No one expected this from Ana Lily-Amirpour. The filmmaker who first broke onto the scene with the Iranian vampire tale, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, had the world from which to choose for her sophomore effort. A story about finding love in a cannibalistic, post-apocalyptic wasteland isn't the stretch, but what Amirpour chooses to do with The Bad Batch, her newest film, is quite shocking. She turns the mirror around on modern society showing a dystopian future that is closer to possible truth than many of us would like to admit. Unfortunately The Bad Batch is layered with cryptic subtext and long, drawn out scenes with little-to-no progression; sadly Amirpour's second outing seems like something of a big step back.
We can stop making science fiction films now. Arrival has said it all. Yes, there's a very healthy dose of hyperbole with that statement, but that doesn't make the overwhelming feeling the film conveys, directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer, any less resonant. Arrival is smart, simple sci-fi that never panders and never overstays its welcome, and, with Amy Adams on board to be our guide through the waterworks that are sure to come, it's one of the best science fiction films to come around in years and one worthy of the processing required. Emotional and daring in the most exquisite of ways, Arrival becomes that eye-opening tale of alien encounters and communicative sparring that leaves the viewer rattling the ramifications that follow around in their head for days, a key staple for any, good science fiction.
Park Chan-wook once again plays outside the proverbial box with The Handmaiden, another stunning epic from the South Korean filmmaker whose name has become synonymous with breathtaking cinema. Chan-wook has become one of those few storytellers whose every work is an event, a film you simply have to see for yourself to take in all the wonder and beauty that comes with it. His latest is just as subversive, blending an efficient, con artist story with an abundance of strange sex, horror atmosphere, ultra-feminism, and, yes, even love. The Handmaiden quickly proves itself as yet another glorious masterpiece of visual style and effective narrative that eats away at your brain long after the final curtain has been raised.
It's never a good time to lose anyone close to you and even worse when the whole world is watching. Every move is watched and scrutinized regardless of context and it's up to you to put your personal feelings aside and keep moving forward. The astounding new film Jackie focuses on one of the biggest icons of class and style in America's history, Jackie Kennedy, and as played by a never-better Natalie Portman we witness the private grief that is human but rarely seen in public. Jackie is the English-language debut of Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín (of No, The Club and this year's Neruda) and as the story begins we are dropped right in the middle of the chaotic aftermath following JFK's assassination on November 22, 1963.
An extravagant singing competition brings many different creatures of all kinds together in the animated musical Sing, one of the biggest question marks of this year's Toronto Film Festival. However, it turned out to be an enormous surprise once the closing credits started rolling. It's a huge crowd-pleaser and the best family film since Disney's Zootopia, blending a traditional underdog story with gorgeous animation and of course tons of fun. Sing is also the latest endeavor from Illumination Entertainment, the animation studio responsible for Minions, Despicable Me and this year's The Secret Life of Pets. The company is certainly growing with each new project and Sing could be the breakthrough that makes them a household name.
Any verdict on the quality of the actual film aside, Blair Witch is the surprise of the year. It may not be as groundbreaking as when The Blair Witch Project stunned audiences at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival or even when the film stampeded through movie theaters later that summer. The controversy and marketing behind it had something to do with that, but the surprises involved with this latest film, simply called Blair Witch, are undeniable. Thank Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett for this. Their mark on the indie horror scene has definitely been made with hit films like You're Next, The Guest, as well as the V/H/S pair of anthologies. There doesn't seem to be a more perfect union between filmmakers and project
It has often been said, "With friends like these, who needs enemies?" It is true that our friends can be are harshest critics; and sometimes you have to wonder why they were your friends in the first place. Catfight is what would happen if you confronted that friend and decided to smack them like a WWE Diva instead of talking it out like grown adults. Catfight, starring Anne Heche and Sandra Oh, written and directed by Onur Tukel – which just premiered at the Toronto Film Festival – is a strange story about a karmic cycle that not only escalates to violent physical altercations, but shows the repercussions of the aftermath.
Love, revenge and masculinity run deep in Nocturnal Animals, the latest film made by fashion designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford. His previous film was 2009's A Single Man, the elegant and subtle tale of a closeted gay man at odds with himself. Now he's returned to play with those same themes in two different ways, melodrama and pulp. Nocturnal Animals is based on Austin Wright's 1993 novel "Tony and Susan" and among our first character introductions is Susan Morrow (played by Amy Adams). Her demeanor is ice cold and extremely calculating, the type of behavior that suggests deep sorrow and unnamed guilt.
The true story of a young Indian boy separated from his impoverished family only to reunite with them 20 years later is told in the emotional new film Lion, directed by Australian filmmaker Garth Davis ("Top of the Lake"), a tale full of heart and perseverance. Some will perhaps find it easy to compare this to Slumdog Millionaire, another fairly recent (and popular) film about an Indian boy beating the odds to make his way back home, but they are both very different adventures. Instead of the fast-paced Slumdog approach, Lion has a more quiet and subtle style in mind. The film begins in 1986 following five year old Saroo Brierley (played by Sunny Pawar) as he struggles to help his mother and older brother make ends meet.
Confronting the real world through imagination is at the heart of the new fantasy film A Monster Calls, the new visual feast from Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona (of the films The Orphanage, The Impossible previously). Bayona, along with screenwriter Patrick Ness (adapting his own novel), have taken the fairly mundane story of a child coming-of-age and given it a colorful makeover mixing excitement and real-world heartache. The story is about Conor O'Malley (played by Lewis MacDougall, also seen in Pan) who is only 12 years old but he's already dealing with adult problems involving his family and his life at school.
The energy was palpable at the midnight world premiere of Ben Wheatley's Free Fire last Thursday night. The famous Midnight Madness screenings at the Toronto Film Festival are known to be a fun event, with an enthusiastic crowd soaking up the energy of the late night festivities. No one could expect that the film that we were about to see would not only match the energy of the theater, but crank it all the way to 11. Dripping in 70's camp, Free Fire tells a story of a costly gun transaction that goes south very quickly. For 90 minutes you are stuck in a filthy Boston warehouse with these characters who have one thing in mind – take the money used to purchase the guns and get the hell out of dodge. As guns are drawn, bullets start to fly, and lines get drawn, the absurdity of the situation sinks in and the film become disturbingly dark and hilarious.
Seven outlaws come together to save a helpless town from a greedy tyrant in Antoine Fuqua's new version of The Magnificent Seven, a remake of the original 1960 film (directed by John Sturges) which in itself was an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. That's probably the most confusing thing to be said about this new movie since the story its telling is as straight-forward and as expected as you've seen many times before. The good news, however, is what Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven lacks in originality it more than makes up for in sheer entertainment, for those wondering if this one is worth seeing.