40 days till TIFF15: Toronto Film Fest returns with heavy hitters, Hitchcock

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The Toronto International Film Festival held its kick-off press conference this week, and the announcements were, in a word, stunning. This is a stacked festival ready, with many, many more announcements to come. Here are a few thoughts on the first batch of titles, for Buffalo.com.

The message at this week’s 2015 Toronto International Film Festival announcement press conference was clear: TIFF is back, in a big way. It’s not as if last year’s festival would be classified by most as a disappointment — ask the scores of audience members who trooped into festival venues last year if they were disappointed, and they’re likely to laugh and shake their heads.

But TIFF’s bold move to only allow films making their world or North American debuts at the festival, a direct strike against fests in Venice and Telluride, led to much grumbling among media and filmmakers. It also meant a number of major films either skipped Toronto altogether, or screened at the tail-end of the festival.

For 2015, Toronto’s head honchos eased up, and the result, as evident from the press conference, is a stunning lineup of heavy hitters and Oscar bait. While there are a few notables missing from the lineup — Todd Haynes’s “Carol,” the Aaron Sorkin-penned biopic “Steve Jobs,” mountain climbing pic “Everest” — the galas and special presentations announced this week include some real stunners.

Consider just a few of the films announced for this year’s festival, running from Sept. 10 to 20:

  • Michael Moore’s the-title-says-it-all documentary “Where to Invade Next” is sure to be controversial.
  • Ridley Scott’s “Interstellar”-ish “The Martian,” starring Matt Damon, is one of the most high-profile world premieres in festival history.
  • “Theory of Everything” Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne plays a transgender pioneer in “The Danish Girl.”
  • Fictional drama “Stonewall,” based on the 1969 Stonewall Riots, is directed by a very unlikely individual: Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day.).
  • And how about Alfred Hitchcock? The festival concludes with a free screening of “Vertigo,” complete with a live score by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

More announcements will follow in the weeks to come. But make no mistake — while it may be 80 degrees outside, the Oscar race is on.

‘Mommy’ is a fine introduction to director Xavier Dolan

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Is there a more interesting young filmmaker than Xavier Dolan? The French-Canadian director’s filmography — “I Killed My Mother,” “Heartbeats,” “Laurence Anyways,” “Tom at the Farm,” and “Mommy” — is utterly fascinating. I’ve been kicking myself for two years for missing “Tom at the Farm” at TIFF13, so I’m thrilled to see it’s coming to the U.S. soon.

As for “Mommy,” it’s a difficult yet fascinating film, and another great selection for the Cultivate Cinema Circle series. I wrote a bit about the film for Buffalo.com. Incidentally, I’m sorry to say that this is my last “Screenings” column for the foreseeable future. I’m glad I went out promoting such a unique filmmaker.

Are you aware of French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan? If you’re a cinephile, the answer is yes, but Dolan has not yet crossed over from festival/indie darling to mainstream acceptance outside of his home country. The actor-director is at work on his most-profile project to date, a new film starring Marion Cotillard and Léa Seydoux. So it’s a fine time for an introduction to his emotion-heavy style of personal storytelling.

Thanks to the Cultivate Cinema Circle film series, Dolan’s Cannes Jury Prize-winning “Mommy” is making its local debut. It’s a long, sometimes exhausting experience, but undoubtedly a memorable one featuring a stunning performance from Anne Dorval. (Note that his first three films are streaming on Netflix, including the stunning “Laurence Anyways.”)

The free screening will be held at 7 p.m. on July 23 at the Mason O. Damon Auditorium at Buffalo Central Library. Visit cultivatecinemacircle.com for more info.

Poster courtesy of Cultivate Cinema Circle.

Review: ‘Escobar’ puts focus on wrong character

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Any way you look at it, “Escobar: Paradise Lost” is a disappointment. I missed it at TIFF14, but recently review it for the Buffalo News. Here is my two-star review.

