Adapting Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch for the screen was never going to be an easy task. At 771 pages, it would make a daunting TV miniseries – and director John Crowley managed to whittle it down into an under-two-and-a-half-hour feature film. As any team adapting existing material must, the filmmakers had to make a number of choices as to how they would present the story.
While the critical consensus seems mostly aligned against the changes to The Goldfinch, I tend to align with /Film’s own Meredith Borders in her review from TIFF. “The deliberate pacing and mysterious unveiling of information appear to have alienated many viewers,” she wrote out of the festival. “The film feels more like a gorgeous piece of emotional art than a straightforward story.” Whether that’s what people wanted – or felt – watching The Goldfinch, it was certainly the intent of the filmmaking team.
Just hours before the film’s world premiere in Toronto, I sat down for an extended discussion on the post-production of The Goldfinch with editor Kelley Dixon. Being fresh off both reading the novel and seeing the film, I came ready to dive into the nitty-gritty of how some of the biggest choices in the adaptation came to be. Her answers into both the larger structural changes, as well as some of the smaller details, proved an enlightening glimpse into a film that’s inspired strong reactions from viewers of many perspectives.
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It’s been over ten years since Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine instructed audiences that the “Nazi ain’t got no humanity” in Quentin Tarantino’s Inlgourious Basterds. In the decade that followed, we watched as a quaint, yet uproarious tale of obliterating Nazis turned from celluloid fantasy to real-world nightmare. Various films have tackled the real-world threat of the revival of insidious ethnonationalist ideology, most notably Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman in 2018, which drew a direct parallel between the inability to fully extinguish the insidious threat of white nationalism in the 1970s to the 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville that claimed the life of Heather Heyer.
Whether past is prologue or merely an instruction manual to navigate recurring and unresolved social tensions, it was hard to ignore the spectre of Nazi Germany at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird, a bleak story of a young Jewish boy wandering Eastern Europe after being separated from his parents during World War II, reportedly prompted mass walkouts. Dan Friedkin’s Lyrebird, acquired by Sony Pictures Classics, made fewer waves with its story of how a member of the Dutch resistance investigated art stolen by the Nazis.
But by far the most notable films to grapple with the Third Reich came from Fox Searchlight’s two most pedigreed ponies for the fall season, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit and Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life. On the surface, these films could not appear more different. Waititi’s energetic, irreverent style is at one formal extreme, and Malick’s reverential, brooding aesthetic represents another. Yet the films share more than just their obvious similarity of depicting characters quietly resisting the authoritarian impulses of Nazi Germany. Both, in their own way, celebrate the power of the individual to make a difference in the fight against evil regimes.
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“You like this?!” asks Daniel Radcliffe’s Miles to a covert camera live streaming his misfortunate adventures as he fights for his life. It’s a breaking point for him as a character in Guns Akimbo, and he launches into quite the screed about the cowardice of the viewers who cheer on imperiling people from behind the remove of their screen but could never face a similar situation in their own lives. In a smarter movie, Miles might also be addressing us, the audience, with his impassioned rant. After all, haven’t we, too, been watching his plight voyeuristically and getting a kick out of his misery?
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It’s not exactly clear why there’s been such a boomlet in explanatory, often didactic, films about recent history. It can’t be merely a reaction to the anti-intellectualism of Trump because films like The Big Short predated his rise. Perhaps it’s a response to our information-saturated culture and a need to cut through the volume of digital noise. Whether it’s trusting the audience too much that they want to know how complex systems work, sensing that they might tune out unless it’s laid out clearly, or cynically doubting they won’t understand without a spoon-fed explanation, these films all share an urge to inform and not just entertain. It’s impossible to deny that Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, an instructive explainer on the Panama Papers leak of 2016, is a product of this moment in cinema.
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The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) gained international prominence over the last few decades by billing itself as the “Festival of Festivals.” That distinction means, in essence, that if you go to TIFF, you won’t need to go to another festival all year. With more than 300 titles hailing from across the globe, one can only dip their toe into the riches of Toronto’s lineup even with wall-to-wall screenings over its 11-day duration.
By the time the oft-Oscar prognostication People’s Choice Award winner is announced on Sunday, September 15, two of TIFF’s biggest premieres – The Goldfinch and Hustlers – will be playing across North America. But let’s say you don’t want to wait until then to get in on the Toronto viewing? Here are ten curated titles that you can program as a streaming festival adjacent to Toronto. That way, once these titles hit theaters over the next year, you’ll have a leg up on some of the past work of cinema’s coming vanguard.
