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Entries in Reviews (326)


NYFF: The Forbidden Room

How can you knock the chance to watch Udo Kier have multiple brain surgeries for his derriere dependence? Or the shot to experience the languid afterlife of a few stray mustache hairs? And what about the opportunity to contemplate the oxygen levels of flapjacks? You really can't, and Guy Maddin's latest ode to the ticklish underbelly of film archival offers all of that and more, so very very much much more. The Forbidden Room presents itself as a series of nested-doll silent films, fanning in and out of each other at rhythm's whim, and structurally it's audacious stuff with a trance-like atmosphere. You hear the drums, drums against the air, you feel the drums, you feel the air. There simply is nothing else like this, no other movie experience that will roll you around under and inside of this exact dream.

Perhaps the closest thing I've experienced, the most similar singular sensation, (besides other bits of Maddin's own work, of course) was portions of David Lynch's Inland Empire, but Maddin is Lynch's looser trickster double - Guy will always reach for the fart joke if handy. The Forbidden Room is ultimately too much of a too-much-thing, but also like Inland Empire its mind-numbing length and, uh, girth, is intentional - how better to sand off the edges of your audience's eye-line and sink them truly and completely under your spell? The outside world, like centenarian film-stock, dissolves in acid-hued pools right around you. Outside world? What outside world? We are all film down here. And by the time you stumble out of The Forbidden Room you're probably gonna be seeing inter-titles when you try to speak.

The Forbidden Room -- Teaser 02 from Guy Maddin on Vimeo.


The Forbidden Room opens in extremely limited release in one week



Beige & Slate Blue: Nancy Myer's "The Intern"

Kyle Stevens, author of 
Mike Nichols: Sex, Language and the Reinvention of Psychological Realism is here to review Anne Hathaway's latest.

 The Intern follows 70-year-old and retired Ben, played by Robert de Niro (who has never seemed more like a Bobby). Having enjoyed a happy and prosperous life, Ben now finds himself so uninspired by endless leisure activities that he decides he deserves another go on the merry-go-round. He lands the film’s titular position at a women’s clothing startup created and run by Anne Hathaway’s Jules, who, we are told, is a difficult woman to work for despite all evidence to the contrary. Ben and Jules become friends, as Jules realizes that even an old be-suited, briefcased, handkerchief carrying man—the icon of conservative, 1950s patriarchy—may have worth. Disturbing as this is, especially at first, The Intern gives us a real man-woman friendship—that rarest of on-screen sights, even if it is here rendered “safe” by Ben’s age.

De Niro and Hathaway shine, particularly in a hotel scene that gives them time to plumb the depth of writer and director Nancy Meyers’ characters. Meyers is one of our best character writers, but The Intern’s frenzied workplace setting doesn’t afford us time to fall in love with her creations as we did in, say, Something’s Gotta Give (2003), where Meyers simply put the camera in front of Diane Keaton and let her go. [more...]

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Review: Stonewall (2015)

First screened at TIFF. This article was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad

This one's for Judy!"

… so went a legendary scream (along with brick throwing) as the Stonewall riots began. We can’t know exactly what happened that night, but as the famous saying goes, “when legend becomes fact… print the legend.” Judy Garland, The World’s Greatest Entertainer, had died a week earlier on June 22nd, 1969. Her remains were brought to New York City on June 26th where tens of thousands of people lined up to pay respects, and her funeral, which barred the public, took place on June 27th. The theory goes that the gay community, which had always idolized her (as any sentient human with taste should, then or now) was even more on-edge than usual when the police came to raid Stonewall on the night of June 28th, 1969.

Fact: All hell broke loose. The rest is (much argued about) ‘history’...

Judy grief as combustive fuel is one of the legends at any rate. And one that I heard a lot as a baby-gay whenever people brought up Stonewall. Stonewall was not the true beginning of gay liberation (political groups had been forming since the 1940s to pursue our future rights), but it remains a super handy symbolic one. 

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NYFF: Journey to the Shore

Manuel here kicking off TFE's New York Film Festival coverage. The festival begins today but they've pushed back the "official" opening The Walk (2015) to Saturday due to the Pope's visit.

