Review by Sean Boelman
In the thick of autumn, film festivals start to become a showcase of some of the biggest and best cinema that the year has to offer. However, the spotlight is all too often taken by the A-list narrative films competing for above-the-line prizes, leaving some great nonfiction films in the dust. DOC NYC sets out to remedy that, with a program that is both a showcase for some of the films which will be racking up prizes in the months ahead and a platform for exciting new films to be discovered.
For the second year in a row, disappointment media will be remotely covering the DOC NYC film festival which runs November 10-28. Make sure to check out this article in the weeks ahead, as we will be sharing our thoughts on some of the films we get to screen as part of the festival.
There is an undeniable beauty to Jessica Beshir’s Faya Dayi, but it takes observation to the extreme, basically forsaking traditional narrative altogether. That isn’t to say that the film is entirely meaningless — there are a lot of powerful moments spread throughout — but Beshir’s portrait of this community is perhaps a bit too sprawling for its own good. That said, the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography is a sight to behold, and is worth watching the film for on its own.
The story of artist Jesse Krimes is undeniably extraordinary, as he persevered through extraordinary adversity to create some powerful work, but filmmaker Alysa Nahmias doesn’t know what to do with it. This is a pretty standard documentary, and while it hits all of the beats to get a reaction from the viewer, the storytelling is so rushed that it doesn’t have much of a lasting impact. This is definitely a case of a film where the subject is what carries the film.
Mr. Bachmann and His Class
The observational documentary Mr. Bachmann and His Class took the Silver Bear award at the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival, and the reason why is likely its powerful impact. Following a German teacher who approaches education with an uncommon level of empathy, the film is both an examination of the educational system and a portrait of today’s youth and the way they are being shaped by society. And even though watching a bunch of kids go to school may not sound like the most exciting way to spend three-and-a-half hours, it’s unexpectedly absorbing.
Dean Martin: King of Cool
Dean Martin: King of Cool is exactly what one would expect from a documentary that was made to air on TCM: a not too deep, infotainment dive into Hollywood history. And while there are some fascinating tidbits and anecdotes, there’s just not enough going on to make it memorable. Fans of Martin will undeniably find this to be a pleasant nostalgia trip down memory lane, but then again, anyone who has an intimate familiarity with his career won’t find anything new here.
The Silence of the Mole
Anaïs Taracena’s The Silence of the Mole tells a fascinating story, but in a way that is so extraordinarily dry that it loses all of its impact. Although the subject of the film is an exceptional man who showed great bravery in infiltrating and fighting back against the corruption in his government, the film doesn’t really do anything to communicate the power of what he has done. Instead, it misguidedly tries to be poetic, and in the process ends up being quite empty.
Adrienne Shelly’s story is quite tragic but also very hopeful at the same time, and her widower Andy Ostroy’s documentary Adrienne does an amazing job of paying tribute to her while recounting her life in a meaningful way. Part true crime documentary and part biography about an artist with a passion for creating her work, it’s a riveting watch in every sense. Featuring extensive interviews with Shelly’s friends and family, the emotional section of the film dominates even though it’s somewhat uneven.
There have been quite a few documentaries in recent years that have explored the dangerous sport of climbing, but Max Lowe’s Torn stands out because of its highly emotional nature. Although there are definitely some sporting elements here, the film is more about the grieving process that Lowe faced after his father unfortunately passed while on a climb. It’s a devastating story, and the film is quite effective, but it would have been much more efficient had it been a short rather than a feature.
Mr. Saturday Night
The first half of Mr. Saturday Night, a documentary telling the story of disco pioneer Robert Stigwood, plays out like any other music doc about the history of disco that you have ever seen, but with one damning difference: it has absolutely no energy. However, when it starts talking about the behind-the-scenes drama that surrounded the production of the unexpected smash hit Saturday Night Fever, it becomes a ton of fun to watch and offers some really interesting anecdotes which viewers may not have heard before. It just takes a bit for the film to get there.
DMX: Don't Try to Understand
We have seen plenty of documentaries about late rappers which turn their tragic stories into cautionary parables, but that is not the intention with DMX: Don’t Try to Understand. Although the film does explore the (very public) struggles that Earl “DMX” Simmons had with addiction, it does so in a way that feels extremely empathetic, rather than trying to teach the audience a message through his misfortune. Fans hoping for a documentary heavy on his music may not be fully satisfied, but this is a much more personal film, and is arguably better for it.
Three Minutes: A Lengthening
One would think that the premise of Three Minutes: A Lengthening wouldn’t make for that compelling of a feature documentary, but Bianca Stigter’s work is unexpectedly intriguing. Diving into a single, three-minute home movie of a Jewish community in a Polish village soon before WWII would have devastating effects on them, this film shows the amount of power and information there is in even the briefest of glimpses into the past. It can definitely feel like a film school lecture at times, but the presentation and information is strong enough to hold the viewer’s interest.
After its premiere at TIFF, the Music Box documentary Jagged picked up some controversy when its subject turned against the film, claiming that the filmmaker violated her trust. It’s easy to understand why, as like many of the other films in this series, this is a no holds barred look into the life of Alanis Morissette. Although filmmaker Alison Klayman, a self-proclaimed fan, is quick to (deservedly) praise Morissette for the brilliant work she has done as a musician, she also doesn’t shy away from the disparity between the words in her lyrics and what she (and he band) did in their private lives. It’s a fascinating, insightful watch.
Nothing But the Sun
Every year, a few documentaries are submitted by their countries of origin as the representative for Best International Feature, but few earn the honor of a spot on the shortlist, much less a nomination. The Paraguayan film Nothing But the Sun is unlikely to buck that trend, but it’s quite good nevertheless, and it’s totally understandable why this was chosen as a submission. A moving exploration of identity and colonialism, Arami Ullon’s film dissects a very important issue that most people are privileged to not have to think about. The result is poetic and often quite captivating.
The 2021 DOC NYC Festival runs November 10-28.
By Dan Skip Allen
When J.K. Rowling created a book series about a boy wizard it was just that: a book. That is until it grew into a phenomenon that spawned a series of movies, the first of which is called Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone (or Philosopher's Stone in Great Britain). Twenty years ago, this movie series started and it's one of the most popular and profitable in movie history.
From that moment that Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) uttered those famous words, "You're a wizard Harry," in that dank house on an isolated island who knows where, I was all in on this series of films. Of course, I had read the book already by then, so I was excited to see this book I loved being made into a big-budget feature film.
Chris Columbus was already a successful film director by the time Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was going to be in production, but he wanted to direct this film. His career from working with Macaulay Culkin on the Home Alone films, Adventures in Babysitting, and Mrs. Doubtfire prepared him to direct this film about a bunch of kids in a wizarding school. He has great experience making family films of this ilk. He was a great choice to direct this film.
The casting process of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was quite arduous, but David Heyman, the producer, found the perfect three leads to star in this film. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) we're all terrific as these three characters. They embodied these three young wizards perfectly. I couldn't see anybody else in these roles.
That being said, the films had other characters that had to be cast and these roles weren't given to newcomers. They were won by some of the great British actors of this era the film came out in. Richard Harris (Albus Dumbledore), Maggie Smith (Professor McGonigal), and Alan Rickman (Professor Snape) were all phenomenal as these iconic characters. I could hardly remember other roles these great actors were ever in. That means they were cast perfectly. I love them all in the roles.
