Wednesday, 31 August 2016


Gus van Sant has never been a filmmaker with much to say. His  impressionistic portraits of counter-culture and his formalistic experimentation, though they may possess artistic value, possess very little intellectual value; to say nothing of his sentimental Oscar bait. Or not, since this is precisely what The Sea of Trees amounts to; unlike the director, I have rather a lot to say. And little of it should indicate that this film possesses any value beyond satisfying one's curiosity. How could van Sant abandon his vibrant, valid, distinctive sensibilities and descend to the maudlin depths of Chris Sparling's vacuous, senseless screenplay? A surfeit of vetting ought to be instigated any time a filmmaker embarks upon smothering our cinema screens with so much sap - what does the film offer for our emotional investment? The Sea of Trees offers virtually nothing: tedious scenes of Matthew McConaughey and Watanabe Ken trudging through the forest for no deducible purpose, soapy flashbacks of McConaughey and Naomi Watts grinding through trite scenes of domestic disharmony, and so many blatant attempts to wring tears from our eyes you'd be tempted to gouge them out in contempt were those attempts not so unsuccessful. It then offers one twist on another, the first of which is so obvious you'll resent the film for thinking you so gullible, the second of which is so implausible that your resentment will be replaced by mirth and astonishment; the first time the film has elicited anything close to either response. Neither twist makes sense, complicating a simple story with unanswerable questions, rather than resolving plot holes and suggesting new perspectives. While sporadically touching, well-acted, and the beneficiary of some fine imagery, The Sea of Trees is also derivative and unwittingly racist. And in spelling every single thing out, it makes only one thing clear: it's the van Sant films where his characters have the most to say where he has the least.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016


The things we do for love... Full disclosure: this will be the first film in over 1,000 reviews to date for this site that I saw for the sake of someone else. It served its purpose - Thomas was satisfied, but Patrick was not. I cannot outright pan a film that so successfully satisfies its target audience, that fulfils all of their legitimate requirements and expectations in both an artistic capacity and a narrative one. Nor can I do so for a film into which went an evidently enormous amount of effort. The detail in the animation is immense, with astounding composition and incredible, at times photoreal human animation in the lead character. But otherwise, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is a mostly tiresome film for those outside of the aforesaid target audience. My poor eyes and ears lack the capability to keep up with films like this, plotted and designed like video games (though I can't fault Kingsglaive for such a quality) - they don't know the details on which to focus, the content that's there for mere decoration and that that's there for material purpose. To my senses, it's all decoration, pretty pictures that aren't even especially pretty, an over-complicated plot that nevertheless leads to the same, predictable action sequences. Those sequences are shot through with vivacity, but often so much of it that they bludgeon the viewer into numbed indifference; their prevalence and repetitiveness make Kingsglaive a particularly exhausting, unrewarding experience. It's nothing more than an overwrought, elaborate trailer for arguably the biggest video game of all time, though insofar as that is all it aspired toward, its achievements are undeniable, its validity indubitable. But I didn't want to see it, and I want never to see anything like it again.


Andrew Ahn makes his feature directorial debut with Spa Night, a drama about a closeted Korean-American teen whose job at a Korean spa awakens his sexuality. It drew good reviews at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it competed for the U.S. Dramatic prizes, and indeed won one: a Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance for lead Joe Seo. Strand Releasing, which has a great history of releasing arthouse titles in the U.S., particularly LGBT+-themed ones, opened Spa Night on the 19th of August; we await further international attention for the film in the near future!


A most iconic, inimitable star of the screen has departed us. Gene Wilder, one of film's most talented comic actors and writers, died yesterday, the 29th of August 2016, at age 83, due to complications from Alzheimer's, a diagnosis which he had withheld from public knowledge. Initially a Broadway and TV actor, Wilder transitioned into film with a remarkable double debut in the late 1960s: first with a small role in Bonnie and Clyde, then an Oscar-nominated, duly infamous turn in Mel Brooks' The Producers. Brooks and Wilder would go on to collaborate again on comedy classics Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, the latter of which earned Wilder a second Oscar nomination, this time for writing. Arguably as well-known as this partnership was that of Wilder and Richard Pryor, on films such as Silver Streak and See No Evil, Hear No Evil. And who could forget his most beloved performance, as Willy Wonka in 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Wilder not only acted and wrote, he has five directing credits to his name also, including The World's Greatest Lover and The Woman in Red. His acting career slowed in the '90s, having enjoyed great popularity and acclaim through the '70s and '80s, and by 2005 he had turned his attention to writing literature. Married four times, following the death of his third wife Gilda Radner, with whom he co-starred in three films, to ovarian cancer, he became an activist for cancer awareness. His only child was a stepdaughter, Katharine, from his marriage to Mary Joan Schutz. What a tragic loss, as ever it is to learn that a legend has passed.


Moms deserve better. Practise what you preach, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, because the preaching is pretty good, but the practice is the very worst thing in Bad Moms. No rly, you were letting yourselves in for it with that title. Only the happiest of coincidences, a fateful alignment of the perfect coalescence of geniuses can produce a great work of art through mere circumstance and will; everything else takes effort. There's method to it, and this appears to be what Bad Moms misses. It follows various similar templates of how to craft a comedy, including adhering to several horribly unadvisable traits and tropes. Remember when all American studio comedies came drenched in incessant, syrupy scores? And I'm sure you're familiar with sitcom staging, wherein all of the action is confined to a specific space to make the direction smoother and simpler? And what of the cliche of casting characters as simple stooges, rarely seen in their own frame never mind granted their own personality, for the sole purposes of plot progression and fleeting comic relief? It's been some time since I've had the displeasure of witnessing such amateurishness in comedy filmmaking, but Lucas and Moore seem to be doing their best to resurrect it. I'll pass on Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell, but then I get to talents like Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumolo (honestly, though, Annie Mumolo!) and I can only despair at the dreck they're forced to regurgitate for the audience's apathy here. Their diligence and dedication produce the guts of what good Bad Moms has to offer, and they deserve better too. So do the rest of us.


