24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Toronto 2011

WM3 documentary 'Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory' to open in L.A.

November 3, 2011 |  4:14 pm


The latest documentary about the fate of the case of the West Memphis 3, "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory," isn't scheduled to be broadcast on HBO until early next year, but fans of the series in Los Angeles might want to make the trek to Laemmle's Fallbrook 7 in West Hills where the film opens Friday for one week only.

The limited run is designed specifically to give the film the opportunity to qualify for an Oscar nomination.

Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky first brought attention to the plight of Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr. -- teenagers who were convicted of the gruesome 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark. -- with the 1996 documentary "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills." Though the filmmakers initially intended to make a film about disaffected youth -- the prosecution and local media made much of the fact that the convicted teens wore black clothing and listened to heavy metal music -- what they found were three innocent young men who had been convicted of a crime they didn't commit.

"Paradise Lost" spurred international interest in the story of the three jailed men, who became known as the West Memphis 3, and Berlinger and Sinofsky felt compelled to make a follow-up film, 2000's "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" to advocate for Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley to be released from prison and exonerated. The films garnered support not only from such celebrities as Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines, Peter Jackson and Henry Rollins, but also sparked the formation of grassroots groups like the website wm3.org.

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Live chat with 'Trespass' director Joel Schumacher on Oct. 14

October 10, 2011 |  2:06 pm

Joel Schumacher

Veteran filmmaker Joel Schumacher, whose Nicole Kidman thriller "Trespass" opens Friday, will be joining us for a live online chat at 11 a.m. PDT on the day his film hits theaters.

The prolific writer-director, whose career has spanned nearly 40 years, premiered "Trespass" at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. In addition to Kidman, the home-invasion film stars Nicolas Cage, Cam Gigandet and Liana Liberato. In the film, a wealthy businessman and his family are taken hostage in their own home and attempt to fight back and try to turn the tables on their captors. 

Schumacher has been rather active the last few years. "Trespass" follows his 2010 film "Twelve" and his 2009 effort "Blood Creek." His film directing career began with the 1981 Lily Tomlin vehicle "The Incredible Shrinking Woman." He went on to make such noted films as 1985's "St. Elmo's Fire," 1987's "The Lost Boys," 1990's "Flatliners," 1993's "Falling Down" and 1995's "Batman Forever," among many others.  

To schedule a reminder for the chat, just fill out the form below. And be sure to join us Friday.


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-- Todd Martens

Photo: Joel Schumacher at the Toronto International Film Festival. Credit: Reuters.

Potential horror sleeper 'You're Next' acquired by Lionsgate

September 21, 2011 | 11:22 am

Photo: "You're Next." Credit: Toronto International Film Festival. The Toronto International Film Festival often yields a horror movie that hadn't been on any mainstream radar but goes on to become a hit after it plays the confab. Last year that movie was "Insidious," James Wan's supernatural tale about a family that moves into what proves to be a haunted house .

It's still a little too soon to anoint this year's genre breakout. But one strong contender is shaping up to be "You're Next," a low-budget movie that played the festival's coveted Midnight Madness section and has drawn strong reviews.

On Wednesday morning, Lionsgate announced that it had acquired the movie and will bring it to theaters at an as-yet unspecified date.  Acquisitions executive Jason Constantine said in a statement that 'Next" "represents everything that we look for in a horror film." The studio, of course, is the company behind the "Saw" franchise and other horror mainstays.

Directed by the previously little-known horror director Adam Wingard from a screenplay by Simon Barrett, "Next" tells the story of a young man (A.J. Bowen) and his girlfriend (Sharni Vinson) who head to a vacation house for a family reunion only to find violent dangers lurking. Unlike a traditional horror film, where passive victims are picked off one by one, however, this one sees the victims fight back in ways that, according to several Web reviews, are both brutal and funny.

Respected fan site Hitfix even compares the movie to "Scream" because of the way it can play to hard-core horror fans as well as a mainstream audience. "The film is fiendishly clever in the way it springs its various surprises, and the cast manages to make this feel legitimately life-and-death, but also keeps it light and funny."