The production as a whole was quite successful. The sets worked as well as they could to embody the place envisioned in Rowling's books. The grand scale of the castle, train station, Gringotts, and various locations in the film looked amazing on screen. The behind-the-scenes people from the set production team, camera people, and costumes, and hair and makeup teams are all first-rate. This film looked amazing from that perspective.
With all the great production value and other crafts departments also comes the music of the film. Herman and Columbus enlisted the talents of probably the greatest composer of all time, John Williams. I'm a little biased on that because I have great memories of him as the conductor of the Boston Pops as a child, as well as some of his most memorable scores such as Jaws, Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Empire Strikes Back, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Raiders of the Lost Ark which were etched in my brain at that time. He created a wonderful score with great melodies and a beautiful timeless sound to it.
The fact remains that when someone creates something like Harry Potter, such as J.K. Rowling, that millions of people around the world are so enamored with it's hard to create something that lives up to the expectations of what people want to see in this material. All of that is set aside when this film is finally released. This film lived up to the expectations perfectly. It was a critical and financial success by anybody's standards.
Twenty years after this film was released, we've gotten all the sequels and plenty of physical media releases and television airings of this film and the rest of them. They continue to be watched by millions of families all over the world. They have made billions of dollars and spawned a stage production as well. As a fan of watching movies and reading books, I can honestly say this was the perfect combination of a literary work being turned into a great film. I loved this movie and I've watched it countless times. I never get sick of this film.
By Sean Boelman
After an astounding virtual edition in 2020 that ended up having a surprisingly strong influence on awards season, AFI FEST is back in 2021 with a hybrid edition featuring a ton of exciting in-person premieres and some great online screenings. Although a majority of the higher-profile titles will only be available to audiences able to attend the screenings in-person in Los Angeles, there are some virtual offerings that are worth checking out too!
We at disappointment media are again excited to be covering the festival remotely, checking out some of the virtual screenings in addition to some other selections which we were able to see. Check out this article throughout the entire run, as we will be adding more capsule reviews with our quick thoughts as we are able to check out more of the films in the lineup!
Virtually unclassifiable into a particular genre, the Romanian film Întregalde is nothing if not intriguing. Following a group of aid workers who get stuck in a remote area while on a humanitarian mission, this plays out most akin to a thriller, but the stakes are never made particularly high. The central arc of the script is a pretty average “no good deed goes unpunished” story, and while there are some interesting questions asked about the ethics of interventionism, it isn’t as eventful as expected.
The Tsugua Diaries
A lot of metafiction films tend to be rather pretentious, and this has also been an issue with a lot of films made about the pandemic, but despite these factors working against it, The Tsugua Diaries is surprisingly subtle. It’s a film that explores routine and finding joy in the safety of daily life, a reminder that would have been quite welcome earlier in the pandemic. However, even more intriguing is when the film explores the role of creativity in the times of COVID-19 in a way that is more accurate and honest than has been done before.
There are a lot of really fascinating things happening in the second half of Holy Emy, but it takes getting through a rather standard first hour to get to the juicy parts. Following two Filipino sisters who are living alone in Greece as one discovers that there may be something unusual about her, this is like a blend of a family drama with some light horror elements, and the tone is compelling, even if it doesn’t have the substance one hopes for.
The First Wave
Last year’s fall festival circuit featured a bunch of documentaries about the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of which were quite good. One would think that the extra time for which Matthew Heineman’s The First Wave has been gestating would make it even more effective, but that is not the case. Although the film isn’t necessarily poorly-made, there are a lot of things that should rub viewers the wrong way. It’s willing to do anything to get a reaction from the viewer, and that is frustrating.
The Moroccan entry for Best International Feature, Casablanca Beats was one of the less-acclaimed entries in competition at this year’s Cannes. It’s not bad by any means, but there’s also nothing exceptional about this Dead Poets Society by way of rap music. Some of the art being created by the characters in the film is quite good, offering some interesting commentary on Moroccan society, but the film doesn’t give it a chance to have a lingering impact.
Simple as Water
The Syrian refugee crisis is a very important issue in the realm of global politics, and filmmaker Megan Mylan attempts to explore the intimacies of the situation in her film Simple as Water via the perspectives of four individuals. And while there are definitely some resonant moments, the presentation is so dull that it doesn’t pack as much of an emotional punch as it could have. Mylan attempts to create a feeling of perceived neutrality, but that is entirely unnecessary (and even worse, ineffective) here, only making the viewer feel distant from the subjects.
Juice WRLD: Into the Abyss
SoundCloud rappers are definitely a unique breed, and they don’t always make for the most compelling documentary subjects. In fact, their characteristically flamboyant and artificial personalities tend to be annoying, and Juice WRLD: Into the Abyss is not able to escape that curse. In fact, much of the overlong runtime consists of young people saying empty things that they think are profound. And perhaps even worse, the film doesn’t work particularly well as a music documentary, as the concert footage is extremely repetitive. There’s a reason why Juice WRLD gathered such a passionate fanbase so quickly, but this film did not communicate it.
The Worst Person in the World
A romantic comedy told in twelve chapters, the title of The Worst Person in the World is a bit deceiving, as it’s actually quite charming. The complexity in the film is not so much in the story itself, but how it’s told. There is an extraordinary amount of nuance in this film that keeps it from ever reaching melodramatic territory. Lead actress Renate Reinsve does an excellent job in her role, and the film is just excellent as a whole from a technical standpoint.
Orit Fouks Rotem’s film Cinema Sabaya is as ambitious of a cinematic experiment as the one it depicts, tackling some of the foremost issues that plague the Middle East right now. It definitely bites off a bit more than it can chew at times, but its messages about the patriarchy and the political division that separates the region are really fascinating. That said, an absolutely glacial pace and a relaxed structure keep this film from ever being truly exceptional.
The 2021 AFI FEST runs November 10-14.
By Sean Boelman
The Chicago International Film Festival has a very strong lineup this year, featuring plenty of exciting screenings of some of the highest-profile films that played on the festival circuit, and also some premieres of international and local flicks. There are so many options that there is plenty to choose from and something to appeal to everyone.
We at disappointment media have gotten the opportunity to screen many of the films in the lineup via both in-person and virtual coverage. As we watch additional films, we will continue to update this article with more capsule reviews. Check out our thoughts below!
The Hand of God
The Hand of God is a semi-autobiographical film from acclaimed filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino, and it is likely his most inconsistent work yet. The first half is a funny yet standard teen comedy, and the second half is a pretty average coming-of-age genre. As always, Sorrentino manages to infuse many moments in the film with a poignant emotional punch, but there are more points here that fall flat than usual. By no means is it a bad film, but it’s not as memorable of an entry into the genre as this filmmaker should have delivered.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria has gotten a lot of attention recently, both positive and negative, for the fact that it will be released in the U.S. as a perpetual theatrical-only roadshow. It’s understandable why NEON opted for this strategy, as it is unlikely to find much success with its methodically slow pace and philosophical musings. However, it’s a gorgeous, poetic, and entrancing film with one of the best sound designs of the year, making it an altogether great sensory experience.
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi is known for making melodramas out of simple situations and creating something absolutely devastating in the process. His newest film, A Hero, lives up to the quality of his past work and is brilliantly subtle. What makes this film stand out among his filmography is how unexpectedly funny it is, something which only serves to heighten the emotion of the tense final act. It’s a fine entry into Farhadi’s already accomplished career.
