Cinecast Episode 367 – Ginormous

After our brief September hiatus we are back to talk about…well…being ‘off the air’ for most of the month. Kurt gives (brief) highlights on the best things he saw at the Toronto International Film Festival. With no interest in either seeing or talking about Young Adult yawnfest The Maze Runner or A Walk Among The Tombstones (aka Taken 4), there is a brief conversation on last weeks’ cinema release, James Gandolfini’s final film, The Drop, a Brooklyn small-time gangster picture which also showcases a fine Tom Hardy performance. We go back to 1984 to re-examine the Joe Dante classic Gremlins. And there is a quite varied Watchlist including The Devil’s Rain, Open Range, Karate Kid III, Night of the Demon and Live.Die.Repeat.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 
 

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Blu-Ray Review: Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari

Director: Robert Wiene
Screenplay: Carl Mayer, Hans Janowitz
Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover
Producers: Erich Pommer, Rudolf Meinert (both uncredited)
Country: Germany
Running Time: 77 min
Year: 1920
BBFC Certificate: U


As with a number of the classic titles I’ve reviewed here over the last couple of years, Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari (or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari if you couldn’t translate it yourself) is one of the major ‘canon’ titles which has been on my ‘to watch’ list for far too long. Once again, Eureka’s wonderful Masters of Cinema Series has come to the rescue though and released an immaculately restored Blu-Ray (and DVD) of the film, complete with an abundance of special features so that I can finally sink my teeth into this dark and twisted classic of silent cinema.

The film opens with a young man, Francis (Friedrich Feher), telling an older gentleman of the horrific events he endured with his fiancée Jane (Lil Dagover) over the past few months. Francis and his good friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) both fell for Jane on meeting her, but both stated that the other shall be satisfied with the choice she would ultimately make. However, that night they went to the local carnival and entered the tent of Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his somnambulist (a sort of sleep walker) Cesare (Conrad Veidt). The mysterious zombified figure awakened to tell Alan that he would die that night and lo and behold he did. Francis vowed to find the killer, especially seeing as the local police force wasn’t effectively dealing with the situation. Of course the chief suspect was Cesare, but Francis struggled to prove his guilt and various events along the way turned the story in surprising directions, bringing the power and identity of the mysterious Dr. Caligari to the fore. Even when we return to the ‘present day’ there are more twists in store for the audience though and there are still debates as to exactly who played what part in this mystery.

This narrative isn’t always handled brilliantly, rarely making perfect sense and feeling quite muddy at times, but after the whole thing plays out you realise that could well be the idea. Featuring perhaps the first ‘unreliable narrator’, the majority of the film plays out in the mind of the possibly deluded Francis who may or not be being manipulated by the evil (or possibly not evil) Dr. Caligari so a lack of clarity works very effectively in a subtextual sense. The film’s fairly unusual and messy development (inexperienced writers with an experimental idea, the first choice of director – Fritz Lang – being unavailable, and some changes imposed by the producers etc.) may suggest a happy accident though. Whatever the case, the film is certainly more interesting than most from the era due to its structure and twists and these have led to almost a century of discussion among critics and theorists. The film plays havoc with the auteur theory though due to the never fully resolved debate of authorship over the film. The writers Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz, designer Hermann Warm, producer Erich Pommer and director Robert Wiene have all claimed or been given credit for the film’s success.

I don’t want to get bogged down by that too much though as, in my mind, a review should be more focussed on how well a film works rather than who was responsible for it doing so.

And Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari still works extremely well. I think the decades of hype and expectation I had coming into the film perhaps prevented me from giving the film top marks, but the reasons for why it has remained so well respected for so long are blatantly clear. Front and foremost is the film’s extreme expressionistic style. Caligari is cited as being hugely influential on film noir, horror movies and more, but, as a few critics and theorists have pointed out, very few, if any, films have actually copied its daring visual-art-infused approach. Rather than simply playing with lighting and camera angles to make dark and unsettling visuals, the sets are crafted in bizarre angles and shapes, and shadows and light patches are literally painted on to the walls. Even the make-up and costumes are exaggerated by strong blacks and whites. This all creates a creepily disorientating and surreal atmosphere, acting as a construct of Francis’ mental state. The closest modern filmmaker I can think of who adopts a vaguely similar style is Tim Burton, but even he doesn’t push the boat out as far as Weine (or whoever was in charge) did. I imagine he’s seen the film a few times though.

What’s interesting about the style is that if you take individual elements of the sets and production design they look rather crude and simplistic, but when presented as a whole within the construct of the film they help create a hugely effective and stunning vision. In fact, I found several shots so bizarrely beautiful I wanted to freeze the frames and hang them on my wall.

Perfectly complementing the bold style are two big but perfectly measured performances from Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt, playing the chief ‘villains’. Krauss is the archetypal evil scientist character for the most part as Caligari, coming across as genuinely unpleasant and fiendish, before presenting a wholly different side after a revelation in the film’s later scenes. Veidt grabs your attention from the moment Caligari opens his cabinet (or rather coffin) and Cesare’s eyes slowly flicker open. He’s a great presence in the film, especially during his still quite shocking abduction of Jane. Like Veidt, he also gets a chance to subvert his character in the final minutes.

Although it might not feel as perfectly formed and fully gratifying as some of the other silent greats like Sunrise or The Passion of Joan of Arc, Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari remains a daring and hugely influential (even if was never fully copied) visionary masterpiece. It was possibly the first (successful) true art house feature, pushing the boundaries of what cinema could mean and how it could be presented. Don’t let that put off those who favour more mainstream fare though, as this is also unsettling and pacey enough to keep modern horror fans thoroughly entertained despite the lack of gore or action. So do yourself a favour and tick this off your ‘to watch’ list like I did. You’ll probably want to see it again too, which is more than can be said for a number of the textbook ‘required viewing’ titles.

Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari is out on 29th September in the UK on dual format Blu-Ray & DVD, released by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema Series. I watched the Blu-Ray version and I must say, it looked spectacular. There’s a caption at the beginning stating that the first reel was originally lost so was reconstructed from various sources, but even this portion of the film still looks pretty damn good for its age. The rest of the film is astonishing though. The picture is so clear and detailed it practically feels as though you’re there on set. Colour tinting is kept as it is believed to have been intended and works effectively to my eye. The score comes through very nicely too, I watched the 5.1 mix, but you can also listen in stereo.

On top of a magnificent transfer, you get a whole host of special features too. One featurette is on the restoration process itself, which lets you fully appreciate the work that went into it. The end of this places the new restoration side by side with a previous one and an original print to show the difference, which is remarkable.

Also included is a new and exclusive audio commentary by historian David Kalat, which makes for a fascinating and detailed listen, Caligari: The Birth of Horror in the First World War, a new 52-minute documentary on the cultural and historical context of the film, You Must Become Caligari, a roughly made but informative and mildly quirky video essay by David Cairns, and a reissue trailer.

Plus, being a Masters of Cinema release, you get a hefty booklet which includes a collection of stills, an essay from Lotte H. Eisner, the original Variety review of the film and restoration notes and credits.

VIFF 2014 Preview: Row Three Recommends…

VIFFBanner2014

The Vancouver International Film Festival returns, this year taking over the city on Thursday, September 25 with the opening Gala of Jean-Marc Vallée’s one woman showcase Wild (trailer, VIFF Program), starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed in an adaptation of Strayed’s adventure hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and wraps up with Damien Chazelle’s Sundance winning drama Whiplash (trailer, VIFF Program) which stars Miles Teller as an ambitious jazz drummer who is pushed to his limits by his teacher (J.K. Simmons).

In the two weeks between the opening and closing galas, VIFF will host a great many number of movies, providing a little something for everyone. Festival favourites making an appearance in town include the much buzzed about Foxcatcher (trailer, VIFF Program) starring Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, David Cronenberg’s new project Maps to the Stars (trailer, VIFF Program) and Xavier Dolan’s much celebrated (and Canada’s foreign language Oscar entry) Mommy (trailer, VIFF Program).

Also making a return this year is the Altered States program which kicks off on September 26 with the Iranian vampire movie A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (trailer, VIFF Program) and wraps on October 10th with Tom Hammock’s futuristic horror The Well (trailer, VIFF Program).

For filmmakers, VIFF Industry (previously VIFF Forum), which runs October 1st to 4th, will be serving up a large assortment of panels of industry professionals covering everything from master classes and pitch sessions to the long running Totally Indie Day which features a day-long series of sessions designed for (but not limited to) emerging writers, directors, and producers of film, television, and digital media. This year’s guests include “Archer” creator Adam Reed, web series guru Bernie Su (“Emma Approved,” “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”) and EP and head writer of “Sons of Anarchy” Chris Collins among many others.

As has become tradition, we’ve gone over the VIFF program with a fine tooth comb and picked out a few smaller titles that might be flying under the radar and which we’re excited to see. Be sure to let us know what you’re looking forward to!

For up to the minute VIFF news, be sure to follow @VIFFest on twitter and @themarina to follow along with my festival adventures!

Happy scheduling and see you at the festival!


AnEyeForBeautyStill
Title: An Eye for Beauty
Director: Denys Arcand
Section: Canadian Images
Reason to See: Canadian master Denys Arcand, the man behind The Decline of the American Empire and The Barbarian Invasions returns to delight us with a relationship drama that looks a bit darker than the director’s usual fare.
Trailer
VIFF Program


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Title: Art and Craft
Director: Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman, Mark Becker
Section: Arts and Letters
Reason to See: A documentary about internationally renowned art forger Mark Landis which appears to explore not only one man’s obsession with art but also the eternal question “what is art?.”
Trailer
VIFF Program


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Title: Black Fly
Director: Jason Bourque
Section: BC Spotlight, Canadian Images
Reason to See: A tale of paranoia and family drama set in an isolated island, Black Fly looks and sounds like a genre “must see” in the making.
Trailer
VIFF Program


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Title: Field of Dogs
Director: Lech Majewski
Section: Cinema of Our Time
Reason to See: Painter turned director Lech Majewski impressed the heck out of me a few years ago with The Mill and the Cross. That alone would be enough to check it out but throw in the fact that this is described as a modern take on “The Divine Comedy” and this is really a must see.
Trailer
VIFF Program

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THE MASSIVE ROWTHREE TIFF14 SUMMARY

Welcome to our seventh annual Toronto International Film Festival wrap-up post. If you have been following along all these years, you will know that this involves all the locals and a few intercontinental travellers who are (or were) regular Row Three contributors to provide a capsule reviews and a quick identifier tag for each film they say along the lines of [BEST], [LOVED], [LIKED], [DISLIKED], [DISAPPOINTED], [SLEPT], [WALKED OUT], [HATED] and [WORST].

