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IN TORONTO, THEY HAILED A FILM SHOWING THE KILLING OF OUR COMMANDER IN CHIEF

George W. Bush cannot be pleaed to hear which film won the International Film Critics prize at the recently concluded 2006 Toronto Film Festival. To read about "Death of a President" and other movies shown at the festival, browse below; for the Variety review of the drocudrama--or is it mocudrama?--click here; for more information about the festival, click here and visit the official web site.

 

DEATH OF A PRESIDENT: Hend Ayoub, Becky Ann Baker, Brian Boland, Michael Reilly Burke, Patricia Buckley, Seena Jon, Robert Mangiardi, M. Neko Parham, Jay Patterson, Chavez Ravine, Christian Stolte, James Urbaniak, Jay Whittaker (Directed by Gabriel Range; Written by Gabriel Range and Simon Finch; Newmarket Films) Where were you on the evening of October 27, 2007, the evening President Bush was assassinated? That’s the question Americans would be asking for decades to come if the events shown in this controversial British “docudrama” were more than a figment of filmmaker Gabriel Range’s imagination. And we’d all be debating about President Dick Cheney’s Patriot Act III and whether we should cut and run in Syria. Click here for the Variety review of this Toronto Film Festival winner. Opens 10/17/06

ALL THE KING'S MEN: Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, Anthony Hopkins, Talia Balsam, Jackie Earle Haley, Kevin Dunn (Written and directed by Steven Zaillian; Columbia) Could there be another Academy Award on the horizon for Sean Penn, who nabbed an Oscar for his high-voltage performance in 2003’s "Mystic River"? The answer is yes, if history repeats itself. That would be because the Oscar for Best Actor of 1949 went to Broderick Crawford, who played Willie Stark in "All the King’s Men," the Robert Rossen adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize novel about a Southern governor closely resembling Louisiana’s Huey Long. In the update, Penn is the unscrupulous candidate determined to occupy the governor’s mansion—a part Mel Gibson campaigned to play. (That Mel is such a loser!) The role of Stark's tough aide, Sadie Burke, which brought Mercedes McCambridge a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, has been entrusted to Patricia Clarkson, the shameless scene-stealer from "Far From Home," "The Station Agent" and "Pieces of April." As for Jack Burden, the cynical journalist who discovers a few of Willie Stark's darker secrets, he'll be played by Jude Law--following in the footsteps of John Ireland, who won a Best Supporting Actor of 1949 nomination for his performance in the original "All the King's Men." Kate Winslet--playing Anne Stanton, the bright and beautiful young thing who should (but doesn't) know better than to get romantically involved with Willie Stark--follows in the footsteps of Joanne Dru, who did not receive an Oscar nomination for her performance. But she sure was a looker. To read about other upcoming remakes, click here. Now Playing

BABEL: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Elle Fanning, Nathan Gamble, Koji Yakusho, Fernandez Mattos Dulce, Lynsey Beauchamp, James Melody (Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu; Written by Guillermo Arriaga; Paramount Classics) A variety of troubled people in several countries (including Morocco, Tunisia, Mexico and Japan) somehow manage to forge a connection. And you can count on the results being violent, bloody, mystifying and perhaps a tiny bit uplifting. Why is that? Because “Babel” is another collaboration between director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, the awesomely disturbing team responsible for the violent, bloody, mystifying and perhaps a tiny bit uplifting “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams.” Opens 10/6/06

BERNARD AND DORIS: Ralph Fiennes, Susan Sarandon (Directed by Bob Balaban; Written by Hugh Costello; Little Bird Productions and Trigger Street Productions) Doris Duke had beaucoup servants, but so far as we know, she had only one butler who was Irish, gay and crazy as they come. His name was Bernard Lafferty, and it was to him that the poorest little rich girl in all the world left the bulk of her fortune (approximately $1.2 billion). Bernard was 51 at the time of Doris’s death, but wealthy as he became, he did not live happily ever after. He died, crankily, three years later. It’s so hard to please the help, isn’t it? To read about many more new biopics, click here; for Guy Flatley's 1978 interview with Susan Sarandon, click here.