There have been plenty of movies about the historical oppression of the LGBTQ community, and while Sebastian Meise may not add anything new to the genre with Great Freedom, it’s very harrowing nevertheless. Franz Rogowski’s performance in the lead role is what ends up setting this apart, giving it an honest and emotional quality. There is a lot to admire here, but the best part is how it captures its power in a restrained and poetic way.
My Brothers Dream Awake
Inspired by a real-life tragedy, the Chilean film My Brothers Dream Awake starts out extremely well, with an opening thirty minutes that are absolutely captivating before it settles into a much more conventional rhythm. Following a group of boys who bond in a juvenile prison, the film seems like it is going to be a searing social commentary, but is really just a coming-of-age tale with a bit of a kick. It’s a story that should have undeniable power, yet viewers will leave feeling rather underwhelmed. U.S. Premiere.
Oscar Micheaux - The Superhero of Black Filmmaking
It’s not uncommon at film festivals to see films that are love letters to the silver screen, and Oscar Micheaux - The Superhero of Black Filmmaking fits that bill. Although director Francesco Zippel is a bit dryly academic in his approach to telling the story of one of the early pioneers of Black filmmaking, this story is undeniably important for any cinephile to see. It’s the type of story that is unfortunately far too often left out of film history classes, which makes it a welcome watch. North American Premiere.
After her acclaimed documentary The Babushkas of Chernobyl, filmmaker Holly Morris brings us Exposure, another ode to the sense of community among a group of extraordinary women. Following an international team of women who set out to reach the North Pole, this film doesn’t inspire the same level of awe that a lot of exploration documentaries do, but there is still plenty of value in this story. There’s definitely a lot to be said about how these women fight back against the patriarchy, and it is sure to be inspiring to many. World Premiere.
Another submission for the Best International Film Oscar, this time from Cambodia, White Building is an effortlessly poignant portrait of a community falling apart, both literally and metaphorically. Although it ultimately hits a lot of familiar beats, especially in regards to the coming-of-age arc, there is a lot here that resonates, particularly in its exploration of the socioeconomic factors that make up the film’s themes. It may not be the most original in its approach, but its authenticity is welcome. North American Premiere.
Paris, 13th District
The combination of co-writer/director Jacques Audiard, writer Céline Sciamma, and actress Noémie Merlant sounds like a guaranteed winner, so it will come as a shock to cinephiles that Paris, 13th District is a total dud. Following three individuals in a love triangle (and a fourth, whose connection to one of them provides for a subplot that is the most interesting part of the story), this is an excruciatingly pretentious film. Although Merlant and co-lead Lucie Zhang are both great, their characters are shallow and unlikable, making this little more than a pretty film about pretty people.
The House of Snails
Although a mix of The Shining and werewolves may not sound like the greatest idea on paper, The House of Snails is a surprisingly chilling and entertaining Spanish-language horror flick. The commentary on how art tends to appropriate the traditions of local communities isn’t as well-developed as one would like, but those looking for a twisty (if somewhat predictable) mystery with a supernatural edge will be pleased here thanks to how wonderfully director Macarena Astorga builds her atmosphere.
Costa Brava, Lebanon
Costa Brava, Lebanon is the rare movie with goals that are less ambitious than what it would be able to pull off. A simple domestic drama with huge political implications in the background, there’s a lot bubbling beneath the surface here, but filmmaker Mounia Akl is more concerned with the small-scale story of these characters. The result is a film that feels rather quaint and does not live up to its potential. The tone is strong, and the performances are great, but it’s underwhelming from a narrative standpoint. U.S. Premiere.
Hot off his widely-acclaimed documentary Boys State, filmmaker Jesse Moss has chosen to make a much more traditional political documentary as his follow-up. However, even though Mayor Pete might follow the conventions of the genre pretty closely, Moss’s energetic style and the inspiring story of Pete Buttigieg make this a compelling watch. In exploring Buttigieg’s campaign for the Presidency, Moss is also able to explore what made his subject such an extraordinary figure in politics, and while it may not reach essential viewing status, it has the intended effect. World Premiere.
As the title would imply, Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island is a love letter to the work of acclaimed filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. Following a screenwriter whose work begins to mirror reality after she embarks on a pilgrimage in the footsteps of the Swedish filmmaker, this is an entirely pleasant watch, even if there isn’t much that will leave the viewers feeling wowed. It’s a quiet, talky film with some great dialogue and stellar performances from Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, Mia Wasikowska, and Anders Danielsen Lie, but don’t expect it to have much of a lasting effect.
Filmmaker Andrea Arnold is known for her gorgeously minimalistic dramas, and while her newest film is a documentary, many of the trademarks of her style are visible here. Cow is a stirring dissection of the dairy industry, following one dairy cow on a farm in Britain. It’s a highly observational film, with no narration and very little in the way of dialogue, but it’s powerful nevertheless. The final image is about as angering and stirring as they come and will leave viewers shaken.
Hit the Road
The directorial debut of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s son, Panah Panahi, Hit the Road is a road movie that seems very simple, but has much more boiling beneath the surface. It’s the story of a family taking one last trip together, and while that is a story that has been done before many times, the political undercurrents make it feel refreshing and unique. Strong dialogue, genuinely great performances, and an inspired visual style make this a promising debut for Panahi.
The Odd-Job Men
Neus Ballús’s The Odd-Job Men is one of those films where you know what it’s going for, but it doesn’t translate as well as the filmmaker seemed to hope. There are some weighty topics addressed in the film, like racism and immigration, but they are approached with a generally light and airy tone. The result is a film that is entertaining and handles its themes well without feeling too heavy-handed. It may not be the most impactful watch, but it’s worth watching regardless. U.S. Premiere.
Semih Kaplanoglu’s Commitment Hasan is a long and restrained film, but there’s something quietly moving about its story. Following a man who finds himself in the midst of a spiritual crisis at the same time his farmland is being threatened by the installation of a new electricity pole, this feels like a more self-reflective version of Erin Brockovich. Although the runtime and pacing can sometimes work against the film, the atmosphere which it builds is affecting. North American Premiere.
Punch 9 for Harold Washington
So many people fail to recognize the importance of local politics, but Joe Winston’s documentary Punch 9 for Harold Washington sets out to remedy that. The first African-American mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington has more of a wide-reaching impact than anyone would expect. The presentation of the film is rather standard, but the story is so exceptional that it will be entertaining and fascinating for most viewers, regardless of whether or not they have a Chicago connection. World Premiere.
The pairing of sports documentarian Rex Miller and prolific civil rights documentarian Sam Pollard proves to be a perfect fit for Citizen Ashe, a film about tennis player and activist Arthur Ashe. Although the film does stick to a lot of the conventions from each of the documentary genres, blending them together was a great idea and results in a compelling watch. There are some portions of the film that could have used some additional depth, but it’s generally very efficient in its storytelling.
The Gravedigger's Wife
The first-ever Somalian submission for the Academy Award for Best International Feature, The Gravedigger’s Wife is a pretty straightforward film, but it’s one that thrives in its simplicity. It’s a powerful film about perseverance in a time of hardship and misfortune. Although there isn’t a whole lot to the plot, the character work here is absolutely exceptional and features some quietly emotional and resonant moments. It’s not a film that initially seems memorable, but the nuance in its approach will make it stick with viewers. U.S. Premiere.
The 2021 Chicago International Film Festival runs October 13-23 in-person and virtually.
