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<p>Joaquin Phoenix is astonishing in 'The Master' even when the film can't live up to his performance</p>

Joaquin Phoenix is astonishing in 'The Master' even when the film can't live up to his performance

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Review: 'The Master' features searing performances around a hollow center

An actor's showcase with an oddly thin script does not resonate

There are few filmmakers working whose output has been as consistently exciting and rewarding as Paul Thomas Anderson, and there are few films I have anticipated with as much confidence this year as "The Master."

So you'll understand if it unnerves me a bit to find that I don't love it.

I respect it and even admire it, but for the first time, I find myself struggling to connect on that extra level that we reserve for the films that matter most to us.  "The Master" is, as was rumored, a fictionalized look at the dynamics that existed in the early days of Scientology, but simply viewing it through that prism, looking for the parallels and trying to parse Anderson's stance on the house that Hubbard built, would be a simplistic way to approach it.  Instead, I think the film is really trying to grapple with the way broken or damaged people reach for salvation and balance and the extremes they will suffer in the futile hope that someone else will give them the answers, which is certainly fertile ground for drama.

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<p>Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in David O. Russell's &quot;Silver Lining Playbook.&quot;</p>

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in David O. Russell's "Silver Lining Playbook."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Review: Jennifer Lawrence burns bright in crowd-pleasing 'Silver Linings Playbook'

David O. Russell delivers an unexpectedly funny drama

TORONTO – To say the Toronto International Film Festival's 2012 slate has been dominated by literary adaptations is something of an understatement. On Saturday alone, “Cloud Atlas,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” and “Much Ado About Nothing” (granted, a stage adaptation) all had their world or North American premieres at the fest. Oh, and add one more prominent title to that list, David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook.”

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<p>Halle Berry and Tom Hanks are just two of the actors who took the incredible journey of 'Cloud Atlas' with Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer</p>

Halle Berry and Tom Hanks are just two of the actors who took the incredible journey of 'Cloud Atlas' with Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer

Credit: Warner Bros.

Review: Tom Hanks and Halle Berry take a soulful journey in the transcendent 'Cloud Atlas'

Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski join forces for a challenging, daring new vision

I can tell you this:  we'll definitely be running a Second Look piece about this film after it's in theaters, because it is a remarkable movie experience, one that cannot be digested easily, and any attempt to dig in fully would rob you of the sense of discovery that washed over me as I sat in the theater.

No matter what the subject matter, the combination of Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer would be reason enough to be excited.  The novel they adapted, though, is something very special, and a huge challenge for anybody looking to turn it into a film.  Walking into the film, I was hoping for something ambitious and different.  What I got was one of my two favorite films of the year so far, a movie I'll be returning to again and again, a unique and beautiful work of film art that dares to dream big in a way we rarely see from either studios or independent sources.

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<p>Karen Gillan, Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill in &quot;Doctor Who.&quot;</p>

Karen Gillan, Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill in "Doctor Who."

Credit: BBC

Review: 'Doctor Who' - 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship'

Rory's father tags along on a delightful space adventure

A review of tonight's "Doctor Who" coming up just as soon as I have balls in my trousers...

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<p>Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, and Sam Rockwell all do tremendous work in the new dark comedy 'Seven Psychopaths'</p>

Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, and Sam Rockwell all do tremendous work in the new dark comedy 'Seven Psychopaths'

Credit: CBS Films

Review: Sam Rockwell and Chris Walken soar in seriously silly 'Seven Psychopaths'

The new film reunites the star and director of 'In Bruges' to tremendous effect

Martin McDonagh's film "In Bruges" was one of those tiny movies that many audiences simply didn't notice when it was released, but the people who did see it ended up devoted to it.  The film's reputation has grown in the last few years, helped in large part by McDonagh's work on stage, and now he's once again working with Colin Farrell.  The result, "Seven Psychopaths," is perhaps the most interesting implosion of narrative convention since "Adaptation," and it works as a comedy first and a commentary on the entire idea of violence as entertainment.

Marty (Farrell) is a screenwriter who is struggling to figure out his new script, a piece called "Seven Psychopaths," and as the film opens, pretty much all he has is the title and one of the psychopaths.  His best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), wants to help him with the script.  He's convinced that Marty is a great writer and that "Seven Psychopaths" could be a great film.  The problem is that Marty wants to write a movie about lunatics, but he wants to find a way to do it without violence, sending a message of peace that will be uplifting, and Billy's pretty sure that's going to be impossible.