BOBBY: Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Anton Kutcher, Martin Sheen, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Harry Belafonte, William H. Macy, Sharon Stone, Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, Laurence Fishburne, Heather Graham, Christian Slater, David Krumholtz, Shia LaBeouf, Dave Fraunces, Jeridan Frye, David Kobzantsev (Written and directed by Emilio Estevez; The Weinstein Company) At first glance, it looks as if Emilio Estevez got a bunch of his friends together and said, “Hey, let’s put on a show!” Well, okay, long-ago sweetheart Demi Moore surely still qualifies as something more than a friend, and Martin Sheen is, after all, Emilio’s dad. And, looking closer, you do suspect that “Bobby”--the colorful cast notwithstanding--is not just another show. For the Bobby in question here is New York senator Robert F, Kennedy, younger brother of President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963. Five years later, 42-year-old Bobby, a strong contender for the presidency, was fatally shot by a man named Sirhan Sirhan during a Democratic Party celebration at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel. The fact-based story writer/director/actor Estevez tells is set during the hours leading up to and immediately following the assassination, and it focuses on a complex mix of people who were present on that tragic evening at the Ambassador. Relative unknowns Dave Fraunces and Jeridan Frye play Bobby and Ethel Kennedy, and David Kobzantsev is cast as fanatical Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan. To read the Variety review of "Bobby," click here. Opens 11/17/06, five days before the 43rd anniversary of President Kennedy’s death

BREAKING AND ENTERING: Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, Martin Freeman, Robin Wright Penn, Ray Winstone, Poppy Rogers, Vera Farmiga (Written and directed by Anthony Minghella; Miramax) Back in 1991, Anthony Minghella made his directorial debut with “Truly Madly Deeply,” working from his own gooey screenplay about a dreamy but plucky Londoner (Juliet Stevenson) who has a questionable affair with the ghost of her former lover (Alan Rickman). Not a very bright beginning for director Minghella, but he fared much better with the likes of “The English Patient” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Now, for the second time in his career, Minghella will direct his own original screenplay, one which sounds not all that gooey. Starring Jude Law, with whom the director successfully teamed in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Cold Mountain,” “Breaking and Entering” focuses on a jaded London architect whose life is turned inside out by a young Muslim thief who breaks into his office. Opens 10/6/06

CANDY: Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush, David Argue, Tara Morice, Nathaniel Dean, Jim Wyatt, Paul Blackwell (Directed by Neil Armfield; Written by Neil Armfield and Luke Davies; Renaissance Films). Dan (Heath Ledger) is plenty sweet on Candy (Abbie Cornish), but even sweeter on another kind of candy, namely heroin. How low does this couple sink in order to stay high. Very low indeed--think damaged veins, prostitution and madness for starters. Coming on the heels of “Brokeback Mountain” and “Casanova,” this could well be Ledger’s third powerhouse in a row. To read the Variety review, click here. Opens 11/17/06

EL CANTANTE: Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, John Ortiz, Ralph Mercado, Deirdre Lorenz, Tony Devon, Federico Castelluccio) (Directed by Leon Ichaso; Written by Leon Ichaso and David Darmsteder; Nuyorican Productions) Hector Lavoe, who was born in Puerto Rico and became an enormously popular singer after moving to New York City at the age of 17, was sometimes called the Bad Boy of Salsa. And for good reason. The Latin icon had a tough time dealing with success and was soon seeking relief in booze and hard drugs, a habit that caused him to arrive late--or not at all--for sold-out performances. But his fans always forgave him, because they identified so strongly with the music and the spirit of the man they called “La Voz” (“The Voice”). Neither the adoration of his fans nor the loving support of his wife Puchi, however, was enough to pull him through tragic times--his mother-in-law was murdered, his son was shot to death, his house burned down, and he himself toyed with suicide. Physically and emotionally drained, the 46-year-old Lavoe died in 1993, a victim of cardiac arrest and, possibly, AIDS-related complications. Pop performer Marc Anthony plays Lavoe, and his real-life wife, Jennifer Lopez, plays his beloved Puchi. But don’t call them Antlope.

COPYING BEETHOVEN: Ed Harris, Diane Kruger, Matthew Goode, Nicholas Jones, Joe Anderson, Phyllida Law (Directed by Agnieszka Holland; Written by Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson; Contemporary World Cinema) It seems like only yesterday that we saw Ed Harris playing a temperamental genius who passionately throws paint on canvas. The genius, of course, was Jackson Pollock. Now Harris is at it again, this time playing a temperamental genius who passionately throws tantrums, and he answers to the name of Ludwig van Beethoven. Diane Kruger plays an aspiring composer who helps Ludwig make it through his angst-riddled twilight years.

