Films Of 2016



  1. Toni Erdmann
    BBBBB  (Maren Ade, Germany/Austria)  Visiting his uptight executive daughter in her temporary post in Bucharest, a German father who loves a good practical joke attends a few events and charms his daughter’s co-workers while frustrating her completely, the two of them falling into their usual habit of failing to find the middle of the road.  Every sequence feels fresh and original, every exchange of dialogue has a natural spontaneity that is incredibly smart and deeply funny, a film that encompasses both the creative and the commonly humane and never loses its steady, fully energized rhythm in doing so. Oscar Nomination:  Best Foreign Language Film.  Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

  2. A Quiet Passion
    BBBBB  (Terence Davies, United Kingdom/Belgium)  Raised in religious solemnity but not piety in mid-nineteenth century Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson defies the severity of her religious school before putting pen to page and enjoying some success as a published writer, happy in a family home she tries to keep from change before she is beset by illness.  The sight of this landmine of a personality bouncing off the walls of a home that, from the outside, couldn’t possibly seem more peaceful is a fascinating sight to behold, the rich texture of the direction and photography providing the most effective feeling of time travel since Mike Leigh’s period films.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

  3. The Salesman
    BBBBB  (Asghar Farhadi, Iran/France)   A woman lets a stranger into her new home by accident and is attacked and, in his obsession with getting justice for his wife, her husband’s motivation reveals itself as being rooted in the same masculine pride and frustration that he brings to a stage production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, in which he is performing.   Character depth and compelling interactions worthy of the greatest theatrical works are combined with a cinematic sense of detail and intimacy for a film that is riveting from beginning to end, one that takes you to astounding places of sympathy.  Oscar:  Best Foreign Language Film.  Cannes:  Best Actor (Shahab Hosseini); Best Screenplay.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

  4. I Am Not Your Negro
    BBBBB  (Raoul Peck, France/USA)  Celebrated author and civil rights activist James Baldwin worked on a book meant to cover the lives and deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., all of whom he knew personally before they were assassinated, but never got past fifty pages of notes.  These writings form the basis of this elegant, moving documentary in which Samuel L. Jackson reads Baldwin’s text while Raoul Peck expertly compiles footage without any additional commentary.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

  5. Elle
    BBBB.5  (Paul Verhoeven, France/Germany/Belgium)  A wealthy video game designer with a dark family past is raped by a masked intruder and engages him in a battle of wills, drawing him closer and seeing how much he wants to hurt her when she takes on a dominant, aggressive stance.  Verhoeven blends all the elements that make his films so memorable (and, for many viewers, hated) better than he has in decades, including both a frank and honest depiction of cruelty with that veneer of camp that never undermines the gravity of the subject, and Isabelle Huppert is bewitching in a role that actually requires her to be frequently funny despite the brutal nature of the plot.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Actress (Isabelle Huppert).  Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

  6. Manchester By The Sea
    BBBB.5  (Kenneth Lonergan, USA)  A Boston janitor who works for demanding tenants all day and drinks alone in his miserable basement apartment at night learns that his brother has died of congestive heart failure and he has inherited the care of his property and his son.  There is so much quietly simmering emotion beneath characters’ brave, barely coping surfaces and Casey Affleck is astonishing at making it look easy, timing his responses somewhere between incredulity and offhanded sarcasm and providing the relief of humour that the levels of sadness that are touched upon here greatly need.  Oscars:  Best Actor (Casey Affleck); Best Original Screenplay; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Lucas Hedges); Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams); Best Director (Kenneth Lonergan).  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

  7. 20th Century Women
    BBBB.5  (Mike Mills, USA)  Fifteen years old and crossing over rapidly from childhood to the earliest budding of adulthood in 1979 Santa Barbara, a boy is constantly in the thrall of his magnificent mother, a woman as proud of her unconventional attitude to life as she is worried about its effect on her son.  The visual poetry with which Mills tells this story has the smart and sensitive intricacy that his dialogue does, gorgeous, bright images that emphasize human figures in the centre of large, colour-blocked frames bringing the era to life in a poignant and thought-provoking way.  Oscar Nomination: Best Original Screenplay. Trailer

  8. The Red Turtle
    La tortue rouge
    BBBB.5  (Michael Dudok de Wit, France/Belgium/Japan)  A shipwreck survivor on a tropical island attempts to escape on bamboo rafts but is repeatedly thwarted by a giant, playful, crimson-coloured sea turtle, but when he attempts to exact revenge on the creature, it spins their relationship into a whole new magical dimension that turns lonely doom into a rarified paradise.  Dudok de Wit’s first feature-length animated film has all the delicate sentimentality of his magnificent Oscar-winning short Father and Daughter, a tender and poetic rumination on love, nature and the idea that the beauty of life’s cycles must be believed to be seen.  Oscar Nomination: Best Animated Feature. TIFF: 2016. Trailer

  9. Frantz
    BBBB.5  (Francois Ozon, France/Germany)  A year after the end of the first World War, a Frenchman comes to a small German town whose citizens are not in the least bit pleased to see him, connecting with the young woman who was to marry a boy that he was friends with before their countries were locked in battle.  Beautifully photographed in inky monochrome (with the odd moment of full colour), this sumptuous tale remade from a 1932 Ernst Lubitsch film is a treasure trove of rewards, from the aesthetic pleasures of the wardrobe and set design to the elegant performances bringing an old-fashioned sense of melodrama to the modern screen.  Venice:  Marcello Mastroianni Award (Paula Beer).  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

  10. Their Finest
    BBBB.5  (Lone Scherfig, United Kingdom/Sweden)  A newspaper copy editor is advanced to script doctor when the Ministry of Information needs women to write the “mush” for morale-boosting movies, becoming an invaluable script collaborator on a cornerstone project that fictionalizes a rescue achieved by two sisters during the battle of Dunkirk.  A fine command for the period and perpetual warmth make this a richly enjoyable, intelligent and moving film, one that hits the heart’s depths thanks to its never abandoning the elements of humour that abound throughout.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer


    Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea
    Honour Roll: Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins; Shahab Hosseini, The Salesman; Peter Simonischek, Toni Erdmann; Denzel Washington, Fences
    Isabelle Huppert, Elle/Things To Come/Souvenir
    Honour Roll: Taraneh Alidoosti, The Salesman; Annette Bening, 20th Century Women; Sandra Huller, Toni Erdmann; Ruth Negga, Loving
    Issei Ogata, Silence
    Honour Roll:  Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water; Aaron Taylor Johnson, Nocturnal Animals; Stephen Henderson, Fences; Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
    Viola Davis, Fences
    Honour Roll: Naomie Harris, Moonlight; Nicole Kidman, Genius/Lion; Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures; Haley Squires, I, Daniel Blake
    Maren Ade, Toni Erdmann
    Honour Roll: Terence Davies, A Quiet Passion; Barry Jenkins, Moonlight; Martin Scorsese, Silence; Paul Verhoeven, Elle




13 Hours
BBB  (Michael Bay, Malta/Morocco/USA)  The disaster at an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 is given the Michael Bay treatment in this awkward hybrid between Zero Dark Thirty and brainless action films.  Appealing characters and committed actors help the excessive running time go by in this rather one-note affair, but Bay’s attempt to make a politically engaged version of his previous action extravaganzas is undone by the fact that he seems perfectly incapable of injecting any intelligence into the noise. Oscar Nomination:  Best Sound Mixing. Trailer

BBBB  (Ava DuVernay, USA)   With the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery at the end of the Civil War, what many of us think was the beginning of a new freedom for black citizens was actually a continuation of an American underclass under altered terms.  This film is a sobering and intelligent experience, with blistering film footage that will make a deep impression even if you’ve seen some of it before.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature.  Trailer

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
BBBB  (Steve James, USA)  The financial crisis of 2008 results in an eventual multi-billion dollar bailout that is as controversial and devastating as the disaster that caused it, and no indictments are handed out to any bank except one, a small chain called Abacus that serves the Chinese-American community of New York and is still run by its founder, Thomas Sung, and his daughters.  This exciting documentary covers the entire situation with impressive efficiency, boiling years of detailed information down to ninety very entertaining minutes that include opinions from the family members themselves (Sung’s wife Hwei Lin being the most camera-friendly of them all), journalists writing on the case, lawyers for the prosecution and even members of the trial jury.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

BB.5  (Robert Zemeckis, United Kingdom/USA)  A Canadian spy working for British forces during World War II is sent to Casablanca, where he plays house with a French agent until they can pull off the assassination of a Nazi bigwig.  Shot with an overt emphasis on nostalgia, Zemeckis’ tribute to early forties spy thrillers is so intent on being the kind of movie your parents love (with a little lesbianism thrown in for you modern kids) that the effect is almost as bland as the low-burn chemistry between the leads.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Costume Design.  Trailer

BB.5  (Denis Villeneuve, USA)  Twelve giant, shell-like spaceships descend upon Earth in locales spread across the globe, silent and patiently hovering above the ground, the one stationed in the United States given over to a professor of linguistics and a theoretical physicist to learn of their reason for coming.  All the subtlety built up by the solid direction and Amy Adams’ grounded performance is thrown to the wind when the last act abandons all the story’s scientific interest and switches to magical powers instead, a ridiculous climax straight out of a Best Sci-Fi Stories of the Year collection the continues the grating habit of sci-fi films only allowing women to be leads if they have a tragedy in their personal life.  Oscar:  Best Sound Editing; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Director (Denis Villeneuve); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Production Design; Best Film Editing; Best Sound Mixing.  Venice:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

Captain Fantastic
BBB  (Matt Ross, USA)  A man raising his children in the wilderness learns that their mother has died after years of struggling with her mental health, forced to face the possibility that the survival skills he has taught them are preventing their connecting with a society they want to be a part of.  Despite showing sensitive nuance to both the good and the bad of the protagonist’s principled lifestyle, Ross goes out of his way to bash the rest of American society as an intolerant and unintelligent monolith in what plays like a soft Running On Empty.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen).  Trailer

