Review: “Delivery Man” is a step-by-step remake of dull foreign film

delivery_man_1-620x331

A few months ago, I reviewed the French-Canadian hit “Starbuck” for the Buffalo News. Last week, I reviewed the American remake, “Delivery Man,” from the same director (Ken Scott). I hated “Starbuck”; I merely disliked “Delivery Man.” Here is my 2-star Buffalo News review.

Is it possible to despise a foreign-language film, but enjoy an American remake from the same director? In the case of “Delivery Man,” the answer is … Not really.

However, the mawkish Vince Vaughn comedy is, in its own way, a slightly superior film than director Ken Scott’s off-puttingly titled “Starbuck” (and I say that as a fan of Starbucks). Scott’s first attempt at this story was a French-Canadian smash, with a plot – a slacker is stunned to discover his sperm donations from two decades earlier have resulted in 533 children – seemingly tailor-made for an Americanized treatment.

“Starbuck” was a complete misfire in almost every way, an unfunny, lamely “heart-tugging” disaster. Star Patrick Huard did what he could, but the film – now streaming on Netflix – felt as contrived as a “Full House” rerun, and even less believable.

But Hollywood adores a high-concept, and lord knows “Starbuck” had one. This is the epitome of the “lovable-loser-gets-more-than-he-bargained-for-but-grows-as-a-person-and-ultimately-triumphs” genre – so who better than Vince Vaughn? (Perhaps Adam Sandler was busy.)

“Delivery Man” seems at times a shot-for-shot remake, with a few minor tweaks (Vaughn’s David Wozniak plays basketball instead of soccer, the setting is Brooklyn rather than Montreal), the overblown sentimentality is just as forced, and many of the same bad jokes make a reappearance. (David’s father: “You’re like a son to me.” David: “I … am your son.”)

But “Delivery Man” can hardly be called “Americanized.” Except for the casting, Scott has made the same film twice, and I don’t mean in the interesting, Brian De Palma sense. It is virtually the same movie.

Except, that is, for the casting. And that is why “Delivery Man” is a better film. But first, more on that oh-so-wacky plot.

Vaughn’s David Wozniak is a screw-up, a bad employee for his family’s meat business, a bad boyfriend to the sweet Emma, not a particularly great friend to his put-upon dad buddy Brett (Chris Pratt).

David’s directionless life is thrown into tumult thanks to two bits of news: Emma is pregnant with his child, and, says a sperm clinic suit, the more than 600 donations he made as a younger man (under the pseudonym Starbuck) have resulted in 533 children, and one lawsuit – the kids want to meet their father.

Soon, David faces a dilemma: Should he reveal that he is, in fact Starbuck? Or should he take his lawyer friend Brett’s advice and keep mum, or even countersue the clinic?

Unable to curtail his curiosity, David begins spying on some of his offspring, who, of course, are a lovely, varied bunch: a New York Knicks star, a wannabe actor, an adorable druggie-on-the-mend.

If you’ve seen “Starbuck,” you know what’s to come. David works to be a “guardian angel” to the kids, attempts to win back Emma, and struggles with his secret. Oh yes, there also is a tacked on, utterly pointless subplot involving $80,000 owed to some goons.

What transpires is not particularly funny, not very moving, and certainly unsurprising. But against all odds, the film is a reminder that Vaughn is capable of modest charm. The actor can be deliriously off-putting, but “Delivery Man” is a reminder he can occasionally be a cockeyed treat.

But Vaughn is not the actor who makes “Delivery Man” a more likable film than “Starbuck.” That honor goes to Pratt, the great “Parks and Recreation” star. As Brett, he is funny, dopey and utterly winning. In fact, the film’s strongest stretch is a courtroom sequence focused solely on Brett. (Perhaps a better film would feature Pratt in the lead?)

At this point, Pratt’s future looks far brighter than Vaughn’s. The same could be said about Cobie Smulders, the whip-smart star of “How I Met Your Mother.” Sadly, her role here is almost as small as her part in “The Avengers.”

So “Delivery Man” cannot be classified as a good film. Comparatively, however, it is a better one.

As for director Scott, it’s time to move on. You can only milk the story of a man whose sperm leads to 533 children so many times.

