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Cannes 68: A Wrap

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

It was a Festival divided from the outset. Critical consensus was out the window from Film 1 to Film 19—not that we’re looking for that—but it made getting a handle on the Competition vibe the trickiest it’s been since 2010.

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But the 68th Festival de Cannes wrapped today just the same, with Joel and Ethan Coen’s jury giving Jacques Audiard a Palme d’Or for Dheepan, a tiger-out-of-jungle immigrant drama that feels like a Parisian History of Violence. Audiard is worthy of a Palme; A Prophet and Rust and Bone are both excellent films that could have won the same title.

But Audiard’s latest rough-and-tumble drama gets in quickly with its emotional claw: actor Antonythasan Jesuthasan plays the title role with a complex sadness. He plays a former Tamil Tiger man caught in a bad neighborhood with his family to feed, and there’s a strong motif related to elephants in the film. Audiard continues to cut away to shots of the endangered species—and it recalls the sense that Dheepan is one: gentle, emotional, but will charge when provoked.

Second place was to the remarkable Son of Saul, Laszlo Nemes’ feature debut that used a shallow focus 35mm aesthetic to capture the horrors of the Auschwitz Sonderkommando. It doesn’t need a Grand Prix to be remembered down the road, but this is a Good Call by the jury—this is art.

Stewing in an awkward third place bisque is Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, which had a great shot at something higher if its ending wasn’t marred by an exhaustion of ideas. There were some good laughs here, and Lanthimos is definitely operating on a level that remains something to write home about, but this win feels more to celebrate the film’s oddities—it stood out from the relatively safe Competition.

Hardcore cinephiles felt ripped off when favorite Hou Hsiao-hsien took home only Best Director for The Assassin, a wuxia drama that arrived on the Croisette after many years of production. It’s filled with rich photography that beguiled critics here, despite a story that left some confused.

The “Best Script” award at Cannes seems to be the strangest one to call—how can you comment on say, some Turkish screenwriting when you only speak English or French, really?—but it went to Michel Franco for Chronic, a film that takes Tim Roth’s male nurse character on a milk run of uncomfortable scenarios. I can see this, actually; a lot of the film’s dialogue takes place off screen, so you might not actually notice it as much as a normal shot-reverse-shot, but the voices are quite natural. But is the prize for believable dialogue or “emotional events that are hard to watch?” Tough call; either way, expect to either love or hate it—or, if you’re like me, walk out feeling punished and apathetic.

I’m pleased with the acting trophies this year, save for Emmanuelle Bercot in Mon Roi, a forgettable French romance. Bercot shares the Best Actress award with Rooney Mara’s tender turn in Carol (who will Harvey push for the Oscar, Blanchett or…?). Mara outclasses Bercot by a country mile, but I’m pleased Todd Haynes’ masterful new film got something to take home. Vincent Lindon, the spotlight show in Stephane Brize’s The Measure of a Man, was a sure bet for an acting prize outside of Tim Roth. Lindon plays a down-on-his-luck security guard who is forced to make some tough calls in the grey areas of a supermarket, and it’s a stirring performance.

But that’s it. It’s all over. Despite major scattershot impressions throughout the Festival, the films that remained afloat or alive in the conversation are, for the most part, the films that were given prizes—a silver lining, or perhaps validation. Thanks for reading.

Other awards:

Caméra d’Or: Land And Shade by Cesar Augusto Acevedo

Palme d’Or, Best Short Film: Waves 98 by Ely Dagher

Cannes Review: Love

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

As Haddaway asks, “what is Love?” Love is Gaspar Noé’s latest attempt to wind cranks, as the internet surely saw this week in the not-safe-for-work movie posters showcasing his feature-length “art” porno. Love is a film where a main character—an aspiring filmmaker—says to another: “I just want to make a movie about love and sex and sensuality in a real way! Why haven’t I seen that before?”

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“I don’t even know what that means!”

(No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative!)

“No it’s not, it’s gross.” (Gets the people going!)

Brazenly, Noé, shit-disturber that he is, requests two hours of your time to witness his tedious art-sex romance. Real talk: it’s too easy to get worked up about the many reasons why Love is a waste of time, and it’s too easy to fall prey to the critical traps this film is laden with.

It’s a waste of time because, well, most importantly—does anyone really spend more than ten minutes staring at pornography? Okay, say you want some story in your smut—that’ll extend things, for sure. But what if the story is silly and the sex is …. boring? Or at least repetitive? If a marathon of dull porn centered a drug-addled love triangle sounds mind-numbing, that’s because it is.

Realistically, that’s all this is. Porn. That’s not a stigma, but with a narrative this clichéd (and somehow safe—a threesome is one character’s wildest fantasy), this film is far past the point of “romantic drama.” So replace your cheesy porno script with a bit of art-house sensationalism (impassioned speeches about sex and death and “love is the meaning of life!”) and equally bad dialogue, and you’ve got a fun way to spice up the Croisette. In 3D, naturally.

This is a movie where we watch someone ejaculate straight at the camera—I’m talking Mr. DeMille levels of close-up—and it’s just one-hundred percent juvenile. Because you know Noé is laughing at the squeamish audience reactions. He’s having his way with us, making the viewing experience all the more ridiculous. This may sound like something you’d say “oh, I gotta see this” to, but this scene comes after an hour of the sexual equivalent of paint drying.

Further immaturity is found in Noé’s self-insertion into the story. One character has a son named Gaspar; there’s another man named Noé. And on, and on, and on. That sort of playfulness is reminiscent of Leos Carax and Holy Motors—maybe it’s just French to be so cheeky?—but the autobiographical representation of Noé’s tendencies make this film far more childish than I think he intended. In attempting to create a new genre of philosophical pornography, he made something inane and monotonous and florid.

“I want to get drunk before Love,” I overheard a woman say outside Cannes’ Debussy Theatre on the eve of the film’s flagrant midnight debut. (A relevant Beyoncé song got stuck in my head immediately after.) Good advice: get drunk beforehand. It’ll help. See it with friends. Laugh all the way through. Giggle like school girls while wearing a goofy pair of 3D glasses. If not, you’ll sit there in silence. (And maybe frustration.)

Cannes Review: Youth

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

It seems like a lot of Paulo Sorrentino’s work is steeped in the truth that it doesn’t matter what age you are, because the grand narratives of life seem to more or less remain the same. At least that’s one of the complex takeaways from Youth, the latest Competition entry from the Oscar-winning Italian auteur that was met with a mix of loud cheers of bravo and candid bellows of booing this morning, if that means anything at all (it doesn’t).

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In a lot of ways, Youth feels like it is set down the slopes from Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, to be specific, except that Sorrentino’s film is philosophically up, up, up way higher—and shining a little brighter—on the dichotomies of life, in terms of aging and art and what it means to live. I mention Assayas’ film because Paulo Sorrentino’s sumptuous Competition entry feels like a continuation of its themes—but also certainly images, as both pictures share the same sweeping valleys and Swiss mountains that visualize the highs and lows of our existence.

Youth unfolds at a fabulous retreat at the foot of a mountain, and it’s where we begin. Opening with a beautiful rendition of “You’ve Got The Love,” a song photographed up close on a rotating platform with audience members in bokeh focus, this ditty is one of many nightly entertainments that Sorrentino’s characters are privy to each night, including a cast of Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, and Paul Dano, each of them playing an artist in a state of flux (with an additional cameo from a brief-but-brilliant Jane Fonda).

The most reflective of the trio is Michael Caine, portraying a wry—though not very spry—composer who is known primarily for his “Simple Songs,” a collection of melodies written for his now-invalid wife. His daughter-turned-assistant (Rachel Weisz) has anxieties of her own in the shadow of her famous father, who despite a career of excellence as a maestro, his most basic work is also his most popular.

It’s a reality he seems to have gotten over, but Paul Dano hasn’t, as he’s bitter that his filmography as a character actor is best known for “Mr. Q,” an iconic robot from what sounds like a meaningless action film. He sits quietly in courtyards trying to ignore this as he studies his fellow guests for an upcoming role (eventually revealed in a hilarious, bizarre gag).

Meanwhile, Harvey Keitel’s aging screenwriter—potentially a hack—is trying his best to crank out an ending to his latest script, the premise of which sounds like a middling Sundance dud. He sits with his team of younger scribes pondering the ending, wink-wink, and Sorrentino builds the film around the delivery of these drafts.

There are other instances of this kind of career-based ennui—a knock-out supermodel, for example, is a lot smarter than one character expects her to be—and the film mines and explores this theme with a cracking wit and a pang of sadness that was touched upon in Sils Maria, but not to this effect or poignancy. Or with imagery this evocative of the meaning.

Because adding to the great beauty of Youth is the cinematography, as Sorrentino is one of the only filmmakers in this year’s Competition to, with every scene, remind us bombastically that cinema is a visual medium (Mr. Haynes and Carol being the other entry to do so). Featuring a commitment to engaging mise-en-scene throughout and a variety of framing decisions that are inspired (and certainly relevant to the subject matter), Youth never grows old to watch.

Despite a few cracks at the medium itself (Jane Fonda steals the show at one point), this is a film that I found myself missing lines of dialogue from because I was so interested in the visual motifs of scaling and descending—a levitating monk, an earnest mountaineer, it goes on—and the dramatic facial expressions from the cast.

If I learned anything from Youth, it’s not the art that is the most visible is the most meaningful. The art that is the most meaningful is the most meaningful, and that’s all that matters once we’re old and gray, lowered into the ground to ascend beyond the corporeal.

Cannes Review: Sicario

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Trust in Denis Villeneuve. Announced earlier that he would be The One to direct a Blade Runner sequel, and with a stellar filmography that just keeps getting better and better, his latest film Sicario just absolutely set fire to this sleepy Competition, more or less napping after the duds post-Carol. It’s unlikely this is a Palme winner—thrillers like these aren’t typical recipients—but it’s nevertheless a top title here at Cannes, and one to watch over the year for a number of categories (that is, in addition to a possible acting or directing award on Sunday).

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Sicario is a drug war chess game, and in the patriarchal underworld that is cartel hell the women are pawns and the men simply aren’t playing by the rules. Trying her best to keep her head above water in a violent Mexican desert that has none, Emily Blunt’s FBI agent Kate is utterly useless in the face of immorality on both sides of the law. Her superiors (Josh Brolin, a CIA honcho, and Benicio Del Toro, a well-dressed hitman) are enacting a shadow war in the bloody wasteland of cartel territory, taking out targets with weapons-free rules of engagement and a morbid pragmatism to their conflict.

