****/**** Image B+ Sound A starring Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola screenplay by Lynne Ramsay, based on the book by Jonathan Ames directed by Lynne Ramsay
by Walter Chaw It opens with a child's voice saying that he must do better. It's dark. The first image is of a man trying to breathe inside a plastic bag. This is your everyday Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), and this is how director Lynne Ramsay lets us know that he's disturbed. We know he's dangerous, too, because she shows him cleaning the head of a ball-peen hammer and flushing bloody towels down a hotel-room toilet in a visceral call-back to the nightmare's resolution in The Conversation. All of You Were Never Really Here is a nightmare: a vision of the United States presented by a foreign artist who sees America in the truest way since Wim Wenders's pictures about violence, Edward Hopper (whom Ramsey uses as a touchstone, too), and the state of the American dream state. When she evokes "Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1" (a.k.a. Whistler's Mother), capturing Joe's mother (Judith Roberts) in profile through a window as her son goes to collect some bounty, it's sad in the ineffable way that great art can be in just a pass, a glance. Ramsey's picture is about the toll of violence on the violator and the victim in equal measure. In moments, she recreates Michael Mann's urban veneers--nowhere more so than during the title sequence, whose soundtrack evokes not only that halcyon period in the '80s when Tangerine Dream seemed to be scoring all the best movies, but also the band specifically in how their best scores were about the repetitive urgency of work. Johnny Greenwood's music for You Were Never Really Here provides subtext, texture, and emotional geography. It reminds of Jon Brion's work on Punch-Drunk Love. In a lot of ways, that PT Anderson film, in its discussion of a disturbed and volatile young man finding purpose and acceptance, is this picture's closest analogue.
by Bill Chambers While I was composing this "curtain-raiser," a fellow critic tweeted that she'd been offered press credentials for an upcoming film festival but didn't see the point of accepting them, since travel and lodging would inevitably cost more than she would make reporting on the festival. Montreal's venerable genre-film festival Fantasia, now in its 22nd year, has attempted to solve this kind of dilemma and broaden awareness of its brand by inviting online outlets to view the majority of its slate remotely via streaming links. Obviously "screeners" are not a new concept and have for the last few years helped sites like ours round out our coverage of various festivals, but nothing has ever been attempted on this scale, with most of the films accessible via a centralized hub. We're proud to have been invited to participate in this experiment, because with Telluride and TIFF hitting so soon after, and with travel being a challenge even for those of us who live relatively close to Montreal, it's improbable that we'll ever get the chance to attend Fantasia in person. It's something that had always given me, personally, a bigger case of FOMO than Cannes, because if we have a niche, Fantasia fulfills it.
***½/**** starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Armie Hammer written and directed by Boots Riley
by Walter Chaw There's a moment in Boots Riley's hyphenate debut Sorry to Bother You--it happens in the last third of the picture--that rang so pure and true to me I felt adrenalized, known, inspired. The best art does that: locates that juncture between expression and activism. I felt it during Get Out as I began to recognize the parties where I'd been the only minority guest and somehow also the guest of honor; I hope to feel it one day while watching something about the Asian-American experience. I'd always wondered about the black community coalescing around bootlegs of Seventies kung fu movies, but now I understand it as I find myself vibing to Janelle Monae's and Childish Gambino's energetic, pithy counterculture activism. Sorry to Bother You belongs to this moment of crisis. It's a withering indictment of capitalism and the white ruling class in the United States as it's metastasized into a machine that's only ever interested in consuming its weakest, most underrepresented members. The running joke involves prison/work programs dressed up as a way for entire subsistence, formerly middle-class families to sell their lives to the proverbial "company store." "WorryFree" promises freedom in endless toil. The sign over the entrance to Auschwitz and on the gate at Dachau promised something similar with "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Sets You Free"). In this way, the for-profit prison system in the land of the free is presented for mockery and shame. The idea that the corporate structure in the United States is akin to a prison is raised, too. If films are an empathy machine, this one is the "uncomfortable recognition generator" piece of it. These past eighteen months have been sobering for a lot of my white friends. Sorry to Bother You is a summary of what, until Trump, was easy to sweep under the carpet.
**½/**** starring Madelyn Deutch, Avian Jogia, Nicholas Braun, Zoey Deutch written by Madelyn Deutch directed by Lea Thompson
by Alice Stoehr Movie star Sabrina Klein sits in a bathtub, distraught. She bawls at her companion: "Can you try to be my big sister for one second of your life, please?" Her big sister Izzy is a wannabe actress who relies on Sabrina for housing and cushy work as an assistant; emotional maturity is not her métier. Nonetheless, she tries. "We should do a song," she says, so they call up their mom and sing her "Give My Regards to Broadway." They both perform with such gusto that this must be a tradition for them, a holdover from their shared childhood. These may be women in their mid-twenties, yet as they dance around the bathroom they seem momentarily like a couple of kids.