THE FOUNTAIN: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn Sean Gullette, Donna Murphy, Sean Patrick Thomas, Ethan Suplee, Mark Margolis, Alexander Bisping, Cliff Curtis, Marcello Bezina (Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky; Warner Bros.) Back in 2001, Brad Pitt was primed to play a man who spends a thousand years or so trying to cure his wife of the cancer that threatens her life. Primed though he may have been, Brad fell out with writer-director Darren Aronofsky, and the sci-fi love story was cancelled by Warner Bros. Eventually, “The Fountain”--as in Fountain of Youth--got turned back on, this time with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz as the lengthily tormented soulmates. And, as we all know, Brad Pitt went on to bigger, if not better, things. Opens 11/22/06

A GOOD YEAR: Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Abbie Cornish, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hollander, Didier Bourdon, Freddie Highmore (Directed by Ridley Scott; Written by Marc Klein, Tom Butterworth and Jez Butterworth; Fox 2000) Readers were charmed by Peter Mayle’s novel about a Brit who’s unlucky enough in his high-finance London job to get fired and lucky enough to then inherit a chateau and vineyard in magical Provence. It seems a good bet that moviegoers will be charmed as well when they see the unfailingly impressive Russell Crowe take on the role of the heir under the direction of Ridley Scott, who guided him to an Oscar in “Gladiator.” Albert Finney plays Crowe’s uncle and Marion Cotillard is cast as an attractive but troublesome American who insists that she is the true heir to the estate. Opens 11/10/06

INFAMOUS: Toby Jones, Daniel Craig, Sandra Bullock, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sigourney Weaver, Hope Davis, Jeff Daniels, Isabella Rossellini, Peter Bogdanovich, Juliet Stevenson (Written and directed by Douglas McGrath; Warner Independent Pictures) “In Cold Blood,” a masterpiece of true storytelling about the horrific murder of a mid-western family by a pair of intruders from hell, is perhaps the late Truman Capote’s finest achievement. Maybe that’s why two new films--this one and "Capote"--deal with the strange psychological connection between the author, acted by Toby Jones, and convicted killer Perry Smith (Daniel Craig), a bond forged during Smith’s time on death row. Sandra Bullock plays Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and a close friend of Capote, and Gwyneth Paltrow is cast as--are you ready for this?--sultry songbird Peggy Lee. The mere thought of that gives me fever. Opens 10/13/06

LITTLE CHILDREN: Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly, Patrick Wilson, Sadie Goldstein, Ty Simpkins, Jackie Earle Haley, Phyllis Somerville, Gregg Edelman, Noah Emmerich, Raymond J. Barry, Trini Alvarado (Directed by Todd Field; Written by Todd Field and Tom Perrotta; New Line Cinema) “In the Bedroom” (2001) was a painful-to-watch but impossible-to-resist drama about a middle-aged couple who scheme to murder the person responsible for the death of their son. Now, in his second feature, Todd Field, the writer-director of that film, has come up with what sounds like another powerhouse drama. Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, the screenplay by Field and Perrotta focuses on the seemingly simple but dangerously complex relationships between husbands, wives, their children and their neighbors in a small suburban community. They mingle and engage in innocent, mundane activities of mainstream American life. But at least two of these individuals--a sexually frustrated woman and a stay-at-home dad--take bold steps to relieve the tedium of their lives. The repercussions of their rebellion are thornier than anticipated. Opens 10/6/06

PENELOPE: Christina Ricci, Reese Witherspoon, James McAvoy, Catherine O'Hara, Richard E. Grant, Peter Dinklage, Simon Woods, Ronni Ancona, Nick Frost, Lenny Henry (Directed by Mark Palansky; Written by Leslie Caveny; Type A Films) What’s a girl to do when she is literally born with the face of a pig? With a little luck and a lot of pluck, she could follow the example of Miss Piggy and become a superstar. But that’s not what the heroine of this cheeky flick, produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Type A Films, does. She finds another path to a happy fairy-tale ending. Somewhat surprisingly, the red-hot Witherspoon does not play porcine Penelope. That plum goes instead to the equally talented Ricci, whose career has turned lukewarm of late.

