Alicia at TIFF Day 1 : Cloud Atlas, End of Watch, Pines, Argo, Anna Karenina, Looper, Wallflower

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Greetings from the Toronto Film Festival,

an update on some of the film’s I’ve seen today, as well as who I’ve spoken to; plus, down the tail end of the piece here, some casting news overheard and/or reported at the festival.

Cloud Atlas
The final film on my to-watch list for the day – and a terrific one to end on.
Based on the book of the same name, what a loyal, epic recreation of it this film by the Wachowski’s and Tom Twyker is! I love the book, and loved the film just as much.
There was a huge standing ovation for the movie afterwards, and it was well-deserved – it’s an outstanding, remarkable piece of work.
Will be one of the highlights of 2012 when all is said and done.

Other reviews around the web of “Cloud Atlas” :
“Not quite soaring into the heavens, but not exactly crash-landing either, Cloud Atlas is an impressively mounted, emotionally stilted adaptation of British author David Mitchell’s bestselling eponymous novel. Written and directed by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer, this hugely ambitious, genre-jumping, century-hopping epic is parts Babel and Tree of Life, parts Blade Runner, Amistad and Amadeus, with added doses of gore, CGI, New Age kitsch, and more prosthetics than a veterans hospital in wartime. ” – The Hollywood Reporter
“There are a number of throughlines to “Cloud Atlas” that reach for profundity, but land with all the insight of a discounted New Age self-help book. “Our lives are not our own, we are bound to each other past and present,” Bae Doona’s prophetess Sonmi-451 says with great importance. “Love could outlive death” and “Death is only a door” are more of the sagacious platitudes she shares in a film that beats these ideas into the ground, rather than letting them arise on their own. But worse, they never for a moment feel organically drawn or sincere. ” – IndieWire
“An intense three-hour mental workout rewarded with a big emotional payoff, “Cloud Atlas” suggests that all human experience is connected in the pursuit of freedom, art and love. As inventive narratives go, there’s outside the box, and then there’s pioneering another dimension entirely, and this massive, independently financed collaboration among Tom Tykwer and Wachowski siblings Lana and Andy courageously attempts the latter, interlacing six seemingly unrelated stories in such a way that parallels erupt like cherry bombs in the imagination. The R-rated epic should find a substantial audience when Warner Bros. releases it Oct. 26, assuming critics don’t kill it in the cradle.” – Variety
“Fear. Belief. Love. Phenomena that determine the course of our lives.” It’s the movie of the year. A bold, ambitious, grand storytelling accomplishment that I dare say is a true cinematic revelation. I have been anxiously/impatiently waiting to finally see filmmakers Andy & Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer take on adapting David Mitchell’s epic novel Cloud Atlas, which seamlessly blends six different storylines in an attempt to look at the meaning of life and the decisions that impact this universe. I will forever be able to say – I was there, at the Cloud Atlas premiere, that ended with an enormously deserving standing ovation.” – FirstShowing.Net

Argo
My verdict : I overheard someone saying, just as the lights went up after the screening, that “nobody can ever talk shit about Ben Affleck again”. They’re right. This is one of the year’s best, and another admirable achievement from the actor turned director, who has already given us two great films in “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town”.
“Argo” is an amazing, incredible story; it has it all – it’s unbelievably tense, moving and funny at the same time.
Bravo Ben!

Other reviews around the web of “Argo” :
” Argo is a good movie. I wouldn’t expect big things to come from the movie come awards season, but it’s most definitely worth seeing if you’re interested in recent American history. And be sure to stay through the credits for more history — with actual photos of those involved providing context and really bringing the power of the story home.” – EmpireMovies
“Argo is Ben Affleck’s third theatrical feature as a director and after the critical and commercial success of 2010′s The Town, moving into the realm of perioid action-drama may seem odd, but it’s not really that far of a stretch. The story is fantastic; its engaging, full of heart, humor, fascinating politics, and very real life or death stakes. The film, however, only really focuses on the job at hand, and summarily covers the necessities of characters and larger plotting. While it is certainly based on an exciting true story, this is not really a film about that. Like The Town, Argo is actually another heist movie. It relishes in the mechanics of pulling off this incredible “job,” and neglects all other aspects of the story.” – IGN
“While “Argo” never quite achieves the intensity of a “Munich,” nor does it feel like it’s trying, Ben Affleck ably ups his game as a filmmaker and it only sometimes feels like he overreached by leaving his Boston comfort zone. There’s no question that the screenplay is a real winner and the casting of Goodman and Arkin in smaller roles often steals the movie.” – ComingSoon.net
“An effort is made in the beginning to combine comic book illustrations and documentary footage to put the event in the proper historical and political context. When the embassy is overtaken by the protesting Iranians is full of suspense and drama with skillful use of archival and live-action footage. A game of cat of mouse unfolds as the story crosscuts between the would-be captives and captors. Never one to be a big fan of the acting abilities of Ben Affleck, I have a strange idea that his grizzled beard appearance made him more palatable this time around. Bryan Cranston does a good job of playing the superior of Affleck who is more supportive than combative.” – FlickeringMyth

