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18 articles


While We’re Young | 2014 Tiff Review

13 September 2014 8:30 AM, PDT

Confessions of an Aging Artist: Baumbach Humorously Reflects on Filmmaking Ethics and Middle Age

In some ways the complimentary antithesis to his last work of whimsy, Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach’s latest film, While We’re Young, clamps the cantankerous jaws of midlife crisis around hollow hipster nostalgia, inevitably asking where the importance of authenticity remains in our current media savvy culture and why we often seem to socially settle in and close up with age, ultimately losing touch with the contagious excitement of free flowing youthful creative energy. Likely the creative result of Baumbach’s relationship with his significantly younger significant other, Greta Gerwig, the notoriously bitter filmmaker seems to be grappling with his own gradual aging and inevitable disconnection from youth. Filmmaking may be a medium of immortality, but both he and his documentarian protagonist are beginning to realize that they are feeling their age, no longer relating »

- Jordan M. Smith

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La Sapienza | 2014 Tiff Review

11 September 2014 8:00 PM, PDT

Style-Over-Substance in a Fancy Baroque Package

French “artiste” Eugène Green’s latest work is further evidence that his overriding career trajectory of indulgent reminiscence, has a deliberately staged, minimalist, ultimately alienating style that reflects only the most superficial aspects of the values and artistic sensibilities it emulates. La Sapienza is a testament to the male ego—a vanity piece—that idealizes the past and eschews the present to justify a projected ideology that purports the value of chasing dreams and attempting to recreate the past as a way of coping with the fear of death and ideas of legacy.

The premise is simple. Alexandre Schmid (Fabrizio Borromini), an aging architect aiding urban sprawl by designing box city housing complexes that serve commerce over culture, decides to embark on a research expedition to Tinico, Switzerland, the birthplace of Francesco Borromini, a renowned 17th Century architect. His quest, as defined by the »

- Robert Bell

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The Equalizer | 2014 Tiff Review

11 September 2014 5:00 AM, PDT

Sequelizer: Fuqua Resurrects Vintage TV Series to Maudlin Effect

Upon the project’s official announcement, it may not have seemed a necessarily surprising or even awful idea to resurrect the mid-80s television series The Equalizer to be retrofitted as an action vehicle for Denzel Washington. In fact, in a day of dodgy remakes, reinterpretations, and constant regurgitations, it seemed an inspired bit of casting. After initial names backed out and it landed in the hands of Antoine Fuqua, who would then be reunited with his Training Day star, anticipation kicked into high gear in what seemed a perfect remedy to wash away the cornball melodrama of Olympus Has Fallen in Fuqua’s otherwise gritty and often hard-hitting filmography. Unfortunately, though sporting some considerably violent sequences, it is pure studio fodder, suffering from some miscasting, a bloated running time, and a flat lined screenplay. That said, Washington is a winning presence, »

- Nicholas Bell

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At the Devil’s Door | Review

10 September 2014 8:00 AM, PDT

Devil in Disguise: McCarthy’s Latest an Unnerving Indie Horror Film

Every now and then, a horror film comes along that’s reminiscent of a certain heyday in the genre, when understated supernatural elements were used to unnerving effect and not overwhelmed by comedic flourishes or found footage gimmickry. With his sophomore film, At the Devil’s Door (initially titled Home at its premiere at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival), Nicholas McCarthy manages to create an unsettling environment that’s most startling for a certain level of unpredictability. While some uneven plotting and awkward moments in character development mar the process, this is an illustrative example of how capably creepy independent American horror films still have the potential to be.