Let’s say you are creating a film about Pablo Escobar, the infamous Colombian drug lord who died in 1993, and whose story could not be more appealing to Hollywood. It’s got it all – drugs, politics, violence, controversy.

Plus, you are fortunate enough to have one of the world’s finest and most compelling actors, Benicio Del Toro, attached to play the man himself.

Would you then decide to make Escobar a supporting player in the film, and focus instead on a dull, fictional Canadian surfer dating his niece? Would you opt against telling how Escobar came to power, and how his life finally came to an end?

If so, the resulting film might look like “Escobar: Paradise Lost,” a lamely titled, clumsily written and directed biopic that wastes a charismatic performance from Del Toro.

There is something to be said for this project even coming together. After all, various feature films on the life of Escobar have been announced over the years.

It is hard to imagine better casting than Del Toro, but after seeing “Paradise Lost,” it is clear that we’re still waiting for the definitive feature film about the “King of Cocaine.”

Yes, Escobar is but a supporting player in “Paradise Lost.” The main character is Nick (or “Nico”), played confidently by “Hunger Games” star Josh Hutcherson.

The film begins in 1991, as the Colombian criminal is preparing to surrender to authorities. He has called together his most trusted men, including Nick, a wide-eyed former surfer who fell in love with Escobar’s niece Maria (Claudia Traisac), and became entrenched.

These tense, early moments are among the film’s best, and promise a fascinating study of power and influence. This promise fades as we cut back in time to Nick and his bro (Brady Corbet) working on the beach. Nick and Maria soon lock eyes from afar, and before we know it the couple is visiting uncle Pablo’s estate.

Del Toro’s Escobar is smart, rational and devoted to his family. Perhaps he is too likable, actually, making some of his later actions feel almost out of character.

After a pedestrian hour of Nick’s furrowed brow, “Paradise Lost” finally picks up its pace for a grim, violent conclusion. Yet by that point it is hard to care about the plight of Nick and Maria. Only Escobar maintains our interest.

And how could he not, as played by a typically awards-worthy Del Toro? This is his best role since Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” and he commands the screen. Hutcherson does a nice job of matching Del Toro’s intensity, and his decision to make this film can be applauded; he would be smart to follow the Robert Pattinson path of choosing offbeat projects with major filmmakers.

“Paradise Lost” helmer Andrea Di Stefano is not a major filmmaker, rather a young Italian actor making his feature directorial debut. Despite the film’s overall failure, it does indicate some cinematic talent.

But the crucial decision to make Escobar a secondary figure in the tale is an insurmountable problem.

Perhaps the story of Pablo Escobar is simply too large and messy to be chronicled in one feature. While it might be said that the focus of “Paradise Lost” on one time period is not unwise, the film serves only to frustrate by attempting to look beyond the most interesting man onscreen.

That’s not very smart, and neither is “Escobar.”

Review: ‘The Connection’ gives classic crime drama a French twist

Jean Dujardin stars as Pierre Michel in Drafthouse Films' The Connection (2015).

My 3 1/2 star review of “The Connection,” one of summer 2015’s more entertaining films for adults.

The sleek, stylish, long but briskly paced 1970-set French crime drama “The Connection” is a shades-sporting blast — surely one of the summer’s most entertaining concoctions. Consider it a refreshing trois couleurs popsicle after a steady cinematic diet of stale, butter-soaked popcorn.

And that’s a pleasant surprise, since on paper this thing could not have sounded less promising. “The Connection,” after all, covers some of the drug-smuggling ground covered by William Friedkin in his classic, Oscar-winning crime drama “The French Connection.”

Think back to Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle, “that” kinetic car chase, and the indelible image of Doyle shooting a thug in the back, an image so memorably used on the film’s poster. Those are Andre the Giant-sized shoes to fill.

But director Cédric Jimenez’s “The Connection” pulls it off by expanding the story far beyond the time period in Friedkin’s film, into the early 1980s. His style, too, is more influenced by Martin Scorsese and even Brian De Palma’s “Scarface” than Friedkin. (Less gritty, more flashy.)

