Concept Teaser: Wolfwalkers

After much acclaim for The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, Cartoon Saloon, Ireland’s increasingly high profile animation house founded by Paul Young and Tomm Moore, are working on their fourth feature film, Wolfwalkers. (The third one, The Breadwinner, will be released this year.)

With a signature 2D animation style, and a quite mature, epic sensibility, Cartoon Saloon, is aiming to be the next Laika (which in turn is aiming to be the next Pixar…)

Below is a proof-of-concept teaser which is, in a word, stunning.

In a time of superstition and magic, when wolves are seen as demonic and nature an evil to be tamed, a young apprentice hunter, Robyn, comes to Ireland with her father to wipe out the last pack. But when Robyn saves a wild native girl, Mebh, their friendship leads her to discover the world of the Wolfwalkers and transforms her into the very thing her father is tasked to destroy.

Trailer: Baahubali The Conclusion

One of the great pieces of excess fantasy non-sense was 2015’s Telugu Fantasy Epic Baahubali. From S.S. Rajamouli, who made the zonkers reincarnation comedy Eega, which sees a man take vengeance on his murderer in the form of a common housefly. (It’s on Netflix as Makkhi, and it’s magnificent.)

Like an Indian Lord of the Rings, we only got part of a movie and had to wait a long time, 2 years in fact, for the conclusion to the film. The trailer, as bombastic as one might imagine, has popped up online, and while you may not have heard of it, over 10 Million people have already watched it in less than 24 hours. Baahubali: THe Beginning briefly cracked the top 10 at the box office in a minuscule number of theatres, and this for a movie sporting a near 3 hour runtime, based on an the Indian, Pakistani, Tamil and Sri Lankan’s in the USA and Canada that are hungry for blockbusters that stem from their own colourful culture.

I managed to catch part one in a packed and rowdy cinema on the outskirts of Toronto and it was one of my favourite blockbusters of 2015 for its nutbar gender politics alone.

When Sanga and her husband, part of a tribe living around the province of Mahismathi, save a drowning infant, little do they know the background of the infant or what the future holds for him. The kid grows up to as Shivudu, a free-spirit wanting to explore the mountains and in the process learns of his roots and then realizes the whole purpose of his life and ends up confronting the mighty Bhallala Deva!

When two opposite ends unite the rod breaks in between. When Shiva, the son of Bahubali realizes his past from Kattappa, he seeks to find consensus to his question : Why did Kattapa kill his father? This, Bahubali- the Conclusion showcases the answer and its consequences on the Mahishmati Kingdom when its roots are stirred.

Trailer: I, Olga Hepnarová

An interesting companion piece to Antonio Campos’ Christine, insofar as if you are aware of the character at the heart of the matter, cannot help but be ‘waiting’ for the inevitable in I, Olga Hepnarová. Likewise, here, it is the lead performance makes the queasy journey worthwhile. Michalina Olszanska (The Lure) essays a portrait of the 22-year-old mass murderer Olga Hepnarová, who was the last person executed by the Czechoslovakian government in 1973 for driving her delivery truck through a crowded sidewalk in Prague.

Presented in stark monochrome, it is a very uncomfortable movie about the effects of bullying (by her peers, by her family, by the state) and particular state of mental health – two subjects that are as relevant today as they were in the 1970s. I quite liked the film when I caught it at Fantasia, as difficult as it was to watch (and less than a week after a similar incident occurred in Nice, no less).

Also, man, that still above is very reminiscent of Michael Haneke, which is kind of the head-space one can easily occupy while watching this trailer. The film is being theatrically released in a few US markets by indie outfit Strand on March 24, 2017.

