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Toronto International Film Festival 2014 St. Vincent and Manglehorn

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Toronto International Film Festival 2014: St. Vincent and Manglehorn
Toronto International Film Festival 2014: St. Vincent and Manglehorn

Theodore Melfi’s debut feature, St. Vincent, is a heartwarmer that never insults—exactly the opposite of what its protagonist, Vincent (Bill Murray), is supposed to be: a disgruntled drunk who nobody likes. Trading in the quiet, aloof, melancholic persona of his Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers characters, Murray at first seems to be going full grouch. Ultimately, though, Vincent turns out to be just the kind of character who aging actors play regularly these days: a curmudgeon with a heart of gold. (Fitting, then, that Jack Nicholson was apparently interested in the part before Murray.)

Summer of ‘89: Batman

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Batman</em>
Summer of ‘89: <em>Batman</em>

Returning to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman in light of Christopher Nolan’s recent, remarkably successful Batman trilogy turns out to be quite a fascinating experience—though, surprisingly, as much for their convergences in vision as for their divergences. Certainly, the stylistic differences are almost blindingly obvious: Burton the playfully macabre merry prankster, Nolan the deeply serious philosopher. And yet, both visions unmistakably flow from the same unsettling bedrocks: a world drowning in moral rot, one in which a self-appointed hero who takes the form of a human bat is, at heart, as deeply disturbed as the more overtly screwed-up villains he takes it upon himself to defeat. It’s just that these two artists view these characters and this physical and emotional world through different lenses.

The contrast is immediately apparent in the music. In stark contrast to James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer’s loudly generic bombast for the Nolan films, Burton opens his Batman with the operatic strains of Danny Elfman’s full-orchestra heroism, slyly suggesting the unabashedly heroic way Batman sees himself. After its opening-credit sequence, during which Roger Pratt’s camera roams around what is eventually revealed to be a metal Bat-Signal, Burton establishes his vision of Gotham City: an unabashedly surreal environment that owes more to the dystopian sci-fi visions of Metropolis and Blade Runner than to any of the notions of noir-ish realism that underpins Nolan’s films. Then there are the differing acting styles, with Burton’s actors generally eschewing the internal brooding that Nolan’s performers exhibit in favor of archetypal broadness. This style doesn’t just extend to Jack Nicholson’s galvanizing hamminess as the Joker, but also trickles down to its supporting players (William Hootkins’s wearily deep-voiced Lt. Eckhardt, Robert Wuhl’s enthusiastically pushy journalist, and so on).

Summer of ‘88: Clean and Sober

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Clean and Sober</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Clean and Sober</em>

Michael Keaton was probably put on this Earth to deliver dialogue like “Put it in park, you little pecker”—a line simultaneously irritating and freakishly clever, epitomizing the actor’s brand of bogus machismo. Keaton’s range—which veers so far into comedy that it subverts any expectation of real dramatic weight, only to swing back around to potentially devastating effect—is the key reason Clean and Sober works as well as it does. By today’s standards, this is an uncommonly intelligent, meticulously written adult drama about addiction as a pathology, so graceful and procedural that it’s too square to ever leap off the rental shelf. Keaton appears as an abandoned prototype for a leading man, somewhere between Jack Nicholson’s ’70s self-hatred and Tom Cruise’s you-gotta-be-kidding-me ’90s moxie. For fans, Clean and Sober is just as essential as the similarly rooted in the real world Mr. Mom, Tim Burton’s Batman films, or Johnny Dangerously.

Keaton’s Daryl isn’t a good guy stricken with he usual Jekyll-and-Hyde treatment one finds in movies about alcoholism dramas, but an overall bad guy trying to pass himself off as good, a process of continual deception of both self and others. After a pretty blonde has a coke-fuelled heart attack in Daryl’s bed, the cops tell him not to leave town; he squeaks to a colleague, “They’re gonna say I did a John Belushi on her!” But since he’s also embezzled $92,000 from his real-estate firm and lost every penny in the stock market, Daryl checks himself into a rehab facility. He sobers up, eventually, but that’s no spoiler: The second half of the film concerns his relationship to Charlie (Kathy Baker), a fellow patient who helps Daryl to steady himself in making moves (albeit preliminary) toward a better life.

