Opening this week are a few films we covered at festivals earlier in the year. Walter Chaw reviewed Jason Reitman's The Front Runner at Telluride, while I wrote about Boy Erased, Transit, and Bodied--all three of which were released in Toronto today--during TIFF (TIFF '17, in the case of Bodied). And be sure to check out our reviews of some other recent releases that may have escaped your attention, including The Old Man & the Gun, Monrovia, Indiana, and the great Burning.-Ed.
This is a nearly complete overview of FrightFest '18's short-films lineup, though technical issues unfortunately prevented us from screening Catcalls, Puppet Master, and Right Place Wrong Tim.-Ed.
by Walter Chaw
SHORT FILM SHOWCASE 1
We Summoned a Demon ***/**** (d. Chris McInroy) Funny how the coolest '80s throwback film that isn't It happens to be this short by Chris McInroy, which channels the light ethos of that era, with VHS nasties shock-effects scattered across its brisk, five-minute runtime. Idiots Kirk (Kirk Johnson) and Carlos (Carlos Larotta) attempt a little witchcraft by sacrificing a rooster and playing a record backwards on a plastic portable turntable. They're trying to make Kirk cool so he can ask out "Brenda" for tacos, but it doesn't work. Instead, they summon a demon (John Orr) from a neon-smoked Hell portal they can't control. Or can they? With its crackerjack timing, its tight script, and the effortless control and camaraderie of its leads, We Summoned a Demon works wonders in a short span. DP E.J. Enriquez's lighting schemes make the whole thing look like Michael Mann's The Keep, and, sometimes rare for shorts, the movie knows its length and absolutely murders its landing. Listen for composer Bird Peterson's smooth sax riff when Kirk finds his inner cool. Comedy is hard, guys; We Summoned A Demon is butter. (Scroll down to the end of these capsule reviews for an interview with Chris McInroy.)
Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version
*/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras A- starring Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany written by Jonathan Kasdan & Lawrence Kasdan directed by Ron Howard
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. In Roger Ebert's reviews of the original Star Wars trilogy, he mentions that one of the wonders of this universe is that the droids are thinking, feeling, emotional beings, thus making their torture in Return of the Jedi a visceral thing. In Ron Howard's expediently-extruded Solo: A Star Wars Story (hereafter Solo), a sassy robot named L3-37, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is fused into the Millennium Falcon spacecraft after being murdered in the middle of a slave and prisoner rebellion she's incited in another interchangeable industrial backwater. I mention this as a point of interest because L3 is the clumsy mouthpiece for broad progressive beliefs in a shockingly-bad script by father-son duo Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan. When Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) asks if there's anything else he can get her as he's leaving a room, she says, "Equal rights?" It's that kind of character. The kind usually workshopped out when the screenwriter--one of them, anyway--isn't the most powerful person in the room. She's Dobby the House Elf from a storyline smartly left out of the film adaptations of Harry Potter, screaming about "droid rights" during a droid Thunderdome sequence done better in everything (but particularly in A.I.), and there mainly I think so that replacement director Howard can slide his brother Clint into a self-satisfied cameo. So this character, liberating droids and releasing slaves and declaring that she's found her calling, is fused by a grieving Lando into his spaceship to spend the next eight or nine movies getting punched and abused by her new white masters whenever she doesn't work right away.
****/**** starring Ah-in Yoo, Steven Yeun, Jong-seo Jun screenplay by Oh Jung-mi & Lee Chang-dong, based on the short story "Barn Burning" by Haruki Murakami directed by Lee Chang-dong
by Walter Chaw When she was seven, she fell into a dry well and spent a day there, crying up into the round sky until he found her. She's Haemi (Jong-seo Jun), maybe 20 now, working as a live model with a bare midriff, standing on a busy street, dancing next to a prize-wheel and giving out "tacky" things to, predominantly, men buying raffle tickets from the pretty girl. He is Jongsu (Ah-in Yoo), of the perpetually slack expression. He doesn't remember the well, nor rescuing her from it, nor the day he stopped her in the street on the way home from junior high to tell her she was ugly. "It's the only thing you ever said to me," she remembers. "I had plastic surgery. Pretty, right?" she asks him, but it's rhetorical. They fuck in an awkward, desultory way, with him looking at how the sunlight bounces off a tower in downtown Seoul, into her tiny apartment. (She's told him he'd be lucky to see it.) He goes back there to feed her cat while she's in Africa, and masturbates absently to the afterimage of her picture as he stares out the window. When she returns from her trip, it's on the arm of sexy, urbane Ben (Stephen Yeun). Ben likes Haemi because she cries--he doesn't--and can fall asleep whenever and wherever. He enjoys her guilelessness. "What's a metaphor?" Haemi asks Ben. Ben smiles in his empty way and tells her to ask Jongsu. Jongsu is, after all, an aspiring writer. "[Ben]'s the Great Gatsby," Jongsu tells Haemi--young, wealthy, and mysterious. Jay Gatsby is a metaphor. Jongsu says that Korea is full of Gatsbys.
*/**** starring Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Mike Myers screenplay by Anthony McCarten directed by Bryan Singer
by Walter Chaw There's a real tragedy behind Bohemian Rhapsody, Bryan Singer's formula biopic of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) and Queen, and it's not Mercury's rise and fall and rise and fall and posthumous rise. No, it's that a life lived as rebuke to boxed-in functionality is now boxed into a functional, easy-to-parse package. Not the first person to say it but the only good version of this movie is Walk Hard, and there's never been a bad version of this movie, not really. It's oatmeal. It's always okay. I genuinely love Singer's X-Men films. Superman Returns is a masterpiece. There was a time when the idea of Singer doing this would've promised a keen, incisive coming-out melodrama, but even that's been neutered by Singer's defensive posturing against real-life, possibly criminal ugliness and its looming threat of legal repercussions. His well-publicized dismissal from the project in its eleventh hour is the most Mercury moment of the whole thing and it happened behind the scenes. When the most interesting scene in Bohemian Rhapsody is a contentious press conference where Mercury's sexuality is attacked as the movie warps and stutters around him, you get the sense of the On The Waterfront apologia that almost was rather than the sop to popular taste this is.