Shot on 35mm, “The Connection” has a widescreen scope befitting a story of international drug trafficking. The setting is Marseilles, ground zero for the heroin trade. As explained in a jazzy montage early in the film, morphine would arrive from Turkey to be processed in labs around the city, and the drug would the be shipped to New York and elsewhere.

The logistical genius involved was staggering, and this “thug-ocracy” like no other was wildly successful.

Enter Pierre Michel, a Marseilles magistrate presented with the unenviable task of taking down the network. Michel is played by Jean Dujardin, the Oscar-winning star of the modern silent smash “The Artist.” (Remember “The Artist”? Unlike “The French Connection,” there’s an Academy Awards chomp-ing flick that has receded from memory in just a few years.)

Even if it’s a rather standard G-man role, Michel is the meatiest part for Dujardin since “The Artist.” He has the George Clooney role, if you will – the smart, likable, slightly-in-over-his-head audience conduit. He’s considered by some to be a “cowboy,” a dedicated agent willing to put his family life on hold to focus on the investigation.

The kingpin here is Gaëtan “Tany” Zampa, nicely played by Gilles Lellouche with a mix of fierceness and humanity. This is no one-note villain, and Lellouche steals the picture by injecting this crime lord with, let’s say, compassionate criminality. (“Take care of their funerals. Nicest wreathes possible.”)

Michel and Zampa butt heads for most of the film’s 135-minute running time, and share several nicely menacing scenes together. These sequences lack the narrow-eyed brilliance of the Al Pacino-Robert De Niro coffee talk in Michael Mann’s “Heat” (another influence on Jimenez’s film), but serve to amplify the stakes between the two characters.

Throughout the film are successful and failed drug raids, surprise shootings, one “Marseilles massacre,” worried glances from gangsters with nicknames like “Bimbo,” and complex findings involving police corruption.

It climaxes with a thrilling raid followed by a somber killing, resulting in a nicely cynical conclusion.

The casting from Dujardin on down is just right. Since “The Artist,” the handsome star has popped up in films good (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) and bad (“Monuments Men”), but in “The Connection” he has the opportunity to display some of the “Artist”/“OSS 117” charm that made him an international success.

Making an impression in a very small role is Pauline Burlet, the young actress who gave a memorable performance as a sad-eyed, rebellious teen in Asghar Farhadi’s “The Past.” She is in only a few scenes, playing a young addict, but cements her status as an actor to watch.

“The Connection” is not a masterpiece like “The French Connection,” and it likely won’t pop up on many best of 2015 lists at year’s end. But it’s a crime drama with real verve, and a welcome, tasty June treat.

Review: ‘When Marnie Was There’ is another exquisite film from Studio Ghibli

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“When Marnie Was There” recently came to Buffalo’s North Park Theatre in both its subtitled and dubbed versions, and I was thrilled to review the former. I gave it 3 stars.

“When Marnie Was There” is, in every way, exquisite – exquisitely sad, exquisitely haunting, exquisitely lovely. The latest, and, supposedly, final release from Japan’s Studio Ghibli animation studio might not be a Ghibli classic, but it is a fine creation in every way.

It’s a somber tale, one based on the classic children’s novel by author Joan G. Robinson and directed by the mega-talented Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The director of 2010’s “The Secret World of Arrietty,” Yonebayashi was an animator on such Ghibli classics as “The Wind Rises,” “Ponyo,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke.”

Like those gems – all directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki – “When Marnie Was There” is a hand-drawn film of great ambition and stunning beauty. Here is a film about adolescence, friendship and memory centered on a young adult but told without the cheap humor that sinks so many animated efforts.

This is heavy, emo cinema, and that does make for an occasionally exhausting experience. It also lacks the epic scope of Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” or the poetic significance of recent Ghibli release “The Tale of Princess Kaguya.” But this involving story has its own offbeat charm.

