The magic of NASA has faded in recent years, no longer the awe-inspiring, astounding, dream-big place that it used to be during the iconic Apollo missions and the Space Shuttle era. But perhaps we're just not seeing inside the walls of NASA anymore, maybe we're just not hearing the stories like we used to? Good Night Oppy is an extraordinary documentary that sets this straight, and puts everything back on course, remind us once again that NASA is still the dream-big, make-it-happen, monumental place that it has always been. Going into this film, I had no idea what I was about to watch. It's about the clunky robot rovers they sent to Mars in 2003. Is that it? Is it just some abstract footage of them on that planet, driving around in Martian silence? Oh yes - it's that and SO much more. This documentary film left me in awe. I was so moved by it, so inspired & invigorated, that I watched it twice within a few days. No notes – this film is pretty much perfect.
I don't just like movies, I love them! If you also love movies as much as I do, then you're probably familiar with the "film bro" - a nerdy dude who is so entirely infatuated with cinema that's all he can talk about or think about. (Here's two good articles about them: on No Film School or Little White Lies.) Film bros can be found anywhere and everywhere, usually lurking in various dark corners of the internet, waiting to slide into some woman's DMs the moment she mentions David Fincher or Punch Drunk Love. Remarkably, there's a new film at the Toronto Film Festival this year called I Like Movies, and it's an awkward coming-of-age drama about a "film bro" from Canada. It's not denigrating film bros, or turning them into someone to laugh at in a movie, it's actually a remarkably empathetic and warm-hearted film about the challenges of growing up as a nerd and growing into yourself. It just so happens to be about a film bro, and it also just so happens to be one of the gems of this year's TIFF line-up. I loved watching this and I hope it finds a bigger audience.
There are plenty of documentaries being made all the time now about climate change and its devastating impact on this planet. Before all of these, there was one doc that changed the entire conversation early on – Davis Guggenheim & Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, which premiered in 2006 and went on to win two Academy Awards (and tons of other prizes). With climate change getting worse and worse, and not much hope on the horizon of slowing it down, the conversation among the powerful is now beginning to change instead to – what's going to happen next and how can we manage the inevitable natural disasters and social upheaval. One of the big questions on the horizon over the next few decades is: how will food sources and farms be affected as the world heats up. Which brings us to this documentary The Grab, made by Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, premiering at the 2022 Toronto Film Festival. It's the next major doc that can change the entire conversation just like An Inconvenient Truth did. I was in shock after watching it.
The most important question of our times is: how do we solve climate change? It's a tough one to answer. How do we stop destroying our planet, how do we transition to better / safer energy without using fossil fuels anymore? Can society actually transition smoothly? What can we do as an individual to help? Everyone seems to be thinking about this and one person who has been thinking about it quite intently is filmmaker Oliver Stone. Stone has stepped back from making narrative features, but is still making documentaries as he gets older. His latest doc film is called Nuclear, and it just premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival as an important climate change feature at the end of the fest. Half of the film is about global warming and how we let this happen and what's going on with the world. The other half offers a viable answer: nuclear power. It's as persuasive as any film can be - nuclear power truly IS the best immediate solution for climate change mitigation and ending fossil fuel use. If you aren't yet convinced, just watch this film when it's out.
Everyone already knows the story of Marilyn Monroe – the 1950s sex icon, blonde bombshell goddess, beloved movie star. But do we really know the real story? Do we really understand all that she went through, all that she was and wasn't, all that she suffered? Of course, this is a taboo topic – don't you dare shame the magnificent beauty that is Marilyn Monroe, she owned that beauty and no one can take that away from her!! Though really, maybe it's something we should be talking about, maybe we should be looking more into her experiences. Monroe lived through a time in which women were objectified, treated as meat, and given little to no freedom to do what they wanted unless men approved of it. This is true regardless of how things look in retrospect all these years later. Blonde is New Zealand filmmaker Andrew Dominik's first feature film in 10 years (since Killing Them Softly), telling the life story of Norma Jeane. But let's make sure this is clear - this is a work of fiction and doesn't accurately represent her life or experiences. It's just a film, don't forget.
It was a bold move for director Darren Aronofsky to return to Venice after the cold reception to Mother! at the festival in 2017. Festival crowds can be brutal especially when you are trying to play games with them. Although Mother! is an ingenious, gracefully structured take down on obsessively religious patriarchy, it was widely misunderstood. The Whale brings Aronofsky justice and turns him in the eyes of viewers from angry cynic to a humanist. It seems like there is a lot of caution towards the project after the Mother! controversy but the good news is that The Whale finds Aronofsky at his best with a more reserved directing style which still delivers a profound emotional impact elevated by the spectacular performance by Fraser.
