Two big films opened the Toronto Film Festival, with big crowds despite Toronto itself doing everything to make it difficult to move around. There are street closures everywhere, and the traffic rivals Los Angeles. But that’s another story…
Famed novelist Philip Roth really owes Oscar winning director Barry Levinson. The “Rain Man” director has made a stellar, quirky, and really hilarious film out of Roth’s novel “The Humbling.” I think it’s Levinson’s best work in years, hugely accomplished for its mixed tones of utter zaniness and comic beauty.
Al Pacino is simply outstanding as Simon Axler, a fading self obsessed famous theater actor who does a swan dive off a Broadway stage and announces his retirement. At a country house he falls into a relationship with Pegeen (luminous Greta Gerwig), daughter of his friends (Dianne Wiest and Dan Hedaya). Nina Arianda has a scene stealing recurring role as a super fan Simon meets in a psychiatric hospital.
The audience last night at the Elgin loved this film. No less a presence than Brian DePalma was in the theater. You know a movie’s good when the introductory speech is short– no horsing around, just “here’s the movie.” When Levinson and Pacino made quick remarks, I thought, wow, they know what they’ve got and they want us to see it. Not to be missed is a hilarious scene in a veterinarian’s waiting room. It recalls the tone of Levinson’s “Wag the Dog.”
Al Pacino is in two movies here. The other is “Manglehorn.” He’s headed to the Oscars in some capacity, certainly. As for Greta Gerwig, thank goodness that TV pilot for “How I Met You Dad” wasn’t picked up. She must stay in movies.
AND THEN A QUICK RUN TO ROY THOMSON HALL for David Dobkin’s well crafted Warner Bros. feature “The Judge” starring Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall in awards-possible performances. This is exactly the kind of big studio movie Warner Bros can excel at, just like “The Blind Side.”
Downey is the prodigal son who’s become a star lawyer in Chicago. He returns to Indiana to defend his own father, the local revered judge, on a murder charge. Ken Howard plays the judge who hears the case and it’s just too long since we’ve seen “The White Shadow” so prominent.
It’s a star turn for Downey who sheds “Iron Man” and returns to solid work as a leading man without gadgets, just his brain and wit. Duvall — who told me last night he’s 83!– is just miraculously affecting.
“The Judge” opens October 10th and it’s going to be a big big hit. It’s not perfect, but for a movie with so much going on, the successes outweigh the nitpicking. PS Vera Farmiga, on a break from “Bates Motel,” is sexy and knowing. She needs a great movie of her own already!