Todd Phillips astutely acknowledges the tonal ambiguity in his source story in War Dogs, habituated adjacent to the absurdity that was surely what attracted this established comedy director to this tallest, yet truest, of tales. And then he barges in, as winningly brash and unsubtle as ever, although with much of the winningness negated by the sheer inappropriateness of this approach with this material. War Dogs is outrageous - we get that. War Dogs is funny - when it's not trying (not hard enough) to be dramatic, and when it's not trying and failing to be funny, then yes, it is actually funny, and we may indeed have Phillips to credit for that. But that's all rather by the by; what this film needs is a steady, measured guiding hand through its incredible (almost literally) real-life plot, writing and direction that both acknowledge the tonal ambiguity herein and know how to wield it. Phillips simply tacks his brutish, bro-ish style on and runs with it, resulting in a film that only occasionally matches content and treatment. It's all very well when Phillips finds the right opportunity to inject some humour into the story - not so well when he finds the wrong opportunity, though. And when it calls for a more intelligent, sensitive touch, he's at a total loss, simply draining the film of energy rather than devising a new strategy for approaching serious-minded material. Which isn't to comment that the film is drained of all interest, though - even in the least competent hands, War Dogs remains an inherently great story. A shame, though, that Hollywood's idea of a great story is once again one that revolves around the heterosexual white man's sense of entitlement and feeling of rejection from a society he once thought, and still thinks, belongs to him. Apparently, these dogs still haven't had their day.

Monday, 29 August 2016


As Studio Ghibli wraps up production, how promising to see Japanese animation continuing to filter through to an international audience.  Hara Keiichi's Miss Hokusai is well over a year old by now, but will only reach US cinemas on the 14th of October this year. The lovely trailer, with English subtitles, is above. It's being distributed by GKids in the States; we can always rely on GKids to bring American audiences quality animated fare.

Sunday, 28 August 2016


Today, Satan, today. The trailer for Hurricane Bianca is here! The comedy event of the year (which, lbr, stands a very strong chance of failing to be even the comedy event of the day) doesn't have a release date yet, doesn't have any reviews yet, but does have a trailer! RuPaul's Drag Race Season 6 winner Bianca del Rio storms onto screens with this camp classic in the making; check out the first trailer for the film right here.


Todd Solondz's compassionate misanthropy takes on its cheeriest character yet in Wiener-Dog. Less wilfully abrasive than his most famous films, the film's relative palatability represents not a regression but an expansion for Solondz, a successful experiment in applying his trademark concerns to a more commercial product. Yet by now, what is communicated through those concerns bears less power than it once did; is it that we've heard it all before, or that Solondz has said it all better before? Better for us is to sit back and enjoy a thoroughly well-made comedy. Whether bleak or broad, the humour of Wiener-Dog is its strongest asset, both complementing the film's social commentary and distracting away from it. Comedy needs no context - not that it can't benefit from it, however - and the effect of such juvenile indulgences as a dog called 'Doody' or an otherwise-pointless intermission is to win one over. It's also fabulously made - never say Solondz is just a provocateur, since he's an excellent director of actors, and his shot compositions are superb, aided enormously by Edward Lachman's reliably fine cinematography. These quirky qualities might have been enough for Wiener-Dog, but it's loaded with more, in the form of an insistent desire to say something, to mean something more than just a silly film about a dog that looks like a sausage. Solondz's thematic ideas are thought through and developed with care, and his delivery of them - at once unsubtle and entirely vague - is as expressive in its bluntness as it is in the content which that bluntness seeks to conceal. But the silliness of the film itself and the seriousness of its intentions only mitigate each other's impact, exposing the little flaws scattered throughout. A successful experiment, but only just.

Saturday, 27 August 2016


You did not know how much you wanted to see Lion, unless you've seen Top of the Lake on TV. Garth Davis directed the shit out of his episodes of Jane Campion's marvellous first season of the mini-series, and no doubt he's brought that same strong dramatic sensibility to this film, which The Weinstein Company is priming as their top pick for awards season. It shows at the Toronto International Film Festival next month, before opening in the US on the 25th of November. Check out the first trailer, with Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman, above.


Rebecca Zlotowski's Planetarium was widely tipped for a competition slot at Cannes earlier in the year; when it didn't show up there, it was tipped for one at Venice. It didn't claim one there either, but it is set to premiere at Venezia next month out of competition, before heading to Toronto a couple of days later. A mere two European release dates have been confirmed at time of writing, so don't expect any impending announcements of UK nor US releases. Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp star.


A great story told by a talented director, Amma Asante, whose last project, Belle, was somewhat stymied by an over-adherence to convention. Nevertheless, A United Kingdom looks like it could make a terrific movie based on the above trailer, the first look we've had at the film. We'll find out whether or not it is indeed terrific when critics get a chance to see it upon premiering at TIFF next month; general audiences in the UK get their shot on the 25th of November.