Collectively we – Kurt Halfyard, Matt Brown, Matt Price, Ryan McNeil, Bob Turnbull, Mike Rot, Tom Clift and Ariel Fisher – saw nearly half of the 300 films shown at the festival and hopefully this post can act as a ‘rough guide’ for films that will be finding distribution on some platform, whether on the big screen, or small internet enabled screen, in the next 18 months.

THE SHORT VERSION:

Personal BEST: LEVIATHAN [Kurt], THE LOOK OF SILENCE [Mike Rot], STILL THE WATER [Matt B.],A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE [Bob], THE SHREW’S NEST [Ariel], THE GUEST [Tom], COMING HOME [Ryan] and THE LAST 5 YEARS [Corey Pierce].

Personal WORST: THE REACH [Kurt], BANG BANG BABY [Mike Rot], THE TRIBE [Matt B.], IMPUNITY [Bob], MAPS TO THE STARS [Ariel], AMERICAN HEIST [Tom], THE COBBLER [Ryan], and PAWN SACRIFICE [Corey Pierce].

Other Consensus Picks: THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY, THE SHREW’S NEST, 1001 GRAMS, THE NEW GIRLFRIEND, ’71, THE WORLD OF KANAKO, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, THEEB, THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA and BIG GAME.

The ‘MASSIVE’ version is below. We suggest you grab a tall cup of something warm and pleasant, put your feet up and enjoy the overview:

LEVIATHAN
A masterpiece of composition, tone, and story that scores a steady stream of direct hits at the ills of modern Russia, and the foibles of human society. The power of the state, the church and the community are savaged wholesale as the little guy drinks lots of vodka, smokes lots a cigarettes and attempts to hold onto what little he has. The Philip Glass score and the astounding cinematography put this over the top my favourite TIFF14 experience. -Kurt [BEST]
Thick with inescapable hypocrisy. Watch out for anything red. -Bob [LOVED]

STILL THE WATER
Two teenagers deal with mortality and family challenges in parallel and together, while the movie around them quietly contemplates love, death, sex, parenthood, childhood, time, tradition, and tattoos. What else? -Matt B. [BEST]

THE LOOK OF SILENCE
The deadly serious companion piece to The Act of Killing, plays like a harrowing set of Frost/Nixon interviews, a profile in courage as one man dares “talk politics” in gangster-run Indonesia to expose the banality of evil. -Mike Rot [BEST]
A terrific companion piece to Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing that may actually alleviate some of the moral complaints people had of that film. Whereas that film focused on the perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide, The Look of Silence recounts the tale of one of the victims. Whereas Act focused on performance, Look is more about bearing witness. At only 90 minutes, as opposed to 180, it’s also much less difficult to stomach. -Tom [LOVED]

THE GUEST
The model of a perfectly engineered English-language Midnight madness film. The Guest checks all the boxes, touches all the bases and features a charismatic performance from Dan Stevens, but man, the whole thing just felt obligatory at the same time. I still had a good time with it. And, even though it was the fourth Giallo score of this years Midnight Madness programme for me, I still couldn’t get enough of how this movie sounded! -Kurt [LIKED]
Signals the arrival of a major filmmaking team in Wingard and Barrett (and a new superstar in Dan Stevens, who is charismatic beyond measure). Previous work was great, but this is clockwork genre perfection. -Matt B. [LOVED]
Barrett and Wingard do it right a second time. Dan Stevens delivers a phenomenal performance, shattering his Downton image and assuming the role of chillingly charming psychopath with remarkable ease. -Ariel [LOVED]
Never outstays… Oh I can’t even! -Matt P. [LOVED]
A genius end to this years Midnight Madness program, for what The Guest sets out to be, it might very well be perfect. Dan Stevens proves himself an A-list star-in-the-making as the titular house guest, a mysterious man who is simultaneously funny, frightening and totally badass. Director Adam Wingard is complete control of the film’s pace and tone, shifting on a dime whenever he’s required. If they had have asked me at 2am after the end credits rolled if I wanted would watch it again right then and there, I wouldn’t have even had to think about it. -Tom [BEST]

THE LAST 5 YEARS
A musical with NON-STOP SINGING, shot as to punch you in the face with feelings. I chose this expecting some fun romp however it is actually a thoroughly cathartic look at how people change and things go wrong when they find themselves a part of something that… they’re not really a part of.  If you’re an artist whose been with another artist, or something likewise. If you’ve stood in their shadow or vice versa, even through all the noise you should be able to find something to relate to.  In the end, basically Blue Valentine with showtunes and a career best Anna Kendrick performance. -Corey [BEST]
A great musical, and if there isn’t a live theatre within an afternoon’s drive that is staging it, this film will make a perfect substitute. However, we need to think about it as a movie. If one isn’t a fan of musicals, I dare say this movie will not convert them. It serves its source material rather well, but never dares to go any further than that. [LIKED & DISAPPOINTED]

THE SHREW’S NEST
My favourite film of the festival, Shrew’s Nest is the first feature film from directing duo Esteban Roel and Juanfer Andrés. With bone-chilling Misery references, Shrew’s Nest coils like a snake for the first two acts before unleashing itself in a flurry of blood and vengeance perverse enough for the Brother’s Grimm. An absolute stunner. -Ariel [BEST]
Deep in the film’s marrow is a sense of Catholic guilt, and a desire to atone. What we’re given is a story where sin begets more sin, and every horrible act just leads to another horrible act. It leaves us begging for an end to the tragic tale, but gutted by the fact that the end may only be a new beginning. -Ryan [Loved]
Much more dynamic and tense than many of the recent Spanish “horror” films. -Bob [LOVED]
This is why I go to TIFF. -Matt P. [LOVED]

COMING HOME
It steps lightly as it makes its journey, but the steps it takes are perfectly placed. It asks each of us how far we would go – especially when the mission seems lost. Coming into this film, I regret to say I had underestimated what Zhang Yimou might be able to achieve without his usual visual trickery. I can promise you I will never make that mistake again. -Ryan [BEST]
Sweetly romantic and tragic, Coming Home will break your heart softly. Not nearly as profound as I’d hoped, but nonetheless a lovely, almost operatic film. -Ariel [LIKED]

THEEB
Boys’ adventure filmmaking at its absolute finest, and the complexity of rendering a WWI-era Bedouin community only sweetens the impression. -Matt B. [LOVED]
Breathtaking adventure that can’t be missed -Matt P. [LOVED]

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
A master class in acting in a movie about acting and aging. Director Olivier Assayas gets sublime performances out of Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart as the two women rehearse a play in the mountains. -Kurt [LOVED]
Has layers upon layers of meta, but does so within the confines of the stories. But the real joy is in watching and listening to Binoche and Stewart interact and react to each other. -Bob [LOVED]
While Clouds certainly has its poignant moments, and Juliette Binoche is undeniably a revelation, the film feels very self-involved. A pompous air of self-importance overshadows its nuanced complexities. This felt alienating, making it difficult to fully immerse myself in the film. -Ariel [DISAPPOINTED]

SPRING
Evolution is amazing and brutal and unpredictable and this film so totally gets that. Fantastic. -Bob [LOVED]
Mixing the creature feature with Richard Linklater styled walking and talking romance, it effortlessly finds fresh angles on both sub-genres it mashes together and it does with emotion and intelligence -Kurt [LOVED]
An emotional time bomb, beautifully defused. -Matt P. [LOVED]
The increasingly mature sophomore feature from Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, Spring combines your standard monster flick with Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. It fully illustrates Benson’s penchant for writing effortlessly warm and funny dialogue that changes tone on a dime, yet never sacrifices quality. While I’d rather a more ambiguous finale, it’s a solid piece of filmmaking, and a telling glimpse at the future of this dynamic duo.-Ariel [LOVED]
Lackadaisical writing never seems to find the centre of its own idea, and for the love of god, put the drone camera away. Some great single moments in an otherwise undisciplined soup. -Matt B. [DISAPPOINTED]

NIGHT CRAWLER
Pretty close to a perfect film, I wish Hollywood would take more changes like this. Jake Gyllenhaal offers his best performance to date as a dead-eyed psychopath willing to cross all ethical and moral lines while shooting and selling car-crash and crime-scene footage to sleazy Los Angeles TV news stations. Robert Elswit’s cinematography of the grungier parts of LA might be the best of the looking film of the year. -Kurt [LOVED]
“He’s dead. Get the shot.” Satirical, tense, blackly comic and provoked spontaneous applause after the best damn car chase I’ve seen since I don’t know when. -Bob [LOVED]
Lived up to the trailer but didn’t quite transcend the premise.  Characters one-note and plot escalates in an obvious way but still so pretty, so much fun. -Mike Rot [LOVED]
This film, amongst others at TIFF this year, never felt like it could just sit down and ease into itself. Confusing at times, it felt like it struggled to straddle the boundaries of black comedy, biting satire, and morbid curiosity, but achieved none fully. As such, in spite of a wonderful performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, this film fell flat for me. -Ariel [DISAPPOINTED]

THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA
It is a tad too long and occasionally too blunt (the nature of being adapted from a fairytale) but it is also beautiful, and in the final 25 minutes, quite transcendent. If this is Takahata’s swan song, and the final feature film from Studio Ghibli, it’s a pretty damn good one to go out on. -Kurt [LOVED]
Life itself is made up of places we call “home” and people we call “family”, but for so many, to feel like we are truly living, we need to take all of those wonderful things and leave them behind. -Ryan [LOVED]

BIG GAME
Slightly broader in execution and more accessible than Rare Exports, this 80s style action movie from Finland has a 13 year old boy saving the president when Air Force One goes down in Lapland. Alongside Sam Jackson as the President, there is also a great collection of character actors manning the White House, Jim Broadbent, Ted Levine, Victor Garber and Felicity Huffman, while the Fins get things done in the wilderness. -Kurt [LOVED]
Big, sloppy, and stupid, Big Game nonetheless yields a final act that will generate more grins and cheers per minute than the very best comic book  movies Hollywood is putting together. Lesson: give Jelmari Helander a comic book movie. -Matt B. [LOVED]
As much as it’s nice that certain blockbusters are able to feel “grounded” and “from our world”, the truth of the matter is twofold. First of all, that sort of tone is so much harder to pull-off than it seems, and when a film misses it really misses. Best not to make that the target. Second of all, so many of those story tropes are readily there to depress us on the evening news. Most of us go to the movies to escape – especially this sort of movie. -Ryan [LOVED]
Twelve year old me could not have been happier. Has a delightfully self-aware streak, but never mugs for the camera, and the action beats are genuinely terrific. Also just fun to see Samuel L. Jackson play so far against type. -Tom [LOVED]
A fun way to prevent assassination! -Matt P. [LIKED]

HILL OF FREEDOM
The Korean Woody Allen, Hong Sang Soo does it again, lots of drinking, awkward social situations and misread signals make for great comedy. And structuring the film as a written letter where the pages are ‘out of order’ is fully realized, and kind of genius. -Kurt [LOVED]