Schobie’s (premature) Oscar predictions: Best Picture

dallas_buyers

Awards season is fun, wild, and absurd. Seeing what is in the mix, what falls away, what sticks, etc., is fascinating, and even though I am not an Oscar insider, I can certainly to pretend to be an Oscar prognosticator. There are still films to be see

  • 12 Years a Slave
  • American Hustle
  • Blue Jasmine
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity
  • Lee Daniels’ The Butler
  • Philomena
  • Saving Mr. Banks
  • The Wolf of Wall Street

I’m going out on a limb and predicting that All Is Lost, August: Osage County, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Nebraska all miss the cut. As I write this, Hustle and Wolf have not been screened, but both seem to be agreed upon as likely candidates. The locks, it seems to me, are 12 Years, Phillips, Gravity, and Mr. Banks. I think respect for Woody Allen and the film’s dramatic power make Blue Jasmine one of the ten (if, that is, there are even ten selections this year). Dallas, Butler, and Philomena, on the other hand, are films that many find extremely moving. That counts for a lot. And even though all three receive strong but not overwhelming reviews, the onscreen emotion will carry them through.

Of course, I could be totally wrong. But I think this ten makes a lot of sense. I believe the ultimate winner will be 12 Years or Gravity — most likely Gravity.

Much depends on how American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street are received. But looking at it logically — box office hit, solid reviews, technological achievement, a “made for the big screen” film, two beloved stars, a respected filmmaker — it is hard not to see Gravity as the film to beat.

I, of course, would be voting for 12 Years a Slave …

Review: James Franco’s “Actor’s Anonymous” is a fascinating, messy creation

franco

I reviewed James Franco’s first novel for the Buffalo News, and it was fascinating — to say the least.

“I wanted to tell the truth all the time. I wanted to use my life as a model for my work. I thought that I was interesting enough that this would translate, truth – interesting stuff that people want to read. I could go around to everyone and say only true things, but would that mean anything? When would it get interesting?”

So ponders James Franco in his first “novel,” “Actor’s Anonymous,” a strange, messy, fascinating creation that highlights everything that is unique and obnoxious about the Oscar-nominated star of “127 Hours.” We know it’s a novel because the cover says so, although there is no straight narrative; the book is a loose collection of stories centered around the acting profession. It is … interesting, to say the least.

When did he have the time to write “Actor’s Anonymous”? It’s hard to say, although one thing is certain: No one multitasks like James Franco. Let’s ponder his recent output.

So far in 2013, he starred in the god-awful, hugely successful “Oz the Great and Powerful”; gave the best performance of his career as cornrow-and-grill-sporting gangsta Alien in Harmony Korine’s luridly masterful “Spring Breakers”; appeared as himself, hilariously, in the hit comedy “This Is the End”; awkwardly played Hugh Hefner in “Lovelace”; served as writer and director of adaptations of Faulkner (“As I Lay Dying”) and McCarthy (“Child of God”); directed and starred in a bold, ambitious “reimagining” of the supposed missing 40 minutes of William Friedkin’s still-controversial gay serial killer thriller “Cruising”; appeared in “Palo Alto,” an adaptation of several of his short stories from first-time-filmmaker and grand-daughter of Francis, Gia Coppola; and guest-starred on TV’s “The Mindy Project.”

Mind you, that is not everything. Not even close. In fact, he’s writing this review. Well, a review, somewhere, I’m sure. Or perhaps he is taking courses on “Franco Theory” at the University of Franco Online, as well as teaching (and auditing) the class.

Somehow, in the midst of all his artpop activities, Franco wrote “Actor’s Anonymous,” and it is, to be sure, utterly Franco. It is a text that both embraces celebrity, and trivializes it, that mocks the concept of the “actor,” and cherishes it, that might be in on the joke … or perhaps is not. Just like James Franco.

Or should I say, “James Franco.” The character “James Franco” is all over “Actor’s Anonymous,” but here, he is identified as “The Actor.” He is present in the book’s first actual chapter, “I Am the Actor,” a collection of thoughts centered, like the rest of the novel, on the concept of performance. His ponderings include:

“I’m like a sophisticated prop. I’ll give you all the feeling you want, all the accents you want, all the hairstyles and wardrobe changes you want, and I’ll say whatever you put in front of me. But don’t ask me to take pride in the work.”

“Did Brando deal with fame by getting fat and bitter?”