The Hitfix reviewer also said (before any negotiations came to light) that he's expecting a bit of a breakout. " I'd put a little money down on the notion that you'll get to see this one sooner rather than later, and in a real theater.  A little bit of post-production sweetening to smooth off some of the rough technical edges could help," he writes. "and this could be a lovely small-scale sensation."


Toronto 2011: Five of the festival's biggest surprises

Toronto 2011: Westfeldt, Davies films heading to theaters

As Toronto fest winds down, fall season is wide open

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "You're Next." Credit: Toronto International Film Festival.

Toronto 2011: 'Wuthering Heights' reenvisions a classic

September 19, 2011 |  1:11 pm

Wutheringheights_04_large  Following its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival and subsequent appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival, Andrea Arnold's atmospheric adaptation of "Wuthering Heights" quickly became a movie many were talking about. It has gathered supporters and detractors in seemingly equal numbers.

Responding to her daring take on Emily Bronte's classic novel -- Arnold covers only the first half of the book -- some regarded the film as lugubrious and formless, while others found themselves in thrall to what they saw as its bold spell. As Arnold herself mentioned in a Q&A following the North American premiere during Toronto's first weekend, she put back in "all the pain and violence and spit and blood" missing from many adaptations.

She also said that she had not watched any previous films made from the story -- most notably the 1939 version with Laurence Olivier in the male lead of Heathcliff. Arnold structures her film so that it cleaves cleanly in half. In the first section, young Heathcliff (Solomon Glave) is taken in by a farming family and over time he and Cathy (Shannon Beer) bond as more than siblings if only tentatively as lovers. After abruptly leaving in a jealous fit, Heathcliff (now played by the roguish, brooding James Howson) returns some five years later with money, a fierce attitude and the new determination to win Cathy (Kaya Scodelario).

After the film's first Toronto screening, Arnold sat down for a few moments to talk about her film. 

With a feisty, youthful energy, the 50-year-old Arnold said it was the Heathcliff character who drew her to "Wuthering Heights."

 "The way he's treated as a kid and the way he turns out and all the brutality he suffers" are what were interesting, Arnold said. "I read the book years ago, and it had a profound effect on me. It's a confounding book, really. It became quite an obsession. I just couldn't let it go."

On the surface, her biggest alteration from previous tellings of the story is her decision to cast black actors in the role of Heathcliff. She insists, however, that it is not as much of a change as it might seem.

"I think the only reason people are surprised is they've just seen white Heathcliffs all the time and I don't think anyone's really concentrated on the text," Arnold added, noting that his descriptions in the book make reference to Heathcliff appearing like a gypsy or Indian sailor. "I decided that's really where the truth was, what really mattered was his difference, his exoticness. That was mainly what I thought was really important."

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Toronto 2011: 'Dogtooth' director is back with 'Alps'

September 19, 2011 | 12:30 pm

Alps_02_large  There may be no flat-out stranger movie in the annals of the Academy Awards than the Greek film "Dogtooth," a nominee in the foreign language category this past season. (The film, about a couple who imprison and torture their children, created waves last year; some critics disliked its explicitness and (very) black comedy,  and many theaters wouldn't book it.)

Director Yorgos Lanthimos is back on the festival circuit with his new film "Alps," which just had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Enigmatic and seemingly allegorical in a manner similar to that of "Dogtooth," Lanthimos' new film is no simple repeat performance. This time out, a small group of people, part club and part business, substitute for recently deceased loved ones in an attempt to ease the grieving process for family members. Equal measure absurdist comedy and deeply felt drama, the film builds a startling emotional momentum. (Slight spoilers ahead, though there is really no explaining nor spoiling Lanthimos' storytelling.)

Co-written by Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, who also collaborated on "Dogtooth," "Alps" won the prize for best screenplay following its recent world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival. We  caught up with Lanthimos for a few minutes at Toronto's Bell Lightbox theater facility Friday as he came out of a screening of "Outside Satan," the new film by French art-house titan Bruno Dumont. His initial response to the film? "Well, I have to think about it."

The way you're talking about the Bruno Dumont film you just saw is similar to the way people talk about your films.

This is not similar. It's not like you have to figure out stuff. [With Dumont] you have to figure out if you're OK with it. I try as much as I can to leave room for people to discover things on their own and start thinking about stuff and not have one particular view on things or try to force a perspective or an opinion. I try to be precise about what I want to investigate, but the results I leave to people.

