Friday One Sheet: SOS

When advertising a ‘movie-star-vehicle,’ it barely needs to be said: Advertise the faces of your stars! Removing the credit block entirely for a clean Apple/Tesla kind of design, the science fiction-romantic-action picture indeed gets big, brightly lit studio portraits of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. And while the dots and dashes might seem a little superfluous, they actually do say “S.O.S.” in Morse code, which is the basically the core idea of the picture.

And because we missed it earlier this week, the trailer for Passengers is also tucked the fold.

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Trailer: Trespass Against Us

Despite a turn for intensity at the end of this trailer, do not be fooled, Trespass Against Us is kind of Sundancey-cute for all of its big themes of sins of the father, academia-vs-‘school-of-life’ and the United Kingdom’s social isolation of gypsies. It’s a glossy package perfectly suited for middle-brow consumption.

The very high profile cast including Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson and Sean Harris (going full retard in this one, and defying the old Robert Downy Jr. commentary on this – he is excellent here, but not featured at all in the trailer. First time director (he is normally a documentary guy) Adam Smith goes for smaller moments, but cannot resist a ‘big finish’ that the movie seems to completely earn, but is nevertheless (kind of) pulled off by the sheer magnetism of Fassbender’s presence. At this point, by my editorializing, you can guess I caught this at TIFF where it debuted to kind of muted satisfaction afterwards. Trespass Against Us passes the time, but hardly leaves much of an impression. Considering all the car chases in the film, your mileage may vary.

Micro Teasers: Ghost In The Shell

After years of false starts and unfulfilled promises, the live-action remake of Mamoru Oshii’s influential animated feature, Ghost In The Shell is coming with Scarlett Johansson in the lead role (and Michael Pitt, Beat Takeshi and Juliette Binoche on support). Throughout a recent episode of Mr. Robot, a series of 6 second micro teasers showed during the commercial breaks, and they have been re-constructed to form a teaser trailer of sorts, and the result is a creepy Under The Skin (ish) vibe going here. Which I quite like.

Trailer: Nocturnal Animals

Tom Ford’s sophomore film, Nocturnal Animals is among the best films I have seen this year! This trailer is both hauntingly accurate and subtly misleading. In other words, it is a good way to advertise a great film! There are too few psychological thrillers made these days, and of them, even fewer are as excellent as this one. Based on the 1993 novel, “Tony and Susan,” by Austin Wright, the story follows An art gallery owner (Amy Adams) who is haunted by a violent and vaguely threatening novel written by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal).

I caught this at TIFF this year, and it was the best thing I saw at the festival.

Nocturnal Animals opens in NY & LA on November 18th and in limited release in other markets on November 23rd.

TIFF 2016 Review: Nocturnal Animals

 

If you are an honorable cinephile, right from the opening credit sequence of Nocturnal Animals, you will know you are in good hands. Hyper-glossy and daringly un-commercial in the same breath, it puts some fine Lynchian bonafides on the table early. Then the camera pulls back from this tone-setting overture to reveal that these seemingly context free images (which will remain unspoilt by me, but might prevent the film from playing in a multiplex near you) are very much present, and in fact are part of the gala launch of a Los Angeles art gallery.

The curator and architect of the exhibit (but, tellingly, not the artist) is Susan, played by Amy Adams in heavy make-up, and chunky jewelry. The deep lighting makes her red hair stand out like smoldering coals in the dark. Forget for the moment director Tom Ford’s penchant for enhancing surfaces, Adams delivers an understated inner-performance entirely with her eyes and posture. Mere seconds on screen and you can immediately deduce she is unhappy with the not only the exhibit but with her many if not most of her life choices.

Later that evening, Susan is abandoned to stew in her own juices by her husband (Armie Hammer) who is the kind of high-stakes businessman that is required for a cross-continental flight upon a moments notice. Nocturnal Animals is a film about we process our thoughts when alone, versus reacting in the company of others.

