The subtle pleasures of 'The Road,' the unsubtle irritations of 'The Joneses' and other final Toronto thoughts

By Steven Zeitchik


Beware of bloggers writing the "ten things we learned from a festival" piece, especially after a festival has ended.

That's why we'll write the "six things we learned from a festival" piece, mainly as a way to get into some films we saw in the usual end of fest rush. Plus, Toronto is all about the awards season to come, so don't look at it as a rundown of what happened but a preview of what will be.

Yes, that makes us feel better.

"The Road": It's better than many of the reviews had it. Sure, it's bleak -- always funny to hear that thrown out like it's a dirty word -- but so was "There Will Be Blood" and like a hundred other really good pictures. There are some issues, namely, director John Hillcoat going to the same bag of tricks a few too many times (man wandering a threatening apocalyptic landscape so long he can't tell good guys from bad, and reacts questionably when under duress). But there's still plenty of suspense and compelling moral ambiguity to this (impressively shot) survivalist tale, not to mention some touching moments between father and son. Actually "Blood" is not a bad comparison since, like that movie, this one also concerns a father trying to protect his boy in a frontier setting of sorts. Star Viggo Mortensen deserves an Oscar nod -- the question is, with "Single Man" the newest plaything at the Weinstein Company, does his campaign take a backseat to Colin Firth's?

Continue reading "The subtle pleasures of 'The Road,' the unsubtle irritations of 'The Joneses' and other final Toronto thoughts" »

A 'Sherlock Holmes' sequel? For Warners, it's elementary

By Steven Zeitchik and Jay A. Fernandez


A "Sherlock Holmes" sequel is afoot.

Three months ahead of the release of its Robert Downey Jr. action pic, Warners is developing a new installment.

The studio is poised to bring on Kieran and Michele Mulroney, the scribes who are penning its "Justice League: Mortal"  tentpole, to pen a draft of the new tale. Brad Pitt has had discussions with producers to star as Holmes' nemesis Moriarty in the new pic, say people familiar with the project, though there is no deal in place for him to take the part.

Susan Downey, Dan Lin, Joel Silver and Lionel Wigram produced "Holmes," a holiday release that, from well-received footage at Comic-Con, appears to be an action-heavy rendition of the world Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created.

Guy Ritchie helms the pic, and Downey stars as the title character; Jude Law plays protege Watson, and Rachel McAdams stars as love interest Irene Adler. Much of the talent is expected to return in the new pic, as could Ritchie as director.

Continue reading "A 'Sherlock Holmes' sequel? For Warners, it's elementary" »

Don't send Diablo Cody to the devil's playground just yet

By Steven Zeitchik


Lots to hash out after a busy weekend, including the continuing coup of the animation junta: "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" becomes the fifth animation or animation hybrid to open to at least $30m in '09 (by this time last year only three movies had pulled off the feat).

But allow us to look at the career of one Diablo Cody, whose "Jennifer's Body" fell harder than a New England Patriots offensive lineman this weekend. Some are ready put nails in the coffin, heap dirt on the grave and take the mortician out for a waltz. The pseudonymous Cody, after all, struck gold her first time out -- a $227 million global juggernaut in "Juno" and a nice little Oscar statue for her mantle, if Cody was the kind of person who had a mantle.

But her second time out she's pretty much faceplanted with "Jennifer's Body," a highly uneven teen-camp horror mix that struck out both with critics (42% on Rotten Tomatoes) and filmgoers (just $7 million in a wide opening weekend). The movie's buzz was so tepid at Toronto that it actually became known as "the other Amanda Seyfried lesbian movie," no easy feat considering that the first was an art film from Atom Egoyan.

But there are reasons the grave dancers may not want to strike up the band just yet.  Wunderkind screenwriters tend to have beginner's luck -- and a follow-up jinx.

Continue reading "Don't send Diablo Cody to the devil's playground just yet" »

Awards race up in the air in more ways than one

By Steven Zeitchik

Air As the smoke starts to clear at Toronto, there's one movie that can be seen through the haze.