“[Steve] McQueen was a sex addict and would have threesomes all the time. He wanted to do Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ for the longest time, and then when he finally did it, no one saw it.”

The latter quote is pure and utter, what-the-Franco i.e. it’s simultaneously concerned with sex, celebrity, cinema history, the struggle for artistic acceptance, the sense that none of it matters — or maybe all of it does. Yes, it’s rather preposterous to read these throughout the novel, acting-class-lite talking points that touch on the Marlboro Man, Jack Nicholson, Kenneth Anger, Perez Hilton.

But they are more effective than much of the novel, which is consistently intriguing and well-written, and consistently unpleasant. Franco the writer has a predilection for characters, scenes, and images that are, well, gross.

There is the sorority girl known as “Diarrhea” for the time she – never mind. There is the epic orgy in a Santa Monica public bathroom, a “horrible cement thing with steel toilets, graffiti, and dirty water on the floor, and rust everywhere.”

There is the tale of a young actor stuck working at McDonald’s, where he is propositioned by Juan, a grill cook “shaped like a soft triangle with a huge bulging groin area and a super small head.” Juan speaks no English, but explains his desire through Dylan, a “slow” coworker:

“He licked his top lip and then let his teeth rest in the flesh of his bottom lip. The teeth were small and sharp like he’d filed them. I flashed both hands with all fingers flushed three times and said, ‘For thirty.’ He let his teeth sink back into his mouth and said in a high voice, ‘Twenty-five.’ The words sounded like a ventriloquist was projecting the voice of a small Mexican girl into his mouth.”

It’s a grim, believable scene, but feels rote, as if Franco the author is as desperate to shock as Franco the celeb is to confuse. (“General Hospital” guest-shot? Why not?)

The aforementioned “Actor” returns periodically, generally as a smart-aleck cad. He takes us back to the premiere of “127 Hours” at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival (“a person fainted during the arm amputation scene, then another one fainted before the movie ended”), after which an “OK-looking” girl asked for a picture. The Actor asked her to email it to him.

They were unable to hook up at TIFF, but kept in touch, so to speak:

“[I]n the intervening months she had sent me plenty of photos of her body and especially her [butt], so when she arrived at my Lower East Side apartment, I was ready and she was ready. Not only did she allow me to do everything I wanted to her, she let me film it on my phone.”

Here and elsewhere in the novel, Franco is trying to have it both ways — mocking the prurient nature of Hollywood stardom, while also reveling in it. And occasionally, it works, mainly when it is the Actor spinning these tales.

Or is it always the Actor? Is every chapter, every thought, every character, a different shade of one performer? And is that performer Franco himself? It is a mystery most won’t care to contemplate, but that does not mean readers won’t find the novel an involving experience. I certainly did, even with its faults and absurdities.

What the book hammers home is that James Franco is fascinatingly incomprehensible, an actor-writer-director-whatever who is smart, ambitious, and blazingly silly.

And so it goes: In recent days, the trailer for one of Franco’s next films, “Homefront,” dropped. He plays the villain (!) in this Jason Statham action flick (!) scripted by Sylvester Stallone (!). Around the same time, his most recent directorial effort, a look at the last hours in the life of Sal Mineo, debuted.

That’s Franco: The missing link between Sylvester Stallone and Sal Mineo. May he never change.

Stream these: Frances, Bond, and Julian Assange

frances_ha

Several biggies have dropped to Netflix in rapid succession, including one of my favorite films of 2013:

