Pete Hammond

After receiving mixed critical response in its Venice world premiere, the Kennedy assassination docudrama Parkland took on the Toronto International Film Festival and received a good response for a movie that looks at the events of that fateful day 50 years ago from several different perspectives. Those include a young surgeon operating on the fallen President in the emergency room, Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother and mother, the FBI, Abraham Zapruder and others. Nicely directed by first-timer Peter Landesman, a former New York Times reporter, the film has the sensibility of a journalist and stays close to the known facts while still illuminating. At the premiere’s afterparty at Soho House he told me, “I wanted to create a visual language in the beginning that would allow the audience to feel like what they were seeing was happening and real… I did want to take the audience by hand and bring them into an idea that what they are watching happening is actually unfolding in front of them,” said the veteran who’s covered many international wars. He dismissed potential complaints that the filmmaker might be exploiting the Kennedy tragedy, particularly on the cusp on the 50th anniversary, by explaining that the emergency room scenes were carefully thought out:”I feel like we cut a very dignified movie. To not have any sense of the violence would be to betray what the movie is about. I actually feel that the cut’s dignified. We actually had cuts in the movie that were a lot bloodier. At the end of the day we didn’t want to alienate our audience.”

Landesman said it came about when he originally wrote a screenplay about Watergate for producer Tom Hanks (who produced this film with Playtone partner Gary Goetzman and actor Bill Paxton). That script has yet to be produced. But it led to Hanks handing Landesman a Vincent Bugliosi book written about those four days in November 1963. So he worked on it and researched it for nearly five years and decided there was a movie there that nobody had ever seen. Although Hanks was busy acting on Broadway, he was very involved. “Gary was there for every frame. And Tom was intimately involved with the development of the screenplay and the casting. You know Tom. His integrity is so important, not only as a brand and a producer but Tom’s sensibilities and instincts are so important,” Landesman said.

The film will open domestically October 4th, several weeks before the anniversary of the assassination. It stars Zac Efron, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, James Badge Dale and a fine ensemble cast. A deal was already in place to release the DVD in November so it will be a very short theatrical window, although Landesman expects it will also still remain in theaters. The film is going out through Exclusive Releasing and Exclusive co-chairman Guy East is particularly proud of it. He says it’s important to see events of that day unfold from different perspectives and compares the film’s impact to what he felt on 9/11 when he was in New York for those events that changed the world. He says the Kennedy assassination had much the same impact.

East is also excited about the strong slate the company has brought to Toronto including Ron Howard‘s Formula 1 racing film Rush, which premieres here Sunday.  He’s also high on John Carney’s (Once) musical, Can A Song Save Your Life? starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo and premiering on Saturday. And there are others. It’s a busy time for Exclusive.

In addition to the Parkland premiere, it was a packed second day for the fest with back-to-back premieres of Telluride favorites 12 Years A Slave and Prisoners, which were both warmly received. Among new acquisition titles, two hot ones Friday night were the world premiere of the Nicole Kidman/Colin Firth-starring World War II drama The Railway Man, which got a standing ovation and also had an emotional appearance by Patti Lomax, one of the real life subjects of the remarkable story of a man who confronted his Japanese tormentor decades after the war. It took 14 years to bring to the screen and the film’s main subject, Erik Lomax, who just died at age 93 in October, never got to see the finished film. Afterward Kidman, shaken up after seeing the film the first time, told me she knows he was in that sold out Roy Thomson Theatre watching over Patti. She and Firth both took photos with Lomax’s granddaughter who had tears in her eyes along with the rest of the audience. Several distributors were there checking out the film which is sold around the world. Producer Andy Paterson told me they were holding North American rights until the Toronto debut.

Another hot title looking for distribution should have no trouble at all. Jason Bateman‘s hilarious directorial debut, the wild comedy Bad Words, was rapturously received by the Ryerson Theatre audience Friday for its first look anywhere. Bateman introduced it and appeared for a post-Q&A with scene stealing co-stars Kathryn Hahn and especially young Rohan Chand. This film, about a foul-mouthed 40-year-old n’er-do-well (Bateman) who, as a result of a fluke, enters and dominates a kids spelling bee, is a huge winner and an obvious choice for immediate pickup. My guess is Fox Searchlight, but I can’t imagine anyone not being interested. It shows Bateman has a strong knack for directing. This one could be a very big hit in the right hands but it is very ‘R’ rated material.

Related: Focus Features Acquires Jason Bateman-Directed ‘Bad Words’

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