<p>Someone just got surprised in the delightful-and-hard-to-describe 'Golden Slumber'</p>

Someone just got surprised in the delightful-and-hard-to-describe 'Golden Slumber'

Credit: Toho

Fantastic Fest: 'Golden Slumber' is the fest's first great movie

The director of 'Fish Story' returns with another remarkable film

I confess a near-total ignorance towards the work of Yoshihiro Nakamura before I saw "Fish Story" at last year's Fantastic Fest.  That movie made it to #17 on my list of favorite movies last year, and it's one of those little gems that I know I never would have seen if I did not attend film festivals.

It's a shame, too, because Nakamura is a major talent, a guy with an incredible ability to handle scale on both a large and a small level.  His films feel like they are important, like the world of the movie is teetering on some sort of major cataclysmic shift, and yet his real signature as an artist is the way he sells the little details of his stories.  He's got a wry, wicked sense of humor, and with his last film, he told the story of how one punk rock record saved the world from destruction.  Here, it's more a case of the entire world turning on one guy, and him scrambling to save his own life.  I'd call it Hitchcockian, and there's certainly some element of the "wrong man" model here, but the script, adapted by Kotaro Isaka from his own novel, is not content to just run its characters through familiar genre beats.  Instead, it tries to tell a much bigger story about old friendships and conspiracy theory and innocence and guilt and celebrity and love, and while I'm not sure the film ever quite connects all the dots, there is so much here, and so much of it is so good, that "Golden Slumber" is automatically going on the list of films I need to see again this year, just to wrap my head around it completely.

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<p>The Guardians prepare for battle in the animated adventure film 'Legend&nbsp;Of The Guardians:&nbsp;The Owls Of Ga'Hoole'</p>

The Guardians prepare for battle in the animated adventure film 'Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'Hoole'

Credit: Warner Bros.

Review: Zack Snyder makes 'Star Wars' with owls with dynamic 'Legend Of The Guardians'

Film will appeal mainly to young fans, but delivers real visual fireworks

I can only imagine the man-hours that went into deciding the final configuration of the title "Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'Hoole," and in the end, no matter what order you put all that information in, the two things that really pop are "Guardians" and "Ga'Hoole."  And in Zack Snyder's finished film, the Guardians of Ga'Hoole are indeed fairly memorable, a major part of the film's appeal.  This is an interesting film for Snyder, and I suspect it will open up a whole run of animated films of all ratings by the filmmaker, because he has taken to the medium with uncommon grace.  Not every live-action director automatically makes a good animation director, and vice-versa.  They're very different skill-sets, and I'm not sure most live-action directors even understand how different the process is.

Snyder, though, is such a visual artist to begin with, and he puts his signature on this film from the very first shot, when the company logos are still onscreen, and a feather comes loose from the owl that flies by, and for a moment, that lone feather speedramps down to slow motion, hanging there, somewhere between the screen and the audience thanks to the crystal clear 3D, before time speeds up again and the logos continue.  For a guy who has such clearly defined visual tics and fetishes, Snyder has a good sense of humor about it.  He seems well aware of what he's known for, and he revels in it.  In some ways, this film is the ultimate Zack Snyder film so far, even without any nudity or gore, because it's the first time he's told a straight rendering of what he's said before is his favorite story.

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<p>Zack Snyder sits down to discuss his new animated&nbsp; adventure, 'Legend Of The Guardians:&nbsp;The Owls Of Ga'Hoole'</p>

Zack Snyder sits down to discuss his new animated  adventure, 'Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'Hoole'

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Zack Snyder talks about directing 'Legend of The Guardians,' his first animated film

Plus he discusses the challenges of directing an owl to act

Zack Snyder is one of those guys who does his best to make the promotional process on each of his films as painless as possible for all involved.  When you work with the studios on things like interviews and set visits, I think some people assume it's fun and a party and non-stop wonderful, but like anything, for those of us who do it every day, it's a job, and there's a fatigue that can set in on both sides of an interview.