Capturing all of this is the untouchable Roger Deakins, who keeps his cool where other films refused to (look at the earthquake-shake cinematography of Zero Dark Thirty, a film already very similar to this one, and see the difference in quality a steady camera can make). Night vision warfare, drone footage, modern run-and-gun combat, meeting room debriefs—all of it is here realized with an artistic touch, and Villeneuve’s signature unpretentious direction blocks the carnage of the crepuscular with a furious yet calm intensity. Exposition here is handled well and believably, the slight twists thrown into the mix aren’t obvious or melodramatic, and there’s a refreshing sense of detachment when we witness dialogue from further away—letting the reality and gravity of the environment sink in—than the easy close-ups of other productions that come with their guns cocked and their fingers on dramatic pressure points, eager to use their outdoor voices inside.

There isn’t really a beginning or an end to this film, because when it comes to dismantling illegal and horrific organizations, beheading one snake only results in the rising of another. So Blunt’s character is kind of floundering for a solid two hours, in essence doing very little, but it’s thematically appropriate.In a critical scene, Del Toro barks to her: “You are not a wolf, and this is the land of the wolves now,” and worse than death are threats on the lives and safety of daughters or wives. Boys and men are wasted in seconds, and it’s this male-dominated aggressive attrition that allows Blunt’s character to embody all of the feelings of helplessness and futility society accepts in the sidelines of the drug war. We see a pick-up soccer game briefly interrupted by the crack-crack-crack of an automatic weapon somewhere in the distance, and it’s the equivalent to the basic shrug you and I do in our North American metropolises when an ambulance or police cruiser wails by. Because that’s just how it is, and that’s how it will be. Or so the film concludes.

 

 

Cannes Review: Son of Saul

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Sticking with me despite having screened a few days ago is newcomer László Nemes’ Son of Saul, a wild card in Competition that is surely destined for prizes this coming Sunday. This was almost expected, however, as a first feature competing for the Palme d’Or surely speaks to its artistic significance–especially with other vetted auteurs walking the Croisette this year in different programs.

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Son of Saul is a heart-wrenching story that literally follows Saul Auslander (unknown Hungarian actor Géza Röhrig), an Auschwitz prisoner working as part of the Sonderkommando, the work detail unit that was responsible at gun point for disposing of gas chamber corpses and cleaning the facilities.

From open to close it’s an incredibly heavy subject for a first feature, and it’s remarkable that the result is a film that doesn’t look or sound like one. Nemes situates his camera primarily in the foreground and behind Saul’s head throughout the harrowing drama, which artfully depicts a man’s attempt to save his son’s body from being cremated. This shallow focus composure is certainly a significant stylistic decision that works well and stands out, but is that why this film is staying with me? I’m not sure it’s that simple.

Call it a gimmick, but there’s a ghostly, haunting vibe here, especially in the production design (and of course the historical substance). You and I have seen other films with a similar setting, but Son of Saul really moves through this concentration camp with an overwhelming sense of urgency and context that is unfamiliar. Time is running out, and it’s never sure who will be disposed of next, and every step the film (and Saul) takes keeps this pace moving until the devastating conclusion.

But this foregrounded focus aesthetic has alienated some critics, and ironically, despite being filmed in 35mm and projected on a bona fide reel as such, Son of Saul has been described here (pejoratively), as a video game, though if I am being honest it seems like an off-handed attempt (by people who most certainly do not play video games) to undermine the film’s minimalist and respectful endeavor by referring it something of a “lesser” medium.

In other words, that criticism is lazy. By only really showing the horrors of the Holocaust in the periphery of the frame, oftentimes just out of focus (do we really need to see this darkness in utter clarity?), there is a painstaking quality to the production that really keeps it from separate, and distinctive, from other World War II pictures. In fact, it’s the restraint of a mature (yet still fresh) filmmaker to not manipulate us like many others would. The takes are long; the stares into pits of fire are even longer. The details in the production are what sell it. The red X painted across Saul’s work outfit marks him and his fate as a target, but speaking broadly this film arrives on the Croisette already attached with one. Thankfully it’s not lost within the memory cracks as the Festival charges on; it’s fundamentally too important for that to happen.

Cannes Review: Carol

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

Subtle, delicate, exquisite. Like staying up all night to witness the blooming of a flower, Todd Haynes’ Carol is something special.

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Critically, films like these make you want to emote and let go and bask in the effect they leave you with. The film is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, and lamentably I’ve no frame of reference with which to comment on the film’s fidelity to its source. I can, however, describe the way its restrained sensitivity made me feel as I walked away from the film, ruined and wistful and emotionally a mess. Full body chills danced across my skin as I reflected on the artistry, what it meant, and how great it is that it exists in a form as pure as it is.

Like a sort of Blue Jasmine is the Warmest Color, subject yourself to some of Cate Blanchett’s finest acting as she plays the socialite title role, meeting and eventually falling in love with humble store clerk Therese (Rooney Mara), a romance that in the 1950s is of course immoral, unlawful, or just plain sick. But despite the institutional ignorance and conservatism, there’s a complex feeling of sympathy for almost everyone in this film: when a naïve post-war world opens its eyes beyond the heteronormative utopia sold by corporations and governments and authorities, paradigms shift. People shatter. Lives are upended. Custody battles are warred through accusations of homosexuality. Confusion. Isolation. Tensions. Sadness.

The film expands to see the confused men on both sides of the coin, unable to comprehend the idea that women could love women—or as Therese says, to just love another person—and the treatment and context of the subject matter seems fair, given the time period, which is sold and told so unbelievably well. Carol has a husband (Kyle Chandler) and Therese has a Classic American boyfriend (Jake Lacy), and the latter initially seems like a sort of villain—he’s standing in the way of true love, right? But soon his traditional cheer and white-picket-fence goals becomes a beacon of existential melancholy, as Therese has a necessary heart to break in the pursuit of genuine emotion.

Haynes walks this balance so, so well, never painting anyone with too broad or harsh a stroke, or opting for an editorialized point-of-view. Phyllis Nagy’s stellar, careful script informs this openness: her adaptation is a romance at heart, but there is social drama, and there is history on the television sets these characters are watching. There is the reality of the setting, and there is exceptional maturity to its depiction.

Because the era itself is a character here, living and breathing with both flaws and good qualities and genuine aspiration, misguided as it may be. The utter perfection that is the costume and production design, where we’re able to fall in to the moment and sit listening to Billie Holiday’s “Easy Living” on vinyl, is so real it is almost not. I have lauded Blanchett’s performance here but opposite her is Mara, just as good and just as fine when juxtaposed against her object of forbidden affection. There’s dialogue to engage with and an Oscar Speech at the end to succumb to, but so much of this film could be watched in silence. The emotions gleaned simply through the eyes of these characters would be enough with their oceans of information, but they’re cast before Haynes’ masterful visual framing with see-it-thrice color and blocking motifs. It’s only day five, but Carol is currently the front-runner for best-in-show at Cannes, and if that is upended by the end of the festival by another drama this powerfully affecting, we’ll all be sopping messes along the Croisette.

 

Cannes Review: The Lobster

Friday, May 15th, 2015

It’s not that The Lobster is particularly difficult to crack—it’s that there just may not be enough meat inside once you do.

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It’s the kind of film that’s expected from Yorgos Lanthimos, the cinematically unkind filmmaker who brought us 2009’s Dogtooth. Lanthimos’ tendencies are to subvert the norm and to make you squirm, and in his Competition debut he succeeds in a number of ways. So if that’s what The Lobster is pinching at, then so be it—but be wary if this film is touted as something deeper than the shallow bisque it stews in.

The premise—hell, the logline—is enough to pack the Lumière to the gills at 8:30 AM, because The Lobster is a real beast of an idea: in an alternate dystopia, men and women who remain Alone (capital A) are eventually sentenced to be transformed into an animal, mostly of their choosing, if they can’t find a mate in time. We’re centered around David (Colin Farrell), a man with a flat personality who joins a “hotel” complete with seminars and junior high dances to encourage romantic encounters—or fake them entirely.

Ever wondered why there’s so many dogs running around? The film answers that by suggesting it’s the default (read: basic) option for people to give up and become pooches, which is one of the few really great ideas that the film teases out over two hours. Except those ideas become played out by around the 45-minute mark, which is another way of saying for a while there, I was having a great time watching a normcore/dad-mode Colin Farrell play romantic Hunger Games with women he has zero or sub-zero chemistry with. 45 days to find a mate? What do you do? What do you do on your last day as a human? Don’t spend it copulating or running around the field—those are things you can do as an animal. Spend it reading high literature, or in one case, spend it watching Stand By Me, an “excellent film.”

There are some laughs here, and definitely a couple grins. Like when asked what animal he would want to become if he fails to find a partner, David replies with the title of the film, and moments like these the script is winking at its most apparent. But the crustacean as a visual image is a motif that’s expressed a little too enthusiastically for it to be nuanced or subtle, and when the film leaves its shell and enters a third act where we meet a rebellious Léa Seydoux and our mysterious narrator (Rachel Weisz), the off-putting brine comes to a boil. The film mostly falls apart.

In fact, it’s the austerity and punishment of Lanthimos’ black comedy or dark drama that is too cute and bizarre for its own good. It’s entertaining and brow-raising for about the same amount of time as the premise holds. The result: an exercise in alienating an audience, with an ending that is eager to isolate the squeamish in the crowd and laugh at them. Mission accomplished.

I reject the idea that the last thirty minutes are too strange for me, or that I missed the point. (Realistically, I don’t think anything is stranger than the film’s initial hook.) It’s that it becomes visually dull and excruciatingly awkward in a way that isn’t as clever as Lanthimos thinks it is. I read not a week ago that many chefs believe stunning or attempting to stab a lobster while you’re cooking it will release chemicals that ruins the taste. Maybe, in the writing phase somewhere, something similar happened: this auteur had a live one, but in wrestling it to the screen, the meat somehow became spoiled.

 

From Cannes, 90 Seconds Of HATEFUL 8

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

In 2012, when there was a Django Unchained banner resting high above the Croisette, it felt like a poorly-kept secret that The Weinstein Company would be showing extended footage of Tarantino’s 7th film (this is after a few weeks of speculation that the film would be ready for Cannes, until it wasn’t).

And sneak us some Django they did. Three years ago, that event was more intimate—and more pertinently, the event was smaller. That year TWC showed only three films: The Master, Silver Linings Playbook, and then a number of memorable scenes from Django, and by the time it was over, everyone was pretty ramped up. And recall that all three films of those films were strong.

Weinstein’s panel this year showed sneak peek teasers of ten titles: Adam Jones, Southpaw, Carol, No Escape, The Little Prince, Macbeth, Tulip Fever, Hands of Stone, Lion, and The Hateful Eight.

By the end of it, with each one of them more or less informing us of the respective Academy Award winning/nominated talent (I mean, it’s Weinstein, c’mon), the films and trailer beats began to merge together as a shrug-worthy reel of “yup, those are movies alright,” and realistically very little stood out, including The Hateful Eight, which I’m up front about being in the tank for when it eventually hits my eyeballs.

