Philippe Lacôte's Night of the Kings follows a young pickpocket in his first night at the "MACA", one of the main prisons in Abidjan, the largest city in the Ivory Coast. As the Ivory Coast's entry for International Feature Film at this upcoming Academy Awards, Night of the Kings has the power and storytelling to inject its reality into the category. First-time actor Koné Bakary plays wide-eyed, unassured Roman, the name of the selected storyteller during the red moon, a real-life tradition still enacted at the MACA. Picked by the prison's de facto leader, "Blackbeard" (Steve Tientcheu), Roman must tell a story for the duration of the night, with failure resulting in the price of his life. In a film with high stakes and visible violence, Night of the Kings unfurls like a ballad, an ode to the weight and humanity of storytelling, and the need for tradition.
A body-penetrating, mind-controlling horror-thriller that exists somewhere between Scanners, Beyond The Black Rainbow, and Upgrade, Possessor is the second feature film by visionary writer-director Brandon Cronenberg, son of David and Carolyn. The Toronto native made his original debut with 2012's Antiviral, about a tech company that sells celebrity illnesses to obsessed fans. With the same gruesome verve as his father David — one of the originators of the body horror subgenre to begin with — Cronenberg's work often explores body modification, infection, technology, and interweaving of the psychological with the physical. With Possessor, he digs even deeper into the "new flesh" to tell a story about identity in this digital age.
The first shot of Georgian filmmaker Dea Kulumbegashvili's debut feature Beginning settles into the back of a small chapel. Patrons waft in and sit on either side of the aisle, with men taking up the majority of the right side, and women and children on the left of the frame. The pastor, or church leader, begins talking about Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, and the sacrifices we all must make in reverence to God. The back door opens and an unseen person throws in a Molotov cocktail of sorts, lighting the back of the chapel on fire, barricading the doors so the churchgoers can't escape. The screams and general panic sets in, though the camera remains unflinched, an objective observer staying just far enough away from the action.
One of the very best independent animators / filmmakers making movies right now is Tomm Moore. This isn't even a subjective opinion, it's pretty much just a fact at this point. Moore's third feature film is titled Wolfwalkers, and it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival this year. Ohh my it's magnificent. This movie follows his other two underrated, outstanding animated features The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014). Wolfwalkers is actually co-directed by Tomm Moore and his long-time concept artist colleague Ross Stewart (making his directorial debut). It's clear this is the perfect collaboration - almost every frame in Wolfwalkers looks like concept art, with all the characters brought to life by Moore's distinctly gorgeous animation. Plus, of course, it's driven by a lovely story of wolves and women and magic and mother nature.
Screened as a selection of the virtual 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. It seems as if one of the common themes in many films this year is stalking. Back in February, we got to see Elisabeth Moss fighting the "Invisible Man". This heinous act, appearing more and more in TV & film, relates to many people on a personal level, especially women. We can see similar themes (and more) in Lucky, the spine-chilling thriller directed by Natasha Kermani (her third film following Shattered, Imitation Girl) and written by actress / filmmaker Brea Grant (director of this year's 12 Hours Shift), who also stars as May, the main character of the film. What makes Lucky unusual is its post-reflection consideration that lingers long after finishing the thriller.
Screened as a selection of the virtual 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. When nature is one of the key elements of a film, it usually touches on humanity's relentless power of destruction. This theme is a major part of the newest eco-horror feature, Unearth, co-directed by John C. Lyons (Schism, There Are No Goodbyes) and Dorota Swies (Schism), from a script written by Lyons and Kelsey Goldberg. This self-described "fracking horror story" captivates audiences with its intense storytelling and, most importantly, the lessons hidden within. Next to phenomenal directing, its cast, especially Allison McAtee, deliver gratifying performances.