With Snyder, every single time you talk to him, the enthusiasm is the same, the energy is the same, and the desire to entertain and dazzle is front and center.  He enjoys what he does, but more than that, he wants you to enjoy what he does, and he works tirelessly to try to make everything he's involved with into something burnished and perfect.

When I was on the set of "Sucker Punch" in Vancouver, Snyder was working to direct this film at the same time, working with teams around the world to bring it all to life and then to bring it together, and I found myself amazed that he could split his focus so effectively..

Last Monday, in Los Angeles, I was the last person in the room for each of the interviews I did at the "Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'Hoole" press junket.  I was scheduled for 5:00 in the afternoon, and as soon as I did each interview, the person would stand up and leave to go home.  Ryan Kwanten first, then Zack Snyder, and then Jim Sturgess.  Catching Snyder on his way out the door meant he was in an even looser mood than normal, and the resulting conversation was a good one, no matter how brief.

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Ryan Kwanten

Watch: Ryan Kwanten basks in the mythology of 'True Bood' and 'Ga'Hoole'

Dedicated fans 'are a blessing and a curse'

The new animated film from director Zack Snyder, "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" was produced by Australian company Village Roadshow, and the gorgeous lush landscapes in the film are modeled on Tasmania, so it's unsurprising that many members of the cast hail from down under as well. Aussies include Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, and Ryan Kwanten. Most people know the blond Kwanten from the HBO series "True Blood," in which he plays Jason Stackhouse, a well meaning if not altogether bright Loisiana boy.

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<p>Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, and Michael Douglas all star in Oliver Stone's sequel 'Wall Street:&nbsp;Money Never Sleeps'</p>

Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, and Michael Douglas all star in Oliver Stone's sequel 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Review: Michael Douglas schools Shia LaBeouf in 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'

Oliver Stone revisits past glory with flying colors

 I'm an old school Oliver Stone fan.  I was a freak about Oliver Stone the screenwriter before he ever started directing.  Movies like "Midnight Express" and "Scarface" and "Year Of The Dragon" and "Conan The Barbarian" all had his name on them, and as someone who wanted to write movies and who was blown away by the rabid energy of his work, I started paying close attention to his career.  I became manic about his work in '86 when he released "Salvador" and "Platoon" back to back, and I dug both "Wall Street" and "Talk Radio" when they were released.  It was the run of movies from "Born On The Fourth Of July" in 1989 to "Nixon" in 1995 where I think he was at his best.  Since then, he's been making interesting failures, eminently watchable films like "U Turn" and "Any Given Sunday" and "Alexander" and "W.", movies that are engaging enough conceptually but that fall apart under closer inspection, movies that just don't work on that all-cylinders-firing level that his best work does.  It's his fault, really.  You can't make "Born On The Fourth" and "The Doors" and "JFK" and "Natural Born Killers" back to back without setting up some lofty expectations.

Stone has long been hounded by his own habits and history, and his work has been a fairly naked attempt to grapple with his own identity as reflected back in America's narrative.  When he made "Wall Street," he was nailing down a type that was very much of a moment, the product of Reagan's America, and Gordon Gekko felt like something coughed up from the zeitgeist.  Someone had to make a movie about Gordon Gekko, and it took Oliver Stone to capture his voice.  When I first heard talk about a sequel to the film that wasn't even written by Stone, I was skeptical.  It sounded to me like an empty exercise, an attempt by Stone to return to commercial relevance by rehashing a past victory.  The script by Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff is a smart update to the character, though, and they use the return of Gekko as an excuse to look at where we are now as a result of this last run on the American people by the various financial institutions.