Young Anna is the main character, a smart, sad-eyed young girl whose asthma leads her foster parent to propose a summer in the country. Here, it is hoped, Anna can heal and perhaps emerge from her shell.

She is in many ways a frustrating central character, one who is easy to pity, but also quick to annoy. One scene in particular, when she harshly tells off a good-natured girl, makes it hard to consider her as wise as one might like.

Yet Anna also feels completely believable, gripped with the ebb-and-flow emotions of youth.

Seemingly doomed to outsider status, one day Anna spots a pale, blonde-haired girl in a mansion by the sea. After several attempts, Anna finally meets this strange figure named Marnie.

The girls see something special in the other, and become fast friends. Something is not quite right, however. Marnie seems to disappear often, and continually speaks in dreamy, fanciful ways: “I’m desperate to get to know you,” “You’re my precious secret.” “It’s OK to cry. Just know that I love you.”

Discovering who Marnie is, and why she has entered Anna’s life, is the film’s central mystery. Yonebayashi slowly peels away the story’s many layers before finally laying it bare in “Marnie’s” final stretch.

The answers are not particularly surprising, but they are moving, if a bit overly melodramatic. “I’m sorry, it’s a sad story,” says a character in “When Marnie Was There,” and she ain’t kidding.

This sadness means “Marnie” is not a film for young children. The themes – abandonment, familial loss, adolescent panic – are simply too hefty for little ones. But older children and teens who enjoy introspective drama will swoon over the story of Anna and Marnie.

Note that “Marnie” is being presented at the North Park Theatre in both English dubbed and Japanese language-English subtitled versions. I watched the subtitled version, and would strongly recommend it. Having watched my share of dubbed films, subtitles are almost always preferable.

The lead voices in the Japanese language version – Sara Takatsuki as Anna and Kasumi Arimura as Marnie – give wonderful performances. They may lack the star status of dubbed-version leads Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) as Anna, Kiernan Shipka (“Mad Men”), John C. Reilly, Ellen Burstyn and Kathy Bates. But stars add little to a project like this one.

However you see it, “Marnie” is lovely. Cinephiles around the world are hoping this is not the end for Studio Ghibli, but if it is, “When Marnie Was There” provides a fitting conclusion.

Review: ‘Saint Laurent’ is stylish and enthralling

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I gave 3 ½ stars to the better of the two Yves Saint Laurent biopics, Bertrand Bonello’s “Saint Laurent.”

One shot in the Yves Saint Laurent biopic “Saint Laurent” captures its title character more than any other. It is the late 1960s, and the famed designer stands alone in his store on a busy Paris street. He is imprisoned by his creative successes, as well as his personal failures. Both become even stronger throughout the film.

The image captures the fragility of an emotionally damaged individual whose revolutionary work changed women’s fashion forever. It is stylish and captivating, like the film itself.

Controversial director Bertrand Bonello’s film is unquestionably compelling, but also flawed. It is long – two and a half hours – rather humorless and centered on a main character who is not particularly likable, but certainly a zeitgeist-altering genius.

In a sign of just how vast a shadow he still casts, “Saint Laurent” is his second biopic in the last two years. The first, titled “Yves Saint Laurent,” is streaming on Netflix, and watching the two makes for a fascinating comparison.

“Yves Saint Laurent” earned the support of the late designer’s partner, Pierre Bergé, and utilized some of his actual designs. It is also thoroughly rote and crushingly dull, the type of “A to B to C” biopic that is sure to please the sycophants.

Bonello’s “Saint Laurent,” on the other hand, is the looser, unauthorized version that seems to truly capture who Saint Laurent was, and why we still care. It is the epitome of the warts-and-all biography, devoting much of its running time to the title character’s hedonistic, sex-and-drugs-fueled artistic peak.

It’s no wonder Bergé found the 2014 effort more to his liking, though in both versions, Bergé is the central figure in his life and career. (He is played in “Saint Laurent” by Jérémie Renier.)