Impressions: they’re hard and probably reductive, especially when we’re only given 90 seconds. I realize now that I wrote none for Tarantino’s film, because I was glued to the screen for as much information as possible. Still, nothing much to glean. The teaser opened with Samuel L. Jackson saying to a mysterious carriage, “Got room for one more?” which spoke to me as a line coming from QT himself, somehow; as if he’s trying to make sure he hasn’t overstayed his welcome with Django being universally understood as too long.

Yeah, man, we got room for one more. Don’t start writing novels just yet.

But realistically: this Hateful Eight footage was almost 100% dialogue. Basically zero violence. And in terms of lines, I didn’t hear anything that was really humming or notable—is that a bad sign? Hard to say. Previous trailers don’t have that issue. But Tarantino staples, like a pointed gun under a wooden table, were certainly back (though I’ll say that particular image felt like a retreading), and the tagline “Eight strangers / one deadly connection implies that the film is going to have more of a Reservoir Dogs feel in that stand-off scenario (or competing interests) way. I haven’t read the script, which has surely changed loads since its leak, but that’s the way it felt.

Other highlights from this demo, surprisingly, were from Adam Jones, a film where Bradley Cooper plays a high-end executive chef. I can’t say much distinctively about this—it’s a Bradley Cooper comedy/drama!—but it definitely had a stronger sense of artistic variation. Shots of food; a distinct element of pacing, like the film is going to be a three-course meal. It also featured “Trainwreck” by DFA1979, which is a sign of confidence to me. The screening led with this and closed with Tarantino, which felt deliberate, and perhaps another hint to overall quality to their 2015 slate.

Southpaw, featuring a totally busted-up and tattooed Jake Gyllenhaal, looks like it might actually be pretty interesting. It’s certainly looking stronger than the seemingly-mediocre Hands of Stone, a Robert De Niro boxing film that managed to show us its entire rote plot in 90 seconds.

No Escape – Owen Wilson is not a dramatic actor. He should not be in dramatic movies, especially some that look like they’re easily recut with the addition of Yakety Sax as a braindead romp. “How far will you go,” the film asks, “to protect the ones you love?” If it involves walking to a cineplex to see this unlikely motion picture event, that might be a difficult question.

Finally—and I know these thoughts are fairly disjointed—Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) and Rooney Mara are sure to have a big year, given their two films apiece for Harvey. At the event Gyllenhaal was also trumpeted by Weinstein himself as having deserved a nomination for Nightcrawler, which he hopes to “get revenge” for with Southpaw. Maybe? Who knows. But the rest of the crop seemed a little too gimmicky, or perhaps a worthwhile attempt at awards. The Little Prince, mind you, did have some intriguing combinations of animation style, which was cool to see (think Pixar CG in one scene, stop-motion the second). Carol looked very strong, yet impossible to gauge—it’s not that kind of movie. But then again, we’re seeing Carol this week in the Competition, so stay tuned.

Cannes Review: The Tale of Tales

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

If watching Salma Hayek gorge on the giant heart of a sea monster—wrenching shreds of flesh from its ventricles and stuffing them down her gullet—sounds like your kind of thing, Matteo Garrone’s The Tale of Tales serves moments like this up on a Renaissance-style platter.

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Based “loosely” on 17th-century short stories by Giambattista Basile, Garrone appropriately follows up his 2013 Cannes Grand Prix winner Reality with, well, a fantasy: unlike all other Competition films this year, The Tale of Tales comes from the fairy realm, and it’s a collection of narratives that are bizarre, moralistic, and often visceral. The scene above, for example, is a queen’s attempt to become magically pregnant, an immaculate conception that becomes the catalyst for one of the film’s competing sub-stories.

Like every fairy tale, there’s a message to take home once you close the tome’s dusty covers. Floating in this film’s several neighboring kingdoms are stories of ugly people, where the ugly ranges from truly hideous to perhaps rotten (in terms of individuals at their core). An ogre wins a princess’s hand in marriage; a king (Vincent Cassel) falls in love, sight unseen, with one of two repulsive hags; a royal prince has an identical half-brother who lives in rags. You’ve no doubt seen adaptations of these staple fables before; perhaps delivered with a script that doesn’t sometimes dip into hackneyed.

Forget the writing issues—these are fairy tales, not exactly demanding high literature—because the film is more interesting when consumed outside of that. Visually, Garrone continues his streak of crafting films that have a certain ethereal look to them, or at least steeped in the surreal. His color palettes command your eye with impressive contrasts, rich reds, and deep blues, whether it is a period piece (Tale of Tales) or inside a fish market (Reality). But here, with the brilliant assist of David Cronenberg’s go-to cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, Garrone somehow manages to stage a few tableaus that look straight from the work of Caravaggio. This isn’t hyperbole. One moment in particular reminded me most of this: we glide across the aftermath of a night of bacchanalia, a fountain besot with sumptuous vice and wine-drunk nubiles, and the scene is from the halls of the Baroque masters. Accompanied by a catchy, lilting score by Alexandre Desplat, yeah: some of this works really well.

The film is worth a sit for that.

It’s this kind of humanist aesthetic—intoxicating costume design and dramatic lighting that highlights pale skin, while staying visually expressive—that really kept me through this exercise in lavishness, because the narratives range from a little goofy (there are some gross-out sight gags) to by-the-numbers fairy tale beat points. There’s also certainly no reason to think twice on the film’s primary moral, because it isn’t anything more meaningful than essentials like The Ugly Duckling or The Prince and the Pauper. Sadly, some lackluster green screen work also took me out of it, which is a shame: many of the film’s weirder scenes involve practical effects and props, and I was disappointed to see a few seams in the digital necessities.

By the end of the two-hour running time, you’re left with a movie that takes it time to really show you some heady stuff, yet ironically I still find Garrone’s earlier work subtly more absurdist, or at least more engaging as a cinematic intersection between the real and unreal. The Tale of Tales will be a memorable Competition film this year because of images like the above—and hey, there’s one scene that totally reminds of The Princess Bride and the Cliffs of Insanity—but beyond that, it’s take-it-or-leave-it when it comes to the film’s individual stories. Woven together, with a basic through-line, it’s simply not living up to its title.

Predicting Cannes

Monday, May 11th, 2015

For the last three years I’ve tried to take an educated guess at which of the usual suspects Cannes would be court for their annual Competition. In 2013 and 2014, my festival math worked out. Over the past decade, more or less 75% of the films annually vying for the Palme d’Or were by returning auteurs. To get a read on what the Festival would look like was simply a matter of rounding up a list of active Cannes veterans and seeing if their latest opus was ready for a May premiere.

But this year I was wrong. I wrote we’d have three or four newcomers. But by programming a Competition with nine (!) newcomers, the Festival dramatically switched it up, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s happened before, but take note when a Palme d’Or winner (ahem, Apitchatpong Weerasethakul) is programmed (relegated?) to sidebars like Un Certain Regard, a move which Festival director Thierry Frémaux commented on in an interview: “Je veux bien parler du film d’Apichatpong Weerasethakul avec vous, mais seulement quand vous l’aurez vu.” (Roughly translated: “I’m willing to talk about the movie with you, but only when you’ve seen it.”)

There are several ways to interpret that, but I’d like to think that this year they’re giving Palme potential to filmmakers that aren’t resting on their laurels.

Veterans are fun, but new blood is good. So let’s get acquainted!

Justin Kurzel

Australian-born Kurzel is bringing Macbeth to the Croisette, a Michael Fassbender-Marion Cotillard-led drama based on Shakespeare’s infamous “Scottish Play.” Were I cynical, I’d say Kurzel’s inclusion in the Competition is more or less based on the cast’s red carpet attendance, but it’s possible that this 113-minute adaptation could even be good (The Weinstein Company has North American distribution rights). On his own, Kurzel is mostly known to Australian audiences for his 2011 thriller debut Snowtown, a film that saw some critical success in his home country, with a micro-release by IFC in the U.S. But Cannes has had this filmmaker on their radar since his short Bluetongue premiered in 2005.

macbeth-michael-fassbender-600x399

Joachim Trier

A critical favorite for his 2011 Un Certain Regard entry Oslo, 31 August, Trier is moving up to the Competition with Louder Than Bombs, a Jesse Eisenberg/Isaballe Huppert drama that’s co-written by Trier’s regular scribe, Eskil Vogt (who recently won a major screenwriting prize in Sundance last year for the excellent Blind). The film is Trier’s English-language debut, but he’ll likely transcend the language barrier through his excellent eye. Little is known about the plot.

louderthanbombs

Valérie Donzelli

An actress as well as a director, Donzelli has a number of films on her resume, but her film Declaration of War (2011) is the most notable; the film starred herself and actor Jérémie Elkaïm, and was based on events between their personal life together. Elkaïm is back with Anaïs Demoustier (2014’s Bird People) for Donzelli’s Marguerite & Julien, a film originally penned by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Jean Gruault, which was reportedly in the hands of François Truffaut in the 1970s.

marguerite

Michel Franco

Thank God it’s not James: Mexico’s Michel Franco is back at Cannes with Chronic, a film sure to be one of the Festival’s most-buzzed Competition entries. Known for high-quality work, Franco graduated from the Director’s Fortnight (2009, Daniel & Ana) and moved on to Un Certain Regard with the devastating After Lucia in 2012, winning the sidebar’s most prestigious award. Chronic stars Tim Roth (who really should be in everything), and has an IMDb summary that reads: “A home care nurse works with terminally ill patients.”

chronic

Stéphane Brizé

Most readers won’t be familiar with Brizé—I’m not—but his work screened in the Director’s Fortnight in 1999 (Le Bleu de Villes). In terms of the mandatory French representation in the Competition, Brizé holds a coveted spot, which may speak to the strength of A Simple Man (or The Measure of a Man), which stars French actor Vincent Lindon. This seems to be a breezier entry, or perhaps something that may be lost in translation (echoes of Alain Cavalier’s Pater in 2011).