Deepwater Horizon
BBBB  (Peter Berg, Hong Kong/USA)  True story of the disaster aboard a giant semi-submersible drilling rig that suffered a mulfunction that led to its exploding and spilling tons of gallons of oil into the Gulf, taking the lives of ten crew members aboard.  Another in a long line of Grunts In Peril movies that put the American obsession with vigilante personality cults into a true story of circumstances gone awry, this one works because Berg trims all the unnecessary fat, avoiding any manipulative backstories or Michael Bay-style montages, keeping it smart and on track throughout.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Visual Effects; Best Sound Editing.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

Doctor Strange
BBB.5  (Scott Derrickson, USA)  A top-tier brain surgeon endures nerve damage in a car accident and cannot repair his once-steady hands, traveling to Nepal where what at first seems like a charlatan guru turns out to be a sorceress who teaches him how to use his mind to control both his motor skills and the elements.  Terrific effects and a candy-coloured visual scheme make it feel like fifties sci-fi exploitation has been given the modern superhero treatment, but the best aspect of it, and the reason why the fact that it is little more than the sum of its parts doesn’t hurt, is that its humour is generous and relaxed without ever begging to be acknowledged.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Visual Effects.  Trailer

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
BB.5  (David Yates, United Kingdom/USA)  An enthusiastic collector of wondrous creatures arrives in New York with contraband material in his bag and accidentally unleashes trouble upon the unsuspecting city, while a religious fanatic abuses one of her adopted children in her mission to root witchcraft out of the city and loosen the devil’s hold on the population.  Shades of a villain and a lot of tangential adventures are part of the bargain, the whole thing taking too long and making far too little sense to anyone who doesn’t live and breathe this franchise on a regular basis.  Oscar:  Best Costume Design; Nomination: Best Production Design.  Trailer

BBBB  (Denzel Washington, USA)  A garbage collector in 1950s Pittsburgh constantly harps on the need to fix the fences around his property’s yard, which turn out to be both literal and metaphorical, the boundaries of his property also referring to the boundaries of ambition, fear and the question of whether we are keeping bad stuff out or hemming good stuff in.  It takes place mostly in two small spaces but has a connection to the great dramas dating back to Shakespeare, both for the grandeur of its theme (a tragic hero with a tragic flaw) and the narrow conventions of gender (men are in conflict with ideas, women are in conflict with men) that seem to last the ages.  Oscar:  Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis); Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actor (Denzel Washington); Best Adapted Screenplay.  Trailer

Fire At Sea
BBBB  (Gianfranco Rosi, Italy/France)  The Mediterranean island of Lampedusa gets a high number of distress calls from boats crossing the sea from Africa, and the island’s coast guard goes into the rough seas to rescue distressed passengers, while on the island the locals lead a peaceful and quaint life embodied by a family whose youngest member is a natural born movie star.   Rosi coaxes a neorealist feeling worthy of early Visconti out of the situations he captures, emphasizing mesmerizing (and impressively sharp) photography with very few scenes of dialogue, a thoughtful and intelligent documentary rich with a sense of place suspended in time.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature.  Berlin:  Golden Bear.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

Florence Foster Jenkins
BBB  (Stephen Frears, United Kingdom)  The New York socialite who once treated the city to her screechy, tone-deaf voice in a now infamous Carnegie Hall concert and one very popular recording is given the biopic treatment in another of Frears’ Feisty Lady confections. Meryl Streep is divinely funny in the lead character and, most impressive, does her own bad singing, and although it’s a shallow portrayal in a shallow movie it has a very warm core, reminding us that we can choose how we see our life even when the world is laughing in our face.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Actress (Meryl Streep); Best Costume Design.  Trailer

Hacksaw Ridge
BBB  (Mel Gibson, Australia/USA)  A pacifist joins the army under the impression that he will be trained as a medic, but ends up in boot camp and is put through a harsh initiation process before proving his mettle at the Battle of Okinawa with the rescue of seventy-five men left for dead on the battlefield.  The irony of a self-described Christian nation looking down on a man whose Christianity compels him to refuse to fight is not lost on Gibson, who shamed anti-Vietnam sentiment in The Man Without a Face but respects his protagonist here, a modern Sergeant York with less hypocrisy and all the brutal violence that the filmmaker has already proven himself adept at handling in his previous films.  Oscars:  Best Film Editing; Best Sound Mixing; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actor (Andrew Garfield); Best Director (Mel Gibson); Best Sound Editing.  Trailer

Hail, Caesar!
B.5  (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, United Kingdom/USA)  The problem solver for a fictional movie studio whose job is to keep stars in line and projects on track quashes scandals by spending days and nights on the road and very little time at home. The variety of characters based on real-life Hollywood figures of the past are all in the service of a laborious, empty plot that is likely meant to reveal the shallow and childish nature of an industry we mistakenly worship as a moral and political force, but it’s impossible to understand what the film is meant to be other than an indulgence in set decoration and gorgeous costumes.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Production Design.  Trailer

Hell Or High Water
BBBB  (David Mackenzie, USA)  Two brothers rob a series of banks in quick succession, taking small bills from the front desks of small, poorly guarded branches in dusty Texan towns to avoid stealing traceable money, which we realize little by little is motivated not by greed but property related to the financial crisis.  Rich characters and patient direction are splashed across a parched landscape for a film that is absorbing and surprisingly very funny, examining the American cultural obsession with vigilante justice by making both cops and robbers the good guys and holding banking institutions responsible for their sinister villainy.  Oscar Nominations: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges); Best Original Screenplay; Best Film Editing.  Trailer

Hidden Figures
BBBB  (Theodore Melfi, USA)  What has rarely been highlighted in the decades since John Glen became the first American sent successfully into orbit is that NASA had, among its employees, a room full of math geniuses who were also African American women, professionals who made great contributions to the agency’s projects while also enduring the degradation of separate bathrooms and water fountains.  Melfi coaxes three brilliant performances from three already highly charismatic actors, highlighting that not only are the injustices they suffer a moral failing of their society but also a logical one as well:  drawing life’s rules along racial lines means denying the nation access to some of its richest intellectual resources.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture; Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer); Best Adapted Screenplay.  Trailer

BBBB  (Pablo Larrain, Chile/France/USA)  First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy is suddenly relieved of her position when her husband is murdered on a Dallas street and a journalist shows up at her door to get her version of the story, navigating the distance between the truth and what she prefers to present as the truth as she relives the days immediately following the assassination.  Not a biopic but a fascinating, intimate character study, the film has Larrain making subtle jabs at the way that public figures are scrutinized, sadly funny in the recreations of Jackie’s televised White House tour and chilling in the Kubrickian tracking shots of quiet solitude.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Actress (Natalie Portman); Best Costume Design; Best Original Score.  Venice:  Best Screenplay.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

The Jungle Book
BB.5  (Jon Favreau, USA)  In this version of Rudyard Kipling’s tale of the foundling raised by wolves, young Mowgli feels himself ostracized from his pack by the fact that his technological skills (he can collect water with a bucket) is seen as inappropriate for wolvish ways, encouraged to leave his family and head to the “man village” on a journey hampered by the fact that a vengeful tiger named Shere Khan is constantly looking to do him in.  Beautiful backdrops and a wide array of impressively rendered animals, who speak on screen with the voices of a famous cast, fill the eye, while a choppy screenplay keeps you amused at times and bored at others.  Oscar: Best Visual Effects.  Trailer

Kubo and the Two Strings
BBB.5  (Travis Knight, USA)  Kubo spends his days playing ballads in the town square, at night he goes home to his melancholy mother who begs him to stay hidden from the night sky and the dangers it possesses:  she is the daughter of the Moon King who descended to Earth for love of a human warrior, and her father and evil sisters already took one of Kubo’s eyes in an effort to reclaim him for themselves.   Superbly beautiful animation highlights a story whose dark and light elements don’t blend all that comfortably, the whole thing feels like it wants to be scary but is afraid of complaints from sensitive parents, while the fanciful representation of feudal Japan is tempered by dialogue that strains too hard to sound like you’re watching Middle Americans.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Visual Effects; Best Animated Feature.  Trailer

La La Land
BB.5  (Damien Chazelle, USA)  An aspiring actress working as a barista and a man hoping to open his own jazz club while playing crummy night clubs fall in love, perform a few dance numbers and then have their compatibility put to the test when success comes knocking at their doors.  Beautifully shot using colourful widescreen vistas emulating Jean Negulesco comedies of the fifties but featuring characters who always come across as real people, Chazelle’s follow-up to his compelling Whiplash also has mostly forgettable songs performed through shallow lip-synching, passable dancing and adequate but not deeply impressive piano playing, the whole thing seeming determined to not break a bead of sweat.  Oscars:  Best Actress (Emma Stone); Best Director (Damien Chazelle); Best Cinematography; Best Production Design; Best Original Score; Best Original Song (“City of Stars”); Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actor (Ryan Gosling); Best Costume Design; Best Original Screenplay; Best Film Editing; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing; Best Original Song (“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”).  Venice:  Best Actress (Emma Stone).  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

Life, Animated
BBB.5  (Roger Ross Williams, USA)  Owen Suskind was diagnosed with autism as a small child, his parents given little hope that their son would develop reasonably successful communication skills in his adult life until discovering his passionate love of Disney films.  It’s an inspiring and heartfelt story but it’s also a documentary that seems far too satisfied to capture random moments and not really delve into the grittier details.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature.  Trailer

BBBB  (Garth Stevens, Australia)   A little boy from a small Indian village accidentally falls asleep on a train that, when he wakes up, takes him almost two thousand kilometres away and sets his life on an extraordinary path across the world before he is able to reconnect with his past.  This intelligent and thoroughly absorbing melodrama is the best kind of tearjerker, a film so powerful that you’d have to be heartless not to be at least somewhat affected by it.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Dev Patel); Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Original Score.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