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<p>Errol Morris is in Toronto with a new documentary called 'Tabloid'</p>

Errol Morris is in Toronto with a new documentary called 'Tabloid'

Credit: Errol Morris

Toronto: New Errol Morris documentary 'Tabloid' is compelling fun

The true-life story of Joyce McKinney proves perfect movie fodder

I love Errol Morris.  I don't love every one of his movies… a few of them are tough sits, movies I can't imagine watching a second time… but I think he's a tremendous character and a valuable voice in the world of documentary film.  He's been doing it right for as long as I've been watching movies, and his latest film, "Tabloid," is one of the most entertaining he's made in recent memory.

Right around the time I discovered Siskel and Ebert on television, they discovered Errol Morris and "Gates Of Heaven," and they started talking about him like he had invented fire.  I didn't get a chance to see his films until 1985, when I got hold of "Gates Of Heaven" and "Vernon, Florida" on home video.  As soon as I saw those two movies, I was smitten.  He is an expert at finding the exact right crazy person to talk to and pointing a camera at them and letting them talk and tell their own stories in their own words.  It is amazing how entertaining people are if you let them find and express their own voice, when you don't lead them.  Reality TV turns everyone into plastic-faced freaks, hyper-aware of the camera.  Morris has a gift for making people forget there's a camera, so they talk past it, directly to him.  The result is that it feels like they're talking directly to us, and it's very intimate.

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<p>Werner Herzog on location in France for his 3D documentary 'Caves Of Forgotten Dreams'</p>

Werner Herzog on location in France for his 3D documentary 'Caves Of Forgotten Dreams'

Credit: IFC Films

Toronto: Werner Herzog's 3D documentary 'Caves Of Forgotten Dreams' comes up empty

Is this more than just historic images?

You will find few more vocal fans of "Grizzly Man" than me.  I think Werner Herzog is one of the great wild men of cinema, frequently drawn to a challenge in the world of film simple to be the one who conquers it.  My first exposure to him was when I saw "Burden Of Dreams," the documentary about the making of "Fitzcarraldo," and watching this crazy German man try to push a boat up a mountain in the middle of the jungle, I immediately fell for him.  I love filmmakers like this, guys who seem touched by madness, and whose madness often leads to images of pure transcendent beauty.  Herzog could retire tomorrow and rest easy in the knowledge that he's a legend.

Instead, he continues to push himself in new ways, and conquering 3D seems to be his latest goal.  I'm not sure I'd say he conquered it (I have some issues with the process, at least based on our screening), but it is indeed an interesting step to try to use it to convey some experience that 99.9% of us will never have access to.  I will most likely never visit the Chauvet Cave near the Ardeche River in southern France.  It sounds amazing, this prehistoric spot that was miraculously preserved for 20,000 years before it was uncovered in 1994, and Herzog took a crew (with heavy restrictions in place) into the cave to capture the hundreds of paintings that were discovered there.

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<p>One of the young magicians in 'Make Believe' demonstrates a self-built trick as he prepares for a major convention appearance.</p>

One of the young magicians in 'Make Believe' demonstrates a self-built trick as he prepares for a major convention appearance.

Credit: Firefly Films

Toronto: 'Make-Believe' offers charming documentary look at teen magicians

The producers of 'A Fistful Of Quarters' have another winner

I'm going to review three documentaries I saw at this year's Toronto International Film Festival today, and I'm going to start with the smallest of the three, a movie that didn't even play at the general screening venue, but at the NFB room across the street, which holds something like 75 people.

"Make Believe" tells the stories of several different young magicians who are all training for a Las Vegas convention where they'll come together and compete for the title of Teen World Champion.  This is a style of documentary that we seem to see represented often on the festival circuit, so the key becomes how well the individual stories are told.  In this case, J. Clay Tweel picked the right kids, and spent the right time with them.  He got them to open up, for good and for bad, and the people around them relaxed, and the result is bracing and honest.  These are fascinating kids, all of them looking for something that distinguishes them from their community, all of them reaching to magic as a way of defining identity.