THE HUMBLING
Hit my sweet spot with its Beckett meets Greenberg savage take-down of the aging ego.  Very funny. -Mike Rot [LOVED]

GOOD KILL
A war film set thousands of miles away from the actual war, Ethan Hawke and Bruce Greenwood are the standouts in this chillingly sanitized drama about aerial drones. The reason Good Kill works so well is for precisely the opposite reason as films likeApocalypse Now and The Hurt Locker. Those pictures make you feel as though you’re right there on the battlefield. This makes you feel as though you’re in an air-conditioned office in Las Vegas. Not the subtlest of films when it comes to its message, but then again, what do you expect from Andrew Niccol? -Tom [LOVED]

SECRETS OF WAR
A WWII movie somehow programmed into TIFF’s “Kids” package. Based on a young adult novel, three friends of different backgrounds find themselves forced at a crossroads – eventually betrayal – because of their background/family loyalties. Sensitively directed with some of the best child acting you could hope for. I was extremely tired going into this one, anticipating an expensive TIFF nap, but was very much drawn in. -Corey [LOVED]

PHOENIX
Somewhere between the final act of Vertigo and The Last Metro is Christian Petzold’s film that considers Germany and the Holocaust right after WWII. His regular leading lady Nina Hoss is given a strange and rare opportunity to consider the fallacy of her husband’s greed when he doesn’t recognize her altered face, but uses her to recover her inheritance. -Kurt [LOVED]

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY
This is the reason I attend film festivals, to find films like this one. A dry S&M comedy of manners involving two lesbians that happen to study butterflies and moths in their spare time, when not engaging a sales lady to order sexual aids. Peter Strickland previous made Berberian Sound Studio, and this confirms that every film he makes is both exceptional funny and mandatory viewing. Best opening credits of TIFF, and possibly all of 2014. -Kurt [LOVED]
Hypno lesbo insecto psycho cyclo pronto! -Matt P. [LOVED]
I absolutely feasted on the smorgasbord of images and sounds in this film and came away satiated to the gills. -Bob [LOVED]
this film is hung-up on pragmatics, and there are many who may find the pragmatics to be a tedious or cold experience. However, for the curious, and for those who are interested by the power dynamics that go int any relationship, THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY is a fascinating watch -Ryan [LOVED]

HEARTBEAT
A beautiful Canadian indie about the fear and pain that comes from living fully. Tender and appropriately heartfelt, Heartbeat is a sweet ode to living life fully and unapologetically. -Ariel [LOVED]

ROSEWATER
First-time director Jon Stewart leapfrogs over established filmmakers and makes a movie sure to win awards. -Mike Rot [LOVED]
That there is so much joy in ROSEWATER is unexpected, and in some ways it could be the key to its success. It’s a film that will be a tough-sell, since so many do not want the real world to encroach on their escapism. However, it’s by making that reality more palatable that we will get more people to discover these stories, and get a better grasp of what’s happening in the world around them. It’s the spoonful of sugar that helps our medicine go down -Ryan [LIKED]

TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER
Nick Broomfield’s bumbling white guy in South Central telling the story of a mass murderer who preyed on black women for decades while police looked the other way makes for a captivating movie.  Less about twists and turns and more about the characters that populate this world. -Mike Rot [LOVED]

THE NEW GIRLFRIEND
Ozon has been an up and down director for me (even within individual films), but this could be his best. -Bob [LOVED]
Psychosexual theatre at its gender bendiest. -Matt P. [LOVED]

THE WORLD OF KANAKO
Never has actor Kôji Yakusho been more sweaty than this film, where he combines the best of bad behaviours from both Bad Lieutenant and Get Carter. Here is plays a cop looking for his missing daughter, only to slowly realize that she might be a worse human being than he is. The film itself is perhaps the most irresponsible movie ever made. Astounding cinema if you can stomach it. -Kurt [LOVED]
Does Japan need a hug? YEESH! -Matt P. [LIKED]
Not for everyone, but there’s a certain kind of brilliance to the Sion Sono meets Seijun Suzuki sensory overload of this particular world. Best credits sequence in years. -Bob [LOVED]

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
Question “Why do you prefer the blood of virgins?” Answered in the form of a question: “Would you like to eat your sandwich if you found out someone had already fucked it?” -Kurt [LOVED]
Loved when they ate their Stu. -Matt P. [LOVED]
Easily the funniest film of the fest. Virgin sandwiches only! -Bob [LOVED]
Will make a tremendous double-feature with Only Lovers Left Alive, on their mutual theme of “being an immortal vampire is SO BORING.” -Matt B. [LIKED]
At the end of the day, there really is nothing else to say except that WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is New Zealand’s laugh out loud CITIZEN KANE -Ryan [LOVED]
A Kiwi mockumentary about vampires starring Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords.  With that sentence alone you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect.  Really only a few vampire-based gags to fall back on, however it stays fresh thanks to the ultra-dry conversational dynamics among its main cast, casual dips into absurdity, and ability to make the most of its side characters.  Almost certainly a “love” on future rewatches. -Corey [LIKED]

KABUKICHO LOVE HOTEL
This is what happens when you create fully-fleshed out characters – their hardships feel real and their victories much more sweet. -Bob [LOVED]

WHILE WE WERE YOUNG
Baumbach strikes again! A fabulous treat to watch, bitingly satirical and sharp with a humor and wit to match. This outstanding cast brings to life the ultimate critique of the aging Reality Bites crowd, and the clinical narcissism of the contemporary Me Generation. -Ariel [LOVED]
Noah Baumbach has taken a long hard look at two generations and where they are in the world as we know it. No matter which generation you belong to, there will be something in this movie you identify with. -Ryan [LOVED]

99 HOMES
After the condescending disaster that was At Any Price, I very nearly skipped Ramin Bahrani’s latest, but the positive buzz made me reconsider. Michael Shannon’s unscrupulous real estate man, complete with Gordon Gecko-style monologues, is a lot more interesting than Andrew Garfield and his family, who Shannon mercilessly screws over. -Tom [LOVED]
Agitprop excellence. Bahrani finds new heights. -Matt P. [LOVED]

A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE
A wholly worthy end to Andersson’s trilogy of the human tendency to live in purgatory and miss out on happiness. Indelible images (oh good lord that human rotisserie…) and scenes that had me grinning stupidly. -Bob [BEST]
A marvellous way to cap of Roy Andersson’s utterly unique ‘Being Human’ trilogy (along with Songs From the Second Floor, and You The Living). Here the people look more ghoulish, and one of the vignettes involves a monkey which will give me nightmares for the rest of my life. -Kurt [LOVED]
O cinema! O my heart! huzzah! -Matt P. [LOVED]
There’s a stoic humour involved, and a somewhat arrogant humour as well. It says “I can pull the same trick again and again for 100 minutes and you will not tire of it”. And we don’t – for all its repetitive, muted-palette, awkward conceit, we never tire of gazing upon these metaphorical pigeons on their metaphorical branches. -Ryan [LOVED]
I enjoyed this film. I’m not used to Scandinavian humor by any means, so it was certainly a learning experience. Darkly dry and a little hard to digest, it was nonetheless eye opening. -Ariel [LIKED]
Sorry everyone, I’m that guy. Some initial whimsy and cinematic cleverness gives way to boredom and ultimately, disgust. This is pigeon shit. -Matt B. [HATED]

WHIPLASH
The film is great, the performances (especially a fierce J.K. Simmons) fantastic, but the finale is the most bracing thing I’ve seen all year. Goosebumps on goosebumps. -Bob [LOVED]
A brilliant film about what it takes to make it. Forget about motivational speeches and congratulatory hugs: Whiplash is a much needed sucker punch to the gut. -Ariel [LOVED]

PASOLINI
The last 72 hours of Pier Paolo Pasolini are documented in both creative spirit and mundane detail, before ending with a speculative series of events that saw the famous Italian writer, activist, critic and director run over by a car. Willem DaFoe is a marvel, and how Abel Ferarra manages to squeeze in so much information and detail in to 80 minutes without it ever once feeling forced or didactic is kind of astonishing! -Kurt [LOVED]

LABYRINTH OF LIES
Germans hunting Nazis? That’s a bingo. -Matt P. [LOVED]

MR. TURNER
A beautifully constructed biopic. While very accessible for the layman who may not know a great deal about Turner, the film is rife with complex nuggets of art history. With an excellent performance from Timothy Spall, Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner is a painterly masterpiece. -Ariel [LOVED]
Mike Leigh gets all of his regular actors into period costume, and coaxes a career best performance out of the always excellent Timothy Spall, as he lays out the life and times (but strangely, not much in the way of art or process) of Mr. Turner. It’s a lovely 3 hours, but still feels kind of middling when placed next to Naked, Secrets & Lies, or even Topsy Turvy. -Kurt [LIKED]

NATIONAL GALLERY
Another fly-on-the-wall doc from the master of the form, Frederick Wiseman. I fell in love with the lengthy scenes discussing and doing restoration of paintings, and the various five-minute lectures on artists and individual paintings were always engaging. The art-class and business meeting sides, while amusing, were not as engaging to my sensibility, but overall, this is the best guided tour of the National Gallery you are probably ever going to get. -Kurt [LOVED]

MAGICAL GIRL
Quentin Tarantino structure, Roy Andersson style. -Matt P. [LOVED]
Much of the movie takes place in stone silence, leaving us alone with our thoughts to soak-up how truly terrible what we’re seeing really is. It wants to remind us that some truths in this world are absolute – that two plus two always equals four. A bad deed is a bad deed, no matter how good the reason. -Ryan [LIKED]

CHARLIE’S COUNTRY
A gutpunch. David Gulpilil’s face contains multitudes. -Matt P. [LOVED]
An extremely difficult film to watch, it brings to light every conflicting issue surrounding the legal rights of Aboriginal peoples in Australia – a dialogue that translates frighteningly well to Canadian society. David Gulpilil is remarkable as the title character, with beautiful poignancy in his performance. He screams for his people through the tenderness of his eyes, and it’s soul crushing. -Ariel [LIKED]

THE VANISHED ELEPHANT
A masterpiece I will see lots more! -Matt P. [LOVED]

1001 GRAMS
A precise Scandinavian romantic reverie that is both didactic and absurd, and completely gets away with it. Never have I seen a movie that so has its cake and eats it too. We are all our rituals until we decide to smash them, and it is done here with a rare bit of pleasantness. -Kurt [LOVED]
Charming and lovely and nowhere near as slight as you may first think. -Bob [LOVED]
Dry, dry, dry, dry, dry humour slowly metamorphoses into a lovely reawakening of passion, in precise time (of course) with the film’s principal character. Beautiful. -Matt B. [LOVED]

RED ARMY
The story of The Red Army is sprawling, with a lot of moving parts that all have their own sprawling story. This documentary has focused itself well,and presented itself in a way that make us focus not just on what its subjects are saying, but how they are saying it. -Ryan [LOVED]