By Sean Boelman
After a successful virtual edition in 2020, the Chicago International Film Festival returns with a hybrid edition in 2021, offering in-person, drive-in, and virtual screenings. And as always, the festival has an impressive lineup boasting many North American and U.S. premieres of some of the greatest films to screen on the Fall festival circuit, in addition to some exciting world premieres.
With such an extensive and wide-reaching slate, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the many great films playing at CIFF. However, we at disappointment media have gotten the chance to see some of the films that will be playing at the festival in advance. Here are a few that we think you shouldn’t miss!
A Cop Movie
Alonso Ruizpalacios’s A Cop Movie is perhaps one of the most interesting blends of fictional and nonfiction elements in recent memory. It’s also eerily timely given its relation to the theme of police brutality. Although the commentary mainly applies to the police system in Mexico, a lot of the message rings true around the world. It’s such a fascinating and thought-provoking watch, and it’s best left unspoiled — all that viewers need to know is that it’s a documentary about issues of police brutality told through the lens of cop thriller tropes.
Drive My Car
Recently announced as Japan’s official submission for the Academy Award for Best International Feature, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car is one of the finest films of the year. An adaptation of a short story by Haruki Murakami, this is a slow-moving but profound and poetic character study about a theater director grieving his late wife. Its pacing won’t be for everyone, but those willing to go along for this scenic ride will find themselves moved by this journey and wowed by the destination.
Having made a splash upon its debut at Sundance earlier this year, Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee is not only one of the most amazing documentaries of 2021, it’s also one of the best animated films of the year. Telling the story of a refugee who also goes through an identity crisis related to his sexuality, this is a moving and heartbreaking tale. The level of storytelling that this is able to achieve in a mere eighty-three minutes is absolutely astounding.
Lingui, The Sacred Bonds
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s Lingui, The Sacred Bonds follows in the same vein as a lot of other films that have come out in the past few years, but the level of nuance and subtlety it brings to the table allows it to stand out. It’s a slow burn of a film, but the character work here is exceptional and the payoff at the end is absolutely worth it. Without a doubt, it’s one of the most restrainedly powerful films at the festival.
Punch 9 for Harold Washington
Every festival has those selections in their lineup that are chosen predominantly for their local interest, and while Punch 9 for Harold Washington is certainly one of those cases, it’s also a surprisingly strong film in its own right. Exploring the campaign and political career of Chicago’s first African-American mayor, this story has a much wider impact than one would think. This is perhaps one of the most effective arguments for the importance of local politics, which makes it an important watch.
The 2021 Chicago International Film Festival runs October 13-23 in-person and virtually.
By Dan Skip Allen
Albert R Broccoli is the Producer of Dr. No and the rest of the James Bond franchise. He formed a business relationship with Harry Saltzman who had the rights to the books. Albert convinced him to go into business with him making movies. The rest is history. 007 has been on the big screen ever since. These films started out as small indie films and now they are considered big-budget blockbusters.
Sean Connery was the first actor to portray the suave ladies man James Bond. His favorite drink, a martini, shaken not stirred, became famous around the world where liquor is sold. Ian Fleming created this fantastic character that everyone can relate to. He flies around the world, visits luxurious places, and gets with beautiful women everywhere he goes. How could men not relate to this cool character? This is how this iconic character has lasted so long.
James is called into M's office because a high-ranking member of the government has been killed in Kingston, Jamaica. He has to find out what happened to him. He finds out suspicious goings-on are happening in Crab Key. People have been reported missing and dying. A man named Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) is up to no good. While trying to sneak onto the secret base, James runs into Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress). They both are public enemy number one. She has a bone to pick with Dr. No as well. Can 007 and Honey Ryder stop this megalomaniac from sabotaging the United States Space Program?
The glitz and glamour of James Bond is something that makes him so fun and entertaining. His catchphrases like, "Bond, James Bond," are synonymous with this iconic character. The beautiful beaches and resorts in Jamaica help transport those watching to this secret world of spies and secret organizations like SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion) which are trying to take over the world. During the Cold War of the '60s, the world ate up this fantastical spy game that is the James Bond franchise.
Dr. No isn't the best of the James Bond films, but it is a good start to this worldwide phenomenon known as 007. Movies were still in the phase of whitewashing, so a white man is dressed to look Asian, Dr. No. The time period is still a little old seeing as how we've got 58 years of this character. He is a little dated. That's fine though because bigger films, badder villains, and more beautiful women known as Bond Girls are on the horizon. Dr. No is just the tip of the iceberg in this fantastic franchise.
By Sean Boelman
It is that time of year again for the Fall festival season, in which some of the most exciting films of the year debut and screen, from acclaimed international pictures to soon-to-be awards contenders. One of the most prestigious of these festivals, the Toronto International Film Festival, returns again this year with another hybrid edition, offering both in-person and virtual screenings to Canadian audiences.
For the second year in a row, we at disappointment media have gotten the opportunity to cover the festival remotely. Although we are having to wait to see some of the biggest films to screen at the festival in a theatrical setting when they are released here in the States, we have gotten to watch plenty of great films from around the world. Here are some of our thoughts on the films we have screened!
Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over
Dionne Warwick has been in the spotlight in recent months for her hilarious online presence, but before that, she was one of the brightest musical stars in all of history. Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over is a very by-the-book biographical documentary, but it does justice to its absolutely legendary subject and of course, has plenty of great music. Those looking for an in-depth dive into Warwick’s life story will be disappointed, but it’s a pretty satisfying watch overall.
Jacques Cousteau is undeniably one of the most influential explorers of all time, so it’s surprising that it took this long for there to be a major biographical documentary about him. Liz Garbus’s Becoming Cousteau is a pretty standard affair, but the charm of its subject is what allows it to stand out. Additionally, the film features some pretty extensive use of newly restored materials from Cousteau’s archives, and it’s always a joy to see that.
Zhang Yimou is one of the best and most versatile directors working today, having made everything from intimate dramas to martial arts epics. After a years-long delay (presumably due to censorship), his newest film One Second is a beautiful love letter to the cinema. Although there definitely seems to have been a political message cut out of the film, this story of an escaped convict inspiring a community to come together so that he can watch a film to get a glimpse of his daughter is absolutely wonderful.
Cynical holiday movies are a pretty unique breed in that a majority of films set around the festive season tend to be more lighthearted in nature. That said, Camille Griffin’s Silent Night has a definite dark edge to it that works quite well. Although it can sometimes feel like the film bites off a bit more than it can chew thematically, this apocalyptic comedy has a wicked sense of humor that keeps things moving nicely. And the ensemble cast, led by Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, and Roman Griffin Davis, is exceptional.
In terms of production quality, Barry Levinson’s The Survivor is one of the most accomplished films to play at this year’s TIFF. It’s a flashy, awards-quality Holocaust drama with a great deal of emotion. The cast is great all-around, but Ben Foster’s performance is without a doubt the highlight. It may be a little bit overstuffed, trying to juggle both its sports and war movie elements, but the level of success it has in every other regard more than makes up for it.
Rob Savage made a splash on the scene with his debut Host, shot during the COVID-19 pandemic over Zoom, but his newest film DASHCAM will prove to be much more divisive. Following an obnoxious online personality who finds herself in over her head during a trip to England, the film has some really strong horror elements in the second half. The first half is funny in what seems to be a satirical way, but upon further research, it’s obvious that Annie Hardy isn’t exaggerating herself that much, and the film becomes much more problematic as a result.