***/**** starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Jeff Goldblum screenplay by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow directed by J.A. Bayona
by Walter Chaw The first time I remember seeing the news crawl at the bottom of a TV screen used as a satirical device in a film was in Jonathan Demme's still-exceptional, suddenly-current remake of The Manchurian Candidate. In Spanish director J.A. Bayona's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (hereafter Fallen Kingdom), after a grim opening sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the film, a news ticker declares that the "U.S. President" questions the existence of dinosaurs in the first place. It's a well-placed barb in the flank of the white evangelical monster that's swallowed the United States in a dystopia founded on equal parts massive ignorance and fear of an angry white god--one that has installed a demented con-man, and possibly the worst human being in a country teeming with bad human beings, as its golden calf. Hidden away in this pricey fifth instalment of a billion-dollar franchise is a Spanish Gothic fairytale of the titular "fallen kingdom"--the United States, n'est-ce pas?--that owes a lot more to Bayona's debut The Orphanage than to any of the previous films in the Jurassic series. It plays like Cronos, and it serves the same immediate function as George Romero's Day of the Dead, up to porting over the "Bub" subplot on the back of a sentient dino named "Blue." Where its immediate predecessor was a misogynistic funhouse paced to the story/action structure of a porno, Fallen Kingdom is stately to the point of reserved; immensely weird; and overtly critical of the current state of affairs. I'm not sure it's a good dinosaur movie, but it's an angry, swollen-red metaphor. All things being equal, I guess I'll take angry.
**½/**** starring Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne written and directed by Ari Aster
by Walter Chaw There's a feeling nagging at the back of my head that writer-director Ari Aster doesn't have another round in his chamber--that Hereditary, his feature-length debut, is a canny Frankenstein's monster of great horror moments sewn together expertly onto the trunk of Ordinary People. What I'm saying is that it literalizes the familial demons of Ordinary People, and in so doing diminishes them. It's a cheap, mean cop-out. It's an altogether ignoble thing for supernatural horror to be the literal, not metaphorical, explanation for familial dysfunction. There's a definite lack of ownership involved here, and the tremendous cast is thus betrayed by the film in which they find themselves. Reckless, feckless, the very definition of nihilistic, Hereditary is a marvellous technical achievement that feels too much like a calling card and too little like the cri de cœur I think it'd like you to believe it is. Even in the middle of its harrowing ending (and it is harrowing, don't get me wrong), there was a moment I stepped out of the film for a second to admire how "clean" it felt: a movie about the worst things you can ever imagine that I'd feel pretty good recommending to people. I was reminded of an interview with the late Jonathan Demme conducted around the time of The Silence of the Lambs where he talks about finding the line beyond which you'd lose the audience for being too frank in your depiction of atrocity. Hereditary is calculated in the same way. It's the movie about the unspeakable that everyone can agree on; the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland, renamed "My Mother Never Loved Me." It's a fun ride, but it leaves a weird aftertaste. In many ways, Hereditary is the quintessential horror film of the Trump administration.
by Walter Chaw Around the midpoint of Brad Bird's fantastic Incredibles 2, Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) catches his son Dash (Huck Milner) on Dash's way to the bus and pointedly tucks his homework in his backpack. Yes. This happens. This happens every day of the school-year with my 11-year-old son, who is bright, funny, and kind, and can't for the life of him remember to put his completed homework in his freaking backpack. There are dozens of moments in Incredibles 2 like this. They're small, throwaway character bits that would've taken hours or days to animate and voice correctly, and the real thrill of a movie like this--of any Pixar or Miyazaki when they're clicking--is little moments like these. In Princess Mononoke, for instance, the prince crouches to take a drink from a stream, but before he does so, he loops his bow over his head and under his arm in a completely natural gesture that would be invisible but for its meaningful utility: this guy has spent a lot of time in the woods, drinking from springs and using his bow. It's biography conveyed almost subliminally in under a second. In Incredibles 2, a breathless Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) calls from a hotel room upon getting "reinstated" as a superhero in this universe where being super is illegal, after which she bursts excitedly into the story of her day while stay-at-home dad Mr. Incredible makes the right noises and turns on the television. The film is wise to cultural/gender issues that can arise when the woman is the breadwinner; to teen girls in daughter Violet's (Sarah Vowell) efforts to get a boy to notice her (I have a teen girl, too; it's spot on); and to an American's unique social programming, which says that anyone can be anything through the power of belief and effort. Not for nothing, the villain of the first film is the manifestation of toxic fandom in the schlubby body of a white guy calling/diagnosing himself "Syndrome."
Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version
***/**** Image B+ Sound A Extras B starring Toby Kebbell, Maggie Grace, Ryan Kwanten, Ben Cross screenplay by Scott Windhauser and Jeff Dixon directed by Rob Cohen
by Bryant FrazerThe Hurricane Heist gets down to business from the moment the opening credits appear on a dark screen and we hear the rumble of thunder on the soundtrack. It's 1992, and Hurricane Andrew is slamming the fictional town of Gulfport, Alabama, making orphans of two young boys named (no kidding) Will and Breeze, who watch helplessly through the windows of a farmhouse as their papa is flattened by debris. As the storm clouds recede they clearly resolve the features of a demonic face, laughing at the children from the heavens. (I think I said this out loud in my living room: "Wow.") Fast-forward to the present day, where a guilt-racked Breeze (Ryan Kwanten) is sleeping his way through days and nights as a handyman (and ladies' man) while semi-estranged brother Will (Toby Kebbell) has earned himself a job as a synoptic meteorologist--that is, he drives around in a weather-nerd Batmobile, analyzing storm fronts and predicting their impact, determined that the skies will mock him no more. Bringing the high concept to this pity party is new-in-town treasury agent Casey Corbyn (Maggie Grace), who happens to be charged with protecting $600 million of U.S. currency earmarked for destruction at a government facility. Unfortunately for her, the paper shredder is temporarily offline and there are villains about who plan to use cover provided by an incoming hurricane to make off with the cash before it can be destroyed. It gets a little complicated--the money ends up locked in an impenetrable vault inside the compound and Casey ends up outside, tooling around with Will. Together, they need to foil the robbery and rescue the hapless Breeze, who is being held hostage inside as the winds grow stronger and stronger.
Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version
*/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B starring Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine screenplay by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell, based on the novel by Madeleine L'Engle directed by Ava DuVernay
by Walter Chaw In Beyond the Lights, another, much better film featuring Gugu Mbatha-Raw (directed by another woman of colour, Gina Prince-Bythewood), there is a moment where her character decides to un-straighten her hair and own who she is, damn the torpedoes, and it lands like what a revolution feels like. Or, at least, it lands like what a personal epiphany feels like. In Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle In Time, a little white boy named Calvin (Pan's Levi Miller), with whom heroine Meg (Storm Reid) is creepily smitten, tells her, twice (twice), that he likes her hair, getting an awkward brush off the first time and a shy "thanks" the second. This is what passes for empowerment in a film fixated on empowerment. I think it's probably a mistake to have Meg's sense of self-worth hinge on the approval--at least in this cultural moment--of a white dude. There are fraught politics around a black woman's hair and A Wrinkle In Time uses it as a cruel tease again when there's talk by the evil IT (voiced by David Oyelowo) of Meg straightening her locks before being presented with a "perfect" doppelgänger, free of her nerd glasses, glammed up, hair un-kinked, as one possible outcome for her. It's the key visual metaphor in a film garnering some measure of praise mainly for how it's not for anyone who is "cynical" (or an adult). That, and its visual audacity--which in any other context would be derided for its overreliance on the same, along with the picture's anachronistic amateurishness. Turning Reese Witherspoon into a smug piece of salad is probably not the best use of all those millions of dollars.
Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version
**/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Amy Ryan screenplay by Miles Chapman and Arnell Jesko directed by Mikael Håfström
by Bryant FrazerEscape Plan, a breezy prison-break yarn with a sci-fi gloss and cursory nods to post-9/11 geopolitics, would scarcely merit a footnote in the career histories of everyone involved if not for its rare alignment of celestial bodies: Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in leading roles, playing gently against type in a wry bromance that adds just enough spirit to freshen up the overly familiar action proceedings. Sly is Ray Breslin, a security consultant who specializes in breaking out of penal facilities in order to demonstrate their flaws to the people operating them--mostly, it seems, federal maximum-security prisons. When the CIA asks for Ray's help stress-testing an entirely new kind of facility designed to incarcerate Very Bad Men (they're referred to as "the worst of the worst" and terrorists is the implication), it's not clear whether it's the sizable cash payday or the implied challenge of the assignment that he finds most tempting. Either way, he's in. Trouble is, the offer wasn't on the level. We learn that his client intends to prove the prison is escape-proof by keeping Breslin entombed within its walls, ignoring his safe words, smashing his GPS tracker, and using his own how-to-build-a-prison rulebook against him. Just when all seems lost, the conversational advances of fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) suggest the beginning of a beautiful friendship--and maybe a way for Breslin to bust both of them out of the big house.