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<p>Kevin Bacon of &quot;The Following&quot;</p>

Kevin Bacon of "The Following"

Credit: FOX

Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'The Following'

Kevin Williamson midseason drama is a glorified 'Criminal Minds' episode

[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

Show:"The Following" (FOX)
The Pitch:"You know that awful movie 'The Raven' about the killer who was obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe?" "Not really." "Excellent. Because this is a script about a killer who's obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe." "Hmmm..." "Did I mention that you can use the show to boost your score in Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Excellent."
Quick Response: Some people love "The Following." Most people I know, in fact, love "The Following." You're probably going to love "The Following." That's fine. I can deal with differences of opinion. I *strongly* disliked "The Following." To me, Kevin Williamson's script for "The Following" plays out as The Most Pretentious "Criminal Minds" Episode Ever, with a liberal post-modern splash of "Scream" at the very, very end. I don't know how many of the things I disliked most about Williamson's pilot script are going to continue to be an ongoing problem. The predictability of the character archetypes -- Grizzled alcoholic FBI veteran and wily, brilliant serial killer -- are now established and won't need to be introduced again. The serial killer cult aspect of things is, unfortunately, not going anywhere. Sigh. However, the series could progress without needing to return to the tediously superficial Lazy English Major skimming of Edgar Allan Poe. In fact, PLEASE progress without this aspect, because every time any character engaged in rudimentary literary analysis, I wanted to jab them repeatedly with a red grading pen. The characters in "The Following" who are convinced they're saying smart things -- "Nevermore! The Raven! Poe is symbolizing the finality of death!" -- aren't nearly as smart as they think they are and the pilot isn't nearly smart enough to sell this level of affectation, either earnestly or self-reflexively. [I still love the first two "Scream" movies, plus the first season of "Dawson's Creek" and y'all know my feelings on "Vampire Diaries," so my general tendency is to be strongly pro-Kevin Williamson. It just happens that I think this particular script is a mixture of cliches and pomposity.] Pilot director Marcos Siega has somewhat improved on Williamson's prose by making "The Following" moodily atmospheric and cinematic, but he's also possibly amplified the semi-exploitative violence and sadism that left me rolling my eyes and left some of my colleagues terrified. Shrug. Your results may vary. One thing I think we can all agree on is that Kevin Bacon is really terrific here. The obvious comparison is to Kiefer Sutherland's TV transition with "24," but Bacon is already getting to play the frenzied-and-frayed Jack Bauer of Season 4 or Season 5 and he's doing it well. Damn well. As Bacon's adversary, James Purefoy has a role seemingly designed to push him to make only the least subtle choices available, which is already his unfortunate tendency. That worries me. The rest of the pilot's supporting cast is very solid and I really hope they give Natalie Zea something good to do, since people often cast Natalie Zea and don't remember to write for her. One last thing: Enough already with Marilyn Manson's cover of "Sweet Dreams." It's moved into "Hallelujah" territory of overuse. We get it. It's a moody and ironic piece. Enough.
Desire To Watch Again: For Bacon? My desire to watch again is high. To see how the plot unfolds without the cumbersome responsibilities of pilot-dom? Also high. I didn't like "The Following" very much at all, but it's still the network pilot that left me most curious to see a second episode. Weird stuff like that happens sometimes.

Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'Family Tools'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Infamous'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'How To Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's '1600 Penn'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'The Zero Hour'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Do No Harm'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'The Carrie Diaries'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'Malibu Country'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'The New Normal'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Guys with Kids'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'The Mindy Project'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Partners'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'Nashville'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Made in Jersey'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Emily Owens, M.D.'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'Mob Doctor'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Animal Practice'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'Last Resort'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Vegas'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Beauty & The Beast'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's '666 Park Avenue'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Chicago Fire'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'Ben and Kate'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Elementary'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Arrow'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'The Neighbors'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Revolution'
All of last year's Take Me To The Pilots entries

 

 

 

 

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<p>Philip Seymour Hoffman in &quot;The Master.&quot;</p>

Philip Seymour Hoffman in "The Master."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Two major awards for 'The Master,' but Kim Ki-duk's 'Pieta' takes Golden Lion at Venice

Paul Thomas Anderson's film was reportedly jury's first choice for the top prize

VENICE -- Sorry for the delay there. The wi-fi in the press room went haywire, so I had to bolt the second the Golden Lion was announced and cycle furiously back to my apartment to get online again, like a lanyard-wearing Nancy Drew.

Clearly, however, technical difficulties weren't just limited to the press room, as all manner of crossed signals and mixed messages made for the most confusing festival awards ceremony I've ever seen -- and that was before word leaked of an abrupt switch, forced by festival brass, in the jury's choice for the top prize.

After jury president Michael Mann announced at the start of the ceremony that no film could be given more than one award, two films were given a pair of statues. Minutes later, two winners were handed the wrong trophies, and were called back onto stage to exchange awards. And finally, it has emerged that film the jury deemed overwhelmingly the best in show hasn't won the award for, well, best in show. Confused? So are we -- and you didn't have to watch this all play out in Italian.  

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<p>Ryan Gosling in &quot;A Place Beyond the Pines.&quot;</p>

Ryan Gosling in "A Place Beyond the Pines."

Review: Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper face off in the uneven ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’

Derek Cianfrance overreaches after 'Blue Valentine'

TORONTO – In 2010, Derek Cianfrance seduced the independent film community with his stellar debut, “Blue Valentine.”  The heartbreaking drama contrasted the beginning and end of a young couple’s marriage through Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ stellar performances.  It became a staple on year-end critic's top 10 lists and landed Williams her second Oscar nomination.  One of the reasons the picture resonated with so many moviegoers and critics was Cianfrance’s remarkable skill at creating honest and intimate moments with his actors.  Unfortunately, It’s with sincere regret that I report Cianfrance’s latest endeavor, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” doesn’t measure up to the cinematic standards he set for himself just two years ago.