On a recent evening when everyone was at home and working all day, Toshi was desperate for some attention, and he decided that today was the day he was going to become a magician.  His idea of a magic trick was to stand in front of you, hold up his empty hands, then yell, "CLOSE YOUR EYES!" at you.  Once you did, he would run out of the room, noisily dig through is toy shelves, and then run back in to stand in front of you to yell, "OPEN YOUR EYES!" at which point a toy would "magically" appear in his hand.  What made it even better was the way he would add a flourish to each of his "tricks" and the pride he took in having fooled us.  It was beautiful, and that's the appeal of "Make Believe," watching these kids find this thing that gives them such joy.

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<p>Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, and Zach Galifianakis co-star in the deadpan comedy/mystery series 'Bored To Death' on HBO</p>

Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, and Zach Galifianakis co-star in the deadpan comedy/mystery series 'Bored To Death' on HBO

Credit: HBO Home Video

Review: 'Bored To Death' and 'The Extra Man' both highlight Jonathan Ames

Quirky character comedy abounds in this writer's work, bigscreen and small

It's odd to get to know an author as a character before you get to know their work, and even then, only through adaptation. 

Jonathan Ames is someone I plan to read now that I've gotten a sense of what his voice and his personality is, and I hope I enjoy his prose as much as I've enjoyed these two very different projects, both of which are eccentric comedies energized by exceptional casts.  I saw the first season of "Bored To Death" when HBO sent me the box-set of DVDs for the first year.  I saw "The Extra Man" as a screener here at my house.  And then I saw the first three episodes of the second season of "Bored To Death" when they were sent to my house as screeners.  And I think I've liked each thing I've seen a little more, which is probably a good sign, but may full well be a coincidence, or just a case of me realizing I like someone's comic sensibility.

HBO deserves credit for giving a show like "Bored To Death" a shot.  I'm sure the cast was the selling point for the network, but they've made two years now of this great crazy shaggy dog neo-mystery series in which Jonathan Ames is the main character, played by Jason Schwartzman.  He's a writer, sort of like the real Jonathan Ames, but on the show, he's struggling after the publication of his first novel.  He works for George Christopher (Ted Danson), publisher of a big New York magazine, and he's best friends with Ray Hueston (Zach Galifianakis), a comics artist who is in a relationship with Leah (Heather Burns).  Jonathan's trying to get over his relationship with Suzanne (Olivia Thirlby), who left him because of his drinking and his smoking pot.  Jonathan is feeling aimless and powerless in his life when he places an ad on Craigslist offering his services as a detective.  When someone responds to his ad, it sets Jonathan off on a wild ride over the course of what has so far been 11 episodes that has been getting better and better, and for me, it's "The Gowanus Canal Has Gonorrhea," the third one of the new season, that pushes the show over the top and into a new and better place.

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<p>The documentary 'Waiting For 'Superman'' tackles the collapse of the American public education system from a fresh angle</p>

The documentary 'Waiting For 'Superman'' tackles the collapse of the American public education system from a fresh angle

Credit: Paramount

Toronto: Hard-hitting documentary 'Waiting For Superman' a must-see for parents

The Oscar-winning director of 'An Inconvenient Truth' outdoes himself

Public education's on my mind these days.

I never really considered what my feelings were about the subject until it became personal, which is pretty much the way it happens for most people.  Sure, I had some general feelings about it, based on my growing up and attending both public and private schools at different points in my life.  But the idea of activism over the subject of education never occurred to me.

Not until I started trying to figure out my son Toshiro's education.

And not until I saw Davis Guggenheim's new film "Waiting For 'Superman'".

I talked to another critic outside afterwards who seemed to think all of the information in Guggenheim's film was "Been there, done that," and if that's true, I salute him for his exceptional knowledge of the problems our students and their parents face these days.  Maybe there are other documentaries that deal with the same general subject, but for me, "Waiting For 'Superman'" was an eye-opener, and there's a stretch of it that is the most emotionally difficult real-life material I've seen in a film since "Dear Zachary."

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