Michel Franco’s previous film, New Order, screened on the 2020 festival circuit and split audiences with its enormously angry nature. His newest, Sundown, is a more restrained character study, but its pacing will be off-putting to some. The cinematography showing the Mexican beaches is gorgeous, and of course, Tim Roth gives what is perhaps the best performance in his already accomplished career as a disillusioned member of the upper-class who takes refuge in Acapulco.
Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi made one of the best documentaries of the last decade in Free Solo, so their newest film The Rescue was obviously highly anticipated. Although the film isn’t as extraordinarily compelling or gorgeous as their last one, it’s still undeniably well-made. Chen and Vasarhelyi clearly have an eye for capturing extraordinary feats such as this on film and telling the stories of the people who achieved them in a moving way.
Hot off his Academy Award-nominated performance in Sound of Metal, Riz Ahmed is delivering yet another demanding performance in Encounter. This time around, he is much better than the movie he is in, following a veteran taking his children on a road trip to protect them from an extraterrestrial threat. The first hour or so of the film is really strong, blending thriller and family drama elements quite well, but once the film reveals its hand, it loses a lot of its steam.
Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic’s Murina is perhaps one of the most impressive feature debuts of the year. Although this is a story we have seen done many times before, Kusijanovic’s execution is quite strong in a way that makes it feel refreshing. The three central performances — from Gracija Filipovic, Leon Lucev, and Cliff Curtis — are all great, as is the gorgeous cinematography showing the European beachside. Although nothing comes unexpectedly, the charm of the film lies elsewhere.
Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s fantasy film Earwig definitely had one of the more unique premises of this year’s TIFF lineup. While it isn’t exactly what one would call a midnight movie, it has some of the same unabashedly weird characteristics that define that type of film. Following a young girl who has ice cubes for teeth and her caretaker, this is definitely a slow burn. Admittedly, the film does confuse ambiguity for subtlety at times, but the atmosphere is so well-built that it is a hypnotic watch.
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain
Benedict Cumberbatch is no stranger to biopics, but The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is certainly the most unique one he’s been in to date. Following an artist and inventor who specializes in painting pictures of cats, it’s the type of film that benefits from its unabashed quirkiness. Will Sharpe’s visual style is very distinct, with an energy that is… dare I say it… electric. Although Cumberbatch’s performance falls in line much with what he has done in the past, he is great at it, so it’s worth watching.
The Story of My Wife
Ildikó Enyedi’s The Story of My Wife was one of the lowest-rated films at this year’s Cannes, so only the bravest of critics took a chance on the film at TIFF and were rewarded with a surprisingly pleasant watch. Although the almost three-hour runtime is unwarranted, especially given the fact that its story is so simple and straightforward, it’s a charming little romance. The chemistry between Gijs Naber and Léa Seydoux is absolutely electric and what sells the film.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Michael Showalter’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a would-be prestige picture that hopes to be a comedic biopic, but Abe Sylvia’s script is far too indecisive on its subject to work. For much of the film, it’s hard to tell whether we are supposed to root for, pity, or laugh at the eponymous televangelist, and that creates a lot of really jarring tonal shifts. Jessica Chastain overacts as usual and is very annoying, but it fits here. It’s a shame, because Andrew Garfield’s performance is genuinely great, and Showalter’s direction is solid, but the film is nearly insufferable.
The Good House
Sigourney Weaver is overdue for a strong starring role, but The Good House was not it. Following an alcoholic realtor who reunites with an old flame, the film is an absolute mess tonally. There’s just too much going on in the film, from the main storylines to a subplot about some of her clients, resulting in an ending that is almost laughable. Weaver’s performance is strong as always, serving as the glue to hold the whole thing together, but even she struggles to pull it off.
Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti has made plenty of acclaimed films, so it was a shock when Three Floors debuted at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and was mostly panned. And if one wonders if the film is actually that bad, the answer is a firm yes. However, there is something alluringly watchable about this ridiculous melodrama in the same way that it’s hard to look away from a horrible car crash (which is fitting because of the film’s supposedly shocking but nearly laughable opening scene).
Plenty of filmmakers have taken on the challenge of telling the story of the COVID-19 pandemic to varying degrees of success. Chung Mong-Hong (whose film A Sun was shortlisted for Best International Feature last year) manages to do so in a way that is surprisingly touching in The Falls. The thing about Chung’s film that works so well is that it isn’t about the pandemic itself, but rather, how people reacted to it, and that results in a film with even more resonant themes.
Director Evan Jackson Leong’s Snakehead is meant to be a crime thriller with a deeper message, but it doesn’t live up to its potential. There is some commentary to be found here about immigration in the United States, but the film gets far too caught up in the tropes of the genre to be anything more than passive entertainment. While predictable, the story has enough in terms of excitement to make up for largely uninspired action and less than impressive performances.
Where Is Anne Frank
Ari Folman’s animated documentary Waltz with Bashir is an absolutely phenomenal film, hence why his family parable Where Is Anne Frank is such a disappointment. The animation is just as strong as one would expect, but from a narrative standpoint, it is absolutely insufficient. Beyond the problem of making Anne Frank a side character in her own story, the film is nearly offensive in how it uses the Holocaust as a metaphor for the modern refugee crisis. It’s undeniably well-intentioned, but misfire after misfire make it nearly unbearable.
You Are Not My Mother
You Are Not My Mother is the type of film that seeks to build horror more through dread than simple scares, but it isn’t terribly effective in doing so. Kate Dolan’s film is based on Irish folklore, but doesn’t explore it in much depth. Instead, what we get is a mostly psychological piece, with slow pacing and much of the suspense coming from not knowing what is true. It manages to be both too straightforward and ambiguous to be even unnerving.
Harry Wootliff’s True Things is a romance like many we have seen before, but the bleak realism of what it depicts is effectively heartbreaking. Tom Burke and Ruth Wilson create a tremendous dynamic between them, capturing the ups and downs in the relationship. Burke is especially impressive in his role, giving a performance that is equal parts charming and unhinged. The story is at times frustrating, as the psychological cycle the protagonist is experiencing causes a lot of repetition, but it fits the themes well.
Ali & Ava
Much of the charm of the romantic dramedy Ali & Ava is in its simplicity. Following a landlord going through a divorce and a single mother struggling to stay afloat as they form an unexpected connection, the film is sweet in all the right ways, even if it struggles to do anything particularly profound with its themes. The film shows the potential to explore the plight of the British working class, but gets caught up in the basic humanity and empathy of the story. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it’s refreshingly light, but it is unexpected.
One of many Holocaust films to play at this year’s TIFF (and perhaps more surprisingly, one of two animated Holocaust features), Charlotte is a good idea that is executed poorly. From an artistic standpoint, the film is solid, with a strong animation style, even if it does play it safe a bit often. That said, it is almost entirely insufficient from a narrative standpoint. The story is rushed to wrap it all up into an hour-and-a-half runtime, and as a result, any thematic nuance is lost in favor of a bunch of WWII tropes.
The new Terence Davies film Benediction is a film that is undeniably good, but will alienate a lot of audiences with its style. Those who have seen Davies’s previous work will know that his films are slow, dry, and meditative, and while that approach works in telling the story of poet Siegfried Sassoon, it’s also not a particularly enjoyable watch as a result. Attempts at a type of acerbic wit throughout are enough to keep the viewer from being totally disinterested, and a phenomenal performance from Jack Lowden is nearly captivating, but it’s a bit too dull to work.
Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s Montana Story is, not unexpectedly, a gorgeous film to behold, but from a narrative standpoint, it isn’t all that impressive. Following two estranged siblings who reunite as their father nears the end of his life, the film offers a lot of genuine emotion but nothing that we haven’t seen before. That said, the two central performances from Owen Teague and Haley Lu Richardson are both great, bringing a lot of empathy to make the quiet, somber nature of the film work.
Many jokes have been made about the fact that every year’s TIFF lineup seems to feature a film starring Naomi Watts, and this year’s selection proves that trend to be absolutely dire. Phillip Noyce’s Lakewood is without a doubt the single worst film that screened at this year’s festival, a borderline insensitive school shooting thriller that milks genuine tragedies for the sake of supposed thrills. Shot during the pandemic, this is effectively a one-woman show for Watts, and while she gives it her all, it isn’t enough to boost an aggressively bad film.
The Canadian sci-fi film Night Raiders is a massive disappointment, not because it’s bad (because it isn’t), but because the glimpses of brilliance are so obvious that one can’t help but think about what this could have been. Transporting the historical atrocity of residential schools to a dystopian setting, the film follows a mother who tries to break her daughter out of a state-run camp. It’s such an intriguing concept, but the dialogue is frequently mediocre and the performances consistently underwhelming. That said, filmmaker Danis Goulet shows a lot of potential here in her debut, and hopefully she will live up to it with her future work.
Compartment No. 6
Juho Kuosmanen’s Compartment No. 6 is a refreshingly light film that is a wonderful reminder of how important it is for us to connect with one another. Following two very different strangers who befriend each other when they are forced to share a cabin on a long train journey across Europe. It’s a lot more subtle than most films which explore a union between two people from very different walks of life thanks to some brilliant dialogue and excellent character work. It isn’t the weightiest film in this year’s lineup, but it has lots of good observations.
All My Puny Sorrows
Based on the novel by Miriam Toews, the drama All My Puny Sorrows is destined to be one of the biggest misfires of the festival. Following two sisters who are going through mental health crises, it’s clear that writer-director Michael McGowan had the best of intentions when exploring these themes, but he absolutely fumbles them. Allison Pill and Sarah Gadon try their hardest to salvage the script but end up overacting, likely due to poor direction, and all of the technical elements are overdone. It’s the type of film that wants to be a tear-jerker, but it doesn’t even succeed in that.
A new supernatural procedural series from South Korean filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho, Hellbound is set in a world where people receive visions of a spirit telling them when they will be condemned to Hell, with a demon later fulfilling the prophecy. It’s an intriguing premise with shades of Final Destination, but it’s executed poorly in a way that isn’t all that compelling. The three (out of six) episodes that screened at TIFF were fine, but filled with fluff, making it clear that this might have been more suited for a feature film format.
Eva Husson’s film Mothering Sunday is a steamy period drama that will be overwhelmingly familiar, but is a very well-executed entry into its genre. The film follows a maid sharing one final, passionate day with the wealthy man she loves before he leaves to marry for status, and there really isn’t much more to this film than a bunch of sex. That said, the cinematography is gorgeous, the costumes are exquisite (when the characters are even clothed, which isn’t very often), and the performances by Odessa Young and Josh O’Connor are great. It’s a film that delivers exactly on its promises, which makes it hard to complain about.
Saul Williams’s output as a musician is certainly very interesting, so one should expect no less of his first effort as a filmmaker (co-directed with Anisia Uzeyman). Neptune Frost is an independent, low-budget musical about an intersex hacker and anti-colonialism. If that sounds like a lot to handle in one movie, that’s because it is, but Williams and Uzeyman pull it off gracefully. And as for the soundtrack, it’s weird and creative, a soundscape mixing traditional African beats with electronic and hip-hop sounds. It’s not quite like anything you will have seen before, and that’s a good thing.
As the follow-up to her widely-acclaimed period romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire, filmmaker Céline Sciamma has made an equally restrained family film in Petite Maman. Following a young girl who discovers an unexpected friendship after her grandmother passes away, this is a lovely little film about the innocence of childhood. The visuals of the film are just as gorgeous as one would expect, and young actress Joséphine Sanz is absolutely wonderful, but the film is just too low-key to be anything more than merely adorable.
The Girl and the Spider
Ramon and Silvan Zürcher’s The Girl and the Spider is the type of talky international drama that makes up a lot of festival lineups. Following a woman as she prepares to move out, causing her to reflect on her connection with her roommate, this is interesting as a relationship drama that isn’t about romance. It’s occasionally poetic, and the things it has to say about how interactions leave a lingering impact on both ourselves and others are somewhat profound, but the character development is far too thin for the film to resonate.
The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs September 9-18.
Review by Sean Boelman
The Fantasia International Film Festival has long been a refuge for fans of genre cinema to check out some of the best in weird and obscure filmmaking from around the world. In 2020, the festival pivoted to an all-online format, allowing cinephiles across Canada to check out virtual screenings of some of the most exciting films in the lineup. However, with theaters being able to re-open, the 2021 edition was able to pivot to a hybrid format, including both online and in-person offerings.
We at disappointment media are excited to be covering Fantasia remotely for the second year in a row! As we screen the film selected for this year’s lineup, we will be updating this article with capsule reviews offering our brief thoughts on the films. Hopefully this will inspire you to check out some of the awesome movies you can see there!
The Last Thing Mary Saw
Edoardo Vitaletti’s film The Last Thing Mary Saw may be billed as a horror movie, but it shares more in common with a period drama than the supernatural aspects of its story that festival-goers were probably expecting. It’s not particularly scary, nor is it especially original, but the commentary on the oppression of women is at least mostly interesting. That said, the film doesn’t take full advantage of its extremely talented ensemble cast including Isabelle Fuhrman and Rory Culkin.
All the Moons
The vampire drama All the Moons is one of the most gorgeous films of this year’s Fantasia lineup. With a gorgeous level of period detail and some excellent cinematography, it’s an entrancing feature. Admittedly, the film works more on a visual level than a narrative one, but there are still some emotional beats that resonate very strongly. It’s definitely reminiscent of a lot of films that have come before, and are perhaps better, but it’s a very effective addition to the genre nevertheless.
Frank & Zed
Jesse Blanchard’s puppet horror feature Frank & Zed is the type of film that one can’t help but appreciate even if they don’t entirely align with its sensibilities. It’s generally a fun time, but the film loses sight of the buddy comedy that makes the first half so endearing as it turns into a gory marathon of carnage for the final thirty minutes. The level of craftsmanship on display in the puppet animation is definitely impressive, and this would have been an absolute masterpiece had Blanchard’s script been as polished as his filmmaking.
Hayop Ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story
Hayop Ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story is an excellent reminder of the tremendous potential that independent adult animation has. A hilarious soap opera parody, the film doesn’t aim for the low-hanging fruit in poking fun at one of the lowest art forms there is. But the real success of the film is the way in which it creates a genuine emotional connection to these characters. Even though it’s obviously melodramatic (on purpose), the genuine heart in the film is absolutely charming and unexpected.
