ENJOY THE MOVIES
Each year, I am incredibly lucky and privileged to return to the spectacular city of Venice in Italy to attend the Venice Film Festival and catch the latest films premiering there. Venice is over and looking back at the line-up, it's time to present my quick picks of my favorite films from Venice 2021. This was my fifth year in a row back to Venice, I even stopped by last year during the pandemic, and I spent every single day at screenings all day. They always show two new films in the morning, along with lots of other screenings in the evening to catch. In total, I watched 28 films at Venice this year, and while it wasn't the best selection, I'm always glad to have the chance to watch them anyway. The fest kicked off with Pedro Almodóvar's latest, Parallel Mothers (watch the trailer), which I didn't care much for. Then continued on for another 10 days, and I was there right up until the end. You probably already know what I flipped for, but let's recap anyway.
Denis Villeneuve specializes in delivering on the seemingly impossible. Over the last 10 years, he's made his English-language debut with one of the best thrillers of the last decade (Prisoners), given us one of the most satisfying-yet-confounding final shots in recent memory (Enemy), redefined how stressful traffic jams are (Sicario), expertly baked our noodles by cutting his sci-fi teeth on adapting Ted Chiang's cerebral short story "Story of Your Life" (Arrival), and given us a delayed sequel to one of the most beloved sci-fi epics and, against all odds, made it the original's equal if not superior (Blade Runner 2049). And yet, adapting Frank Herbert's famously sprawling (some might say tortuously impenetrable) epic sci-fi novel "Dune" may be his most ambitious undertaking to date – especially when considering the space saga previously defeated Jodorowsky and made David Lynch a very unhappy camper back in 1984, denouncing it as "a total failure."
"I will not be silent!" When I sat down to watch Ridley Scott's movie The Last Duel, I was not expecting a two and a half hour sprawling medieval epic with massive battles and intimate drama aplenty. For whatever careless reason, I was initially expecting a small scale drama about men fighting over a woman, culminating in an entertaining duel between two cocky bastards. While there certainly is an entertaining duel, this film is anything but small scale. The Last Duel is one of two new Ridley Scott-directed movies releasing in 2021, the other being House of Gucci, and it showed up at the 2021 Venice Film Festival as a world premiere at the very end of the fest as an out-of-competition screening. It's not really a festival film, but it still entertained everyone anyway. Especially with a runtime of 152 minutes, massive medieval action set pieces galore, and a knights-in-full-armor duel unlike any shown on screen before. Will there be divisive reactions? Most likely… Will there be plenty to debate and argue about? Definitely. But is it at least a good movie? Yes, it certainly is.
A remarkable year for female filmmakers! Sian Heder's CODA won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance, Julia Ducournau's Titane won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and now Audrey Diwan's Happening wins the Golden Lion in Venice. The 78th Venice Film Festival wrapped up this weekend on the sunny Lido island in Venice, and awards were handed out at an awards show complete with masks and empty seats for social distancing. The top prize at Venice is a Golden Lion (in honor of the iconic lion that is the symbol of the city) and it's one of the greatest achievements in cinema along with the Palme d'Or. This year's winner is a French film titled L'événement, which translates to Happening, set in the 1960s following a young woman who attempts to get an abortion despite it being illegal at the time. Not my favorite film of the festival, but it is a brave and important film nonetheless. Kiwi filmmaker Jane Campion also picked up the Best Director award, which she certainly deserves for her new film. The full list of #Venezia78 winners can be seen below.
It's back to Haddonfield we go, where Michael Myers is still not done trick-or-treating… At the end of the 2018 update of Halloween, we left with three generations of the Strode family (Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, and Andi Matichak) as they escaped a burning home with the boogeyman trapped inside, burning to a crisp. Presumably. However, all of Laurie Strode's prepper plans were in vain, as "The Shape" only got his mask singed and didn't meet his demise. Let's cut to the chase: 2021's Halloween Kills is an almighty mixed bag that's ultimately more filler than killer. Director / writer David Gordon Green and his co-writers Danny McBride and Scott Teems clearly have a healthy appreciation for John Carpenter's source material but they still can’t conjure up a satisfying second installment to their planned horror trilogy.
Our modern world is all about hustle, hustle, hustle. Work, work, work. Get out there, bust your ass, never take breaks. That's the only way most people can make money, keep their job, and live their lives in these times. There's no easy way out, especially when there's so many people willing to work and everyone wants a nice job. This French thriller titled À Plein Temps, which translates Full Time, is a story about one woman, a single mother with two young kids, trying to survive a week from hell. It is one of the best films I've seen at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, a riveting and exciting discovery that thrilled me completely. I'm always so glad to stumble across and enjoy films like this, a film that I knew absolutely nothing about until this festival, and haven't heard of before because this is the film's world premiere. But now that I've seen it, I'm happy to rave about it, and hopefully bring some extra attention to it because this film needs to be seen.