**½/**** Image C+ Audio A Extras A starring Gabriel Byrne, Patricia Arquette, Jonathan Pryce, Nia Long screenplay by Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage directed by Rupert Wainwright
by Walter Chaw 1999 was an interesting year. The end of any millennium is accompanied by some kind of fin de siècle madness and the most recent one, in the United States anyway, was indicated by fears that the Y2K bug would launch our nuclear arsenal, cause airplanes to fall out of the sky, and end life as we knew it. It caused our movies to deal with technological folly (The Matrix, The Blair Witch Project, The Iron Giant, The Thirteenth Floor, eXistenZ, Bicentennial Man), shifting identities (Fight Club, Eyes Wide Shut, The Sixth Sense, The Virgin Suicides, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Memento, Being John Malkovich), and general apocalyptic mood (Magnolia, The Ninth Gate, Arlington Road). Looking back, everything we needed to know about the coming conflagration was here in these few years leading up to 9/11. Amid so many fine genre choices (Stir of Echoes, Audition, The Limey, and so on), consider Rupert Wainwright's handsome Catholic muddle Stigmata, a hyper-extended music video that makes no sense whatsoever but still works because of Patricia Arquette's ineffable grace and Gabriel Byrne's unflappable cool. In its own way, the film is prescient, seeing that its bleach-bypassed, Fincherian ethos would take over as visual shorthand for the coming apocalypse. Expulsion from Eden is this final surrender to digital wonderlands: we lost most of our colour palette along with our innocence.
Note: all framegrabs were sourced from the 4K UHD disc
**½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B starring Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Sam Heughan screenplay by Susanna Fogel and David Iserson directed by Susanna Fogel
by Bryant Frazer The Spy Who Dumped Me is a lot--femme-centric rom-com, violent action-thriller, dopey spy farce, and genial paean to friendship in the face of adversity--and director Susanna Fogel revels in the tonal disparities from its opening sequence, which intercuts an enthusiastically mounted, bullet-riddled chase scene set in Vilnius, Lithuania, with scenes from a birthday party for Audrey Stockman (Mila Kunis), a 30-year-old grocery clerk who's just been blindsided by a break-up text from Drew Thayer (Justin Theroux), her boyfriend of one year. The party's been organized by Audrey's devoted pal Morgan (Kate McKinnon), an aspiring actress whose ceaseless shenanigans help blunt Audrey's sadness. It quickly becomes clear that, somehow, the guy hiding out from Lithuanian thugs in the gloomy, desaturated espionage thriller is Drew himself. When Morgan grabs Audrey's phone and sends a text calling him a "worthless nutsack" and promising to "set his shit on fire," Audrey gets a returned phone call from that other movie, in which Drew beseeches her to reconsider. Fogel keeps this up for a solid 10 minutes before the film's title appears on screen, and it's an intriguing overture.
MANDY ***/**** starring Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke screenplay by Panos Cosmatos & Aaron Stewart-Ahn directed by Panos Cosmatos
SUSPIRIA ****/**** starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz screenplay by David Kajganich, based on the screenplay by Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi directed by Luca Guadagnino
by Walter Chaw Panos Cosmatos's Mandy is an old-fashioned acid trip of a movie--like if Head were directed by Rob Zombie. Indeed, the film it owes the most to is Zombie's exceptional mood piece Lords of Salem. It's already gained a fair deal of cult cachet (as well as a surprising/not-surprising box-office run), not the least for the best use of King Crimson since Children of Men (prog-rock is having a good 2018 between just this and Private Life), for the late Jóhann Jóhannsson's bliss-out score, and for an unhinged Nicolas Cage performance augmented by Viking berserker rage superpowers. Not for nothing is Mandy a period piece opening with Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech, dissolving into a pixie-font title card setting the scene as "The Shadow Mountains" in the year of our lord, 1983. Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) is drawing "kinda like a jungle temple" in the remote home she shares with Red Miller (Cage). In bed, they talk about their favourite planets (hers: Jupiter, for the storms; his: Saturn, probably--no, wait, "Galactus") as Cosmatos bathes them in neon reds, then pans up into the Northern Lights arrayed above them. They canoe and it's so beautiful, the wave patterns and the blue, so blue it's almost lurid. Fire, then, a screen of it. All the elements will be represented here as metaphor for the completeness of their bond. It's not subtle. Now's not the time for subtlety.
Note: all framegrabs were sourced from the 4K UHD disc
**/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer directed by Catherine Hardwicke
by Bryant Frazer Author Stephenie Meyer says she wrote her first novel, Twilight, in three months' time, after the central idea came to her in a dream. Leaving aside the question of whether the notion of a moody teen vampire love story set in and around a high school in the Pacific Northwest is remarkable enough to require that the Muses mainline it directly into your subconscious, the romance of Bella Swan, a quiet, self-abnegating high-schooler from a broken home, and Edward Cullen, a smoking-hot vampire who sparkles under sunlight and has sworn off human flesh, hit a sweet spot. Teenage girls, especially, responded en masse to Meyer's vision of a smouldering, beautiful boy with the power to end your life at any moment but the grace and restraint to keep his hands to himself. Can you tame him? These sexual politics feel retrograde--the lovestruck nymphet at the mercy of a man forever struggling to keep his carnal desires at bay--but I try to steer clear of kink-shaming. If a strange relationship makes you swoon, whether it's molded into Twilight's denial-of-desire shtick or 50 Shades' bondage spectacle, that's your business and the movies can give you a way to explore that. Disapproving thinkpieces will blossom; feminism will survive.
Un couteau dans le coeur ***½/**** starring Vanessa Paradis, Nicolas Maury, Kate Moran, Jonathan Genet screenplay by Yann Gonzalez, Cristiano Mangione directed by Yann Gonzalez
by Walter Chaw Yann Gonzalez's Knife + Heart is a smart film by a smart filmmaker. It's a movie-lover's fugue, a tribute to the heyday of gay porn and the grindhouse theatres that showed it, a salute to editors, a shrine to multi-cultural myths about birds. It's a deep well with obvious pleasures, a film with a recognizable structure complete with solution that still manages to avoid the standard exposition and perfunctory resolution. The spiritual brother to Brian De Palma's Body Double (exploitative and sleazy and also commentary on exploitation and sleaze), it's a movie about looking that has as its central image a blind grackle--an extinct variety of the common pest that used to bring folks back from the dead by burning off the ever-after as it flew too close to the sun. Its central couple is gay-porn director Anne (Vanessa Paradis) and her editor and former lover Lois (Kate Moran), who churn out the sort of softcore masterpieces of art-film erotica favoured once upon a time by your Kenneth Angers, your Paul Morrisseys and Radley Metzgers. All of her work is autobiographical in some way. There's no line separating Anne's reality, nor her dreamlife, from the mindscreen of her movies.
BIG KILL */**** starring Christoph Sanders, Jason Patric, Michael Paré, Danny Trejo written and directed by Scott Martin
The ToyBox *½/**** starring Mischa Barton, Jeff Denton, Brian Nagel, Denise Richards screenplay by Jeff Denton directed by Tom Nagel
Watch The Toybox on iTunes
by Walter Chaw Triple-threat Scott Martin's Big Kill--he's the writer/director/co-star of the film--is an old-timey western for people who think Silverado is an old-timey western. Really what it resembles is a distended episode of "Alias Smith & Jones", where a pair of raffish, well-meaning ne'er-do-wells spend time in various clichés interacting with a stock company of NPCs that populate movies like this. The film opens with irrepressible Travis (Clint Hummel) fucking the daughter of snarling Mexican generalissimo Morales (Danny Trejo, who survives this one), thus inaugurating a boring gunfight between the Mexican army and Travis and his partner, Jake (Martin). Jake wants to know what's taken Travis so long. Travis wants Jake to know that it's not "screwing," it's "making love." It's that kind of movie. They're chased across the Texas border so that Michael Paré can make a cameo, and then on to the titular town of "Big Kill," where cityfolk greenhorn Jim (Christoph Sanders) wants to make a new life now that his wife was lost to him in childbirth. When Jim shares that with his buttermilk-scrubbed girlfriend, it sounds an awful lot like his wife was a fetus, but, you know, there you have it.