Looper
I’ve been waiting for the embargo to lift on this one… so I can tell you how brilliant this is! Rian Johnson can do no wrong. I love him. He’s a master filmmaker.
The movie, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt (who is just so lovely on-screen but also off-screen; I always have time for her), is one of my favourite films this year – it is smart, intense and you’ll want to dissect it for hours afterwards. I can’t wait until you all have a chance to see this one!

Other reviews around the web of “Looper” :
“Johnson’s debut, Brick, asked a lot of its audience, incited you to keep up. Those who found his noirish high-school murder mystery too portenteous might struggle with Looper. At its best, it’s a similarly dense film. But, once you commit to the lexicon – to the blunderbusses, the silver, the loops that close and the loops let run – you’re in for a breathless ride. It’s been a patchy summer for sci-fi, absent of anything that really sticks in the mind. Johnson’s deep, distinctive film plays on repeat.” – The Guardian
” It was just a little too predictable for my tastes. There were a few “aha” moments throughout where I figured things out, and by the time the movie caught up to where I knew it was going, it just wasn’t as enjoyable as it would have been had I not known.” – Empire Movies
“”Looper” feels like the type of movie that can only get better with repeat viewings–much like Johnson’s previous film “The Brothers Bloom” in fact–but even with our single solitary viewing, it’s obvious he’s successfully pulled off a hugely ambitious and mind-blowing sci-fi twist on the gangster flick that’s likely to make it one of the coolest movies of the year.” – ComingSoon.net
“Once Willis has arrived, briskly dodged his own execution, and both young and old Joes go on the run from weary boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) and his shotgun-wielding goons, the film starts to devolve into a fairly disjointed futuristic time-travel chase thriller with the trappings of plenty you’ll have seen. There’s a bit of Twelve Monkeys, more than a dash of Terminator 2. Johnson has novel conceits stuffed right up to his elbows, but they don’t always feel organic to the story, and there’s a growing whiff of illogical balderdash to his whole plot: it’s as if the script was started by Christopher Nolan and completed in hair-pulling fits and starts by M. Night Shyamalan. Why – given that the time-travel end of it can be banished to any future point – isn’t the story set now? I suspect the answer is that we don’t have cool enough hoverbikes yet. ” – The Telegraph

Perks of Being a Wallflower
Not my favourite of the film’s showing at Toronto, but definitely still worth watching when it goes wide.
It is sweet, a tad stiff at times, but nice to see Emma Watson out of Hermoine mode.

Other reviews around the web of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” :
“In place of the quirky, self-centered protagonist is a lonely, scared individual who finds the courage to greet the world with wonder rather than malaise. In place of contrived conflict designed to occupy a sad and droll life, Perks tackles serious issues that would be difficult for anyone to face, let alone teenagers. Free from a twee character and a lazy script, actor Logan Lerman delivers a wonderful, eye-opening performance in Chbosky’s big-hearted and finely crafted adaptation of his 1999 novel.” – Collider
““The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is a lovely film, showing off the dynamic talents of Ezra Miller, Emily Watson and Logan Lerman, proving once and for all that writers can adapt and direct their own material (as Stephen Chbosky does here) without becoming overly precious. You may not have attended this high school — hell, you may not have even heard of a place like this — but the human condition pondered within is certainly one that audience members will be able to relate to.” – Film.com
“Based on the book by Stephen Chbosky, who also directs, it could be the benefits of having the author do double duty that allows ‘Perks’ to be as good as it is. What Chbosky understands is that a high school year in the life of a teenager isn’t a few big dramas but instead is made up of lots of small episodes of joy and sorrow, especially as these kids learn about the heartbreak and compromises that come with growing older and learning who you are. ‘Perks’ presents teenagers as actual people, in all their complicated, messy and endearing ways, and it’s this quality that pushes the film far beyond your standard entry in the genre.” – IndieWire
“Taking on an American accent and a character who’s far less assertive than Harry Potter’s Hermione, Watson gives an adequate but not quite memorable turn, and Sam remains more an object of Charlie’s eye than a full-fledged personality. Lerman (Writers) fits the part of the troubled, awkward teen fairly well, yet only gets a chance to display real gravitas when it’s all too late in the game.” – The Hollywood Reporter

Anna Karenina
One of the biggest surprises of Toronto.
Joe Wright’s classic 19th century yarn sees the title character, played by a knockout Keira Knightley, entering into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.
This is just beautiful! It has unique staging (mostly in a theatre), Keira Knightley looks gorgeous, Matthew Macfadyen and is sensational as he is scrumptious!