A-Simple-Man-vincent-lindon

Laszlo Nemes

Ah, a true wild card! Nemes is known for short films recorded on actual celluloid, but Son of Saul is his debut feature, a project starring unknown Hungarian actors. The film’s IMDb summary has me supremely intrigued: “In the horror of 1944 Auschwitz, a prisoner forced to burn the corpses of his own people finds moral survival upon trying to salvage from the flames the body of a boy he takes for his son.” Filmmakers rarely enter the Competition with a first feature, so I’m paying full attention here.

son-of-saul-2

Guillaume Nicloux

The man is a multi-hyphenate, acting and writing novels in addition to directing. His most recent film, The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, may be the entry point for anyone at Tribeca last year, where Nicloux picked up the Best Screenplay award. Valley of Love, his Cannes entry, features Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert on a sort of spirit-quest in Death Valley. It opens in France in June this year, so it may not be a Palme d’Or, but it sounds intriguing just the same.

valley of love

Denis Villeneuve

As MCN’s resident Canadian, allow me to represent for a second: Denis Villeneuve, at some point, will be the True North’s first Palme d’Or winner. It may not be this year—technically, 2015’s Sicario is an American production—but of late, Villeneuve has easily topped Canada’s list of name-brand directors, one or two of which seem to be losing steam rather than gaining it. Villeneuve is working at a rate that surely can’t be feasible (when does anyone release such disparate quality titles like Enemy and Prisoners both in the same year?) but hats off to this remarkable Québécois auteur. Sicario is hot, hot, hot: Roger Deakins behind the camera, Emily Blunt in the lead, and Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Jon Bernthal supporting her in this drug lord thriller. There is a reason he was granted the shot to direct the undirectable: a sequel to Blade Runner.

sicario

Yorgos Lanthimos

I’m surprised by how many people have seen Dogtooth. Maybe it was the Oscar run in 2010; maybe it’s because of just how uniquely weird it is. Word gets out, I guess. I don’t know. But like Michel Franco, Lanthimos is an Un Certain Regard winner, and The Lobster—his English-language debut—is definitely a heavy-hitter this year. It’s a sci-fi-rom-dram (?) where being romantically alone is “a matter of life and death,” which sounds appropriately crazy. With Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and a handful of other names, there could be a potential third Palme d’Or for Greece in the wings. Otherwise, I’m just excited for something new and quirky.

The Lobster_0

Follow Jake Howell on Twitter: @Jake_Howell

Divining Cannes 2015

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

In less than two months, festival circuiteers return to the sunny Festival de Cannes, an event that should see some serious heavy-hitters returning to the Croisette. And that’s just what the Palme d’Or Competition will likely be programmed primarily with this year: alumni.

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You can expect the Palme slate to be about three-fourths Cannes veterans. That’s been the track record in recent years: in 2014, in a Competition with 18 films, Cannes added only five new names to its clubhouse: Xavier Dolan, Damián Szifrón, Bennett Miller, Alice Rohrwacher and Abderrahmane Sissako.

The math: Cannes 2014 was 73% veterans, the same percentage as 2012. 2013’s Palme slate was 75% Competition alumni.

This year won’t be any different.

So take your pick. I’ve reviewed the alumni of the past 12 (or so) Palme d’Or Competitions and sought out projects that will be ready in time for Cannes this year. I’ve also written some notes for some likely inclusions after The Likely Suspects, which should give a solid idea of what to expect in ten short weeks (or next month, when the Festival announces its 2015 line-up).

Cannes 2015 – The Likely Suspects

Audiard, Jacques – Dheepan (2015, post-prod)

Bellocchio, Marco – L’Ultimo Vampiro (2015, with Alba Rohrwacher)

Babenco, Hector – My Hindu Friend (2015, post-prod, with Willem Dafoe)

Del Toro, Guillermo – Crimson Peak (2015)

Desplechin, Arnaud – Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse (2015, with Mathieu Amalric)

Egoyan, Atom – Remember (2015, post-prod, with Christopher Plummer)

Garcia, Nicole – starring in Belle Familles (Jean-Paul Rappeneau, 2015)

Garrel, Philippe – L’Ombre des Femmes (2015)

Garrone, Matteo – The Tale of Tales (2015, post-prod, with Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Vincent Cassel, Alba Rohrwacher)

Giannoli, Xavier – Marguerite (2015, post-prod)

Hillcoat, John – Triple Nine (2015, completed, September 11th release)

Hsiao-Hsien, Hou – Nie Yin Niang (The Assassin) (2015, post-prod)

Kawase, Naomi – Sweet Red Bean Paste (2015, post-prod)

Kaufman, Charlie – Anomalisa (2015, post-prod)

Khoo, Eric – In the Room (post-prod)

Kitano, Takeshi – Ryûzô to 7 nin no kobun tachi (2015)

Koreeda, Hirokazu – Kamakura Diary (2015, post-prod)

Kurosawa, Kiyoshi – Journey to the Shore (2015, post-prod)

Larrieu, Arnaud and Jean-Marie – Vingt et une nuits avec Pattie (2015, with Denis Lavant)

Luchetti, Daniele – Chiamatemi Francesco (2015, post-prod)

Maiwenn – Mon roi (2015, post-prod, with Vincent Cassel and Louis Garrel)

Malick, Terrence – Voyage of Time (2015, post-prod)

Miike, Takashi – Kaze ni tatsu raion (2015, post-prod)

Moretti, Nanni – Mia madre (2015, post-prod)

Nichols, Jeff – Midnight Special (2015, post-prod, Kirsten Dunst and Michael Shannon)

Noe, Gaspar – Love (2015, post-prod)

Salles, Walter – Jia Zhang-ke by Walter Salles (2015, documentary, post-prod)

Sang-soo, Im – My Friendly Villains (2015)

Sokourov, Alexander – Le Louvre Under German Occupation (2015, post-prod, Bruno Delbonnel cinematography)

Sorrentino, Paolo – The Early Years (2015, with Rachel Weisz, Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Paul Dano, Harvey Keitel)

Tarantino, Quentin – The Hateful Eight (2015, filming, with Channing Tatum, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and many more)

To, Johnnie – Design for Living (2015, post-prod)

Trapero, Pablo – The Clan (2015, produced by Pedro Almodovar)

Van Sant, Gus – The Sea of Trees (2015, post-prod)

Van Warmerdam, Alex – Schneider vs. Bax (2015, post-prod)

Vinterberg, Thomas – Far from the Madding Crowd (2015, post-prod, Juno Temple, Carey Mulligan, slated for May 1st release)

Weingartner, Hans – Soaring Underground (2015)

Weerasethakul, Apichatpong – Love in Khon Kaen (2015)

Some notes:

–Because my research only concerns alumni, there’s some fun to be had in guessing the four or five slots Cannes leaves open to induct newcomers into its Competition. It’s a crapshoot, but: perhaps one goes to Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa co-director Duke Johnson; other possible names include Denis Villeneuve (Sicario), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Martha Pinson (Tomorrow) or Louis Garrel (Les Deux Ami).

–Jean-Paul Rappeneau (2015’s Belles Familles) hasn’t played in Competition since 1990 (Cyrano de Bergerac), so he didn’t make my 2003-2014 alumni list—but he’s a sure bet for a Palme d’Or bow. Sean Penn’s latest directorial effort, The Last Face, also has a solid shot (he last played the Competition in 2001).

–Similarly, Todd Haynes’ Carol is an expected Competition film.

–Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland has “Special Screening” written all over it.

–With The Captive’s poor reception at Cannes 2014, I would be surprised if Egoyan decides to enter Remember this year.

–If George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t play in Competition (Miller has been on the Jury twice), a slot like the Festival opener or an Out-of-Competition debut seems inevitable.

–In terms of Asian cinema, 2015 is a solid year for Cannes to choose its alumni from this year; that said, they will likely only select three or four. Most likely? From Japan: Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Journey to the Shore and Naomi Kawase’s Sweet Red Bean Paste; from Taiwan, Hao Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin; from Thailand, Palme d’Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Love in Khon Kaen.

–Could Toby Tobias (Blood Orange) be Cannes-bound? Likely, but will his film make the Competition? With Iggy Pop in the cast, I’d expect an Un Certain Regard debut.

–Will Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight make it to the south of France this year? This superfan is naively optimistic. But there’s hope: given his love of Cannes and his unconventional press conference at last year’s Festival, Tarantino isn’t one to miss this event. And hey: if it’s not done, expect Harvey Weinstein to at least screen clips of QT’s latest dust-up in Cannes, albeit around the corner from the main event.

–Recent word from some French press is that the 2015 line-up will see a strong showing from Italy; certainly, the alumni are there for Cannes to pluck once again. Two-time Grand Prix-winner Matteo Garrone (The Tale of Tales), Oscar-winner Paolo Sorrentino (The Early Years) and former Jury President Nanni Moretti (Mia Madre) are can’t-lose bets.

–Certain documentaries listed above (like the Sokourov) are probable Out-of-Competition screenings to fill out the rest of the Festival.

–On a personal note: I’d love to see Alex Van Warmerdam return after his 2013 dark-horse hit Borgman. Fingers crossed!

Competition Veterans (2003-2014) with Listed or Upcoming Projects

Adamson, Andrew – producing Truckers (2015)

Almodovar, Pedro – producing Pablo Trapero’s The Clan (2015)

Assayas, Olivier – Summer Hours (script in development)

Audiard, Jacques – Dheepan (2015, post-prod)

Bellocchio, Marco – L’Ultimo Vampiro (2015, with Alba Rohrwacher)

Babenco, Hector – My Hindu Friend (2015, post-prod, with Willem Dafoe)

Campion, Jane – The Flamethrowers (in development)

Coen, Joel and Ethan – Jury Presidents – Hail, Caesar! (2015)

Coppola, Sofia – Fairyland (2015?)

Del Toro, Guillermo – Crimson Peak (2015)

Desplechin, Arnaud – Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse (2015, with Mathieu Amalric)

Dolan, Xavier (NEW) – The Death and Life of John F. Donovan (2016)

Egoyan, Atom – Remember (2015, post-prod, with Christopher Plummer)

Garcia, Nicole – starring in Belle Familles (Jean-Paul Rappeneau, 2015)

Garrel, Philippe – L’Ombre des Femmes (2015)

Garrone, Matteo – The Tale of Tales (2015, post-prod, with Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Vincent Cassel, Alba Rohrwacher)

Giannoli, Xavier – Marguerite (2015, post-prod)

Gray, James – The Lost City of Z (2016, pre-prod)

Haneke, Michael – Flashmob (2015, details scant)

Hillcoat, John – Triple Nine (2015, completed, September 11th release)

Hopkins, Stephen – Race, 2016

Hsiao-Hsien, Hou – Nie Yin Niang (2015, post-prod)

Inarritu, Alejandro Gonzalez – The Revenant (2015, filming, Leonardo diCaprio)

Jarmusch, Jim – Untitled Stooges Documentary (2015, post-prod, with Iggy Pop)

Kawase, Naomi – Sweet Red Bean Paste (2015, post-prod)

Kaufman, Charlie – Anomalisa (2015, post-prod)

Kar-wai, Wong – producer and co-writer of The Ferryman (2015)

Khoo, Eric – In the Room (post-prod)

Kiarostami, Abbas – Horizontal Process (no date, script)

Kitano, Takeshi – Ryûzô to 7 nin no kobun tachi (2015)

Kechiche, Abdellatif – La blessure (2015)

Koreeda, Hirokazu – Kamakura Diary (2015, post-prod)

Kurosawa, Kiyoshi – Journey to the Shore (2015, post-prod)

Larrieu, Arnaud and Jean-Marie – Vingt et une nuits avec Pattie (2015, with Denis Lavant)