BBBB  (Jeff Nichols, United Kingdom/USA)  Mildred Jeter tells her boyfriend Richard Loving that she’s pregnant, he is pleased and they marry but are not together long before the police come and arrest them both in the middle of the night for breaking the anti-miscegenation laws that, in many states, have not been challenged by the rising tide of civil rights.  The steady mood is so consistent that it might drive some audience members crazy, but Nichols chooses integrity over thrills and coaxes fine performances from leads who have successful chemistry, the film’s only major flaw a shallow and awkward performance by Nick Kroll as the quirky northern Jewish lawyer who helps guide these salt-of-the-earth oakies to victory.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Actress (Ruth Negga).  Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

BBB  (Ron Clements, John Musker, USA)  Moana, daughter to the chief of her village, longs to go beyond the shallow waters surrounding her island, but her father refuses to let any of his subjects travel, while her grandmother tells her that her people were once great voyagers before a mischievous demigod named Maui stole the stony heart of the island’s goddess and cursed the ocean’s food supply.  The sweet-natured relationships are constantly begging to be poignant, the songs are desperate to be as popular as the best that Disney tradition has ever had to offer (and yet have some of the least creative or poetic lyrics that a Disney song ever mustered up) while the action sequences keep daring you to declare if you’ve ever seen the like.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Song (“How Far I’ll Go”); Best Animated Feature.  Trailer

BBBB  (Barry Jenkins, USA)  Finely and formally divided into three stages in the development of a man’s life, beginning with his unhappy childhood relieved only by the existence of a kindhearted drug dealer, his adolescence as a bullied high school student alleviated solely by the existence of a friend who takes him towards his sexual development, and his adulthood as his own version of his surrogate father trying to hide his soulful nature behind a tough exterior.  Jenkins’ drawn out, subtle style is beautifully applied to a poetic and sexy meditation on repressed desire blessed with terrific acting and a great sense of tension.  Oscars:  Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali); Best Adapted Screenplay; Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris); Best Director (Barry Jenkins); Best Cinematography; Best Film Editing; Best Original Score.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

My Life As A Zucchini
Ma Vie De Courgette, My Life As A Courgette
BBBB  (Claude Barras, Switzerland/France)   A little boy named Ikar is sent to a children’s home after his alcoholic single mom dies of an injury in their home. Stop-motion animation is more than just paint and glue when you experience the emotional impact of this combination of Girl Interrupted and L’Enfance Nue, the whole thing has a delicacy to it that is never less than engaging, relating its most intelligent lessons in small, poignant moments.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Animated Feature.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

Nocturnal Animals
BBB  (Tom Ford, USA)  A successful, perfectly coiffed Los Angeles art gallery owner receives a package in the mail from her first husband that turns out to be the galleys of his soon-to-be published novel, a violent and disturbing tale of brutal, feral machismo pitted against passive, intellectual masculinity in the vein of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs.  The film has a lot of energy and style, but despite all its violence it never really bleeds, the demons freed by the fictional tale are from a relationship whose figures never make enough of an impression.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Supporting Actor (Michael Shannon).  Venice:  Grand Jury Prize.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

BB  (Morten Tyldum, USA)  On a spaceship bound for a colonized planet that is among the many that exist as relief for overcrowded Earth, a man is awoken from hyper-sleep a century early and faces the prospect of growing old and dying before reaching his new home, but then realizes that he can wake himself up a mate to join him.  What could be a probing, fascinating look at either the possessive instinct of the male sexual psyche or the oppressive undercurrent to the human desire for monogamy is shunted aside all too quickly in a badly plotted third act, one that reeks of studio interference, involving mechanical malfunctions that provide the excuse for action sequences and big explosions.   Oscar Nominations:  Best Production Design; Best Original Score.  Trailer

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
BBBB  (Gareth Edwards, USA)  The scrappy daughter to a weapons designer working for the Empire on their Death Star project teams up with friends to steal the blueprints for the massive weapon that will eventually help the Rebellion destroy the evil regime in Episode IV.  The high standard of production design and visual effects that we have come to expect from this series is here, along with terrific dialogue, while the only drawbacks are a slightly dull plot (it’s basically one excuse after another to switch locations) and a bit too much emphasis on tragedy (mainly to accommodate the reason why you won’t see many of these characters in the movie that takes place next but was filmed thirty-nine years ago).  Oscar Nomination:  Best Visual Effects; Best Sound Mixing.  Trailer

BBBB  (Martin Scorsese, Mexico/Taiwan/USA)  Informed that their colleague has abandoned the church and taken up life as a citizen of seventeenth-century Japan after voyaging there as a missionary, two Portuguese priests go to the far east to prove the news untrue.  Japan as a place where Christianity cannot take root is a fascinating exploration of the history of missionary work, while the physical pleasure of such grand imagery, coupled with a mesmerizing soundtrack, is to be savoured from beginning to end.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Cinematography.  Trailer

Star Trek Beyond
BBB  (Justin Lin, USA)  The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise are bounding along through space when the rescue of an alien race under attack puts the ship into the destructive path of a villainous group of warriors, whose swarm of ships spare no fire power in attacking our peaceful voyagers.  The actors are all comfortably spry in their roles and Lin’s direction moves ahead with ease and wastes no time, but there’s something luckluster about everything from the bland lighting to the weapons design that makes this one feel like something you’re better off watching on a small screen.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Makeup.  Trailer

Suicide Squad
BB.5  (David Ayer, USA)  The good guys of the Justice League need a misfit gang of ragtags to balance them out, and here they are in all their naughty glory, released from prison and assembled by tough government securities expert as a bulwark against something worse than them.  Despite negative audience reaction at the time this film was released, the end result is not actually a total disaster, it’s a passable adventure whose main problem is that it lacks enough spirit to make up for how dark and sinister it is.  Oscar:  Best Makeup and Hairstyling.  Trailer

BBBB.5  (Clint Eastwood, USA)  A man with decades of experience in the cockpit, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is close to retirement after a spotless career but has his life turned upside down during takeoff from LaGuardia airport, when an unfortunate collision with a flock of birds destroys both engines on his plane.  There isn’t a moment wasted in this juicy melodrama, which uses exceptional visual effects to show the event in question in bits and pieces while the post-mortem drama is played out in the main narrative, Eastwood’s streamlined style of storytelling goes well with his stubborn lack of irony and such mawkish sincerity has rarely been this entertaining and satisfying since the days of Frank Capra.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Sound Editing.  Trailer

BBBB  (Mike Mitchell, Walt Dohrn, USA)  Big ogres called Bergens believe themselves incapable of happiness except under one circumstance, eating tiny spiky-haired trolls to feel joy, but a tree full of these potential luncheon meats make their escape and set up a secret village in the forest, throwing parties and scheduling hugs before the Bergens’ cook kidnaps a group of them and takes them back to the kitchen.  Bringing popular children’s toys to the big screen is not a new method of exploitation for greedy producers, but they rarely have the sparkle and wit of this comedic animated film.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Original Song (“Can’t Stop The Feelin'”).  Trailer

BBBB  (Byron Howard, Rich Moore, USA) In a world no longer divided into predators and prey and animals co-exist peacefully, a bunny police officer and sneaky con artist fox team up when a number of citizens go feral and start attacking their fellow citizens and threaten modern progress.  The characters often pontificate on social justice issues only to reveal their limited understanding of their own prejudices (the bunny who is told she’s small and adorable goes on to tell a fox that he’s well-spoken), but its deeper meanings aside, this one also has a plot worthy of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and is exciting to the last moment.  Oscar:  Best Animated Feature.  Trailer




American Honey
BBB  (Andrea Arnold, United Kingdom/USA)  An eighteen year-old girl walks away from her rough home life when she meets a group of lively youngsters in a parking lot and joins them selling magazine subscriptions door to door, working for a boss who takes 80% of their earnings and demands profits at the end of every day.  The protagonist, played by newcomer Sasha Lane, lacks wisdom about life and, for most of the film’s nearly three hour running time, resists gaining any, and staying sympathetic to her poor choices and ambivalent reactions to the results gets a little tiresome.  Cannes:  Jury Prize.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

From The Land of the Moon
Mal de Pierres
BB  (Nicole Garcia, France/Belgium/Canada)   The daughter of a well-to-do farming family is inviting ridicule from her community with her erratic behavior so her mother arranges her marriage to a Catalan man on the run from Franco’s regime, but when she is afflicted with kidney stones and is sent to a fancy Swiss sanitorium, she meets a handsome soldier returned from the Indochina wars and experiences her first real passion.  Despite a lush romantic plot and the casting of the always bewitching Marion Cotillard in the lead, there’s no getting around the fact that this movie, adapted from the novella by Milena Agus, is hopelessly dreary.  Cannes:  In Competition. Trailer

BBBB  (Cristian Mungiu, Romania/France/Belgium)   Just before writing her final exams, a young woman is assaulted on the street by an unseen attacker and her father is determined to do whatever is necessary for her to retake her tests while she, in love with her motorcycle repairman boyfriend, isn’t all that sure she wants to fulfill her dad’s desire that she study abroad.  What Mungiu wants to say about a society that has left behind its socialist years without losing the corruption and cronyism that make local bureaucracy possible is explosively damning, but the manner with which he tells it barely registers above a hush.  Cannes:  Best Director (Cristian Mungiu) (tie).  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

I, Daniel Blake
BBB.5  (Ken Loach, United Kingdom/France/Belgium)   After suffering a heart attack on the job, a Newcastle construction worker tries to claim disability benefits and is plunged into nine circles of bureaucratic hell, constantly at odds with cold and disinterested government employees who give him non-stop double speak about forms to fill and links to visit.  Paul Laverty’s script has a few unnecessary turns of high melodrama, and Loach usually disguises such manipulation as docudrama a lot better; even Dave Johns’ somewhat opaque performance seems to be part of the film’s determination to put its message across with blunt force, outshone easily by Hayley Squires, who walks away with the entire film.  Cannes:  Palme D’Or.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

It’s Only The End Of The World
Juste La Fin Du Monde
BB  (Xavier Dolan, Canada/France)  A man goes home to his exasperating mother, boorish brother and rebellious sister to deliver the news that he is dying, upon arrival immediately set upon by the others who have a world’s worth of emotions to unleash upon him and each other.  Assembling a first-rate cast of France’s biggest stars, Dolan stymies them with unimaginative staging and a script that, in trying to underplay everything, ends up saying far too little, not really a bad movie but a surprisingly empty one.  Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF: 2016.  Trailer