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It’s hard enough making your first feature film. But Matthew Michael Carnahan achieved this with what might look to an onlooker like having a metaphorical arm and a leg tied behind his back. He shot Mosul both in a language he didn’t speak and in a foreign country. But according to Carnahan, whose previous work includes the screenplays for brawny films like The Kingdom and Deepwater Horizon, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mosul is in many ways a true oddity in the filmic landscape. It was made with all the resources and support of a Hollywood production but features no performers familiar to American audiences. Carnahan, with the backing of Avengers directors Joe and Anthony Russo (who produced the film), took a gamble that audiences would be willing to experience the story of a SWAT team fighting ISIS the way it is lived: in the region’s native dialect. According to him, it was the only way to capture the authenticity of the source text, Luke Mogelson’s 2017 New Yorker article “The Desperate Battle to Destroy ISIS.”
As Mosul begins its trip around the fall festival circuit, I spoke to Carnahan about how Mosul came to be and what he hoped to achieve through its unique production.
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If you’re reading this, that means you’ve seen The Art of Self-Defense, right? You witnessed a satire of toxic masculinity for the ages featuring a pitch-perfect Jesse Eisenberg performance, and you were blown away by that wild ending. And, for that matter, you’ve also read the other interviews /Film writers have conducted with the cast and writer/director Riley Stearns. Good. Now, bow to Grandmaster and prepare to go in-depth with Stearns on that wild ending to the film.
In case you haven’t gathered as much, there are going to be heavy spoilers for the last of act of The Art of Self-Defense from here on out. Don’t say you weren’t warned as I delve into the origin and implications of the film’s climactic scene with Stearns.
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Future opposition researchers will have a field day with anyone who writes about Penny Lane’s documentary Hail Satan?. So I might as well lean into it and say – here goes nothing – I was shocked to learn how much I agreed with the Satanic Temple. Not as a religion, to clarify, but as a political movement. Like probably far too many people, I reflexively scoffed and laughed off the antics of the Satanic Temple when seeing their name mentioned in a headline. But as an organization devoted to holding America’s feet to the fire on honoring the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which maintains that the government is not to enact policies or laws that show favoritism towards a single religion, the group makes many a savvy maneuver.
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While 2018’s edition of the Sundance Film Festival might not have launched any major Oscar heavyweights, it turned out a steady stream of modest summer hits from first time directors (Hereditary, Sorry to Bother You, Eight Grade) as well as three non-fiction films that were blockbusters by documentary standards (Three Identical Strangers, RBG, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?). Plus, countless Sundance selections remained critical favorites that stuck around in the conversation through the end of last year (Wildlife, Minding the Gap, Hale County This Morning, This Evening).
This is all to say, never believe anyone who tells you that a given year at Sundance is a “weak” one. Fluctuations in programming focuses and projects submissions rarely yield a continuous trajectory for a festival. That may prove doubly true for the 2019 edition of the Sundance Film Festival, which is the first under Kim Yutani’s leadership as director of programming following the long reign of Trevor Groth. This year’s festival looks noticeably more inclusive and diverse, both in terms of the stories being told and the people who are telling them. The lineup pulls less obviously from established festival favorites in favor of providing a platform to emerging artists who may have only a scattered short or feature to their name.
There’s going to be a lot to follow out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and thankfully /Film will have several writers on the ground in Park City to report out the big finds and stories. But for those of us who aren’t making the trek up into the mountains of Utah for Sundance, there’s still a way to be a part of the festival.
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As the unseen prompt for Michael Scott’s long “NOOOOOOOO” that has endured to become one of the Internet’s favorite reaction GIFs, Paul Lieberstein – best known for playing Toby on The Office – has often done his best work under the radar. In addition to playing Dunder Mifflin’s favorite killjoy in front of the camera, Lieberstein was a key creative force behind production of The Office as well, serving as a writer, director and showrunner throughout the series’ run.
Since the show came to a close five years ago, Lieberstein has stayed mostly in the television world, lending his talents to both HBO’s The Newsroom and Fox’s Ghosted. But he’s begun to branch out into the world of indie film with his feature writing and directing debut Song of Back and Neck, which premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Lieberstein also appears in the film as protagonist Fred Trolleycar, a middle-aged office drone who must come to terms with all the complications that stem from his chronic back and neck pain – an experience which came directly from the star’s own life.
I caught the film there back in April and reviewed it positively, writing that Lieberstein is adept at “handling some slightly morose material with equal parts sincerity and dry humor.” We were able to chat further about the film earlier this month and talked about how he made the leap from TV to movies. Our phone call was shortly after Steve Carell gathered a few former co-stars from The Office in his Saturday Night Live monologue, so naturally our conversation had to start with some discussion about a potential reunion or revival for the show.
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