"I don’t want to go back to the life I had before you…" Love is a powerful force. And love can be a beautiful thing, especially when it connects two people who don't have any interest in love. But true love is also rare, and honestly hard to find. As hard to find as a complete, unbroken fossil hidden inside a rock, just waiting patiently for millions of years to be discovered. That is the primary metaphor in this film, and it's a lovely metaphor. Ammonite is the second feature from British filmmaker Francis Lee, following his breakout debut God's Own Country a few years ago. It was selected for the Cannes Film Festival this year, but instead is premiering at the Toronto & London Film Festivals this fall (following Cannes' cancellation). I was lucky to catch the film, as Lee only wants to show it in a cinema. Rightfully so - it's worth to wait to see it properly.
One of my favorite things about film festivals is discovering exceptional filmmakers by stumbling upon their break-out features. This film is one of the best discoveries of the 2020 Toronto Film Festival, playing in the prestigious Midnight Madness category. Shadow in the Cloud has a crazy, wickedly impossible concept - follow a woman who gets on a rickety B-17 Bomber, known as the "Flying Fortress" in WWII, as she escorts a special classified package that must not be opened. The whole film takes place on this B-17, nicknamed the "Fool's Errand" (yeah) by the crew. This means they could film it on a very small set but also somehow have to make the entire thing believable and authentic. To top it off, once she gets on the flight (and is relegated to the ball turret), she spots some gnarly gremlin crawling around and ripping apart the plane. This creature feature element of the film is a distinct nod to "The Twilight Zone" gremlin, yet isn't even the main conflict.
"The world is never as you expect." That's the truth, even when we don't want it to be. Originally selected as a 2020 Cannes Film Festival premiere (before that fest was cancelled this year), Thomas Vinterberg's latest film is instead premiering at the 2020 Toronto Film Festival this fall. Another Round brings Vinterberg back home to Denmark and reteams him with exceptionally talented Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen to tell a story about drinking alcohol. Druk is the film's original Danish title, essentially translating to "drunk" or the act of binge drinking. Which is exactly what the four main characters in the film do, along with all of the students they're teaching. "Everyone in this country has a drinking problem," one character says in the film, which is true about Denmark and about pretty much every other country in the world, if we're to be honest. It is what it is, and we can't really stop it (prohibition didn't work, remember?). But can drinking be good?
Home is where the heart is. And as they say in this film: a house is not the same as a home. Being house-less is not the same as being homeless. That's a lesson we can all learn. Nomadland is the third feature film made by acclaimed filmmaker Chloe Zhao, following her massive success with the indie film The Rider in 2017/2018. This time she follows a lonely drifter named Fern as she travels around various places in the United States of America in a van she calls home. She lives and sleeps in the van, and finds cheap places to park and stay in order to live off-grid, inexpensively, and without any other baggage to carry around. But it's not an easy life, and Fern still must find some work to pay for food and other expenses. Nomadland is the most soulful film of the year. It's utterly gorgeous, a poetic journey into the van-life of modern nomads.
The internet is a fame machine. It can turn nobodies into world famous celebrities in the blink of an eye. We all know how it works, of course, but is internet fame really a good thing anymore?
Probably Definitely not. But everyone is still addicted to fame and fortune and money, even if it's just to watch someone else become famous. Especially the younger generations, so many teens need that attention and adoration to feel good about themselves. First Ingrid Goes West, then Spree, and now Mainstream - a subgenre is forming about how toxic and horrible social media is and how we're all a part of it. Mainstream is director Gia Coppola's second feature film (following Palo Alto) and it's a loud, wild, crazy film that does not shy away in literally straight up telling the viewers that they we are all involved in this delusion even if we don't want to admit it.
What do two idiots, one giant fly, and Adèle Exarchopoulos have in common? Absolutely nothing! Except for a desire to eat good food and enjoy themselves in the summer sun. Mandibules is the latest creation from wacky French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux (of Rubber, Wrong, Reality, Deerskin) and it's an amusing, lighthearted, unquestionably enjoyable film about uh, two idiots, one giant fly, and Adèle Exarchopoulos. It's super weird, super French, buddy comedy ridiculousness. But that's the magic of Quentin Dupieux - he makes entirely original and entirely entertaining films. And this one clocks in at only 77 minutes, which is both just long enough, and also not long enough. You'll see what I mean once you watch it, because just as it's getting real good, it's over. Then again, better to not ruin it when everything else is pretty much perfect.