Having in mind the most recent years, Hollywood has been trying to amplify the "twin films" phenomenon whenever it happens - two (or sometimes more) movies about the same story produced and released within a short period of time by different studios. The examples are vast over the last few decades, and a quick search for the term will surprise anyone who believes such an event rarely occurs. In fact, with this concept, it's more unusual for two films about precisely the same narrative and featuring the exact same protagonist to be released in the very same year. This is the case with Pinocchio, which is also being adapted into an animated version by Guillermo del Toro - scheduled for the end of November - and a Disney live-action reinterpretation lead by director Robert Zemeckis. Unfortunately, the latter isn't very impressive… at all.
We need to talk about The Son. This film is definitely a conversation starter, even more so than The Father. After winning two Oscars for his dementia drama The Father, talented French director Florian Zeller has returned with his follow-up - a film titled The Son. It's part of Zeller's trilogy about family and fragility and our connections with each other when things go wrong & times get tough. The Son premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival as a highly anticipated competition film, and it's worthy of this debut. It may not be as masterful as The Father, but it is a compelling, devastating, seriously captivating drama. I believe Zeller's point is to make us discuss the film - the whole thing is "we need to talk about this" and for the characters, that's very hard to do unfortunately; but for viewers the emotions and twists in the story will make you talk. It's impossible to not have something to say after this - good or bad, sad or happy, as long as you're honest.
So you want to make a movie that inspired by The Matrix? Sure, that sounds cool, why not. But what more can you add? What can you say to audiences that hasn't been said in four other Matrix movies before this? If there's nothing else to add, if there's nothing unique or clever about the screenplay, that movie will end up becoming especially pointless. And that is exactly the result with Don't Worry Darling. Actress-turned-filmmaker Olivia Wilde's second feature film as a director is Don't Worry Darling, which premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival playing Out of Competition. That placement in the line-up should already be a sign this doesn't have much to offer, but now having seen it myself, I can confirm that unfortunately as nice as this movie looks - it's empty. Much like the bottles of wine and champagne that Italian restaurants put in their windows to lure you in, but when you take a closer look they're dusty and dry because they're all for show and someone drank them years ago. With this movie, the "free yourself" commentary is obvious, but it doesn't amount to much overall and feels excruciatingly redundant. That's it? There's nothing more to this?
Honesty matters so much. More than anything, especially right now. But it is quite dangerous; it can be hard to hear, disruptive and upsetting when that honesty stings. But we really need honesty. It can change us, it can make an impact on the world, it can bring us closer together as long as we grow from the emotions we feel when we're hit with that honesty. There's so much about The Whale to talk about, but the discussions about honesty in the film got me the most. I can't deny it, honesty is so important to me, even though it has hurt me so much in my life. Darren Aronofsky's new film The Whale is another knock out. I think it might be his best since The Fountain (which is a controversial statement because not everyone likes this film). It's an emotional, heart-wrenching, deeply felt story told perfectly by a master filmmaker who knows how to get the finest performances out of his actors. I was overwhelmed by emotions, wiping away tears for an hour after.
I will fully admit that before watching this, I thought to myself "this can't really be a film about a gardener, so I wonder what it's actually about?" Alas, I was wrong, and it is indeed a film about a gardener. Ha! Much the same way that Paul Schrader's last film, The Card Counter, is indeed about a card counter / gambler. Master Gardener tells the story of a gardener, played by Joel Edgerton, but as with all of Schrader's films the story heads to some intriguing places and he's not just a gardener. There is much more to him and we discover all this watching the story play out. That said, most of this film is beautiful because it involves Edgerton's character Narvel Roth gushing in his dairy about flowers & tending to gardens. I learned a great deal about flowers, soil, horticulture, nurturing plants, and garden culture all from watching this film. And even if the rest of it isn't that great, at least I seriously enjoyed all the discussion about flowers and gardens.
"Revolutions are not about trifles, but spring from trifles." – Aristotle. This is one of THE most exhilarating films of the year, I want to watch it again and bring everyone. Athena instantly joins the ranks as one of the best revolution films ever made. It is an extraordinarily propulsive, spectacular cinematic experience that starts with an all-timer opening action scene and never lets up. I was totally blown away by this phenomenal urban warfare French thriller that just premiered in competition at the 2022 Venice Film Festival. Athena is a Netflix production, but that isn't an issue here considering it feels like it is a revolutionary film that isn't restrained or diminished by the Netflix sheen that plagues too many other Netflix movies. This is a one-of-a-kind, jaw-dropping work of art that absolutely must be seen on the big screen. If Netflix were better about showing films in cinemas, they'd be hosting monthly screenings of this in theaters all over the world, similar to the way The Rocky Horror Picture Show continues to rock movie theaters decades later. Karim forever!!!!