  • Frances Ha: Some may find Noah Baumbach’s character study twee and obnoxious. That is the opposite of my opinion. I loved this joyous black-and-white concoction, and especially adored Greta Gerwig’s performance in the lead. Frances is now streaming, and also one of the latest additions to the Criterion Collection.
  • Skyfall: This Sam Mendes-directed James Bond smash was one of my favorites of 2012, although I think Casino Royale still has this one beat — barely. It’s a great film with a great villain, and one of the most satisfying Bonds to date.
  • Computer Chess: Andrew Bujalski’s 1980s-set film look utterly idiosyncratic and wildly offbeat. I missed this one at Squeaky Wheel, but I’ll make sure to catch it now.
  • Europa Report: This sci-fi film drew some modest praise, and arrived quickly to Netflix. The anti-Gravity?
  • Flight: I had little interest in Robert Zemeckis’s film last year, but found it a pleasant surprise on DVD. It is an unflinching look at addiction, and certainly features some of Denzel Washington’s best acting to date.
  • We Steal Secrets: The WikiLeaks Story: While I missed The Fifth Estate, I look forward to watching it and Alex Gibney’s Julian Assange documentary. Both drew their share of criticism, but reviews for Gibney’s doc were certainly more complimentary.
  • The Sapphires: I recall some Oscar talk about this film, talk that went nowhere. But Chris O’Dowd was such a joy on The IT Crowd and in Bridesmaids and Friends With Kids that I have this on my must-watch list. (He’s also drawing raves for HBO’s Family Tree.)
  • Twixt: My colleague Jared Mobarak and I saw Francis Ford Coppola’s latest at the Toronto International Film Festival … two years ago. It took some time for the horror flick to show up stateside, and when it did, it sank without a trace. I found it laughable and rather amateurish at TIFF, but I’ve often wondered if I came down too hard on it. I’ll say this: It’s unique. That’s putting it mildly.
  • Sharknado: That joke isn’t funny anymore. But that does not mean you should skip it.

More Bilbo! More Orcs! The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition brings more of, well, everything

hobbit

I love that work on some movies never seems to cease, even years later. There have been umpteen versions of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Oliver Stone seems to revisit Alexander about once a year, and there are, of course, several infamously different cuts of Terry Gilliams Brazil. (Love conquers all!)

Peter Jackson has taken full advantage of the ability to expand your work on DVD and Blu-ray. The “extended editions” of his Lord of the Rings films were devoured by fans, and allowed the director to include scenes that for one reason or another had to go. When Jackson began work on The Hobbit, it was certainly reasonable to expect the tinkering to continue.

Indeed, it has, even though the novel was divided into a trilogy. The new Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition (Warner Home Video) was released just a few weeks before the second film in the series, The Desolation of Smaug, drops, and watching the now 13-minute longer film (that’s quite reasonable, really), it is clear that Jackson’s fun, somewhat underrated film is pretty darned impressive.

As I put it a few months ago for BuffaloSpree.com:

[The response to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey] was a bit muted. Perhaps some critics and audiences felt as if they’d been there and done that. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy does not seem too long ago, after all, and the film faced some negative prerelease hype with its controversial 48 frames per second frame rate. And come Oscar time, the film was mostly ignored, losing the three technical awards it had been nominated for.

With the film arriving on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Home Video, the time is right to take another look. Watching it again, months after its release, it seems clear to me that above all else, it is a film for the converted. An Unexpected Journey is unlikely to win over Shire haters, but for everyone else, it’s a wonderful piece of storytelling.

Fans might be most intrigued by the nearly nine (!) hours of new special features, including an audio commentary with director/producer/screenwriter Peter Jackson and co-producer/screenwriter Philippa Boyens and a multi-part documentary called “The Appendices.” (My favorite is a look at the great Martin Freeman. It’s a treat to see the Office star in such a high-profile role.)

In short, it’s more everything. What more could a Bilbo die-hard desire?

Here’s a synopsis:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first in Peter Jackson’s highly anticipated trilogy adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The adventure follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome Dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the Wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of 13 Dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield.

Their journey will take them into the Wild, through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins, Orcs and deadly Wargs, as well as a mysterious and sinister figure known only as the Necromancer.

Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the Goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever…Gollum.

Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of ingenuity and courage that surprise even him; he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities … A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.

The screenplay for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Jackson also produced the film, together with Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner and Fran Walsh.  The executive producers are Alan Horn, Toby Emmerich, Ken Kamins and Carolyn Blackwood, with Boyens and Eileen Moran serving as co-producers.

Blue is the Warmest Color is one of 2013’s best

blue

Forget everything you’ve read, heard, or seen about the controversies surrounding “Blue is the Warmest Colour,” the Cannes winner that opens today in Buffalo.

The plot is, in some ways, simple: Teenager Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), a college art student, and the two fall in love. During the course of the three-hour film, we see the highs and lows of their passionate relationship. But the film is much more complex, much more involving, much more vivid than that. It is, I think, one of the finest films ever made about young love.