It is also a master-class in ‘show-don’t-tell’ filmmaking. A brief domestic conversation, prior to her husbands exit from the film, is practical and efficient. We learn that their glass and concrete mansion and designer lifestyle is on the verge of bankruptcy, but again, the body language and framing suggest that money, in and of itself, is the least of their problems, matrimonially.

The very same evening, Susan receives a package in the mail from her previous husband, whom she has not spoken to in nearly two decades. The manuscript of his soon-to-be published novel is included with a personal note thanking her for the inspiration (and life experience) provided finally write something significant. The book shares the name of the film, but the film is adapted from Austin Wright’s 1993 novel, “Tony and Susan.”

Tony is the name of the character in the book that Susan reads, a man whose family is threatened and jeopardized on a lonely West Texas highway by a gang of good ol’ boys led by an extraordinary effective, and completely unrecognizable Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who has come a distance from Kick-Ass and wins the Tom Hardy award for chameleon-like disappearance into a part.

It is exceptional that Ford has made a film about a woman that spends the bulk of the runtime sitting on her couch (or bed, or in the bath) reading a book, into one of the most compellingly ‘lean-in’ films of the year. Half of the runtime is devoted to the novel, which is anchored by a Zodiac or Nightcrawler calibre performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and a scene-stealing Michael Shannon as a cancer stricken Texas Sheriff who is both funny, and yet, simultaneously scared the absolute shit out of me. The remaining half is split equally between Susan’s languorous present, and flashbacks to her optimistic courtship with her first husband and youthful writer, Edward; also played by Gyllenhaal.

The cross-cutting and transitional matching shots (note a certain red couch, for instance) provide an invigorating road-map to what the movie is actually about. The editing in this film, the fimmaking in general, is among the best films of the year. And, it is in a genre, the psychological thriller, that is so radically absent, presently, that make this is a breath – a gale? perhaps a tempest – of gloomy air.

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Friday One Sheet: Tonight She Comes

It might be a bit cliche in content (yes, another cabin in the woods horror movie) but in design, this poster is too lovely not to share. Hand drawn, confident lines (especially in the title typeface), and the matching colours in the river of blood with that bonfire happening in the background. This work is striking enough to effortlessly stand out in the multiplexes … where it will, likely, never be displayed.

The stylish (if, again, VERY cliche) trailer for Tonight She Comes is also tucked the fold.

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TIFF 2016 Review: The Girl With All The Gifts

 

Opening with the eponymous girl locked in a cell and counting upwards to a thousand, The Girl With All The Gifts may as well be ticking off the sheer number of zombie films that a fan of the genre is ‘forced’ to contend with in these days of “The Walking Dead”. In actuality, twelve year old Melanie is being gathered for daily school lessons, dressed prisoner’s duds while strapped to a wheelchair along with her classmates in neat rows, all equally restrained. Halfheartedly walking through a memorization exercise, a teacher (hint: not one of the good ones) mutters under her breath, “content is not really relevant, is it?” This is a thesis that screenwriter Mike Carey (adapting his own novel) and director Colm McCarthy clearly want to shatter into a million pieces. For indeed, the zombie movie has new places to go and new ideas to explore: Consider the The Girl With All The Gifts in stride with South Korea’s Train To Busan, argues that fast zombies (being all the rage) have evolved to the point where they are here stay, where a good filmmaker can have his protagonist and eat him too.

While I have not had the pleasure of watching the second season of BBC’s gangster drama “Peaky Blinders” nor the supernatural 2010 drama Outcast, it is very clear that McCarthy knows when to put something in the frame and when to leave it out. Rare is the movie in this genre that is not only patient in its world-building, but also handsome in its photography. (28 Weeks Later… springs to mind, and it shares a grace note or two with this film in the idea that social progress should be never be managed by the military.)

In The Girl With All The Gifts, The UK (perhaps the world also) has been infected with a fungus that elevates hunger beyond consciousness (read: zombies). Like in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, there are military enclaves that have survived and are actively working the problem while fences keeps the hordes at bay. Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) seems very close to a solution with a small group of children born after the plague that exhibit tendencies of both the ‘Hungries’ (read: zombies) and normal children. Certain smells in certain circumstances set the children off, preceded by dry heaving and ending in chomping with lower jaw (think Keira Knightly in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method).