Liman, Doug – Reckoning with Torture (2015, post-prod)

Linklater, Richard – That’s What I’m Talking About (2015, post-prod)

Luchetti, Daniele – Chiamatemi Francesco (2015, post-prod)

Maiwenn – Mon roi (2015, post-prod, with Vincent Cassel and Louis Garrel)

Malick, Terrence – Voyage of Time (2015, post-prod)

Martel, Lucrecia – Zama (2015, script)

Miike, Takashi – Kaze ni tatsu raion (2015, post-prod)

Moretti, Nanni – Mia madre (2015, post-prod)

Nichols, Jeff – Midnight Special (2015, post-prod, Kirsten Dunst and Michael Shannon)

Noe, Gaspar – Love (2015, post-prod)

Salles, Walter – Jia Zhang-ke by Walter Salles (2015, documentary, post-prod)

Sang-soo, Im – My Friendly Villains (2015)

Satrapi, Marjane – Tales from the Hanging Head (no year)

Soderbergh, Steven – involved with Magic Mike XXL (2015)

Sokourov, Alexander – Le Louvre Under German Occupation (2015, post-prod, Bruno Delbonnel cinematography)

Sorrentino, Paolo – The Early Years (2015, with Rachel Weisz, Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Paul Dano, Harvey Keitel)

Tarantino, Quentin – The Hateful Eight (2015, filming, with Channing Tatum, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and many more)

Techine, Andre – Quand on a 17 ans (2016, pre-prod)

To, Johnnie – Design for Living (2015, post-prod)

Trapero, Pablo – The Clan (2015, produced by Pedro Almodovar)

Van Sant, Gus – The Sea of Trees (2015, post-prod)

Van Warmerdam, Alex – Schneider vs. Bax (2015, post-prod)

Vinterberg, Thomas – Far from the Madding Crowd (2015, post-prod, Juno Temple, Carey Mulligan, slated for May 1st release)

Weingartner, Hans – Soaring Underground (2015)

Weerasethakul, Apichatpong – Love in Khon Kaen (2015)

 

Alumni of the Palme d’Or Competition: 2003-2014

Adamson, Andrew – producing Truckers (2015)

Akin, Fatih – n/a

Almodovar, Pedro – producing Pablo Trapero’s The Clan (2015)

Amalric, Mathieu – n/a

Anderson, Wes – n/a

Arcand, Denys – n/a

Arnold, Andrea – n/a

Asbury, Kelly – n/a

Assayas, Olivier – Summer Hours (script in development)

Audiard, Jacques – Dheepan (2015, post-prod)

Avati, Pupi – n/a

Beauvois, Xavier – n/a

Bellocchio, Marco – L’Ultimo Vampiro (2015, with Alba Rohrwacher)

Belvaux, Lucas – n/a

Blier, Bertrand – n/a

Babenco, Hector – My Hindu Friend (2015, post-prod, with Willem Dafoe)

Bonello, Bertrand – n/a

Bouchareb, Rachid – n/a

Breillat, Catherine – n/a

Caetano, Israel Adrian 2 – n/a

Campion, Jane – The Flamethrowers (in development)

Cantet, Laurent – n/a

Carax, Leos – n/a

Cavalier, Alain – n/a

Chang-dong, Lee – n/a

Chan-wook, Park – multiple projects in script development

Cedar, Joseph – n/a

Ceylan, Nuri Bilge – n/a

Coen, Joel and Ethan – Jury Presidents – Hail, Caesar! (2015)

Coixet, Isabel – n/a

Coppola, Sofia – Fairyland (2015?)

Costa, Pedro – n/a

Cronenberg, David – n/a

Dardenne, Jean-Pierre and Luc – n/a

Daniels, Lee – n/a

Del Toro, Guillermo – Crimson Peak (2015)

Desplechin, Arnaud – Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse (2015, with Mathieu Amalric)

Dominik, Andrew – n/a

Dolan, Xavier (NEW) – The Death and Life of John F. Donovan (2016)

Dumont, Bruno – n/a

Eastwood, Clint – n/a

Escalante, Amat – n/a

Egoyan, Atom – Remember (2015, post-prod, with Christopher Plummer)

Fincher, David – n/a

Folman, Ari – n/a

Gallo, Vincent – n/a

Garcia, Nicole – starring in Belle Familles (Jean-Paul Rappeneau, 2015)

Garrel, Philippe – L’Ombre des Femmes (2015)

Garrone, Matteo – The Tale of Tales (2015, post-prod, with Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Vincent Cassel, Alba Rohrwacher)

Gatlif, Tony – n/a

Giannoli, Xavier – Marguerite (2015, post-prod)

Gitai, Amos – n/a

Giordana, Marco Tullio – n/a

Godard, Jean-Luc (NEW) – n/a

Gray, James – The Lost City of Z (2016, pre-prod)

Greenaway, Peter – n/a

Haneke, Michael – Flashmob (2015, details scant)

Haroun, Mahamat-Saleh – n/a

Hazanavicius, Michel – n/a

Hillcoat, John – Triple Nine (2015, completed, September 11th release)

Honore, Christophe – n/a

Hopkins, Stephen – Race, 2016

Hsiao-Hsien, Hou – Nie Yin Niang (2015, post-prod)

Inarritu, Alejandro Gonzalez – The Revenant (2015, filming, Leonardo diCaprio)

Jarmusch, Jim – Untitled Stooges Documentary (2015, post-prod, with Iggy Pop)

Jaoui, Agnes – n/a

Jones, Tommy Lee – n/a

Kawase, Naomi – Sweet Red Bean Paste (2015, post-prod)

Kaufman, Charlie – Anomalisa (2015, post-prod)

Kaurismaki, Aki – n/a

Kar-wai, Wong – producer and co-writer of The Ferryman (2015)

Khoo, Eric – In the Room (post-prod)

Kiarostami, Abbas – Horizontal Process (no date, script)

Ki-Duk, Kim – n/a

Kitano, Takeshi – Ryûzô to 7 nin no kobun tachi (2015)

Kechiche, Abdellatif – La blessure (2015)

Kelly, Richard – n/a

Koreeda, Hirokazu – Kamakura Diary (2015, post-prod)

Kurosawa, Kiyoshi – Journey to the Shore (2015, post-prod)

Kusturica, Emir – n/a

Larrieu, Arnaud and Jean-Marie – Vingt et une nuits avec Pattie (2015, with Denis Lavant)

Lee, Ang – n/a

Leigh, Julia – n/a

Leigh, Mike – n/a

Liman, Doug – Reckoning with Torture (2015, post-prod)

Linklater, Richard – That’s What I’m Talking About (2015, post-prod)

Loach, Ken – n/a

Loznitsa, Sergei – n/a

Luchetti, Daniele – Chiamatemi Francesco (2015, post-prod)

Maiwenn – Mon roi (2015, post-prod, with Vincent Cassel and Louis Garrel)

Makhmalbaf, Samira – n/a

Malick, Terrence – Voyage of Time (2015, post-prod)

Masahiro, Kobayashi – n/a

Mamoru, Oshii – n/a

Martel, Lucrecia – Zama (2015, script)

Meirelles, Fernando – n/a

Mendoza, Brillante – n/a

Mihaileanu, Radu – n/a

Miike, Takashi – Kaze ni tatsu raion (2015, post-prod)

Mikhalkov, Nikita – n/a

Ming-Liang, Tsai – n/a

Miller, Bennett (NEW)

Miller, Claude – RIP, 1942-2012

Miller, Frank – n/a

Moll, Dominik – n/a

Moore, Michael – n/a

Moretti, Nanni – Mia madre (2015, post-prod)

Mundruczo, Kornel – n/a

Mungiu, Cristian – n/a

Nadjari, Raphael – n/a

Nasrallah, Yousry – n/a

Nichols, Jeff – Midnight Special (2015, post-prod, Kirsten Dunst and Michael Shannon)

Noe, Gaspar – Love (2015, post-prod)

Nossiter, Jonathan – n/a

Ozon, Francois – n/a

Paronnaud, Vincent – n/a

Polanski, Roman – n/a

Ramsay, Lynne – n/a

Resnais, Alain – RIP, 1922-2014

Reygadas, Carlos – n/a

Rodriguez, Robert – n/a

Rohrwacher, Alice (NEW) – n/a

Ruiz, Raul – RIP, 1941-2011

Saleem, Hiner – n/a

Salles, Walter – Jia Zhang-ke by Walter Salles (2015, documentary, post-prod)

Sang-soo, Hong – n/a

Sang-soo, Im – My Friendly Villains (2015)

Satrapi, Marjane – Tales from the Hanging Head (no year)

Seidl, Ulrich – n/a

Schleinzer, Markus – n/a

Schnabel, Julian – n/a

Sissako, Abderrahmane (NEW) – n/a

Soderbergh, Steven – involved with Magic Mike XXL (2015)

Sokourov, Alexander – Le Louvre Under German Occupation (2015, post-prod, Bruno Delbonnel cinematography)

Sorrentino, Paolo – The Early Years (2015, with Rachel Weisz, Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Paul Dano, Harvey Keitel)

Suleiman, Elia – n/a

Szifron, Damian (NEW) – n/a

Tarantino, Quentin – The Hateful Eight (2015, filming, with Channing Tatum, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and many more)

Tarr, Bela – n/a

Tavernier, Bertrand – n/a

Techine, Andre – Quand on a 17 ans (2016, pre-prod)

Tedeschi, Valeria Bruni – n/a

Thomas, Daniela – n/a

To, Johnnie – Design for Living (2015, post-prod)

Trapero, Pablo – The Clan (2015, produced by Pedro Almodovar)

Van Sant, Gus – The Sea of Trees (2015, post-prod)

Van Warmerdam, Alex – Schneider vs. Bax (2015, post-prod)

Vernon, Conrad – n/a

Vinterberg, Thomas – Far from the Madding Crowd (2015, post-prod, Juno Temple, Carey Mulligan, slated for May 1st release)

von Trier, Lars – n/a

Weingartner, Hans – Soaring Underground (2015)

Weerasethakul, Apichatpong – Love in Khon Kaen (2015)

Wenders, Wim – n/a

Winding Refn, Nicolas – n/a

Xiaoshuai, Wang – n/a

Ye, Lou – n/a

Zhangke, Jia – n/a

Zviaguintsev, Andrei – n/a

Eight Sundance Standouts

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

At a festival that prides in programming new faces – and with so many movies demanding to be discovered – it’s hard to know what will rise to the Sundance surface. Well, sort of: with the festival awards behind us, we do know the big US Dramatic winner Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, a ticket too hot for me to find a seat for, will find lots of success in the coming months. Outside of that, though, here are eight films you should see (in addition to my rave reviews of The Witch, Slow West, and The Wolfpack) as they embark on their post-Park City trajectory:

3 1/2 Minutes

3andahalfminutes

It’s not the first documentary to critically examine Florida’s problematic “Stand Your Ground” law (and sadly, it won’t be the last), but Marc Silver’s very fine 3 1/2 Minutes is a calm and collected case study of The State vs. Michael Dunn, the man who shot and killed teenager Jordan Davis out of “self-defence.” From Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown to Jordan Davis, the film speaks not just to the lamentable trials that devolve into the defendant’s word against a dead man’s, but also to the larger cancer of racism and racial profiling. Silver shows us Dunn claiming before a jury he isn’t a racist, and for contrast we hear audio tapes of Dunn talking about how Davis and his articulate friends were “thugs.” Sad, sober, and patient, the film walks us through just how easily owning a gun, harbouring racist thoughts, and debatable self-defence laws can equate into the death of an unarmed teen.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

diary of a teenage girl

Newcomer Marielle Heller’s film is a delicate and invigorating adaptation of the Phoebe Gloeckner graphic novel of the same name, a story about a young girl’s sexual awakening in the hazy, drug-fuelled days of 1970s San Francisco. It is also the heralding of Bel Powley, the fantastic lead actress who champions the titular role across from Alexander Skarsgård and Kristen Wiig. Photographed with a luminous bloom evocative of the time and peppered with creatively humorous animations (both on top of live-action and entire sequences), The Diary of a Teenage Girl excels with its terrific performances, mature portrayal of its central themes, and a noticeably strong directorial voice from Heller.

