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Monday , September 23 2019

Ryan uses maternal instincts in ‘Ithaca’ – ‘Magnificent 7’ remake kicks off Toronto film fest

NEW YORK, Sept 9, (Agencies): Hollywood actress Meg Ryan goes behind the camera for her directorial debut “Ithaca”, a World War II drama for which she said she used her maternal instincts in telling the story.

The movie, based on William Saroyan’s novel “The Human Comedy”, follows a teenager who wants to help his widowed mother financially by getting a job as a messenger. He soon gets some tough lessons in life as he delivers messages to families who have lost loved ones in the war.

“I felt like it really is, in its deepest part of DNA, a story that I felt should be told from a maternal point of view,” Ryan said in an interview.

“And I felt like it was simple … it’s a simple narrative about complicated things.”

The “When Harry Met Sally” actress, who also stars in the film, said she was surprised how much she liked directing.

“The intimacy you end up having with every single thing in a movie when you’re directing it … makes you love it,” she said.

“The most fierce I ever am is as a mum and, it turns out, as a director, trying to protect the artists who’ve come to help me out.”

Tom Hanks, with whom Ryan starred in “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail”, has a small role in the movie. “He doesn’t need much directing,” she said.

“Ithaca” is released in the United States on Friday.

By turns poignant and plodding, affecting and affected, “Ithaca” is the sort of frustrating movie that’s just good enough to make you wish it were a lot better. First-time feature director Meg Ryan — yes, that Meg Ryan — and screenwriter Eric Jendresen have reconstituted William Saroyan’s 1943 novel “The Human Comedy” as a wildly uneven period piece that, despite several dramatically potent episodes, never really develops a sense of narrative momentum.

Indeed, there is a point scarcely 20 minutes into the film where it easily could have ended, and come off as a reasonably satisfying short. Equally problematic: Actors are burdened with too many lines that sound more like declarations than dialogue — and not just during the intrusive stretches of voiceover narration — while tragedies are foreshadowed so heavy-handedly that two obviously doomed characters might as well have vultures perched on their shoulders right from the get-go.

And yet, despite its predictability and other conspicuous flaws, “Ithaca” is surprisingly successful in fits and starts when it comes to sustaining interest and empathy, thanks partly to Ryan’s ability to subtly yet vividly evoke particulars of time and place on an indie-movie budget, and largely because of some compelling performances in lead and secondary roles.

The setting is Ithaca — Saroyan’s fictional version of his real-life home town of Fresno, Calif. — during the early days of US involvement in World War II. (The movie was shot on various Virginia locations.) When his older brother (Jack Quaid, son of Ryan and ex-husband Dennis Quaid) joins the military, 14-year-old Homer Macauley (newcomer Alex Neustaedter) assumes his sibling’s role as man of the house for a family that includes his widowed mother (Ryan), his sister Bess (Christian Nelson), and his younger brother Ulysses (Spencer Howell).

As “Ithaca” begins, Homer lands a job delivering telegrams for the local branch of Postal Telegraph, where he quickly impresses easygoing manager Tom Spangler (Hamish Linklater) and amiably boozy telegrapher Willie Grogan (Sam Shepard). Unfortunately, the job requires Homer to occasionally deliver messages announcing the deaths of soldiers to their next of kin. When he tells his mom about this grim task, she responds with a loving warning: “You’re becoming aware of a world in which you’ve been a child.”

Double Oscar-winner Denzel Washington and a motley band of gunslingers opened the Toronto Film Festival Thursday, blazing trails in a much-anticipated remake of the 1960 Western “The Magnificent Seven.”

The film festival, which runs through Sept 18, is the largest in North America and has become a launchpad for Oscar-conscious studios and distributors, attracting hundreds of filmmakers and actors to the red carpet in Canada’s largest city.

Nearly 400 feature and short films from 83 countries will be screened at the festival.

Director Antoine Fuqua’s film is a reimagining of the Western classic that starred Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson — which in turn was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese-language epic “Seven Samurai.”

In the latest version, Washington plays Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter who leads his crew to liberate a Wild West town from the clutches of an evil industrialist played by Peter Sarsgaard (who also appears at the festival in “Jackie”) and his private army of henchmen.

While initially motivated by cash offered by townswoman Emma Cullen (played by Haley Bennett), these swashbucklers end up taking a principled stand against greed and hegemony to save the fledgling town.

Fuqua told AFP during post-production in April that he hoped to dispel a mythology of the American frontier propagated by Hollywood, that it was populated by ranchers, lawmen and outlaws battling for money or land on behalf of White America.

The real Wild West’s racial makeup was actually a melting pot of Europeans, Chinese, Mexicans, Native Americans and blacks.

“Westerns change for the times they’re in,” Fuqua told a press conference ahead of the gala screening of the film in Toronto.

“We made our film based on the world we live in right now,” he said. “If we were sticking to just one way of doing something, all Westerns would be all white guys looking like John Wayne.”

The action-packed film also stars Chris Pratt as a card shark and explosives enthusiast, Ethan Hawke (also at the festival in “Maudie”) as a sharpshooter, Vincent D’Onofrio in the role of a tracker, and South Korea’s Lee Byung-hun as a knife-throwing assassin.

Washington and Fuqua have collaborated before, notably with Hawke on “Training Day,” which also premiered at the Toronto festival and went on to earn Washington a best actor Oscar in 2001 for his performance as a rogue cop in Los Angeles. (Washington earned his first Oscar in 1990 for his supporting role in the civil war drama “Glory.”)

The two also paired up in 2014 for Fuqua’s adaptation of the 1980s television series “The Equalizer,” about a loner who dispenses justice from the barrel of a gun. The film earned mediocre reviews and nearly $200 million at the box office.

Pressed about the subtle racial complexity of the film in a time of racial tension in America, Fuqua quipped: “I just wanted to see Denzel Washington on a horse… that would be an event.”

More seriously, he added: “Denzel walks into a room, the room stops. Clint Eastwood walks into a room, the room stops. Is it because he’s a gunslinger or the color of his skin? We’ll let the audience decide.”

Toronto film festival co-director Piers Handling said of the film: “It’s an interesting metaphor for what’s going on in America right now.”

This year’s Toronto Film Festival also shines a spotlight on American politics, youth radicalization, racism, feminism and alien arrivals.

Films being positioned for accolades include the new Denis Villeneuve sci-fi movie “Arrival,” and Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” about former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s enormous 2013 leak revealing the extent of government snooping on private data.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s performances as a jazz musician and an aspiring actress in the bewitching musical “La La Land,” which opened the Venice Film Festival, has also stirred up a frenzy.

“American Pastoral,” Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut looking back at an ideal family torn by the upheavals of the 1960s, is generating tremendous buzz, as is “Lion” — the true story of a boy separated from his family who goes searching for home 25 years on.

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