BBBB  (Pedro Almodovar, Spain)  On the eve of her move to Portugal, a woman finds out a piece of information about her daughter that inspires her to cancel her plans, stay in Madrid and write out her story, of meeting her husband, having a child and the eventual demise of their relationship that led to her daughter disappearing for more than a decade.  Almodovar bases his screenplay on Alice Munro’s Runaway trilogy, an author whose prose is usually focused on failed communication and unspoken tension, which couldn’t possibly be further from Almodovar’s honest confessions and open embraces, and the result of this genuinely uncomfortable mix is something quite charismatic to watch.  Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

Ma’ Rosa
BBB  (Brillante Mendoza, Philippines)  A tough matriarch runs a streetside kiosk, taking care of her children, making up for the deficiencies of her drug-addicted husband, and dealing drugs on the side to bring in extra money, but an anonymous tip to the authorities leads to an interminable night in a police station trying to find a solution for avoiding jail.  This is probably the most narratively coherent film in Mendoza’s oeuvre yet, though there’s still a rather spotty dedication to connecting details, sometimes it feels natural and other times it feels like it’s just grabbing situations or conflicts from the air.  Cannes:  Best Actress (Jaclyn Jose).  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

The Neon Demon
BB.5  (Nicolas Winding Refn, France/Denmark/USA)  A young and inexperienced but not naive girl comes to L.A. to be a model and is immediately on her way to the top of the game, inspiring rivalry in two professional models who see her as a threat to their very survival.  Refn applies the unapologetic viciousness of his style to the world of fashion and comes up with something whose glacial pace is well suited to the perfection of his imaginative imagery, but treats the whole thing with far less humour than it deserves, it’s a lot of effort dressed up around something that, its few soaring moments aside, is dissatisfying and shallow.  Cannes:  In Competition.  Trailer

BBBB  (Jim Jarmusch, USA/France/Germany)  A New Jersey bus driver’s name matches his route, his days spent traveling the same roads again and again but his mind occupied with the poetry that he writes down in his notebook.  Sweet and mellow, this look at the extraordinary artistic inspiration that can exist within the common man shows how creation can make a life of eternal, repeating cycles not only bearable but full of its own kind of sweetness.  Cannes:  In Competition; TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

Personal Shopper
BBBB  (Olivier Assayas, France/Germany/Czech Republic/Belgium)  The personal shopper for a prominent woman spends her days visiting high end boutiques and her nights waiting for a sign from her deceased twin brother who died unexpectedly and who, she believes, is still haunting the house he lived in.  The points at which Assayas tips the story in favour of its ghostly elements might be a lot for some to swallow, the film demands a great deal of willingness on the part of the audience to accept his whimsy, but it’s a beautifully wrought tale of sorrow and crime that benefits greatly from how solid and real Stewart’s performance is in the lead.  Cannes:  Best Director (Olivier Assayas).  TIFF:  2016. Trailer

Staying Vertical
Rester Vertical
B.5  (Alain Guiraudie, France)   A filmmaker has made the rash decision to sell everything and drive across the French countryside, befriending a shepherdess who lives on a farm with her father, and the two of them start an affair while he helps her tend her flock.   The turns of plot are, at best, illogical and at worst laughably preposterous, as if Guiraudie wrote it from a disturbing dream, with people behaving like they just arrived on Earth and are still learning how to be human.  Cannes:  In Competition. Trailer

The Unknown Girl
La fille inconnue
BBB.5  (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France)   A young doctor who has just finished her internship at a small practice in Lieges refuses to answer the doorbell when it rings late one night, then later finds out that a young woman’s murdered body has been found on the beach and, as the police know she ran down her street, they want to know if they can see her security camera footage.  The Brothers Dardenne have filmed another one of their subtle tales of human emotion being processed through a smooth series of continuous actions, gliding through the lead character’s medical duties with the bewitching sense of ritual that marks all their best work, and gleaning charismatic but never overt performances from their actors. Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2016. Trailer




Alone In Berlin
BB  (Vincent Perez, United Kingdom/France/Germany)   After losing their son in battle, a Berlin couple turn against Nazi ideology and secretly begin a campaign of leaving cards  around the city featuring slogans and statements against Hitler and his party.  An interesting tale of resistance from within is made powerless by uncommitted direction and a very brief and basic treatment of both the main couple and the law man pursuing them.  Berlin:  In Competition.  Trailer

BB.5  (Michael Grandage, United Kingdom/USA)    An influential book editor who works with the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald shepherds the path to publication for eccentric southern motormouth Thomas Wolfe, their shared project of editing his mammoth Look Homeward Angel a threat to their relationships with the women in their lives.  Careful period details and a cast brimming over with A-list talent can do nothing for a movie with the softest centre and strangest lack of motivation:  the two main characters seem to get what they want out of each other without a great deal of difficulty, then have a falling out that is never specifically detailed.  Berlin:  In Competition.  Trailer

Midnight Special
BB.5  (Jeff Nichols, USA)  Two men are on the run from the law after kidnapping a young boy from a religious cult that sees him and his special abilities as their savior, making their way to an appointed place at an appointed time that has to do with the child’s otherworldly destiny. The various spheres the film takes place in, religion, authority and suburban motel living, never quite connect or inform each other, while the secrets that the boy possesses are obscure and have no bearing on the fate of the characters around him or the world in which they live.  Berlin:  In Competition.  Trailer

Things To Come
BBBB  (Mia Hansen-Love, France/Germany)   A philosophy professor deals with student unrest at her campus, an academic publishing world that doesn’t feel her past work sexy enough to keep in print, an emotionally unstable mother who is falling apart and, to top it all off, a husband who tells her that he has found happiness with another woman and is leaving her.  Hansen-Love has put a very fresh spin on the Self-Re-Evaluation tale that is so popular with indie and art-house films, creating a series of encounters that are always charismatic and interesting while never letting them climax in some kind of contrived moment of clarity or life-changing decision.   Berlin:  Best Director (Mia Hansen-Love).  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer




American Pastoral
BB.5  (Ewan McGregor, Hong Kong/USA)  A high school star football player marries a gorgeous cheerleader after coming home a war hero, they set up a life of bourgeois comfort in the countryside and raise a daughter who grows up to become an anti-war activist and sees her parents as the unwitting enemies of all things good and real.  The story takes some dark and fascinating turns and has moments that are riveting, but Roth’s novel, generally interpreted as a metaphor for America’s loss of innocence post-Vietnam, is turned into an angry You Kids Today lecture aimed at clueless teenagers who are destroying the world in the name of saving it.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

The Birth Of A Nation
BB.5  (Nate Parker, USA/Canada)   A slave born on a cotton plantation in early nineteenth century Virginia is hired out as a preacher as a way to make money for his overseer, his power as a spiritual leader and the horrific abuses he both suffers and witnesses inspiring him to lead a two-day revolt that ends in a bloodbath.  The powerful depiction of injustice is convincing and unforgettable, but the interactions between characters have a scent of corny contrivance; Parker’s using the title of D.W. Griffith’s seminal blockbuster to both rehabilitate any false notions of America’s past and point out that film’s fraudulence once and for all is a clever and rebellious move, but the more this progresses, the more the drama seems to be a celebration of the director’s ego and not a galvanizing investigation of history.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

BBBB  (Houda Benyamina, France/Qatar)   Dounia sees school as a waste of time, her hot temper and intense frustration inspire her to quit school and go to work for the neighbourhood drug kingpin, becoming a seller and earning the boss’s trust to take on bigger and more dangerous assignments.  Benyamina’s coming of age tale spells its morality out pretty clearly, telling a tale of easy money leading to hard circumstances, but does so with such great energy and relies so wisely on the charisma of its performers that it is compelling even when it is at its most didactic.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

The Edge of Seventeen
BBBB  (Kelly Fremon Craig, USA/China)  A young woman who has a difficult time relating to her peers lives under the weight of her brother’s much easier popularity, but when her best friend starts dating him she takes it as a betrayal that pushes her to bounce her anger off others.  Directed with intelligent verve, this film fearlessly presents its character’s rough edges while also holding her responsible for them, and Hailee Steinfeld superbly navigates every one of the character’s mistakes without ever losing our sympathy.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

Free Fire
BBB  (Ben Wheatley, United Kingdom/France)  A group of low creatures enter an abandoned warehouse to do a straightforward deal with another group of low creatures, but a conflict of personalities between two characters sets off a chain of events that leads to a streamlined ninety minutes of characters shooting each other over and over again. The possibility of a philosophy behind the action is not an outrageous one, I’m sure you could talk about this microcosm representing human existence where everyone tries to win but no one can escape the inevitable, but even taking the film at its face value there’s no denying that it is well made and also not overly satisfying.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

Handsome Devil
BBB  (John Butler, Ireland)  Attending a posh boarding school in his native Ireland and struggling to fit in because of his lack of interest in rugby, Ned gets a lush-lipped, quiet new roommate named Connor and begins a friendship that is threatened when the latter is pressured to focus on the manly stuff that will bring their school glory.  Butler details the stifling atmosphere and culture of upper-crust boys schools without ever taking away from the film’s comedic or romantic tones, giving in to a few boring conventions (like the villainous rugby coach who is basically Debbie Harry in Hairspray) but breathing enough life into them to make the whole thing a pleasure to watch.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

Hermia & Helena
BBB.5  (Matías Piñeiro, Argentina/USA)  Carmen has come to the Big Apple from Buenos Aires to do a fellowship translating Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream into Spanish, reconnecting with an old boyfriend and also meeting her biological father in a series of seemingly random events that almost suggest that Manhattan is the enchanted land of the Bard’s popular fantasy.  The strands of story logic are held together at their core by Pineiro’s beautiful visual style and the strength of Maria Villar’s performance; this filmmaker isn’t for everyone, his perpetual sense of distraction can come off as unstudied and underdeveloped to some, light and sophisticated to others.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

