Big pix take bows at fest
The Toronto Film Festival ratcheted up its star power Thursday, adding seven world preems and one North American preem to its prestigious Special Presentations series.Pics feature a slew of marquee thesps including Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lopez, Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell. Helmer Leon Ichaso’s “El Cantante,” which will world preem, is a biopic of salsa star Hector Lavoe, played by singer Marc Anthony, and his muse and love Puchi (Lopez). The film follows Lavoe from his early years as a teen singer in Puerto Rico to his later life as a Latin idol in New York and years battling drug and alcohol addictions. Also set to world premiere is “Stranger Than Fiction,” the latest from helmer Marc Forster (“Finding Neverland,” “Monster’s Ball”). A novelist (Emma Thompson) is finishing her latest work, but it turns out her lead character (Ferrell) is a real person who’s none too thrilled that he’s about to be killed off. Supporting cast includes Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Queen Latifah. Thesp-turned-helmer Tony Goldwyn’s Montreal-shot “The Last Kiss” — also a world premiere — is a remake of the Italian film. Penned by Paul Haggis, pic stars Zach Braff in the story of a young man with a pregnant girlfriend and some tough decisions to make. Helmer Mark Palansky’s American-British-German co-production “Penelope” is produced by Reese Witherspoon, who also appears. Fairy tale-like pic is the story of a woman (Christina Ricci) afflicted by a strange curse that can only be broken when she is loved by one of her own kind. Helmer David Von Ancken’s “Seraphim Falls,” a thriller that takes place just after the Civil War, is about two men (Brosnan and Neeson) in a deadly battle in the wilderness of the American West. “Venus” is helmer Roger Michell and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi’s look at two vet English thesps, played by Peter O’Toole and Leslie Phillips, whose lives are thrown for a loop when a young woman (Jodie Whittaker) shows up on the scene. Richard Griffiths and Vanessa Redgrave also star. Kenneth Branagh’s “The Magic Flute” transposes the Mozart opera to WWI, with a new libretto from thesp-writer Stephen Fry, musical direction courtesy of James Conlon and a score performed by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Helmer Darren Aronofsky’s Montreal-shot “The Fountain,” which will have its North American preem, is a time-traveling sci-fi pic that begins in 16th century Spain, swings forward to the contemporary world and then fast-forwards to the 26th century. In the 1500s, Jackman plays a conquistador searching for the Tree of Life. In the present, he is a scientist searching for the cure for the cancer killing his wife (Rachel Weisz). In the future, he is an astronaut. Fest runs Sept. 7-16. The entire Toronto lineup will be unveiled at a press conference Aug. 22.