O Clube dos Canibais ***/**** starring Ana Luiza Rios, Tavinho Teixeira, Zé Maria, Pedro Domingues written and directed by Guto Parente
by Walter Chaw Guto Parente's The Cannibal Club is satire served grisly, sexy, slick, and unsubtle, an update in theme if not form of Paul Bartel's still-unsurpassed Eating Raoul--a fable of the class struggle eternal as the 1% literally feeds, as it is wont to do, on the other 99. The more things change, and all that; it's instructive to revisit Eating Raoul's opening narration about Hollywood, which seems to apply equally to every group of monkeys in pants: "Here sex hunger is reflected in every aspect of daily life...where random vice and amorality permeate every strata of society, and the barrier between food and sex has totally dissolved." For Parente, Bartel's murderous--and eventually cannibalistic--marrieds the Blands are Gilda and Otavio (Ana Luiza Rios and Tavinho Teixeira), a rich couple living on a sprawling estate in Fortaleza, Brazil, who go through an alarming number of low-income workers together. The young men are provided by an employment agency, seduced by the lady of the house, and at the moment of climax, murdered by Otavio (who's been jerking off in the wings), butchered, then eaten. Otavio is also a member of the titular club, where the hoi polloi of Brazilian corporate culture gathers to watch a graphic sex show that ends in the murder of the chained couple, who are then, likewise, served up in the Brazilian fashion: on skewers, shaved at the table. There's a hint of Peter Greenaway in that.
***½/**** starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton written by Jeff Fradley & Danny McBride & David Gordon Green directed by David Gordon Green
by Walter Chaw In the middle of David Gordon Green's Halloween--the night before Halloween, as it happens--a family is having a dinner to celebrate something and to meet the new boyfriend of their teen daughter when grandma shows up, drunk and possibly having a panic attack. It's already not going well, seeing as how mom is lying about having invited her mother to this little do--and when it starts going to hell, she uses the discomfort as justification for not having done it. "See? This is what I've had to put up with my whole life." The grandmother sits down and apologizes. She's spotted the man who once attacked her for the first time in forty years, and the shock has brought everything flooding back. She starts crying and no one is consoling her. It's an unbelievably topical moment in a smart, topical film, this suggestion that the effects of assault last a lifetime. That the horror of helplessness and victimization never entirely goes away.
*½/**** written by Mark Leidner directed by Yedidya Gorsetman
by Walter Chaw More earnest than truly clever, Yedidya Gorsetman's shoestring Empathy Inc is a competently-made (save for one dialogue sequence where the actors are clearly on different sets) and reasonably efficient take on the Vic Morrow instalment of Twilight Zone: The Movie. If it ends up resembling more the Primer version of "The Prisoner of Benda", well, so be it. The picture starts well enough, as corporate middle-manager Joel (Zack Robidas) finds himself the scapegoat of a start-up's collapse, destitute and forced to move in with wife Jessica's (Kathy Searle) demonic parents (Charmaine Reedy and Fenton Lawless). An exceedingly irritating dinner sequence early on highlights Joel and Jessica's desperate need to move out, and so Joel invests a cool million of his father-in-law's cash in a VR tech that allows wealthy sociopaths to pretend to be poor. It's an empathy-graft, see, and it works for Joel, who doesn't seem to need it--and anyway, it's not clear why feigning homelessness would give the Trumps empathy for the homeless (it's like a starfish developing empathy for circus performers if you put it on a unicycle), but there you have it. Needless to say, the way the tech works is more Source Code than those goggles you slide your iPhone into. Well-performed if underwritten, Empathy Inc relies overmuch on extreme angles (probably to hide the lo-fi and found sets), though Gorsetman demonstrates a good sense of who to cast and how to use them to the best of their abilities. Too bad Jessica is an afterthought, alternately harridan and helpmeet, with her entire aspiring-actor subplot at once too clearly a metaphor for the masks we wear and too murky for any other purpose. The biggest mistake, however, is aiming for profundity when it should've been looking for ways to explore its concept. It says something when a Shane Carruth film is more fun than yours.
Aterrados ***½/**** starring Maxi Ghione, Elvira Onetto, Norberto Gonzalo, George Lewis written and directed by Demián Rugna
LUCIFERINA ***/**** starring Sofía Del Tuffo, Marta Lubos, Pedro Merlo, Victoria Carreras written and directed by Gonzalo Calzada
by Walter Chaw Demián Rugna's Terrified is as if the ghost-hunter sequence in Poltergeist were the entire movie and instead of the one house, the entire street were haunted. It is, in other words, a lot of fun. The picture opens, as these things must, with paranormal shenanigans, which in this case involve spectral voices coming out of the kitchen pipes, leading to one of the great shock reveals in recent memory. Really. It's a kill so radically cool and unexpected that it's at once horrible and deliciously uncanny. Simultaneously, a next-door neighbour seems to have gone missing and in flashback we see what's been happening to him. Then the son of poor single mom Alicia (Julieta Vallina) gets run down in the street before showing up a few days later, black from rot and stinking of the grave, to sit quietly at the dinner table. I love the image of this horrible corpse seated in a sunny dining room while everyone stares at it. You can see the gears turning. And then its milk spills and I almost stood up and left. These abominations trigger the ex-cop living with Alicia, Funes (Maxi Ghione), to join forces with a trio of elderly academics--Jano (Norberto Gonzalo), Albreck (Elvira Onetto), and Rosentok (George Lewis)--to stake out the three houses in the hope of figuring out what's plaguing this quiet suburban street.
*/**** starring Jaden Piner, Rob Zabrecky, Aurora Perrineau, Charley Palmer Rothwell written by Luke Jaden & Diane Michelle directed by Luke Jaden
by Walter Chaw Luke Jaden's feature-length hyphenate debut (he co-wrote the script with Diane Michelle), Boo! is an insular family drama framed against a chain-letter premise involving one religious family's decision not to participate in paying a Halloween prank forward. What follows are a lot of jump scares and some on-the-nose dialogue that could have benefited, I think, from more workshopping. The problem is that the picture wants very badly to be about the toll of religious fundamentalism on the development of children (a well-taken point, of course), but it becomes the proselytizer itself with its straw-man of a bible-thumping patriarch, James (Rob Zabrecky), set up to bear the brunt of the film's sins. His constant references to the "good book" feel unnatural, rehearsed, what a movie evangelical would say. When his wife Elyse (Jill Marie Jones) reveals a tragedy in their past and her unwillingness to go to James at a point of crisis because of what he would say, it raises the question of how it is these people ended up together in the first place and why, exactly, Elyse has fallen from the flock, if in fact she's done so.
