TIFF 2016 Review: American Honey

 

Hero cookies to guest publisher, Ryan McNeil, for this review.
The original post of this article can be found at TheMatinee.ca

 

In America, when you have nothing else to sell for a living, you can always sell yourself. Your enthusiasm, your wits, your company, your gumption? All of it can be sold.

What happens when one sells it may vary.

American Honey is about one young woman and her desire for anything resembling a way out. When we meet Star (Sasha Lane), she is dumpster-diving behind a K-Mart to try to take care of two small children. While inside the shop, she encounters a group of late-teen/early-twenties boys and girls that seem to be high on life. One of them – Jake (Shia LaBeouf) – approaches her and asks if she wants to come with them and earn money.

Soon after we discover that the children she is caring for aren’t hers, so after they are nudged back towards their birth mother, Star is off on the road in search of opportunity.

Officially, the group is making their cash peddling magazine subscriptions. Unofficially, they are hustling for cash any which-way they can get it, and kicking it up to the queen bee of the group, Krystal (Riley Keough).
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TIFF 2016 Review: Buster’s Mal Heart

 

Hero cookies to guest publisher, Ryan McNeil, for this review.
The original post of this article can be found at TheMatinee.ca

 

One thing is for sure in the wake of Buster’s Mal Heart: I will never look at the people taking care of me late at night ever again. All of those cashiers, gas station attendants, hospital employees, hotel clerks? All of them now get painted with a very different brush.

It’s the early 90’s when we first meet “Buster” (Rami Malek); a hermit avoiding law enforcement in the woods. He is squatting in luxury cottages left vacant for warmer climates and telling anyone he encounters that the end is coming. Once upon a time, “Buster” was Jonah – a mid thirties husband and father who worked the night shift as a concierge at a middle-of-nowhere hotel.

One day he meets a mysterious stranger (DJ Qualls) looking for a room without ID or a credit card. He’s convinced that the end is nigh, and doesn’t want to become part of a system that’s about to come crashing down around him.

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So how does the stranger affect Jonah and send him on a path of wandering? Well, that’s sort of a long story.

Director Sarah Adina Smith works wonderfully in concert with her star to tell a story that is becoming more and more apt with every passing year: how much is too much? While we live in an era where many who join the workforce seem averse to “paying their dues”, there’s “dues” and there’s “overtaxation”. Jonah is clearly overtaxed; already doing something to provide for others, and even then beings asked to do far more of it than he rightfully should.
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Friday One Sheet: Tonight She Comes

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

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

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TIFF 2016 Review: The Bad Batch

 

Hero cookies to guest publisher, Ryan McNeil, for this review.
The original post of this article can be found at TheMatinee.ca

 

How do you know you’ve taken a wrong turn on your journey?

Maybe if you happen upon a preacher testifying on top of a giant boom box? What about an ex-con missing an arm and a leg? Perhaps a knife-wielding beast of a man, strewn with tattoos, who finds serenity drawing and painting to pass the time.

What about all of it in the same place? Yeah – definitely a sign you made a wrong turn back around Albuquerque.

The Bad Batch is a designation given to a class of criminal all interred before a great fall of civilization – they are caught, branded, and kicked into a massive, fenced-off wasteland with nothing but a jug of water. A bad-batcher named Arlynne (Suki Waterhouse) manages to walk straight into the path of a band of cannibals – a sort of tribe within The Bad Batch. She is captured, her right arm and right leg severed, cooked, and consumed…all inside of the film’s first fifteen minutes.

Eventually, short two limbs, she manages to escape the cannibals and is dropped at the gates of Comfort; a sort of post-apocalyptic cult compound. After she is taken in and given a prosthetic leg, she happens upon two more cannibals outside of Comfort’s gates. She kills the woman, and takes in the little girl.
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TIFF 2016 Review: The Girl With All The Gifts

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Director: Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines)
Screenplay: Derek Cianfrance
Novel: M.L. Stedman
Producer: Jeffrey Clifford
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Florence Clery, Jack Thompson, Thomas Unger
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 133 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

After creating his first two films (Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines) from scratch, filmmaker Derek Cianfrance decided it was time to work from someone else’s material for his third effort, an adaptation of M.L. Stedman’s popular 2012 novel The Light Between Oceans. On paper, it’s seemingly a natural fit for the man, as even though the material doesn’t stem originally from his own brain it still fits very much within the themes that he explored in his previous efforts. Family is key here, and that’s what lighthouse keeper (and World War I veteran) Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) is trying to create at his remote home off the coast of Western Australia with his new wife Isabel (Alicia Vikander). After two miscarriages, hope is seemingly far away for the anguished couple, until one day a rowboat washes up on their shore with a dead man and a living baby inside. Isabel, distraught over the losses she has faced, convinces Tom to keep the child and raise it as their own, despite him knowing that they are making a mistake by not reporting the incident. Surely this will all end well.

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Frankly put, the plot for The Light Between Oceans is absolutely ludicrous. Things only become more absurd once we reach the introduction of Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), a woman whose husband rowed off to sea with their infant child and never returned, who crosses paths with Tom and Isabel when they make a return to the local town to christen their new baby. The Light Between Oceans is a laughable melodrama, and it ends up being quite an odd choice of material for Cianfrance, as he delivers it all with his usual grit and seriousness, making it seem even more daft as it is played so unrelentingly straight. He also unfortunately burdens it with the follies that have plagued his previous efforts when it comes to storytelling, with the 135-minute film becoming an utter chore to get through in its second half due to the director’s poor pacing, unnecessary structural chinks, and some faults in depicting the passage of time. It all equates to a film that isn’t lacking in emotion, something which naturally pours off the screen due to the larger than life nature of the source material, but is far too cumbersome and ambitious for its own good. Cianfrance continues to be a director who doesn’t know when enough is enough, trying to do too much with his movies instead of realizing that sometimes doing less would be of greater benefit.
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TIFF 2016 Review: Free Fire

TIFF 2016 Review

One of the most wonderful things about Free Fire is its simplicity. Coming from a filmmaker who has more often than not leaned on the edge of cerebral, this proves as a magnificent departure. A straight shoot-em-up action film, Free Fire delivers on its premise, without overcomplicating things.

The film takes place in the Boston of 1978. Two IRA members are meeting with a couple of American arms dealers to broker a deal. Tensions are high at the offset, and everything goes south incredibly quickly. What results is a high-octane shootout in the vein of Hard Boiled (1992) and Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).

Free Fire Original Poster

The film features Brie Larson as, presumably, the token chick, Justine. The go-between for IRA members Frank (Wheatley regular Michael Smiley) and Chris (Cillian Murphy), and South African and American arms dealers Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Martin (Babou Ceesay) respectively, Justine is the conductor of this soon-to-be-derailed train. But her tokenism (and, arguably, Martin’s) is quickly debunked. Both Justine and Martin are integral to the both the premise and execution of the film.

Larson’s turn as Justine is yet another reason to love her as an actress. She sheds the delicate or wounded skin of her previous characters from Short Term 12 (2013), The Spectacular Now (2013) and Room (2015). In its place is a suit of armor with matching heels. Equal parts feminine and ferocious, Larson is a refreshing joy.

With character actors like Ceesay, Smiley, and Noah Taylor alongside Copley, Murphy, Sam Riley, and a hilarious Armie Hammer, the whole ensemble works together brilliantly. Tossed in with excellent editing, wonderful sound and set design, a fantastic score, and some of the best writing we’ve seen yet from Wheatley and partner in crime and life Amy Jump, Free Fire is quite possibly the tightest, strongest film from Wheatley’s oeuvre.