Friday, 26 August 2016


Style: meet substance. Form: meet function. But let's do this carefully - in Brady Corbet's The Childhood of a Leader, these are hardly amiable encounters. What Corbet constructs here will be largely unfamiliar to most cinephiles, albeit constructed from materials that may occasionally be all too familiar. I'm not quite sure what to make of this film, and its multitude of wild stylistic divergences, nor am I sure that I'm supposed to know; rather than assuming a rounded artistic identity that is clear in its vagueness, The Childhood of a Leader is vague in those details that one must presume Corbet is clear on himself. Intellectually, historically, there seems to be undefined depth here, and the simple suggestion of it serves well to fire up the synapses, adding enticing enrichment to Corbet's stylistic stew. In this, he brashly exposes his burgeoning confidence as a director, and his remarkable ability in executing a tricky proposition in this dense, dark project. He displays unyielding commitment to his sensibilities, turning out a highly distinctive work that is evidently informed by the works of master filmmakers, but that is also possessed of its own, furious, assaultive idiosyncrasies. In particular, the dissonance of several of the film's most striking effects (among many) - jarring camera acrobatics and perspectives, Scott Walker's brilliantly manic score - doesn't fight against the rest of the mise-en-scene but instead collaborates with it, producing a most singular, unpredictable expression of originality. It's a brutish, unsubtle expression, but also a fascinatingly abstruse one, expanding what appears to be a fairly limited purview on a vast subject into an outlook that only conceals its wealth of thought and intelligence, transforming it into bold artistic statements. Difficult and arguably indecisive, but a vivid and rewarding debut from an exceptional new talent.

Thursday, 25 August 2016


First Girl I Loved debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it helped mark emerging director Kerem Sanga as one of the American independent scene's most promising talents. Her third feature bagged Sanga one of her most prestigious accolades to date - the Best of Next! Audience Award. Following an exceptionally heavy year of festival screenings, almost exclusively in North America, First Girl I Loved is set to arrive in US theatres, and online, on the 18th of October. Check out the first trailer above.


Honesty and innovation meet tradition in Trey Edward Shults's compelling feature debut, Krisha. Shults warps the conventions of the Thanksgiving family melodrama to his own, frank, personal ends, and the verisimilitude of his touch is enough to distinguish this new filmmaker as a most exciting one. But he goes further, loading his film with abstract stylistic quirks, all of which are effective, but some only to an extent. Eventually, one comes to expect more from Krisha as a result of Shults adventurousness, and may be disappointed by the narrative simplicity with which it wraps up. For the most part, those quirks are utilized in fine fashion, enhancing the dramatic material rather than antagonizing it. Supple editing rearranges the events of the few hours depicted here to linearize the progression, an adjustment that actually proves welcome due to the interest inherent and admiration accrued in Shults technical bravura. Brian McOmber's musique concrete score complements the film's readily-embraced comedic streak, oddly most successful when the comedy is coarse and broad, a little less so when it's more predictably black. And Drew Daniels' cinematography indulges in quietly expressionistic tableaux, though questioning the precise purpose of each of its artistic gambits - the pursuing long takes, for example - may lead the viewer up a blind alley. Alas, the film is more solid on more fundamental grounds - it's written and directed with a remarkable feel for unforced realism, and acted with uncommon humility and perceptiveness. Perhaps it is exactly this modest excellence in such ordinary fields that prompted the attempts at virtuosity elsewhere; I'd be lying if I claimed it was equally impressive, but equally lying if I claimed I wasn't impressed at all.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016


Boys playing baseball: it's enough to cure me of even the deepest insomnia. I had thought that the only thing more tiresome would be to hear those boys whine about the struggles of playing baseball; The Phenom has me convinced neither one way nor the other as to the verity of that thought. There's precious little actual baseball in Noah Buschel's movie, and all that whining amasses a significant degree of substance in Johnny Simmons' young prodigy's very legitimate ennui. Surprisingly, it's not the premise of The Phenom that irks me. These themes - the pressure of conformity to cultural standards of masculinity, the emotional abuse of a damaged father on his damaged child, a young man's resultant mental deterioration - are worthy ones, and Buschel understands them finely, his actors committing to these well-developed roles with sensitivity. What irks me is that the whole film is rather too well-developed. Though Buschel is adept at directing the viewer's thoughts toward those of his characters, and designs a few mannered shots to accentuate the effect, his directions are much too blunt to lend his film the dramatic credibility it requires. All attempts at naturalism, and the film is literally full of them, start to crumble as each perfectly-put line of dialogue is spoken, too intelligently and succinctly expressing the characters' state of mind. One perhaps even yearns for the elegant, muscular simplicity of actual baseball footage, as a refreshing counterpoint to the incessant (and occasionally painfully rudimentary) theorizing. My insomnia remains, but The Phenom was right on the verge of banishing it for good... or at least for 90 minutes.


The critics are rather in love with Kenneth Lonergan's third film as director, Manchester by the Sea. Reviews out of the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year were exceptional, and the film is tipped to be a major presence this awards season. Not sold on this sappy trailer full of boring white people, but the critical acclaim has my interest, and surely intends to hold it until I get to form my own opinion. Out in the US on the 18th of November, and in the UK on the 13th of January.