"Up in the Air," Jason Reitman's tale of a globetrotting corporate hatchet man played by George Clooney, has taken off faster than (insert easy plane pun here), carrying on a tradition in which Toronto establishes an awards-season front-runner.

But that's pretty much all the festival has established: one front-runner. This year's fest, which ends Saturday, has looked a lot different from recent editions. In 2007, for instance, "No Country for Old Men," "Michael Clayton" and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" were just some of the pics to begin their all-category runs.

This year should have seen even more front-runners, what with the Academy opening up the best picture race to 10 nominees. But Toronto didn't begin to answer the question of which films those might be. "The Academy is asking voters to fill out twice as many slots, and when you look at the pictures out there, you have to wonder where those movies are coming from," one consultant said.

Continue reading "Awards race up in the air in more ways than one" »

Is 'Lebanon' the new 'Hurt Locker?'

By Steven Zeitchik

Leb It's inevitable, given both the gritty battlefield setting and the North American festival where it made its splash, that Toronto It pic "Lebanon" would be compared to "The Hurt Locker."

There are a couple of important differences between Kathryn Bigelow's hair-raising look at American bomb-defusers in Iraq, which premiered at Toronto in '08, and Samuel Maoz's equally tense account of an Israeli tank crew fighting in the Israel-Lebanon war in 1982. There's more context and backstory for the soldiers in "Locker" than there is in the neo-verite, in-the-moment "Lebanon," for instance.

But the analogy is mostly on-point. Both pics are brutally effective at conveying some pretty tricky things: the abject fear soldiers feel; the terrible things they sometimes do; the examination of war in all its horror, both the tragedies and the banalities ("Lebanon" is especially good at the latter, giving a strong sense of the extreme physical and psychological discomfort of life inside an armored vehicle.)

"Waltz With Bashir" has also been mentioned (check out THR's review and take on that comparison) and it's not a bad reference point either. Both it and "Lebanon" are autobiographical accounts of the same war by former Israeli soldiers, though there's none of the abstracting effect of animation here. It's purely visceral filmmaking.

Continue reading "Is 'Lebanon' the new 'Hurt Locker?'" »

Toronto filmmakers preach the gospel of Thornton Wilder

By Steven Zeitchik

PrieNo one likes a hectoring preacher, but that hasn't stopped a whole group of films and filmmakers at Toronto from taking the pulpit.

Messages about the importance of family connections and human relationships have permeated a wide group of movies at the festival, from light comedies to dark dramas, offbeat auteur films to up-the-middle commercial ones.

Has the indie world gone soft?

A suicidal professor, a frequent-flying businessman, a family hired as stealth marketers and a survivalist wandering an apocalyptic planet are some of the very different onscreen characters who this week are shedding the albatross of materialism and singing the virtues of human connection.

And that doesn't even include the high priest of the anti-materialist church, Michael Moore, who found a congregation of thousands hanging on his every word when he took the stage at the premiere of his new doc that  emphasizes responsibility and community over the profit motive. 

Continue reading "Toronto filmmakers preach the gospel of Thornton Wilder" »

Michael Moore: Maybe I'll make a movie about Obama

By Steven Zeitchik

Mo Michael Moore kind of spares Barack Obama in his otherwise unsparing account of the way capitalism has let down Americans.

Both Democrat and Republican legislators who voted to bail out the nation's banks just before last November's elections get skewered in "Capitalism: A Love Story," Moore's pointed if at times slack documentary about several decades of misguided economic policy.

Said polticians, he noted, are weak-kneed and corrupt (and serve as this movie's villain, the 'they' in his pic's usual 'could they really be trying to do this to us' narrative, along with big conglomerates, of course, who are the 'they' in capital letters). Obama, though? He's a symbol of hope, a symbol, he says, of how capitalism might not win out.

But anyone who thinks that latitude will continue will be in for a surprise, the director said.

After the movie screened Sunday night in Toronto (yeah, yeah, we're a little behind), with groups of pro- and anti-Moore protesters making the expected noise outside the theater, Moore had some critical words for the president, more critical than we've seen him have before.

