With Yesterday, a rom-com Trojan-horsed in a concept comedy that imagines a world where Paul, John, George and Ringo never formed The Beatles, Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) has allowed the musical catalog of that formative group to do most of the dramatic heavy lifting. If you’re up for a poppy movie about Beatles music that co-stars Ed Sheeran, this is the movie for you. Otherwise – yeah, probably best to not pay it much mind. Using just enough of Boyle’s trademark flair behind the camera to simulate a modicum of visual intrigue, Yesterday deeply fails its quasi-sci-fi conceit by treating the intriguing parallel universe concept as mere window dressings for a lukewarm romance between struggling artist Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) who strikes it big exploiting his knowledge of Beatles music, and his DIY manager Ellie (Lily James). The movie earns good graces when its blazing through the band’s discography and seeing the world at large react to their music for the first time but the rom-com-heavy second half drags it all off the rails with Oscar-nominated screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually) succumbing to one tired, obnoxious cliché after another in increasingly painful manner. (C) Read More
As if struck with rigor mortis, Jim Jarmusch’s take on zombies is a DOA satire of sorts, one that’s much too self-aware for its own good. Foregoing the traditional scares of an undead creeper, Jarmusch swings and misses trying to put the “dead” in deadpan comedy. Even his pairing of stars Adam Driver and Bill Murray remains something that sounds better on paper than actually works in this context, their synchronized low-energy, unfazed drift through the world of the undead unable to get much of a rise. Read More
Featuring a star-making turn from Jessie Buckley, Wild Rose follows a recently released convict/songbird with Nashville dreams. Eyes will be superglued to Buckley who brings ragged life to a complicated deadbeat momma aspiring to be a country star in Tom Harper’s somewhat familiarly-written film that examines the shoals of starry-eyed aspirations and harsh real world realities. Fastened with warm, heartfelt soundtrack (performed with spellbinding beauty by Buckley) and with a solid foothold in semi-charmed redemption, Wild Rose is a white trash crowdpleaser that manages something new to say in a routine ‘star is born’ subgenre. (B) Read More
Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) is an evolving director. Shifting the focal point of trauma from monsters that lay in wait beneath your bed to the sociopolitical horrors of our collective pasts (colonial-era Tasmania is the setting here), Kent tells a rape-revenge western that explores the loss of power and the power of loss. The story of a woman hunting the man who raped her and killed her husband and baby is well over two hours but there wasn’t a moment that I was not glued to the screen. Kent’s second is a distinctively difficult feature, savagely blunt but not also without its nuance and beauty. Aisling Franciosi and Baykali Ganambarr weave understated human compassion into characters separated by entrenched racism, with the Irish convict and aboriginal tracker banded together to seek retribution. Striking cinematography from Radek Ladczuk casts the often brutal imagery in gorgeous natural lights; luminous and ruminant, even through the darkness. (A-) Read More
Fight Club by way of Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster), Riley Stearns’ screed on “might is right” toxic masculinity is a giggly black comedy that cowers down a twisty-turny rabbit hole. Jesse Eisenberg plays a neurotic weakling (shocker) who gets mugged and turns to karate to boast his manliness and self-confidence via the transformative power of foot punches and heavy metal. Importing the welcome strangeness of producers David and Nathan Zellner (Kumiko the Treasure Hunter), The Art of Self-Defense is hysterically dark, niche cinema, a deadpan mockery of the sanctity of life and the sacredness of death. It kicks ass. (A-) Read More
Curmudgeonly talk show host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson, essential here) has lost her edge over the years, her ratings have followed. So begins the glow up of “old crone gets new voice” that is Late Night. When amateur “diversity hire” Molly (Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the screenplay) is given a seat on Newbury’s white-male-dominant writing staff, the unlikely pair develop a working relationship that promises professional rebirth and a deeper understanding of modern entertainment tastes – to middling, and often safe, effect. The enjoyable, if forgettable, comedy from director Nisha Ganatra doesn’t have a lot of tooth to bare, nor much bold to its protest, and its dramatic impact is dulled accordingly. The film functions much like late night television, lulling watchers into an amused (if hardly impassioned) trance; momentarily entertaining but rabid for whatever upcoming slice of disposal entertainment. (B-) Read More
Jillian Bell is off to the races as an overweight and under-motivated millennial living in the Big Apple who decides to turn her life around through the transformative power of running. The seriocomic account of seizing power from dark instincts is laced with the ripe reality of self-destruction and lifted by the hopefulness of finding self-love. Writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo structures the film as Brittany’s rom-com with herself and Bell, who packed on (and lost) quite a bit of weight for the role, is simply fantastic delivering a marathon of darkly-tinged comedy and uplifting pathos. (B) Read More
In their 45th year, the Seattle International Film Festival continues their trend of picking up the scraps from SXSW declaring their opening night film to be Sword of Trust from Seattle native Lynn Shelton. The film received mostly positive marks at its Austin, TX debut where critics commented on its performances and timely political bent, though many rewarded the film with their approval rather than outright admiration. The full press release from the Seattle International Film Festival follows. Read More
The Artist was an unprecedented film. Movies don’t come in black and white anymore. And no one would think to make a silent black-and-white film in 2010.