FAR FROM MEN
Two men traverse the Algerian desert like Tuco and Blondie in that Sergio Leone picture, except that this movie has a bit of politics and a bit of Laurence of Arabia on its mind as well. Viggo Mortensen gives a masculine and yet quite empathic performance (entire in French) as he comes to grips with his strange predicament during the War in the 1950s. -Kurt [LOVED]

ALLELUIA
Cutting out all the boring and expositional bits, Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz has another protagonist descend into a mad fever-dream. This one is called love, and it has a high body count. You’ve never seen the Honeymoon Killers story told this way – blood-drunk on Amour Fou and cutting away all lifelines from reality. -Kurt [LOVED]

CONFESSION
Slowly but surely builds its characters and plot until a resolution that fully meets its goals. Engaging and quite beautifully filmed. -Bob [LOVED]

DRAGON INN (1971)
The 4K restoration brings King Hu’s classic wuxia to vibrant life. Unlike the Shaw Brother’s Studios, Hu always shot everything on location, and boy those vistas look great here. It takes a while to get going, but the last 20 minutes are as good as the genre gets! -Kurt [LOVED]

TOP FIVE
Interested in what makes up our individual personalities, and what we hope to learn from the personalities around us. It is pure joy; a vitamin cocktail of humour and observation that plays far above slot. -Ryan [LOVED]
Very funny but no Annie Hall as some early hype was suggesting. -Mike Rot [LIKED]

CUB
Perfect Midnight Madness, and that thing where foreign horror movies occasionally never bother to pull up when nose-diving into absolute darkness only makes it more satisfying in its grim conclusion. Kudos to the special guest star at the screening, who scared the bejeezus out of me. -Matt B. [LOVED]
A Boy scout troop goes camping in the woods and end up tangling with a masked feral child and his maniacal guardian. While all the elements don’t quite add up to anything, getting there is a lot of fun. More booby-traps please. -Kurt [LIKED]
Hot damn that’s a great campout! -Matt P. [LOVED]

THE MEN WHO SAVE THE WORLD
Malaysian comedy worthy of Bill Forsythe. -Matt P. [LOVED]

WILD TALES
Well, that is one helluva thing. -Matt P. [LOVED]
Even the best anthology films usually have a weak link. Not so with Wild Tales. Made up of six funny, twisted, unapologetically political vignettes that explore revenge and class divide in contemporary Argentina, this was one of my most anticipated entries going into the festival, and it absolutely didn’t disappoint. -Tom [LOVED]
Certainly had some inspired moments, but was taken out of it by an audience who seemed to be rehearsing to be canned laughter for a sitcom. Nothing remotely close to being that funny in it. -Bob [DISLIKED]

’71
TV director Yann Demange’s aggressive action picture built out of ‘The Troubles’ in Belfast and cut from the cloth of Paul Greengrass. A young soldier attempts to extract himself from the hellish mess caused by both sides (The IRA and the English Army) while many local children are stuck and shaped by the burning buildings, flung feces and banging trash can lids. There is a blonde kid in a small role here who should have a very bright future in film when people notice his onscreen presence. -Kurt [LIKED]
The confused landscape of Northern Ireland is well realized here along with visceral chases and a palpable sense of fear. -Bob [LOVED]
It’s compact, tense and universally relevant. -Matt P. [LOVED]

SCARLET INNOCENCE
Started as low rent melodrama and moved to top shelf high melodrama. Nice trick. -Bob [LOVED]

HYENA
A gritty Brit crime thriller is ultimately… -Matt P. [LOVED]

OVER YOUR DEAD BODY
A tough climb through the soporific first hour yields a truly horrific horror movie, and those sleepytime effects early on only make the final result feel more like a witnessed nightmare. -Matt B. [LOVED]
Though quite dry in its first half, it ends up using its beautiful sets to properly capture the tone of its Japanese ghost story source material. -Bob [LIKED]
Oh, it’s pretty, and oh it’s nasty, but oh, boy is it as obvious as that title. This ‘restrained’ Takashi Miike picture – and I mean that in a relative sense compared to the rest of his filmography – didn’t quite engage me on the lines that it should have. Was it festival fatigue, or one too many sharp objects up the vagina? I am unsure. -Kurt [SLEPT]
Miike’s 937th slightly improves on 936th. -Matt P. [LIKED]
Do not. Step out. On your marriage. -Ryan [DISAPPOINTED]

DUKHTAR
A bit rough around the edges but its heart is in all of the right places. Mother-daughter love in Pakistan beats strong. -Matt B. [LIKED]

TUSK
Works as genuine horror, hitting me on an emotional level far more than a gruesome bit of torture porn.  One of the few movies that stuck with me over the festival. -Mike Rot [LIKED]
Probably the strangest thing I saw this festival, Tusk is messy, self-indulgent and tonally all over the map. But points to Smith for following through on his bat-shit concept. Between this and Red State, he’s one of the only American filmmakers at the moment making movies you flat out cannot predict. Plus I’d happily watch Michael Parks monologue all the livelong day. -Tom [LIKED]
Get high with your friends and bullshit out a story and this is what you get. It’s not perfect, but it’s Smith’s first film since the Jay & Bob era that legitimately got me engaged. -Matt B.[LIKED]

THE GRUMP
Works pretty well (and quite entertainingly so) for its first hour and a half, then yields a final ten minutes as transcendent as the first ten minutes of Up (but in reverse). Bravo. -Matt B. [LOVED]
Gentle with its topic of fearing and resisting change, but is also a bit fearful of using non-stock characters. Still, it should improve your mood… -Bob [LIKED]

THE KINGDOM OF DREAMS AND MADNESS
Who know that Hayao Miyazaki was such an engaging presence on screen? Here we follow the master animator and Studio Ghibli co-founder as he tirelessly works to put together his final film, The Wind Rises. A surprisingly candid look at the man’s routine, and the rhythms of the Ghibli offices, and the resident feline who is, if you have ever seen the various cats in the Studio’s animated features, simply perfect. -Kurt [LIKED]

KILL ME THREE TIMES
Australian crime comedy feels like a leftover from the late nineties, when glib, non-linear Pulp Fiction knockoffs were running rampant. Not particularly memorable or clever but still totally enjoyable. Simon Pegg is fun as a moustache-twirling assassin. -Tom [LIKED]

TU DORS NICOLE
A Quebecois Stranger than Paradise meets Ghost World that is gorgeous to look at but doesn’t quite live up to such pedigree. -Mike Rot [LIKED]

MANGLEHORN
David Gordon Green playing in Herzog territory but awkwardly.  Had high hopes that were not met. -Mike Rot [LIKED]

ST. VINCENT
It doesn’t completely rise above the tropes of its formula to bring something new to the table, but it so so sharply written and surprisingly genuine that we don’t care. It’s an excuse to watch Bill Murray do what he does best, and that’s always a great reason to go to the cinema. -Ryan [LIKED]

THE EDITOR
It is tough to make fun of a genre that is already silly beyond words, but Astron-6 is so eager to please with this film, and has such a precise control of diction and timing in the dialogue scenes (out of sync, naturally) that for all its excessiveness and wobbly pacing, I ended up enjoying the experience well enough. -Kurt [LIKED]
Hits that fine balance between parody and genuine tribute of the Giallo. It almost overstays its welcome, but most of the jokes land and it really does look great. – Bob [LIKED]
a fun watch that doesn’t insult its audience – and far too often nowadays, those two ideas are going hand-in-hand. While it wants to make its jokes and make its references, it also wants to present itself as something polished, something handsome, and something sharp. -Ryan [LIKED]
The problem with a parody of bad genres gone by is, the best case scenario is that you’re gonna make a really bad movie. Dandy lighting design, some truly exceptional dialogue and a surplus of penises and vaginas make up for it. -Matt B. [LIKED]

PARTNERS IN CRIME
Somewhat slight, but still a stylish and solid look at one example of how bullying can have broader consequences. -Bob [LIKED]

Kahlil Gabran’s THE PROPHET
The animation is strong enough to carry the film alone, but if you also give in to the poetry and the cadence of the words, the film becomes something quite wonderful. -Bob [LIKED]
There is an obvious point of comparison coming away from this, and that is Disney’s FANTASIA. Much like that film, this movie revels in the beauty of another art form and seeks to do it justice by interpreting it in other forms. Like that film, this film finds texture and colour within the existing art and adds, well, texture and colour. It sounds simplistic, but it actually encourages us to let our brains go. -Ryan [LIKED]

THE YES MEN ARE REVOLTING
A worthy third chapter to everyones favourite fly by the seat of their pants prankster activists. Now that the Yes Men have been doing this for over 15 years, they have families and relationships that threaten their shenanigans from happening, but they pull through in their attempts to stick it to the anti-Climate Change lobbies. -Kurt [LIKED]

THE DROP
James Gandolfini’s last film is quite small, and is quite fine. That Tom Hardy kid can really act. I wish more films of this type were made more often. -Kurt [LIKED]

NED RIFLE
A fitting end to an unnecessary trilogy. -Matt P. [LIKED]

THE DEAD LANDS
Sure the framework of this movie is the framework for every hero-journey Chinese martial arts movie ever made, but her it is tribal Maori warriors with sticks and scary faces. The change in scenery is enough! -Kurt [LIKED]
The Maori Action Cannibal Star Wars. -Matt P. [LOVED]
Maori Apocalypto. ‘Nuff said. -Tom [LIKED]

THE FACE OF AN ANGEL
Minor Winterbottom that gets all meta trying to adapt a book about a crime into a film where the main character is writing a screenplay about the same crime, which is actually loosely based on a real crime. Got that? Either way, Daniel Brühl is as fantastic as ever, but Kate Beckinsale is asleep at the wheel, and the whole thing doesn’t amount to much. -Kurt [DISAPPOINTED]

GOODNIGHT MOMMY
Artfully designed torture porn, but twin prepubescent boys are inherently the creepiest monsters you can put on film, which keeps things unsettling even past the point of credulity. -Matt B. [LIKED]
IKEA presents the torture house collection. -Matt P. [LIKED]

PRIDE
Upbeat and uplifting in the same vein as Kinky Boots and The Full Monty, Pride is a lovely if wafer thin treat. The very real and serious topics of homophobia and AIDS in the late 80’s are skimmed over, as they serve as secondary plot points. It’s not as dense as it should be, but Pride is certainly entertaining. -Ariel [LIKED]

[REC]4
Yup, that’s that movie. -Matt B. [LIKED]