Continue reading "Michael Moore: Maybe I'll make a movie about Obama" »

'Tanner Hall,' the anti-Gossip Girl

By Borys Kit

Fur Of the many movies shown here in Toronto, few directly contradict the CW as much as Tatiana von Furstenberg's and Francesca Gregorini's "Tanner Hall."

The movie, sumptuous in fall color and fashion, is written and directed by the daughters of Diane von Furstenberg and Barbara Bach. A coming-of-age drama centering on four young women at a decaying boarding school, "Hall" was conceived as a TV show before being reconfigured as a feature.

That reconfiguration is a good thing. There are no soap-opera shenanigans, or cattiness, or shocking sexual situations (though the pic does feature a few storylines dealing with a backstabbing frenemy, a tryst with a married man, and a girl-on-girl kiss. Gotta give the people what they want.)

The movie, which appears to be set in the 1970s, is nicely restrained and  refreshingly honest. And the premiere after-party was one of the more classier events of the fest, thrown by Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter and Toronto entrepreneur Miles Nadal at the One Restaurant.

Continue reading "'Tanner Hall,' the anti-Gossip Girl" »

Harvey's Back: The Sequel (Again)

By Steven Zeitchik

HarveTalk of Harvey's interest after a buzzy festival screening has happened before -- many times before. But it hadn't materialized in a big purchase for him in a long while ("Grace Is Gone" at Sundance '07 was probably the last time). Until this morning,  that is, when he paid in the $1 million-$2 million range (or a little lower, depending on whom you believe/how you calculate) for the rights to Tom Ford's "A Single Man."

It's a surprising move -- though the screening was packed with distribs, the movie was not expected to go the close-the-deal-the-next-morning-route. And while Focus and Miramax were interested, there were no formal offers on the table, according to several people with knowledge of the situation, which reduces the urgency and likelihood of a quick sale. (What's more, the Weinstein Co. has been the subject of much speculation about its cash position, and a buy like this immediately raised questions in Toronto about its ability to bring out another splashy fall release, Rob Marshall's "Nine." The word, at least among rivals, is that that pic could get pushed back.)

But Harvey has swooped in like this before, buying a festival movie with one quick stroke, and a difficult one at that.

This is, to say the least, a huge marketing challenge -- you can offer the "build a campaign around the star" logic, but it's still a very artily presented period gay-love story that's basically inside the head of one grieving professor, veering outside it mainly for things like a flirtation with a young student. (Ford, incidentally, doesn't disagree about the difficulty; he said Monday night that "If you spend an hour and a half in a movie theater, it should challenge you.")

Continue reading "Harvey's Back: The Sequel (Again)" »

Single Man. Multiple execs. One big sale?

By Steven Zeitchik

Ford Teams of execs from pretty much every significant specialty company and mini-major poured into Toronto's small Isabel Bader Theatre on Monday night, scouting out the festival's biggest buzz pic, the directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford's "A Single Man."

All manner of execs and their deputies, and their deputies' deputies, people from Focus, Miramax, Sony Pictures Classics, Lionsgate, Summit, Fox Searchlight and pretty much every other company you could think of packed into the theater. So swarming was it with execs that former fest director Noah Cowan, introducing the feature, couldn't resist a little joke. Thanking the sponsors and filmmakers, he tossed in, "And a big thank-you to the entire North American distribution community," as he surveyed the room.

It was a throwback scene of the kind you didn't think you'd see anymore. Time was (like, a year or two ago) there were execs packing into every screening of every available drama. But it's been pretty rare these past few fests, including at this year's Toronto, and the vision of a good fraction of the crowd coming from the executive ranks provided a kind of surreal throwback.

And yet there the were, chatting in little groups, hoping that all the advance buzz from Venice would translate into a movie that they could buy and quickly plug into their awards calendar, all while sales agents from CAA waited hovered nearby, overseeing the proceedings.