When you chat with the brains behind the film, it makes sense. These are incredibly French, reserved folk who speak in hushed tones. I’ve spent a lot of time in France (my Grandma lives in Paris) and I’ve grown up all around their culture. For me, Paris is the Seattle of Europe: people are a little cold and abrasive, but witty and intelligent. The French tend to keep to themselves, but they’re warm at heart.
Michel Hazanavicius and Berenice Bejo started collaborating back in 2006 when she starred in Michel’s OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies alongside Jean Dujardin. Since then, they’ve made three more films together and along the way won plenty of awards for their 2011 silent black-and-white The Artist — including Oscars for Best Feature and Best Director for Michel. Both are incredibly talented, humble, quiet and fairly unflappable — Michel wasn’t impressed at all when I told him that he went to school just 20 kilometers from my Grandma’s apartment. They’re married with two kids and the fame doesn’t seem to have gotten to their heads. I got a chance to chat with them both (in French) at SIFF Cinema about their lives after the Oscars, their upcoming film The Search (a remake of the 1948 movie about war-torn Chechnya), and their filmmaking progress.
Q: First off, how have your lives changed since The Artist?
Berenice Bejo: Well, it certainly helps assure producers and directors, so there are more offers for projects. Of course, when you make a successful film, you become more ‘bankable.’
Michel Hazanavicius: Like she said, people — financiers — trust us more, so we’re a little freer to make films that aren’t necessarily block-busters. Certain people like you better than they did before and some less, but in our day-to-day lives nothing has really changed. [Winning awards] doesn’t give you talent, things don’t get any easier.
Q: But things must be at least a little easier…
MH: People trust you more, yeah.
Q: Is that why you both took on the challenge of making The Search?
Q: So why did you choose to do this film over maybe something else?
MH: Well it’s a true story that took place close to [France], in Chechnya. 300,000 people were killed from all across the continent. I wanted to do something, I wasn’t exactly sure how or what, but voilá, it’s a movie that’s enormously impossible to make and it’s really the Oscar that made it possible for it to be right cinematographically. Ultimately, I was just really interested in this film.
Q: Bérénice, how was it making The Search?
BB: For me, as an actress, to make an engaging film with a point-of-view that involves tragic events that are relatively recent, I think it’s a great thing to be involved with. As someone who has the potential to help people other than just themselves, I was happy to make this film along with Michel.
Q: Do you guys like working together?
MH: [laughs] Absolutely.
Q: What about Jean Dujardin, was there not a role for him in the film?
MH: Jean is immensely talented and I’d always love to have him in any movie I make. At the same time, we’ve worked on four projects together: two OSS 117 movies, The Artist and a recent project called The Players. I think it’s always good to diversify who you work with and what you’re working on.
Q: I remember the first time I saw OSS 117 was with my Grandma in Paris. It’s really interesting because — well, to be honest —I hadn’t seen The Artist until I heard we’d be doing the interview. I never would have made the connection that you both were involved in the two films. OSS, The Artist, and now The Search are such different movies with different themes. Why have you chosen to make such a broad range of films?
MH: Well, some nights you want to eat chicken, others you might be craving fish. For me, with films it’s the same way. I love comedy. I think it’s a really, really noble genre and I’ll certainly make more comedies in the future. But, I also have other desires. Just because you want to eat chicken one night doesn’t mean you want it for dinner every night. I’m lucky enough to be able to follow my various passions.
Q: Bérénice is it different as an actress?
BB: There are different rules in every genre. When you make a comedy, I think there’s a rhythm to it that’s vastly different from when you’re acting in a realist war film. There are slight differences, but the principal is always the same: to understand your character. You have to be subtle — you don’t want to try too hard to be funny to make people laugh when you’re making a comedy, and you don’t want to cry or try to make your audience cry when you’re making a drama. The most important thing is to just be the character, and if you do the job right people will laugh or cry.
Just like Michel, I like to watch comedies and movies that are a little more dramatic, and I really enjoy the opportunity to make both instead of just being categorized as an actress that only works in certain types of films.
Q: Do you guys ever want to try swapping roles: Michel working as an actor and Bérénice as a director?