An uncommonly restrained studio horror movie, and all the better for it, but still a studio horror movie. One suspects that budget requirements engendered the refusal of all the bells and whistles that ruin so many such movies, forcing the filmmakers to rely more on artistic creativity than financial capacity, until one considers that the majority of those such movies were made for roughly the same amount as Lights Out. Though fallible itself, David F. Sandberg's adaptation of his 2013 short film sets forth some persuasive genre standards: 1) Concept and gimmickry should feed off one another. Don't employ one solely to augment the other. The horror ought to be an intrinsic element of the central choice of gimmick (this genre is practically predicated upon the existence of gimmicks, so get used to it), and vice versa. 2) Don't fuck with the formula. If you've concocted up plenty of good scares inside the house, concoct a few more. Don't leave the house. Don't escalate toward a chaotic climax - that's not scary, it's just silly. 3) Work with what we're already scared of. Silence and darkness aren't especially friendly states for us social, diurnal creatures. But nobody's born with an innate fear of men in hockey masks, or winged monster-men in cowboy hats. 4) Cast good actors. They're not necessarily expensive - Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello and Teresa Palmer won't break the bank, but they'll serve as terrific vessels for the vital emotional investment from the audience. Lights Out follows those standards, and is the better movie for it. It makes mistakes too: revealing too much too soon, succumbing to pedestrian plotting, betraying the essential element of its concept for an easy out in the end. But after all, Lights Out remains a studio horror movie. And, as such, it's a most commendable effort.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016


The TIFF Discovery slate is designed to highlight emerging directors; all of this year's filmmakers are showing either their first or their second film. It's a healthy-looking lineup too, with some acclaimed titles from earlier 2016 festivals alongside a good number of world premieres. Also included in this latest announcement (of many) from the Toronto International Film Festival are three additions to the TIFF Docs slate, the remainder of which you can view here. Check it out!

TIFF Discovery
ARQ (Tony Elliott)
Blessed Benefit (Mahmoud al Massad)
Boys in the Trees (Nicholas Verso)
Divines (Houda Benyamina)
The Empty Box (Claudia Sainte-Luce)
Flemish Heaven (Peter Monsaert)
The Fury of a Patient Man (Raul Arevalo)
The Giant (Johannes Nyholm)
Godless (Ralitza Petrova)
Guilty Men (Ivan D. Gaona)
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki (Juho Kuosmanen)
Hearthstone (Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson)
Hello Destroyer (Kevan Funk)
Hunting Flies (Izer Aliu)
In the Blood (Rasmus Heisterberg)
In the Radiant City (Rachel Lambert)
Jean of the Joneses (Stella Meghie)
Jeffrey (Yanillys Perez)
Jesus (Fernando Guzzoni)
Joe Cinque's Consolation (Sotiris Dounoukos)
Kati Kati (Mbithi Masya)
Katie Says Goodbye (Wayne Roberts)
The Levelling (Hope Dickson Leach)
Little Wing (Selma Vilhunen)
Mad World (Wong Chun)
Marija (Michael Koch)
Noces (Stephan Strecker)
Old Stone (Johnny Ma)
Park (Sofia Exarchou)
Prank (Vincent Biron)
The Red Turtle (Michael Dudok de Wit)
Sami Blood (Amanda Kernell)
Sand Storm (Elite Zexer)
Werewolf (Ashley McKenzie)
Wulu (Daouda Coulibaly)

Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee (Nanette Burstein)
Off Frame aka Revolution Until Victory (Mohanad Yaqubi)
The Terry Kath Experience (Michelle Sinclair)


Midway through each year, the International Federation of Film Critics, or FIPRESCI, hands out its Grand Prix for the preceding 12 months. An estimable organization that attends dozens of film festivals every year and doles out fest-specific awards for each, this is the highest honour which FIPRESCI can give. This year's winner is Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann, a comedy which screened in competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Ade becomes the first woman to win the Grand Prix. She won the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes for the official selection, having attracted enormous acclaim from critics though failing to win any official jury awards. Ade will receive the award at the opening night gala for the 2016 San Sebastian Film Festival on the 16th of September. The 475 voters chose the film over two other nominees: Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa and Jim Jarmusch's Paterson.


Guillaume Nicloux's little exercise in filmmaking finally comes to look very large indeed. It's a slight, self-aware, arguably even self-obsessed study, concerned not so much with a wider world, here only vaguely alluded to, as it is with its own state of being. The grief of two distant parents in the wake of their son's death would surely manifest itself as such, and Valley of Love immerses us in the peculiar particulars of their combined confusion. Nicloux's chief creative contribution is to strip his film to a few components, and to blow them up to extreme proportions - the result is an innately stylized work, and eventually crucially so. In the solipsism of these characters, and thus of the film that is so devoted to them, Nicloux must forge an artistic identity unique to that film, one that arises organically from those few, strange components. If its meaning may be negligible in the context of that wider world which Valley of Love so insistently rejects, it's evidently of enormous meaning to the characters - they find what sense and solace they can in their comforting disconnect, discovering at last peace with the world once they embrace the changes it has forced upon them. Grief is a retreat into a bottomless blackness of despair; Valley of Love escapes from this blackness into a fascinating landscape entirely its own. The oddities with which Nicloux constructs this new landscape are not as intangible as you might predict: the film has a cheeky, surprising sense of humour, and an intelligence and sensitivity in working unexpected, unflattering details into its characters that's even more surprising. An unusual, minimalist work with maximum impact.