So let's start with a moody melodrama from Kiyoshi Kurosawa, better known for his successful horror and thriller pictures (Cure, Pulse, Retribution).

Journey to the Shore is a ghost story. This is an economical description of its plot and an acknowledgment of its genre. But it is also, its thematic concern. Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu) is mourning and missing her husband, Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano). He’s been gone for three years. We don’t quite know what’s happened to him and he doesn’t really explain himself when he appears out of nowhere in front of his wife at their apartment. Her prayers, which she’s been dutifully writing down pleading for his return, have perhaps worked. Yusuke then asks his wife to take a trip with him; like all ghosts (for what else could he be?) he has unfinished business to attend to. There’s at first a playfulness to Kurosawa’s setup: well-versed in ghost stories, his audience surely looks for dead giveaways (can he be touched? can others see him?) and much of those first scenes tease these questions out, even at one point offering the suggestion that Mizuki, in her grief, has dreamed this all up.

But that is not really the point. Yuzuke is not quite a ghost but he’s also not quite alive, and the film makes it clear soon enough that this should not be our concern. Instead, the emphasis is on Yusuke and Mizuki’s relationship. As they make their way to the “shore” of the title, Mizuki is offered glimpses of where her husband spent the last three years of his life. This gives the film an episodic feeling and there are some set pieces that work better than others (a stay at a newspaper delivery warehouse is eerie and soulful in the ways the entire film aims for, while a stay near a waterfall where the dead presumably travel to is much too schematic, using another couple to comment on our central pair).

I won’t spoil much else about Kurosawa’s film which is focused, in any case, more on mood than on plot. As I said, it is a ghost story and perhaps even from this all-too-brief summary, you can tell where the film is headed. Ghost stories, after all, are about our inability to move on. That Kurosawa literalizes much of this subtext is precisely the point but ultimately it’s unclear what we’re supposed to get from this stylistic move, especially when the film’s most captivating scenes exist outside of the film’s ghostly parables (a confrontation between Mizuki and one of her husband’s female colleagues is exquisite precisely because it is all subtext, every line laced with hidden implications, every look a tacit accusation).

Gorgeously shot and languidly paced, Kurosawa’s film was, I have to admit, a bit of a drag, its ideas both too blunt and too obscure, and try as it might, it never quite moved me, even though plenty of tears were shed on screen.


Journey to the Shore plays NYFF on Tuesday September 29th and Thursday October 1st.


TIFF Review Index

Let this serve as the official TIFF Review reference guide since the festival closed up shop Sunday night after the Free screening of the People's Choice winner Room. We hope you enjoyed reading along with our reviews. Amir and I saw about 50 movies between us but we'll have to wrap up now as NYFF screenings have already started and Oscar charts MUST be updated and so on.

Fall Film Season is finally upon us!

3 of my favorites of the 29 I saw...

37 Films Reviewed
45 Years British marital drama (Nathaniel)
3000 Nights Palestinian prison drama (Amir)
Anomalisa Existential stop-motion dramedy (Nathaniel)
Arabian Nights: Vol 2 Portugueuse art film with politicial satire vignettes (Nathaniel)
As I Open My Eyes Tunisian music drama (Nathaniel)
Baba Joon Israel's immigrant family drama & Oscar submission (Amir)
Bang Gang French teen sex drama (Nathaniel)
The Clan Argentine true crime drama (Nathaniel)
Closet Monster Canadian LGBT drama (Nathaniel)
Dégradé Palestinian hair salon set female drama (Amir)
Demolition Canadian grief dramedy (Nathaniel)
Desde Allá Venezuelan LGBT Drama & Venice winner (Amir)
Dheepan French Immigrant drama, Palme d'or winner (Amir)
The Dressmaker Australian revenge dramedy (Glenn)
Embrace of the Serpent Black & White Colombian Amazon journey (Nathaniel)
Eva Doesn't Sleep experimental Argentine corpse drama (Nathaniel)
The Family Fang US Dramedy about a performance art family (Nathaniel)
Girls Lost Swedish LGBT Teen Drama (Nathaniel)
Granny's Dancing on the Table Swedish animated/live-action hybrid (Nathaniel)
The Here After Swedish School Drama (Nathaniel)  
Homesick Norwegian incest drama (Nathaniel)
I Saw The Light US musical biopic (Nathaniel)
Invisible Filipino immigrant drama (Nathaniel)
Love French 3D sex drama (Nathaniel)
Much Loved Moroccan docudrama on sex workers in Marrakech (Amir)
Mustang Turkish coming of age drama (Amir)
Phantom Boy French animated adventure (Nathaniel)
Room US family/crime drama, and People's Choice Winner (Nathaniel)
Spotlight, US journalist drama (Nathaniel)
Stonewall US gay history drama (Nathaniel)
Taxi Jafar Panahi's comedy & Berlinale Winner (Amir)
Truth US TV news political drama (Nathaniel) 
Victoria German continuous shot crime drama (Nathaniel)
The Wave Norwegian disaster epic (Nathaniel)
The Witch this year's Sundance horror sensation (Nathaniel)
Youth Showbiz drama (Nathaniel) 

