<p>Ron Howard should be smiling considering how strong the reaction to 'Rush' has been from everyone who saw it at the Toronto Film Festival.</p>

Ron Howard should be smiling considering how strong the reaction to 'Rush' has been from everyone who saw it at the Toronto Film Festival.

Credit: HitFix

Ron Howard talks about how he refused to make anyone a villain in his vibrant new film 'Rush'

The veteran filmmaker talks about how he approached the true-life story

TORONTO - The last time Ron Howard and I spoke was in a screening room after a rough-cut screening of "How The Grinch Stole Christmas," and to say that it was a very different vibe than when we sat down to talk about "Rush" would be an understatement. "Rush" is one of the best things he's done as a director, and one of the things that makes it so exciting is the way it eschews Hollywood formula in its attempt to tell the complicated story of the relationship between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

In the film, Chris Hemsworth stars as James Hunt, and Daniel Bruhl gives a complicated performance as Lauda, a difficult man to like under the best of circumstances. In the easy Hollywood version of the film, you make Hunt the good guy, you make Lauda the bad guy, and you play the season as the story of how the Rock Star beat the Rat. Screenwriter Peter Morgan was so drawn to the story that he wrote it on spec, and he didn't take that easy path with the characters. Instead, both men are shown to have strengths and weaknesses, and the entire season is suspenseful because there's no one we're rooting for in favor of someone else. It becomes a story about the way your worst enemy can drive you to be a better person because of what it ignites in you.

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<p>AJ&nbsp;Bowen starts to realize that perhaps a cult living in a Central American jungle is not the safest place to walk into with a camera.</p>

AJ Bowen starts to realize that perhaps a cult living in a Central American jungle is not the safest place to walk into with a camera.

Credit: Arcade Pictures

Review: Ti West's creepy 'The Sacrament' plunges viewers into the heart of a suicide cult

HitFix
C+
Readers
n/a
How does the master of the indie slow-burn handle such potent material?

TORONTO - By the time I publish this review, there's a strong chance Magnolia will have closed their deal to pick up Ti West's new film "The Sacrament" for release, and if they do, I think that's a great match for the release model that they seem to be perfecting over there.

It would be unfair and reductive to simply call "The Sacrament" a horror film. Sure, Ti has made a name for himself as a master of the slow-burn with "The House Of The Devil" and "The Innkeepers," but even those films are totally different in terms of tone and style, and I think West deserves credit for the way he stretches in each new film. He is not repeating himself, something that already makes him stand apart from many guys who work in genre these days.

His new film is told from the point of view of a team of journalists from VICE who decide to join Patrick (Kentucker Audley), one of their photographers, as he heads into the jungle to see his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz), who joined a community for sober living. Originally located in Mississippi, they left the United States, and he hasn't really heard from her since. Sam (AJ Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg) accompany Patrick, and from the moment they arrive at the isolated camp, there is a sense of dread that West expertly draws out.

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<p>It's nice to know after 'The Master' that this guy is still in there somewhere.</p>

It's nice to know after 'The Master' that this guy is still in there somewhere.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Spike Jonze shows clips from new film 'Her' and looks back at his career at special TIFF Q&A

Director Kelly Reichardt makes a great moderator for a spirited afternoon

TORONTO - Normally during a film festival, it would be impossible to get me to take time out of my schedule to see sequences from an unreleased film and watch a Q&A with a filmmaker, but then again, not everyone is Spike Jonze.

The last time we spoke was at Sundance a few years ago, when he was in town to promote his short film about a robot who falls in love, "I'm Here." Based on the trailer for his new feature film, "Her," it looks like he may have had further thoughts along a similar line, and the promise of hearing a great conversation about his process and what got him back behind the camera for the first time since "Where The Wild Things Are" was too much for me to pass up.

The TIFF Bell Lightbox is a perfect venue for this sort of event. The rooms are fairly good-sized screening rooms, but they manage to create a feeling of intimacy when it comes to the Q&A part of things.

Kelly Reichardt was the moderator for the Q&A, which is a really lovely combination of filmmakers to take the stage. If you don't know Reichart's work, it wouldn't shock me. Her films are modest gems, beautifully nuanced and observational, not really built to compete for hype in a world of superhero movies and endless sequels. I can easily imagine Jonze as a big fan of films like "Wendy and Lucy," "Old Joy," and "Meek's Cutoff."

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<p>If you do win tickets to the premiere, remember to dress like this.</p>

If you do win tickets to the premiere, remember to dress like this.

