Whether or not the soul really truly exists, as we humans perceive it, doesn't really matter. Pixar's Soul is a profound and moving experience and one of their best movies in years. It is a spiritual sequel to Inside Out, but only in concept, in that it visualizes and rationalizes the irrational concept of a "soul" (rather than our emotions like Inside Out) and takes us on a journey to the other side, the great beyond, to remind us how beautiful our lives really are. Much like Inside Out, also directed by Pete Docter, this film becomes a guide for helping us deal with the weight of grappling with questions like "what does having a soul mean and how do we deal with these thoughts about it?" While focusing on one specific person and his experience, we're still able to learn about ourselves and feel the warm embrace of Joe's story and his own desire for meaning.
Body swap movies have been with us for as long as we can remember. In the original Freaky Friday from 1977, Jodie Foster's character switches places with her mom, played by Barbara Harris. In 18 Again!, it's a grandfather and his grandson. The switch always differs. It can be because of a car accident, magical potion, or a wish cast during the full moon. It can also be a demonic ritual involving a mystical blade – that's what happens in Freaky where a teenage girl switches bodies with a serial killer. This horror comedy, directed by Christopher Landon (of both Happy Death Days), written by Michael Kennedy (Fox's "Bordertown") and Landon, is a bloody feast for every slasher fan, packed with inventive deaths and campy characters.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been very interested in witches – especially on screen. I used to watch "Sabrina the Teenage Witch", "Charmed", and many other shows. Hence, it's no surprise that when I discovered The Craft, I immediately became obsessed. The film from 1996, directed by Andrew Fleming, is, without a doubt, a Halloween must-watch. Which is why I was incredibly happy to hear that Zoe Lister-Jones wrote and directed a follow-up to the events that transpired in the first movie. Directing her second feature, The Craft: Legacy, Zoe Lister-Jones showcases magic, sisterhood, toxic masculinity, and more.
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?