Adèle is one of recent cinema’s most intriguing characters. In some ways, she feels very young (she still plays with her hair), in others extremely mature (she quickly determines that she does not want to be with her boyfriend). Emma is no less complex. She is smart and hard-edged, creative and loyal.

The moment when Adèle and Emma meet is electric — life, and the film itself, almost seem to skip a beat. That is what “Blue” is all about for me: that instance when life seems to hit a key turning point.

Yes, the film features several graphic, extended sex sequences. But they are only a small part of director Abdellatif Kechiche’s creation. The emotion is what stands out, and that is what makes those scenes memorable, not how graphic they are.

I hesitate to say much about the film, honestly, because I think going in as clean as possible makes a difference. Don’t let the backstory and current controversies color your opinions, and instead let the film draw you in.

“I have infinite tenderness for you. I always will,” says Emma late in the film. The viewer feels that tenderness — and shares it. What a great love story this is, and what a glorious portrayal of two unique people. “Blue is the Warmest Color” is one of the best film’s of this year.

From the November Spree: “Lock up your children—it’s Toronto Film Fest time”

spree nov

One of my favorite things to write each year is my Toronto Film Festival recap for Buffalo Spree. This year’s is in the magazine’s November issue, but not on the Spree website — so here it is, in full.

The strangest sight at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival was not the gorgeous, befuddled twentysomething couple—she in a skin-tight white dress, he in a well-tailored suit—staring at the screen with confusion during Koyaanisqatsi director Godfrey Reggio’s non-narrative, visually splendiferous, enjoyably frustrating Visitors. (Incidentally, they only lasted about fifteen minutes.) Nor was it the John Gotti-look-alike who suddenly hit the deck while waiting in the press line, got up, brushed himself off, and shrugged his shoulders. And it certainly was not the preponderance of cell phone use during press and industry screenings, even though this increasingly obnoxious situation led one film blogger to—seriously—call 911.

And it was nothing onscreen, either, although the fun documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, a chronicle of the El Topo and Holy Mountainmaestro’s attempt to bring Franker Herbert’s spice-and-worm-fueled epic to the big screen, contained its share of acid-flashback imagery. Nope, it was the sight of children, scores of them, rushing through the Scotiabank Cinema with their parents. This is not normally the case. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen kids at TIFF, although the festival does program a TIFF Kids sidebar that, until now, had never made an impression on me. (These particular kids were heading to a screening of a small-fry superhero yarn called Antboy.)

What made the scene seem especially relevant—poignant, even—was the fact that so many of the films I saw this year involved children separated from their parents, kids in peril, and worse. It made me think I should high-tail it back to Buffalo ASAP and make sure my son was happily playing. Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners was not a film on my must-see list; the Hugh Jackman-Jake Gyllenhaal kidnapping thriller looked rather ho-hum. But nothing could be further from the truth. It was a modern American nightmare about stolen children, vigilante justice, and dark, dark secrets in suburbia, and it left me breathless. (Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal unveiled another well-received film at TIFF, Enemy.) The fascinatingly up-and-down Stephen Frears (The GriftersThe Queen) brought the crowd-pleasing Philomena, a moving based-on-a-true story of a woman’s search for the child she was forced to give up by the Catholic Church.

But it was 12 Years a Slave that stole TIFF. Shame director Steve McQueen’s slavery epic ranks as the most emotionally overpowering viewing experience I’ve ever had, a harrowing, gripping story with award-worthy performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender, among others. Like Prisoners and Philomena, as well as Jason Reitman’s well-made Labor Day (to a lesser extent), the separation of kids from their parents was a central theme, but that is only one of the powerful themes of 12 Years. I was literally shaking and unable to speak when it concluded, and that hasn’t happened since Grown Ups 2.

These films, and some of the breaking news that came out before and during the festival, which ran from September 5–15, created an air of tension; even the light comedies were a bit serious. (Or, in the case of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s directorial debut, You Are Here, seriously awful.) I’m not sure this had anything to do with Syria, or Rob Ford, or the Bills’ opening day loss to the Patriots, which bummed me out, long-distance. Perhaps it is the feeling that the festival gets larger and larger every year, from the crowds to the sheer number of films (nearly 300). Or maybe everyone is just a bit exhausted after getting up so early—early rising being an essential element of festival viewing. As Anthony Lane put it in a New Yorker piece on this year’s Venice Film Festival, “There are people who go to movies, and there are people who go to film festivals, and the difference between them, by and large, is that only the latter are willing to line up for necrophilia at nine o’clock in the morning. Not just willing, but bright with larkish zeal, getting there half an hour ahead of schedule so as to grab the best seat.”