HE'S OUT THERE **/**** starring Yvonne Strahovski, Anna Pniowsky, Abigail Pniowsky, Ryan McDonald written by Mike Scannell directed by Quinn Lasher
HELL IS WHERE THE HOME IS ***/**** starring Angela Trimbur, Janel Parrish, Jonathan Howard, Fairuza Balk written by Corey Deshon directed by Orson Oblowitz
by Walter Chaw Centring on the manipulation of a mysterious and sinister children's book, Babadook-style, Quinn Lasher's sleek, technically proficient home-invasion/slasher flick He's Out There takes another page out of that film's playbook by putting kids (sisters Anna and Abigail Pniowsky) uncompromisingly and repeatedly in mortal peril. The set-up is a wilderness retreat to the lake house in the woods, where mom Laura (Yvonne Strahovski) is headed with her moppets in tow, her workaholic hubby Owen (Julian Bailey) promising to meet up with them later. This leaves our heroine alone with her kids and that creepy kids' book along with a story told by yokel Shawn (Justin Bruening) about horrific happenings at the ol' house, plus a missing kid (Ryan McDonald) who never was found, now that you mention it.
by Walter Chaw Summer seems to be lasting longer, the weather in general is more severe. If the '80s were about apocalyptic fears around the proliferation of atomic weapons and an unstable President, the '10s are about those same fears multiplied by the corporatized destruction of the planet and, in a stealthy sort of way, the rise of the genuinely ignorant as the arbiters of culture and government. When George W. was President, I was interested in the defense that he seemed like the drunk uncle you'd have at a backyard BBQ. He didn't read much, trumpeted his "C" average in school, made up words, started a war because someone was mean to his daddy. Idiots found him relatable and non-threatening; "Conservative Party" developed a more literal definition. I liked to suggest the President be someone who read more than you, did things you couldn't do, was actually smart and not Fredo-smaht!. The only thing this thirtysomething percent of Americans who still think Trump is great--either cynically and opportunistically, or because they're really just stupider than fuck--were ever right about is that their elected leader is the ultimate "trigger" for people who are their betters. Like psychopathic juvies tormenting their unit nurse, they think it's worth it to distress them. It feels good and new, and as the fires grow higher, so, too, does their ardour for their golden calf.
Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version
****/**** DVD - Image A Sound A+ Extras A+ 4K UHD - Image A Sound A- Commentary A- starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker written and directed by Sam Raimi
by Walter ChawThe Evil Dead defies wisdom: It's an ultraviolent horror film made on a nothing budget (rumoured to have been in the neighbourhood of three-thousand dollars) that still manages to produce an enduring and brilliant performance and demonstrate (like a Dario Argento shocker) that gore, if it's perverse enough, can be the beginning and the end of horror. The product of Bruce Campbell's hilariously physical turn, of Sam Raimi's genius in fashioning dazzling camera moves, and of an uncredited Joel Coen's flair at the editing table, The Evil Dead bristles with life and joy. It is a testament to how bliss and the spark of inspiration can elevate a film of any budget in any genre from routine to sublime.
***/**** starring Ella Scott Lynch, Benedict Samuel, Heather Mitchell, Lewis Fitzgerald screenplay by David Barker and Lou Mentor directed by David Barker
by Walter Chaw David Barker's hyphenate debut Pimped reminds of Danny Boyle's feature debut Shallow Grave in that both are twisty, twisted chamber pieces revolving around bad behaviour that spins, mortally, out of control. It's sexy and sleek, shot every bit like an Adrian Lyne film obsessed with the mating rituals of the rich and beautiful. Opening in a lurid party scored to Peaches' "Fuck the Pain Away," it intimates that what's to follow will be a bacchanal, unbridled in its indulgence in earthly delights. And it very nearly delivers on that. Worth noting that Pimped is just one of several of this year's films that seems invested in the conversation about women's empowerment and men's proclivities towards violence, sexual or otherwise. What's interesting about this conversation in horror is that it's a fairly common one. Of all the things it's on the vanguard of, horror has always been aware of the imbalance of sexual politics. With the topic now in the mainstream, small wonder that this genre, so often derided by even its more opportunistic creators (Danny Boyle among them, as it happens), has gained some measure of popular esteem. The more ignorant cultural critics have even been emboldened to opine that horror is not horror. Those who know, know that horror was always more likely to have these difficult midnight chats.
****/**** starring Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgård, James Badge Dale, Riley Keough screenplay by Macon Blair, based on the novel by William Giraldi directed by Jeremy Saulnier
by Walter Chaw "There's something wrong with the sky," someone tells Russell (Jeffrey Wright). They wonder if he's noticed it. Jeremy Saulnier's Hold the Dark is about mythologies--how they explain the capricious chaos of the world in terms understandable, using images that are universal to us. Mother, father, child, dark, blood, fire. He tells all of this complex story of revenge, betrayal, and the hunt in these broad archetypal strokes; it's a film written on a cave wall, and at the heart of it what are a movie and a cinema but images animated by a flicker to be told in the company of others? Hold the Dark is beautiful and spare in the way that only things told in primal, innate gestures can be, and its setting, an arctic Alaskan wilderness (played by Alberta, Canada), reflects that austerity. When there is dialogue, it's doggedly insufficient to the task of description and explication. Russell is a wolf expert and talks about how he sees a pack eating one of their young--something called "savaging" that happens when the environment is wrong in some way. It seems counterintuitive to devour the young, but sometimes, Hold the Dark suggests (without saying it), it can be an act of love.
***/**** Image A+ Sound B Extras B starring Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson, Gary Busey, Oliver Clark screenplay by John Gregory Dunne & Joan Didion and Frank Pierson directed by Frank Pierson
by Sydney Wegner Two-and-a-half hours ago, I didn't care one bit for Barbra Streisand. As a mega Kris Kristofferson fangirl, I was grudgingly willing to endure her performance alongside him in A Star is Born. I grew up with people who wouldn't be caught dead listening to her music; I'd never seen any of her movies. All I knew of her besides the larger-than-life fame and cloned dogs was her legendary ego. Diva, control freak, crazy, stuck-up--many of these distasteful adjectives stemming from the troubled production of A Star is Born. Despite its awards and box-office success (it was the third highest-grossing film of 1976), the years have not necessarily been kind, and almost every recent review has mentioned her presence as overwhelming the movie. That is, the lack of chemistry between the leads, the way the movie skips over chunks of badly-needed character development to make room for her songs, and the fashion disasters are frequent complaints with one common target: Babs.