Friday, 19 August 2016


A sombre discourse on the damaging, potentially dangerous application of gender upon sex; resolutely without humour, though not without hope. Laura Bispuri tackles antiquated, curious standards of gender identification in this story of a young person without a particular place in society, or in what remains of a society in the mountains of Albania. Her statement is less an expected one of trans or non-binary liberation than it is one of quiet condemnation at rigorous cultural rules separating women from men in meaningless ways. In her confused, compelling protagonist, she and Alba Rohrwacher craft the ideal conduit for expressing the film's ever-changing perspectives on its subject, only eventually settling on a timid note of ambiguity that promises a future equally undefined. Sworn Virgin ends on a potentially problematic point, but with genuine tenderness, and its position in the context of the film's thematic explorations wholly excuses it its questionable nature. Bispuri's refusal to make distinct delineations between past and present, clarity and obscurity, one emotional state and the next, produces a film that's undoubtedly intriguing in its construction, and that never shirks its essential complexity, but that's also annoyingly vague. A number of visually interesting compositions aside, the film's casual, monotonous style does little to enlighten the viewer as to the precise significance of what we're shown. If the sum of it all is indeed a thorough and worthy declaration on cultural attitudes toward gender and their impact on individuals, it's never more than it immediately appears to be. But Bispuri is evidently an intelligent filmmaker, and Rohrwacher a terrific performer, and together they make the most of Sworn Virgin.


Presenting the trailer for the full-length theatrical version of Terrence Malick's Voyage of Time, known as Voyage of Time: Life's Journey; remember that there's a separate IMAX version in addition, apparently comprising the same footage only considerably less - you can check out the trailer for that here. Competing in competition at Venice and also confirmed for a Special Presentation at Toronto. Out in the US on the 7th of October.

Thursday, 18 August 2016


Hany Abu-Assad is, as a filmmaker, his own worst enemy. What conceptual worth his projects may hold, and what promise they may possess on paper, he has a horrible knack for spoiling his own efforts, as well as the efforts of his collaborators. He's not a bad artist in theory - his flair for pace and rhythm always shows, he knows a memorable image when he sees one, and he has a keen ear for evocative sound design. But he is a bad craftsman, and The Idol may be the most egregious waste of his potential to date. At times a passable kid-centric yarn, at other times a quietly provocative statement on the Gazan political situation (ever Abu-Assad's ace card), this uplifting melodrama is undone by an insidious technical ineptitude. I'd be the last to criticize a director for whom means are tight in erring in this regard, but the problems in The Idol's execution are neither brief nor perfunctory. They're near-constant (particularly by the film's end), and contribute to a shoddiness and a lack of believability, ranging from the dialogue to its delivery, to the inconsistent film stock, to the sloppy edit job in combining archival footage with new material. Abu-Assad couldn't wrangle a good performance out of a mediocre actor if he was paid to (and he is), and lead Tawfeek Barhom couldn't muster up a decent lip-sync if he served 20 seasons on RuPaul's Drag Race. It's a winning story, though, whose warmth and whose understated political potency shine through no matter what technical incompetence is set before them. But it's way overdue: back to film school, Hany!


And now to Jesus. There is much interest to be found in examining the roots of christianity and the mythology behind it, not least in the religion's enduring relevance worldwide today. Alas, such interest is not to be found in Rodrigo Garcia's Last Days in the Desert, a vague, simplistic, intellectually barren fable. Intimacy is mistaken for substance, thus spoiling the indistinct, uncomplicated charm of the best fables, whilst failing to deliver the kind of philosophical wisdom it seeks to impart. Not that Garcia has few ideas, nor that they lack form, but that these ideas are largely not his own, and his treatment of them is resolutely mundane. Were there ever a case to be made that it was the cinematographer who actually directed a movie, it'd be Last Days in the Desert - the only lasting virtue of the film is Emmanuel Lubezki's photography. He too fails to educe any intellectual value from Garcia's thin concept, but at least succeeds in creating striking images that serve as the film's only reward for the viewer's patience. Patience is not what one expects to require for such a commonplace, middlebrow work as this, though required it certainly is - not that the film is slow-moving, only that it moves through each point in its progression so predictably, and with so little insight. Perhaps, to a christian, there is indeed much interest to be found in humdrum musings on the life of their saviour, but the rest of us may be resigned to seek salvation elsewhere.


Pedro Morelli's Zoom, a part-animated comedy starring Alison Pill and Gael Garcia Bernal, was first screened almost a year ago, at last year's TIFF. It has been drip-fed through a few international regions in 2016, and is finally set to arrive on American screens on the 2nd of September; no UK release has been arranged as of writing. Check out the first trailer (the first! After almost 12 months!) above.


After 24 years of exclusively adapted fiction works, Terence Davies returns to original filmmaking with A Quiet Passion, albeit staying within a literary sphere with his biopic of Emily Dickinson. Following a premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival this February, the film has only been booked for two other fest appearances so far, including a prestigious place in the TIFF Masters slate. No US release has yet been declared, but it's released in the UK on the 18th of November.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016


If changing the game from within is a dubious process, it at least ensures a level of expertise far more advanced than your rivals' - literally without. Catfish creators Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman bring such skills to Nerve, giving a thin concept with a fast-approaching sell-by date the perfect artistic edge to align with its most topical themes. Joost and Schulman crucially have their fingers on the pulse of pop culture, engaging with it with earnestness and understanding, thus legitimizing the film's creative and ideological stances. Nevertheless, it's that which begat those stances - the story - that eventually comes to define Nerve's quality; strewn with the kind of contrivances wholly expected from teen thrillers, and altogether too much high-octane hysteria, it's surprising how much the film is actually able to overcome its issues, though never in full. The hammy climactic sequence may be a letdown compared to a film that had previously built and built into a very involving game of raise-the-stakes, but it's admirable in that, unlike most similar films, it carries the film's core thematic concerns through to a fitting, inventive conclusion; most would just abandon them to focus on tiresome scenes of violence and mayhem. Joost and Schulman can't find any way to stage it satisfactorily, but they fare better elsewhere, making genuinely good use of familiar visual representations of a digital landscape, and exploiting the thriller-related aspects excellently - one or two of the dares could easily claim to be the most nerve-wracking scenes of the year, appropriately.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016