FOXCATCHER
This already vastly overrated movie is nevertheless a savvy look at disparate wealth in America and the poisons that secrete outward from extreme family fortune. Steve Carell is not half as good here playing an Aspergerian-sociopath as Mark Ruffalo is playing a warm fully realized human being. -Kurt [LIKED]
An intriguing but unfocused take on privilege, patriotism and male insecurity. Carell is good but by no means Oscar-worthy. Feels as though there’s some connective tissue missing. -Tom [DISAPPOINTED]
In spite of being truly floored by Mark Ruffalo’s performance, and rather pleased with Channing Tatum’s turn, Foxcatcher was a blundering misstep. Steve Carell was the biggest disappointment, at times pulling his usual comedic schtick and jeopardizing the integrity of the film. Casting and editing were the film’s biggest shortcomings. -Ariel [DISAPPOINTED]

THE SEARCH
Michael Hazanavicius’ follow up to The Artist could hardly be more different. Set during the Second Chechen War, The Search contains moments of greatness but is hamstrung by grim self-righteousness and an anaesthetizing lack of narrative momentum. -Tom [DISAPPOINTED]

RED AMNESIA
Plays with the idea of regret not being enough to make up for past sins. Though it takes its time to get there, it becomes very satisfying. -Bob [LIKED]
Can’t forget it jake, it’s China. – Matt P. [LIKED]

SECOND COMING
Great kitchen sink, plus Idris Elba. -Matt P. [LIKED]

ARIE LIBRE
An effective portrayal of a marriage imploding, but hurt somewhat by the husband character being disproportionally a jackass. Then again a female friend thought the same thing of the wife – so maybe the film got a good balance. -Bob [LIKED]

THE EQUALIZER
Dumb fun. If you ever wanted to see Denzel Washington as Batman, here is your chance, just without the costume. -Mike Rot [LIKED]

TEEN LUST
A light fun romp through satanic sacrifice. -Matt P. [LIKED]

HAEMOO
With some stunning visuals and some terrible turns of the screw, it is well worth the watch, even if you find yourself a little seasick by the end. -Ryan [LIKED]
Mixed feelings – a solid “at sea” tale that takes a fascinating dark turn and then devolves as its characters become less complex the longer the film runs. -Bob [DISLIKED]

X + Y
A charming smart drama but mostly conventional. -Matt P. [LIKED]

WET BUM
Nice, understated first film by a Canadian director with a really terrific lead performance from Julia Sarah Stone. -Matt B. [LIKED]

THE VOICES
Darkly funny and surprisingly profound, Marjan Satrapi has created an interesting dialogue about mental illness. You’ll laugh and cringe in equal measure. -Ariel [LOVED]
Watching Ryan Reynolds talk to his pets starts out sort of amusing, but wears thin after about fifteen minutes. The film is obviously meant as a commentary on how we view the mentally ill, but ends up feeling more like a tasteless joke at their expense. -Tom [DISLIKED]
Mental problems aren’t ever that fun. -Matt P. [LOVED & HATED]

LUNA
While the film is rather shoddily shot, there is no denying that it aims for emotions that most movies rarely focus on. Two couples struggle with the loss of their children in an isolated beach house, while Dave McKean splices in various animated fantasy creatures and ideas. It is awkward and difficult at times, but the ending tries to give a little reward in the reassurance that we can somewhat heal our past tragedies and mistakes and move on. -Kurt [LIKED]

OUT OF NATURE
Essentially a filmed internal monologue which does an effective and entertaining job in letting you in on one man’s attempt to figure it all out. -Bob [LOVED]
An experiment in experiencing the main characters train of thought as he hikes through the mountains in an attempt to figure his shit out. It doesn’t quite pan out. I hate it when Scandinavian films fail this hard. -Kurt [DISLIKED]
So much wanking, figuratively and literally. -Matt P. [DISLIKED]
What happens on a hike, stays on a hike. Proverbial and literal wanking aside, I expected more depth from Out of Nature. It’s still a solid effort, and one of the most honest films I’ve seen in a long time. Nonetheless, it didn’t meet my expectations. -Ariel [DISAPPOINTED]

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
Steven Hawking biopic maxes out on the treacle while filtering down the fascinating science into an “explain it to me like I’m an idiot” analogy using peas and potatoes around the kitchen table. Sorry, but I just don’t care about this man’s personal life. But kudos to Eddie Redmayne, who nails the impersonation. -Tom [DISLIKED]

THE IMITATION GAME
A pretty conventional biopic, but Cumberbatch is fantastic. Helps if you’re unfamiliar with the actual story. -Tom [LIKED]
When I found out that the director of the gleeful and smart ‘thriller of empathy,’ 2011’s Headhunters was making a movie on Alan Turing’s life, death and the cracking of the Enigma code in WW2, I got all excited. When I witnessed The Imitation Game decrypt what was undoubtedly a labyrinthine complicated process military, politics and science working together into what can only be described as simple Oscar bait. The whole thing is pretty and well acted, but has an offensively bad screenplay. Destined for Award Season. But eliciting yawns to anyone who loves this story, or for that matter, films in general. -Kurt [DISAPPOINTED]

WILD
Sometimes a film paints its hero using a lot of shades of grey. The result is a person that is part idol and part idiot. What remains to be seen is which part the audience clings to. -Ryan [LIKED]
We’ve all got problems. Not sure why I needed to watch Reece Witherspoon trek through the wilderness to deal with hers. -Tom [DISLIKED]

I AM NOT LORENA
A filmmaker that has not grasped the art of storytelling gets muddled in this identity theft thriller from Argentina. She tries to extricate herself by going into Blue Velvet territory, but that doesn’t quite pan out either. It’s almost forgivable for a first feature, but not quite. The result is a waste of a good concept. -Kurt [DISLIKED]
Herrings so red my fingers are stained. -Matt P. [DISAPPOINTED]

HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS
If you mixed the trailers for Eat Pray Love and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and DUMBED them way the fuck down, you’d get something like this. -Kurt [DISLIKED]

GENTLEMEN
It tries to take a decades long and quite convoluted government scandal (and bestselling novel) and attempts to boil it all down to a mere two hours runtime. Too many characters and not enough empathy or emotion make this a turgid exercise anything but engaging. It is so plot dense it generates a gravity-well into which everything simply disappears into. -Kurt [DISLIKED]
Don’t know what happened, don’t care. -Matt P. [HATED]

IT FOLLOWS
Great concept, 70s-80s throwback style & score and a fine ability to create tension make this a lot of fun despite an abundance of plot holes and issues. Overlook those and you’ll be fine. -Bob [LIKED]
Exceptional sound design and some pretty brilliant camera work shore up a less-than-stellar exploitation of a really strong premise. Creepy without being entirely effective. -Matt B. [LIKED]
Full to overflowing with some really fun jump scares, It Follows leaves a bit to be desired. It feels like a bad dream in that, no matter how much you fight, you can’t get away. Instead of instilling this fear in us, it instills very real frustration, feeling more like you end where you begin and have wasted your time. -Ariel [LIKED]
Fun gotchas, but no real payoffs. -Matt P [LIKED]
Clever enough in its construction, specifically in the way the boogeyman has no physical form. Knowing that anyone slowly walking towards our protagonists could be the threat is a great way to make the fear omnipresent – likewise a way to make us look over our shoulders the next time we walk home from a hook-up. -Ryan [LIKED]

A LITTLE CHAOS
It may be conventional, but this easily won me over on the strength of its individual parts. And Kate. Definitely Kate. -Bob [LIKED]

GYEONGJU
The Past and ghosts litter the streets of the city of Gyeongju and though it takes awhile to navigate them, the stroll is quite pleasant. -Bob [LIKED]

CAKE
Jennifer Anniston’s character isn’t simply a bitch – her reactions and behaviour are that of a fully realized person. A finely measured film. -Bob [LIKED]

ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANON FILMS
Tune in for another canvas survey of a super-niche of international filmmaking. Tells about 30% more of the story than I needed, as usual, but the clips are hot. -Matt B. [LIKED]
Exactly what you expect and that’s OK (though it’s a shade less fun than its older siblings “Not Quite Hollywood” and “Machete Maidens Unleashed”). Also, Sybill Danning is still gorgeous. -Bob [LIKED]

THREE HEARTS
Unashamedly melodramatic. While the first two acts are all about the beginning of two different relationships and the way the second one finds purchase in its soil, the final act is all about obsession running off the rails. -Ryan [LIKED]

HUNGRY HEARTS
In spite of stellar performances from Adam Driver (one of his most tender to date) and Alba Rorhwacher, this is one of the most arrogant films I’ve seen in years. Poor lensing choices, awkward editing, and slopping writing make this hard to digest. This art-house style alienates its audience, becoming more infuriating than enthralling. -Ariel [DISAPPOINTED]
At times amateurish, but still compelling. -Matt P. [LIKED & DISLIKED]

THEY HAVE ESCAPED
Not your average teen runaway film, it marries great hallucinatory sights and sounds to show attempts to escape adulthood. -Bob [LOVED]
A good setup leads to a grim, moody fable (plus one rather delightful get high / get naked / dance around the woods in animal skins sequence), but the movie shits its own bed completely with a gruesome and improbable third act. -Matt B. [DISLIKED]

TWO SHOTS FIRED
Maybe one shot lands and it’s underwhelming. -Matt P. [DISAPPOINTED]

TOKYO TRIBE
Alternated between riotously fun and terribly dull. An exhausting experience. But dammit if Beatbox Girl wasn’t awesome. -Bob [DISLIKED]
Beatbox girl great, otherwise mostly just loud. -Matt P. [DISAPPOINTED]
I’d been awake for roughly 44 of the previous 48 hours by the time I sat down for this film, so there are large sections in the middle that are a mystery to me. But what I did see of Sion Sono’s latest, a gangsta-rapping yakuza flick, I absolutely adored. -Tom [LOVED]

CUT SNAKE
Aussie Sexy Beast but without charm. -Matt P. [DISAPPOINTED]
For all its contrivances and lack of emotional weight, CUT SNAKE was fine. But nothing more. -Bob [DISLIKED]

THE REAPER
The quiet and slow pace of the film showed that death is patient and waits for opportunities, but waiting with it isn’t always that exciting. -Bob [DISLIKED]

FLAPPING IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE
Credible lead performances and some genuinely gorgeous photography, but the story never finds its way. Will be interested to see where this director goes next. -Matt B. [DISAPPOINTED]

THE GOLDEN ERA
Very pretty and then zzzzz.. Huh? whahappun? -Matt P. [DISAPPOINTED]

EDEN
A weightless, wafting drama about a music movement I realized late that I have zero interest in. -Mike Rot [DISLIKED]
A fairly joyless wander through the French dance music culture that provides little insight into it or its main character. -Bob [DISLIKED]
Techno tour has a shallow guide. -Matt P. [DISAPPOINTED]

LABYRINTHUS
Not up to TIFFkids standards. -Matt P. [DISLIKED]

THE GOOD LIE
Stronger for focusing on its African characters (Reese Witherspoon is supporting at best) and achieves some genuine emotion, but it is so very by the book. -Bob [DISLIKED]