Other reviews around the web of “Anna Karenina” :
“This Anna Karenina certainly is a lot different than the version MGM and Greta Garbo served up in the 1930s. Wright’s bold concept of losing some of the naturalism and putting it in a theatrical setting wasn’t in Stoppard’s script – and he had to convince the writer it was the way to go. But in the end it all worked out. He said the premiere at Toronto’s classic Elgin theatre was almost surreal since it looked like the theatre-in-the-film-in-a-theatre. It’s an instant contender for a Best Picture, Director and Screenplay slot. Knightley’s go-for-broke work is likely to land her in the Best Actress race again, and producers also hope Jude Law as her husband gets attention in the supporting category.” – Deadline
” There’s a gorgeous, tender declaration of love towards the end of Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, a sequence that may be the best thing this restless, rather antsy filmmaker has ever done – up there with Donald Sutherland’s chuckling joy at the close of Pride & Prejudice. It involves none of the main three characters, but Levin and Kitty, a pair whose fumbled courtship other versions of Tolstoy’s novel have often omitted, or stripped right back. It’s also the film’s simplest scene – almost wordless, as Tom Stoppard’s script uses a child’s alphabet blocks to heal this scarred relationship, spelling out what the paramours can’t say to each other, but must. Domhnall Gleeson nails Levin’s adorable self-seriousness without sentimentalising what can make him hard work, and Alicia Vikander, the lovely Swedish actress from A Royal Affair, modulates stunningly from flighty impulse to a chastened, trembling realisation of what love can mean. ” – The Telegraph
“…the best thing I’ve seen at the fest so far (and mind you, it’s early) is Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, an intoxicating adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Russian classic that cuts right to the heart of the emotional toils suffered by aristocrats in love. It sounds stuffy. It’s actually beautiful, with Wright pulling off a daring tight-rope walk that visually incorporates elements of theater while also tapping into the bold current of love in Tolstoy’s dark piece. It’s a triumph. ” – CinemaBlend
“Eschewing the classical realism that’s characterized most adaptations of Tolstoy’s source novel, helmer Joe Wright makes the generally inspired decision to stylize his dark, expressionist take on “Anna Karenina.” Setting most of the action in a mocked-up theater emphasizes the performance aspects of the characters’ behavior, a strategy enhanced by lead thesp Keira Knightley’s willingness to let her neurotic Anna appear less sympathetic than in previous incarnations. Bowing Sept. 7 in Blighty after its Toronto preem, “Anna” is well-placed to gain admiring awards looks, especially in craft categories, but its covert anti-romanticism may limit appeal beyond specialty auds.” – Variety

The Place Behind The Pines
Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling can seemingly do no wrong, and together with director Derek Cianfrance, they’ve made one of the best flicks of the festival. Cooper and Gosling are terrific in it – but no surprise.
The film’s story itself mightn’t hit as hard as Cinafrance’s previous film “Blue Valentine” did, but it still possesses some remarkably powerful moments in cinema.

Other reviews around the web of “The Place Behind the Pines” :
“…a rich, multi-layered narrative dripping with fatalism, guilt, honor, and no easy answers. It is an epic family saga that defies easy explanation, and rebels against the structure of a traditional narrative. His gripping tale shows split-second connections that last lifetimes, and old sins that reach across generations. Cianfrance has created a remarkable work that reaches a grand ambition with an intimate tale. And I have to tell you why it works without divulging the twists and turns of its razor-sharp script.” – Collider
“Its mesmerizing balance of steaminess and melancholy made Blue Valentine one of the most distinctively intense American indies of the past few years. While Derek Cianfrance’s third feature, The Place Beyond the Pines, is far more diffuse and can’t match its predecessor’s extraordinarily raw intimacy, this drama about morality, guilt and the long-range reverberations of the sins of the fathers packs moments of searing power. The film’s somber tone and choppy narrative will make it a challenging entry in the marketplace, but the name cast will help.” – The Hollywood Reporter
“The Place Beyond the Pines is ambitious and epic, perhaps to a fault. It’s a long, slow watch in the final act, a detour into the next generation that sees the sons of Luke and Avery pick away at their daddy issues together. Cianfrance signposts the ripple effects of crime with giant motorway billboards, then pootles along, following a storyline that drops off Mendes and Byrne before winding on to its obvious conclusion. The remarkable opening, featuring a tracking shot through the flashing lights of the fair right into the Cage of Death, seems a very long way away. ” – The Guardian
“Five minutes in, my internal bullpoop detector began setting off a faint alarm. A very long two hours and twenty minutes later — after the fate and legacy of Gosling’s motorcycle stunt-rider-turned-bank-robber linked up fully with the fate and legacy of Cooper’s conflicted cop who ends the robbery spree — the clang of hooey! deafened me with its reverb. I’m just one opinionator; my colleague Dave Karger has already shuffled the performances into his deck of Oscar contenders, and critical praise is arriving from other quarters. But until you click in search of a happier review, I’m going to analyze a few elements of pretention in what looks and sounds to me for all the world exactly like a Sundance movie on Toronto steroids.” – EW