*/**** written by Owen Long & Steven Weisman directed by Owen Long
by Walter Chaw Owen Long's Seeds aims for the bleachers, for which it should get some credit. It's a navel-gazing exercise in which Marcus Milton (Trevor Long), an aging Aschenbach with very particular appetites, returns to the family reserve one eternal twilight to act as babysitter to niece Lily (Andrea Chen--disastrously uneven) and her little brother Spencer (Garr Long). There, he pops pills and sees tentacles the film presents as a metaphor for the repressed sexual dysfunction he nurses within what appears to be an Asian fetish, what with the hooker he kills in the prologue montage and now his niece, who does her level best to seduce dear Uncle. Where to begin? For starters, there are way too many "waking from a nightmare" stings in this thing; and then there's that long seduction sequence in the middle where Chen tries to laugh on cue and ends up just demonstrating a different way to scowl. She's so badly outmatched by Long that it has the same effect as Sofia Coppola's performance in The Godfather III: namely, that everything gets fucked up because no one believes for a second that someone could be romantically interested in this construct. (Director Long does Chen no favours by letting this take through. Someone, at some point, should have said something.) In flashback, we see a young Lily bringing a shell with some mysterious tentacle creature inside it into the house, where, we presume, it's been gestating in the basement. Jungians will identify that all of this is the product of someone who skimmed the texts. Milton believes that his sick impulses are growing inside him like the Elder God is growing in the boiler, escalating to a few final moments in which all that repression leads to an explosion of his unexamined Shadow projection. What I'm trying to say is that Seeds is that roommate you got freshman year who has a man-bun, rock climbs, and is majoring in Cosmology. Give it this: the cinematography of Rhode Island looks great, and if you're going to fail, do it spectacularly.
by Walter Chaw An affectionate if standard talking heads-plus-clips documentary covering those last years of the hale British studio's run as they tried, from the late-'60s on, to compete with the new era of permissiveness and transgression in film, Hammer Horror: The Warner Bros Years, from Hammer authority Marcus Hearn (who's published multiple volumes on the subject), is lockstep, even dry alas, but indisputably informative. I was most interested in the revelation that Hammer had wanted to work with director Michael Reeves post-Witchfinder General but that Reeves died prematurely, leaving the very weird Hitchcock riff Crescendo as the relic of a lost collaboration. Anecdotes like how Madeline Smith from 1970's Taste the Blood of Dracula was a "complete virgin" fresh from convent school and thus badly-equipped to deal with that film's brothel scene and its accompanying male "naughty bits" are interesting-verging-on-appalling. Actually appalling are the recollections of the same movie's John Carson, who tells the story of how someone else on set hysterically went over the line and sexually harassed a co-star. There's another bit about the late addition of a rape to sex things up in the rapidly-changing social environment that is frankly unforgivable. The rest of it plays a lot like a Spinal Tap sort of thing where an increasingly desperate studio does a hippie movie with aged thirty-somethings (Dracula A.D. 1972) and allies itself with Run Run Shaw. All to capture zeitgeist in a bottle--to no avail. Hammer Horror: The Warner Bros Years is a nice piece as far as it goes, though as it's about curiosities that only the most die-hard fans will have seen, it feels like it should be a special feature in a comprehensive DVD box set rather than a standalone documentary.
*½/**** starring Joey King, Jack Kilmer, Andrea Savage, June Squibb written and directed by Becca Gleason
by Alice Stoehr Jamie (Joey King) sits beside her grandmother's deathbed as the old woman imparts some wisdom. "There's just one more thing," she says, "one thing in this world that you need to know. No one's gonna have the guts to tell you. I wish I had been prepared for it." Then, after all this build-up, the punchline: "Learn how to give a good blow job." So begins the coming-of-age story Summer '03, with an impish smile on grandma's face while Jamie gapes at her advice. June Squibb plays the the grandmother in a foul-mouthed mode familiar from her work as Bruce Dern's wife in Nebraska. Her character will flatline a few minutes of screen time later, but not before confessing at length to her progeny while "In the Hall of the Mountain King" swells on the soundtrack. She tells her daughter that she once locked her in a closet; implores her young grandson to enter gay conversion therapy; and reveals to Jamie's dad the existence of his secret biological father. Most of the film takes place over the following week, with the family in chaos (and blow jobs on Jamie's brain) as they plan the funeral.
*½/**** screenplay by Luke Foster directed by Bernhard Pucher
by Walter Chaw Bernhard Pucher's Ravers features a couple of nice kills, a couple of funny scenes, and a few underdeveloped character things that sap its momentum, robbing it of both a beginning and an end. Germaphobe Becky (Georgia Hirst) is a cub reporter for a no-nonsense editor (Natasha Henstridge) who tells her that in order for Becky to be taken seriously as a reporter for/by this no-nonsense editor, she has to get her hands dirty. Which is a problem for a germaphobe. Becky visits a toxic facility first and dons a hazmat suit for it while affable Ozzy (Danny Kirrane) risks it in T-shirt and lab coat. She's that kind of irritating. This leads to an invitation to a sick rave where, the prologue tells us, an experimental energy drink packed with testosterone is handed out to the participants. As long as the music is banging, there's not much of a problem. As soon as the music stops (or is Toto), watch out. A black drug dealer (Kamal Angelo Bolden) takes advantage of the 'roided-out raver zombies to work as his customers and muscle; he also tries to kill a cop and is basically irredeemable, which is sort of a problem. Also at issue is a subplot where it turns out that Becky is a lesbian, I guess, and she tries to save her poisoned girlfriend, Hannah (Manpreet Bambra), when shit gets real. It's an issue in the sense that it's raised for no reason, really, and represents one of two avenues (the other being toxic masculinity, of course) that are there in the text but unexplored once the killing starts. The Toto joke is good, the special effects are good, and some of the set-pieces are neat (I do like the bit about needing to play music to keep the monsters distracted), but long about the time twin epilogues drop--one about Becky writing it all up as a local newspaper scoop, the other about more bottles of the rage drink making its way into middle-America--you get the distinct impression it all would've been better had they just played it straight. Ravers outsmarts itself. I wish it hadn't.