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Toronto 2011: Five of the festival's biggest surprises

September 19, 2011 | 10:57 am

With all the red-carpet galas and other celebrity orchestrations at a film festival such as Toronto's, it's hard to imagine too many surprises going down. But they do, and they did, at North America's largest cinema showcase.

With the 11-day gathering now wrapped, here's a look back at some of the unexpected films and trends.

All in the family. If anyone had told you before the festival that movies such as "Your Sister's Sister," "50/50" and "Friends With Kids" would become some of the biggest hits north of the border, take them to a Vegas sportsbook and don't leave their side. These seriocomic takes on modern family proved to be winners for possible zeitgeist reasons (cue "Modern Family" reference). Or it may just be that, as "Sister's" director Lynn Shelton noted to 24 Frames, after seeing plenty of dark dramas at the festival, filmgoers found that laughing about the foibles of family and their own lives could actually be... "a relief."

Slumdog pauper? You can debate the definition of a "huge breakout" and what one entails. But even if the criteria aren't clear, you can, as Potter Stewart might say, know it when you see it. And this year we didn't. As we noted in a story in today's Times, it's a sharp departure from the last few years, which had a "Slumdog Millionaire" or a "King's Speech." Sure, "Moneyball" looks to have the commercial goods, "Shame" has no small amount of buzz, and the two Clooney pics ("The Descendants" and "The Ides of March") could do damage on several fronts. But none of these movies rose to the level of past Toronto blockbusters.

Actor redux. Toronto is a place of diverse talents, right? Well, yes. But festivalgoers might be scheduling a trip to the optometrist after they found themselves seeing double. A number of  actors popped up in two films, including George Clooney ("Ides" and "Descendants"), Ryan Gosling ("Ides" and "Drive"), Emily Blunt ("Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" and "Your Sister's Sister") and Michael Fassbender ("A Dangerous Method" and "Shame"). All these actors are popular, of course, but their recurrence also says something about how movies, both independent and studio, are greenlighted these days -- namely, on the backs of a very small group of actors who have the clout to get them made.

Manly men. There are plenty of female filmmakers getting their moment -- Shelton and Jennifer  Westfeldt ("Friends With Kids"), to name two. So it was striking how many movies were dominated by male actors and themes of manhood -- "Moneyball," "Machine Gun Preacher," "The Ides of March," "50/50"  football doc "The Undefeated" and concert films about U2 and Pearl Jam. "Moneyball," a major studio release that is seeking female audiences as much as male ones, featured women in all but three scenes. Considering how many women actually go to the movies, it was a surprising turn.

For "Shame." Sure, it had some critics buzzing at Telluride and Venice over the daring performance of Fassbender, who goes full-frontal in pretty much the first scene. But what looked, coming out of the Venice and Telluride film festivals, to be a niche curiosity was elevated to something much larger several days into Toronto when specialty-film powerhouse Fox Searchlight announced it had bought the movie, ensuring bigger ambitions and a likely far broader release this fall. Fox Searchlight's co-president, Steve Gilula, did tell 24 Frames that the film would roll out slowly and rely on publicity. But he wasn't worried about the likely NC-17 rating. "Times are a lot different than when 'Last Tango in Paris' came out almost 40 years ago," he said. "I don't think the rating offers any ceiling on how popular this movie can become."

-- Steven Zeitchik



Westfeldt, Davies films bound for theaters

As Toronto fest winds down, fall season is wide open

Toronto 2011: This time, 'Humpday' director feels sisterly

Photo: Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender in "Shame." Credit: Toronto Internatonal Film Festival


Toronto 2011: Westfeldt, Davies films bound for theaters

September 19, 2011 |  9:36 am


As the Toronto International Film Festival wound down on Sunday, distributors snapped up a pair of movies.

Music Box acquired Terence Davies' "The Deep Blue Sea," starring Rachel Weisz. Set in 1950s, the film centers on the wife of a British high court judge who, in a subversive move, leaves her husband to begin a romance with a young pilot. The acquisition spells the first English-language release for the Chicago-based distributor, which is behind the Swedish-language "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy.