Nearly a year after it originally was due to be released, Edgar Wright's Last Night in Soho finally makes its bow playing in the Out of Competition section at the 2021 Venice Film Festival. Thomasin Mackenzie stars as Eloise, a budding modern-day fashion student who moves from Cornwall to London; there, she is quickly ostracized by her chic "gap yaaah" London College of Fashion peers who cruelly label her "code beige". Fleeing student housing and finding a bedsit rented to her by the kind-but-no-nonsense Miss Collins (the late Diana Rigg, to whom the film is dedicated), she is soon dreamily transported back to 60s Soho. During these lucid nocturnal trips, she meets what seems to be her suppressed id / alter-ego, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a confident singer starting a relationship with smooth bequiffed operator Jack (Matt Smith), who promises to help her achieve cabaret stardom. But the barriers separating past and present soon begin to collapse and the glamorous feel of a time that Eloise idolises starts to open some much darker doors.
I really want to talk about this film, there's so much to discuss, but I also can't really say anything about it. I haven't been able to get this film out of my head since I first watching it a few days before at the 2021 Venice Film Festival. Sundown is the latest feature written & directed by acclaimed Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco, who shocked audiences in Venice last year with his revolutionary Mexican thriller New Order (aka Nuevo Orden - watch the trailer). This year he is back in Venice with something else new that feels like it's connected to New Order but is an entirely different story. However, I will say that between New Order and this film, I am SO HERE for Franco's era of filmmaking about wealth and its dominance over us. These films mess with my head so much, because there's no clear explanation or side being taken. They challenge me in surprising ways, because they're so intriguing. Both films are complex examinations of the power of money.
"I hope your friend's wild horse was never tamed." Bravo! Bravo! This is the kind of "F you" to the Royal Family that I absolutely love to see. Spencer is Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín's latest English-language feature, similar in many ways to his film Jackie about JFK's wife Jackie O. Kennedy in the minutes and days following his assassination. But this time the focus is on the beloved Princess Diana, formerly known as Diana Spencer before she was married. It takes place entirely at a sprawling manor during the Christmas holiday in 1991, just before she announces her divorce from Prince Charles and makes a plan to leave the Royals and get her life back. And her freedom back. And her dignity back. And her sanity back. She has been missing that since joining them and it's clearly suffocating. Literally, as they force her to wear tight-fitting dresses all the time and stuff herself with decadent Christmas food. And figuratively, as she comes to realize how oppressive and controlling the Royal Family is and how she just has no freedom to be herself anymore.
Adapted from the Elena Ferrante novel of the same name, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal makes her feature directorial debut with this feature film The Lost Daughter, which first premiered at the 2021 Venice Film Festival playing in the main competition. And it's one of my favorite discoveries at the festival this year. The Lost Daughter is a staggeringly intelligent film that challenges the typical ideas of family and how wonderful children are by telling a story about bad mothers. Not just one of them, but a few of them, in fact. I honestly can't believe this is Maggie Gyllenhaal's directorial debut, it feels like the work of a director with five or six films under their belt already. Featuring astute, assured filmmaking – it's a refreshing cinematic creation because its a film that challenges viewers, with an exceptionally intellectual script dealing with layers upon layers of psychological concerns and questions about what it means to be a parent and how hard that job is.
DUNE! Shout it from the rooftops!! The time has finally arrived. After years of waiting, years of attempted adaptations, years of anticipation, Denis Villeneuve's contemporary version of Frank Hebert's seminal sci-fi classic Dune has finally landed. And it is glorious. It is everything I was hoping for and more. The Matrix sequels premiered at film festivals (Cannes 2003), Star Wars movies premiered at film festivals (Cannes 2002 / Cannes 2018), Lord of the Rings premiered at a film festivals (Cannes 2001), now it's Dune's turn. Dune unquestionably deserves to be at the Venice Film Festival, where the movie is world premiering before launching in theaters (and on HBO Max) this October. Film festivals are a part of cinema history, and Dune is about to make history once again. Denis Villeneuve's Dune is jaw-dropping incredible, a blow-you-away experience that truly captures the inter-planetary scale & splendor of the epic story of Atreides and Arrakis.
Award-winning Kiwi filmmaker Jane Campion returns with her first feature film in 12 years after Bright Star in 2009. The Power of the Dog is Campion's latest, a rough 'n tumble dusty western set in Montana (filmed in Australia) about a cowboy and his simple life on his ranch. At its core, the film is an astounding study of toxic masculinity and the effect it has on everyone else, beyond just the tough men who have grown into this culture. Campion adapts the novel of the same name written by Thomas Savage, telling a story the works as both a riveting big screen tale of cowboys, and a complex examination of the damaging power of this brutal toxicity. The film premiered early on at the 2021 Venice Film Festival and is also playing at every other major film fest this fall: Telluride, Toronto, and New York (watch the trailer here). I loved it through and through, even though I'm admittedly not the biggest fan of westerns, yet this won me over completely.