to win Kopple the first of her two Oscars. (More…)


Patricia Clarkson takes the wheel

September 9, 2015


It is unmistakably Patricia Clarkson on the phone, that husky, honeyed purr and laugh too distinctive not to recognize.

“I’m a New Orleans native, so I know 100-percent humidity,” she says, as she discusses shooting her latest film, “Learning to Drive.” “But filming in that car — with the windows up in the middle of summer — that was brutal. And I wasn’t in a turban and long pants, like Sir Ben. I was lucky.”

“Sir Ben” is Ben Kingsley, her co-star in Isabel Coixet’s film, “Learning to Drive,” which has been building audiences each time it expands its run since it opened in mid-August. Clarkson plays a literary critic whose husband leaves her for another woman; a New Yorker who is reliant on others for transportation, she takes her mobility into her own hands and signs up for behind-the-wheel training with a Sikh emigre played by Kingsley. Life lessons ensue. (More…)


‘A Walk in the Woods’: Amblin’

September 2, 2015


More than 15 years in the making, “A Walk in the Woods” is an entertaining and enjoyable film, if a formulaic one.

Adapted by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman from the book by Bill Bryson, the story chronicles the decision by Bryson (played by Robert Redford) to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. But veteran TV director Ken Kwapis (whose filmography includes such dross as “The Beautician and the Beast” and “Licensed to Wed”) doesn’t trust the material enough not to infuse it with sit-com timing.

Make no mistake: Bryson’s book is very funny, full of wonderful one-liners and caustic observations about everything from the U.S. Parks Service to the generally cavalier way most people treat wilderness areas and the creeping destruction of urban sprawl. (More…)