Deerskin review

Have you ever loved a jacket? I mean really loved a jacket? Ruined your life for a coat? Destroyed your marriage and your finances for cool-looking cool-weather clothing? Have the fringes on your outfit caused you to live a fringe existence, evaporating your sanity, and driving you to a rampage? And was your outfit made out of Deerskin?

Director Quentin Dupieux’s new film will certainly speak to anyone with a dash of fashionphilia, or even a simple desire to rid the world out of outerwear. It’s a completely bonkers exercise in lunacy and cold, calculated obsession, all revolving around a really groovy suede outfit. Read More »

Hope review

Scandinavians know how to draw out operatic misery from quotidian life, and Hope, filmmaker Maria Sødahl’s masterful take on a couple in crisis, illustrates just how effective delving into the misery of brokenness can be. Read More »

TIFF 2019 Unsung Gems

The festival scene rolls on past Toronto, with Fantastic Fest kicking off this week and New York Film Festival gearing up for next week. It’s easy to focus on the big winners – Joker, Jojo Rabbit – and the losers – The Goldfinch, Lucy in the Sky – and completely lose sight of why these festivals exist in the first place. In a crowded media environment, film festivals represent one of the last bastions that provide platforms to emerging or under-the-radar filmmakers. They are a spot where a film, freighted with few expectations, can come out of nowhere and surprise unsuspecting viewers.

The following three films represent some of the best of this side of TIFF. Their journeys do not end at the festival, either. Unlike well-funded studio projects using TIFF as a launch pad for release, these films are all seeking U.S. distribution and will likely continue touring the worldwide festival circuit. Keep an eye out for them if they arrive at a fest near you.

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Female Directors at TIFF

Like many time periods preceding it, the fall film festival circuit of 2019 has been a mixed bag of results for female filmmakers. The Venice Film Festival spared a measly two slots in its competition for films directed by women and, as if to thumb their nose at those decrying their regressive attitudes, awarded their Best Director prize to convicted rapist Roman Polanski. All this from a festival that signed the 50/50 by 2020 pledge for gender parity just last year, to boot. As Katrin Gebbe, director of Pelican Blood told me, “In the past few years, we’ve started to put our finger into the wound.”

Meanwhile, at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the programmers paid more than lip service to their commitment on equality. Female directors comprised 36% of this year’s selection at TIFF, with percentages even higher in sections like Contemporary World Cinema and the high-profile Galas. Look beyond the numbers, too, and it’s clear that quantity did not come at the expense of quality.

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The Twentieth Century Review

The biopic genre is one of the more predictable out there. Even outside the musical-biopic subgenre, now so heavily coded that films functionally identical to parodies still get nominated for Academy Awards, there are expectations, and most of them are filled most of the time. Chief among them is fanatical reverence for their subjects, painting them as the most important figures in their respective fields through slick, gauzy, prestige-project filmmaking.

Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century, a biopic of legendary Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, doesn’t do any of that. It’s among the least-conventional biopics in existence – and it’s all the better for it. If you didn’t know the backstory, you’d never guess it’s even based on a true story, and if you do know the backstory, you might be furious at the liberal treatment of the subject. But The Twentieth Century being a biopic is merely the icing on the cake of Rankin’s incredible artistry, craft, and utterly bonkers comic and visual sensibility.

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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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Guns Akimbo Review

“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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The Laundromat Review

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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Blood Quantum Review

Blood Quantum, the second feature film from Rhymes for Young GhoulsJeff Barnaby, opens with an intense ancient settler’s proverb that reads, in part: “Take heed to thyself, make no treaty with the inhabitants of the land you are entering,” lest a lot of really heinous things happen, apparently.

It’s an ominous and telling start to a film that follows the Mi’gmaq community of Red Crow and their police chief Traylor (a great Michael Greyeyes) just before, during and six months after a zombie outbreak. Soon, the undead apocalypse has decimated the rest of the earth’s population, but the Red Crow are immune to the zombie virus, and they must decide amongst their population whether to allow into the reserve the non-Indigenous people arriving to take shelter from the hordes of undead.

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Freaks Clips

Superhero movies are still all the rage, and while it’s easy for some to get frustrated with all the capes out there nowadays, there’s still some creativity to be found in the sci-fi subgenre. That’s especially true when it comes to bringing superheroes into the indie arena, just as directors and writers Adam Stein & Zach Lipovsky have done with their new movie

Freaks stars Emile Hirsch as a father trying to keep his seven-year-old daughter Chloe locked up inside their house because a group of people known as Abnormals threaten the outside world. At least that’s what she’s been led to believe. But when she actually gets a glimpse outside, everything may not be as it seems. Two new Freaks clips have been released, showing us just how much mystery there is in this intriguing new indie. Read More »