foxtrot review

Comedy and tragedy are usually treated as two wildly different emotions – the Golden Globes even consider them so different as to break up their film awards into two tracks on those lines. But for a writer/director like Samuel Maoz, the dichotomy is not so clear-cut. His new film Foxtrot, the stealth sensation of 2017’s fall festival season, evinces how these two experiences are not opposites, but rather two sides of the same coin. Maoz, in just his second narrative feature, repeatedly demonstrates the way hilarity and calamity are never far removed from one another. Just one break in the other direction can produce a wild twist of fate.

With the absurdist deadpan of Swedish master Roy Andersson, Foxtrot captures a unique look at how young men respond to both the banality and boredom of war, as well as how adults absorb the trauma of death. It’s best to let the strange whims of life in the film guide the viewing journey; go in as blind as possible. As he charts the impact of a calamitous development, Maoz responds to a full range of human reactions. They’re never treated as separate gears to operate. Instead, pain and humor are complementary forces that overlap and bleed into each other.

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unicorn store review

“The most grown-up thing you can do is fail at things you really care about,” imparts Joan Cusack’s Gladys to her daughter, Brie Larson’s Kit, towards the close of Unicorn Store. It’s the perfect nugget of wisdom for a tale of stilted, prolonged adolescence. But the film, Larson’s debut behind the camera, is a world away from the Seth Rogen-style manchild so prevalent in the past decade of comedy.

Kit, like many millennials, struggles to adapt to a corporate environment and bristles at the drabness of office life. She’s an artist by training with an instinct to color outside the lines, a proclivity received unkindly by her stern professor. Kit snags a temporary gig at PR&R PR, where she finds herself unsure of how to reconcile her well-nurtured passion for individual expression with the mandate to be a productive, contributing member of society. At this sterile company, suit-clad men envision selling products on their purpose alone. Kit wants to set her imagination free to convey how those same products make her feel.

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mother! early reviews

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Darren Aronofsky’s mother!)

Darren Aronofsky’s talents extend beyond his gripping filmmaking, inspiring intense debate among those who watch the finished product. His latest film, mother!, is starting to inspire the loudest debate of all: those who have seen the film (whether or not they’ve walked out before it ended) are fiercely divided among those who love it and those who helped give it a CinemaScore of F this past weekend. Technically, a lot happens in mother!, but there’s not exactly a plot or character arcs on display (neither of which, of course, are necessary). The film does bear similarities to many of Aronofsky’s previous films, from Black Swan to Noah, but it’s still very singular. What else could you call a movie where a massive group of people devour a newborn baby?

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. To attempt to answer the question at the core of mother! — to wit, what the hell is this about? — it’s worth exploring the multiple allegories that present themselves throughout.

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Man on the Moon Documentary - Man on the Moon Documentary - Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond Review

“When did this movie start?” asks a modern-day Jim Carrey to director Chris Smith. It’s the start of what we know as Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond – With a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton. It’s also probably one of the more normal things Carrey says or does throughout the documentary, a work presenting unreleased footage shot by Carrey behind the scenes of his Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon.

Read our Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond review from TIFF below. Read More »

hostiles review

“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” So begins the epigraph of Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, a Western that explores America’s then-undeveloped territories as a fertile ground for nihilism, despair and self-reflection. Gone is the frontier myth of endless possibility and opportunity, replaced by a plot that is quite literally a march towards death.

As his final assignment, Christian Bale’s hardened Captain Joseph Blocker gets charged to return Adam Studi’s ailing war chief Yellow Hawk back to his tribe’s sacred land in the Montana territory. It’s a ferrying operation of the direst degree, and one that Joseph approaches with a fair amount of trepidation. He knows the route and the perils inherent in crossing this way. In order to let Yellow Hawk die with dignity, many others may die along the way getting there.