“Saint Laurent” stars Gaspard Ulliel, who is perhaps best known stateside as the star of “Hannibal Rising.” His performance here is astounding. He disappears into the role and captures the designer’s charisma and intelligence.

Bonello is boldly uninterested in telling Saint Laurent’s story in chronological order. Therefore, as the film begins he already is a fashion world star.

It’s a domain of unhinged creativity, model-packed parties and elaborate decadence, and Bonello stages it all as an explosion of color, sound and sex. It also is an insular existence – Saint Laurent’s mother gently chastises him for not knowing how to change a lightbulb – and Bonello smartly captures this feel via a split-screen montage with models sporting Saint Laurent’s designs on one side, and archival footage of the increasingly combustible outside world (Vietnam, 1968 Paris, etc.) on the other.

Despite the clever directing of Bonello and the stunning work of Ulliel and Renier, things start to become a bit tiresome as we approach the two-hour mark, and the designer is at his lowest mental point.

However, Bonello then makes a wonderfully creative, unexpected move: He drops the aged, near-death Saint Laurent, now played by the actor Helmut Berger, into the story.

From this moment on, even as the designer mounts a successful comeback show, we continually cut to a man who seems drained of the verve of his prior decades. He putters around his decadent home, feeding the latest incarnation of his beloved dog, looking at magazines, and waiting for … something.

It’s a sad ending for a genius, one who finished life as nothing more than an eccentric figurehead. It’s also brilliant, and makes for the film’s most absorbing stretch.

“Saint Laurent” is one of the more enthralling biopics about a creative mastermind in years. At its best moments, it is a downright addictive experience, fitting for the story of a man whose most well-known fragrance was called “Opium.”

What the film has in abundance is imagination. And despite its somber portrayal of Yves Saint Laurent’s personal complexities, I think the man himself would have found the dreamlike imagery on screen to be utterly intoxicating.

Recommended new books on filmmaking: My latest Film Stage feature

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My latest Film Stage books piece features some new (and newish) reading options looking at Mad Max: Fury Road, Robert Altman, Grand Budapest Hotel, and more.

If your idea of beach reading is Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steel, click away. (And reconsider your life choices.) However, if you plan to work on your tan while paging through weighty hardcover tomes about Robert Altman, Boyhood, and Grand Budapest Hotel, read on. We start—as one should—with George Miller’s fast-and-Furiosa masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road.

The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road by Abbie Bernstein (Titan Books)

Many thoughts run through one’s head while watching Fury Road—Could George Miller’s film make the rest of this summer’s blockbusters look any weaker in the knees? Can fans stop worrying about the chronology? Why wasn’t late Howard Stern Show fan favorite Eric the Actor cast as the little person who looks through the telescope?—but the most pressing is likely, “How did they do that?!” The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road has some answers. From storyboards and sketches to insightful production photos, the book is an extravaganza of ugly-beautiful details. Some of it is haunting, including a still of a young “War Boy” in the making gazing in the distance and an extreme close-up of a disturbingly skeevy Nicholas Hoult. Some is surprising, including the concept that the “Wives’ quarters” are “filled with the world’s last remaining books.” All of it, without question, makes a rich film seem even richer. Abbie Bernstein’s book is a brisk, fascinating read, and a must-have for the Rockatansky completist.

The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel by Matt Zoller Seitz (Abrams)

Matt Zoller Seitz’s dazzling, marvelously designed 2013 book The Wes Anderson Collection was one of the finest film-related texts of recent years, but had one failing: Timing meant that it could not include 2014’s Grand Budapest Hotel. That problem is now solved. The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel is a glorious companion, featuring more than 250 pages of interviews (with Anderson, Ralph Fiennes, Robert Yeoman, and others), essays (from the likes of David Bordwell and Ali Arikan), and photos, artwork, and much more. There are even excerpts from the works of Stefan Zweig. Above all else, there are illuminating thoughts like this one, from Zoller Seitz’s preface: “[W]ith each successive viewing of The Grand Budapest Hotel, a funny, really not­-so-funny thing happens: We realize that all these acts of self-reinvention and self-determination will nonetheless be trampled by the greedy and powerful, then ground up in the tank treads of history.”

Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt (Scribner)

Comedian-actor-Twitter superstar Patton Oswalt is a cinephile extraordinaire, and Silver Screen Fiend—subtitled Learning About Life From an Addiction to Film—is one of the finest chronicles of movie love and its life-altering impact in some time. As the memoir progresses, Oswalt’s stand-up career slowly flourishes, but it’s the film talk that makes Fiend so memorable. His Day the Clown Cried anecdote alone makes this an essential read, as done his heartbreak after seeing The Phantom Menace. Oswalt’s thoughts on a second viewing of the Star Wars prequel are wonderfully well-reasoned: “I guess I’m hoping for some sort of redemptive miracle, or that maybe I was wrong in my initial assessment. Also, there are parts of it I like. It’s sheer uncut nostalgia. … But it still sucks.”

Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New HopeThe Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi by Jack and Holman Wang (Chronicle Books)

The Star Wars Epic Yarns trio is summarized nicely on the back of each book: “Twelve handcrafted felt scenes + twelve words = one epic microsaga!” That about sums it up. While the twelve words are a bit banal for readers over, say, 6 (“trouble,” “hurt,” “boom!”), the scenes are stunningly detailed. Yoda, in particular, is adorable, and the key moments from A New HopeThe Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are all here. My Star Wars-obsessed 4-year-old finds the three books delightful, and so do I.

Altman by Kathryn Reed Altman and Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan (Abrams)

The career of Robert Altman demanded a colorful, photo-heavy coffee-table book like Altman. This visual biography is co-authored by the late director’s widow, Kathryn Reed Altman, and film critic Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan. They have created a wildly entertaining summary of the man’s career and life, including scores of interviews (collaborators represented include Lily Tomlin, Jules Feiffer, and Julian Fellowes) and unique insight into the peaks and valleys of his life. The lows of the 1980s are especially interesting, but readers will be most moved by the photos and memories of his final days. The last photo of husband and wife, taken at home shortly before his passing in 2006, is gloriously loving. “I think it’s a very special picture,” Reed Altman writes. That’s an undeniable sentiment.

Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film by Matt Lankes (University of Texas Press)

Last year around this time, most film fans were anxiously awaiting the chance to see Richard Linklater’s Sundance smash, Boyhood. In a matter of weeks after opening, the 12-year-in-the-making backstory had become part of pop culture lore. While the film failed to pick up the Oscars many thought it should (besides Patricia Arquette’s much-deserved Best Supporting Actress statue), the passage of time has not diminished the boldness of Linklater’s approach. The gorgeous photographs by Matt Lankes in Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film make it even easier to appreciate the uniqueness of production. Here are the faces of Boyhood—all of them, from Mason and his mom and dad to the guy behind the counter at the liquor store. The behind-the-scenes pics, especially, demonstrate what an experience the film must have been to make, and remind us how thrillingly alive it felt to viewers.

 

Vacation Reads (Recent Film-centric Novels)

Missing Reels by Farran Smith Nehme (Overlook Press)

Self-Styled Siren blogger Farran Smith Nehme’s debut novel is an utter delight. Movie-loving lead character Ceinwen Reilly is a native of Yazoo City, Mississippi now living in 1980s New York. She finds herself on a quest to track down a long-lost silent film, and I find myself hoping that Emma Stone is cast in a big-screen adaptation of Reels.

West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan (Viking)

It is hard not to be fascinated by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s years in Hollywood. In West if Sunset, the great Stewart O’Nan (Snow Angels) imagines the final years of the author’s life. The novel is wonderfully detailed and hugely moving. It’s a fine companion to Fitzgerald’s own The Love of Last Tycoon.

Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo (Knopf)

Jo Nesbo is no stranger to Hollywood—see Headhunters, and, hopefully, eventual adaptations of his Harry Hole novel The Snowman and the stand-alone novel The Son. (Channing Tatum is attached to the latter.) Blood on Snow, the compulsively readable story of a crime scene “fixer,” has Leonardo DiCaprio on board as producer and possibly star. Note to Leo: Blood is bloody good. Take the lead role, please.

The Revenant by Michael Punke (Picador)

Speaking of DiCaprio, the actor’s next film is The RevenantBirdman Oscar-winner Alejandro González Iñárritu’s adaptation of Michael Punke‘s 2003 novel. If the recently re-released book is any indication, DiCaprio has perhaps one of his most formidable performances yet in store. This tale of a 19th century a fur trapper on a quest for revenge is a captivating read. Buy it now, and ponder what Iñárritu and his stellar cast (which also includes Tom Hardyand Domhnall Gleeson) will bring to the table.

 

My Best of 2015 … So Far

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Summer 2015 in cinema has been … dull. And mostly disappointing. Admittedly, I have not seen a few of the biggies — Jurassic World, Furious 7, Spy. But outside of the stupendous Mad Max: Fury Road, the blockbusters seem quickly forgotten. I enjoyed Avengers: Age of Ultron, yet it has not resonated culturally (or personally) anywhere near the first Avengers film.

However, there have been great films in 2015. Many of them were seen by me at TIFF14, others enjoyed as recently as this week. Here a list of my favorites of the year so far.

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. Clouds of Sils Maria
  3. Ex Machina
  4. The Duke of Burgundy
  5. What We Do In The Shadows
  6. ’71
  7. While We’re Young
  8. Eden
  9. Paddington
  10. Saint Laurent

Just outside: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, It Follows, Lost River, and When Marnie Was There.

In addition to those mentioned at top, I still need to see: Tomorrowland, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, Timbuktu, White God, Love & Mercy, Testament of Youth, Woman in Gold, Far From the Madding Crowd, Faults, Cinderella, Welcome to New York, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Danny Collins, Home, and Aloha. Yep, Aloha. I’m holding out hope that I’ll turn out to surprisingly adore it … Fingers crossed.

Cultivate Cinema Circle ‘plants cinematic seeds’

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A bit more on Cultivate Cinema Circle and the screening that took place on June 4; here is my Buffalo.com “Screenings” post.

 

Even years later, the reverberations from the landmark Supreme Court case overturning California’s ban on same-sex marriage — Proposition 8 — continues to be felt. And the acclaimed 2014 documentary examining the issue, “The Case Against 8,” still packs a timely punch.

The involving film from directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White earned awards at the Sundance and SXSW festivals. Now, Buffalonians have an opportunity to catch it on the big screen, as “Case” will play the North Park Theatre at 9:30 p.m. June 4 as part of Buffalo Pride Week.

The screening is the debut presentation from a new local film series, Cultivate Cinema Circle. CCC director Jordan Smith hopes the series “plants cinematic seeds and nurtures them with community engagement and conversation that I hope will complement the wonderful programs already on offer in the city of Buffalo.”

As Smith puts it, “There is a hungry film community in Buffalo, and we hope to foster that relationship by screening films that otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to be shown here.”

Case in point is “The Case Against 8,” which, despite its acclaim, never hit Buffalo. “We feel it’s perfect for our inaugural screening,” Smith said.

For more information on the screening and on Cultivate Cinema Circle, visit cultivatecinemacircle.com.

Don’t miss ‘The Case Against 8′ at the North Park

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I covered it for Buffalo.com (it will run next week), but I wanted to post an advance reminder that the new Cultivate Cinema Circle film series presents its debut screening at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 4, at the North Park. The documentary “The Case Against 8″ kicks things off, and this exploration of the landmark Proposition 8 ruling is a fine choice.

Screening number two is also scheduled: Aleksei German’s acclaimed “Hard to be a God.” This free screening will be held on at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 25, at the Mason O. Damon Auditorium at Buffalo Central Library.

For more info on Cultivate Cinema Circle, visit cultivatecinemacircle.com.