<p>Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley are both excellent in John Carney's enchanting new film 'Can A Song Save Your Life?'</p>

Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley are both excellent in John Carney's enchanting new film 'Can A Song Save Your Life?'

Credit: Exclusive Media Group

Review: Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo are luminous in the beautiful 'Can A Song Save Your Life'?

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A
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John Carney's latest musical is another gorgeous story of love and art

TORONTO - One of the things I love about music is the way it can act like a sort of time machine, transporting you back to the moment you first heard it or a particular performance you saw, and more than that, it can remind you of the person you were at that moment. I hear certain songs, and the world around me melts away and I find myself feeling and remembering and I can't think of anything else that does it quite the same way.

In 2001, I made a last minute trip to Sundance with Kevin Biegel, another of the writers for Ain't It Cool. We didn't plan it. We had no idea what we were doing. It was the first time at a major film festival for either of us. And for the most part, we just sat in the press screening rooms watching whatever played, not sure what to expect. At the end of one of those days, already packed with great movies like "Chain Camera" and "Dogtown & Z-Boys," we saw the first screening of "Hedwig And The Angry Inch," and when it got to the song "Origin Of Love" in the middle of the film, I was transported. It seemed to me to be the perfect explanation of what it is we look for in this world in other people, inclusive of everyone, optimistic but heartbroken, and by the time the song was over, it was one of my favorite songs of all time.

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<p>Matthew McConaughey's strong, empathetic work is one of the highlights of 'Dallas Buyers Club'</p>

Matthew McConaughey's strong, empathetic work is one of the highlights of 'Dallas Buyers Club'

Credit: Focus Features

Review: Matthew McConaughey is terrific in the moving historical drama 'Dallas Buyers Club'

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Hollywood finally seems ready to have a real conversation about AIDS

TORONTO - At some point in the future, when people are writing a history of how cinema processed and showcased the way HIV and AIDS affected life in the late 20th century and beyond, "Dallas Buyers Club" will definitely be part of that conversation, and the film seems to occupy a space at both ends of the timeline right now. It deals with the early days, when people still didn't understand much about it, but it looks at that time with the perspective of right now, allowing them the distance to really get the story right.

It is my sincere wish that we never see Matthew McConaughey star in another shitty romantic comedy again. He is way too interesting for that, and there's a reason he became a punchline for a few years. It's not because he's a bad actor; far from it. It's because it looked like he decided just to coast and not push himself. You cannot say that about "Dallas Buyers Club," though. This is a ferocious performance, funny and angry and emotional, and watching it, I felt like it fulfilled all of the promise he has shown over the years and then some. There is nothing held back here, and that laconic cowboy charm of his is put to perfect use. Ron Woodruff was an electrician and a sort of low-level hustler/party boy who loved his drugs almost as much as he loved his sex. In the early sequences in the film, he is blatantly homophobic, a "good ol' Texas boy," through and through, and it's so casual, so much a part of the everyday language he and his buddies use, that when he learns he has HIV, he practically goes crazy and attacks the doctor. He is furious that anyone would accuse him of having something that is supposed to only kill gay people.

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<p>Sandra Bullock and George Clooney share one of the few quiet moments before 'Gravity' sends them both spinning through space.</p>

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney share one of the few quiet moments before 'Gravity' sends them both spinning through space.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Review: Sandra Bullock is amazing in Alfonso Cuaron's dazzling 'Gravity'

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A+
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How often can you claim you saw something genuinely brand-new?

TORONTO - Living at this point in the history of cinema is a privilege, thanks to the way we are able to enjoy movies from any previous era while also seeing how cinema continues to grow and change and adapt, and one might be forgiven for thinking that at this point, we've seen it all. It's not true, though, and the proof this year comes from director Alfonso Cuaron, whose new movie "Gravity," his first in seven years, seems determined to actually push the visual language of film forward.

Even better? He actually succeeds at that lofty goal.

On the page, "Gravity" is the very definition of simplicity. Two astronauts are working on a space shuttle when they get a warning that a satellite explosion has now created a field of debris that s moving in an incredibly fast orbit around the planet, and that they are in its path. Before they can do anything about it, the debris smashes into their shuttle, utterly destroying it, stranding the two of them in space. The rest of the insanely-tight 88 minute running time is spent trying to figure out how to survive and, if at all possible, make it back to the surface of Earth.

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<p>What's the matter, Daniel?&nbsp;Something got your goat?</p>

What's the matter, Daniel? Something got your goat?

Credit: Toronto Film Festival

Review: Daniel Radcliffe's all grown up in 'Horns'

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Flawed but compelling adaptation of Joe Hill's novel should please fans

TORONTO - Joe Hill has got to be feeling good tonight.