Tangerine

tangerine

Tangerine is the kind of movie you simply have to see at an event like Sundance, but what’s nice is that even outside of this festival, it’s still a news story. Shot entirely on iPhones tricked out with custom anamorphic lenses, Sean Baker’s florid, vibrant Los Angeles is the perfect setting for this picaresque trans* narrative that is as old as Shakespeare yet newer than Urban Dictionary. With the color contrast pushed out to the limit and an overall orange hue most commonly associated with the Kelvin filter on Instagram, this is a movie about flux: gender norms are shifting, sex work is changing, and a city associated with industry-standard moviemaking is here photographed through a transitioning medium that is contextually perfect.

Station to Station

Doug Aitken’s love train is something to behold – and to be supremely jealous of, when it comes to adventure odysseys you wish you were involved with. Rolling cameras on a locomotive charging east-to-west for 24 days, Station to Station is comprised of 61 one-minute short films that exude the very best of the independent spirit. Art and music and humanity come together here for a film that is utterly rock-and-roll, with talent known and unknown sharing the same artistic plane (train). Aitken wisely spreads the real estate and evenly distributes the screen time, guaranteeing us something new and stimulating every minute. The result? A new media concert-film you’ve never seen before.

Stockholm, Pennsylvania

stockholm

I have a lot of respect for this movie and to its writer/director Nikole Beckwith, a filmmaker that promises to continue taking risks further into her career. A story about a young woman (Saoirse Ronan) readjusting to life after finally being liberated from her lifelong kidnapper, Stockholm, Pennsylvania feels like two films; when the premise of the second half comes into view, many people will reject it outright. But it’s this kind of attempt to try something new that I find really exciting about both Sundance and Beckwith’s daring script, and the film’s closing shot – a dramatically dark twist that is a nightmare to consider – has stuck with me since leaving the festival, which is always indicative of something striking a chord. Whether it works for you as a narrative – there’s an undertone that feels akin to the domestic grossness of Gone Girl – is secondary at a certain point; what’s more, Ronan’s exquisite performance is worthy of your attention, regardless of the critical reviews misguidedly dumping on this film.

Most Likely To Succeed

most likely

There are a lot of stressful documentaries coming out from Sundance underlining the grave errors the Western World has committed to, and while Greg Whiteley’s Most Likely To Succeed depicts the outdated practices of the public school system in a 3.0 world, it’s ultimately a positive message. The film opens with how even Jeopardy! legend Ken Jennings’ job of game-show whiz can been replaced by a computer, which is a tongue-in-cheek way of broaching the truth: that schools are still teaching kids rote memorization and regurgitation, two skills that will prepare them for jobs Wikipedia and robots are far better at. Who will we hire if this continues? Highlighting in particular High Tech High, a San Diego high school that has been experimenting with Socratic forum and a focus towards hands-on technological praxis, Whiteley captures an inspiring solution: when teachers give youth more agency in their education, it leads to the kind of innovation and character-building confidence skills that are essential for success in a post-internet job market. A thoughtful consideration, and with lots of heart.

Racing Extinction

extinction

In this follow-up to his enraging Sundance-winning documentary The Cove, Louie Psihoyos’ equally damning Racing Extinction hits with a terrifying introduction: there have been five mass extinction events throughout the history of our planet, and between outrageous industrial carbon footprints, over-hunted endangered species, and our simply unsustainable diets, we are on a fatal course towards a sixth. Like The Cove, this film is a rabble-rouser, and Psihoyos uses his lens and the fluid power of cinema to try and change attitudes and policies alike. Sneaking hidden cameras into illegal food markets and projecting eye-opening images onto buildings are just two ways Psihoyos plays with documentary to convey his messages; the film in its entirety is an A+ (and transparent) look at the crises facing life on Earth, and what we can do to prevent them.

Take Me To The River

Matt Sobel’s nuanced and sublimely photographed debut, Take Me To The River is a finely crafted and ambiguous film that rejects conventional definition. Ryder (Logan Miller)’s experience at this backcountry Nebraska-set family reunion is a bizarre and unsettling one; when he is blindly accused of sexually abusing his cousin Molly (Ursula Parker), her father’s unexpected reaction opens our imagination to a world of unsettling possibilities and dark truths. To note: break-out performer Logan Miller’s complex facial expressions speak to his acting as he navigates supremely tense family dynamics; Ursula Parker, already perfection on “Louie,” is going to be something special in ten years. Writer-director Sobel is a talent to watch, and we would be so lucky if every film was as visually engaging and thematically challenging as this one.

Sundance Reviews: The Wolfpack, Slow West

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

Unique ironies surround Crystal Moselle’s bewildering documentary The Wolfpack, not the least of which is that the film opens with a group of brothers at home reenacting Reservoir Dogs, a film that premiered at Sundance 23 years ago. Last night, the very same brothers stood in front of the screen and interacted with the audience for a Q&A, dressed just like Misters Blonde, Blue, Brown, Orange, Pink, and White. I was stunned.

The Wolfpack

Tarantino’s 1992 masterpiece is just one of the many films that have captivated and inspired the Angulo brothers – six of them, to be exact, with one very shy sister – who have, for the majority of their life, been essentially locked away in their Lower East Side Manhattan apartment. Their interactions with the world have been extremely limited (“I just learned Google was a word,” one brother says) and what they know about society has primarily been from their apartment window and their television screen, the portal that expands their world and lets them watch any of their 5,000+ movie catalogue (I hope they publish their list of top films ever made, a document we only hear the highlights of – JFK is their top film ever).

Because moving images have been one of their only forms of entertainment, these boys are the ultimate cinephiles. They love movies to the point I feel put to shame by, and for fun they take their love of cinema to another level, writing scripts down by hand (and typewriter), quoting lines and key scenes, and re-enacting films like The Dark Knight, Pulp Fiction, and The Godfather, complete with impressively homemade props and costumes (one Batman outfit is made from yoga mats and cereal boxes). This aspect of The Wolfpack is highly entertaining, and keeps the surreality of the situation from becoming overbearing.

So how bizarre is it that these boys are now the subject of a compelling documentary? It’s a trip, to be sure. They have always loved both sides of the camera, taping and documenting their lives inside their apartment, clips of which Moselle splices into her film. It’s these real documents of a growing yet repressed family that underlines the staggering reality that this family has never really left home, and things are not okay as a result. Fortunately, the very charming Angulo brothers open up to Moselle, talking about their father (a troubled man; we learn little about him) and mother (who has clearly been through a lot as a result of her husband); there is immense catharsis here.

When one brother reveals the story behind his first escape, Moselle captures a wistful connection as her subject looks into the camera. It’s here the film transitions into how the Angulo brothers plan to leave the nest and get jobs (their father has been anti-work for many years). While it’s great to see the liberation of men tasting freedom for the first time, most bizarre is the sadness as these brothers begin to move apart: they’ve spent their entire lives in close proximity, and while we all have stories about families naturally separating into their own units, there’s really nothing we can do to relate or compare with how these brothers must feel growing into adulthood.

This movie is one-of-a-kind. If Boyhood was a young boy growing over the length of one movie, The Wolfpack shows young boys growing through movies; the result is a mix that is a sort of real-life Be Kind Rewind and Dogtooth combined (though that film is far more narratively negative than this; this movie is ultimately positive). From how they think of strangers to what they know about the world, this movie is an ethnographic look at a mixed-race family that is clearly very talented and has a lot to offer the world. It’s odd to write about this family, and it’s even odder to watch watch as they learn to adjust to the real world, complete with awkward interactions as they take their first steps around New York City as free men (watch the delight on their faces as they see a film in a real cinema, dressed to the nines as they do so). That said I can do little else but recommend this film post-haste; it is an absolutely fascinating documentary and one of the strongest reminders of the indomitable power of film I have seen.

SLOW WEST 

Maybe it never really went away, but it seems as if the Western genre has had a bit of a renaissance in recent cinema. From straight dust-ups by Tarantino to more neo-Western revenge flicks like, say, Blue Ruin and then the genre entries from countries that aren’t American (when will kickass Danish Oater The Salvation be released stateside?), it’s a good time these days to love a dusty trail and riding off into the sunset.

Slow West falls in that latter category, a UK-New Zealand co-production that, like Lord of the Rings, uses the beautiful – yet craggy and harsh – panoramic exteriors of New Zealand as a substitute for the American Old West, including plains, mountain passes, and lush forests. The film follows teenaged Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a Romeo travelling from Scotland to reunite with his Juliet (Rose, played by Caren Pistorius) hiding somewhere in the American West. But strong-and-silent Silas – a roaming bounty hunter played by Michael Fassbender – realizes there is a large price on Rose’s head, and he offers to escort the naive greenhorn Jay across the dangerous terrain with a hidden agenda.

This is a gorgeously-shot movie which is really great, because as the title implies, prepare to saddle up for a slow burn start to shoot-out pay-off finish. Backed by the talents of ace cinematographer Robbie Ryan, writer-director John Maclean takes his time with the narrative, patiently building a body-count while exhibiting his cinematic reverence to the natural world. In terms of photography, the West here is almost a character; it has many treacherous geographies and exerts indiscriminate acts of God upon its inhabitants, who are not without sin. As one minor character suggests, if he only broke bread with those who had never committed murder, he would be “a very lonely man indeed.”