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On Chesil Beach Review

A novel is a novel, and a movie is a movie. A novel can be turned into a movie, but to do so successfully, it must surrender certain properties of the page to better suit the screen. This seems obvious, but it bears repeating because this common sense seemed to escape Ian McEwan when adapting his own novella On Chesil Beach for the cinema. By keeping a literary structure intact, the film is dead on arrival. Read More »

kings review

Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Kings is the latest, but almost assuredly not the last, cinematic response to the increased visibility and amplified intensity surrounding conversations on police brutality towards black Americans. The Turkish director claims to have been working on the project for over a decade since she attended film school in the United States, and it’s highly likely that a significant factor in getting the film greenlit (and attracting the talent it did) came from the continued prevalence of racially biased policing in the news. If we’re due for a rash of these woke-minded dramas, though, they need to have a firmer, more strident voice than what Ergüven displays here.

The writer/director casts her gaze back a quarter-century to the Los Angeles riots of 1992 following the acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King. She’s correct to observe from the outset that the situation was so tense that it resembled a volcano, a comparison she makes by quite literally superimposing faded footage of lava over aerial footage of the City of Angels. It’s heavy-handed, sure, but at least Ergüven is saying something here. The rest of Kings is a muddled mess of narrative threads and half-considered ideas, intimations of intriguing stories that she never gives the chance to develop.

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Chappaquiddick review

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” declared then-candidate Donald Trump in the middle of the 2016 Republican primaries. Perhaps he was well acquainted with the chapter in the life of Ted Kennedy, the legendary “lion of the Senate,” chronicled in John Curran’s Chappaquiddick – and how it ultimately failed to move the needle among his constituents. Despite lies, misrepresentations and cover-ups, Kennedy’s involvement in the death of a political aide now serves as little more than a footnote on his Wikipedia page.

Curran, with stone-faced intent and brutal focus, makes the case that such an incident cannot help but illuminate the true character of a man. People may not need to reconcile Kennedy’s deficient response to a tragedy of his own creation with his legacy of championing liberal causes. But Chappaquiddick provides a sobering, non-ideological reminder that if such deeds do not become a part of a public figure’s narrative, then a frightening impunity for elected officials can reign.

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DOWNSIZING

Alexander Payne built a reputation as one of the sharpest wits and most brutal ironists in independent cinema, even to the point where the internet conversation around his last film even encompassed the question of whether he was mean to his characters – as if they were people. For his biggest, most expensive undertaking, he tries on something a little different: sincerity. That sensibility reared its head periodically in The Descendants and Nebraska, but it never reaches the default level the way it does in Downsizing.

His latest script with frequent writing partner Jim Taylor uses the instrument of satire to probe a lingering disaster first identified by 18th century British economist Thomas Malthus: overpopulation. Malthus predicted an increasing decline in society’s standard of living due to the scarcity of resources available on earth. Downsizing begins with two scientists announcing a remedy they believe can cure the problem in a presentation called “Human Scale and Sustainability.” Over the course of 200-300 years, they will transition humans to a vastly shrunken size, reducing their waste by decreasing their size thousands fold.

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Breathe Review

As an innovator in the field of motion capture technology, Andy Serkis might possess a greater understanding of the nuances and capabilities of the human face than anyone working in cinema. The knowledge shows early on in Breathe, Serkis’ directorial debut, as Andrew Garfield’s protagonist Robin Cavendish begins to succumb to paralysis from polio. Serkis shoots his affliction primarily in extreme close-up, a camera length at which Garfield is more than capable at conveying nuance. With just the slightest shift of his glance or the quiver of his lip, Garfield conveys as much as his grandest gestures in other films.

Unsurprisingly, Garfield nails the immediate micro-level specificity necessitated by portraying someone with such a debilitating condition. He’s robbed of so many key acting tools: the scope to take in an entire scene, the ability to react in full, the emphasis in his extremities. Yet within this tightly proscribed frame, Garfield still manages the full expressive capabilities for which has garnered great acclaim. In Breathe, he captures that same moving range from elation to depression.

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