A Monster Calls
BBB  (J.A. Bayona, United Kingdom/Spain/USA)  Connor is bullied at school for being a daydreamer while constantly stressed about his mother’s terminal illness, retreating into a sorrow that inspires a mythical creature to appear at his side, a large monster created from the yew tree beyond his window.  The varying elements fit together awkwardly in Bayona’s adaptation of the novel by Patrick Ness, the right balance between reality and the supernatural isn’t achieved and one feels that in trying too hard to not be predictable, the narrative gets a bit out of control.  TIFF:  2016. Trailer

BBBB  (Pablo Larrain, Chile/Argentina/France/Spain/USA)   Pablo Neruda has helped elect Videla to office but now greatly regrets the effort, his Communist party membership making him a target of the president’s efforts to wipe the party out, so he embarks on a journey towards Argentina and beyond while, hot on his heels, a police officer chases him.  This hypnotic tale is as much poetic interpretation of events as it is factual recreation, bringing the focus onto the role of narrative in our lives, which goes down so smoothly thanks to humorous and brisk direction.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

BB.5  (Bertrand Bonello, France/Germany/Belgium)  A group of young anarchists set off a series of explosions at various landmarks in Paris, then spend the night hiding out at a shopping centre after closing hours.   Bonello’s exploration of the frustrations of youth that lead to bad behaviour is commendable for how little it tries to manipulate the viewer, there’s never a sense that our sympathy is being forced in one direction or another, but his approach is so unobtrusive that the characters are never more than images on a screen.  TIFF:  2016. Trailer

The Ornithologist
O Ornitólogo
BBB.5  (João Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal/France/Brazil)  An idyllic solo trip into the wilderness to observe rare birds in their habitat is disrupted when a man encounters a series of increasingly bizarre characters who put him through unsettling, often psychosexual tests of survival.  Paul Hamy is impossible to resist in the lead and Rodrigues creates a very tense, threatening atmosphere, but the move towards lyrical mysticism in the finale will be frustrating for many viewers.  TIFF: 2016. Trailer

Paris Can Wait
BB.5  (Eleanor Coppola, USA)  After accompanying her movie producer husband to the Cannes Film Festival, a woman’s earache prompts her to drive back to Paris instead of getting on his plane, accepting a ride from a colleague that extends into days of tourist attractions and delicious food.  The dialogue is only ever vaguely accurate in charting the thoughts and considerations of its characters, relying too often on cultural cliches (You Americans Are So Conservative We French Are So Passionate blah blah blah), but if you watch it just to bask in the glory of Diane Lane’s radiant beauty, or if you just want to watch the scenery, you won’t be doing yourself any harm.   TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

Queen Of Katwe
BBB.5  (Mira Nair, USA)  A soccer coach struggling to make ends meet starts a chess club and draws the attention of an adolescent girl named Phiona, who learns the rules quickly and, before anyone knows it, becomes the Bobby Fischer of Uganda.   The plot moves through a well-worn groove of the Inspirational Biopic (discovery, determination, setback, success) but the complexity brought to the screen by Lupita Nyong’o’s performance, who really makes us feel her fear and confusion as Phiona’s mother, is the film’s most grounded and unforgettable element.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

BBB.5  (Bavo Defurne, Belgium/Luxembourg/France)  A middle-aged woman working at a pate factory has a routine life until a handsome young man recognizes her as a singer who lost the Eurovision contest for Belgium decades earlier, and decides to resurrect her career.  This endearing romantic musical, a more stylish Everybody’s Famous, has many delicious ingredients, with Defurne finding a vulnerable tenderness to Isabelle Huppert that her daring and dangerous roles have not showcased in a long time, plus there’s a handful of Pink Martini songs that you’ll be singing on your way out the door.  TIFF:  2016.  Trailer






Beware The Slenderman
(Irene Taylor Brodsky, USA)  On a Saturday morning in May 2014, a pre-teen named Payton Leutner, known as Bella, crawled her way to medical help after having been stabbed nineteen times by her friends Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, who said that they planned to murder her to please the “Slenderman”, a modern-day Boogeyman figure born of online mythmaking.  The difficulties of puberty, the insecurity of youth, the dark side of dealing with mental illness and the phenomenon of constant electronic screen usage that seems to occupy young people’s attention are thrown into the mix in describing this situation but no pat solution is attempted.  Trailer

(Steven Spielberg, United Kingdom/Canada/USA)  A lonely London orphan looks out her window and sees a big-eared, crooked-smiled giant making his nightly rounds delivering dreams to the city’s children, and he snatches her up and takes her to his country where he tells her that she must stay forever because she has seen him.  Spielberg’s reunion with the late Melissa Mathison, who wrote the screenplay for E.T., results in a sweet and endearing film that is the perfect antidote for loud summer blockbusters, despite all the muscle put into visual effects this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s wry humour does not devolve into a messy battle sequence or an overly complicated chase.  Trailer

The Boss
(Ben Falcone, USA)  A celebrity tycoon who gives stadium-sized seminars that promise to teach others how she got rich, while maintaining her shark-like takeover of companies in her off time, gets thrown in jail for insider trading, then once released flops on her assistant’s couch and begins again from the bottom while learning to improve her personal style of communication.  There’s no examining the double standard of a world that admires cruel male tycoons while punishing women who aren’t constantly thanking everyone for success, instead we are treated to the slapstick comedy of brutal fights and a wonky sofa bed that flings people against the wall like cooked spaghetti, but what well makes up for this is the fact that it’s all very funny and headed up by a hilarious performance from star Melissa McCarthy.  Trailer

Bridget Jones’s Baby
(Sharon Maguire, Ireland/United Kingdom/France/USA)   Fifteen years after she first charmed us, and twelve years after she disappointed us with a sequel, the adorable London singleton is back and, after shagging two men in as many days, buys a pregnancy test that gives her positive results on her condition but not on how to figure out who the dad is.  Emma Thompson contributes to the smart script and has a fantastic supporting role as an acerbic obstetrician, while Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent are back as Jones’s exasperating and loving parents.  Trailer

Captain America: Civil War
(Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, USA/Germany)  In an effort to quell the dissatisfaction with what could possibly be a rising fear of heroes, a politician suggests that The Avengers sign an accord agreement that subjugates them to the power of the United Nations and holds them to certain behavioral policies that will prevent this nightmare ever happening again, which causes a rift when Iron Man is on board but Captain America is not.  Despite so high minded a plot (one whose villain gets quite philosophical by the end) and so very weighty a running time, the film manages to actually be a lot of fun, its conflicts sharp and intense without being pompous, and its tone adventurous and imaginative without getting unnecessarily dark and gloomy.  Trailer

Everybody Wants Some!!
(Richard Linklater, USA)  It’s Thursday morning and classes don’t start until Monday, giving a Texas college freshman on a baseball scholarship time to meet his housemates, this one weekend summing up all the fun that adulthood provides before the responsibilities of reality kick in.  Linklater revisits Dazed and Confused with another look at a turning point in young people’s lives, the clothing is always as bright and beautiful as the young mens’ skin and bodies, their flaws gazed at with fondness even while revealing the young male ego to be flimsy and disingenuous.  Trailer

Finding Dory
(Andrew Stanton, USA)  Pixar returns to one of its most adored tales, this time exploring the origins of the blue tang with a short-term memory problem, who sets out on yet another voyage through the great Pacific to find her parents.  It’s a sweet tale that benefits from the improvements in animation in the thirteen years since the original (you really do feel like you have spent time at the bottom of the ocean) and from the introduction of some delightful new characters, the best of them a crabby octopus with a heart of gold voiced by Ed O’Neill.  Trailer

King Cobra
(Justin Kelly, USA)  An independent porn producer becomes svengali to handsome young Sean Paul Lockhart, personally obsessed with him while happily exploiting him financially, but their setup turns sour when an emotionally unstable couple who are production rivals in the industry see Lockhart, who performs under the name Brent Corrigan, as their own ticket to success.  Based on the real-life murder of Bryan Kocis, this is a fascinating and exciting melodrama that has no apologies in offering up the sex appeal of its players while also never becoming preachy or judgmental either, with a sharp script and a host of wonderful performances (including a surprisingly potent Alicia Silverstone as Corrigan’s mother).  Trailer

The Lost City Of Z
(James Gray, USA)  A British soldier and member of the Royal Geographical Society is commissioned to travel to Amazonia and provide the empire with better and more detailed maps of the Bolivian jungle, discovering remnants of a lost, ancient civilization in the jungle that none of his colleagues believe exists when he brings the news home.  The actual motive for what becomes his obsession is not entirely clear, there’s no speculation on Gray’s part as to whether or not his protagonist is looking for a way to escape the ugly present or make up for a personal insecurity, and this robs this otherwise excellent film of the kind of substance that would match the steady direction and dreamlike cinematography.  Trailer

Miss Sloane
(John Madden, France/USA)  When the firm she works for is approached to help defeat a gun bill that would add reasonable restrictions for buyers of firearms, a lobbyist balks at the immorality of her potential client and quits, defecting to a rival and heading up the fight to make sure the legislation passes.  A smart and literate script is undone only by a few too many tidy (though not dissatisfying) solutions in the last third and by the fact that, while Jessica Chastain is a sturdy and impressive actor, it always seems like she’s trying too hard to get her breathy voice under control to prove a toughness she already possesses.  Trailer

Nowhere To Hide
(Zaradasht Ahmed, Norway/Sweden/Iraq)  In a part of Iraq commonly referred to as the “triangle of death”, a doctor does his best to administer what help he can offer a population constantly at the centre of conflict, whether it’s the American invasion of the last decade or ISIS interfering in the current one.  Ahmed doesn’t quite explain his method of filming most of what you see here (he says he gave Nori Sharif a camera but I don’t know who is holding it when the doctor is on screen), but there’s a lot of information that is enlightening and upsetting.  Trailer

Office Christmas Party
(Josh Gordon, Will Speck, USA)  The Chicago branch of a software company is preparing for a mild non-denominational holiday mixer when its tough-as-nails interim CEO storms in and brings Grinch-worthy news, that she is planning to shut the entire operation down, yuletide be damned.  Things go from out of control to fully lawsuit-worthy in no time, so much chaos, and it’s so ridiculous, but with so great a cast and such glee taken in indulging in the mayhem, how can you not have a great time watching it? Trailer

