Music is a remarkably powerful stimulus, capable of transmitting the greatest emotions and stories across space and time. A number of excellent films this year have shown the power of music (most notably Portrait of a Lady on Fire - read our review). Another one joining that list is The Song of Names, which is indeed about "The Song of Names", as the title indicates, from World War II. The film is described as an "emotional detective story spread over two continents and a half century", though that's not really the best description for it. The Song of Names is a moving Holocaust memorial film about a Polish Jewish violin prodigy named Dovidl who suddenly disappears in London just before a major concert, then is found again 35 years later by his British friend, living a much quieter life. It's good! But it's mostly bogged down by formulaic storytelling.
There's no place like old Hollywood… Zeroville is actor / writer / director James Franco's latest cinematic endeavor, a feature film adapted from Steve Erickson's novel of the same name, a dream-like story that starts out in 1969 and drifts into the 1970s in Hollywood. Franco's film is as wacky and as weird as expected, especially considering James Franco has been churning out films (as a director) by the dozen over the last few years, and yet none of them seem to make any real impact. The Disaster Artist being one of the few exceptions. Has anyone seen any of his last two - Future World or The Pretenders? Since it was playing at the San Sebastian Film Festival, I took a chance and went to see Zeroville and you know, it's not that bad. It doesn't deserve the hate it's getting (in other reviews) but there's nothing really that interesting in it, either.
Awww wow, The Specials is really something wonderful. Instantly one of my favorite films of the year. The Specials is the latest feature from writers / directors Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano, the same two French filmmakers who made the hit film The Intouchables a few years back. This originally premiered as the Closing Night film at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, but I missed it there. I finally caught up with it at the San Sebastian Film Festival and oh my goodness, I love it with all my heart. A spectacular film across the board, delivering in every sense - profound performances, engaging storytelling, energetic music, sincere moments of empathy and understanding. It's a film with a hard-hitting message (that we must take care of every last human – especially those that society rejects), yet one of the finest examples of a message film in years. It will move you to tears and motivate you to make more of an effort to support more people.
Are humans naturally obedient? What does it take for someone to realize they're being led on, fed nonsense to keep them in line. How do they break free from the group mentality? These are just a few of the questions that this intriguing film brings up. The Other Lamb is the latest film made by acclaimed Polish filmmaker Malgorzata Szumowska, her first entirely English language feature following her Berlin Film Festival hit Mug from 2018 (which won her a Grand Jury Prize Silver Bear). Her style is on full display this time, telling a dark fairy tale-esque story about an group of only women living as a small congregation on their own in a forest. There is one man who leads them all, known as the "Shepherd", who refers to them as his wives and daughters. It's eerie, but that is the point. The film criticizes the patriarchal society we live in, and religion.
"Who cares if we can't see any sunshine? I want you more than any blue sky." The latest feature film made by acclaimed Japanese animation filmmaker Makoto Shinkai (of the beloved Your Name before this) is called Weathering With You (originally Tenki no ko) and it has been playing at film festivals after first opening in Japan earlier this summer. I just caught up with it and I have been looking forward to seeing how he would follow up Your Name. There are a few truly spectacular sequences in this film, which alone make it worth watching. I love Makoto Shinkai's style and animation and super cute storytelling. But this is one strange parable about weather and has such a peculiar message that I'm not entirely sure what to make of it.
Sometimes a movie doesn't need to do anything extraordinary, but just be "ok". Sometimes you see a movie and after 15 minutes you just know that your dad will love it. At this year's Toronto Film Festival, that movie was Ford v. Ferrari, a movie that seems engineered and assembled by a committee of dads to be seen and enjoyed by dads everywhere. Director James Mangold takes on the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1966, more specifically, Ford's bid to build a race car worthy of beating the undefeated champion, Ferrari. We follow Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a former race car driver who had already won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959, being the rare American to do so. Sadly, his career comes to a halt due to a weak heart valve.
