Stars align for Toronto film festival

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Here are dispatches from movie editor Barbara Vancheri on her first day attending the Toronto Film Festival. These first appeared in her "Mad about the Movies" blog on

TORONTO --If you can't name-drop in Toronto during the festival, where and when can you name-drop?

I walked into the lobby of the Shangri-La Hotel, where available rooms are going for $850 to $1,725 a night (and where I am not staying) to head to a private screening room to see "Prisoners," and who do I see but a dapper and handsome Terrence Howard, one of the film's stars. He also was at the concierge desk and deferred to me, telling a hotel staffer, "This lady was here first."

When I replied, "Aren't you nice?" he said, "Just being honest." I mentioned that I was on my way to see "Prisoners," and he said he had not seen the movie yet. "I hear good things," he said, and I repeated that I had, too, based on reaction at the Telluride Film Festival, where the movie had a "sneak preview."

The dark dramatic thriller takes twists and turns that even the most astute filmgoer won't see coming and keeps you guessing about who will live, who will die and if anyone will survive with soul and moral center intact.

Hugh Jackman and Mr. Howard play fathers whose girls -- friends ages 6 and 7 -- disappear on Thanksgiving. Maria Bello and Viola Davis are their wives and Jake Gyllenhaal the police detective leading the investigation, which initially points to a character played by Paul Dano.

When the initial suspect is released from police custody, Mr. Jackman's blue-collar Pennsylvanian decides to take matters into his own hands. He knows that chances of survival for kidnapped children drop off at the week mark and fall to almost nothing at a month, so the clock is ticking.

He must demonstrate manic rage and a determination to do whatever it takes -- legal or otherwise, and we're mainly talking otherwise here -- to find his daughter. Mr. Howard's character tells him, "Look, I want my baby back ... I would die for my daughter, but this ain't right. This has to stop."

The R-rated movie is a tightly coiled 153 minutes long. Although apparently filmed in Georgia, it's set in Pennsylvania during deer hunting season and a winter of rain, snow and gloom.

Mr. Jackman's character believes, "Pray for the best, prepare for the worst," but he has no idea of what the worst will bring and be.

It opens in theaters Sept. 20 and also stars Melissa Leo.

Mr. Howard, of course, has local connections in his father, a Pittsburgh native, and late mother, who worked as a recruiter in the Human Resources Department at the University of Pittsburgh.

He is having a very good end of summer. In "Lee Daniels' The Butler," he plays a neighborhood Romeo who puts the moves on Oprah Winfrey's character.

Cronenberg Project

David Cronenberg, the once-aspiring cell biologist turned filmmaker, put it like this at a press briefing Thursday: "Piers said, 'David, let us be your garbage can.' Yes, the garbage can has gotten bigger and bigger."

Piers is Piers Handling, CEO and director of the Toronto International Film Festival, and he was with Mr. Cronenberg, his gray hair brushed up as always, and Noah Cowan, artistic director, TIFF Bell Lightbox, at the press conference. You know what they say about one man's trash being another's treasure, and they feel as if they struck gold, and they're taking it on road after unveiling it here.

And soon the gems of the collection will be on display for all the world to see in TIFF's first original touring exhibition celebrating all things Mr. Cronenberg, the director of "Videodrome," "Dead Ringers," "M. Butterfly," "A History of Violence," "Eastern Promises" and "A Dangerous Method," just to name a few.

The films will be represented, of course, along with costumes, behind-the-scenes footage and props such as the typewriter that morphs into a winged bug in "Naked Lunch." It sat at the table at Thursday morning's press conference announcing "The Cronenberg Project." The Canadian-born director noted, "These things aren't made to last. It's amazing how good this looks."

He just finished shooting "Map to the Stars" in Hollywood -- and causing a Twitter stir when he lit up the Hollywood sign at night -- with Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Julianne Moore, John Cusack and Sarah Gadon. He is due in the editing room next week for that project.

Mr. Cronenberg, whose work will be examined through an art exhibition, two film programs (full retrospective plus a sidebar called "Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror"), eBook, digital extension, virtual museum and special guests, actually doesn't enjoy looking backward. He said he doesn't like to see his old films. "I do not invite my films home to dinner," he joked.

Part of the celebration will include something called "Body/Mind/Change," an elaborate multimedia production presenting the plausible science fiction found in his work as science fact.

Much of the project will be at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, home of the festival, Nov. 1 to Jan. 19, 2014, in case you're a fan and plan to head north.

Opening night film

Variety Thursday reported that director Bill Condon, whose "The Fifth Estate" about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be the opening night film, is reuniting with Ian McKellen for "A Slight Trick of the Mind."

It will feature Mr. McKellen as a now-retired Sherlock Holmes but still haunted by a long-ago unsolved case. The pair teamed on "Gods and Monsters."


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632.


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