TIFF's final curtain draws near with four more to seek out later

TORONTO - A quartet to watch for down the road as this year's 41st annual film festival winds down to just one day:

"Christine" (tentatively opening Oct. 16) -- Ever-watchable British actress Rebecca Hall offers a bravura performance in this mesmerizing tale of Christine Chubbuck, a Sarasota TV reporter who shot herself during a live broadcast.

It's simply a tragically marvelous depiction of a woman on the verge. Chubbock, who was born in Hudson, Ohio, and graduated from Laurel School in Shaker Heights, also attended Ohio State University for a year before moving to Florida.

The only local reference in the film, however, is a line that credits an unsubstantiated, '70s-era journalism conference in Cleveland with starting the television news push to cover violence. "If it bleeds, it leads," proclaims Christine's station manager

"Jackie" (Dec. 9) -- The blood is on the hands of America, not to mention Jacqueline Kennedy's stained and iconic pink suit, in this '60s historical piece, focusing in on the strength of our First Lady during the dark days following her husband's assassination.

Natalie Portman brings back lots of memories in the title role, although Chilean director Pablo Larrain (who also showed off his "Neruda" at TIFF this year) makes her sound a lot more like a breathless Marilyn Monroe than we remember.

A mostly on-the-money screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, a former "Today" producer," provides some behind-the-screen nuggets, but the strongest personality, besides Jackie's, belongs to Peter Sarsgaard, as a rock-solid Robert F. Kennedy. Surprisingly, newcomer Caspar Phillipson, in the downplayed role of JFK, seems less than powerful, but Lyndon B. Johnson (Richard E. Grant) and wife Lady Bird (look-alike character actress Beth Grant) do stand out.

"LBJ" (no release date set) -- How perfect that the perspective available from "Jackie" preceded the viewing of director Rob Reiner's equally remarkable shadings in his bio of the man sworn in as our nation's 36th President moments after JFK's death.

The differences, even in some of the characters -- including RFK (Michael Stahl-David), who looks and plays the absolute little weasel from this story's outlook -- become starkly evident.

Then there's the physically slight Woody Harrelson somehow pulling off the lead part despite the larger-than-life physique and demeanor of the demanding Johnson. Jennifer Jason-Leigh nicely tags along as Lady Bird, and Jeffrey Donovan (from TV's "Burn Notice") offers some competitive strengths as JFK.  Richard Jenkins' racist U.S. Senator is memorable as well.

"Sing" (Dec 21) --  Finally a movie with no dark drama! This animated gem starts off with a charming intro by those devilish little Minions and never lets go, with gobs of  heart, soul, and music for all ages.

An entertainingly conniving koala bear (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) attempts to put together a singing competition to save his theater, and a pig (Reese Witherspoon), porcupine (Scarlett Johansson), elephant (Tori Kelly), and mouse (Seth MacFarlane), among many other engaging animal types, hop on for the very wild ride.

Can't wait for my small-fry granddaughters to see it!

(Award winners at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, which ends Sunday night, will be announced tomorrow as well. Visit here Monday for a full report, including some personal prize-winners.) 
 


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