upside down, VICTORIA turned me, inside out. and round and round

Other TIFF Articles
Best Actress Contenders (Nathaniel)
Red Carpet Opening Weekend (Jose)
Red Carpet Post-Venice (Jose)
Victoria's Single Take / Birdman Comparison (Sebastian)
People's Choice and Other Awards (Nathaniel)
Women He's Undressed - The Interview (Jose) 
IndieWire Critics Poll (Nathaniel) 

TIFF Juries of One
I polled the podcasters who stayed the whole fest. Here's what they said...

  Nathaniel R Joe Reid Nick Davis
Film Room Son of Saul Arabian Nights
Director Cirro Guerra, Embrace of Serpent Ridley Scott,
The Martian
Laszlo Nemes,
Son of Saul
Actress Charlotte Rampling,
45 Years
Cate Blanchett,
Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Dheepan
Actor Jacob Tremblay,
Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation Frederick Lau,
Supp. Actress Kate Dickie,
The Witch
Julianne Moore, Maggie's Plan Ghalia Benali, As I Open My Eyes
Supp. Actor Stanley Tucci,
Scoot McNairy, Our Brand is Crisis Abdella Didane,
Much Loved
Craft Contribution Sound,
Son of Saul
The Assassin
  Cinematography, Embrace of Serpent Art Direction,
Son of Saul
 The Danish Girl
Camera Operator, Victoria

TIFF Quickies: 45 Years, Invisible, The Witch, and more...

Five quick takes because otherwise I won't get around to writing about these! Grades are not binding and these are first quick impressions.

45 Years (UK, Andrew Haigh)
That sound you hear over a black screen as the film opens is a slide projector. If it hadn't been for Mad Men's Carousel that long defunct sound might not have been so easy to place. The slides will be important later on but to quote that famous episode:

This is not a spaceship, it's a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards, and it takes us to a place where we ache to go again."

Don Draper's famous monologue could well be a description of this film, too. The past suddenly rushes forward into the present via a letter bearing strange news and the husband (Tom Courtenay) aches too visibly to go back to it as the wife (Charlotte Rampling) slowly begins to reframe their lives between then and now. In his very short film career Andrew Haigh has shown a remarkable skill at romantic drama through the prism of time  (the impactful of the moment and the brevity of a Weekend, and the half century of a marriage through recalled feeling). The film is cooly mounted, not just in its color palette and the weather but in its chill vibe; nothing at all is really happening but everything is being considered and reframed. 45 Years opens on December 23rd - Sundance Selects is apparently trying the exact same play they did for Marion Cotillard last year for Charlotte Rampling. Let's hope it works because she rises exquisitely to this film's challenge. A-

Invisible (The Philippines, Lawrence Fajardo)
The first scene in Invisible focuses on a steam pot that's getting ready to blow as we hear a conversation offscreen. That's a non too subtle way to announce a slow simmering drama ahead but typical of the visual strategy of placing a camera in one place and just watching, even when there's little to see. Fajardo looks at the plights of Filipino immigrants in Japan with both tenderness and hopelessness in these interconnected stories. Aunt Linda () ties the stories together as a landlady who permits illegals to rent her apartments -- she is not an illegal as she has been married for decades to a Japanese man -- but her heart is still with the Filipino immigrant community who she checks in with regularly.