Other People
(Chris Kelly, USA)  An aspiring television writer has returned home to be with his mother for what will turn out to be the last year of her life after she has been diagnosed with cancer.  Watching the ill woman decline while her son has to deal with his fraught relationship with his father sounds like a film that is setting you up for the worst cliches of American independent filmmaking, but writer/director Kelly puts the emphasis on comedy for a film that is bright and charismatic at even its saddest moments.  Trailer

Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo
Théo et Hugo dans le même bateau
(Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau, France)  Two strangers have mind-blowing sex on the floor of a club, then follow their instinct for each other out to the street and head back to the one’s apartment to continue their bliss until a revelation stops them in their tracks, provoking a long night of hurdles that gives them a much deeper connection than the one they started off with.   Told in an almost Cleo From 5 to 7-level sense of real time, Martineau and Ducastel’s sexy love story dares to subvert the usual narrative, that physical pleasure is something to be surpassed in order to get at something more significant, telling us instead that the eroticism of these two handsome young men enjoying each other is a valid part of whatever significance they find with each other after.  Trailer

Sing Street
(John Carney, Ireland/United Kingdom/USA)  Conor spots a gorgeous older lass after school and tells her that he’s the leader of a band and will hire her as a singer and, when she agrees, realizes he’ll have to actually start a group and learn to write and play music.  A superb collection of songs, not that we expect anything less from Carney, a winning cast and a thorough, perpetual charm make this a must-see.  Trailer

Spa Night
(Andrew Ahn, USA)  With his Korean immigrant parents’ restaurant closed and his future college goals hanging in the balance, a young man gets a job at a night spa to help out with finances and finds himself encountering desires that he has worked so hard too ignore.  Despite treading on multiple heavy themes, Ahn’s assured and beautifully photographed debut feature is an impressively even-handed balance of sexy, erotic exploration and sensitive family drama, held together by a subtle and wholly sympathetic performance in the lead by Joe Seo.  Trailer

Tickling Giants
(Sara Taksler, USA)  A successful Cairo surgeon reacts to the decades-long reign of Mubarak with a series of YouTube videos that soon lead to a nightly talk show that sees him become the “Jon Stewart of Egypt”, before General El-Sisi’s regime forces him and his family to flee the country for their safety.  Former Daily Show producer Taksler directs this probing, powerful documentary that looks at the terrible reality of censorship under a military regime that claims to have brought freedom to a nation whose opinions, at least in this case, it has undeniably suppressed.  Trailer




Center of My World
Die Mitte der Welt
BBB.5  (Jakob M. Erwa, Germany/Austria)  Having grown up with a mom who cycles through boyfriends and a sister who is possibly disturbed, Phil’s being gay doesn’t exactly cause a scandal in his family, but that still doesn’t cushion the blow of what is to turn out to be his first major love. If the story sounds familiar, that’s because the film barely has a drop of originality to it, but it’s told with such passionate sincerity and the acting is so good that you won’t mind a bit.  Trailer

David Lynch: The Art Life
(Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Jon Nguyen, USA/Denmark)  Beloved by his film fans for his distinct visual style in which nightmare visions are treated with a nostalgic warmth, Lynch actually began his training and career as a painter, and his journey through what he calls The Art Life (coffee, cigarettes, painting and nothing else) is the central focus of this beautifully shot documentary interview.   Lynch is never guarded or cagey in his testimonials, but he never comes across as being anxious to question every possible motivation behind the choices he has made in life either, having only positive things to say about the people he came up with and appearing to be quite satisfied with where he is.  Trailer

Endless Poetry
Poesía Sin Fin
(Alejandro Jodorowsky, Chile/United Kingdom/France)  Follows The Dance Of Reality with the second part of a proposed autobiographical trilogy, in which the artist’s awakening to a love of literature takes him away from his family to a life among bohemians, at first trying puppetry before flowering under the influence of his love for poet Stella Diaz and his friendship with Enrique Lihn.  This is Jodorowsky, of course, so we’re not watching a traditional biopic but a surrealist fantasy in which the artist’s life is told from inside his imagination, but in swapping out his son Brontis as protagonist for his younger son Adan, who portrays the young adult Alejandro, the film loses something in having a less charismatic actor as star.   Trailer

(Paul Feig, USA)  After a spectral figure appears to a tour guide in a historic Manhattan mansion, its manager begs a former believer and now skeptical physics professor to investigate its origin, which leads to her putting together a team of ghost busters after more paranormal events occur.   It’s okay that this one puts more emphasis on goofy comedy than the original did, but conflicts and confusions are all resolved far too easily and, while the first film took its apparitions seriously while treating its humans like jokes, here, Feig and screenwriter Katie Dippold have decided everything is fair game for laughs and, as a result, do not create anything particularly memorable.   Trailer

Love & Friendship
(Whit Stillman, Ireland/Netherlands/France/USA)  An impoverished widow who steals hearts easily with her still youthful beauty departs from an estate she has been visiting after possibly turning a handsome married man away from his wife, heading to the home of her late husband’s brother to orchestrate a marriage between her daughter and an eligible suitor.   Stillman, adapting Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, an early novella that was not made public until after her death, fleshes out the details of the period beautifully and intelligently fills out the plot with scenes and dialogue that are not from Austen but never feel inappropriate for one of the wittiest and most satisfying writers who ever published in England.  Trailer

Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures
(Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, USA/Germany)  This film is reviewed at Magenta MagazineTrailer

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
(Nicholas Stoller, USA/China) Preparing for the arrival of their second child and excited about selling their house and moving to a new neighbourhood, Mac and Kelly find themselves in another tug of war with Teddy’s immaturity when he decides to mentor a fledgling all-female sorority on his fraternity’s old property next door.  What follows is a series of comedic situations that rival the first film for quality, this one is just as silly, lightweight and, despite the filthy nature of many of the jokes, still good-natured even when indulging in its shameless opportunities to get Zac Efron into nothing but a tiny pair of shorts. Trailer

The Nice Guys
(Shane Black, USA)  A thug is hired by a young woman to keep a couple of guys off her tail, which leads him to a private investigator whose ineptitude reaches Inspector Clouseau levels and who has been hired to find the same girl by an elderly woman who has mistaken her for her own deceased porn star granddaughter. Angourie Rice is superb as a pre-teen who tends to outsmart the grown men who keep telling her to stay behind and avoid trouble, and Black infuses the script with all the insouciant humour of his excellent Sass-And-Smacks comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, though at times he does seem a bit too desperate about throwing in as many distracting details as possible.  Trailer

Our Kind Of Traitor
(Susanna White, United Kingdom/France)  An English professor and his lawyer wife are trying to restore the lost passion in their marriage on vacation in Morocco when a late night at a bar puts our hero in the way of a charismatic and shady Russian who asks him for a favour that puts his life in danger.  Energetic direction and a terrific cast keep the familiarity from hurting but, make no mistake, there is nothing original about this one, though it’s hard not to root for Ewan McGregor when he’s in a pinch. Trailer

Sausage Party
(Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon, USA/Canada)  Inside a sunny, happy supermarket, wide-eyed, optimistic foods believe that the only goal worth attaining is to be chosen by one of the many humans who populate their aisles and place them in their shopping baskets, which almost happens to two sausages in love until a mustard’s suicide off a shopping cart sabotages their trip to the “Great Beyond”.   Despite the fact that it threatens to be as tiring a one-joke premise as This Is The End was, this outrageous comedy actually has plenty of genuinely funny jokes and enough creative turns of the plot, plus it really is shocking to see all these edible treats drop so many F-bombs and then get up to such incredibly dirty business at the end.  Trailer

The Shallows
(Jaume Collet-Serra, USA)  An avid surfer who has just discovered a secret beach on a trip to Mexico encounters a giant great white shark who almost devours her before she manages to get herself perched upon a rocky promontory in the water, stuck only a few hundred feet from shore and forced to devise a plan to find her way to safety.  This Gravity Goes To Beach adventure is an expertly assembled collection of terror and mayhem situations, ably led by Blake Lively’s performance and full of some very scary scenes of near misses and bloody violence, a few of the effects misfire and the film is little more than a genre indulgence, but it is genuinely scary and and a good time to be had.  Trailer

(Marco Berger, Martín Farina, Argentina)  Fer invites his school buddies to his parents’ giant estate in rural Argentina to enjoy a relaxing vacation, among them a new friend he met in his taekwondo class who he doesn’t realize is into him sexually.  Berger’s films never feel like exploitation thanks to a genuine sense of classy artistry that is also never pretentious, he is as turned on by these guys as he is genuinely interested in their vulnerabilities, though his usually intoxicating, tangible sense of repression loses something in having a great deal of indulgence early in the game.  Trailer

X-Men: Apocalypse
(Bryan Singer, USA)  After seeing their beginnings in training and their facing off with their future counterparts, the provocatively named X-Men are digging deep into their lore to investigate their very origins, involving the first mutant who is buried during a body-transference ceremony in Ancient Egypt and lies dormant for thousands of years until awakened by penitent worshipers. It runs about twenty minutes longer than it needs to, carrying a heavy weight for something that is this much fun and steals too much from other films like The Mummy and Stargate, but there are enough moments of action and suspense between all the perpetual origin story generating to still make it as enjoyable as the previous two films and, as with those, still does a great job of not taking itself too seriously.  Trailer




Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
(Mandie Fletcher, United Kingdom/USA)  Still living the high life while pretending to be a go-getter, champagne bottle in one hand and smartphone in the other, Edina Monsoon is devastated to find that she has hit a slump financially and needs to find a way to replenish the coffers if she and best friend Patsy Stone are going to continue their shopping and boozing mayhem.  This continuation of the legendary BBC comedy series has the right arcs for a feature film and works all its strands out with surprising clarity, though it likely won’t have too much to offer audiences who are not already primed to love these gals (I should point out that it is my favourite show of all time).  Trailer