Kelsey Egan’s film Glasshouse is very reminiscent of The Beguiled in terms of its plot, but with an immersive sci-fi touch to it. The most impressive part of Egan’s film is the way in which it builds the world of the story, both through the writing and the production design. It’s definitely a tad on the predictable side because of how familiar the story is, but there’s enough going on in the story on a thematic level for it to be intellectually challenging.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes
Junta Yamaguchi’s time travel comedy Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is arguably one of the most creative films to play at the festival, and while it is far from perfect, it’s an absolute load of fun from start to finish. It can be confusing and a bit difficult to follow at times, but the ambition that this has as a lo-fi sci-fi comedy is very impressive, especially given the fact that it is both a directorial debut and a pandemic feature.
The Screenlife format developed and innovated by Timur Bekmambetov tends to be more conducive to some stories than others, and the Russian thriller #Blue_Whale is on the more successful end of that spectrum. Although it has its fair share of flaws, this story of a teen investigating a deadly social media game that drove her younger sister to suicide is consistently involving. Admittedly, it’s very predictable, the big twist in the final act being entirely expected, but it’s still entertaining regardless.
For an occult coming-of-age story, the Adams Family’s Hellbender works extremely well. Sure, the effects aren’t the best, and sometimes even draw the viewer out of the story, but the intensely independent feel of the film is part of what makes it so charming. It may not say anything new about suppressing one’s own identity, but its message is still one that will resonate with teens and people who remember their teenage years, and it is delivered in a way that is quite entertaining.
Masashi Yamamoto’s Wonderful Paradise is perhaps one of the most wild films to screen at this year’s Fantasia, and that’s a high bar with some of the weird movies that were part of the lineup. It’s a film that gets crazier and crazier as it goes on, starting as something random and getting to some hilariously bizarre and occasionally messed up places by the end. The thing that is lacking here is character development, as viewers won’t care much about the story, but it’s an enjoyable watch nevertheless.
The increasing prominence of Brazilian genre cinema has been an exciting trend for cinephiles, and so Renata Pinheiro’s King Car was set to be one of the most intriguing titles of Fantasia this year. And while the wacky concept, immersive production design, and some inspired scenes show that there is no lack of creativity on display, the thing that is missing is a sense of humor. The film takes itself way too seriously rather than embracing the inherent absurdity of the premise, and the result is a film that is nowhere near as fun as it should be.
The 12 Day Tale of the Monster That Died in 8
Shunji Iwai’s pandemic comedy The 12 Day Tale of the Monster That Died in 8 is a cute little movie. Perhaps it’s something that is lost in translation, but it’s hard to find much in the way of laughter in a series of uber-specific in-jokes. Still, watching this is effectively like watching an hour and a half of nerds talking about kaiju, and there’s something charming in the level of love and detail put into it. Additionally, while the metaphors used in the film are certainly on-the-nose, it’s a message that is just as urgent now as it was when this was made a year ago.
On the 3rd Day
Latin American horror has very unique sensibilities to it, and On the 3rd Day sees them in full display. The portions of the film that work the best here are the character-driven ones, following a desperate mother trying to reunite with her son, as a lot of the emotional beats resonare unexpectedly well. However, the supernatural elements aren’t nearly as strong, offering a solid and sometimes even hypnotic atmosphere but not much in the way of genuine scares.
Ghost stories tend to lend themselves well to quiet horror films that skew more towards the dramatic rather than the scary ones, and that is the success of Ruth Platt’s Martyrs Lane. The film may drag a bit at times, but Platt does an excellent job of capturing a surreal and occasionally nightmarish atmosphere that will immerse the viewer in the story. The things that the film has to say about guilt and trauma aren’t particularly original, but are delivered with plenty enough emotional authenticity for it to work.
Based on the graphic novel Samurai Shiro, the Brazilian-Japanese film Yakuza Princess suffers from coming out around the same time as two similar, bigger-budget films. It’s the story of an attractive young person discovering their family’s dark and violent past and connections to a shadow organization, hitting many of the same beats as Snake Eyes and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Japanese pop star MASUMI gives a solid enough performance, Jonathan Rhys Meyers is largely unimpressive, and the action sequences and effects are rather strong, but the script is so dull that it doesn’t work.
Hand Rolled Cigarette
Kin Long Chan’s crime drama/thriller Hand Rolled Cigarette was released to great acclaim in its home country, likely due to the fact that it owes so much to the classics of Hong Kong cinema. However, this meandering and occasionally pretentious film doesn’t have enough investment in its characters to justify its slow pacing. The visual style of the film is strong, culminating in a great action sequence which shows the potential it had, but a solid landing doesn’t make the preceding hour and twenty minutes worth watching.
The Unknown Man of Shandigor
In addition to debuting some of the most exciting new genre films, Fantasia is known for premiering new restorations of obscure classics from around the world. The once-lost espionage thriller The Unknown Man of Shandigor is one of the hidden gems of this year’s festival. Although the plot is somehow both generic and altogether too convoluted at the same time, the excellent world building of Jean-Louis Roy makes this a standout within the genre. And a fabulous performance from the legendary Serge Gainsbourg is worth watching the film for alone.
Returning to the festival after having debuted there four years ago, Takahide Hori’s stop-motion animation film Junk Head is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious films to play at this year’s Fantasia, if only because of how much effort and craftsmanship went into it. From a narrative standpoint, the film is perhaps a bit too complicated, taking its rather simple story and expanding upon it in a way that is occasionally confusing. However, the intricacies of the animation technique are certainly very impressive, as is the commentary that Hori offers on his themes.
Filmmaker John Swab has made a few B-movie crime flicks, and while his newest film Ida Red is probably his most professional-looking yet, it’s also his most forgettable. A passable drama/thriller about two criminal brothers pulling off one last job, there are some solid action sequences here, but the story is so generic that it feels like any other movie that we have seen before. The only element here that truly stands out is the cast, with great performances from Josh Hartnett, Frank Grillo, and Melissa Leo. Grillo, in particular, is at the top of his game, showing how excellent he could be given stronger material.
When I Consume You
A unique thing about the horror genre is that complexity does not always equal effectiveness. Perry Blackshear’s When I Consume You is certainly an ambitious film, mixing a revenge thriller storyline with elements of family drama and supernatural horror. It’s an interesting combination, and there are some moments of genuine emotion throughout, but they are buried in a needlessly convoluted script. It’s the type of film that has the bones it takes to be something great, but needed an additional rewrite to fully capture its potential.
Don't Say Its Name
One of the weakest links of last year’s festival was an eco-horror film, and fans of the genre hoping that Don’t Say Its Name would offer some sort of redemption will be disappointed. Ruben Martell’s indigenous horror film certainly deals with some very important issues, but it addresses them in a way that is so sloppy that the (quite overt) message doesn’t connect at all. This messy blend of ghost and slasher tropes offers a few cool kills, but a script that is so rudimentary to the point of being almost laughable.
When one thinks of genre film festivals, the mind likely initially goes to horror, but it is often the weird dark comedies that tend to impress the most and Maxwell McCabe-Lokos’s Stanleyville is one such film. Centered around a contest to win a car and possibly some form of self-actualization along with it, the first hour or so is quite funny, even if it does feel somewhat random, but the final act brings all of the themes full-circle and delivers in an unhinged and entertaining way.
The Righteous, the feature debut of writer-director Mark O’Brien re-teams him with his Ready or Not costar Henry Czerny. However, despite Czerny’s absolutely fantastic performance, this horror story of a spiritual crisis suffers from glacial pacing and themes that feel all like they have been done many times before. Crisp black-and-white visuals go a long way in creating the atmosphere, and O’Brien’s direction is strong as a whole, but solid craftsmanship alone can’t elevate an unsatisfying script into a memorable psychological horror film.