BB: No, no.
MH: I’ve been an actor on two different occasions recently, working for friends in some small roles. It was fun but to work as an actor you have to be really invested in it. I’ve done it but it wasn’t serious. It’s not something I would want to do full-time.
Q: Michel, I’ve watched some of your interviews and I’ve noticed — primarily when you’re interviewed in English — that you like to say that certain aspects involving a film aren’t “your job.” As a Director, what is your job, what’s your goal in your work?
MH: As a director, my job is to be the writer and to direct. Beyond that, I think my goal is to tell stories and to be in charge so that everyone who is working to tell this story tells it the same way. My work is kind of as “decorator.” I make sure the cinematographer and the musician are on the same page, and the actors and the crew all work together so that everyone can do their job. It’s almost like an orchestra, where everyone has to play together. Everyone has to have the same tempo.
Q: I haven’t seen The Search yet, but at least in the trailer it seems that a large part of the film is in English. The Artist was acted in English as well. Why choose English over your native French?
MH: In fact it’s for the realism of the story and the characters. The Artist takes place in a specific time period, the 1920’s, and I realized that there were certain words that were universally familiar and the audience could recognize in English. In French, it’s not the same. We chose English over French because it was best for the image, for the film. You can’t have a character in America who’s speaking French.
In The Search, she speaks English and French equally, because English is the international language. When you’re working with Italians or Danes or Spaniards or Russians, everyone speaks English, but it’s an international English: not an American English or a British one. It’s an English everyone can understand.
Q: I want to be like Ben Affleck: I want to act, I want to write, I want to direct — I’m just not pretty enough. But it’s really hard to go from pre-production and the idea you have in your mind to actually making it, and then to come out with a finished product that is like what you originally intended. What’s your process, either as an actress like Bérénice or a writer/director like you, Michel, and how do you put all the pieces together?
MH: To start off, it has to come from the desire to film something. There has to be a spark, an idea that makes you think “wow, I really need to make this.” After all, the process is to direct everything to a common point where the intuition you had originally can be realized.
Writing’s hard because everything is possible when you write. Writing doesn’t cost anything, you just need a pen and paper and you can come up with any idea you want. Then, you’ve got to raise money, cast, hire crew, get equipment, find producers, voilá. That part is far more rigorous, and you have to be sure that everything you’re trying to do is possible and not too out there or impossible to make. At the same time, you have to work at a level where you’re not asking too much from the audience. You have to take your idea and craft a film that’s realistic, that’s watchable.
Acting’s different, because it’s not the way I express myself. What’s nice with Bérénice is that we’re working together from the start and we’re crafting the idea together, so the process is at least somewhat easier.
Q: Last question: who’s the real ‘artist’? Is it Jean Dujardin’s character or is it you Michel?
MH: It’s the character. I didn’t come up with the title, the producers did. It worked well with the film because it’s a silent black-and-white film so it’s got an “artsy” side. For me the idea of being an artist or not being an artist doesn’t really come up. I consider myself a writer and a director and I have a pretty artisanal view of this type of work. I don’t perform. Actors perform. The Artist kind of represents all of us, but if it had to be Jean then it would be just as much Jean as Bérénice.
Some said it couldn’t be done but goddamnit, I did it. 40 films single-handedly seen by this one naive film critic. I’ve all but overdosed on cinema. I’m obese on art films. I’m constipated by having seen films from the US, the UK, Spain, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Norway, Australia, Hong Kong, Chile, South Korea, Canada, France, Ireland, South Africa, Greece, and Poland; my pipes all clogged by the sheer amount of celluloid spun out in movie after movie. The short of it: it was a haul.
Nonetheless, SIFForty held riches to be discovered, films both foreign and domestic that I’m a better person for having seen. Amongst the truly excellent: 10,000 KM, The Skeleton Twins, The One I Love, The Internet’s Own Boy, Venus in Furs, Frank, In Order of Disappearance, The Trip to Italy, Night Moves, Intuders, Happy Christmas and To Kill a Man. Each packing a throttling punch that has lingered with me and joins the ranks of some of the best cinema of the year. On the other side of the film, SIFForty also packed saddle-bags brimming with cinematic turds including some of the worst movies I’ve seen this year; true wretches whose sitting through is an experience in pennant masochism. From the ungodly awful Firestorm to the wrecklessly hopeless Standing Aside Watching, the defunct Leading Lady to the clueless Willow Creek, they were just so, so bad. But all are topped by They Came Together – a rom-com spoof of the lowest breed – and Another – a pathetically made B-movie. Please people, don’t bother with these films.