End of Watch
A really decent, entertaining film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as young Los Angeles police officers Taylor and Zavala as they patrol the city’s meanest streets of south central Los Angeles.
Don’t matter whether it was done for budgetary decisions or story decisions, one aspect of the film that I didn’t quite enjoy was the through-the-cameras-eye element; having Gyllenhaal’s character document things, with his HD-camera and so on, and seeing through the lens… took us away from the movie. Would have preferred it to not take the “Paranormal Activity” approach.

Other reviews around the web of “End of Watch” :
“You could fill the charge sheet with such plausibility issues, yet End of Watch is a hard one to take down. The director has talked about the film as a thought-piece – a comment on inner-city communities forced to police violence with violence, but it’s not to be taken that seriously. Switch on the siren, put the pedal to the floor. Revel in the pace and passion of a film-maker policing a field that is now unquestionably his.” – The Guardian
“Like a knife in the eye, “End of Watch” cuts past the cliches of standard police procedurals, serving instead as a visceral ride-along with two thrill-seeking cops (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, both terrific) covertly documenting their beat in South Central L.A. Faux-found-footage approach already feels a little dated, but amplifies the authenticity in what feels like a cross between “Cops” and first-person shooter-style vidgames. Sincerely dedicated “for all that fight evil so we may not know it,” David Ayer’s moving tribute to the men in blue should earn its share of green once word of mouth kicks in.” – Variety
“If Mr. Ayer’s goal, after producing a series of “dirty cop” movies, was to craft a film that shows the low-key honor that most police officers possess, then he’s done a damn good job of it. End of Watch covers a whole lot of emotional ground for such a “basic” cop story (the plot: our heroes stumble upon a human trafficking ring in South Central), and the result is a suspenseful, intense, and surprisingly touching ode to America’s inner-city peacekeepers.” – Twitch
“With his screenplay for the Denzel Washington Oscar-winner Training Day and his subsequent features Harsh Times and Street Kings, writer-director David Ayer has meticulously chronicled the dangerous, ethically slippery world of the Los Angeles Police Department. His new film, End Of Watch, doesn’t break much new ground on the subject, but it’s nonetheless an intensely rendered and superbly acted drama.” – ScreenDaily

Today I interviewed: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, David O Russell, John Hawkes, William H Macy, Helen Hunt, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Rian Johnson, Eva Mendes, Emma Watson, Nina Dobrev, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving & more. We’ll have many of these up on Moviehole in due course.

As for as hot movie news and rumours being passed around here, here’s a few bits that have come our way over the past 24 hours :

  • Danny Trejo (“Machete”) and Stephen Lang (“Avatar”) will join Gina Carano in director John Stockwell’s “In the Blood”. It’s an action movie, built around MMA fighter Carano, about a woman who goes after the men who kidnapped and killed her husband. Trejo plays one of the villains and Land plays Carano’s character’s father.
  • Sean Bean (“Game of Thrones”) is doing a movie called “Scorched Earth”, a post-apocalyptic actioner from “24″ director Brad Turner. It’s about a bounty hunter who is assigned to track down a target in a desolate future wasteland.
  • Stealth Indie has picked up a movie called “The Rapture”, starring Steven Berkoff, among others. DNA is traced to the legendary Sword Of Destiny, which is under threat from an organised heist led by Victor Walker (Martin Kemp). Archangels are sent to Earth by The Controller (Steven Berkoff) to foil the plan. However the heist and the direct bloodline of Christ is revealed which genetically enables the Second Coming… It sounds like a cool concept!

Sleep time now!