Credit: Lionsgate

Want to win a pair of tickets to the premiere of 'Hunger Games: Catching Fire'? HitFix can help

We've got the full details on the Twitter sweepstakes and how you can enter

I've been so caught up in all things Toronto this week that it's easy to forget we're about to kick off the fall movie season, which seems particularly busy this year. I'm looking forward to what feels like dozens of new movies, and one of the titles I am enormously curious about is "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."

Francis Lawrence is directing the new film, and so far, the footage we've seen feels like they've definitely revamped some of what they're doing with the new film while also building off of what Gary Ross did in the the first one. When the first film premiered, we gave you a chance to win tickets to the premiere, and Lionsgate reached out to us to give you that same chance for the new movie, which will take place in Los Angeles on November 18, 2013. Travel will not be provided to Los Angeles or venue.

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<p>Graham Skipper watches dailies from Vanessa Leigh's big scene in the film and has the same reaction everyone else did last night in the theater.</p>

Graham Skipper watches dailies from Vanessa Leigh's big scene in the film and has the same reaction everyone else did last night in the theater.

Credit: Channel 83 Productions

Review: 'Almost Human' brings alien probes to the Ryerson for Midnight Madness

HitFix
B-
Readers
n/a
A perfect homage to '80s DIY-horror rocks the late night crowd

TORONTO - Joe Begos is a time traveler.

Oh, sure, he'll deny it, and he'll try to claim that "Almost Human" is a new film that he made with creative partner Josh Ethier and an enthusiastic cast including Graham Skipper and Vanessa Leigh, and he'll say that he shot it on a Red 4K camera and that his DI artist helped create a 16mm look for the thing, and he'll say it's a loving tribute to the DIY indie slasher films of the '80s, but I know the truth. This film was made in 1987 and then somehow Begos fell into a wormhole, got transported to the present day with his finished movie, and now he's passing it off with this elaborate cover story. I mean… which is more likely? My version, or the notion that this talented bunch of loonies pulled off this straight-faced an homage down to the smallest detail?

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<p>Tiger doesn't even have to look at you to dole out punishment.</p>

Tiger doesn't even have to look at you to dole out punishment.

Credit: RADiUS-TWC

Review: Keanu Reeves leaves a mark with the heartfelt martial arts film 'Man Of Tai Chi'

HitFix
B
Readers
n/a
Only one word fits for this one: 'Whoa'

TORONTO - For the last two days, every time I've mentioned to someone that I planned to see the film "Man Of Tai Chi," which marks the directorial debut of Keanu Reeves, the reaction has been the same. Rolled eyes, some sort of joke, and a general attitude that there's no way they would end up joining me for the screening. At the screening tonight at the Ryerson, there was only one other journalist there that I recognized, despite this being the premiere with Reeves in attendance.

Your loss.

Shot in China, with a Chinese cast, and with the entire thing shot in Chinese with English subtitles, "Man Of Tai Chi" is a no-apologies martial arts film, a movie that features wall to wall fights that are shot and choreographed with such an obvious love for the genre and for the poetry of fighting that I was won over almost immediately. Chen Lin-Hu stars as Tiger Hu Chen, a modest student of Tai Chi master Yang (Yu Hai). Tiger works as a delivery guy for a Fed Ex-like company, and he trains for a tournament where he hopes to prove that Tai Chi is not just for exercise, but is a real martial art capable of defeating anything else. Even in the early training sequences, it's obvious that Tiger is impatient to learn, which is at direct odds with the teachings of his master. Even when they're in the midst of a practice fight, Tiger is always moving too fast, his master urging him to slow down, to find a meditative place within himself.

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<p>Derek Lee's trip to&nbsp;Europe didn't turn out quite like he hoped.</p>

Derek Lee's trip to Europe didn't turn out quite like he hoped.

Credit: CBS Films

Review: Slick and scary 'Afflicted' wrings new life from a classic premise

HitFix
B+
Readers
n/a
I know I said I was done with found-footage films, but...

TORONTO - One of the things that makes the 25th anniversary of Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival so worthy of celebration is the number of careers that have been launched from that stage in the Ryerson. I've seen it happen several times over the last few years, and I'm fairly sure I saw it happen again on Monday night, when "Afflicted" was screened.

It's a safe bet that Derek Lee and Clif Prowse, who co-wrote, co-directed, and co-starred in the film, are big fans of the John Landis classic "An American Werewolf In London." I've seen a lot of people try to capture the particular alchemy that makes the Landis film such an intoxicating kick over the years, and I've seen most of those attempts fall completely flat. To their credit, "Afflicted" doesn't play like a film that has been specifically engineered to follow that model, but more like a movie made by people who have completely absorbed that film and who understand what they love about it. Like "Werewolf," the film "Afflicted" follows two young men who are traveling in Europe together, only to encounter trouble that leaves one of them dead and the other one in a severely altered state. Both films use humor and horror expertly, never undermining one in favor of the other. And both films build something fresh from one of the most basic of the horror tropes.

