"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'" (–Fred Rogers) The people who give everything to help others when things are bad are the true heroes of this world. By now, most people are familiar with the war in Syria and the atrocities occurring there. Yet it's still important, for the sake of history above all, that we document what's happening in the Middle East and show how regular people are trying to survive. Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad is without a doubt the best Syrian filmmaker working today, and his latest is an extraordinary work of cinema. The Cave is Fayyad's follow-up to his Academy Award-nominated doc film Last Men in Aleppo, and it's an unforgettable, affecting documentary that deserves our time and attention.
Wow wow wow. What a film…! I don't know too much about Australia's history nor do I follow the country's current events, so going into this film I wasn't sure what to expect. I didn't know anything about the story it was telling. And there's nothing like hearing a story for the first time: learning about all that has happened, the ups and downs, and the truths about what is really going on. The Australian Dream is a wonderful doc that focuses on an Australian sportsman named Adam Goodes. He plays the rugby-meets-cricket sport called "Australian rules football", run by the AFL (the "Australian Football League"), and he is descendant from Aboriginal natives. The film tells his story and in doing so confronts latent Australian racism head on. And man oh man is it an absolutely fantastic film. I was moved to tears by this, multiple times near the end.
Perhaps best known as the writer & director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, filmmaker Rian Johnson got his big start in 2005 with the neo-noir mystery Brick. A hard-boiled detective story in the vein of The Maltese Falcon, Brick won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and paved the way for his sophomore effort, 2008's The Brothers Bloom. The caper comedy-drama, about two sibling con artists, was inspired by Bogdanovich's Paper Moon and David Mamet's heist-thriller, House of Games. For his third film, Johnson continued taking innovative approaches to familiar genres with the twisty, multi-layered 2012 sci-fi Looper. Now, the filmmaker is paying homage to the works of Agatha Christie with Knives Out, a black comedy whodunnit influenced by classic mystery films like Murder on the Orient Express and The Mirror Crack'd.
In 2011, Mike Flanagan wrote, edited, and directed his first feature, the low-budget indie horror Absentia. After the success of his Kickstarter-funded indie film, Flanagan got the opportunity to adapt his own 2006 short, Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan, as a feature. The Blumhouse-produced Oculus made $45 million at the box office on a $5 million budget, signifying Flanagan as a unique up-and-coming voice in the genre. Then in 2016, the Salem, Massachusetts native cemented himself as a genuine horror auteur with the releases of Hush, Before I Wake, and Ouija: Origin of Evil, all three of which he wrote, edited, and directed. A year later, Flanagan was called up to the majors, first adapting the Stephen King novel Gerald's Game as a Netflix Original Film and, shortly thereafter, the critically acclaimed 10-episode series The Haunting of Hill House, based on Shirley Jackson's 1959 book. Now, the seasoned filmmaker takes on Doctor Sleep, an adaptation of King's 2013 novel of the same name, which is a sequel to his 1977 bestseller, The Shining.
There's nothing like a Benson & Moorhead film. These two indie filmmakers have been working together since 2012, launching with their first feature film Resolution. They followed that up with Spring in 2014, then The Endless in 2017, both excellent features. And now they're ready with another new film - this one titled Synchronic. Out of all of their films, this one is a bit more "commercial" than their others, but still as intricately crafted. At some point we just need to start admitting that Benson & Moorhead are some of the best sci-fi / genre filmmakers cooking up some of the most original projects these days, I mean goddamn these guys rule. Everything they make is outstanding. If you can see Synchronic without knowing anything else about it, go see it that way first. It is always the best way to experience every Benson & Moorhead film.
Nothing like a good ol' fashioned monster movie. After Midnight is the latest film written and co-directed by filmmaker Jeremy Gardner (of The Battery and Tex Montana Will Survive!), produced by fellow genre filmmakers Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead. This collaboration, and the resulting low budget horror flick, feels a bit like the early days of the Duplass Brothers. I remember seeing their early films (like Baghead in 2008) at the Sundance Film Festival. I just wanted them to keep making more, because even though they didn't make the best films, there was a kind of remarkable creativity within their filmmaking. The way they made all these fun films on a tiny budget, using bland throwaway locations and not much else besides their own ingenuity to tell a story on the screen. Sometimes that's all you need, as is the case with After Midnight.
Each year we get to see a new selection of films criticizing modern society, governments, and everything else wrong with the way things work. But only a few of these films deserve to be crowned and called the crème de la crème of cinema. The Platform is the latest film worthy of the label, a conceptually innovative film like Saw and Cube before it that has already instantly cemented itself in halls of cinema history playing to rave reviews back-to-back at the Toronto Film Festival (where it won the Midnight Madness Audience Award), at Fantastic Fest, and finally at the Sitges Film Festival. For those wondering – yes, it does live up to the hype, and then some. But don't expect some big, flashy, eclectic film – this contained horror drama is as minimal as Saw and Cube, taking place entirely inside the barren rooms of an insidious vertical prison called The Pit.
Just when you think, "they've done it all", someone will come up with some other crazy-as-shit idea and turn it into a movie. The next evolution in the wild action comedy subgenre is a movie titled Guns Akimbo, this time coming from New Zealand (though it was filmed partially in Germany in addition to New Zealand). Guns Akimbo is the second feature film from a New Zealand visual effects artist-turned-filmmaker named Jason Lei Howden, following up his debut film Deathgasm from 2015. The crazy-as-shit concept in this one involves a random guy waking up one day with guns bolted to both of his hands - he can't remove them or do anything because they're drilled right into his bones. But, why? What happens next? Will he survive? You'll find out in Guns Akimbo, which is as totally insane and as totally entertaining as that concept sounds.
In the tall grass lurks monsters, demons, horrors aplenty – but scariest of all is a fear of confusion, unknown forces, an inability to figure out where to go or what to do or how to escape. I've been a big fan of director Vincenzo Natali ever since discovering Cube, and while he did not work on either of its two sequels, I've been hoping one day he might return again, as it really is his original idea. An alternative, however, is this film - In the Tall Grass. Adapted from the novella written by Stephen King and Joe Hill, this frightening film is a thrilling stuck-in-one-location horror. Somewhere in the middle of America, and endless field of tall grass lures unsuspecting victims inside. Once you're in, you can never get out. The grass tricks everyone into hearing sounds/voices that aren't there, making them go crazy as they desperately try to find a way out.
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.