Bad Moms
(Jon Lucas, Scott Moore, USA)  A woman struggling to manage work and home duties joins an overtired mother of four and a hard-partying single mom with a potty mouth to take on the bully who runs their PTA.  Since this is from the writers of The Hangover, these new friends aren’t going to get to this noble goal without some nights on the town featuring very bad behaviour, but we never quite reach the level of missing teeth or errant tigers, as if the filmmaking team either think that women can’t handle the harsh line of their previous films or wanted to make a Bridesmaids that you can take your mother to.  Trailer

Certain Women
(Kelly Reichardt, USA)  Adaptation of three stories by Maile Meloy, one about a lawyer whose mentally injured client thinks he has grounds to sue his former employer for negligence, the second about a couple who stop at the home of a friend on their way home from a camping trip and ask if they can buy the pile of sandstone blocks lying in front of his house, the third about a ranch hand who attends a local community college class because she is transfixed with the teacher.  It’s not a perpetually riveting or unforgettable film, but Reichardt has a wonderful ability to create a natural pace and rhythm that never feel pretentious or self-congratulatory, and her camera probes the psyche of her characters without showing off a gimmicky technique. TIFF:  2016.  Trailer

The Finest Hours
(Craig Gillespie, USA)  The true story of the most courageous and dramatic rescue in American Coast Guard history, in which a soft-spoken, true-hearted sailor ignores common sense and follows orders handed down from his boss to go out in a blizzard after learning that two freighters have been shockingly torn in two by rough seas. Beautifully photographed and elegantly directed, this truly inspiring tale means to be an old-fashioned tale that pays tribute to the romance of the post-war era, but it also comes off simplistic thanks to its avoiding any kind of personal conflict within characters. Trailer

Greece Year Zero
(Dannis Koromilas, Canada/Greece/USA)  Documentary that covers a period beginning with independence in 1830, the establishment of the Greek monarchy, through to the many changes and upheavals that have occurred in a short period of time that have led to the well-publicized economic disasters of the last decade. Objectivity is a bit of a problem for Koromilas, whose calling the film an essay rather than a documentary means to justify the often biased, sometimes poorly written narration that doesn’t apply the same rigour to storytelling that it gives to the director’s research.  Trailer

How To Be Single
BBB  (Christian Ditter, USA)  A woman breaks up with her college sweetheart because she wants to “find herself”, then minutes into her single life as a swinging Manhattan singleton decides she’s had enough of freedom and wants him back, but he’s moved on and she is left to learn how to enjoy liberty in the big city as a hard-working paralegal.  There’s no denying that everything about this movie is aspirational, from the gorgeous open spaces that young people can suspiciously afford to the fact that New York has no bad weather days, even in the middle of winter, but there’s a sincerity with which it is directed and performed that almost makes you forget (or at least good-naturedly ignore) how insincere its plotting is.   Trailer

Independence Day: Resurgence
(Roland Emmerich, USA)  On the day commemorating twenty years since an alien invasion led survivors to unify the planet, a strange object from outer space arrives and, nervous that it might be a weapon, the American president orders it destroyed.  A lot of narrative plates are impressively kept spinning throughout this delightful science-fiction sequel to the mega-hit original, with gorgeous production design and effective use of computer graphic imagery contributing to a wholly invigorating visual style while the bouncy editing keeps it moving at a brisk pace.  Trailer

Jason Bourne
(Paul Greengrass, USA)  After Bourne is informed that a new, dirty training operation akin to the one he previously uncovered is being cooked up by an even dirtier CIA director, he travels from Athens to Berlin, London and eventually Vegas, barely evading capture thanks to some nifty fighting skills and more than a few exciting car and motorcycle sequences, surveilled the entire time by his enemies.  The film is a great example of how strong Greengrass is as a director, it is basically a retread of the previous tales with the added sinister element of social media and yet is so engaging that it only intermittently comes up short as entertainment.  Trailer

Lazy Eye
(Tim Kirkman, USA) A graphic artist who designs posters for Hollywood movies reaches the limits of his patience with a picky client and heads out to his cottage in Joshua Tree, inviting an old flame to visit and catch up after a long time apart.  While missing the sexy tension of Weekend, this subtle and unassuming film has good acting, gorgeous scenery and enough smart content to overcome the moments that lack imagination (why does everyone have to mention that Harold and Maude is their favourite movie so that we’ll find them endearing?) Trailer

Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates
(Jake Szymanski, USA)  Party animal brothers Mike and Dave Stangle are issued an ultimatum by their exasperated parents that they either bring upstanding woman as dates to their sister’s wedding in Hawaii or they can’t come at all, and the boys think they’ve accomplished their goal when they convince two unemployed barmaids masquerading as a hedge fund manager and a teacher to join them.  Szymanski directs like he’s worried about offending Zac Efron’s High School Musical fans, robbing the audience of the pleasure of seeing the kind of debauchery that this kind of foolishness demands (and deserves). Trailer

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
(Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, USA)  Selected as one of her network’s employees with neither spouse nor child who has nothing to lose, a reporter goes to Kabul in 2003 and is immediately plunged into a situation for which she is ill-prepared while, back home, interest in the war wanes and her work is increasingly ignored by producers.   Lightly told and featuring plenty of witty moments, the film is marred only by a surface performance by the always affable Tina Fey, a brilliant writer and outstanding purveyor of comedy who is always too self-aware to put a character across.  Trailer




Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice
(Zack Snyder, USA)  The inability to keep Superman in check makes a number of people nervous, including a skeptical senator and a fellow superhero from a neighbouring town named Bruce Wayne, whose vigilante tactics are equally controversial in Gotham City, while sniveling bad guy Lex Luthor is preparing to cause mayhem and the fact that these guys aren’t getting along means it’s going to get worse before it gets better.   The middling box office and critical response to this entry in the endless line of superhero movies has unfairly labeled it a bomb, it has enough fun action and nifty production design to keep you engaged, though it’s a shame that the story takes itself so seriously, the two and a half hour running time is far too long a period to spend without comic relief.  Trailer

The Conjuring 2
(James Wan, USA)  The powerhouse team who cleaned out a rural American family’s poltergeist infestation is back at it for another ghostbusting adventure, this time taking them as far as England where an impoverished single mom and her four children are being terrorized by moving furniture and strange apparitions.  It’s about as credible as any mainstream horror movie that claims to be based on a true story, but there’s a guilty pleasure in many of the clever sequences that do provide chills.  Trailer

(Lisa Azuelos, France)   Born in Cairo to Italian parents, Iolanda Gigliotti eventually made her way to France where, under the stage name “Dalida” (an accidental mispronunciation of her Egyptian stage name “Dalilah” that stuck) she eventually took over the European pop music industry.  It’s no surprise that the mini-industry of Gallic biopics that began with the success of La Vie En Rose would finally make her the subject of a film but the results, unfortunately, are cheap and flimsy, Sveva Alviti makes a lovely choice in the lead but Azuelos’ brainless direction rushes through biographical bullet points and focuses on the singer’s sad love affairs without ever getting at the individual.  Trailer

(Tim Miller, USA/Canada)  A desperate attempt to lengthen a terminal cancer patient’s life puts him in the laboratory of a sadistic experiment that cures him but also makes him a self-regenerating, invincible machine.  Gory violence, crass language and a bit of the sexuals make for inappropriate viewing for the kids, while an insouciant attitude towards the self-importance of superhero movies (mainly expressed through having the main character constantly break the fourth wall) tries to convince us that the tired set-ups being presented are something fresh and new. Trailer

The Founder
(John Lee Hancock, USA)  A traveling salesman who has peddled everything possible is tired and disillusioned until meeting the McDonald brothers and is fascinated by their assembly line burger operation, which he decides to turn into a national phenomenon.  The director who soft-shoed the biographies of P.L. Travers and Leigh Anne Twohey but still gave them a lot of charisma seems reluctant to judge Ray Kroc’s shady greed too harshly, and a movie that acts like it’s going to blow your mind by revealing the ugly underbelly of a capitalist society is a tribute to that very system, one that is far more interested in the winner not because he is better but because he won.  Trailer

The Girl On The Train
(Tate Taylor, USA)  After her alcoholism destroys her marriage, a woman has trouble convincing the police that she saw evidence pertaining to a missing woman thanks to her habit of sipping vodka from a water bottle.  What should be a fun mystery is hindered by a script that is mostly excuses to keep the main character busy rathern than an intelligent spiderweb of possibilities, made worse by inept direction.  Trailer

(Stephen Gaghan, USA)  With the recession of the early eighties driving his commodities business into the ground, a man looking for redemption hocks his last piece of jewelry and flies halfway around the world to partner up with a prospector who has reason to believe that there is gold in Indonesia.  A fun third-act twist livens up a film that is otherwise a by-the-numbers, tame Wolf of Wall Street, with a committed lead performance by Matthew McConaughey and gorgeous locations that are completely at odds with Gaghan’s slack direction.  Trailer

The Legend Of Tarzan
(David Yates, USA)  Tarzan, now John Clayton, lord of Greystoke, has returned to the land of his ancestry and is the proper gentleman of his estate, but the wild calls him back when he is invited to visit a Belgium mining concern that the British government would like him to investigate, which turns out to be a trap.  One hopes this means that our hero will immediately rip off his shirt and reach for the nearest vine, but this stilted and self-important film makes a disingenuous attempt at a plot worthy of Amistad and laughably places the adventure within a genuine historic context, made worse by Alexander Skarsgard’s lack of personality in the lead and visual effects that bomb far more often than they succeed.  Trailer

Live By Night
(Ben Affleck, USA)   A small-time Boston thug’s conflict with a powerful Irish rum runner propels him to become a big-time Florida gangster working for the Italian mob family who want to run the Irish out of booze and gambling.  A lot of great actors mysteriously have no chemistry with each other here, while the gorgeous production and costume design contribute surprisingly little to the film’s attempts at sultry atmosphere.  Trailer