From the corpse of a lumberjack killed by his own felled tree to a raging flood that nearly carries Jay and Silas away, death – both by the natural world and by unnatural lead – is a major theme here, reinforcing the Old West as an unforgiving time and place to live (albeit a great setting for a movie). Second to death is the dramatic irony that Maclean wisely mines for humour; one poignant scene provides new context to the expression “salt in the wound,” and it’s brilliant writing winks like these which work on many levels to highlight the futility of 19th-century roguery and unrequited romance.

This is another standout film at Sundance 2015. In addition to its very capable performances and engaging script, Slow West is the resounding rifle-crack welcome to an exciting and meticulous newcomer John Maclean. His staging of the bloody finale alone will turn studio heads, and it would please this Western fan very much to see his excellent blocking seen in this film’s climactic siege blown up and supported on future, bigger – and perhaps faster – projects.

Sundance Review: The Witch

Saturday, January 24th, 2015

There is a scene in The Witch so terrifyingly twisted that when it was over, I realized my mouth had been frozen agape for a solid three minutes or so. A film that is the feature writing and directing debut of Robert Eggers, this is the first real standout movie of Sundance 2015 – and 2015 in general – that is deserving of your serious attention. If you’ve been following the festival through tweets and other write-ups: believe the hype, this movie is artful enough to reject ghettoization, and should be seen by genre fans and drama lovers alike.

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Originally titled The Witch of New Canaan Woode, Eggers sets the stage in a very dreary 1630s New England (with the forests of Ontario, Canada standing in), introducing us to a family that has been exiled into a solitary farm life away from the nearest plantation. If there is a main character, it is Anya Taylor Joy’s adolescent maiden, working with her mother, father, brother, and twin siblings to survive a harsh upcoming winter. Food has become scarce, and when a baby boy goes missing in the opening act, the family patriarch goes looking for a wolf to kill. Of course, as the title implies, there is no wolf. But who – or what – is the witch?

After looking up Eggers’ IMDb profile I am not surprised to read that he has primarily been a production designer, because this film utterly nails the setting and vibe of this story. From the chiaroscuro lighting to the immaculate set design to the stunning location photography, everything about this picture captures what I can only imagine life then was like, and Eggers used archives of historical documents to write an accurate script that is penned mostly from actual dialogues of the time. It’s got all the fire and brimstone of old-timey pilgrim/Puritan prose, with even the child actors of this film nailing that tricky New England accent.

This film is so good at what it does and sells the immersion scarily well. While The Witch never deviates from its central farm scenario (other than the woods beyond them), there’s plenty of drama to be mined from underneath these thatched-roof cottages to help you understand why witchcraft and Satanic magicks were so quickly pointed to as the cause of all evil. My only complaint? I didn’t want to leave this movie; I didn’t want to leave a world that could have been explored more and more with so many interesting philosophical questions and frightening implications.

But there is drama here, too; the kind of psychological stuff that is really fascinating when you appreciate this is taken from the annals of New England legend. Like the trials of Salem in the late 1600s, the finger-pointing in this movie becomes Biblical to the point of self-survival, and the intense screaming, crying, and family discordance that results from accusing someone of witchcraft adds to the already concrete-thick tension. This movie is scary, but it is also just so eminently watchable and pretty to look at; the scares are almost a relief, because it means the end of the intense crescendoing of violins and other string instruments that largely comprises the score.

For my money the most effective horror films have a sense of dread that never really goes away, constantly pushing the needle and raising the stakes. There needn’t be cheap jump scares every minute or two to create something tense if everything else in the production is unsettling, and this film has an atmosphere and tone that is so very, very dark. The script, with its many “thys” and “thous” and references to Jesus Christ as our lord saviour, keep us reminded that the 17th-century was a God-fearing time where prayer was the only answer to a sickness, and it is really pitch-perfect horror. Double, double toil and trouble: if this film does not make my top ten of 2015, it will be a very good year for movies.

Sundance Review: THE BRONZE

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

It was unreasonable to expect the opening night U. S. Dramatic film would play as well as 2014’s electric Whiplash for a curtain-raiser to Sundance. Still, the festival has begun, and there are already titles buzzing with “must-see” status (having been turned away from The Witch this morning, which is receiving rave twitter reviews, I am already playing catch-up).

Still, there are some thematic similarities between that film and this year’s regrettable opener, The Bronze, a film that is centered around wanting to be the very best at something – or at least remembered appropriately for it.

Written by Melissa and Winston Rauch and directed by Bryan Buckley, The Bronze is a clichéd and predictable sports-competition film that you’ve seen a million times: from Bring It On to Air Bud, this film follows beat-for-beat the narrative of training for an important competition, and it’s up to the denouement to see if our protagonists come out on top.

But what’s different here from most sports films is the script and writing tone, which is an obnoxious filth-fest and a poor Diablo Cody imitation (think Young Adult, but while snorting an accelerant). Co-writer Melissa Rauch plays Hope Ann Greggory, a has-been bronze-medal gymnast clinging to her former glory in a small town still willing to celebrate her ten years later. Hope steals, she swears, she offends, she goes on detailed and painfully specific rants about … taints. She punches her protective and concerned father (Gary Cole) in the face. She needs a job, and she’s predictably offered one in the form of the redemption trope: train an up-and-coming younger, cuter gymnast to compete in a world-class event, and will Hope be able to restrain her explosive, caustic personality in the process? Will she find true love in her awkward co-trainer (“Silicon Valley”‘s Thomas Middleditch)?

I’ve never been a huge fan of Diablo Cody, so those who are may enjoy this knock-off piece of priss. But Cody’s work is at least nuanced, and narratively The Bronze is just all very obvious. And while playing to a successful formula will net a film decent points with a broad audience, if the jokes aren’t funny – or they simply come across as irritating, like so many of these cloying, in-your-face one-liners – then this movie sorely botches the dismount as a festival opener.

Six Films To Watch At Sundance

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Sundance 2014 was one of the most exciting film events in recent memory, and of the festival circuit I attend—which annually includes Cannes and TIFF—many of the films Sundancers saw a year ago are still largely in the conversation today. And that’s not just because of Boyhood: last January I saw a number of films that ultimately made my top ten or twenty of 2014, including Kumiko The Treasure Hunter, The Overnighters, Love is Strange, The Voices, Whiplash, What We Do In The Shadows, Appropriate Behavior

I could go on. Attending Sundance this year means personally jumping through a lot of difficult hoops to make it happen, but this festival is becoming legendary—2014’s iteration eclipsed both Cannes and TIFF combined—and I simply couldn’t skip this year.

Here are just six enticing movies that I am both eager to see, and to see how they play out:

The Witch US Dramatic

“New England in the 1630s: William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life with five children, homesteading on the edge of an impassable wilderness. When their newborn son vanishes and crops fail, the family turns on one another. Beyond their worst fears, a supernatural evil lurks in the nearby wood.”

What a simple yet incredibly effective title, shortened from its original: The Witch of New Canaan Woode. Buzz from Sundance brass (namely John Cooper) on this title is shit-hot, especially as it sounds both excellently eerie and dramatically nuanced. It’s not in Sundance’s Midnight category, which means it’s probably more the latter than the former, but it still sounds pretty wild—especially since, well, when did you last see an indie film based in the 1630s? Written and directed by Robert Eggers.

Station to Station New Frontier Films

“A high-speed road trip through modern ideas, the formally innovative film Station to Station is composed of 61 individual one-minute films that feature profiles shot before, during, and after the trip, and capture indelible moments of the journey such as Beck performing with a gospel choir in the Mojave desert.”

People all over the world, join hands: Doug Aitken started a love train. Station to Station sounds like the perfect film for an artistically-inspired festival like Sundance, an event which celebrates that Bohemian commitment to always chasing fresh ideas. Rocking and rolling across the United States with creativity in every caboose, Aitken invites artists, musicians, filmmakers, poets, writers, and storytellers aboard an LED-adorned locomotive to create 61 one-minute short films, linked together with the momentum of a train travelling from the Atlantic to the Pacific. At just over an hour, it sounds perfect.

The Wolfpack US Documentary

“Locked away from society in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Angulo brothers learn about the outside world through the films that they watch. Nicknamed the Wolfpack, the brothers spend their childhood re-enacting their favorite films using elaborate homemade props and costumes.”

I’m just going with the hype on this one, because from the program notes alone this film sounds nuts. Aside from the really interesting irony that director Crystal Moselle has created a film about a family who re-enacts films, the idea that there’s some sort of real-life Dogtooth scenario happening in… Manhattan? Yeah, that seems way too bizarre to not investigate further.

Take Me To The River NEXT

“Ryder, an artsy teenager, travels from California with his parents, Don and Cindy, for a family reunion in Nebraska. Upon their arrival, Ryder’s impish nine-year-old cousin, Molly, leads him to a barn to show him a bird’s nest. What happens behind barn doors makes Ryder the sudden target of suspicion and unearths a long-buried family secret.”

Over the past few years, Sundance’s NEXT program has been really successful in broaching evocative perspectives and presenting new voices, and Matt Sobel’s debut feature—a part of this special section—looks to have that sort of vibe from another Sundance hit, Martha Marcy May Marlene. While they’re assuredly different, Take Me To The River should surprise with its look at disturbing family dynamics, beautiful on-location photography, and a brooding tension that is invoked by breakout performances—both by Logan Miller (Ryder) and Ursula Parker (Molly), who as we know from Louis CK’s “Louie” is a seriously talented child actress. It’s the kind of film that sounds like it could really swing for the fences in its thematic ambiguity, and I’m hoping its inclusion in the NEXT program means that is does.

The Nightmare Park City at Midnight

“Following his exploration on the deep effects of cinema in his feature Room 237, director Rodney Ascher now investigates the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. In this documentary-horror film, we experience the terror that a surprisingly large number of people suffer when they find themselves trapped between the sleeping and waking worlds every night.”

Room 237 was something else, and I really dig that Sundance didn’t describe Rodney Ascher’s previous documentary as the film about The Shining. It is, but it’s kind of not. It’s a study of cinematic obsession, which in itself can be frightening—especially given how far some fanatics can go. Ramping up the fear factor, The Nightmare is currently my number-one to see at Sundance. Have you ever experienced sleep paralysis? It happened to me maybe six months ago. I could hear someone moving my stuff in my room and pushing around my really squeaky chair beside my bed, but I was unable to open my eyes and see who—or what—was fucking with me. That feeling of helplessness vulnerability was shit-your-pants terrifying. (These types of hallucinations are associated with sleep paralysis, I promise.) Either way, I’m there.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl US Dramatic

“Minnie Goetze is a 15-year-old aspiring comic-book artist, coming of age in the haze of the 1970s in San Francisco. Insatiably curious about the world around her, Minnie is a pretty typical teenage girl. Oh, except that she’s sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend.”