That zeal can quickly turn into outrage. I attended the first press screening of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, a rote but well-acted (by Idris Elba and Naomie Harris) biopic. Almost one hour in, the sound vanished. Within seconds, someone entered and announced that due to mechanical issues, the screening was cancelled. The press was not happy, and grew even more annoyed when the almost three-hour drama was rescheduled for 10:15 that night. (Couldn’t they at least have skipped the first forty-five minutes?) This cancellation was especially interesting because it delayed the instant responses that have become a film festival trademark. Critics, websites, etc., have an intense desire to tweet a reaction within minutes of a screening’s completion. And once these tweets declare a film to be a dud, or an Oscar player, the internet passes out with excitement. I love film festivals.

Interestingly, the fall festival scene is now a battleground, and TIFF finds itself under attack, so to speak, by festivals in Venice, Telluride, and New York. There was griping about biggies from the Coen Bros. and Alexander Payne not appearing in Toronto, and I heard multiple folks at the public screenings complain about this year’s gala lineup. One woman from Albany told me she waited five hours (!) to catch a glimpse of Benedict Cumberbatch at the second screening of the poorly-received Julian Assange bio The Fifth Estate, only to find out that he was not attending. I can only imagine the Cumber-bitching among that crowd.

I did not get to see the The Fifth Estate, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, Ron Howard’s Rush (these three will be released well before this article is published), Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, or Meryl Streep inAugust: Osage County. But it’s not all about awards-bait. I enjoyed the pre-fame Jimi Hendrix tale All Is By My Side, starring a perfectly-cast Andre Benjamin; Jason Bateman’s fast, dirty directing debut, Bad Words; François Ozon’s visually stunning, creepily sexy Young and Beautiful; and the utterly unique English Civil War freak-out A Field in England.

The final film I saw during my TIFF weekend was a one-night-only event: the aforementioned world premiere ofQatsi trilogy director Godfrey Reggio’s Visitors. Booking Reggio’s first film—“presented” and introduced at the screening by Steven Soderbergh—in more than a decade was a major success for the festival; Koyaanisqatsi (1982), Powaqqatsi (1988), and Naqoyqatsi (2002), all featuring collaborations with Philip Glass, rank among the most acclaimed and influential non-narrative features of the last thirty years. The Visitors screening was the cinematic event of the festival, and a reminder that above all else, TIFF was created and exists as a showcase for greatness. (Another less thrilling but worthy event was a Big Chill reunion; the baby boomer favorite debuted at the 1983 festival.)

Yes, the eleven days often seem dominated by industry-speak, money-talk, Oscar hype, red carpet hi-jinks, and long, long lines. But Reggio’s film defies description, and even renders reviews useless. It is all about the experience, and the emotional, visual, and auditory impact. As Soderbergh put it before the film began, “If you show this movie to a hundred people, you get a hundred different responses.” Imagine a world in which every film at the multiplex—even a bad one—is capable of this kind of reaction. Impossible? Hardly. It happens every September in Toronto. Bring the kids.

For more TIFF writing from Christopher Schobert, see Indiewire’s The Playlist (http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist), The Film Stage (thefilmstage.com), and FilmSwoon.com. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/FilmSwoon.

This week in Buffalo: Franco and a Fantastic Festival

bdfff

Every week offers cinematic treats in the Queen City — tomorrow, for example, the Buffalo Film Seminars screening for the week is Charlie Kaufman’s stunning “Synecdoche, New York” — but this week is especially packed with intriguing options.

The Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival actually began on Friday (November 8) and runs through this Thursday. Billing itself as “7 Days of the Best Independent Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Action, Thriller, Animation, Cult and Fan Films from Around the World,” the festival’s numbers are stellar: 26 feature films, 59 shorts, 13 local productions, and 27 international films. It’s a cool way to see some movies on the big screen that likely would never come our way.