by Walter ChawSam Ashurst's film of James Swanton's play "Frankenstein's Creature" is the best film of its kind since Spalding Gray and Jonathan Demme's Swimming to Cambodia. It solves the problem of shooting a static, one-set, one-man show with graceful, inventive technique. It's smart about what it does and an act of extraordinary brinkmanship that happens to pay off in spades. Both based in the UK, Messrs. Ashurst and Swanton were kind enough to chat with us from amidst the whirl and fury of London's FrightFest, where Frankenstein's Creature had its debut this past August. We started by talking about Mary Shelley's novel on the 200th anniversary of its publication:
***½/**** written by James Swanton directed by Sam Ashurst
by Walter Chaw Of all the remembrances and resurrections marking the 200th birthday of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, perhaps the most innovative is Sam Ashurst's document of James Swanton's one-man stage play Frankenstein's Creature, featuring Swanton as the monster on a single dilapidated set, delivering a ninety-minute tour de force monologue that zeroes in on the most-forgotten aspect of Shelley's novel: its wit. Swanton is by turns needling and pathetic, demanding attention and then declaring that he knows he's ugly...but look closer. He takes delight in his part in his "maker's" downfall, gleefully reenacting the execution of an innocent woman blamed for his misdeeds and portraying a side of the monster all but silenced since its most iconic popular cultural representation. Kenneth Branagh's version did its best to touch on the creature's eloquence yet saddled itself, inexplicably, with Robert De Niro's mean streets brogue. Here, Swanton presents a sensitive, fractured intelligence discovering rain for the first time, rivers, the beauty of a nature to which he is an abomination, and loving relationships from which he will eternally be rejected. He's like a murderous Oscar Wilde. It jibes with my memory of Shelley's monster, immortalized in a book that for the first years of its existence was thought to be the product of bad boy Romanticist poet Percy Shelley, Mary's husband. Ashurst, with subtle and not-so-subtle double-exposures and spare camera movements, creates something that recalls, but is utterly distinct from, Jonathan Demme's document of Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia. It's the best movie of its kind since. At its end, what's been represented is a voracious mind fed on Goethe and Milton, all of that failing to civilize the portion brutalized by the creature's rejection from his "father." The subtitle of Shelley's novel is "Or, the modern Prometheus"--and if the connection follows, this monster, the god's creation, is each of us. We shore fragments against our ruins, and as Swanton deconstructs himself, ripping his vestments from himself stitch-by-stolen-stitch, he reveals that we're broken. Beyond repair, I think.
Note: all framegrabs were sourced from the 4K UHD disc
***/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras B+ starring Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Josh Lucas screenplay by Mary Harron & Guinevere Turner, based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis directed by Mary Harron
by Bryant Frazer Books are often said to be "unfilmable," but it's the rare text that can be described as "unprintable." That was the fate that nearly befell Bret Easton Ellis's notoriously graphic first-person serial-killer memoir, American Psycho. Comprising mainly page after page of vacuous conversation among young and moneyed Wall Street types and littered with references to high-end brand names, American Psycho's internal monologue reveals the wealth-addled mindset of Patrick Bateman, an investment banker and tasteless sociopath who specializes in mergers and acquisitions and expresses himself through hateful diatribes, hilariously wrong-headed pop-culture critiques, and the occasional torturous homicide, described in sickening detail. As the book neared release, publisher Simon & Schuster faced pressure to drop it from both inside and outside the company. Feminists attacked it as a how-to manual for misogyny, murder, and mutilation. TIME published a passage about a woman being skinned, while SPY excerpted a scene describing oral sex with a severed head. S&S's own marketing department was reportedly queasy, and even the cover designer assigned to the book balked. Then, in November 1990, barely a month before its planned appearance on bookstore shelves, S&S yanked the book from its schedule. American Psycho survived, of course. Knopf picked it up and issued it as a Vintage paperback original in early 1991. But a number of booksellers declined to stock it, and a preponderance of critics excoriated it. Even so, it was enough of a success to catch the attention of producer Edward R. Pressman, who developed it as a feature project for Lionsgate, then an upstart film distributor based in Vancouver.
Note: all framegrabs were sourced from the 4K UHD disc
****/**** BD - Image B- Sound A Extras A 4K UHD - Image A- Sound A- Extras A- starring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles screenplay by John Carpenter & Debra Hill directed by John Carpenter
by Walter Chaw As tempting as it is to write the umpteenth dissertation on the importance and brilliance of John Carpenter's Halloween, it's almost enough to say that there is very possibly no other seminal Seventies film--not The Godfather, not Star Wars, perhaps not even Jaws--that has had a greater influence on popular culture. It's a movie about a fishbowl that exists now only in a fishbowl, a picture so examined that its sadistic ability to maintain an atmosphere of horrified anticipation is consumed by the intellectualization of its hedonism=death equation. A screening with fresh eyes reveals a picture and a filmmaker owing incalculable debts to Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks.
****/**** written by Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja, based on the poem by Harry Martinson directed by Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja
by Bill Chambers The opening credits of Aniara, the debut feature from short-film hyphenates Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja, scroll like closing credits over images of earthly disasters, because of course they do: this is the end. Mars is the new West, and what's left of humanity--many of those faces scarred or deformed without comment--is packed aboard a new Noah's Ark bound for the red planet. It will take three weeks, but in the meantime enjoy all the amenities and luxuries of a high-end spa, and be sure to take advantage of the Mima lounge, where a digital godhead will tap into your memories and provide a soothing mental escape to Earth as you once knew it. Unfortunately for the colonists, a rogue screw strikes the ship's hull and Aniara is forced to empty its fuel tank. The captain, Chefone (Arvin Kananian), claims they just need to catch the orbit of a celestial body to get back on course, something that will take two years, max; the captain lies. MR (Isabelle Huppert-esque Emelie Jonsson) is a "mimarobe," sort of a combination tech support/apostle for Mima, which becomes a very popular attraction over time. So much so that it gets overwhelmed by all the despair it's having to tranquilize, and self-destructs. Although MR warned him of this outcome, Chefone disciplines her for it, because Mima was the opiate for Aniara's masses. Not their god, though--he, in his unchecked power, his command of his own "planet," is God, and he's decided to be the Old Testament kind.
***½/**** starring Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin, Mia Goth screenplay by Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox directed by Claire Denis
by Angelo Muredda If you took Twitter's word for it after the gala premiere of Claire Denis's High Life, which was apparently conceived in an off-the-cuff conversation with Vincent Gallo about life at the end of the world and briefly tinkered-with in the earliest days of its inception by Zadie Smith, you'd think the singular French filmmaker abandoned all her instincts to make an edgy sci-fi sex farce with the dildo chair from Burn After Reading. What a relief, then, to discover that High Life is indeed a Claire Denis film. A step removed from the spoiler-saturated breathlessness of the first hot takes, one finds something every bit as rattled and mournful a late work as Paul Schrader's First Reformed, and, like Trouble Every Day, no less structurally elusive or visceral than the rest of her oeuvre for being a work of genre.