THE PLEASURE OF YOUR COMPANY: Jason Biggs, Isla Fisher, Joe Pantoliano, Joanna Gleason, Edward Herrmann, Margo Martindale, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Mark Consuelos, Chris Diamantopoulos, Heather Goldenhersh, Michael Weston (Written and directed by Michael Ian Black; GreeneStreet Films) How’s this for rotten luck? An earnest young man works up the courage to ask his sweetheart to become his bride and somehow, in the process of proposing, manages to kill the poor girl. Think of it as dying cute. Unsurprisingly, the wannabe husband falls into a funk until the night a buddy badgers him into proposing to a sexy waitress he knows zilch about. Will she say yes, and can this story possibly have a happy ending? You can count on it.

SNOW CAKE: Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Hampshire, James Allodi (Directed by Marc Evans; Written by Angela Pell; Momentum Pictures/TVA Films) Alex Hughes (Alan Rickman) is not a happy traveler when first seen in a dismal Canadian diner somewhere on the road to Winnipeg. Recently released from prison, where he’d been sent for killing someone, he tries to lose himself in a good read but is thwarted by a young woman who plops down at his table. She then hitches a ride with him, only to perish when the car crashes. Alex feels duty-bound to visit her mom in Wawa and break the news to her in person, but when he does, Mom (Sigourney Weaver) doesn’t get all that ruffled, presumably because she is afflicted with a form of autism. Depressing as Wawa is, Alex decides to stay on a bit. And things do start looking up when Mom’s foxy neighbor (Carrie-Anne Moss) invites him to dinner but doesn’t serve him anything but herself.

STRANGER THAN FICTION: Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, Emma Thompson (Directed by Marc Forster; Written by Zach Helm; Mandate Films) An auditor for the IRS may not fit your image of the perfect movie hero. And perhaps the fib-and-cheat detector played by Will Ferrell in this oddball comedy is not altogether perfect. But you’ve got to feel for the guy. Here’s his problem: an inner voice that is not really his voice speaks up at unexpected moments, telling him more than he really wants to know about the way his life--and imminent death--are progressing. Dustin Hoffman, re-teaming with “Finding Neverland” director Marc Forster, plays a professor who tries to help Ferrell silence the meddlesome voice. Opens 11/10/06

VENUS: Peter O’Toole, Leslie Phillips, Jodie Whittaker, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Griffiths (Directed by Roger Michell; Written by Hanif Kureishi; Miramax) When he was presented with an honorary Oscar three years ago, a gracious but uneasy Peter O’Toole managed to make it clear he still considered himself a potential contender for the real thing. And now, playing a sick, perhaps dying, flamboyant-to-the-end thespian, the 74-year-old veteran actor is generating serious buzz about a Best Actor of 2006 Oscar. His drinking buddy, a lesser light of the theater, is played by Leslie Phillips, and Jodie Whittaker portrays Phillips’ 19-year-old grandniece, a vixen who stirs a lust in O’Toole’s heart. There’s also talk of a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the great Vanessa Redgrave, who plays O’Toole’s former--but deeply loyal--wife. To read the Variety review of "Venus," click here; for Guy Flatley's 1972 New York Times interview with Peter O'Toole, click here. Opens 12/15

VOLVER: Penelope Cruz, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Carmen Maura, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave, Leandro Rivera, Carmen Machi, Pilar Castro (Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar; Sony Picures Classics) As is frequently the case with the films of Spain’s most outrageously daring, funny, profound, trashy auteur, “Volver” will be mostly, if not all, about women. This time, Almodovar intimately explores the quirks of the female members of a far-from-mainstream family. In truth, their lives are pretty much a mess, which is why the vexed, volatile mom played by Carmen Maura feels compelled to get back down to earth shortly after her untimely death. She’s simply got to make things right for her daughters (Penelope Cruz and Lola Duenas) and her granddaughter (Yohana Cobo). Go, ghost, go! Before “Volver’s” U. S. premiere, Sony Pictures Classics is presenting a nation-wide Almodovar retrospective that will include "Law of Desire," "Matador," "Women on the Verge," "Flower of My Secret," "Live Flesh," "All About My Mother," "Talk to Her," and "Bad Education." If you know of a better show in town, please fill me in. Opens 11/3/06