Un beau soleil intérieur ***½/**** starring Juliette Binoche, Xavier Beauvois, Josiane Balasko, Sandrine Dumas screenplay by Claire Denis and Christine Angot, based on the book A Lover's Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes directed by Claire Denis
by Angelo Muredda Improbable as it might seem for a filmmaker who once wrestled with philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy's elliptical and uncanny autobiographical essay on his heart transplant, Claire Denis sets her sights on the ostensibly lower-hanging fruit of the romantic comedy in Let the Sunshine In. This play with formal conventions has some precedent, to be sure, in the near-magical coincidences of Vendredi soir and the table-setting musical centrepiece that drives the final act of 35 Shots of Rum. As with L'Intrus, the film also stands as an idiosyncratic adaptation of a French philosopher's non-narrative work--this time Roland Barthes's A Lover's Discourse: Fragments, whose musings on how lovers talk to each other aren't loaded in the characters' mouths here so much as they are allowed to steep into the ambience like a strong tea. If the genre of happy endings and restored cosmic imbalances seems on paper to be an odd fit for Denis's predilections for delicate wordless gestures, in practice, Let the Sunshine In is nevertheless as singular as Denis's ostensibly less categorizable work: a mercurial and rather lovely portrait of a lonely woman's attempt to replenish herself and secure her future without closing any doors, which is ultimately as open to possibility as its heroine.
***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Judy Greer screenplay by Dorothy Blyskal, based on the book by Sadler, Skarlatos, Stone and Jeffrey E. Stern directed by Clint Eastwood
by Bill ChambersThe 15:17 to Paris is quintessential late-period Clint Eastwood, its emphasis on the procedural and the quotidian seeming at once a calculated rebuke to commercialism, vivid demonstration of what a crapshoot Eastwood's philosophy of shooting the first draft is, and proof that he has no desire to rest on his laurels as he nears the age of 90. The choices this movie makes can be so surreally unconventional, however, as to be vaguely ominous; I hope Eastwood's okay. The 15:17 to Paris is based on the would-be hijacking of a train bound for Paris in 2015, and the three Americans who subdued the lone-wolf terrorist--Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos--play themselves. (It's a postmodern ploy that everyone from Abbas Kiarostami (Close-Up) to Betty Thomas (Howard Stern's Private Parts) has attempted, though Eastwood probably had in mind Audie Murphy starring as himself in To Hell and Back, the big-screen adaptation of Murphy's own WWII memoir.) That being said, more experienced actors inhabit the roles in an opening childhood flashback, while Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer play Spencer's and Alek's mom, respectively, and other recognizable faces, including Jaleel White and Tony Hale, fill out the supporting cast. Yet when the vérité shenanigans begin in earnest, Greer and Fischer are still there as the real men's mothers--and, incidentally, haven't aged a day. This is far from as peculiar as things get, but it induces a cognitive dissonance that turns out to be fairly typical of the movie's tone. Watching The 15:17 to Paris is like falling into a low-key fugue state.
**/**** starring Chase Williamson, Fabianne Therese, Lyle Kanouse, Johnny Dinan written and directed by Graham Skipper
by Alice Stoehr SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Arcade games, with their bulky cabinets and rudimentary controls, are dinosaurs in the world of gaming. They recall a bygone era when you had to play in public, quarter by quarter, instead of on a console in the comfort of your home. They've become outmoded, yet the passage of time has also imbued them with a primordial mystique. As the object of nostalgia, they're imposing, antique, sometimes faintly sinister. Writer-director Graham Skipper banks on these qualities in Sequence Break, premiering this week on the streaming service Shudder. The film stars Chase Williamson as Oz, a repairman toiling away in a garage full of old stand-up games. One night while sipping beer in a dive bar, he meets free spirit Tess (Fabianne Therese), and the two soon fall in love. But an unusual game in the corner of his workshop threatens to derail their courtship as it enfolds them in its eldritch aura.
****/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras A starring Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Manheim, Godfrey Tearle adaptation by Charles Bennett, dialogue by Ian Hay, based on the novel The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan directed by Alfred Hitchcock
by Walter Chaw Following the success of 1934's The Man Who Knew Too Much, Alfred Hitchcock and his once-inseparable screenwriter Charles Bennett took to adapting John Buchan's 1915 novel The Thirty-Nine Steps as a breathless, sometimes-madcap chase flick employing a MacGuffin of many possibilities. The picture opens at the vaudeville act of one Mr. Memory (Wylie Watson): ask him a question and he'll answer it--a human search engine and the centre of a film dealing with the very Hitchcockian theme of performance and how it keeps at bay, uneasily, the teeming chaos beneath the surface. In the middle of his act, a gunshot rings out and the audience, already unruly, crushes for the exits. Men first, old women--one in particular--trampled in the panic. Hitchcock's cosmology is aligned with Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," suspended as it were above anarchy and animalism by the thinnest of agreements among men to engage in civilization. I don't think Hitchcock disdains order--I think he mistrusts it. It's the root of his Wrong Man issues, no less despairing in its fatalism than Edgar Allan Poe's expectation/fear of premature burial. The critic Howie Movshovitz gave perhaps the best, certainly the most succinct, summary of Hitchcock's world of Catholic transference and Original Sin: "Everyone's got it coming."