by Bill Chambers Pity about Teen Spirit, since it opens so well. Elle Fanning scrolls through her MP3 player to find the perfect song to start things off. A beat drops, and then we get the usual assortment of corporate logos. There's another great moment early on, where Fanning, having turned down a ride home from a slurring stranger who comes on like a dirty old man, is waiting at a bus stop late at night when she spies a group of young hooligans heading in her direction. The camera swipes across Fanning from one potential threat to the other: a clever visual that shows she's between a rock and a hard place. She chooses the dirty old man, Vlad (Zlatko Buric). He's a bear, but at least she wouldn't be outnumbered. Director Max Minghella clearly inherited some filmmaking chops from his old man, the late Anthony Minghella, though he asserts his individuality by shooting in anamorphic widescreen (something Anthony eschewed despite specializing in epics), and his overall style is relatively spastic; I waited in vain for Minghella to resist a gratuitous edit or camera movement. Fanning, by the way, plays a teenage chanteuse named Violet, forced to hide her passion from her mother (Agnieszka Grochowska), a proud, stern Polish immigrant who just wants her daughter to wait tables with her and stop these pop-star pipe dreams. It's a cold, cruel world out there where men abandon their families, after all, so you need a job you can depend on.
by Walter Chaw Michael Moore is an often-terrible filmmaker and a repugnant human being. His films are scattershot and on the whole unhelpful. In a few meandering minutes of his new film, Fahrenheit 11/9, he notes that members of Trump's inner circle have invested in his films and that when given the opportunity to hold Trump's feet to the fire in a public forum, he played the Jimmy Fallon. He appears to be owning that he's part of this disaster, but it's not clear, ultimately, what the fuck he's on about. Moore also spends time with the teen survivors of the Parkland, FL shooting, in what seems like an attempt to borrow the glow of their youthful activism; with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for probably the same purpose; and then he spends some time doing his stunt bullshit by spraying a tanker full of Flint water onto the governor of Flint's lawn. What works in the film is his focus in on how the DNC actively betrayed the will of the people by overriding primary results in states like West Virginia, Michigan, and Montana in throwing the presidential nomination to the legendarily unpopular Hillary Clinton. He reminds that during the heat of the Flint crisis, President Obama flew in, performed the stunt of drinking Flint water (he didn't), then told a folksy story of how he probably ate some lead when he was a little kid and, shucks, he turned out fine. These moments are vital because they show why thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of devoted Democrat voters decided their votes didn't matter and, indeed, that Democrats cared about the poor exactly as much as Republicans do. The problem isn't that Trump is who he has always obviously been, right there out in the open (and proud of his vulgarity and ugliness); the problem is that the entrenched political establishment on every side had fallen into complacency and lost interest in any class other than their own. Outside of that thread, the rest of it, including an extended comparison of Trump to Hitler, is just Moore being the Left's Rush Limbaugh. When preaching to the choir, best to turn the camera on the choir: Fahrenheit 11/9 is gold when it's shaming the Left. I wish he'd spent more time doing that. Programme: TIFF Docs
**/**** starring Kit Harington, Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain, Michael Gambon written and directed by Xavier Dolan
by Angelo MureddaEx-wunderkind, now regular old late-twentysomething Xavier Dolan follows up the Cannes-awarded It's Only the End of the World with his long-awaited English-language debut, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. Though he has from the start been a confessional filmmaker who, for better or worse, pours himself into his work--revisiting fraught relationships between bratty teen boys and their high-strung mothers and peppering in idiosyncratic song cues from Céline Dion and Oasis--his newest feels even more concretely anchored in his pet interests, telling the story of Rupert Turner, a young, queer child actor (Jacob Tremblay) who strikes up a long-standing epistolary friendship with the eponymous not-out TV star (Kit Harington) that sets the former on a path to adulthood and tanks the latter's career.
*½/**** written by Joel Edgerton, based on the memoir by Garrard Conley directed by Joel Edgerton
by Bill Chambers Even though it doesn't quite stick the landing, Joel Edgerton's The Gift was one of the more promising directorial debuts from an actor in recent years, but alas his sophomore feature barely ascends to heights from which to fall. Based on the memoir by Garrard "Jared" Conley, Boy Erased opens in the unpleasant dark of dawn as only-child Jared (Lucas Hedges, who either won or lost a coin toss with Timothée Chalamet) shares a deafeningly silent breakfast with his parents, Nancy (Nicole Kidman) and Marshall (Russell Crowe, swollen to the proportions of a Charmin bear), before his first day at the ex-gay ministry Love In Action--a branding that oozes grim irony. Marshall is a Baptist preacher who owns a car dealership in the heartland; he is, in other words, awful, and when Jared returns from college less confident in his heterosexuality than ever, Marshall, scrambling to pre-empt any damage to his standing in the community, invites a couple of snake-oil salesmen into his home in the middle of the night to fix the problem. (As H.L. Mencken put it, "Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.") At this rehab centre, the residents are stripped of their possessions and their identities are tamped down in sexless white shirts. Activities include charting the sinners on one's family tree and, despite the place being co-ed, sorting the boys on a descending scale of manliness. It's all presided over by Victor Sykes (Edgerton himself; what does it say that Jared's three biggest adversaries are played by Australians?), a tacit closet case who strives for avuncular beneath the harsh judgments, leaving the dirty work to the visiting "success story" Flea inhabits with impressive rancour.
**½/**** starring Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key written by Fred Dekker & Shane Black directed by Shane Black
by Walter Chaw Shane Black's The Predator is about cultures built around, predicated upon, and interested in the deification of violence and dominance. It talks about how an entire alien civilization owes its technical and biological evolution to the refinement of tools used explicitly on big game, not unlike how our own technologies owe their evolution to porn and forever war. One running joke has a scientist--an evolutionary biologist (Olivia Munn), natch--saying that the things aren't so much "predators" as they are sports trophy hunters, like bass fishermen, say, but of course calling them "predators" is "cooler." All the men in the room agree. The only ones who don't are the woman and a suicidal black soldier (Trevante Rhodes)--not coincidentally, the characters most likely to be predated upon (woman, black, mentally-ill, even veterans) by their own culture. Being in a life-and-death struggle with a predator is cool because it's a question of survival for both; being the victim of one of Donald Trump's inbred children is not cool because it's some rich douchenozzle armed to the teeth hunting you for something to mount in the den of their third mistress's second winter home. The Predator, in other words, has much on its mind, despite that its execution is a trainwreck--a trainwreck overwhelmed by an eve-of-premiere scandal whereby Munn revealed that Black had enlisted one of his buddies, a convicted pederast, to play a scene with Munn as a perv who harasses her while jogging, without informing the production of his past. The layers of irony to this thing are like unpacking an onion.
**½/**** starring Sofia Boutella, Kiddy Smile, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub written and directed by Gaspar Noé
by Angelo Muredda It's hard out here for a Gaspar Noé hater. The France-based Argentine arthouse trickster surprised even himself at Cannes when his latest, Climax, got positive notices from some who had previously written him off as a snotty provocateur. (Noé has reliably yielded some of the finest mean criticism out there: Consider Mark Peranson likening Enter the Void, in his Cannes dispatch from 2009 for CINEMA SCOPE, to "Entering the void of the cavity that is Gaspar's brain.") Climax, by contrast, was supposed to be as innovative, fun, and watchable as his previous attempts at in-your-face fuckery were punishing.