On Friday comes a biggie at Hallwalls: James Franco’s “Interior. Leather Bar.” This is the fascinating “reimagining” from Franco (and co-director Travis Matthews) of the supposed lost 40 minutes of William Friedkin’s still-controversial “Cruising.” I have long found “Cruising” to be a strange, enthralling artifact, and the idea behind “Leather Bar” seems utterly brilliant. The film screens twice, at 8 p.m. and midnight.

And just think, this week also saw the Buffalo openings of “12 Years a Slave” and “All is Lost” …

DON’T stream this: Starbuck (review)

starbuck

In a few weeks, Dreamworks opens “The Delivery Man,” starring Vince Vaughan, and the movie is a remake of the French-Canadian “hit” (not in America) “Starbuck,” from the same director. I hated “Starbuck,” truly. Here is my one-and-a-half star review from the Buffalo News. It is now streaming on Netflix.

The French-Canadian smash “Starbuck” is an important film, for one reason: It proves that bad Hollywood comedies can be made far from Hollywood. It is infantile, which perhaps sounds fitting, since it’s a film about a man who discovers his numerous sperm donations led to the birth of 533 children.

There is likably infantile (see Adam Sandler’s first two vehicles), and just plain infantile (see every Adam Sandler movie that followed). “Starbuck” is the latter, an “adult” comedy that is neither charming nor wise. It is comedically impotent, an almost-two-hour effort with the emotional heft of a Cialis commercial.

“Starbuck” opens with a scene of furious (attempted) comedic masturbation. It is 1988, and David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) is making one of his 693 donations (over a 24-month period) to a Quebec fertility clinic under the alias “Starbuck.” (Apparently, the film’s title refers to a bull made famous for producing thousands of offspring via artificial insemination in the 1980s and 1990s.)

Cut to 2011, and David, an employee and general screw-up at his family’s butcher shop, is in dire need of cash. He owes $80,000, his girlfriend Valerie (Julie Le Breton) is expecting, and his life is seemingly going nowhere. (He is in his 40s and wears a hoodie and an Avengers T-shirt, which, in the world of “Starbuck,” seems to indicate man-child syndrome.)

Luck comes in the form of an attorney from the fertility clinic, bearing the news that David’s, ahem, donations, resulted in 533 children. (He jokes that he has “postpartum depression – 533 times over”). Many of the kids – 142, to be exact – have filed a lawsuit against the clinic. They want to know who “Starbuck” really is.

The attorney leaves a file with the names and details about some of David’s spawn. (Of course he does.) And so begins David’s icky journey to maturity. “I realized it’s impossible to be father to 533 kids, but I can be their guardian angel,” he tells his slovenly lawyer friend, a scene-killing character played by Antoine Bertrand.

It’s a plot that sounds cooked up in the Sandler laboratory, but believe it or not, it is Vince Vaughan who stars in the currently shooting American remake, “The Delivery Man,” from the same director, Ken Scott.

It’s no surprise, since the film was an enormous box-office success in Quebec, and it has the kind of connect-the-dots screenplay Hollywood adores: David meets some of the kids. David helps them. David befriends the clichéd druggie. David befriends the clichéd goth vegetarian. David begins to earn the respect of Valerie.

There is a long, dull courtroom sequence, and media hype over “Starbuck’s” identity, and tough decisions, and sterling dialogue like this exchange between father and son: “I love you like a son.” “I AM your son.”

More wit, from Valerie and David, respectively, while watching children at a playground: “Look at that one! He’s eating his boogers!” “They’re full of protein!” Insert expressionless emoticon here.

While virtually none of it rings true, and did not elicit even a single chuckle from this viewer, it’s not Huard’s fault. If anything, he is the film’s saving grace, a likable actor saddled with an unlikable role. He is the sole believable performer onscreen, and, oddly, that means the finest scenes in this strained romp are serious ones; David’s interaction with one of the 533, a teen with special needs, is almost moving. Almost.

Huard resembles the love child of Danny McBride and Gabriel Byrne, but it fits the character, and in a film that makes “Two and a Half Men” feel as subtle as “Tokyo Story,” his avoidance of overdoing it is noteworthy. This is a film, after all, that features a 100-person-plus group hug.

“Starbuck” is the kind of faux-heartwarming, gutless, transparently “risqué” comedy that Hollywood loves to make. David may believe he suffers from “postpartum depression,” but after sitting through his story, you’ll feel 533 times worse.