THE OWNERS
Slow, absurdist and depressing, black comedy from Kazakhstan with little dialogue, a washed out look and lots of dancing. Oddly enjoyable at times but a little too static. -Bob [DISLIKED]

THE KEEPING ROOM
Starts strong and then ends in a hail of ludicrous. -Mike Rot [DISLIKED]

MONSOON
Gorgeous but never reaches for anything big – counter to what its overly serious narration implies it does. -Bob [DISLIKED]

MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN
Jason Reitman is a very good filmmaker with unrealistic aspirations to be one of the very best, and that makes people hungry to put him in his place. And so they did. A lot of the hubbub around this film is as alarmism about our modern relationship with technology, however in the end this is just another slap in the face of the suburbs. The film is best early on with its ideas percolating, and with the knowledge that there are dozens of avenues these stories could play out. Unfortunately, Reitman has to settle on one way for each of them, and they’re not all particularly satisfying, a few seem to just drop off, some threads seem to go on forever, and generally they are all a bit predictable. More respectable than great, and definitely not the disaster some at TIFF have declared. -Corey [LIKED]
Worth a watch, but many will come away with more questions than answers. Part of me believes that we aren’t actually ready to tell this story yet because we haven’t even come close to touching bottom on how the internet is affecting our attitude towards sex and love. -Ryan [DISAPPOINTED]
Jason Reitman tries to be universal with his themes by using many individual stories, but misses the mark with most of them. Trimming it to a few better developed stories would have brought out the themes much more. -Bob [DISLIKED]

WHO AM I? NO SYSTEM IS SAFE
And we’re still waiting for a good hacker film…”You write machine code?”. “Yes”. No, no you don’t dude. -Bob [HATED]
More like no cliché is safe. -Matt P. [DISLIKED]

CUT BANK
Blah. Fargo light. Blah. Stuhlbarg Dern. -Matt P. [DISLIKED]

THE REACH
Michael Douglas drives an insanely expensive Mercedes off-road vehicle, does a baffling WallE impression, and shoots at his tour guide while in the middle of the desert in the American Southwest. Only then does the actor becomes utterly, irrationally stupid. The ending here might be the dumbest thing ever. I expected a lot more from the director of the esoteric architectural noir head-scratcher Carré Blanc than this pile of junk. [WORST]

UNLUCKY PLAZA
Slog-Day Afternoon is the best I can come up with for this Singapore hostage thriller that feels more like a weekend acting workshop than a film most of the time. Occasionally things get lively which make you sit up at attention, but then a few minutes later you are checking your watch again. -Kurt [DISLIKED]
Right on the verge of competence. -Matt P. [LIKED]

ITSI BITSI
Luxuriates in its own awful banality. -Matt P. [DISLIKED]

MAPS TO THE STARS
Abhorrently bad. Easily one of the worst films Cronenberg’s ever made, and one of the laziest pieces of so-called filmmaking I’ve ever seen from someone of such repute. The sound design alone is deplorable, let alone the arrogant and poorly conceived script. -Ariel [HATED]

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CIVIL WAR
2 hours of unrelenting misery. Accurate and well acted misery, but misery just the same. Highest density of crack smoking per minute of footage ever. -BOB [HATED]

WASTELAND
Starts off as a promising procedural with a bit of the old ultra violence, but ends up its own arse trying to make a point about the anxieties of soon-to-be fathers. Manages the egregious crime of a white guy working out his demons with another cultures iconography, even though it is kind of self aware of this fact, it does not excuse it. -Kurt [HATED]
Disastrous turn from procedural to psychotropic. -Matt P. [HATED]
Never has the descent into madness been so dull. -Bob [HATED]

TOUR DE FORCE
One 5 minute somewhat affecting scene does not forgive 90 minutes of tepid and forced drama mixed with stock “comedic” scenes. Could have been devastating if they actually built real characters. -Bob [HATED]

THE COBBLER
Adam Sandler is the least thing wrong with THE COBBLER, and yet I fear he will become its lightning rod. When he does – when, not if – how can we blame him for retreating to the safety of lowbrow? Whenever he gambles, he places a losing bet so why should we blame him for picking up his chips and going home? -Ryan [WORST]
The line “you are the guardian of soles” is actually spoken out loud. And not for laughs. McCarthy ditches his complex and interesting characters for dull plot. -Bob [HATED]

PAWN SACRIFICE
The latest from Edward Zwick is a mess whose story thankfully manages to stay entertaining despite over the top, hammy direction.  It’s one of those biopic occasions where a Ron Howard is in order. Tobey Maguire plays Bobby Fischer as if he is CM Punk: arrogant, brash, demanding, clever, private and paranoid.  It’s a solid performance but a hard one to rally around, even despite Sarsgaard and Stuhlbarg in amicable supporting roles. This film has too much pre-story of upbringing, with obvious music cues and way too many news footage montages to keep you up to speed.  Once the film settles down, it finds a much better footing, but faces new challenges, particularly that this is a film about chess that does nowhere near enough to educate you about what is happening. It insists that the actions on screen are significant, but gives you no insight as to why. -Corey [WORST]

REVENGE OF THE GREEN DRAGONS
That this was from the director of Infernal Affairs, and produced by the director of The Departed, can in no way save this overly-voiced-over, narratively ugly, poorly acted gangland trifle. Ugh. -Kurt [HATED]
It is a shit storm, and we lack umbrellas. -MATT P. [HATED]
The last time I came across this many cliches I was watching a clichéd movie about cliches while eating a cliche sandwich. With a side of cliches. -Bob [HATED]

AMERICAN HEIST
My fault for picking a movie named American Heist, I suppose. Laughably clichéd bank robbery movie makes asinine attempts to comment on the global recession. And despite featuring the likes of Hayden Christensen, Jordana Brewster and Akon, the worst performance by far comes from gangsta Adrien Brody. You should never snigger when listening to a man describe his experience being raped in prison. -Tom [WORST]

THE TRIBE
Nihilism for nihilism’s sake, being nothing but a repetitive series of scenes of physical violence and sex work, leading (inevitably?) to a graphic five-minute back-alley abortion sequence, and a rape for good measure. Absolutely vile. -Matt B.[WORST]

BANG BANG BABY
A harmless, goofy kitchsy 1950s musical sci-fi couldn’t really be this bad could it? Way to fuck up the purple mist dream factory, Canada. Sheesh. The only saving grace here is actress Jane Levy. (The film even managed to find a way to make Peter Stormare suck.) I hated this movie. -Kurt [HATED]
I would like to see what the other entries in Best Canadian First Feature Film category were, because this winning that award seems highly suspect. Not a terrible movie, but I know in my screening it ended with a force-clap from the audience. -Mike Rot [WORST]

IMPUNITY
Poorly paced and plotted, muddled and, frankly, stupid, I don’t know what IMPUNITY was doing at this festival. -Bob [WORST]

Carlos’ Review Round-Up

Here’s a quick sampling of my week’s watches. You can find more of my reviews at Always Watch Good Movies.

 

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Directed by: Craig Johnson
Country: USA

Directed by Craig Johnson (“True Adolescents”) and co-written with Mark Heyman (“Black Swan”), “The Skeleton Twins” is an efficient American indie dramedy that showcases amazing performances by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. Milo (Haden) lives in LA where he pursues an acting career. Severely depressed, he tries to commit suicide at the same time that his twin sister, Maggie (Wiig), whom he doesn’t see in ten years, is thinking in doing the same at her home in upstate New York. Both will reunite in this last location and help each other understanding where the problems might come from and how to better deal with them. While Milo, avowedly gay, tries to revive a problematic relationship, once wrapped in trouble, with a former professor, Maggie often cheats the goodhearted husband she loves, lying to him about wanting to get pregnant. Intelligent in the way that draws laughs and tears, “The Skeleton Twins” was able to shake feelings and make me care about the lives of these two tormented human beings who are desperately looking for a piece of solid ground in a muddy swamp. Johnson’s direction was pretty assertive and the performances by all the cast worked out wonderfully, thoroughly conveying the sadness of a, past and present, disjointed family, and the fear about the future. I see it as one of the most respectable and highly absorbing dramas of the year, enhanced by the great humor and several feel-good moments, which balanced the depicted tones of anguish. It bestowed all this with grace and focus, clearly standing out from the majority of the movies in the genre.


God’s Pocket (2014)

Directed by: John Slattery
Country: USA

The lives of a group of inhabitants from a neighborhood called God’s Pocket are depicted in the debut film from the actor-turned-director, John Slattery, who co-wrote with Alex Metcalf, based on Pete Dexter’s 1983 novel. Even with a set of magnificent actors, such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, Eddie Marsan, and Christina Hendricks, “God’s Pocket” stubbornly varies between impenetrable and dull moments, becoming a shallow exercise on crime and a dispassionate attempt of giving shape to its miserable characters. The story follows Mickey (Hoffman) who tries to deal with the death of his racist stepson in his own way. By burying his body, he tries to hide the news from everybody without success. This is just another problem to add to his marital worries and future debts. Richard Shellburn (Jenkins), a newspaper journalist is the one who investigates the case and keeps writing about the reputation of the people. The film never attains what pretended, and for most of the time remains protracted, uneventful, and throwing out dispensable dialogues. All of a sudden, in one or two occasions, there are burst of gratuitous violence that just worsens the contrived, sometimes impenetrable, and non-atmospheric story. It’s basically a sum of unpleasant episodes that are vaguely connected, and for which I couldn’t feel many positive things. Surprising? Yes, but in a negative way. The quality of these actors was wasted, and that was the biggest surprise for me, since I expected much more from this frustrating American drama.


The Two Faces of January (2014)

Directed by: Hossein Amini
Country: UK / others

“The Two Faces of January” is the debut feature-film from Iranian-English Hossein Amini, most known as a screenwriter, with works such as “Drive”, “Snow White and the Huntsman”, and “The Wings of the Dove”. This thriller was adapted from Particia Highsmith’s 1962 novel of the same name. Viggo Mortensen stars as Chester MacFarland, a con artist who ends up involving himself in an accidental murder of an intimidatory man when he was on vacations in Athens in the company of his wife, Collette (Kirsten Dunst). A tour guide and scammer named Rydal (Oscar Isaac), who followed Chester due to his semblances with his father, will help him to get rid of the body and get new passports through the black market. On the run, the trio tries to escape the Greek authorities, but the relationship between the two men deteriorates along the time, mainly for two reasons: different opinions on how to handle the situation, and jealousy since Rydal and Collette dangerously admit to nurture a special admiration for each other. I was supposed to be seduced by the way this thriller was conceived, but the truth is that the film never bestowed what it promised, not even in its final part where we have a bit more agitation and suspense. It didn’t take me beyond my expectations, and there’s absolutely nothing here we haven’t seen before. In its pretty familiar tones, we can feel a sense of tragic that was never enough to hold my attention. Solid in the technical aspects, the half-hearted “The Two Faces of January” lacked power in depicting the fatal crossed paths of these two men.


