THE JUDGE is the new Robert Downey, Jr.-Robert Duvall domestic drama that recently opened the Toronto Film Festival and now is arriving in movie theaters. As for the film, it is what one might describe as “perfectly okay.” Downey plays a hotshot Chicago lawyer while Duvall is his father, a petulant small-town Indiana judge. At its core, the film explores a corrosive father-son relationship and both actors play off of each other nicely. Along the way, the film also underlines the importance of coming to terms with your past, your roots, your family history-- and these are worthy themes.
Here is a story that mirrors what one might describe as the business of show business.
One afternoon during the Toronto Film Festival, I planned to attend a press-and-industry screening of GIRLHOOD, a French-made coming-of-age drama. I knew nothing about GIRLHOOD, but the film sounded interesting and film festivals are ideal venues for discovering and savoring under-the-radar titles. But when I arrived at the festival screening room, I was told that the GIRLHOOD screening had been postponed until later that evening. The reason was that THE JUDGE, the new, high-profile Robert Downey, Jr./Robert Duvall film, needed to be shown instead. Apparently, THE JUDGE had been scheduled for unveiling to the press earlier in the day in one of the festival’s larger venues but, for whatever reason, that screening was postponed. It was rescheduled into four smaller theaters. One was the venue in which GIRLHOOD was supposed to be shown.
Does Jason Reitman have another JUNO in him? Or will his present and future films mostly be instantly forgettable, despite the A-list casts he attracts? A case in point is LABOR DAY, which was screened a year ago at the Toronto Film Festival. Despite the presence of a top-billed Kate Winslet, LABOR DAY was a lackluster effort: a tale with a highly questionable scenario that not surprisingly was a box office dud.
These days, it seems that all the Academy Award-caliber films and heralded performances are showcased at the early fall film festivals. For example, let’s talk about actors and Oscars. Here are but a few performers who emerged from the Toronto Film Festival bathed in Best Actor and Best Actress buzz-- if, that is, their films are released in 2014: Julianne Moore, for STILL ALICE; Reese Witherspoon, for WILD; Benedict Cumberbatch, for THE IMITATION GAME; Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING; Bill Murray, for ST. VINCENT; Timothy Spall, for MR. TURNER; Al Pacino, for MANGLEHORN; Jake Gyllenhaal, for NIGHTCRAWLER; Jennifer Aniston-- yes, that Jennifer Aniston-- for CAKE; and Steve Carell-- yes, that Steve Carell-- for FOXCATCHER. Even though it did not play Toronto, Michael Keaton, who like Bruce Dern last year is this year’s comeback kid, may be in the running for BIRDMAN.
Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh possibly has forsaken a very successful career in feature film production in favor of the mini-series format for cable, video, and streaming. He has made several strong comments about the advantages of creating dramas that are not chained to a two to three hour format. With his ten-hour Cinemax series, THE KNICK, he shows the advantages of the longer running time.
These days, one of the purposes of high-profile fall film festivals is to hype the latest high-priority releases and place them front-and-center in the upcoming Academy Awards competition. Each September, I attend the Toronto Film Festival and, each year, the talk at the fest inevitably centers on the hot new films being screened and the up-and-coming and name-brand performers in attendance.
Could it be? Has it been 25 years-- or, in other words, a whole quarter-century-- since the now-landmark documentary ROGER & ME placed its director, Michael Moore, at the epicenter of the American independent cinema? It certainly is and, this year, the Toronto Film Festival is presenting a special 25th-anniversary screening of ROGER & ME.
In 1992, a film titled MR. BASEBALL came to movie houses. Tom Selleck starred as Jack Elliot, an aging New York Yankee first-sacker who just four years earlier was the World Series Most Valuable Player. But the previous season, Elliot hit a paltry .235. His superiors are displeased with his penchant for boozing, sleeping around, and giving unsuspecting rookies hotfoots. He may be contrasted to a newcomer, a hot prospect who is described by management as “the real thing.” It’s spring training, this young player is burning up the grapefruit league and he is fated to replace Elliot as the Yankees’ new first baseman. So Elliot’s contract is sold “not to Canada, not to Cleveland” but to the Chunichi Dragons, a Japanese baseball team.
During the early years of the last century, a number of itinerant film companies traversed the United States and produced movies set in small and not-so-small towns. Their casts were comprised of local, non-professional actors and, while featuring nominal plotlines, they primarily existed as travelogues of a sort in that they served to promote the town's amenities.
One of the most compelling and poignant new films to go into release this summer is a documentary: LIFE ITSELF, in which Steve James (of HOOP DREAMS fame) offers a warm tribute to one of the all-time-great film critics. That would be Roger Ebert.