You Can't Kill Meme
One of the sleeper hits of last year’s Fantasia was Feels Good Man, a documentary which explored the origins and history of the Pepe the Frog meme. Apparently in a bid to recapture the magic of exploring viral sensations, the festival programmed Hayley Garrigus’s You Can’t Kill Meme, and it’s nowhere near as interesting or effective. Supposedly a deep-dive into the darker side of the internet and how memes influenced the political landscape in America, this is just an unpleasant mess of ramblings and conspiracy theories.
The Uruguayan romantic comedy Ghosting Gloria has a premise that sounds like it could be very funny, but in execution, amounts to little more than the scene in Ghostbusters where Dan Aykroyd gets a bj from a ghost stretched into a two-hour movie. Some interesting character work aside, the film isn’t deep enough to make more than an interesting short. That said, Stefania Tortorella’s absolutely charming performance makes the film a genuinely agreeable, and occasionally genuinely funny watch.
As far as thriller storylines go, Travis Taute’s script for Indemnity is about as basic as they come, as it follows a man on the run after he is framed by a conspiracy that he doesn’t quite understand. That isn’t to say that the film isn’t entertaining — there’s enough action to keep the film moving for the entirety of its two-hour runtime. There are some interesting (albeit surface-level) themes exploring PTSD and the lack of support that people suffering have from the government, but these are, perhaps ironically, abandoned in favor of popcorn entertainment.
Giving Birth to a Butterfly
If nothing else, Giving Birth to a Butterfly proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that filmmaker Theodore Schaefer is one to watch. Admittedly, the script does meander on more than one occasion, but this family drama is compelling through and through thanks to some exceptional character work and strong performances from Annie Parisse and Gus Birney. The visual style is very well-defined, if a bit on the pretentious side, but it does a great job of immersing the viewer in this slightly off-kilter world.
Every festival — especially those that are devoted specifically to niche cinema — is destined to have at least one film that isn’t even going to come close to resonating with all audiences. The Belgian film Hotel Poseidon seems destined to be a contender for the title of most divisive film to come out of Fantasia. Some may love this grimy and occasionally hypnotic riff on The Shining, but others will be frustrated by its derivative and meandering plot. Unfortunately, while director Stefan Lernous’s craft is certainly respectable, we still found ourselves to be a part of the latter group.
Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist
Anime filmmaker Satoshi Kon made a mere four feature films in his short but acclaimed career, and documentarian Pascal-Alex Vincent hopes to pay tribute to him with his film Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist. Basic in its execution but powerful in its content, Vincent’s documentary features plenty of well-known American, Japanese, and French filmmakers talking about Kon’s filmography and how the master influenced their own work. It’s sure to be an interesting watch for anyone who already loves Kon’s films, and seems likely to win the director over a few new converts.
The 2021 Fantasia Film Festival runs August 5-25.
By Sean Boelman
Every year in New York City, the Japan Society comes together to put on Japan Cuts, a festival celebrating the best in Japanese film. Considered to be the largest festival in North America devoted exclusively to cinema from Japan, there is something here for everyone, from big-budget Asian blockbusters to prestige dramas, and everything in-between. At disappointment media, we got the opportunity to screen some of the films that will be playing the festival, and here are some of our recommendations of what you should check out!
Perhaps the most high-profile film screening in the lineup is The Great Yokai War: Guardians, a sequel to Takashi Miike’s 2005 fantasy epic. Any cinephile knows that Miike is one of the most prolific filmmakers working in genre cinema right now, so his newest film is sure to be highly anticipated. The film follows a young boy who discovers that he is the descendant of a legendary warrior and must team up with the yokai, a group of spirits, to save the world. It’s a very fun blend of CGI effects and practical work, with plenty of supernatural action sequences and a cute Spielbergian quality to it. This film is sure to be in-demand, so there are two in-person screenings: one on August 28 at 7pm and the other on September 1 at 4pm.
Another major film playing at the festival is Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Wife of a Spy. The first historical drama from the legendary director, the film is co-written by his former students Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (whose Drive My Car is making waves on the festival circuit right now) and Tadashi Nohara, and it’s by no means a traditional espionage thriller. The film follows a Japanese merchant who discovers a dark secret about his country’s past and speaks out about it, causing him to be accused of being a spy. It’s a riveting and unexpectedly emotional drama anchored by two great performances and exquisite direction. Although the online screening is already sold out, there is still an in-person showing on August 27 at 7pm.
For those looking for something on the weirder side, it may be worth checking out Masashi Yamamoto’s Wonderful Paradise. The film is set during a family’s last day before moving out of their luxurious mansion as eccentric guests show up, resulting in a bizarre and wild farewell party. The first act is quirky, but when the film really shines is when it leans into its dark comedy elements in the final thirty minutes. It’s not going to be for everyone, but make sure to check out this virtual screening if you are in the mood for something wacky and fun.
And those are only a few of the films that are screening in-person and virtually at this year’s event. Even if you aren’t in New York City, you will be able to watch many of the selections online from the comfort of your own home. And with such a diverse selection of films from Japan, there’s no excuse to not find a movie you want to see!
The 2021 edition of Japan Cuts runs August 20 through September 2. More information, including how to purchase tickets, can be found here.
Review by Sean Boelman
One of the world’s longest-running festivals, the Locarno Film Festival is back in 2021 with a hybrid edition featuring films from around the world. From exciting premieres of the newest films from established filmmakers to some intriguing debuts from new voices, the lineup this year features plenty of movies that festival-goers won’t want to miss.
We at disappointment media are excited to be providing remote coverage for the 2021 Locarno Film Festival. Below you can find our thoughts on some of the films we have been able to check out that are playing as a part of the lineup. Although the festival is coming to a close, the press and industry online library continues until August 31, so we will add more capsule reviews to this article as we check out more films!
There have been plenty of films to pose the question of what the oppressed would do if they became the oppressor, but filmmaker Hleb Papou’s unexpectedly tender approach for The Legionnaire is welcome and refreshing. On paper, this story of an African-Italian police officer who is torn between his duty and his obligation to family sounds like it is going to be a race-against-the-clock thriller when in reality, it is something much more nuanced, a restrained and intimate character study. Germano Gentile’s leading performance is absolutely brilliant, nailing every bit of emotion in the story.
Festivals are designed to discover all sorts of films, including work that would likely never have been seen if not for the platform and prestige that the festival provides. For better or worse, Ghassan Salhab’s The River is one of those films, with a slow and frequently meandering script but solid production values. There is definitely something interesting to be found in this story of two people wandering the landscape contemplating an impending war, but it will test the viewer’s patience as the interactions start to blend together. It’s worth watching for some gorgeous scenery and strong chemistry between Ali Suliman and Yumna Marwan, but it won’t be for everyone.
Phil Tippet is an absolute legend in the film community for having worked on the visual effects teams on such classics as RoboCop, Jurassic Park, and The Empire Strikes Back, so his feature-length stop-motion animation project Mad God was obviously high on the list of most-anticipated films of the Locarno lineup. While it’s certainly a bit on the heavy-handed side when it comes to its message, the love and craft that went into this project absolutely leap off the screen. The world which Tippet has created for his film is so immersive, and will have viewers transfixed for the entirety of the eighty-plus minute runtime.
The 2021 Locarno Film Festival runs August 4-14.
The Snake Hole
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