Among the stories is a middle aged gay romance, a sad hustler aging out of good paychecks and starting to look pathetic in the stage shows with his young twink competition, and a hardworking young man who runs into dangerous trouble with a coworker. I really wanted to love this picture. It's heart is in the right place and certain scenes have distinct empathetic pleasures. But the director, who admitted in a Q&A afterwards that he was trying to convey the drudgery of these lives, does that too well. The pace is excruciating in the way only art films can be when they aren't careful about when to hold a shot and when to let one go since there's actually no scene there. B-/C+

As I Open My Eyes (Tunisia, Leyla Bouzin)
I believe this is the first Tunisian film I have seen and I was often at a loss for exactly what was happening. To explain: the plot is easy enough to follow but the politics are not. Set during the Arab Spring this sensitive picture circles a young woman who is due to start medical school but just wants to sing for her band. The band is continually warned that they're in trouble with the police -- but they each have different ideas about what they can get away with -- but listening to their lyrics I could never suss out exactly why they were so threatening. The music is a major selling point and the young star is lovely though I wish the concert scenes and the camerawork had not been so repetitive from a visual standpoint -- the star's innocent but flirtatious smile is totally endearing but there are a thousand closeups of it. The combative but loving mother/daughter relationship which starts as the subplot and gradually takes over is unexpectedly compelling by the melancholy older-but-wiser end. B

Eva Doesn't Sleep (Argentina, Pablo Agüero)
Finally a movie for Argentinian Politics Majors who are also Necrophiliacs!

What did I just watch? I think it was good --- possibly very good though it's unpleasant. This brilliantly titled film was among the most challenging films at the fest. Agüero presents a stylized history of Argentinian politics from the 1950s onward through the much-fetishized dead body of Eva Peron and the various men in charge who are defeated by both her memory and their inability to rid the country of her body. It's rare to see a film so fully embrace the POV of its villains -- the various narrators, dictators, politicans, soldiers and so on are nearly all misogynists who hate Evita (you hear "that bitch" more times than you'll be able to count) and despise the working classes who adore her. Some scenes go on interminably but many of the images have a weirdly hypnotic resonance and willfully begin or end in abstraction from lighting (particularly in Gael Garcia Bernal's segment), color (particularly in the Embalming sequence) or Denis Lavant (particularly in the Denis Lavant scene).


The Witch (Robert Eggers)
If you've managed to stay blind and deaf to this film's content, stay that way. Do not read this blurb because it's best to go in cold. The Witch takes place in the 17th century when a Puritan couple, banished from their village community in New England, seek to begin anew. They build a home and farm in the clearing near a heavy wood for their goats, chickens, and four children. Almost immediately an unthinkable tragedy strikes. Debuting director Robert Eggers is supremely confident with the slow build even though he has the nerve to reveal the culprit immediately and then make you wait. Though some of the scenes are predictable once you're inside them, by then the film already has you frozen in your seat with its commitment to the unfortunate collision of Pious, Ignorant, Paranoid Christians and Terrifying Unfathomable Evil. It's hard to describe how spectacularly creepy and perverse it all feels in the last half hour. What a ballsy debut!  A-/B+

more from TIFF


TIFF: An LGBT Winner "Closet Monster" 

Portions of this piece were originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad

The Toronto International Film Festival closes shop on its 40th year tonight (imagine the stops they'll pull out for the 2025 festival!) and I'm probably on a plane as you're reading this. Given the breakneck pace of seeing so many movies there are more reviews to come from both Amir and Nathaniel (c'est moi). In other words TIFF will have something of a half life here at the blog and the Oscar charts must be updated Monday/Tuesday and so on. With the end of the big three fall fests tonight (Telluride, Venice, TIFF) it's officially on for Awards Season. Cue: marks, gunshot, running campaigning. The first prizes won't roll around until late November / early December of course.

And for many 2015 festival films winning distribution is the only thing worth campaigning for at this moment. If you're into LGBT cinema you should also check out the reviews of Desde Allá and Girls Lost. My favorite LGBT picture of the festival was Canada's own Closet Monster. More after the jump...

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