A teenage girl (Ashley Rickards) is convinced by her new boyfriend to sell her soul, which she seems to do willingly, not quite sure her visit to a remote trailer where »

- Nicholas Bell

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Tales of the Grim Sleeper | 2014 Tiff Review

10 September 2014 7:00 AM, PDT

In Broomfield We Trust: Docu-helmer Hits the Pavement on Decades Sprawling South Central Serial Murder Case

Harkening back to his fascination with the backwoods serial killer of his Aileen films while expanding upon the police corruption found within the Biggie & Tupac murder cases, Tales of the Grim Sleeper sees director Nick Broomfield enter into the poverty stricken war zone that is South Central, conducting his own thorough investigation of the politically repressed Grim Sleeper serial murders, all the while garnering the trust and respect of those closest to the killings, almost all of whom were never spoken to by detectives supposedly on the case. There are a great many themes and ideas that reoccur in Broomfield’s oeuvre – death, deception, systemic corruption, bureaucratic racism, cultures ravaged by destitution – and above all, empathy and trust (or lack of). Once again the provocateur brings these socially paramount discussions to the fore, this »

- Jordan M. Smith

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In the Crosswind | 2014 Tiff Review

10 September 2014 7:00 AM, PDT

Capturing History Through the Art of Tableau

Despite only having a couple of short films under his belt, Estonian director Martti Helde’s feature film debut, In the Crosswind, has the assuredness and certainty of a work crafted by someone well-versed in the cinematic medium. It has a clear vision and intent, never deviating from its central focus of capturing a time in history—when thousands of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians were taken from their homes and placed in Siberian labour camps by the Ussr military—feeling concise and planned on every front. But, to be fair, it’s also a filmed gimmick; it’s a well-conceived and thought-provoking gimmick but a gimmick nonetheless.

Helde’s guide, which constructs a narrative and heart unto itself, is the diary of Erna (Laura Peterson), a young philosophy student separated from her husband during the 1941 raids. Told in voiceover amidst an array of »

- Robert Bell

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Fed Up | Blu-ray Review

9 September 2014 8:00 AM, PDT

It’s no secret that in the last couple decades the number of overweight children in the United States has grown at an alarming rate. The statistics are shocking. Not long ago, one in twenty kids may have had an issue with weight, but now, one in every five faces obesity and the long list of unpleasant consequences that come with it. With the rise of personal fitness and calorie cutting processed foods, how could this be? As the question ominously looms over the American public at large, famed television journalist Katie Couric and seasoned issue-doc director Stephanie Soechtig have teamed up, put together an all-star cast and crew of medical and political experts who aim to expose the ugly truths within the answer. Bolstered by the presence of producer Laurie David on board, Fed Up aims to be the food industry equivalent to what An Inconvenient Truth was to the environmental movement. »

- Jordan M. Smith

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The Duke of Burgundy | 2014 Tiff Review

9 September 2014 6:30 AM, PDT

The Body and the Whip: Strickland’s Sublime Homage to Erotic Cinema

Beginning like something that should have been called Exploits of a Chambermaid, replete with a fantastically sumptuous rendering of a vintage title sequence lifted right out of the 1970s, Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy seduces us immediately. Much like his last film, the incredibly underrated Berberian Sound Studio, which was an homage to the giallo genre, his latest is a reconsideration of erotic exploitation cinema, where names like Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin garnered a notable cult following. But considering such influences, Strickland’s title is hardly cheap, though one would be remiss to deny a certain air of tawdry sentiment.

Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) is a newly hired housekeeper. Making her way to her new employer, a strict, unfriendly woman named Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), it seems they already have a tense relationship that may »

- Nicholas Bell

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They Have Escaped | 2014 Tiff Review

8 September 2014 8:00 PM, PDT

Running on Empty: Valkeapaa’s Vicious Road Trip

We may have seen similar iterations of outcast, adolescent misfits refusing to conform to the world’s expectations many times over, but with his sophomore film, They Have Escaped, Finnish director Jp Valkeapaa has created an unnerving and unexpectedly off kilter teen romance that goes down a road less traveled. Throughout what seems a prolonged set-up, a variety of interactions with various institutions inevitably result in escalating instances of two teens engaging in petty crime due to cold shoulders, apathetic adults, and uncompromising rulebooks. We’re lulled into a sense of security as to where the journey’s taking us until a late switch up severely alters the tone of the film to upsetting effect.