2014 was a year for movies about boys, men, boys-to-men, and man-boys. While I’m not necessarily complaining, I’m pretty eager to see something that takes us far away from that, and the possible arrival of a striking new lead in Bel Powley (Minnie)—in a film set in the wavy days of 1970’s San Fran—sounds like just the antidote. I can’t put my finger on why this film sounds as good as it does, but its inclusion of Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgård definitely helps. Written and directed by debut filmmaker and actress Marielle Heller, based on the graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner.

The Torontonian reviews This Is Where I Leave You

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Like a middling episode of House-Arrested Development, Shawn Levy’s This Is Where I Leave You—adapted from the Jonathan Tropper novel of the same name—is a dysfunctional family dramedy lacking in laughs and an emotional punch to really bring it home. The film gets by on its likable cast, but the fact that this film merely passes despite such a talented crop of comedic talent should speak to a general failure, or at least a sense of disappointment.

Starring as Judd Altman (the surname not a nod to the iconoclast director), Jason Bateman here more or less reprises earlier iterations of Michael Bluth, the straight-man glue that holds his clan together. He’s been good at this character for years, and while I’m beginning to think he’s now typecast as such, Bateman’s focal point leads are usually strong. This film is no exception.

But this is an ensemble comedy, so acting beside Bateman are Tina Fey (sister), Adam Driver, Corey Stoll (brothers), Jane Fonda (mother), Rose Byrne, and Timothy Olyphant (external love interests). Following the death of their father, the Altman family is finally reunited under the same roof to sit Shiva, a seven-day ordeal that raises tensions and blood pressures for everyone involved. It’s an inoffensive premise that you’ve seen before and will continue to see again.

There are a few other actors here (Kathryn Hahn plays Stoll’s flighty wife), but in terms of talent squandered, there’s no flaw more glaring than underwriting a Tina Fey character. Fey’s turn in This Is Where I Leave You as a grinning alcoholic is, sorry to say, lamentably dull. Ben Schwartz steals what little show there is as “Boner,” the hip-with-it rabbi who despises his nickname the Altmans gave him in the past. It’s fun to see Jane Fonda’s matriarch get some laughs with her new “bionic” breast implants, but it’s a bit juvenile and attributes to the film’s overall tonal unevenness. Case in point: to relieve its half-hearted attempt at tackling serious family drama, this is a film where a running joke includes a toddler who loves to carry his potty around in the darnedest places and most inopportune times.

The kernels of sadder, more depressing family problems are all here—pecking-order in-fighting, the inability to have children, alcoholism, superiority complexes—but they’re all tinged with a wink and tongue-in-cheek asides, so it’s hard to really feel compelled to care. It’s odd, because this film isn’t funny but it’s not dreadfully unfunny, so we’re left in this shrug-worthy state of: yup, it’s harmless and watchable, which is true of many Shawn Levy films.

The Torontonian reviews It Follows

Friday, September 12th, 2014

f9e3029b8cade0793e6c3d738ddfa8f2One of the most enjoyable aspects of David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows—alongside its brilliant cinematography and chilling scares—is the inventive premise, which is as much to fun to describe as it is to watch (tell your friends about the “sexually-transmitted ghost” movie and watch their faces turn from disgusted to wildly amused).

Also appearing in The Guest, another Midnight Madness film at TIFF, Maika Monroe plays Jay, a girl living in Detroit suburbia with her friends and family. Jay’s a typical American girl that likes to go on dates to the movies, and the boy she’s currently seeing is the strong and silent type. They haven’t, well—y’know—yet, but after a bizarre detour and a casual dinner, they finally go somewhere private and get down to business.

Moments after having sex with this dude, Jay is introduced to the “rules” of It Follows: she’s now the target for a haunting spectre that can take many forms—an old woman, a naked girl, a lumbering giant—and will now relentlessly walk towards her until it sees her dead. If it kills her, it will then go up the chain and begin to haunt the person Jay most recently had sex with—in this case, the beau from earlier—making this movie a terrifying game of sexual hot potato. It’s an idea that’s high-concept and low-budget.

Other horror films have ghouls that are more agile than what stalks Jay in It Follows—or faster, for that matter—but Mitchell uses the slow-and-steady ghost premise to chilling effect. In one of the film’s most unsettling scenes, Mitchell sets his camera on a panoramic 360-degree tripod and spins around the hallways of a school as Jay rifles through some yearbook archives to find out who it actually is she just had sex with (her mysterious suitor was not who he said he was, it seems). As the camera repeatedly cycles around, we through a window both a field teeming with people and a hallway with students, but is the ghost outside or in the school? Because Mitchell opts for master shots in establishing his environments, there’s a lot of fun in trying to spot the apparition in his backgrounds, and this scene is one of the creepiest examples of this approach.

In terms of character motivations and oh-my-god-you-know-that’s-a-bad-idea, sure—there are a number of genre clichés and plot holes here, but the film is far too pretty to look at for those things to really matter (and yes, Mitchell answers the glaring question of “why don’t they just hire a prostitute?”). With excellently eerie lighting and an adherence to wide angles, we get a great sense of how even open areas like a park or a beach can remain claustrophobic—especially when you always have to look over your shoulder. There’s also a synth-heavy score by Disasterpeace that adds a thumping presence of dread behind every sequence, and the result is something original and really frightening.

 

 

The Torontonian reviews Good Kill

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Based on actual events and unapologetically anti-war, Andrew Nicoll’s Good Kill is an effective if slightly overlong look at the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as military lightning strikes and the psychological toll the violence takes on the men and women who “pilot” them, especially as the drone program evolves into something they never signed up for.

Continuing with what will likely be the biggest year of his career, Ethan Hawke plays Major Tommy Egan, a booze-chugging veteran who has seen multiple tours of combat but finds himself in the middle of his third drone tour. That means he spends a lot of time in an air-conditioned trailer on a military base in Nevada, Starbucks in hand, piloting a drone that is 7000 miles away, which is about as detached from the dangers of war as you can concievably get. But the real world impacts of his missiles are rending flesh and blood, and the film opens with Egan’s eye flitting back and forth as he looks for his latest target. His partner lasers the impact zone, Egan fires the trigger, and moments later—halfway across the world in a remote location in Afghanistan—hellfire rains down upon a supposed terrorist.

Egan, like godly Zeus, throws bolts from the blue. “Good kill,” he confirms, scanning the desolation.

Desensitized from the violence yet nonetheless damaged by his job, Egan’s life at home is turbulent, and his loyal wife (January Jones) feels like her husband is more vacant than he was when he was actually overseas. “Does he ever get mad?” a friend asks, watching Egan barbecue mutely after coming home from wiping six Taliban from the face of the earth. “When he gets mad, he only gets more quiet,” his wife says. The film unravels this now-broken marriage to middling effect.

Written by Nicoll and riddled with all the appropriate military jargon like “rules of engagement” and “painting the target,” his script compliments the disconnected horrors of these drone strikes by underlining the ironies of this cyclical, cynical conflict. Lines like “I’ve been a pilot before Pontius” keep us engaged throughout the film’s terrible everyday scenarios, like when Egan and company witness a local Afghan—not related to the Taliban or listed in any of their intel—repeatedly rape and beat a woman. Though they’re able to eliminate the rapist in a split second with a missile right between his eyes, Egan’s commander (played by Bruce Greenwood) says: “he’s a bad guy, but he’s not our bad guy.”

The film takes an uncomfortable turn when the CIA takes control of the drone program, requesting target strikes that continue to feel more and more unjust. “Sir, was that a war crime?” Egan’s morally-sober assistant Suarez (Zoe Kravitz) whimpers at one point. A monotonous voice in the form of a speakerphone—referred to only as Langley—requests orders that leave the drone pilots questioning everything about their job. Later, Egan refrains from uttering “good kill” after his strikes entirely.

This is the kind of movie you’d only watch once, given its heavyhandedness. That said, when Bruce Greenwood states that drone piloting “isn’t goddamn Playstation” to a horde of new recruits, you know the film is touching on some murky, real-world gray areas about the future of warfare. Except the future of warfare is actually the here-and-now of warfare, and Nicoll’s film assists in a layman understanding of the program (along with Wikileaks footage you may have seen). Egan’s failing marriage may be a lackluster B-story, but Ethan Hawke’s characteristically strong performance as a emotionally distanced drone pilot is worth your attention.

The Torontonian Reviews Sunshine Superman

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

sunshine supermanThere’s a range of buzzed-about nonfiction films at TIFF this year, but after asking the documentary programmers about their personal favorites in the selection, I was directed towards Sunshine Superman, Marah Strauch’s documentary debut that follows the life and times of gregarious BASE jumper Carl Boenish (“rhymes with Danish”). Before his untimely death in 1984, Boenish was a founding father of jumping from things he probably shouldn’t be—including Troll Wall in Norway, the craggy mountain that would eventually kill him—yet this tragedy only bolsters the film as an engaging love-letter to living life to the extreme.

BASE jumping—or building, antenna, span and Earth jumping—wasn’t a thing before Carl Boenish appeared, but because of him it’s now the liberating (read: insane) act of parachute-controlled freefall that was never really regulated or understood by the authorities as anything other than a liability. That includes park rangers who keep watch on El Capitan, the massive cliff in Yosemite Valley that Boenish and his fellow freefallers in the 1970s routinely scaled and flung themselves from, despite the fact that it was illegal. Detaining them wasn’t exactly going to stop them (let’s face it: if they’re jumping off cliffs, they’re not exactly too worried about a slap on the wrist), so Boenish organized a charge to make compromises with government officials with a cheerful attitude and his goofy, never-ending smile. In short, he caught more flies with honey, and it made him a natural figurehead for the activity.

Because Boenish was an avid cinematographer himself, Strauch has a wealth of spools from Boenish’s personal archive, which often includes the freefalling perspective of Boenish’s helmet-mounted camera. Much of it is exhilarating: taking to the skies and filming from great heights alleviates any potential talking head syndromes other documentaries suffer from, and the title of the film feels wholly appropriate. There are also flashes of Gimme Shelter here; Strauch includes footage of Boenish reviewing his own film, commenting on and laughing about what he’s documented, and it adds to the film’s vibrancy and joie de vivre.

There are contemporary interviews from the people involved with Boenish, including his sunny wife Jean, who alongside Carl quickly became a spokesperson for BASE jumping as a way to express the capabilities of mankind’s curiosity and freedom. That theme—the idea that life is something to make the most of and death isn’t something to be afraid of—is touched upon to compelling effect here, as the film ultimately culminates in the 1984 accident that claimed Carl Boenish’s life. Strauch catches up with Jean decades later to reflect on her late husband, and her sentiments aren’t that she regrets Carl jumped from something he knew was a poor idea. Rather, Jean extolls the virtues of Carl’s ambitions, and closes the film with a speech that reiterates the saying that no one leaves this mortal coil alive.