15 Famous Movie Hotels

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15 Famous Movie Hotels
15 Famous Movie Hotels

This weekend offers a little something for the wee ones, in advance of everyone’s favorite make-believe holiday, Halloween (when, you know, you can wear stuff like this). Hotel Transylvania features the voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, and CeeLo Green, and it tells the tale of a five-star resort where monsters can go to—get this—be safe from us humans. Hollywood loves to boost its products’ escapist qualities by setting them in get-away-from-it-all locales. From L.A. to Vegas to Thailand, the stops on our list boast some very memorable hotels, which vary in their abilities to accommodate, relax, and terrify.

Toronto International Film Festival 2012: Room 237

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Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>Room 237</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>Room 237</em>

The cinema of Stanley Kubrick is one of mystery, intrigue, narrative and thematic ellipses, and the overwhelming sense that meaning is encoded into every frame. In that regard, Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic The Shining may be his most cryptic, enigmatic work, the sort of film that inspires many readings and rewards repeat viewings with subtle hints toward a possibly more sinister subtext. Room 237, Rodney Ascher’s new oddball documentary on many of the theories and speculations built up around The Shining over the years, is likely to perpetuate such readings and perhaps convince those who continue to think the film is one of Kubrick’s most self-conscious larks, that there is, indeed, something beyond the empty ballrooms, winding corridors, and ominous landscapes of the Overlook Hotel.

15 Famous Movie Apparitions

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15 Famous Movie Apparitions
15 Famous Movie Apparitions

This weekend, your antidote to R-Pattz/K-Stew gossip is the sure-to-be throwaway ghost flick The Apparition, starring the crumbling couple’s Twilight co-star, Ashley Greene. Serving as Greene’s first star vehicle, the new thriller tells of a haunting presence derived from a shady parapsychology experiment, and sees a young woman (Greene) and her hunk husband (Sebastian Stan) scream their guts out before, naturally, calling in an expert (played by Lucius Malfoy himself, Tom Felton). There are plenty of memorable movie specters who’ve preceded Greene’s floorboard-creaking houseguest, and they’ll still be planted in viewers’ minds long after The Apparition dissolves into oblivion. Who to expect on this week’s list? Let’s just say that Carmen Maura, Jennifer Jones, and Bill Cosby have more in common than you might have thought.

The Conversations: Alexander Payne

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The Conversations: Alexander Payne
The Conversations: Alexander Payne

Jason Bellamy: Alexander Payne films don’t have the distinct visual styles of movies by Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, to name two other filmmakers of his generation, but they are quickly recognizable just the same. Payne’s five feature films are quasi-tragic comedies with hopeful but not fully redemptive conclusions about people struggling with significant life changes. Protagonists in Payne’s movies are always flawed. Relationships are usually difficult, distant, damaging, or all of the above. And deception is commonplace. On the face of that description, Payne’s movies mustn’t seem distinct at all. In fact, I think I just described every crappy romantic comedy from the past decade or more. But what sets Payne apart is the way he applies these themes—unflinchingly exposing his characters’ worst tendencies before ultimately regarding them with great sympathy—and, even more so, who he applies them to. If Payne’s films are known for anything, it’s for being about average Americans, emphasis on the “average.”

Of course, at the movies, where Jimmy Stewart can be considered an “everyman” and Kathrine Heigl can be cast as the proverbial “girl next door,” “average” is never ordinary, which is precisely why Payne’s characters generate so much attention, because they’re often ruthlessly unexceptional. Ruth in Citizen Ruth (1996) is a promiscuous glue-huffer who becomes a pawn in an abortion debate. Jim in Election (1999) is an awarded high school teacher who can’t outsmart his students or pull off an extramarital affair. Warren in About Schmidt (2002) is a retiree with no interests or usefulness. Miles in Sideways (2004) is a writer who can’t get published, a wine snob who can’t control his drinking and an introverted romantic who can’t move on from his divorce. Matt in The Descendants (2011) is a husband who doesn’t know his wife and a father who doesn’t know his kids. And those are just the main characters.

Because Payne’s characters tend to live modest lives (some of them in modest Middle America), and because Payne is so fearless in his examination of their faults, and often uses his characters’ shortcomings as mechanisms for humor, his films have often been attacked as condescending. In this conversation we’ll go into each of the five films mentioned above, as well as Payne’s memorable vignette from 2006’s Paris, Je T’Aime, which does little to deflect the accusations of condescension. But let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. Ed, does Alexander Payne look down his nose at his characters, or ask us to mock his characters, for being unremarkable? Is his humor mean-spirited and class-conscious? In short, is he condescending?