What a strange, strange film this is. Egyptian-Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan has returned the festival circuit again with another peculiar feature film, this new one titled Guest of Honour (the extra "u" still included because this is the Canadian title and they use British English up there) which premiered at the Venice Film Festival. The film focuses on a father-daughter relationship and the various events that have lead them to the situation they're currently in - the daughter is in prison, the father is lonely and frustrated. And despite his attempts to secure her early release, she isn't interested and intends to stay in prison. It's an odd study in guilt, various layers of it and different characters that must deal with it, but it never amounts to much. And the filmmaking feels so slight and unexciting that it's just more puzzling than satisfying to watch.
How much of the art world is bullshit? All of it? None of it? Some of it? At the beginning of the year, we had the funky art world satire Velvet Buzzsaw to make us wonder about the validity of art, and now at the end of the year we have The Burnt Orange Heresy. This film is much more serious, not at all a satire, with only a few drops of levity and much more drama. Along with heaps of philosophical discussion about art and what really matters and whether any of it is real, or if it's all just a bunch of bullshit yet everyone loves it anyway. The film opens with a thought-provoking presentation by the main character about the importance of criticism, which by the end also completely breaks down art criticism as a nonsensical job that can build up or tear down art that is truly separate (in its truth or purity or originality) than what others say about it.
Sometimes horror films don't have much horror, and sometimes dramas can be just as horrifying as horror films. Sometimes films defy labels and don't fit into any one genre. Pelican Blood is a good example of all of this, a film that presents itself as a challenging straight-forward drama about a woman adopting children. But there's something much more sinister going on within, and it reveals itself part of the way through. This film is the ultimate "and you thought your child was evil, wait until you see this one" joke, but it also has something beautiful to offer - an earnestness that separates it from all the other horror films that integrate similar concepts about evil children. Pelican Blood (originally titled Pelikanblut) is a German film from filmmaker Katrin Gebbe, and it's one of the most unique discoveries at the Venice Film Festival this year.
A sweet, heartfelt, smart tale of young first love. Babyteeth is the feature directorial debut of Australian filmmaker Shannon Murphy, after making a number of shorts and TV series previously. The film earned a spot playing in the main competition line-up at the Venice Film Festival, and it damn well deserves that spot. Babyteeth is a major player, one of my favorite films of the festival. I can certainly admit that I loved it - easily the highlight of this second half of the festival for me. It's way better than I was expecting (watch the first trailer), with one of the best upbeat soundtracks of songs out of any film here. It's not exactly anything groundbreaking, but the way it's presented is so compelling and all the characters are wonderfully complex.
Can laughter change the world? Can happiness save a life? Those are the kind of questions that might come to mind while watching this documentary, and at times, you could actually believe the answer is yes. 45 Seconds of Laughter is a doc film directed by actor Tim Robbins. He takes his acting group called The Actors Gang inside of a high security prison in California, running a week-long workshop where prisoners participate in a group in various theater / acting exercises. We've seen films like this before, and performing theater inside prisons isn't new, but it is always moving to watch. There's just something remarkably stirring about seeing prisoners, perpetually unhappy and angry, suddenly finding happiness and making tiny steps forward. It reminds us once again how the incredible power of positivity can be as a great force for change.
Welcome to Steven Soderbergh's history class. Today we will be learning about the history of money, and how our obsession with it has gotten seriously out of hand. Steven Soderbergh's latest feature film, titled The Laundromat, is an ingenious social commentary based around the Panama Papers and the terrifying truths they revealed. Following in the footsteps of The Big Short, this fourth-wall-breaking comedy / drama / satire / educational film / cautionary tale features a brilliant script written by Scott Z. Burns (of The Informant!, Contagion, Side Effects, The Mercy, The Report) that borrows heavily from Adam McKay's film in style and structure. It's essentially a film about the despicable men behind Mossack Fonseca, but it shows us a number of parables to remind us all just how much trickery, greed, corruption, and bullshit is out there.