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Plenty to see - and some to miss - at Toronto Film Festival

TORONTO - Well sure. They rounded up the usual suspects. You've got your George (Clooney). Your Brad (Pitt.) Your Jennifer (Aniston). Your Nicole (Kidman). All are expected to be at the Toronto International Film Festival during the course of its 11 days.
Which means the city's hotels will be getting a workout and everyone in Ontario who happens to be in the private security business is likely to be put to work.
But this is not - yet anyway - a State of the Art Toronto Film Festival. That is, the preponderant film festival in our hemisphere.
Dan Stevens
There's a lot I'm very interested in seeing. And a lot that comes into the festival with a big reputation and BIIIIGGG advance curiosity. But the Buzz, thus far, has been at a very tasteful honeybee volume rather than the dynamic level of German bombs during the World War II blitz of London.
It seems to me they missed the boat on a couple of things. They've got one of the season's huge movies about the Individual vs. The Elements ("Gravity" starring Sandra Bullock as an unmoored astronaut and the elements being a hostile universe - until, that is, George Clooney shows up to help.) But they don't have the other upcoming big deal about the Individual vs. The Elements - "All is Lost" starring Robert Redford, who's rumored to do some of his best work ever as a man alone in a boat on a hostile sea.
They've got a couple of comic folks making directorial debuts in movies - Jason Bateman and Mike Myers. And they've got "August: Osage County," a 400-pound canary as Oscarbait if ever there was one, with a big theatrical pedigree and Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts squaring off as mother and daughter.
But there's nothing yet that virtually commands the mandatory attendance of the world.
Despite all the conspicuous star power, it's a bit reminiscent in its new part of town of older Toronto Film Festivals which were more decorous, more idealistic and less prominent on the world stage of cinematic commerce.
There are a lot of front page movies here with actors portraying Nelson Mandela ("Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom") and Julian Assange ("The Fifth Estate," also starring Dan Stevens, above at the premiere) in much-ballyhooed movies that are giving a lot of the festival the feel of a 24-hour-news network.
But then the whole point of film festivals is to be paying attention to what comes in through the back door - to be lucky enough, for instance, to be there when a good part of a world film community (critics, filmmakers) was squeezed into a tiny screening room with bad air watching Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs." Or when Michael Moore was handing out souvenir lint rollers at the first advance press screening of "Roger and Me." Or when you had to run down Bloor Street at top speed to get to the first screening of a little number by David Lynch called "Blue Velvet" that no one had seen before.
We'll see how big the surprises are in the next few days.
In the meantime, would you believe an utterly charming film about a self-adoring hotshot gym rat who's addicted to pornography and falls in love with a woman similarly addicted to Hollywood celluloid romance"? He's played by Joseph-Gordon Levitt, who wrote, directed and starred in "Don Jon" with Scarlett Johansson and it's the unlikeliest of foul-mouthed and dirty-minded charmers.
Would you believe vampire film starring John Hurt and Christopher Marlowe and Tilda Swinton as a woman married to a Detroit rocker who used to hang out with Byron and Shelley? Me neither. It's called "Only Lovers Left Alive" and it's all-too-evidently by Jim Jarmusch, which is why I walked out after 45 minutes.
More to come.
--- Jeff Simon

Buffalo soul legend Barbara St. Clair loses battle with cancer

Barbara St Clair
The Buffalo music community has lost a beloved member. Barbara St. Clair, the woman rightly dubbed "Buffalo's Queen of Soul," died on Wednesday at the age of 71, after a long battle with brain cancer. 

St. Clair began her career in the 1960s, as a member of R&B vocal group the Sessions. Later, she formed her own band, Barbara St. Clair & the Pin-Kooshins, and eventually landed as powerhouse vocalist with revered soul/blues outfit the Houserockers. 

St. Clair spent the '80s outside of the music business, concentrating on the education she'd abandoned in favor of performing as a teenager. She returned to the spotlight in the early 90s, fronting the band she would perform with until the end, the Shadows. St. Clair was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 1991.

Shadows bassist and musical director Chris Haug, in a statement posted on Facebook Thursday morning, had this to say about his time with St. Clair.

"It has been my honor to have shared the stage with very special person for over 20 years, and (I'm) humbled that she considered me her band leader. I will never meet a finer singer, a better teacher, a more giving person, or a truer friend. Her voice is that of an angel and her beauty truly radiates from the heart.

"Barb loved performing and she loved her audience equally. Her fans were her friends. It was her nature to care for others. She was always there to do a benefit for a fellow musician or to just listen with compassion and understanding to anyone in need … friend or stranger. Even after she became ill, when Barb and I talked, she would always first ask how my family was doing. She would bring up a memory or two of my daughters, and a difficult conversation would turn into one where we would end up sharing a laugh or two. 

"Sad as today is, I do take much comfort in the outpouring of support from her friends and fans, (one and the same) and from the Buffalo music community, always standing ready to come to the aid of a fellow musician. As much as it hurts we need to believe that Barb is in a better place, heading for better gigs. As a matter of fact, I do believe she will have her pick of gigs now. Look out Etta James ... Barbara St Clair is taking the stage." 

On Sept. 14, friends, fans, and fellow members of the Buffalo music community will gather at the Sportsmen's Tavern, 326 Amherst St., for a St. Clair tribute concerts, proceeds from which will go to the singer's family. The event will be hosted by the Shadows, and will feature guest performances from many of the musicians who performed alongside St. Clair over the years.

- Jeff Miers

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