Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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James White (Josh Mond, 2015)

November 24, 2015

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In the mid-2000s, music critic Andrew Harrison coined the term “landfill indie,” used to describe the plethora of samey British guitar bands that received a major label push in the wake of the meteoric rise of Arctic Monkeys; wherein the deliberate crafting of groups into bland, crowd-pleasing conformists veered so-called indie music away from being independently spirited to being an actual mainstream pop genre, rife with discernible tropes to easily tick off a checklist. The term could so easily be applied to American independent cinema from the early 2000s onwards. There’s a reason “Sundance movie” gets bandied about by so many, as “indie” has become something of its own mainstream genre in the wake of Fox Searchlight’s success with Little Miss Juno and the Dying Garden State.

James White isn’t a Fox Searchlight release, but based on logline alone it sounds like a potential rehash of the stock Sundance movie beats and clichés: a white twenty-something New Yorker, who happens to be an aspiring writer, struggles with familial estrangement and his self-destructive tendencies. Leave your preconceptions at the door, however, for James White is a far cry from a Zach Braff or Josh Radnor ego trip. Closer in spirit, tone and execution to John Cassavetes, the arguable godfather of American independent cinema (at least in terms of the white guys), Josh Mond’s directorial debut has more raw emotion and authenticity than a hundred examples of Sundance landfill…

Click for the full review for Vague Visages

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Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)

November 17, 2015

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After an opening credits sequence in which we follow a male individual through the streets of 1950s New York and into an indoors encounter with a female acquaintance, director Todd Haynes drops a fairly explicit reference to another film in the beginning of his new movie, Carol, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt. The film he references is David Lean’s 1945 effort Brief Encounter, oft-considered one of the great works about the intertwining of romance and repression. The reference comes through this male individual’s unfortunate interruption of a meeting between that female acquaintance, Therese (Rooney Mara), and the woman she has been listening to with such intent, Carol (Cate Blanchett). The male’s unbeknownst disturbance upon a most important meeting sees Carol make an early departure, touching the seated Therese on the shoulder as she leaves the public venue, just as Trevor Howard does to Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter.

Like in Lean’s film, there is a sense that this may be the last time the pair meets, and that their precious time together has been cruelly cut short by a frivolous link to their lives outside of each other (the male acquaintance is a friend of Therese’s male beau). In what’s also a similar structural conceit toBrief Encounter, this scene will repeat itself towards the end of Carol, as what’s in between fills in the blanks, revealing what this relationship is all about. It’s a bold move to so overtly bring to mind another major romantic work at the very beginning of your own, but it’s a gambit that doesn’t see Haynes’ efforts flounder. As premature as it might be to say in a review for an initial theatrical run,Carol more than earns the right of comparison to Brief Encounter in terms of quality. Frankly, it’s one of the new great romantic films…

Click for the full review for Vague Visages

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The Hallow (Corin Hardy, 2015)

November 13, 2015

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Outside of the Leprechaun series, Irish mythology has been rather underserved by genre-inclined filmmakers. With his debut feature, backwoods horror The Hallow, director and co-writer Corin Hardy goes some way to trying to rectify this, even if the end result isn’t completely successful, nor as psychologically resonant as the best of legends…

Full review for Little White Lies
Also available in their issue #62 print edition

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Macbeth (Justin Kurzel, 2015)

November 10, 2015

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Like its eponymous character, Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of Macbeth is a film pulled in myriad directions for a sense of purpose. It is faithful to Shakespeare’s text in many ways, including period setting, but the film also cuts iconic moments (no “something wicked this way comes”) and reframes many a key scene with notably different staging. Macbeth keeps Shakespeare’s dialogue, but the stars will often deliver the lines at considerably more guttural and mumbling pitches than you’re likely to find on stage.

Kurzel’s film veers from being upfront and unapologetic about its protagonist’s gory rise to power in some sequences (something carried over from the director’s debut, Snowtown), but then dilutes other moments of violence with editorial embellishments that pull back from the horror. The combat sequences range from thrashing Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones-esque melee to slo-mo sword-swinging somewhat akin to 300 (which Macbeth star Michael Fassbender was actually in), thankfully minus the part where it looks like a computer vomited up bronzer…

Click for the full review for Vague Visages

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Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro, 2015)

October 15, 2015

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Why do you watch horror? If it’s solely about preying on your primal fears through a high-concept premise, it’s possible you might not get a great deal out of Guillermo del Toro’s gothic opus Crimson Peak. If you’re after jump scares, then you’ll probably hate it. If, however, you’re attuned to and appreciative of the ways in which some of the best horror films can not be about boogeyman scares, but instead cover a wide array of different emotional concerns, then proceed with less caution.

Imbued with the aesthetic and tonal spirit of bombastic, luxuriantly-coloured, oft-melodramatic Euro-horrors of the 1960s (think the films of Mario Bava or Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe adaptations), Crimson Peak also has a dash of The Innocents (and thus The Turn of the Screw) and specific Hitchcocks (Rebecca and Psycho) in its lush blood, as well as a bit of Brontë – a good chunk of the story could be interpreted as Jane Eyre with more literal ghosts…

Click for the full review for The Skinny

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LFF 2015: Live from New York! (Bao Nguyen, 2015)

October 13, 2015

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Anyone looking for a really meaty documentary on a still on-the-air television show may be put off when hearing of extensive involvement of the head honchos behind said property. Even more worrying is also finding out that the 40-year portrait of the series only runs 78 minutes (despite what IMDb may tell you), which doesn’t exactly sound like the most ideal length considering that the documentary is about Saturday Night Live, a television show riddled with myriad controversies, success stories and career implosions over those 40 years. If you have a hunch that Live from New York! might play like little more than a hagiographic, superficial skip through self-serving sound-bites, then… well, you’re absolutely right…

Click for the full review for Vague Visages

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LFF 2015: In the Room (Eric Khoo, 2015)

October 10, 2015

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Love and lust across a century form the backbone of In the Room, the latest film from director Eric Khoo (Tatsumi, Be with Me). An anthology feature with five main vignettes (titled “Rubber,” Listen,” “Change,” “Search,” and “First Time” in the end credits) and a few recurring revisits to the exploits of characters who have come and gone, the entire film is set within the confines of one Singapore hotel room, bar the occasional meet-cute or tearful lament in the corridor right outside…

Click for the full review for The Film Stage