Oh… and did I mention it's a found footage movie?

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<p>Evidently, my interview with Chris Hemsworth took place in the afterlife.</p>

Evidently, my interview with Chris Hemsworth took place in the afterlife.

Credit: HitFix

Chris Hemsworth weighs in on the difference between 'Thor' and 'Avengers' movies

Can you guess which one he prefers?

TORONTO - This year's festival has certainly not been short on star power, but I've done fewer interviews this time around than any year I've been up here. That's good in a way because it means I've seen more films, but there were a few conversations I absolutely couldn't miss out on.

We'll be bringing you chats with Ron Howard, Daniel Bruhl, and Olivia Wilde in support of the new film "Rush" very soon, but for tonight, I wanted to share just a bit of the conversation I had with Chris Hemsworth, who plays Formula 1 superstar James Hunt in the film.

When we first saw Hemsworth in "Star Trek" in 2009, he stole that film in just a few short minutes at the beginning, and it didn't remotely surprise me that Hollywood immediately started trying to figure out what else they could do with him."Cabin In The Woods" is a movie I like a lot, but it's not really a showcase for who Hemsworth is as a performer. Sure, he gets the special "Samuel L. Jackson in 'Deep Blue Sea' Award" for going out in style, but it's not his movie.

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<p>Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites have to return to the home that nearly destroyed them as children to fight a subtle, potent evil.</p>

Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites have to return to the home that nearly destroyed them as children to fight a subtle, potent evil.

Credit: Intrepid Pictures

Review: Katee Sackhoff and Karen Gillan both do strong work in creepy 'Oculus'

Director Mike Flanagan's got real chops at both smart and scary

TORONTO - One of the reasons people often seem frustrated by horror films is because of how often certain tropes are trotted out and dressed up for new audiences, and at some point, it starts to feel like you've seen every variation, every interpretation, and it just becomes familiar and numbing. The truth, of course, is that good storytelling is good storytelling, and familiarity does not have to be a bad thing by definition. Mike Flanagan's "Oculus" is a strong example of how you can take something that sounds familiar and, by focusing on performance and the small details, create something that elevates formula.

Director Mike Flanagan, working from a script he co-wrote with Jeff Howard, tells a pretty conventional haunted house story in an unconventional way, and it's so smartly built, so smoothly handled, that you may not realize that about 90% of the film takes place inside this one house. I've seen plenty of low-budget films that were restricted to that sort of space because of money, and they don't know how to keep it interesting, but Flanagan does an exceptional job of not just effectively managing the space, but also juggling chronology. The film begins with a dream involving a man, a gun, and two kids, and as it reaches the culmination, we cut to a psychiatrist's office, where Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites, who has the best haircut I've ever seen on a mental patient in a movie) is describing the dream to his therapist. Tim's just turned 21, and his doctor believes that he has been cured and is ready to be released to the world again.

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<p>Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts both do stand-out work in 'August:&nbsp;Osage County,' but the film still feels oddly muted.</p>

Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts both do stand-out work in 'August: Osage County,' but the film still feels oddly muted.

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Review: Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep try hard but 'August: Osage County' falls flat

HitFix
B-
Readers
n/a
All the star power in the world can't quite bring it to life

TORONTO - Tracy Letts has had three of his plays adapted to film now, and I think based on the evidence of the latest, "August: Osage County," it is safe to say that William Friedkin has a far better handle on how to handle his scripts than John Wells does. Both "Bug" and "Killer Joe" are sweaty, upsetting movies that put us face to face with unsettling characters in dire circumstance, and both films have a jangling nervous energy to them that seems perfectly in sync with what Letts does on the page. Considering the stage version of "August: Osage County" won Letts a Pulitzer, it would not be outrageous to suggest that this arrives on movie screens with more expectations than the other two films, and that perhaps it is precisely because of those expectations that the end result feels like a disappointment.

In the film's opening moments, a beautifully cast Sam Shepard plays Bev Weston, the patriarch of a largely-absent family, and he talks about the truce he has made with his wife Violet (Meryl Streep). She takes pills, and he drinks, and the two of them leave each other alone about their vices. It seems like an uneasy peace, though, and as he talks more about his wife and her habits, we see that he's interviewing a Native American girl named Johnna (Misty Upham) about becoming their housekeeper.

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