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<p>Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, and Emma Watson all do remarkable work in 'The Perks Of Being A Wallflower'</p>

Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, and Emma Watson all do remarkable work in 'The Perks Of Being A Wallflower'

Credit: Summit Entertainment

Review: Logan Lerman and Emma Watson light up the lovely 'Perks Of Being A Wallflower"

Gorgeous heartfelt look at adolescent angst offers up a great ensemble.

One of the best moments of the entire festival for me so far was seeing Rory Cochrane join Ben Affleck onstage during the introduction for "Argo."  The two of them co-starred in one of my favorite films, "Dazed and Confused," and it was just great to see them together again.  The thing I've always loved most about that movie is the way it captured that feeling of those long, weird adolescent days when curfew was broken and substances were imbibed and nothing seemed to matter except the moment.

Stephen Chbosky's film adaptation of his novel, "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower," is equally adept at evoking the feeling of being young and unfocused and full of potential and desire without focus.  It is smart, it is delicately made, and it is played perfectly by its young ensemble cast.  I haven't read his book, so I can't tell you how faithful the film is, but I can tell you that it affected me deeply and moved me greatly.  It is a wonderful, tender thing, and I hope this is just the beginning of what we see from Chbosky as a filmmaker.

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<p>Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha want a baby in &quot;The New Normal.&quot;</p>

Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha want a baby in "The New Normal."

Credit: NBC

Review: NBC's 'The New Normal' is another schizophrenic Ryan Murphy series

Lots of attention-getting jokes, but not a whole lot of funny ones
Every showrunner in the TV business can make a good pitch for his or her show. That's part of the development process where an idea becomes a script, and then a pilot, and then a series. If you can't sell your show verbally, chances are it won't exist, and I've sat through press conferences and interviews listening to producers enthusiastically, unapologetically sing the praises of absolute trash.
 
I'm not sure there's a wider gap between pitch and reality than the one I continually find with Ryan Murphy, co-creator of "Glee," "American Horror Story," and now "The New Normal," an NBC sitcom debuting Monday night at 10 before moving to a regular Tuesday at 9:30 timeslot the next night.
 
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<p>Joaquin Phoenix is a heavy favorite to win Best Actor in Venice today for &quot;The Master.&quot;</p>

Joaquin Phoenix is a heavy favorite to win Best Actor in Venice today for "The Master."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Venice: What will win the big awards... and what should

Critics are crazy for 'The Master,' but will the jury throw a curveball?

VENICE -- It's the final day of the Venice Film Festival, and everything has wound down to a suitably Italian pace. The journalists have largely headed home or on to Toronto -- including my flatmates, leaving me rattling around a three-bedroom apartment, idly contemplating potential house-party guests.

The jury's deliberations have been done. The closing film (the Depardieu-starring Victor Hugo adaptation "The Man Who Laughed") has been screened, and is reported to be, as is the usual wont of festival closers, rather dreadful. Warned off by colleagues at dinner last night, I opted for a lie-in this morning instead. As such, my festival viewing is complete, but my reviewing isn't: look out for a couple more short-form review pieces in the next few days. 

In other words, it's a low-key end to a festival that has been decidedly low-key from the start. That's not to say it's been a bad one: there's much to admire in this year's slimmed-down programme, particularly outside of a Competition lineup that most agree has been a shade less inspired than those of the last two years. Still, the Competition is where everyone's eyes ultimately land, as the inevitable question arose at the dinner table last night: "What's looking good for the Golden Lion?"

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<p>A scene from &quot;Lore,&quot; Australia's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.</p>

A scene from "Lore," Australia's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Credit: Music Box Films

Australia enters foreign-language race with German-language WWII drama 'Lore'

Meanwhile, two-time Best Director nominee Lasse Hallstrom represents Sweden

(UPDATE: No sooner had I posted this story than I received notification that Hungary has submitted Berlin Silver Bear winner "Just the Wind," which I've seen. More detail on that in the next category update.) 

In the few days since I last checked in on this category, there have been several new titles added to the growing pile of Best Foreign Language Film Oscar submissions -- and the rate will only increase as the deadline for entries looms at the end of the month. We're up to 13 now, but it'll be 60 or so before you know it.

The most notable title from the new entries is Australia's submission "Lore" -- which I suggested back in June would be one to watch in the race. Like Austria's pick of Michael Haneke's "Amour," it's a selection that couldn't have been made a few years ago, when countries had to submit films in a native language. Indeed, there's nothing obviously Australian about "Lore" -- a German-set, German-language World War II survival story about five children's 500-mile trek to safety in the dying days of the Third Reich -- bar the fact that it's a largely Australian production from a noted Down Under director, Cate Shortland. (Britain and Germany also had in hand in the financing -- so between "Lore," "Amour" and their own selection "Barbara," the former country indirectly has a number of dogs in this fight.)

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