***½/**** screenplay by Gillian Flynn & Steve McQueen, based on the novel by Lynda LaPlante directed by Steve McQueen
by Bill Chambers Sorry, Psycho. Killing off one movie star halfway through isn't cool. You know what's cool? Killing off three movie stars in the first five minutes. Widows casts Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as the husbands, and while the title would seem to give away that they aren't long for this film's world, watching established leading men bite it so soon still creates an undeniable moment of cognitive dissonance. It's thrilling to see co-writer/director Steve McQueen use his cachet to these subversive ends, not to mention apply his formal sophistication to the crime movie. Which isn't to say he elevates it (we're talking about a genre that counts Anthony Mann and Jean-Pierre Melville among its pioneers)--more that Widows offers respite from a glut of John Wick wannabes and Neeson's own assembly-line thrillers. So, Widows. Viola Davis plays the rich one, Veronica. She lives in a swank condo overlooking Chicago that seems to have taken on the icy gleam of the bachelor pad from McQueen's Shame in the absence of Neeson's Harry, an idealized vision of whom haunts Veronica's imagination. (These scenes play like the distaff version of Neeson's The Grey.) Harry's partners were not as well off, and their wives, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), need money desperately enough that Alice's own mother (Jacki Weaver, perhaps inevitably) tells her to become a paid escort. Harry, it turns out, owed money to a crime lord, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who's now running for city council against golden child Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell). Manning wants Veronica to pay up, so she commits to robbing Mulligan and thus finishing what Harry started, enlisting Linda and Alice as her partners. None of them are career criminals, yet Veronica figures that if she can tailor the heist to their individual strengths, they just might pull it off.
by Angelo Muredda Pawel Pawlikowski follows up on the airless perfection of Ida with the ostensibly warmer but equally over-manicured and emotionally distant Cold War, a more historically trenchant La La Land for postwar Poland. Leave it to Pawlikowski, who never met a compelling, age-lined face he didn't want to frame in an artfully-arranged tableau, to mute even the potentially energizing opening montage of folk performers doing their bits before his ethnographic camera and its onscreen extension, the extended mic of pianist and recruiter Wiktor (Tomasz Kot, whose passing resemblance to Will Forte makes one yearn for the free comic pleasures of MacGruber). Wiktor's been tasked with putting together a nationalist throwback performance that as another, more committed officer of the state puts it, a bit ironically, should tap into the music of these rural folks' grandparents--that is to say, a culture "of pain and humiliation." It's in that process of, as MacGruber might say, putting together a team, that Wiktor meets his soon-to-be-star-crossed lover Zula (Joanna Kulig), a live-wire who auditions not with a humble song from the fields but a boisterous one from the movies. Zula's energy, alas, doesn't do much to raise the film's own temperature. To be sure, Wiktor and Zula's sad, state-crossing, decades-spanning affair, modelled after Pawlikowski's own parents' romantic history against the backdrop of the iron curtain, is intermittently moving. There is some allure in Cold War's elliptical, set-piece-based structure, which leaves its characters in, say, East Berlin only to pick them up in Paris or Yugoslavia years later, either refining their Communist anthems (now for Stalin!), performing in a jazz bar, or composing music for films. And, as expected, the deep black-and-white photography is never less than fetching--the cramped 4:3 frame an ideal if at this point too familiar canvas for a filmmaker who seems to love nothing more than to gently nudge his characters into off-kilter compositions that speak to the way they either come together or fall apart. But as in Ida, for all the effort on display, it's hard to shake the feeling that this isn't a little too easy for Pawlikowski, who, despite his personal connection to this material, ultimately delivers a desaturated version of The English Patient's more hard-won story of the violence wrought by the arbitrariness of state lines, populated by ciphers named after Mom and Dad. Programme: Special Presentations
by Walter Chaw About four scenes into Matteo Garrone's Dogman, I wondered if he was going to be able to keep it up: the invention, the escalating tension, the breathless feat of being something entirely novel. I've never seen anything like Dogman. It's a crime film, a tender picture about a father and his daughter, a look at poverty, a look at addiction and maybe mental illness, a critique of masculinity at its terminal extremities, and a withering conversation about what friendship can look like between two men. It's a film that feels like a fable sometimes; like neorealism at others. It's shockingly violent and then surpassingly tender. There's a monster in Dogman, too, and while it's easy to hate and fear him, there are moments where I felt myself hoping that someone could reach him. I could even feel myself wanting his approval. The picture is unusually smart about the human condition, even though its intelligence appears to be alien in nature. It's impossible to know from one minute to the next what's going to happen in Dogman, which isn't to say it makes no sense but rather that it makes perfect sense, once it happens. It's brilliant.
TRANSIT *½/**** starring Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Lilien Batman screenplay by Christian Petzold, based on the novel by Anna Seghers directed by Christian Petzold
Ying **/**** starring Deng Chao, Sun Li, Zheng Kai, Wang Qianyuan screenplay by Li Wei & Zhang Yimou directed by Zhang Yimou
by Bill Chambers If Christian Petzold's previous film, Phoenix, felt like a joke reverse-engineered with the slightest of pretexts to get us to a killer payoff, Transit feels more like his version of "The Aristocrats!", a shaggy-dog story intoxicated with its own brutal rambling--here almost literalized by third-person narration from a bartender (Matthias Brandt), who paraphrases conversations he had with our hero that are comically steeped in minutiae--on its way to a glib punchline. In Paris during the Occupation, Georg (Franz Rogowski, a downmarket Joaquin Phoenix) is entrusted with delivering two pieces of mail to a renowned novelist squirrelled away in a hotel: a letter from the man's estranged wife, and papers that will help him escape to freedom. The writer, alas, is but a stain when Georg gets there, and soon after he agrees to smuggle a dying man (Grégoire Monsaingeon) into Marseilles, where he can kill two birds with one stone by taking care of the author's unfinished business. Transit generates a moment of real frisson when Georg hops off the train in Marseilles: everything is modern, or at least postwar, including the melting-pot citizenry. I'm sure there's a definitive answer as to whether this is WWII as modern-dress Shakespeare, but for the rest of the movie, whenever something as benign as a contemporary bus advertisement appears, the film briefly and instantly becomes a "Man in the High Castle"-esque work of speculative fiction that curdles the blood, given how frighteningly close we are to resurrecting Hitler with the rise of nationalism on the world stage. One might ask why the characters are still dealing with "letters of transit" like they're in Casablanca (i.e., where are the computers?), but I took that as commentary on the dinosaur ideals of fascism itself. If fascism does one thing well, it's "rolling back" progress, currently the Republican party's favourite pastime.