And in a deal that had long been anticipated, Jennifer Westfeldt's parenthood dramedy "Friends With Kids" has sold to Lionsgate. Westfeldt revealed the news to Deadline at an Emmy party that she attended with her partner (and “Kids” co-star), Jon Hamm, whose "Mad Men" took top drama prizes at the TV awards Sunday night. A spokesman for the film's producers later confirmed the sale.

Lionsgate has yet to announce the deal officially, and no release date has been set.

Westfeldt and Hamm don't have kids themselves. But the actress-filmmaker told 24 Frames in an interview at the Toronto festival that she learned a lot watching her friends dive headfirst into parenthood. Westfeldt has seen all her friends move out of New York City and head to the suburbs; she’s watched couples lose their love for each other as a baby becomes a top priority; and she’s witnessed relationships evolve as a couple becomes a family.

Westfeldt explores all the good and bad that comes with parenting in her new film. It’s an ensemble comedy where she plays a woman, still single, who after watching her friends basically fall apart with new baby duty, decides to conceive a child with her friend (Adam Scott) with the hope that since they aren’t a couple their relationship won’t erode. At least that's the hope.

Westfeldt, 41, originally wrote part of the script four years ago but then put it away. She pulled it back out last year with an eye toward completing her decade-long trilogy that began with the bisexual-dramedy "Kissing Jessica Stein" (2001), which Westfeldt co-wrote and starred in, and continued with "Ira and Abby" in 2006.

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As Toronto fest winds down, fall film season is wide open

September 18, 2011 |  6:00 pm

Toronto film festival

 From “Juno” to “Slumdog Millionaire” to “The King’s Speech,” the Toronto International Film Festival in recent years has tended to yield a slam-bang hit, the kind of movie that seems predestined for box-office and Oscar greatness.

But as the 11-day gathering wound down Sunday, no single film had attracted the lion’s share of attention. The result is a fall movie season that’s still wide open, with few surefire critical or commercial successes.

“While it’s always nice when there’s one movie everyone rallies around, it’s more fun in a way when we have what we did this year, with everyone having their favorite and making a case for it,” festival co-director Cameron Bailey said on Sunday.

That’s not to say the festival lacked for buzz. But each title seemed to come with a question mark — be it about its box-office prospects or appeal to awards voters.

Will “Moneyball,” the crowd-pleasing baseball drama starring Brad Pitt, be considered a serious enough film to merit Oscar attention?

Will “Shame,” director Steve McQueen’s provocative sex drama starring Michael Fassbender, be embraced by more than a niche group of critics and cineastes?

Will the George Clooney-Alexander Payne collaboration “The Descendants,” a low-key Hawaii-set story about a father faced with several crises, draw enough critical support to be an Oscar contender? (In an otherwise favorable piece in Salon, critic Andrew O’Hehir said, “I expect to see a critical backlash on ‘The Descendants’ in the not-too-distant future, simply because it’s an audience-friendly film that doesn’t have tremendous cinematic ambition and tells a predictable story of crisis and redemption.”)

Will Clooney’s other fall movie, the cynical political drama “The Ides of March,” find an audience at a time when filmgoers might feel like they see similar maneuvering on the nightly news?

And will “The Artist,” the uplifting black-and-white silent film that created a stir at Cannes before playing Toronto, be able to overcome perceptions of twee-ness?

Adding to these questions is the fact that, in a rare confluence, several iconic filmmakers have studio pictures coming out this fall that did not premiere at Toronto (or anywhere else).

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Toronto 2011: 'Where Do We Go Now,' 'Island President' win awards

September 18, 2011 | 10:54 am

Where do we go now

The Toronto International Film Festival handed out its prizes Sunday, giving its audience award -- the Cadillac People's Choice award -- to Nadine Labaki's "Where Do We Go Now?"

"Where Do We Go Now?" is a fable that shows what women in a Lebanese village split between Christians and Muslims are willing to do; it premiered in the Cannes Film Festival's Un Certain Regard section in May. It is Labaki's first feature since the international triumph of her debut work "Caramel." That movie, a bittersweet tale of love, heartache and friendship centering on a group of women whose lives revolve around a Beirut hair salon, debuted at Cannes in 2007 and went on to play in more than 40 countries. (Read L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan's interview with Labaki from 2011 Cannes here.)