Before the world premiere of Alexandre Aja's "Horns," adapted from Hill's second novel, several members of the cast joined the author onstage to introduce the movie. Seeing Hill, there's always that jolt at first where I'm struck my how much he looks like his father at that age. At this point, Stephen King is probably numb to the idea of movies based on his work. For Hill, though, this is brand-new territory, and based on how closely the film hews to his book, he must be pleased.

Unfortunately, screenwriter Keith Bunin's  fidelity to the novel means that the book's problems are now the movie's problems, and while I liked much of "Horns," I do think it has a few major issues. If you didn't read the novel, the set-up is pretty simple. Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) and Merrin Williams (Juno Temple) have been in love since they were kids, which makes it all the more difficult to understand what happened when Merrin's dead body is discovered, her head bashed open. Immediately, Ig becomes the only suspect in the case, and he finds himself having to cope with his own crippling grief even as the media and the law fall on him like a ton of bricks.

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<p>Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal find different paths through the darkness in the harrowing new film 'Prisoners'</p>

Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal find different paths through the darkness in the harrowing new film 'Prisoners'

Credit: Warner Bros

Review: Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal both dig deep for the brutal, haunting 'Prisoners'

HitFix
B+
Readers
B
The French-Canadian director of 'Incendies' makes a strong US debut

TORONTO - I think it's safe to say that "Prisoners" is the best police procedural since "Se7en," and it works as a grim, ugly companion piece to that film in the way it is meticulously plotted without ever truly telegraphing its intentions. The difference is that "Prisoners" also focuses on the way grief drives us mad in the long haul, and just how fragile parents are when it comes to the notion of anything happening to their children.

I've certainly seen a number of films that cover similar thematic ground to "Prisoners," but Aaron Guzikowski's script takes its time, laying out its various tricks and traps very carefully, so that when it decides to hurt you emotionally, it does so with maximum efficiency. The film begins with a Thanksgiving celebration shared by two families. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his wife Grace (Maria Bello) take their kids down the street to share the day with Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) and his wife Nancy (Viola Davis). Ralph (Dylan Minnette) and Eliza (Zoe Borde) are the teenagers in the families, and they also both have little girls, Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) and Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons).

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<p>Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl are both outstanding as racing rivals Hunt and Lauda in Ron Howard's new film 'Rush'</p>

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl are both outstanding as racing rivals Hunt and Lauda in Ron Howard's new film 'Rush'

Credit: Universal Studios

Review: Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl both shine in Ron Howard's dynamic racing drama 'Rush'

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A
Readers
C+
A true-life sports movie dazzles thanks to the director's energy and a great cast

TORONTO - Ron Howard must be one of the most successful directors to have ever made as many giant films as he has without developing his own signature directorial style, and while one could level that against him as a criticism, I think in some ways, it's the key to his success. He is rarely the star of his movies the way someone like Scorsese is. Instead, Howard seems to reinvent the way he tells a story based entirely on which story he's telling, and in the case of "Rush," that strategy pays off to remarkable effect.

Peter Morgan's script is inelegantly structured, particularly in the first half hour, and at first it feels like they're not sure what story they're telling. Gradually, though, the film settles into a rhythm, and things snap into focus. Once they do, Howard's filmmaking seems to get more and more confident, and by the end of the film, I was shocked to realize just how invested I was in the story of James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), especially considering how little I care about the world of Formula 1 racing.

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<p>Daniel Bruhl and Benedict Cumberbatch play real-life WikiLeak cohorts Daniel Berg and Julian Assange in Bill Condon's 'The Fifth Estate'</p>

Daniel Bruhl and Benedict Cumberbatch play real-life WikiLeak cohorts Daniel Berg and Julian Assange in Bill Condon's 'The Fifth Estate'

Credit: Dreamworks

Review: Cumberbatch's Assange anchors muddled 'The Fifth Estate'

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Some strong ideas get buried in a film that never quite finds a focus

TORONTO - The strongest, clearest expression of an idea in all of "The Fifth Estate" happens under the opening credits, as we watch the evolution of journalism from Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses to the death of print and the rise of the Internet, and while it's a compelling expression of the idea that how we share important news has changed over time, it also captures one of my issues with the film itself. I don't concur that print is dead and the Internet has replaced it, and I think it will take the perspective of time before we truly digest what is happening right now to news media.

Telling the story of Julian Assange and Wikileaks is premature, I believe. After all, Bradley Manning was just sentenced last month, and Assange is still holed up in an embassy in London, and the full ramifications of everything that leaked by the website are still being digested right now. In time, we'll be able to get a full sense of who Assange is, of what Wikileaks really did, and of the impact of their actions, but at the moment, it all still feels like it is unfolding. Ultimately, it seems that this is not the story of Assange and his website, but rather the story of Daniel Domscheit-Berg, whose book "Inside Wikileaks: My Time With Julian Assange At The World's Most Dangerous Website" is one of the two primary source for the movie. This is the story of how a young computer hacker fell under Assange's sway, helped him turn Wikileaks into an international presence, and ultimately ended up disillusioned and frustrated by Assange's agenda.

