ENJOY THE MOVIES
Acclaimed, iconic Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou is ready to release his 21st feature film since his debut as a filmmaker in the 1980s. Titled Shadow, the film is another martial arts epic yet also a drama, based on the Three Kingdoms era in Chinese history. Over the years, Zhang Yimou has won two BAFTA Film Awards (for Raise the Red Lantern in 1991 and To Live in 1994), but never an Academy Award or Golden Globe. He still keeps making films year after year, working mostly in China nowadays, though still trying his hand at a Hollywood blockbuster (The Great Wall) in addition to a war-time drama (The Flowers of War). Shadow premiered at the Venice Film Festival this year, and also played at the Toronto Film Festival. I had a chance to interview the legendary Zhang Yimou during his visit to the festivals, and I am honored I could meet him.
India is a place unlike any other. Many films have taken us there before, and many films have shown us how venturing into India can change someone's life. Maya is yet another new film that takes us to India, telling another story about a life being changed. Maya is the latest feature from French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve, and it's a more low-key, lighter film than her past work. It still has some weight to it, and it still has her typical effortless freshness and intimacy, but it lacks more substance beyond the basic romance story we witness first-hand. It's good, just not great, which actually falls in line with the film itself. The film feels a lot like a moment of respite, an escape from the chaos and intensity and brutality of our dangerous modern society, to a breezy, slow-paced, meditative trip to Goa and other cities, reigniting the eternal flame of love.
Space. The final frontier. This is the story of the starship Aniara. If you know me, you know I'm a huge sci-fi geek. Especially when it comes to space travel, and anything involving space and planets and spaceships. I discovered a film at the Toronto Film Festival this year titled Aniara, a Swedish sci-fi film adapted from Harry Martinson's epic poem of the same name. This astounding sci-fi film is set in the near future and is about a big spaceship taking colonists from Earth to Mars, usually a three week journey for batches of lazy humans. But it gets irreversibly knocked off course, causing the passengers to descend into madness once they begin to accept their fate: drifting into the void of space. This film is AMAZINGLY good, perhaps the best indie sci-fi I've seen since Arrival, perfectly executed and invigorating in its rigorous sci-fi storytelling.
This documentary is currently the one film that has made me tear up the most this year so far. The Biggest Little Farm is a tiny little documentary that is not so tiny in reality. The film profiles the first seven years of a traditional farm that a couple decided to start in Southern California, called Apricot Lane Farms. I had no idea what I was getting into with this film, but from the first few minutes I knew I would love it. And it just kept getting more and more amazing. The film opens with the line "it all started because of a promise we made to a dog." Not just any dog, but a dog they saved and adopted, with the most stunning eyes. They promised Todd they would never leave him, but after the neighbors complained about his barking, they had to move. So they decided to move out, quit their jobs, and attempt to grow and maintain a biodynamic farm.
Lord Almighty, Barry Jenkins is a master. If Beale Street Could Talk is the third film written & directed by filmmaker Barry Jenkins (following Medicine for Melancholy and Moonlight previously), this time he's loosely adapting James Baldwin's 1974 novel of the same name. This film is pure bliss. It is love, it's the feeling and emotions and actions of love turned into celluloid and projected in front of our very eyes for us to fall in love with in turn. It's a gorgeous film, visually and emotionally, and I didn't want it to end. That's the best thing about it - it's a slice of life taking us back to the 70s, but giving us a love story so rich and so real, that you want to keep following them wherever they may go. Much like Linklater's Before series, the love on display here is something we can all be inspired by - no matter your race or sexuality or upbringing.
There's a quote in this film that sums up everything about how mind-blowing this feat is. "People who know a little bit about climbing, they're like, 'oh he's totally safe.' And then people who really know exactly what he's doing, are freaked out." Free Solo is the exhilarating new documentary film made by Jimmy Chin & E. Chai Vasarhelyi, the same team that made the mountain climbing doc Meru a few years ago. This time they profile an American climber named Alex Honnold, who was the first person ever to free solo climb El Capitan. Meaning he did not use any ropes or any safety gear, he just went up the rock face entirely on his own. If he made any mistake while climbing, he would be dead. But he didn't make any mistakes, he pulled it off. Iit's beyond incredible, a legendary feat in climbing history, which they capture on camera in this doc.
"It takes courage to change people's hearts." Now this is a wonderful film. So wonderful. Green Book is a comedic drama from Peter Farrelly, one half of the comedy directing duo the Farrelly Brothers, making his solo debut. This lovable road trip film is about a friendship between two individuals from "opposite sides of the track", as they say. Based on the trailer, I had a good feeling this might be something special, and it's as memorable as it looks from that footage. Green Book is a bit more mainstream than most films that play at festivals, but it's still an outstanding film that's full of heart, good humor, and honesty. I really loved this film, so much. It left me in such a good mood, and I've been thinking about it non-stop since the screening.
Xavier Dolan is back! The Quebecois filmmaker premiered his latest film, titled The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, at the Toronto Film Festival and it's one of the most exceptional features of his career. Nearly perfect from start to finish. Starring Kit Harington as a closeted gay actor named John F. Donovan, the film is a story about authenticity and self-love, and how hard it is to achieve this. But with a little bit of hope, and friendship, and inspiration, and honesty, it's possible. Dolan seems to dig very deep this time to give us an extremely personal story, inspired by his own sexuality, experiences growing up, and a letter he wrote to Leonardo DiCaprio when he was a kid. It's his best work in years and already one of my favorite Dolan films (my top is still Mommy). I'm already looking forward to revisiting it, and getting more into the story, hoping it has a different impact on me the next time I see it - as is always the case with Dolan's films.
The opening shots of Widows set a precedent for how intense the film will be. Intimate shots of Viola Davis' character Veronica kissing her husband quickly cut to gunfire and car chase shots as a group of criminals tries to escape. It's extremely intense, and a slap-in-the-face wake up everyone who sits down to watch this outstanding film. Widows is the latest film made by acclaimed Oscar-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen (of Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave) and it's his first "big" film made at a Hollywood studio. Thankfully, McQueen doesn't seem to be phased, maintaining his edge and focus without losing control and being forced to make something a bit more watered down and accessible. This heist thriller is as much about Chicago as it is about the widows of a handful of criminal men, who work together to pull off a heist to clear their debt.
"We are a Go for launch." It's time for lift off. The Venice Film Festival begins tomorrow (August 29th) with the world premiere of Damien Chazelle's new film First Man, his follow-up to the Oscar-winning musical La La Land (which played at Venice & Telluride). This kicks off the annual "fall movie season", beginning with three major festivals back-to-back: the Venice Film Festival (in its 75th year), the Telluride Film Festival (in its 45th year), and the Toronto Film Festival (in its 43rd year). For cinephiles and Oscar pundits, this is always the most exciting time of the year. The best films are usually waiting to premiere, or be discovered in the mix of all the madness, and it's finally time to get into them. Time to see them, analyze them, debate them, and revel in their glory (or their failure). The line-ups this year look stellar, I can't wait.