Yet more additions to the lineup for the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival! This year's City to City slate focuses on Lagos, with eight new titles from the capital of Nigeria, one of the world's most active national film industries. And two Lagos-based actors, Somkele Iyamah-Ighalam and O. C. Ukeje, receive the TIFF Rising Star awards, while director Kunle Afolayan and actor Genevieve Nnaji will feature in an In Conversation With... session. More high-profile titles appear in the Special Presentations and Masters sections, including world premieres from directors like Walter Hill, Hong Sang Soo and Andrzej Wajda, while two more Galas have been announced. Check out announcements one, two and three from TIFF so far, and the latest choices below.

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar)
The Promise (Terry George)

Special Presentation
(Re)Assignment (Walter Hill)
150 Milligrams (Emmanuelle Bercot)
The Bleeder (Philippe Falardeau)
Brain on Fire (Gerard Barrett)
Burn Your Maps (Jordan Roberts)
Christine (Antonio Campos)
The Duellist (Alexey Mizgirev)
The Exception (David Leveaux)
I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach)
In Dubious Battle (James Franco)
The Long Excuse (Nishikawa Miwa)
Rage (Lee Sang Il)
Voyage of Time (Terrence Malick)
Wakefield (Robin Swicord)

After the cut, a whole bunch more sections, including the City to City focus on Lagos.


Credit to any movie that can make me cry twice within the first five minutes. David Lowery may pull on my heartstrings all he likes - Pete's Dragon is a wondrous family film, and primarily so for its emotional potency. Steer well clear if you're not the type who enjoys being goaded to the point of sobbing, because this film goes in! It's testament to Lowery's sensitivity as a storyteller and as a director of actors that he's able to elicit such a response from this particularly cold-hearted reviewer so early on, never mind such an intense one. He analyzes human trauma in delicate fashion, emphasizing its harrowing nature in stressing its most vivid tenets - the desperate emptiness, and the resolve that one seeks to overcome it. Pete's Dragon's human elements are easily its most cogent; as Lowery makes concessions to Disney to render this complex emotional story suitable for their young demographic, he stumbles. Excessive anthropomorphism (one example among many of the film's liberties with plot and logic, largely forgivable), the jettisoning of a promising subtext and the dramatic stagnancy that seeps into the film courtesy of Lowery's (otherwise welcome) patience all compromize the artistry, a subtle but salient artistry that serves its narrative and themes, rather than decorates them. The most fully-realized of those themes is one which Lowery has explored before: home and family, how we define them and how they define us. This is a universal theme, but not one on which this film has nothing convincing to comment. A sweet, rewarding film, made to make hearts soar, even more likely to make the stock price of Kleenex soar.


Admittedly, I was more intrigued by the teaser trailer for Arrival, the upcoming sci-fi from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, than I am by this full-length look. The atmosphere of anticipation has been broken by this albeit-still-interesting preview, although that was likely inevitable. Out on the 11th of November in both the UK and the US.


It's been a bloody long time coming, since its Cannes debut last year in the Directors' Fortnight section, but Philippe Faucon's Fatima is finally coming to US theatres later this month, courtesy of Kino Lorber. The above trailer is the first English language look at the film, which won the Cesar for Best Film earlier this year. No UK release date has yet been confirmed; hopefully it'll be soon. Out in the US on the 26th of August.


Blake Lively on a rock with a seagull - at times skirting with notions of 'pure cinema,' as many of the best thrillers often do, The Shallows is an excellent example of the pitfalls of fleshing out a concept whose worth was in its innate leanness. Jaume Collet-Serra is a flashy director, one who will surely never make a great film, since his propensity for gauche, garish commercial pandering will forever hold him back. But in his brash, vibrant mise-en-scene there is thus effort and intention, a will to actually enhance his material, an artistic outlook that's wholly situated in the arena of mass-market multiplex fodder, but that's nonetheless remarkably effective. A subtler director might have stripped The Shallows of its excesses - it might have been shorn of the silliness that at times undoes its charm, but it'd have been shorn of that charm too. Collet-Serra deploys his flashiness in ugly split-screen effects, but also in stunning overhead shots, in nonsensical action sequences, but also in genuinely gripping ones. Human vs. beast: there's that concept, and it's an enduring one, not only over 90 minutes but over 90+ years of cinema. Admittedly, The Shallows responds to the temptation of over-embellishing its concept as a necessity - human vs. shark is an unavoidably one-sided match. It does so with verve, only rather too much by the end. And in such poor taste! Many, many more sharks are killed every year by humans than humans killed by sharks. They've got far more reason to fear us than we do them, especially if we all choose to take after Blake Lively with a gammy leg on an overturned buoy.