Life of Crime (2013)

Directed by: Daniel Schechter
Country: USA

The third feature film from Daniel Schechter (“Supporting Characters”), “Life of Crime”, was adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novel “The Switch”, and despite having nothing really new to offer, it entertains most of the time. Everything starts when two well-informed swindlers, Louis (John Hawkes) and Ordell (Mos Def), target Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), the wife of a wealthy man, kidnapping her in order to ask for a million dollars ransom. While the operation occurs, Frank Dawson (Tim Robbins), the selfish husband, is in Bahamas with his lover Melanie (Isla Fisher) who thwarts the plan by picking up all the phone calls and saying that Frank is not there with her. Meanwhile, Mickey is made hostage and placed in the house of a stinky Nazi follower called Richard (Mark Boone Junior). The story gets really messy as it moves forward, and some characters change positions driven by a determination for revenge, or even fear, as it occurred to Marshall (Will Forte), a friend of the Dawson family who has a crush on Mickey and was caught in the middle of the kidnapping scene. Schechter’s direction was minimally competent without standing out, leading “Life of Crime” to lose some energy and control in its final part. A few ludicrous moments, regular pace, and a cool atmosphere, so characteristic of the majority of the heist movies, makes us distracted from the usual aspects that hamper the films of this genre from being totally gratifying. They’re there, but the performances made me tolerate them.


Love is Strange (2014)

Directed by: Ira Sachs
Country: USA / France

If “Keep the Lights On” from two years ago had already given a considerable boost in Ira Sachs’ directorial career, “Love is Strange”, co-written with Mauricio Zacharias, has the merit of being a near-perfect drama that takes into a higher dimension. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are amazing as a gay couple who are together for almost forty years. They go through several financial problems after one of them has been fired right after getting married. This setback forces them to sell their beautiful apartment located in one of the best areas of New York city, and live temporarily apart with friends and family, while looking for a new place. The two men will have different experiences: George (Molina) stays with two gay cops who live in the lower floor and constantly give parties all night long, while Ben (Lithgow) goes to his nephew’s in Brooklyn, affecting deeply the professional life of his nephew’s wife, Kate (Marisa Tomei), as well as the private life of their teen son, Elliott. The film feels incredibly real and was conceived with superior cleverness. There’s so much sensitivity in every interaction without resorting to sentimental tricks, and every relationship is crafted with such confidence by the actors, that “Love is Strange” becomes one of the most accomplished and comprehensible dramas of the year. It depicts complexity in a simple way, and how people are vulnerable to abrupt changes in their lives. Funny, straightforward, involving at all occasions, tragic, and finally rewarding, we stand before a mature, modern narrative in which love is the only factor that is not in question.


The Longest Week (2014)

Directed by: Peter Glanz
Country: USA

Using a relaxing flow, cordial narrative, and a cool score that includes piano jazz, swinging reeds, and violins playing Bach, “The Longest Week” is a friendly comedy that borrows the mood of Woody Allen’s stories and throws some personal touch in the way it is approached by debutant director Peter Glanz. The main character of this comedy-drama is the wealthy skirt-chaser Conrad Valmont (Jason Bateman) whose parents abandoned him since he was a kid to travel around the world, leaving him the luxurious Manhattan Hotel. Certain day he was told that his divorcing parents have disinherited him. Conrad astutely hides this detail from his best friend, Dylan Tate (Billy Crudrup), an artist who shows interest in his friend Beatrice (Olivia Wilde), an editorial model who already had caught Conrad’s eye. It seems that not even his analyst can do anything to avoid love and impoverishment, but a natural competition between the two friends will spike the film. I was able to follow the well-composed images with interest and the light humor always seemed unforced and with a perfect timing. The surprising conclusion of this tale also deserves some points, making “The Longest Week” a twisted rom-com that comes packed with graciousness and a good disposition when addresses the differences between sympathy and love, and being hopelessly romantic and romantically hopeless. Even considering its presumptuous airs ‘a lá Française’ and the too much obvious influences already mentioned before, “The Longest Week” still has something charming to deliver.


Metalhead (2013)

Directed by: Ragnar Bragason
Country: Iceland

“Metalhead” is an angry drama set in a small country village in Iceland, and focused on Hera, a 12 year-old girl who becomes traumatized after witnessing the death of her brother in an accident with a tractor. She becomes wayward, alienated, and lacking self-esteem, seeming lost in improper behaviors. Without getting any help from their untalkative parents who also have a few problems to solve, Hera refuges herself in a passion inherited from her brother: the heavy-metal music. The problem will follow her for the rest of her teenage years, but an unlikely hope comes from the new priest of the village, also an enthusiast of the dark and thick sounds of heavy metal. Despite the hopeful finale, “Metalhead” is low-spirited and not always well coordinated in the sequences of scenes presented to us. I felt the film needed to lose some more time in certain details, maturing them to better compose the outcomes. There are certain moments where the filmmaker Ragnar Bragason, whose career is connected with the world of TV series, couldn’t avoid some instability and even phoniness, especially when tried to introduce some humor and religious connotations. As the film moves forward the characters become uninteresting and the dramatic contour ends up increasingly disappointing. Its backs and forths are many times inconsistent and often fluctuated, in a way that the film works more as a noisy show off than anything else. Exasperating in its final part and ordinary in its whole, “Metalhead” never convinced as an insightful or profound psychological portrait of a lost, angered, and yet talented soul.


God Help the Girl (2014)

Directed by: Stuart Murdoch
Country: UK

The lead singer of the Scottish indie pop band ‘Belle & Sebastian’, Stuart Murdoch, makes his directorial debut with “God Help the Girl”, a musical drama written by himself, starring Emily Browning, Olly Alexander and Hannah Murray. Murdoch already had contributed for the soundtrack of several movies including “(500) Days of Summer” and “Juno”. The story turns around Eve (Browning), an anorectic teenager with aptitude for songwriting, who escapes the hospital facility where she was being treated to go to a concert in Glasgow. She easily becomes friends with guitarist/songwriter James (Alexander) who in turn, introduces her to Cassie (Murray), his music student. The three become good friends and the possibility of forming a pop band starts to take shape. Meanwhile, Eve starts a relationship with Anton (Pierre Boulanger), the selfish singer of a successful rock band, making James jealous. Lumbering and focusing on irrelevant details, “God Help the Girl” was quite monotonous along the way, never hauling articulated emotions from its characters to gain our sympathy. I just couldn’t be entertained with a story whose depicted problems never seemed to be real problems in my eyes. Even the sweet songs became pretty boring after a short time. Flaccid and far from innovative, Mudoch’s drama aimed a feel-good posture that annoys more than it is cool. Its ambition felt short, and God, help Murdoch in his next move because this one wasn’t so considerable.


Frontera (2014)

Directed by: Michael Berry
Country: USA

Michael Berry directs and co-writes with the former art department coordinator, Louis Moulinet, the drama about immigration “Frontera”, his debut feature. The story focuses on Miguel Rodriguez (Michael Peña) who illegally crosses the Mexico/US border, searching for work and better life conditions, all with his new future baby in mind. He agrees to take Jose (Michael Ray Escamilla) with him, the disrespectful son of his father-in-law’s friend. Already in American territory, and guiltless, they will be involved in the accidental death of a woman on horseback who approached them to give them water and blankets. The innocent Miguel will be arrested and considered the man to blame, triggering the wrath of the woman’s husband, Roy (Ed Harris), a former Arizona sheriff who starts an investigation by himself. Meanwhile, Miguel’s wife, Paulina (Eva Longoria) pays a man to cross the border and join her husband, but ends up hostage. I was expecting other intensity from “Frontera”, a film whose conclusions came quickly and flavorless. Instead of elaborate or effusive, this ‘western’ drama is rather melancholic, derivative and drab, never presenting highlights along the way and opting for a continuous pace that only gives the sensation of being accelerated through the score, fetched from the old TV series. The performances remained in the shadow of a plot that got me impatient and dry, just like the incredible desert landscapes along the border.


Stray Dogs (2013)

Directed by: Tsai Ming Liang
Country: Taiwan / France

This is not the first time that the acclaimed filmmaker, Tsai Ming Liang, accurately depicts the desolation of some miserable lives that wander on Taipei’s shore. From all his past movies, “The Hole” from 1998 is the one that gets closer to “Stray Dogs”, not in terms of plot, but in its visuals, where the constant heavy rain, muddy landscapes, and places in ruins, compose the background of a picture whose center is an alcoholic man who struggles to feed his two children. During the day, he earns some money holding up a signboard that advertises luxury apartments, while the kids spend the day in a supermarket trying to get food samples. Watching the father making an effort to stay away of alcohol by entrusting all his money to the older son, was really heartbreaking, or the satisfaction of the belly-pinched family eating at the end of the day, somewhere on a dark street. But the days in which the father changes his mind and asks for the money to drink, a deep sadness hits the heart of the kids, who unexpectedly become the protégés of a solitary woman, employee of the supermarket where they try their luck. Super-long shots with steady camera, a huge pain reflected in the characters’ eyes and captured through intense close-ups, and the gift to compose the anguish and wretchedness, are sharp arrows pointed straight to our hearts, in a way that only Ming Liang knows how to do it. In spite of my words of praise, be aware that the style demonstrated here requires some effort from the viewer. It’s a powerful, intoxicating raw cinema, showing that not everybody is blessed with a good life.


Blind (2014)

Directed by: Eskil Vogt
Country: Norway

Bold, open-minded and self-confident are some ways to classify the Norwegian “Blind”, Eskil Vogt’s experimental comedy drama. Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Peterson) was affected by a rare disease that got her blind, staying home the most part of the time and giving wings to her imagination. Her creative mind not only rummages sexual fantasies and desires, but also her deepest fears regarding her husband, Morten (Henrik Rafaelesen). The structure is complex in such a way that I occasionally felt lost in its web of truths, lies, fantasies, and realities. It’s a voluptuous portrait of a neurotic woman whose blindness doesn’t stop her from dreaming. Characters like the voyeur and porn addict, Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt), who always looked for the most hard-core and mundane in women before falling in love, or the solitary Elin (Vera Vitali) who is pregnant and resigned with her blindness. “Blind” has the merit of providing a different experience while tangle us in its difficult, puzzled relationships that never ceased to surprise. There’s something weirdly dark and humorous in its ‘fake’ quietness, and in spite of one or another technical aspect that could have been better worked out, the film revealed a fresh observant side allied to an enviable rigor on details. Writer and first-time feature film director, Eskil Vogt, responsible for the screenplays of Joachim Trier’s “Reprise” and “Oslo, August 31st”, collected awards at Berlin, Istanbul and Sundance, a wonderful showcase in addiction to the Norwegian prize of best director.