Continue reading "Single Man. Multiple execs. One big sale?" »

Drew Barrymore does some whipping

By Borys Kit

BarFor the debut of her new roller-derby comedy "Whip It," Drew Barrymore whipped the crowd into, well, if not a quite a frenzy, than certainly a parfait, with a deep outpouring of affection for her cast that sometimes ventured into high-school crush territory.

Calling them her “tribe,” the exuberant and ebullient phrases came gushing for every one of her cast members, among them Kristen Wiig (“I thank her on a daily basis for all the laughter she has brought us!”), Marcia Gay Harden (“I love her!”), Alia Shawkat (“A fiece woman…has the hottest style of anyone I’ve met..nothing sort of a revelation.”) and Ellen Page (“The heart and soul of the movie.”).  Juliette Lewis, Zoe Bell, Eve, Daniel Stern were also on hand to receive the verbal wet kisses for the Searchlight pic.

Of her directing debut, Barrymore said she “collected everything I’ve ever wanted to put into a movie into a piggybank and I crashed in onto the floor for this movie.”

Continue reading "Drew Barrymore does some whipping" »

'Chloe,' Liam Neeson movie from the Natasha Richardson tragedy, makes its debut

By Steven Zeitchik

Chloe-neeson-moore When Liam Neeson left the set of "Chloe" mid-shoot in March to grieve for wife Natasha Richardson, many wondered how he could, psychologically and logistically, return to finish the project while carrying on the far more important task of mourning.

The answer came with the world premiere of the Atom Egoyan pic Sunday night in Toronto: Neeson is actually not in that many scenes in the movie (though is strong when he does appear, playing a professor/husband who keeps his feelings locked inside). He's mainly an abstraction, and while he figures prominently as a character, he doesn't appear in the flesh that much; most of the scenes in which his character shows up are narrated after the fact by others, so he either is seen briefly or not at all.

There's no way of knowing if Neeson was scripted to be in more of the movie before Richardson's death prompted him to leave the set. But, like "Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus," another project affected by a tragedy, the solution filmmakers came up with makes the movie in some ways more interesting,  since the whole point of Neeson's character is distance. (Amplifying that absence was that Neeson didn't turn up with the rest of the lead cast to introduce the film in Toronto.)

Still, it's a poignant absence. The casual viewer would know nothing of the backstory just from watching the movie, but once one does it's impossible to avoid it. There's something touching and melancholy about watching Neeson reconcile tenderly with his wife on screen while knowing that around the same time he shot that scene his own life and marital circumstances were so unimaginably bleak.

Continue reading "'Chloe,' Liam Neeson movie from the Natasha Richardson tragedy, makes its debut" »

'Lebanon' and 'Single Man' are suddenly hot in Toronto

By Steven Zeitchik

Leb The proximity of the Venice Film Festival to Toronto can have a peculiar effect on all the Americans running around in these here Canadian parts. Last year it happened when "The Wrestler" got a standing ovation across the pond, prompting a mini-frenzy when the movie screened in Toronto two days later.

Fresh off buzz on the Lido, two movies have suddenly jumped to the top of critics' and distributors' list. The first, "Lebanon," has just won the Golden Lion , prompting a critics' rush to an otherwise unremarkable screening on Sunday afternoon. (Not all of them got in. You don't want to witness that -- hell hath no fury like a critic barred from a screening).

Samuel Maoz's movie takes a look at the rigors of war from the interior of a tank trapped inside enemy lines during Israel's war with Lebanon in 1982; think "The Hurt Locker" meets "Waltz with Bashir." Expect a Sony Classics or IFC to buy the pic (SPC, as you may recall, had last year's foreign-langiuage darling, "Bashir," also set in the Middle East war in 1982.)

Continue reading "'Lebanon' and 'Single Man' are suddenly hot in Toronto" »

The Hollywood Reporter

About Risky Business

  • Risky Biz blog takes a deep, daily look at the film industry's ups, downs and deals from around the world and the heart of Hollywood. It is edited by media and entertainment journalist Steven Zeitchik, with contributions from The Hollywood Reporter's worldwide team of film editors and reporters. Zeitchik is a Los Angeles-based writer for THR and also has written for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

    Subscribe to feed


« Previous | Next »