Below is the concluding recap of films that I saw during this year's Toronto Film Festival for your perusal.
Day Four: I've always been a fan of Errol Flynn's films, not his personal behavior. During the golden age of Hollywood, he was clearly the great adventurer. Handsome, dynamic and full of bravado, he was a rowdy swashbuckler offscreen with a penchant for under-aged girls. Kevin Kline embodies the best and worst of Flynn during the last two years of his life in 'The Last of Robin Hood', which focuses on his final romance, a fifteen year old girl played by now 19 year old Dakota Fanning.
(Kevin Kline as Errol Flynn with Dakota Fanning in 'The Last of Robin Hood')
Next, Andre' Benjamin killed it as Jimi Hendrix in the uneven but engrossing 'All is On My Side', a look at the live and loves of Jimi Hendrix, leading up to his triumphant performance at Monterey. Andre' was Hendrix the same way Jamie Foxx was Ray Charles. Trippy, sensitive, insightful and sometimes misogynistic, Benjamin covers all the bases gracefully. The film featured no original Hendrix songs, but there's plenty of period appropriate music that Jimi was playing during his quest to be discovered to take their place. Director John Ridley effectively immerses the viewer in the backstage drama of the master guitarist and brings the chaos of the sixties to life. By focusing on one period in an icon's life, 'All is By My Side' makes for a satisfying examination of one of the true giants of rock music.
(Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix and Haley Atwell in 'All is By My Side')
Finally, Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo co-star in 'Can A Song Save Your Life', a dramedy about a wrecked record exec and a drifting singer-songwriter whose partnership reinvigorates both personally and professionally. Sappy, but with appealing performances by Knightley, Steinfeld and an under used Yasmin Bey (aka Mos Def), it also features Maroon 6's Adam Levine, as Knightley's errant boyfriend. For me, it was the weakest film of the day by far, but it garnered one of the biggest sales of the festival (7 million dollar purchase price plus a $20 million commitment in prints and advertising). I'm sure there's an audience for films like this, I'm just not a part of it.
Day Five: This was an early morning-8:30 to see the award winning documentarian Alex Gibney's look at the disgrace of Lance Armstrong in 'The Armstrong Lie'. The film had an interesting genesis: it was originally designed to be a doc about Armstrong's comeback of 2009, but changed once the damn burst that was holding back the flood of evidence of Armstong's long suspected performance enhanced cheating. If you didn't like Armstrong before, you'll really dislike him now. In new interviews he did with Gibney this year, he's still an arrogant, reluctanctly apologetic dick.
(Lance Armstrong in 'The Armstrong Lie')
Next up was Jude Law channeling Ben Kingsley's Don Logan (from 'Sexy Beast'), in 'Dom Hemingway', a comedy about a Cockney safecracker with an anger problem, fresh out of jail, trying to rekindle a relationship with his long estranged daughter, played by 'Game of Thrones' Emily Clarke. The movie is uneven, but the nearly unrecognizable and bulked up Jude Law carries the day with his articulate, boorish, rowdy and hilarious energy. It's a new chapter for this fine actor and he makes the most of it.
(Jude Law is 'Dom Hemingway')
Third film of the day was 'McCanick', starring a solid character actor, David Morse as a somewhat shady cop and Corey Montieth in one of his final roles as an ex-con on the run. Effective performances couldn't elevate the boilerplate story or standard direction beyond a straight to DVD level feature.
Day 6. Saw three films today: 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby', 'Third Person' and 'Lucky Them'. The first two were well done, but pretty heavy dramas with stars like Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Adrian Brody, James Franco and others. 'Lucky Them', with Toni Collette and the always enjoyable Thomas Hayden Church was a light comedy about a rock music critic looking for her rock star ex-boyfriend who vanished a decade ago. The reveal of the ex late in the film is outstanding casting and I won't spoil the surprise here. 'Lucky Them' isn't a huge laugh out loud movie, but it's funny enough and has a world and cast of characters that you'll enjoy spending ninety minutes with.The highlight of the day was going to see Al Pacino do his one man show at Massey Hall. He spoke, danced, sang and played film clips for a little over two hours. He was in great form and seemed to have more fun than anyone at the show, even quoting Scarface's famous 'say hello to my little friend' line for an audience member. Following his performance I went backstage to say hello and had a chance to meet and chat with Jessica Chastain, who's in our Big Air film with Pacino, 'Wilde Salome'. She was very down to earth and friend. When I told her that I saw her film 'Eleanor Rigby' earlier today, she asked me if I needed a drink afterward because it's so heavy. I look forward to working with her on the release of 'Wilde Salome'.
Day Seven: Before heading to the airport I was able to see one last film, which turned out to be my favorite film of the year so far, Alfonso Cuaron's 'Gravity', starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. I'm reluctant to say much about it, as overhype has killed many a film. In short, it's about two astronauts, stuck in space and have to find a way home after a shower of debris renders their spacecraft beyond repair. The performances from both Bullock and Clooney are spot on, and 'Gravity' features the most effective, non-intrusive use of 3-D that I've seen, by far. It's a tight 90 minute thriller that takes a simple story and infuses it with all that the visual arts can be. A perfect blend of cutting edge technology with a filmmaker who understands how to use it to enhance, not overwhelm the story. I highly recommend it.
There you have it. A lot of movies in just a few days, in one of my favorite cities. That was a great week. A number of these films will be released over the next few months, while others won't see daylight until next year, but I'm happy to bring you an early peek of movies that you might want to keep an eye on. On to the next fest!