His stutter forcing him to go Awol from military service, quiet and shy Joni (Teppo Manner) is assigned to complete his service at a halfway house »

- Nicholas Bell

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High Society | 2014 Tiff Review

8 September 2014 6:00 PM, PDT

Is There More to this Coming-of-Age Parable Than Meets the Eye?

One of the key specificities about the production of Julie Lopes Curval’s latest exploration of female social development, High Society, is the fact that she utilized a team comprised almost entirely of women to influence the creative and technical contingents. It’s a decision that has pointed intentions in itself, suggesting a conscious decision to evade male influence and authority within the context of a story that’s ostensibly and subtle female coming-of-age parable. It also clarifies any ambiguity surrounding interpretation of a text that, while effective, doesn’t quite spell out its position on gender relations.

The plot, in itself, isn’t particularly revolutionary or original in any way. It’s like a humbler, less literal, version of Stephen Gaghan’s forgettable thriller, Abandon, in its positioning of a young, determined female protagonist—Alice (Ana Girardot)—in »

- Robert Bell

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The Vanished Elephant | 2014 Tiff Review

8 September 2014 5:45 PM, PDT

A Puzzle within a Puzzle within a Puzzle

Initially, The Vanished Elephant, Javier Fuentes-León’s follow-up to the well-received ghost story, Undertow, has a surprisingly unpolished aesthetic and sensibility. It’s self-consciously so, rehashing derivative visual and thematic cues of noir cinema before jumping out of its own construct to reveal an unreliable narrator capable of modifying or changing our textual perception of reality. It’s also a highly self-critical narrator—in the form of crime-novelist Edo Celeste (Salvador del Solar)—dabbling with the idea of killing off the very detective protagonist in his fiction that has won him such a loyal and ravenous fan base.

Amidst this rather familiar, almost perfunctory, narrative conceit are other exceedingly pulpy cues, such as a mysterious woman carrying an envelope of photos claiming that Edo’s long-deceased wife might actually be alive and in a secret relationship with her similarly estranged boyfriend. There »

- Robert Bell

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The Look of Silence | 2014 Tiff Review

8 September 2014 2:30 PM, PDT

Examining Eyes, Hearts & Minds: Oppenheimer Sees This Time From The Viewpoint of the Victims

Joshua Oppenheimer rocked the world of cinema with his groundbreaking debut fever dream, The Act of Killing, which bore witness to former Indonesian death squad leaders boastfully admitting to the murder of countless government labeled “communists” via the reenactment of such events in the style of classic American movies which they looked to for inspiration. His Venice Grand Jury Prize winning follow-up, The Look of Silence, takes an even more sobering stance on the subject, this time reflecting on Indonesia’s unique political circumstance from the perspective of those whose friends and family were killed by the murderers who are still in power and continue to live among the community they are forced to share. Less formally daring than its predecessor, yet even more emotionally involving, Oppenheimer’s latest film is, in a word, shattering.

A »

- Jordan M. Smith

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Nightcrawler | 2014 Tiff Review

8 September 2014 1:15 PM, PDT

While the City Sleeps: Gyllenhaal Gets His Money Shot in Gilroy’s Debut

You’ll be hard pressed to find a more enjoyably witty criticism of modern exploitative media tactics taken to a new extreme than Dan Gilroy’s viciously adept directorial debut, Nightcrawler. Humanity’s morbid curiosity with the grisly, disturbing, and depraved happenings in the world around us has long tainted the art of journalism and mass media, and has thus been depicted for ages already in the cinema. Gilroy’s film owes as much to Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951) as it does Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976), upping the action ante with the growing Gilroy stamp (his brother directed Michael Clayton and the last Bourne film). And yet, it’s an excitingly well written dark hearted treatise with a vitriolic little statement all its own, a glorious new love letter to the seedy underside of Los Angeles, »

- Nicholas Bell

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Bird People | Review

8 September 2014 8:00 AM, PDT

Tweets and FaceTimes: Pascale Ferran Returns with Uneven But Adventurous Realist-Fantasy