Toronto After Dark Review: The Lure

Mermaids are apparently popular again. Disney is currently remaking their animated hit as an expensive live-action feature, and Stephen Chow’s, The Mermaid ended up being an epic-sized cash-machine of a blockbuster in his native China. But whoa there now, here is a first feature, and one of the most confident film debuts, particularly for a style this tricky, to come along in some time. If you love weird yet meticulous filmmaking that is simultaneously both classic and fresh, then you are going to want to remember the name Agnieszka Smoczynska. Her deeply unorthodox adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson classic fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, as a Polish period musical he has given the original title Córki Dancingu, literally translated to Daughter of the Dance, for domestic release, but for the rest of the worlds as simply called, The Lure, comes with a wheelbarrow full of superlatives: shocking! sexy! subversive! sublime! entertaining! visionary! And just plain catchy.

Smoczynska takes the classic, literal, fish-out of water tale, and places it in a burlesque club in 1980s Poland. When a family of musicians (whose main gig is to play back-up for the strippers at a night-club) discover two mermaids in the water while drinking and singing on the beach, they bring them aboard as part of their act. Sort of like adopting two new children, and drop them right in to soft-core sex trade. This hardly sounds like it could be the beginning to a mainstream Hollywood film, but trust me, it kind of is. However, I doubt, if it were, there would be the scene where the owner casually examines the ‘tail-vagina’ on the one of the ‘maids and declares, ‘it is fishy, but I like it.’ Nudity and sexual hunger, both casual and intense, are rampant in The Lure, but because of Smoczynska’s acute sense of how to stage-dress, light, and shoot the film like an Blondie video on steroids, these things are not off-putting or controversial, they are part of the films sense of style and sensibility. Somewhere in Iceland, Bjork is going to see this movie, slap her forehead and say, “Shit! How did I never make this movie?!” Furthermore, if in 2016 you still need an argument for more women directors, well, here is another great one to put on the pile.

Michalina Olszanska (a major rising actress in eastern Europe, who for lack of a better explanation is a blend between Juno Temple and Kristen Stewart) and Marta Mazurek (here exquisitely channeling Sissy Spacek) play the pair of mermaids, Golden and Silver. They are, in essence, the aquatic version of twenty-something party girls looking for shits and giggles up for a quick stop in Poland before swimming onward to America. But Silver beings to fall in love with their blonde young band-mate, Mietek. She is strongly warned by her ‘sister,’ as well as another air-touring underwater creature named Triton, who looks like the Kurgan and rocks a riotous punk act in Warsaw. Unsurprisingly, Mermaids and Mermen are obviously great, charismatic singers-of-songs, and The Lure has a seemingly endless capacity for incorporating classic mer-mythology among the drama and the musical numbers. The crisis of the films (after a quick rise to fame) is that if Silver falls in truly in love, but the love is not returned, then she will cease to exist. In an honest, if not particularly wise, sacrificial gesture to earn the love of her bright young thing, she decides to remove her tail and become a human. (Wait for that set piece! It’s a serious OMG bit of genre craft!) The mermaids may want to fall in love human-style, but they are vicious, cunning, and selfish creatures when they want to be. They make no bones about it, and neither does the filmmaking.
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Trailer: Évolution

Beautifully shot, languid, haunting, esoteric, and cold. All of these things can be said of Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s latest film, Évolution. The same could be said of her first feature, Innocence, which was about a boarding school for girls. Her latest, coming more than a decade later, is about a strange ‘school’ for boys, but considering the somewhat spoiler-y nature of the trailer below, it’s not really a school in the case, more of a clinic (and it’s not really that either). Some very impressive body horror and formal cinematography abound in this one; both gorgeous shots of the seaside, and what lies beneath.

10-year-old Nicolas lives with his mother on a remote island, in a village inhabited solely by women and young boys. In a hospital overlooking the ocean, all the boys are subjected to a mysterious medical treatment. Only Nicolas questions what is happening around him. He senses that his mother is lying to him, and is determined to find out what she does with the other women at night, on the beach… What he discovers is the beginning of a nightmare into which he is helplessly drawn.