The eager and innocent Melanie is the best and brightest of all the children. Clearly she is Caldwell’s Bub, only with kinder eyes and a keen vocabulary. Young Sennia Nanua is indeed the gift the movie gives to us. Her character represents our own better natures as human beings – being bright, confident and unfailingly considerate to others. Melanie is the hope that any parent might have for their own offspring and Nanua realizes all of this seemingly effortlessly as perhaps most capable child actor I have seen in years. This is telling, because not only has child acting come a long way in the past 3 decades, but Nanua spends a sizable portion of the film wearing a transparent Hannibal Lecter mask covering her blood stained face. Talk about artistic constraint! I cannot wait to see this girl grow up and star in, hopefully, dozens of films, the talent here is staggering.

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TIFF 2016 Review: The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography

“Almost all human endeavour is ephemeral, all that is left in the end is love and friendship.” So said Errol Morris at the screening of his latest movie, The B-Side, in which he spends a little over an hour on-screen with his friend and family portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman. Now 78 and into retirement, she is known primarily for working in a rare, large-format of Polaroid instant camera, 20″ x 24″, of which there are only 6 of in existence, one of them owned by her for decades. And while she has photographed many famous people, from Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Faye Dunaway and her close friend, beat poet and conscientious objector, Allan Ginsberg (who does features largely here in life and death) it is her career as an everyday portrait photographer that Morris is most keen on exploring here.

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A self-proclaimed nice little Jewish girl from Massachusetts, Dorfman has a sunny outlook, and a warm personality that makes the short time we get to spend with her leafing through her flat-filing cabinets of prints over the decades, an absolute pleasure. Using a multi-camera set-up (no Interrotron here) this is Morris at his most loose and relaxed, but his subject and approach is in no way lacking in rigour and revelation.

The director has a long history of thinking about the nature of photography, from his 25,000 word essay on two photos from a canon-ball strewn road taken during the nineteenth century Crimean War, to his documentary feature on the famous torture photos taken by military personnel at the famous Abu Graib Prison, Standard Operating Procedure. When Dorfman scoffs at the ‘camera capturing the soul’ in her work, there is a kindred spirit at play.
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TIFF 2016 Review: Personal Shopper

French critic-turned-filmmaker Olivier Assayas has always had a knack for combining verité, day-to-day life with stylish genre elements. His previous film, The Clouds of Sils Maria, coaxed a assured performance out of Kristen Stewart as a confident personal assistant to a French movie star; to the point where she almost overshadows the glamourous lead of the film, Juliette Binoche. Assayas collaborates once again with the young star in Personal Shopper – again in the employ of a famous actress – but here, he places her in practically in every shot.

Mixing the abstract with the mundane, Stewart plays Maureen, a budding amateur medium who trying to commune with her recently deceased twin brother. The movie starts almost like a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film, with Maureen attempting to make contact with the beyond by spending the night in the a dark old French country manor. Her day-job involves buying insanely expensive clothing and jewelry for a wealthy young movie star. It is clear that Maureen hates this job, she confesses this outright to her employer’s sleazy boyfriend, but it pays the bills while she tackles her unfinished spiritual business.

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Not content with just restless spirits and luxury goods, Assayas also drops in an anonymous sexual stalker and murder-mystery to boot. And yet, Maureen spends nearly the entire film alone, in shops, on her scooter, or on the train between England and France. Her boyfriend is in Morocco and occasional talks to her via skype. Her boss is always in one city or another, for a film shoot or a fashion show, and communicates with Maureen via notes left in her upscale Paris apartment. And the stalker sends copious amounts of anonymous text messages. I mean a LOT of text messages. For a film that has its lead spend a good chunk of its run time glancing down at her phone, one would think it might get boring, but it is not so.
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