Kelly & Cal (2014)

Directed by: Jen McGowan
Country: USA

“Kelly & Cal” has a plausible story as background but never delivered enough intense motives to gain my appreciation. This drama marks the debut of director Jen McGowan and screenwriter Amy Lowe Starbin, a lumpy combination that only sparsely works out. What really stands out here is Juliette Lewis as Kelly, a former punk-rock singer who is now trapped into a complicated marriage and carries a crying baby in her arms. Feeling abandoned by her workaholic husband and exhausted, Kelly will find some ease in her frustration when she meets Cal (Johnny Weston), a 17 year-old angered boy in a wheelchair. They will develop an improbable relationship that both of them know pretty well can end up tragically. The film also addresses the meddling of family in the relationship of a couple, when suddenly mother-in-law and sister-in-law try to transform Kelly in something she doesn’t want to. The film steps in too widely known territories to surprises us, and the approach and mood didn’t stood out in order to leave a positive impact. I believe the problem of “Kelly & Cal” relies exactly in its worn execution, non-fluid pace, and a final part that tries to shake a little bit emotions without totally convince. Even if romantic dramas are your favorite plate, I dare to say that this ‘frustrating married mom meets a revolted young man’ only has performances as its most valuable aspect. The film won the Gamechanger award 2014 at South by Southwest (SXSW), which takes place in Austin, Texas.


Of Horses and Men (2013)

Directed by: Benedikt Erlingsson
Country: Iceland

“Of Horses and Men” is a pretty damn amazing comedy-drama written and directed by Icelandic newcomer, Benedikt Erlingsson, who counted with the experienced filmmaker Fridrik Thor Fridriksson (“Childrem of Nature”, “Mamma Gogo”) as producer, as well as Bergstein Bjorgulfsson (“Jar City”, “The Deep”) as cinematographer. Short in duration (only 81 min.) but sufficiently intense in what intends to depict, the film is a collection of little stories (segments), confronting life and death in the most diverse ways, and putting face to face the animal and human natures, all with a bittersweet feel that grabs us since the very beginning. Occasionally, its well-observed images can be very painful to watch, however we always have the beauty of the Icelandic landscapes to calm us down afterwards. Each segment starts with a big close-up of a horse’s eye in which its owner is reflected in it. A lot of memorable scenes still persist in my head long after watching the movie. Among them, a stallion mounting a mare with its master on its back, a drunken man riding his horse into the freezing sea to buy vodka from a Russian boat, or a man sacrificing a horse to survive the bitter cold of the night. Exquisite and strange, the powerful “Of Horses and Men” is a feast not only for the eyes but also for the soul, according to the substance and spirit of its wonderful little tales. The throbbing folk soundtrack reinforces Erlingsson as the maestro of a well-orchestrated arthouse film.


 

Friday One Sheet: Extraterrestrial

click for full screen

This cabin in the woods meets hostile aliens picture looks derivative and boring in almost every way, but I have to hand it to the key art team for crafting a concise, aesthetically pleasing poster that evokes both alien abduction movies, and the Evil Dead remake simultaneously. If the goal is to offer passers-by a glimpse what your film is with just a glance, this is how it is done, folks.

Review: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

RigbyStill1

Director: Ned Benson
Writer: Ned Benson
Producers: Cassandra Kulukundis, Todd J. Labarowski, Emanuel Michael
Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Ciarán Hinds, Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt, Bill Hader, Viola Davis, Nina Arianda
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 122 min.


Somewhere down the line we’ll get a chance to see the great story of Eleanor Rigby but The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them isn’t it.

This new version of Ned Benson’s movie is very clearly an abridged, highly edited concoction made for the benefit of… good question, I don’t know who this is made for because it mostly lacks a through line and any sort of emotional connection to the characters.

James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain star as Conor and Eleanor, a young married couple who are having marital trouble. For a while it’s unclear where the trouble starts but we see enough to know that they were once in love and are still in love but that something has happened to separate them. The cause of the separation is played as a great mystery, this secret thing that is only hinted at and then slowly revealed in the movie’s second half and for a while, I found myself completely caught up in the mystery. What could it be? Did he cheat? Did he beat her? Why is she depressed? When it is eventually revealed, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them finally finds its groove but up until that moment, it’s as much of a guessing game as a movie about two people who no longer recognize each other.

I relish stories like this, tales of people with relatable life problems who struggle to find their way through the problems to a better place and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them certainly does that. The issue with the movie is that it jumps around from scene to scene, from the present to the past, with little connection. It doesn’t feel like a cohesive whole but more like someone took a pile of scenes and compiled them in a way that told a story that sort of makes sense but that has big gaping holes in it and which lacks any deep emotional connection.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: The Drop


Director: Michaël R. Roskam (Bullhead)
Writer: Dennis Lehane
Producers: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Mike Larocca
Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz, Elizabeth Rodriguez
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 106 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


On paper, The Drop had all the right elements to be one of the best films of the year. The second feature from Belgian director Michael R. Roskam, hot off of his cracking, Oscar-nominated debut Bullhead, it’s been adapted to the screen by author Dennis Lehane (my all-time favorite) from his own short story “Animal Rescue” and stars a dynamite cast that is topped by Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini (in his last screen appearance) and Bullhead’s breakout star Matthias Schoenaerts. The plot concerns a Brooklyn bar that’s run by Hardy’s Bob Saginowski and Gandofini’s Cousin Marv and is used at random by the local gangsters as a drop bar for their dirty money. When a duo of robbers hit up the place, many different entities converge that threaten the well-being of Saginowski and Marv, who look to find their way through a difficult time in an area where everyone knows everyone and no one is truly safe. The Drop has plenty of elements typical of many crime dramas that we’ve seen throughout the years, but Lehane’s taken similarly familiar-sounding stories before and made them sing with new depths in works like Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River — novels which were brought to the screen in tremendous fashion.

Unfortunately, The Drop can’t quite live up to its lofty potential. While Roskam does imbue the atmosphere with a sense of lived-in crime and the nefarious characters that map out the treacherous narrative feel genuine thanks to a convincing ensemble cast, there’s too often that sense of over-familiarity that bogs down the film in a feeling like we’ve been here many times and seen it done much better much too often. It’s never a bad film by any means, but for a long stretch of time it does feel like a resoundingly mediocre one — until, that is, a late in the game reveal that turns everything on its head and elevates the picture to a new level. This big moment, which won’t be spoiled here, is a masterful touch that turns The Drop into a deceptively meticulous picture that builds a lot of little moments up into something special that can only be fully appreciated once you see the full scope of Lehane’s script. It’s hard to go into detail without spoiling the move, but suffice it to say that my disappointment in the picture up to that point was quickly turned on its head in this reveal that changed everything for these characters and Roskam’s film.

While that turn does elevate The Drop from a mediocre film to a good one, there’s still a bit too much working against it for it to match up to something of the caliber one would expect given the talent of those involved. The plot does resolve itself nicely thanks to this, but it remains a bit messy in bringing all of its dispersed characters together in a cohesive fashion. A big aspect of the film relies too much on a random coincidence which is always a pet peeve of mine, leading to a subplot that could have been removed without any narrative consequence, but at the same time it’s this part of The Drop that gives it a tender heart which allows for a deeper emotional meaning. Early in the picture, Saginowski stumbles upon a small puppy that’s been beaten up and left in the trash can of Nadia (Rapace), a local waitress, and after he pulls it out and the two clean it off they strike up a kinship that is touching and played in charmingly low-key fashion by the two actors. Of course, there was a reason why a bloody dog was in a trash can in the first place, and it’s not long before the arrival of Nadia’s former flame Eric (Schoenaerts) throws a wrench in Saginowski’s carefully controlled life and it’s this aspect of the plot that feels a little too conveniently inserted and rubbed me the wrong way a bit, given where it all eventually leads.

Lehane’s script expertly measures out its depiction of Saginowski and the way that it drops little hints for the major reveal and the deeper meanings of so many small moments over the course of the film is brilliantly done, and masterfully played by Hardy who has been having a great year, but the other characters could have used more texture in their development. A lot of work is put into making Saginowski a very thought-out character and it pays off tremendously well, though you don’t get the full appreciation until the film is over, but the rest of the cast isn’t as fortunate in getting as memorable of material as Hardy is gifted by the script. Nadia and Eric in particular feel far too much like one-note cliches that you see all the time in these kind of moody crime dramas (the tough damsel with the bad news ex and the ex himself who comes along and threatens the happy new coupling just because he’s a bad guy) and despite Rapace and Schoenaerts’ considerable talent (the latter really has a presence that few actors can match these days), they can’t quite raise up the lacking quality in the writing. Gandolfini also has disappointingly little to work with in his final role (he was much better in last year’s Enough Said), though he does far better than the rest of the cast, barring Hardy.

The one element that could have perhaps used the most additional work though is the involvement of the police, headed in this case by Detective Torres, played by the vastly undervalued character actor John Ortiz. Torres floats in and out of the picture from time to time, with a nice little touch of recognition with Saginowski in the fact that they go to the same mass every week but have never spoken, and yet there’s never a sense of knowing this character or his place in the world. A lot of times it actually feels like The Drop had scenes that were awkwardly cut out of the film, many of them being ones that I think would have given more room to expand on Torres’ position in this world and his impact on the narrative itself. Yet in order to contain itself to a well-paced running time (and the movie does run itself quite well in terms of never losing focus or attention), things remain primarily centered on Saginowski and for all its faults it is in this character where the true value of The Drop lies. I can’t say I’ve been a fan of Hardy’s acting in previous years, and at first his performance here did feel a bit too tic-y for me to appreciate, but his work hinges on and justifies itself in that stunning moment that proves what an ace performance he’s giving at the core of Roskam’s picture. After taking sole control of the screen in Steven Knight’s Locke earlier this year, this is the second Hardy performance in a row that I’ve found an admiration for and I’m pleased to see the actor taking on more challenging, less obvious characters that allow him to play with and subvert his dominating macho presence in unexpected ways.

A Brooklyn crime drama with this cast, directed by Roskam and written by Lehane in his first feature screenplay (he’s written some for HBO shows The Wire and Boardwalk Empire) should have been an event film for me, but The Drop ultimately remains a little too undercooked and over-familiar to amount to more than the sum of its parts. Everyone involved does quality work, with Hardy in particular adding another impressive performance to an already noteworthy year, but what’s most disappointing about the film is simply that it had all the right elements for something far more memorable. That being said, hinging itself so fundamentally on that one major moment was something that added great benefit to the overall product and a bit of a risk to everything that came before. On reflection I find myself liking the film more and more as it sits with me, while the experience of watching it had been slightly disappointing up until that point. There are so many little moments of character detail peppered in that can only be appreciated when all is said and done, and in doing so The Drop reveals itself to be slightly more unique than I was initially finding it, but even outside of this deceptively intelligent maneuver there are still a few too many struggling elements for me to be able to stand up and praise it as highly as I would like to. Roskam’s film is one that’s certainly worth seeing, though perhaps not one that will last in the mind as long as it should.