Patriots Day
(Peter Berg, USA)  Recovering from a knee injury and already stressed out by the requirements of the job, a police officer is stationed near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon when, a couple of hours into the race, two bombs go off and kill a number of people and seriously injure many more.  A number of well executed sequences, particularly in capturing of the madness of the marathon following the explosions, are let down by a general lack of tension and a lot of TV-movie-quality acting and writing, with a fictional character who is meant to unify the story’s many strands but who is only peripherally involved in most of what happens.  Trailer

People You May Know
(J.C. Falcon, USA/Spain)  Four friends in Los Angeles are tossed around by life’s uncertainties, one man obsessed with a stranger he met online but has never seen in person, a couple struggling to have a child who have their relationship put to the test when she accidentally gets pregnant while her husband is in Spain, and a hopelessly shy singleton looking for love.  Attractive cinematography and talented actors can’t really do much for the fact that there’s little sense of these characters as friends between their personal crises.  Trailer

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
(Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, USA)  After achieving fame as a pre-teen in the trio The Style Boyz, Conner4Real has gone solo, now a world-famous superstar who can’t even get his butt waxed without posting it online, constantly traveling, performing and doing interviews while blissfully unaware that he has no talent.  This spoof of the pop music industry, with Justin Bieber as its most obvious target, takes the form of a mockumentary and Andy Samberg’s charisma is enough to make it worthwhile, but it’s one joke spread out over a feature film and, given how easy its target is, not particularly mean enough to keep you engaged to the end.  Trailer

(Nick Corporon, USA)  A middle-aged gentleman arrives in San Francisco, picks up a hustler and hires him to be his companion for a road trip that the young man soon realizes involves him reenacting a past relationship.  It’s not a film that goes very deep, a sense of tension and atmosphere would have been lovely to add to what are two good performances and a genuine chemistry between the leads, but it’s entertaining and sexy and by the end is surprisingly sweet and touching.  Trailer

(Todd Solondz, USA)  A sweet-faced, companionable pup finds his way into the lives of a number of troubled and conflicted characters who all inadvertently make him bear the weight of their own bad choices.  The heavy symbolism can be interpreted any way you like, the dog can be a place holder for the problems we ignore or represent the solutions we incorrectly think will fix our lives, but either way there’s no getting around the fact that it’s an uneven collection of stories that are not consistently entertaining.  Trailer




Como una novia sin sexo
(Lucas Santa Ana, Argentina)  Three best friends go camping in rural Argentina, bringing their handycam to record their adventures, but when a girl who is camping by herself shows up for a topless sunbathe and begins an affair with one of the boys, it awakens another to his feelings for his friend.   Sounds sexy and intense, but these characters look old enough to know better than the bratty ways that they behave, becoming more and more unappealing as we move towards a downbeat ending that alienates the audience from their plight.  Trailer

Central Intelligence
(Rawson Marshall Thurber, USA)  An accountant who was popular in high school is now happily married but bored to death in his job, and gets his chance at adventure when he reconnects with a former classmate who is now a musclebound CIA operative who has possibly gone rogue.  The combination of winsome personalities and an easy plot to throw out and cash in on should result in something a lot more spry than what we get here, the jokey dialogue always feels desperate and tired and never finds its flow, and even with the lowered expectations one often brings to this kind of movie, the result is disappointing.  Trailer

The Comedian
(Taylor Hackford, USA)  A once-famous comic hits a low point decades after his success on television sitcoms, landing a stint in community service where he meets a beautiful younger woman who has rage issues of her own.  The inclusion of real comedians playing themselves and doing some terrific sets makes it clear that Robert De Niro, despite a good effort, has not actually been doing this forever, but what’s most astonishing is that the light, bittersweet sentiments of the first part suggest a kind of redemption tale that never happens.  Trailer

Fair Haven
(Kerstin Karlhuber, USA)  James has just returned to his small Vermont town after having been in what we find out was gay conversion therapy, hoping to pursue a career in music while his father wants him to take over running their apple orchard, all of this complicated when he meets the delivery boy at the local grocery store.  While touching on a very upsetting and disturbing trend in American society of thinking young gay people can be brainwashed into walking the straight and narrow, this film fails to have much of an effect on its audience thanks to a dreary dramatic tone and a lack of specific context to what is happening.  Trailer

The Guardian Brothers
Xiao men shen
(Gary Wang, China)  Up in the stratosphere, the two famed Guardian Brothers, once creatures of legend, are tired of the boring bureaucracy of their own realm and contrive a way to start some trouble in order to then save the world from it. The voice acting is all awkwardly performed, while the script feels like it was translated from another language by a robotic computer program and not a person.  Trailer

Mothers and Daughters
(Paul Duddridge, USA)  The relationships between generations of women is explored through a variety of characters, tenuously linked by a big city photographer who is derailed by news of an impending arrival.  Dialogue that sounds like it’s been translated from a foreign language and awkward direction is applied to a plot that underestimates the emotional intelligence of its audience so much that most of it is unintentionally funny.  Trailer

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
(Kirk Jones, USA/Canada)  Toula and Ian’s teenage daughter Paris is about to graduate high school and is weighing her choices for the future: go to school in Chicago or leave the nest and study somewhere else, thereby destroying her mothers’ eternal happiness?  The original film’s overabundance of spontaneous delight in the supporting characters and Vardalos’ own sarcastic reactions to her nutty family have now led to heart-string pulling pumped to the max and few capricious moments, a terrible waste of an opportunity to bring back a lighthearted feeling in an era when comedies have become too overly constructed.  Trailer

Teenage Kicks
(Craig Boreham, Australia)  A distraught teen at odds with his family and with himself skips town with his best friend, taking refuge with his brother’s heavily pregnant girlfriend when past complications of his own parentage are added to the list of things that make life at home impossible. Miles Szanto is beautiful and sympathetic in the lead role, but why the character has to be at the desperate end of worry in every single scene is really confusing, even the most oppressed young person manages a moment of humour or at least grace from time to time (it doesn’t help that Szanto, who is talented and striking, is never convincing as a teenager).  Trailer

(Klaus Handl, Austria)  Stefan and Andreas live together in partnered bliss and work together happily for the same orchestra, their life looks like a furniture commercial with indulgent nudity, but all this Edenic happiness ends when Stefan commits an act of violence that even he cannot understand.  Logic would tell you that an investigation into why he did it would follow, but Handl isn’t here to tell a story or create characters, he’s actually just an obnoxious provocateur who sets you up with his erotic, ripe imagery in the beginning and then performs a series of attacks with no purpose other than to upset the viewer.  Trailer




The Love Witch
(Anna Biller, USA)  A woman kills her patriarchal husband and commits herself to a coven of fellow spell-casters, using her skills with herbs and potions to lure men into her company and doom them to their deaths.  Subverting the kinds of movies that Radley Metzger made from a female point of view is an irresistible concept, and there’s usually nothing I love more than a gal whose eyeshadow stays perfect during sex, but other than a rich visual style there’s not much to recommend this dull tribute to late-sixties counterculture exploitation.  Trailer

The Queen of Spain
La reina de España
(Fernando Trueba, Spain)  A Sophia Loren-esque star in 1950s Hollywood has returned to a Spain deeply under Franco’s control, set to star in a splashy El Cid-type film about Queen Isabella of Castile before production is interrupted by an actor who comes out of hiding and affects an increasingly disastrous shoot. Trueba returns to the characters of The Girl of Your Dreams and reunites them after twenty years, but has little more to offer than mildly entertaining scenes spread thin over an unnecessary 130 minute running time, rarely more than an excuse to show off the gorgeous recreation of fifties cinema (including a clever insertion of Cruz into scenes with Kirk Douglas from Man Without A Star).  Trailer




Cafe Society
(Woody Allen, USA)  After learning that the woman he loves has been having an affair with his Hollywood power agent uncle for whom he has been working as an errand boy, a man returns to New York to run a swanky nightclub and it only increases the complications of his love life. The glittering scenes of 1930s Hollywood and the soiree life of Manhattan are dazzling to look at thanks to Vittorio Storaro’s glinty cinematography, but gorgeous period detail has been a fixture of many an Allen film and is here a paltry reward for a bland story that moves much too slowly and with little sympathy.  Trailer

Gods Of Egypt
(Alex Proyas, USA/Australia)  In a land where gods walk among the mortals they rule over (they’re basically the same as us except way taller and their blood looks like you busted open a can of gold spray paint), Horus is to be crowned king when his evil uncle Set shows up, kills his own brother Osiris and takes the throne for himself.  Bad action sequences and poor visual effects rob you of the few pleasures that could possibly make up for so much bad writing and acting, while Proyas directs like he’s screwing it up on purpose to get back at someone.  Trailer

Hurricane Bianca
(Matt Kugelman, USA)  Richard is sent to teach rebellious teenagers at a small Texas town’s high school, but after initial resistance from his rude students and intolerant fellow staff members, comes into class as Bianca, sassing the kids into submission while taking on the nightmarish assistant vice-principal and even romancing a handsome phys-ed teacher.  There should be allowances made for how silly the plot turns are, but rather than place this fabulous character amidst a group of credible hypocrites (as Elvira Mistress of the Dark did), Kugelman surrounds Bianca with so much outrageous nonsense that it’s hard to know when to laugh with the film or try and work out its faulty logic.  Trailer




Before The Fall
(Byrum Geisler, USA)   A single lawyer who hosts a meet-and-greet at his home for the newly appointed head of their small town’s charity board becomes smitten with a melancholy, recovering alcoholic before being distracted by a flashy fellow lawyer.  This flat drama bills itself as an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with gay men, but aside from approximating the character names and the basic frame of their relationships, it possesses neither the wit or the sharp character observation of Jane Austen’s masterpiece.  Trailer

Seat In Shadow
(Henry Coombes, United Kingdom/Spain)  An avant-garde painter has tea with an old friend who asks him to speak to her depressed grandson; she’s hoping that his experience as a psychoanalyst will possibly help draw the boy out and process the problems that he won’t tell her about.  A few moments of visual dazzle are overwhelmed by a film that rarely makes sense (are they having sex in a highway overpass?) and when it does, rarely gets anywhere (there’s no sense of process or development to the therapy scenes).  Trailer


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