TIFF FILM REVIEW: Bill Murray in ‘St. Vincent’

JAEDEN LIEBERHER and BILL MURRAY star in ST. VINCENT

By Ray Bennett

Bill Murray is just the way you want him in Theodore Melfi’s engaging comedy “St. Vincent” as an ageing ragamuffin and dedicated grouch whose gruff exterior is breached by a determined kid who won’t take any of his shit.

Murray employs his expert line readings and splendid timing as a wastrel who is genuinely unpleasant on the surface while young Jaden Lieberher is a marvel as the intelligent and articulate boy named Oliver so that while the film is sentimental it does not get bogged down.

They meet when Oliver and his mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) move in next door to Vincent and the moving guys accidentally break off a tree branch that lands on the old coot’s ramshackle convertible. Vincent has just drunkenly destroyed his own garden fence as he reversed his car into his drive but he immediately demands restitution for all the damage.

When Maggie is forced to leave Oliver alone in order to report to work, Vincent agrees to watch the boy … for a fee … and he becomes his regular babysitter. Writer-director Melfi contrives some entertaining scenes as the two clash and we learn that Maggie is in the middle of a custody battle and must work long hours at a local hospital to pay for Oliver’s school fees.

The lad attends a Catholic school where the class has a wide ethnic and religious mix with a teacher who is a warm and supportive priest played by Chris O’Dowd. The school is not without its bullies, however, and when Oliver takes a beating, Vincent’s temperament comes in handy.

Naomi Watts and Bill Murray at the set of 'St Vincent de Van Nuy' **USA, Canada, Australia ONLY**

Meanwhile, a Russian striptease dancer and part-time “lady of the night”  of Vincent’s acquaintance named Daka (Naomi Watts) has become pregnant and Vincent is bothered by the enforcer (Terrence Howard) for a local bookie who needs his money.

Oliver is around for these encounters and he also senses cracks in Vincent’s crusty exterior when he accompanies him to a local clinic where Vincent dons a doctor’s white coat and visits a lovely but frail woman named Sandy (Donna Mitchell).

When the priest teaches about saints and suggests that many people may be saints even if they are unheralded, he asks each member of the class to research and nominate an individual for sainthood. Oliver decides upon Vincent and the story follows as he  speaks to the people the man knows and learns his secrets.

It could become unspeakably cloying but not in Melfi’s hands and with Murray in top form as an almost irredeemable malcontent and the remarkably self-contained Lieberher impressive as the boy. McCarthy, for once, plays a normal and sensible human being while Watts brings grit, sly wit and a convincing accent to her Russian hooker.

Composer Theodore Shapiro, whose credits include “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Tropic Thunder”, has a polished way with scores for comedies and he makes sure the ending does not become syrupy.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival; Opens: US Oct. 24, The Weinstein Company / UK: Dec. 5, Entertainment. Cast: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd, Terrence Howard, Jaeden Lieberher, Dario Barosso, Donna Mitchell; Director: Theodore Melfi; Writer: Theodore Melfi; Director of photography: John Lindley; Production designer: Inbal Weinberg; Music: Theodore Shapiro; Costume designer: Kasia Walicka Maimone; Editors: Peter Teschner, Sarah Flack; Producers: Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Theodore Melfi, Fred Roos; Production: Chernin Entertainment; Not rated, running time 102 minutes.

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Alan Rickman’s ‘A Little Chaos’

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By Ray Bennett

Handsome and creditable, Alan Rickman’s period drama “A Little Chaos”, about the only woman to design an attraction at Louis XIV’s Versailles gardens, is more dogged than inspired.

Kate Winslett plays Madame Sabine De Barra, a widow whose flair for adventurous floral designs catches the the eye of the king’s master landscaper Andre Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) despite his penchant for strict order. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Benedict Cumberbatch in ‘The Imitation Game’

TIFF 2014 'The Imitation Game' Cliff

By Ray Bennett

Morten Tyldum’s engrossing drama “The Imitation Game”, about World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, gives Benedict Cumberbatch another complex character to explore and the result is a film that will please audiences and collect major awards.

The picture will screen at the London Film Festival on Oct. 8 and it will be released in the UK on Nov. 14 by StudioCanal. The Weinstein Co. will release it in the US on Nov. 21. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: ‘This Is Where I Leave You’

TIFF 2014 'This Is Where I Leave You' Cliff

By Ray Bennett

Shawn Levy’s empty comedy “This Is Where I Leave You” has the same premise as last year’s “August: Osage County” as a family gathers reluctantly upon the death of a father but it replaces hateful characters with dull and uninteresting ones. Sort of, “June: Osage County”. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: ‘The Riot Club’

POSH Directed by Lone Sherfig

By Ray Bennett

Lone Scherfig’s pedestrian film “The Riot Club” follows 10 rich hooligans as they act out the delusion that they have class, style and taste as they gorge on excessive food and drink at a gastropub, deride the staff and trash the place. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Jon Stewart’s ‘Rosewater’

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By Ray Bennett

US comedian Jon Stewart took leave from “The Daily Show” to write and direct “Rosewater” and he has turned out an intelligent and gripping story about a newsman who is incarcerated in Iran as a spy. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Gemma Arterton in ‘Gemma Bovery’

TIFF2014 'Gemma Bovery' Cliff 1

By Ray Bennett

Anne Fontaine’s “Gemma Bovery” is a witty Gallic fable with a sting in its tail that combines a celebration of glorious femininity with merciless mockery of men who are beguiled by it.

Gemma Arterton stars as Gemma, a freckle-faced English rose who moves into a rickety old house in a small town in northern France with her husband Charlie, played by Jason Flemyng. Continue reading

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TIFF Film Review: ‘Pawn Sacrifice’

TIFF 'Pawn Sacrifice' Cliff

By Ray Bennett

Fast-paced editing, pumped-up music and an assortment of visual textures and styles serve to make a world chess tournament exciting for the uninitiated in Edward Zwick’s sprightly drama “Pawn Sacrifice”. Continue reading

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TIFF 2014: A tale of three Equalizers

'The Equalizer' Edward Woodward Cliff

By Ray Bennett

File under “it’s a small world”: I’m at my old pal Ron Base’s place in Milton for a Sunday brunch chatting with another guest, Hans Gerhardt, who ran the Sutton Place Hotel in Toronto when it was a showbiz mecca. Continue reading

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Here’s the original ‘Equalizer’, Edward Woodward

Equalizer.TV Guide Cover x650

As Denzel Washington steps into the shoes of Robert McCall in “The Equalizer”, here’s what the original TV Equalizer told me about it in 1986. Edward Woodward died in 2009 aged 79.

Hey, instigator! Hypnotizer! Extricator!

No matter what you call him, Edward Woodward gets the job done – as The Equalizer

By Ray Bennett Continue reading

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