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<p>Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston spend an eternal night together in Jim Jarmusch's moody 'Only Lovers Left Alive'</p>

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston spend an eternal night together in Jim Jarmusch's moody 'Only Lovers Left Alive'

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Review: Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton shine in Jim Jarmusch's moody 'Only Lovers Left Alive'

HitFix
B+
Readers
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I thought I'd seen every riff on the vampire myth. I was wrong.

TORONTO - One of the things I've noticed when you're at a film festival is that, more often than not, when you ask someone what they're going to see, they will tell you by using the name of the director. "I'm seeing the Jason Reitman film." "I'm seeing the Cronenberg movie." "I'm seeing the Fincher." I think the reason for that is it's easier to remember whose film you're seeing instead of the title when you're going through roughly 300 titles or more. Many times, the reason I pick a film at a festival comes down to the director or the writer or the actors in it, and so that becomes what I remember about it as I'm looking at the schedule. Once I've seen a film, it becomes easier to talk about the movie, but you have to make a ton of choices at any festival, and that particular trick is the easiest way to keep the movies straight.

That's my long-winded way of saying I kicked off this year's Toronto International Film Festival with the new Jarmusch.

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<p>One of these is a space beast, and one of these is a CG dog.</p>

One of these is a space beast, and one of these is a CG dog.

Credit: Universal Pictures

Review: Vin Diesel takes 'Riddick' back to his simple, brutal roots

HitFix
B-
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Did you like 'Pitch Black'? Well, I've got good news for you.

One of the words I use frequently when describing things, particularly things I like, is "pulp," and this summer, when I was at the San Diego Comic-Con, I found myself in a conversation with a reader who wasn't sure what I meant by that. It was a reminder that just because I love something or use something as a reference, it's not automatically something that everyone in my audience is going to understand or connect to, and I can't just leave it like that. The point of using a specific term like that is to give you some context for something, and truth be told, "pulp" is something that really doesn't occupy much of a space in modern pop culture. When I use that term to describe some pumped-up slice of 21st-century whiz bang, it's sort of like listening to your granddad describe a "Super Mario Bros." game by making references to Jack Benny's radio show.

My love of pulp developed gradually, as I followed the things I love back through their cultural evolution to the place where they began. Growing up as a film fan who was shaped in some part by "Star Wars" and "Raiders Of The Lost Ark," it seemed inevitable that eventually I would find my way back to what was a huge, significant movement in pop fiction for a good chunk of the start of the 20th century. From the moment I first read one of the original "Doc Savage" stories, I was hooked. What I adore about pulp is the simplicity of it and the way it's all about wringing variations out of a formula. Bad guys and good guys are painted in big broad strokes, essentially unchanging in their natures, and the conflicts they find themselves in are defined by very simple-to-understand stakes. If you've read one "Doc Savage" story, you could argue that you've read every "Doc Savage" story, but the pleasure comes in seeing what is done within that familiar framework each time.

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<p>I will miss Mel Gibson's take on Max, but George Miller is the essential ingredient as far as I'm concerned.</p>

I will miss Mel Gibson's take on Max, but George Miller is the essential ingredient as far as I'm concerned.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Reshoots mean George Miller's new 'Mad Max' is delayed again

George Miller is one of those filmmakers we should trust by now, right?

So I know I was on vacation, but I wasn't cut off from civilization. I was looking at Twitter occasionally, reading a few e-mails at the end of the night. As a result, I'm still catching up on stuff that evidently was discussing, and I felt like one story in particular deserved a second look, because I'm not sure why it seems to have been almost completely shrugged off.

Isn't anyone else curious what's taking so much time with "Fury Road"?

Maybe it's just me. I've been hearing talk about this film for a decade now, and when it comes to George Miller, there are few film fans who are more passionate about him. I think Miller is all-time-pantheon good at what he does, and I think it's a shame he hasn't been treated with a little more reverence. He should be. He is a straight-up kinetic genius, a whiz when it comes to cranking up the tension in a sequence. There is a chase that takes place in "Babe: Pig In The City" that is every bit as thrilling and sincere as the big chase near the end of "Mad Max 2," aka "The Road Warrior," and only Miller could treat both of those scenes they way he did. Only he would stage them and shoot them the way he does. There's no one else who has the same eye that Miller has. I don't understand the magic trick in "Lorenzo's Oil," where he makes it feel just as urgent to have someone read something in a book as it is to break past Lord Humungous and his horde.

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