Monday, 15 August 2016


It remains to be seen whether or not 20th Century Fox decides to run Hidden Figures for awards consideration this year. Based on the above first trailer, it'd be a shame if they decided against it, since it looks rather good indeed! Releasing it early next year, mid-awards season, might help to afford it the appearance of an awards hit with general audiences, but should the film perform well from critics, it'd likely have faded come December of next year. A limited run some time late this year ought to be in order, since this appears to be one of 2016's most promising prestige projects. It hasn't appeared on any fall festival lineups either, which is a worrying sign. Director Theodore Melfi will be familiar to many from 2014's St. Vincent. And I see you, Janelle Monae: between this and Moonlight, you're coming for those awards henny! Out in the US, officially (for now), on the 13th of January and in the UK on the 24th of February.


Patient, sensitive, indeed pandering work by Kawase Naomi in Sweet Bean, no grand accomplishment but at least a good one. This most identifiable of auteurs stymies her artistic impulses here, trying hard to convince that she's not trying at all. In fact, the product is a film whose understated signatures betray all that effort in their general inconsequentiality - other filmmakers, more comfortable in such a register, are capable of transforming this characteristic and creating something that feels truly consequential. Next to those idiosyncratic flourishes that Kawase seemingly can't resist, what a flat and unflattering film this can appear. Yet in pursuit of a new approach (albeit one greatly informed by the old approaches of other artists), Kawase turns out a work of surprising worth. She emphasizes her eternal insistence on the necessity of a healthy symbiosis between humanity and the earth, here transposing it into a measured, respectful observation of an elderly woman's process of making an, the sweet red bean paste from which the film derives its title. This process of creation is ever a captivating one to behold in cinema, particularly when afforded this level of reverence. And in defining her characters through what they do, pointedly rejecting the temptation of calibrating identity through who a person supposedly is, that reverence extends further, now from the viewer, thus eliciting a genuine emotional response as Sweet Bean develops in mildly unexpected fashion. In the end, Kawase has handled this shift in tone rather excellently, though not without the mishaps one ought to anticipate when taking creative risks.

Saturday, 13 August 2016


Eight of the 17 films receiving their respective world premieres as the official Concorso Internazionale at Locarno 2016 were from female directors, so it's fitting that one of them should take the top prize from such an inclusive festival. Bulgarian filmmaker Ralitza Petrova's debut feature film Godless won both the Pardo d'Oro and the prize for Best Actress; the film is also competing for the Heart of Sarajevo at the Sarajevo Film Festival this month. The film also took home the Ecumenical Prize. There were no awards for critics' fave Matias Pineiro and his film Hermia & Helena, with other main awards going to directors Radu Jude and Joao Pedro Rodrigues. Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel's Mister Universo was a top pick for many juries, claiming four mentions. And Cannes Palme d'Or winner I, Daniel Blake won the audience award. Congratulations to all the winners! Check out the films that competed at this link, and the films that succeeded below:

Concorso Internazionale

Golden Leopard
Godless (Ralitza Petrova)

Special Jury Prize
Scarred Hearts (Radu Jude)

Special Mention
Mister Universo (Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel)

Leopard for Best Direction
Joao Pedro Rodrigues (The Ornithologist)

Leopard for Best Actor
Andrzej Seweryn (The Last Family)

Leopard for Best Actress
Irena Ivanova (Godless)

Awards from seven other sections of the festival after the cut.

Friday, 12 August 2016


Oh, just some trailer for some film or something. Out in both British Isles and North America on the 16th of December.


Soapy, stagey Aussie melodrama, unconvincingly adapted from Henrik Ibsen - ever an attractive choice for film dramatists, ever a daunting one for audiences. Transposing the three walls of the theatre to the middlebrow artist's impression of small-town Australia produces a distinct atmosphere of suburban ennui, flat attempts at angst and edge a la American Beauty. True, everyone hides their own personal trauma in reality as well, but therein lies the innate contradiction in this kind of drama: we hide it, and we generally do it well. We don't let it overwhelm us, as the characters in The Daughter do, and while the vague imprecision of reality may not appear as dramatically satisfying in concept, it has been proven far more so in practice. The Daughter would crumble under the weight of its sense of self-importance were it not built upon it as well as consumed by it. Early symbolism may have a gently savoury character, but it quickly turns sour as Simon Stone's heavy-handed approach signals every swerve in the plot progression long before it occurs, or at least opens the mind to every available possibility. The shocks don't stick, so at least the acting does. Practice has also proven the worth of Australian acting, and Ibsen's generosity to his performers; they're given much to work with here, and relish this deceptive opportunity. So essential is the cast's collective contribution to The Daughter that they could hardly claim to rescue it from the ignominy of its ineptitude in most other regards - they are the film, the only real reason to sit through it. Even still, you've seen this all before, and, like me, probably have little intention to see it all again.

Thursday, 11 August 2016


Added to the TIFF lineup last year, the Platform slate is the Toronto festival's sole competitive strand. With a diverse selection last year that was largely low on big names, there's been a considerable uptick in that regard for the 2016 selection. Pablo Larrain's Jackie Kennedy biopic Jackie will screen alongside new works from Bertrand Bonello, Zacharias Kunuk and Kurosawa Kiyoshi. Take a look at the first and second announcements of TIFF 2016 screeners, and then check out the recent additions below. The fest runs from the 8th to the 18th of September.