Runners-up for the audience award were Asghar Farhadi’s "A Separation" and Ken Scott's "Starbuck."

The audience award for best documentary went to Jon Shenk for "The Island President," which follows the president of the Maldives as he battles to save his nation from rising seas and global warming. The City of Toronto award for best Canadian feature went to Philippe Falardeau for "Monsieur Lazhar."

The audience's selection for the best Midnight Madness film went to "The Raid," directed by Gareth Huw Evans. The thriller, set in Indonesia, is about a SWAT team trapped in a rundown apartment block filled with heavily armed drug dealers and killers.  

Nathan Morlando, meanwhile, was given the award for best Canadian first feature for "Edwin Boyd," and Ian Harnarine was handed the prize for best Canadian short for "Doubles With Slight Pepper."

The International Federation of Film Critics also awarded its prizes Sunday, giving its Discovery award to Axel Petersén for "Avalon" and its special presentations prize to Gianni Amelio for "The First Man."

The Toronto International Film Festival winds down today.


Toronto 2011: An Oscar winner takes an un-Precious turn

Toronto 2011: Clooney's 'Descendants' is fall's big wild card

Toronto 2011: Woody Harrelson and Oren Moverman build a rampart

-- Julie Makinen

Photo: A scene from 'Where Do We Go Now?' Credit: Courtesty Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto 2011: This time, 'Humpday' director feels sisterly

September 17, 2011 | 10:00 am

Lynn Shelton came to prominence in 2009 when she made a low-budget improvised movie, "Humpday," featuring the hook of two buddies who dare each other to star in a male porn flick.

No one is getting in touch with their inner Ron Jeremy in Shelton's similarly improvised follow-up, the Toronto Film Festival breakout "Your Sister's Sister."  The Seattle writer-director puts women at the center this time -- and actual siblings instead of just bro-dudes -- as it examines a pair of sisters for whom genuine love doesn't always mean complete honesty.

"This is about  healing, grief and forgiveness," Shelton told 24 Frames in an interview Friday afternoon at the festival. "It's a movie about the basic fallibility of human beings, and our need to accept that."

Which makes "Sister" sound a little dry, like a slice of whole-wheat bread, instead of the comedic shot of rum punch that it is.

Most of the action in "Sister" takes place over a weekend in an island vacation home to which young Iris (Emily Blunt) has sent friend Jack (Mark Duplass) to spend some time in quiet isolation. Jack's brother, who was also Iris' ex-boyfriend, died the year before, and Iris hopes some time away will help Jack heal. Once there, Jack runs into Iris' sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who has come unexpectedly to help recover from her own trauma, a breakup with her longtime girlfriend.

To describe the film further would be to deprive viewers of some enjoyable secrets and revelations, but suffice to say that what follows is both a drama and a romp involving love, sex, pregnancy and sibling loyalty. (Filmgoers will get a chance to see it for themselves when IFC, which acquired the movie at the festival, releases it next summer.)

SheltonSibling rivalry is on the minds of independent filmmakers at this festival. Duplass' own directorial effort, "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," sees Jason Segel and Ed Helms as estranged brothers who must come together under surreal circumstances; Duplass wrote and directed the movie with ... his brother.

Shelton, 45, said she was inspired by the oft-cited "Bridesmaids" (et tu, indie filmmakers?), not so much for the Kristen Wiig film's raunch as for its realism. "You've seen big studio comedies where you think, 'That's how men really talk,'" Shelton said. "But you don't really see any where you think 'That's how women really talk.' It was hugely inspiring."

Actors in most Shelton films come into her movies with only the loosest outline in place and instead work out scenes and dialogue on set in the hope of capturing a spontaneous moment. "I'm compelled by improvisation," Shelton said. "So many times I'm watching a movie and I think, 'It's so well-written but you can see the writing on the page.' And I want the purest, realest form of interaction."

Although it comes from a filmmaker who gained acclaim for so-called mumblecore films earlier in the 2000's (Shelton's movie immediately before "Humpday," "My Effortless Brilliance," used a similar improvisational technique to create a real-life vibe), the look of this film is more polished and the dialogue delivered more fluidly than other expressions of the genre.

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