Fun Fact: Lucile Hadzihalilovic is married to Gaspar Noe, and their cinema complements each other in interesting ways, she is the yin to his yang, but she is also the better filmmaker.

Trailer: Studio Ghibli’s The Red Turtle

The Red Turtle

It seems now that Japan’s Studio Ghibli is awaiting auteurs to step up on native soil, they have turned to some international co-productions to keep the lights on. If Dutch director Michaël Dudok de Wit is any indication of this new collaboration arrangement, I am happy to see the direction things go. The Red Turtle looks gorgeous, has a hand animated aesthetic, with a flair for visual and emotional storytelling. The film premiers at Cannes this week. The trailer is below.

Hot Docs 2016 Review: Brothers

Brødre

In Aslaug Holm’s gorgeously shot documentary on her own children – make no mistake, this is no home movie, but a rigorous 16mm film production by a veteran filmmaker – a recurring image is laundry hanging out on the line on the breezy Norwegian coast. In a sense Holm is airing her laundry figuratively as well, in Brothers, a decade long project capturing her two boys, Lukas and Markus, from ages 5 and 8 all the way into their teenage years.

The sparse images, photographs and film, Holm possesses of herself as a child, and even less media her own parents and extended family, led the urge preserve her offspring on film in a way that captures the hopes and dreams of children when their future remains completely ahead of them. The document she herself never had. She is not shy of bringing herself into the film, insofar as a reminder of the strings and mirrors of doing this sort of activity amongst the bustle of family life. As any good scientist knows, to observe an experiment is to affect the results in some capacity, and Holm and her camera factor into the frame honestly.

Markus loves soccer, and there are many shots of him practicing on a dirt pitch with his father and younger brother. Lukas has a more love-hate-love relationship with sports in general that is summed up with another recurring shot, that of the boys on the edge of a dock-house daring to jump into the water (as metaphors go, it’s powerfully obvious in that it is both obvious and powerful) at various ages.

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Trailer: Men & Chicken

A lot of people get confessional, or get hit on the head (often both at the same time) in Anders Thomas Jensen’s farcical comedy, Men & Chicken Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Nicolas Bro and many other familiar Danish faces, the film is about a pair of socially-challenged siblings who discover they are adopted half-brothers in their late father’s videotaped will. Their journey in search of their true father takes them to the small, insular Danish island of Ork, where they stumble upon three additional half-brothers—each also sporting hereditary harelips and lunatic tendencies—living in a dilapidated mansion overrun by barn animals. Hitting ensues.

Drafthouse films acquired the film, and have cut a domestic trailer for the film which they are releasing very soon.

Trailer: Paul Verhoeven’s Elle

It’s a trick. Get an axe.

Isabelle Huppert does exactly that in the french language trailer for Paul Verhoeven’s latest film, Elle. While the lack of subtitles makes one without very good french do some of the work, the essential story is a very libertarian woman decides to take things into her own hands after a masked man starts terrorizing him. Because this is a Verhoeven film, she very likely has sex with her interloper.

It’s good to see the crazy Dutch satirist back in full Hollywood style form, like many classic directors who were run out of Tinseltown for myriad reasons, he has located himself in France (albeit after a decade dalliance back in his homeland that produced at least one good film).

This just shot up to one of my most anticipated films of 2016. The film should be opening around the time of the Toronto International Film Festival in September.


When Michelle, the CEO of a gaming software company, is attacked in her home by an unknown assailant, she refuses to let it alter her precisely ordered life. She manages crises involving her 75-year-old sex kitten mother, her imprisoned mass murderer father, her spoiled and immature son, her ex-husband and her lover, all with the same icy equanimity. This is the approach she brings to the situation when it appears that her assailant is not finished with her. As the mysterious stalker hovers in the shadows of her life, taunting her, Michelle cooly stalks him back. What emerges between Michelle and her stalker is a kind of game, a game that soon spirals out of control.