There are a number of films scattered throughout that are intent on depicting how our world communicates and operates today, viz. through web-mediated interfaces. But none of them approached this reality, however glancingly, in such an exuberantly abstract register as did Pascale Ferran in her bonkers, wholly original, yet painfully uneven new film, Bird People. It’s her first project since the now eight year-old Lady Chatterley (2006), and one can imagine that at least half of that hiatus was spent working on the film’s CGI effects alone, which are some of the most subtle but meticulous to be employed in any film yet in existence. The only problem is that so much narrative playfulness and structural innovation gets seriously bogged down by Ferran’s awkward direction and a script filled with lame dialogue — perhaps attributable to English being her second language. »

- Blake Williams

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Honeymoon | Review

8 September 2014 7:00 AM, PDT

Period of Adjustment: Janiak’s Eerie Relationship Chiller a Provocative Debut

Weirdly unsettling, Leigh Janiak’s directorial debut, Honeymoon, is one of those rarely effective offbeat psychological thrillers, utilizing a simple premise and indie framework for maximum potential, the kind of film whose bizarre pleasure are few and far between. Those seeking the kind of material that dares to go to strange extremes should take note. Surprisingly effective given that it begins like any number of indie films concerning two people that should have gotten to know each other better before plunging into marriage, Janiak’s film moves swiftly from allegory to all-out bizarreathon.

Recently married newlyweds Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) have chosen to abscond to Bea’s family cabin, a perfect, isolated setting in the off season. It seems this was a rather hurried affair, both of them still leery about being honest about little things here and there, »

- Nicholas Bell

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I Am Here | 2014 Tiff Review

8 September 2014 6:00 AM, PDT

Wherein We Learn that Both Money and Karaoke are the Real Roots of All Evil

Lixin Fan, director of the Chinese migrant worker doc, Last Train Home, similarly explores the paradoxical nature of the social climate in modern China with his latest, I Am Here. Though less successful than its predecessor in drawing a political parallel to its central subject, it does shed some light on the hypocritical nature of an affluent Communist country that’s home to Superboy, a facile, sensationalized teen “emotional karaoke” competition that’s not entirely dissimilar to American Idol.

The chief distinctions being that Superboy has a Big Brother spin, wherein the top ten contestants are put in a house surrounded by cameras where their fans can watch the rigidly enforced regimen they need to adhere to in order to satisfy the needs of the show’s producers. In addition to having an intense training schedule, »

- Robert Bell

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Red Rose | 2014 Tiff Review

7 September 2014 8:00 PM, PDT

Beware the Beauty of the Single Red Rose

Though she’s lived in France for more than three decades, Sepideh Farsi has carved out a career directing movies about the political struggles in her home country of Iran. Red Rose, her fifth narrative feature film, takes place in June 2009, during the Green Revolution that occurred after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected despite reports of electoral doctoring and fraud. It’s a tautly constructed thriller that works as a shining example of how an effective story can be told with a very limited production cost.

Utilizing an abundance of actual footage from the protests and riots, Farsi immerses us in the action before mirroring the style of erratic handheld devices to draw us into our main characters. Sara (Mina Kavani), a young political radical heavily integrated in the revolution, barrels her way into the home of Ali (Vassilis Koukalani) with »

- Robert Bell

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Tusk | 2014 Tiff Review

7 September 2014 5:30 PM, PDT

Another Tuskegee Experiment: Smith’s Latest Creation Odd But Not Audacious

Sure to garner all the Wtf exclamatory delights that it’s had its grotesque little heart set on since the initial inspiration, Kevin Smith’s podcast borne film project, Tusk, at last arrives with a queasy trill. Though it doesn’t live up to certain perverse levels of strangeness that it promises, it’s a wacky, weird, and fun jaunt, especially considering this was a film that originated off the cuff. Certainly the most successfully entertaining film from Smith in quite some time, it may turn off or underwhelm after the initial bloom passes, especially as it’s narrative is a familiar cobbling of certain well known titles that have attained cultural iconicity (for better or worse). Still, it’s a great piece of weird pie to watch with an audience hungry for its bizarre spoils.

Wallace (Justin Long »

- Nicholas Bell

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18 articles



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