As for the rest, feel free to dive right in and swim in the waters of 40 micro-reviews. Bask in the glory of knowing what to look forward to and the keen knowledge that you’ll know what to avoid. An article 40 days in the making, welcome to 40 for SIFForty.
dir. Daniel Junge, Bryan Storkel (USA)
Christians may preach turning the cheek but this bunch is all about turning said cheek to a bloody pulp. Following a group of otherwise devout pastors who prove their devotion to Him cage-style, Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel‘s documentary offers a peek into a fascinating world that you would have never suspected exists but fails to cement a sense of imminent purpose beyond surface-level intrigue. Probably would work better as a short than full length doc. (C)
dir. Kat Candler star. Aaron Paul, Josh Wiggins, Juliette Lewis (USA)
Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) stars as newly widowed father Hollis to exuberant (in a fire-starting sort of way) sons Jacob (off-to-a-strong-start newcomer Josh Wiggins) and younger, innocent but corruptible Wes. Ships turns towards rocky shoals as the pitfalls of young fraternity sail towards bleak recompense and ultimate tragedy. There’s enough heartbreak in Kat Candler‘s cheerless drama to go around and soulful performances to match, with this dusty no-man’s land of bum-fuck wherever offering a poignant peek into the languor of plain’s living, with all its scuzzy fruitlessness and paths towards damnation. (C+)
JIMI: All is By My Side
dir. John Ridley star. Andre 3000, Imogen Poots, Hayley Atwell, Burn Gorman, Ruth Negga (UK)
A thoughtful mess but a mess nonetheless with Andre 300 laying down an unexpectedly solid turn as the pre-Woodstock Hendrix. His take feels closer to imitation than anything but it’s certainly outside the customary league of rappers-turned-actors one might expect. Director/writer John Ridley paints a picture of un-famous (and slightly infamous) Jimi with a rounded view, giving us a glimpse of a performer who few knew and may not have even known himself, but the faulty editing seeks to sabotage the movie at every turn. (C)
Zip Zap and the Marble Gang
dir. Oskar Santos star. Javier Gutiérrez, Raúl Rivas, Daniel Cerezo, Claudia Vega, Fran García, Marcos Ruiz (Spain)
Familiar even in a foreign language (it’s Spanish), this child-lead romp is formulaic but still largely charmed. The premise follows a group of social outcasts who band together at a tortuous summer school to reclaim the lost treasure of the school’s misunderstood founder. It’s kinship to Goonies and Harry Potter means a readily consumable family feature but it lacks the magic and awe-striking wonder of a great adventure movie. (C)
dir. Manuel Martín Cuenca star. Antonio de la Torre, Olimpia Melinte, Delphine Tempels (Spain)
Carlos leads a double life: one as an upstanding citizen/fashion-forward tailor, the other as a connoisseur of human flesh. When the sister of one of his victims nervously rolls into town, Carlos accidentally becomes coiled with her search and discovers a new range of emotions: ones that don’t start and end in his stomach. Manuel Martín Cuenca‘s slow building and deliberate pacing adds depth to Antonio de la Torre‘s somber shade of monster but his film, though unflinching, still lacks a central tension: of exposure, imprisonment, or worse. (C)
dir. Richard Ayoade star. Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor (UK)
If Terry Gilliam had made Fight Club, it probably would have looked a lot like Richard Ayoade‘s The Double. Set in a steampunk dystopian tomorrowland, Jesse Eisenberg lays down august double duty, first as Simon James, a meek, nay spineless, employee in a dungy, Orwellian basement cubicle maze. When James Simon, his carbon copy in the looks department but his exact social opposite – James is an exceedingly debonair social-climber – moves in, Simon’s small world is irrevocably jolted. Grubby set design and hallucinatory foley work, set against the motif of closing doors and characteristic-less cultural nowhere, aid Ayoade’s prevailing sense of cautious pessimism in this thrilling, darkly comedic romp. (B-)
dir. Jason Bognacki star. Ana Paula Redding, Leone Sergio Bognacki, David Landry, Maria Olsen (USA)
Cheap-looking even by independent movie standards, this cultish schlock stars some of the worst performances this side of day time cable (Ana Paula Redding, *shutters*). With acting this ham-fisted and downright embarrassing, watching Another is an exercise is intelligence bludgeoning. Jason Bognacki‘s direction is comprised of shaky cam after-FX and inexplicably fuzziness that clouds our view of the “horror” onscreen, as if he’d taken cues from a pirated Bourne DVD. It’s a sad pile of crud that should be walked out on; a joker’s stain on SIFF’s lineup. (F)
dir. Bradley King star. Danielle Panabaker, Matt O’Leary, George Finn, Amin Joseph, Jason Spisak (USA)