Platform Slate
Daguerrotype (Le Secret de la Chambre Noire) (Kurosawa Kiyoshi)
Goldstone (Ivan Sen)
Heal the Living (Katell Quillevere)
Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait (Khyentse Norbu)
Home (Fien Troch)
Jackie (Pablo Larrain)
Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd)
Layla M. (Mijke de Jong)
Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)
Searchers (Zacharias Kunuk)
Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves (Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie)


Seemingly out of nowhere, Medicine for Melancholy director Barry Jenkins' first feature film in eight years, Moonlight, is all over the internet. With showings in the main slate at NYFF in October and, just announced, in TIFF's competitive Platform section next month, it's making a sudden but strong stab at attracting serious awards attention, likely to be only intensified with the arrival of this excellent trailer. This is how you edit a trailer - descriptive and informative yet suggestive, and artfully put together. IMDb claims its TIFF screening will be its first, though the recent release of the Platform lineup claims it'll be only an international premiere, rather than a world one. Either way, it's out in the US on the 21st of October.


The New York Film Festival has announced its full selection for its main slate of films for its 2016 edition. Under-the-radar filmmakers showing at the fest for the first time include Barry Jenkins with Moonlight and Dash Shaw with My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, already confirmed for a TIFF Vanguard screening as well. They join NYFF vets and renowned auteurs such as Pedro Almodovar with Julieta and Paul Verhoeven with Elle - two of 11 titles from the Cannes Film Festival's top competition lineup this year. Keep an eye out for the announcement of NYFF's sidebar selections - Convergence, NYFF Special Events, Projections, Retrospective, and Spotlight on Documentary - in the near future. NYFF 2016 runs from the 30th of September to the 16th of October. The full main slate lineup is below.

Main Slate
13th (Ava DuVernay) - opening night film
20th Century Women (Mike Mills) - centrepiece film
Aquarius (Kleber Mendonca Filho)
Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)
Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi)
Graduation (Cristian Mungiu)
Hermia and Helena (Matias Pineiro)
I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach)
Julieta (Pedro Almodovar)
The Lost City of Z (James Gray) - closing night film
Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (Dash Shaw)
Neruda (Pablo Larrain)
Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)
The Rehearsal (Alison MacLean)
Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu)
Son of Joseph (Eugene Green)
Staying Vertical (Alain Guiraudie)
Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Love)
Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)
The Unknown Girl (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne)
Yourself and Yours (Hong Sang Soo)

Wednesday, 10 August 2016


The new film from Denis Villeneuve, sci-fi Arrival with Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker, is picking up a lot of online buzz. And much of that is directly due to the above trailer, the first proper look at the film, though it has also been picked up for a gala screening at TIFF alongside a top competition slot at Venice. American and British audiences can look forward to seeing Arrival on the 11th of November.


The Toronto International Film Festival has unveiled another massive slate of new titles for its 2016 edition, due to take place between the 8th and the 18th of September. Joining some already-announced films in all three sections, Documentaries, Midnight Madness and Vanguard have all filled out their full lineups. Steve James, Errol Morris and Werner Herzog bring new works to the Docs strand, Paul Schrader and Adam Wingard, with his hotly-anticipated Blair Witch film, will show in Midnight Madness, and Vanguard boasts Ana Lily Amirpour - also showing in competition at Venice - and Nacho Vigalondo's Colossal with Anne Hathaway. And the TIFF Cinematheque lineup has also been finished off with a terrific batch of classic films. Take a look at TIFF's first announcement of films for the year right here, and their latest additions below:

The 6th Beatle (Tony Guma and John Rose)
ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail (Steve James)
Amanda Knox (Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn)
The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography (Errol Morris)
Beauties of the Night (Maria Jose Cuevas)
Bezness as Usual (Alex Pitstra)
Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary (John Scheinfeld)
The Cinema Travellers (Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya)
Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (Matt Tyrnauer)
Close Relations (Vitaly Mansky)
Forever Pure (Maya Zinshtein)
Gaza Surf Club (Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine)
Gimme Danger (Jim Jarmusch)
Girl Unbound (Erin Heidenreich)
I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck)
I Called Him Morgan (Kasper Collin)
In Exile (Naing Tin Win)
India in a Day (Richie Mehta)
An Insignificant Man (Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla)
Into the Inferno (Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer)
The Ivory Game (Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani)
Karl Marx City (Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker)
Mali Blues (Lutz Gregor)
Politics, Instructions Manual (Fernando Leon de Aranoa)
The Turning Point
The War Show (Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon)
Water and Sugar: Carlo di Palma, The Colours of Life (Fariborz Kamkari)

Midnight Madness
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (Andre Ovredal)
The Belko Experiment (Greg McLean)
Blair Witch (Adam Wingard)
Dog Eat Dog (Paul Schrader)
Free Fire (Ben Wheatley)
The Girl with All the Gifts (Colm McCarthy)
Headshot (Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto)
Rats (Morgan Spurlock)
Raw (Julia Ducournau)
Sadako vs. Kayako (Shiraishi Koji)

The Bad Batch (Ana Lily Amirpour)
Blind Sun (Joyce A. Nashawati)
Buster's Mal Heart (Sarah Adina Smith)
Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo)
GODSPEED (Chung Mong Hong)
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (Osgood Perkins)
Interchange (Dain Iskandar Said)
Message from the King (Fabrice du Welz)
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (Dash Shaw)
Prevenge (Alice Lowe)
The Untamed (Amat Escalante)
WITHOUT NAME (Lorcan Finnegan)

TIFF Cinematheque
The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo)
Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash)
General Report on Certain Matters of Interest for a Public Screening (Pere Portabella)
The Horse Thief (Tian Zhuang Zhuang)
Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas)
One Sings, the Other Doesn't (Agnes Varda)
One-Eyed Jacks (Marlon Brando)
Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro)
Something Wild (Jonathan Demme)