Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman) is a queer college freshman looking to make a name for herself. She overdoes it on her studies — frequently writing tests twice or three times in the time it takes everyone to do it once — and is obsessed with being the top of the pack. She joins the university’s rowing team in order to prove how much better she is than the rest of her teammates, and begins to push herself to physical and mental extremes in order to succeed. And she does not care who gets in her way of doing it.
In her debut feature, Writer/Director Lauren Hadaway has created a singular and hypnotic vision of the lengths one young woman takes to succeed. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year and was just nominated for five Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Hadaway. I watched the film a few weeks ago on a whim, and found myself unable to look away from the intensely wild ride Hadaway has created. While it would be incredibly easy to compare it to Damien Chazelle’s unforgettable Oscar-winner Whiplash (and believe me when I say people have already started to), The Novice feel like it is so much more than that.
179 minutes. That’s how long Co-Writer/Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film Drive My Car is. I heard unanimous praise coming out of Cannes for the film — where it won Best Screenplay, the FIPRESCI Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, not to mention being In Contention for the Palme d’Or — but all I could fixate on was the length. It was daunting and trying to schedule watching it during TIFF in September alongside 40+ other films was a logistical nightmare and a battle that I lost all too quickly. Instead, I just continued hearing the unanimous praise and continued seeing the film’s poster taunting me on Letterboxd as one of the “Highly rated films you’ve yet to see”.
So when the time came to finally watch Drive My Car a few weeks back, after it being chosen as Japan’s Best International Feature entry for the Academy Awards, I was filled with trepidation and anxiety. Adding to the pressure, multiple critics’ groups had started calling it the Best Foreign Language Film of the year and last week, the NYFCC straight up awarded it as the Best Film of the Year period. Could the film match what I had been picturing for months? Would I be able to watch it all in one sitting (quick answer: no)? How the hell did Hamaguchi and Co-Writer Takamasa Oe manage to turn Haruki Murakami’s short story into a 3 hour film?! All of these thoughts were swirling in my head, and continue to as I finally settle down to write this. It seemed patently wrong to dismiss it entirely because of its gargantuan running time. A film like this was too important not to watch.
Years after a school shooting incident, two sets of parents — Jay and Gail (Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton), and Richard and Linda (Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) — agree to sit down privately to converse, grieve and find a way to move forward.
Mass was one of the hottest films I missed during this year’s Sundance Film Festival. I finally had my chance to watch the film at last month’s Cinéfest Sudbury Film Festival and was left in a state of shock and awe by the time it ended. It may just be a film mainly comprised of four people talking in one location (very much in line with a play), but it is a riveting and necessary work that may prove to be too intense for some viewers. I had to literally pause the film and take a 10-minute break before diving back in. It really was that visceral and aggravating to watch. That is not to say that the film is bad or disappointing. Rather, it is just so deep and moving, that it bends the line between fiction and reality in ways that will affect you no matter what stage of life you are at.
As Defining Moments opens, it defines itself as “a point in your life when you’re urged to make a pivotal decision, or when you experience something that fundamentally changes you.” It is not particularly deep, but it sets the stage for what is to come in Writer/Director Stephen Wallis’ tale of love and sadness amongst a group of interconnected individuals experiencing those profound Defining Moments in their own lives.
Akemi (musician MASUMI) is a Japanese orphan living in São Paulo, Brazil. She has had extensive fight training since she was a little girl, but has very little idea about her past. When her grandfather is murdered and mysterious stranger Shirô (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) saves her life with an ancient sword, Akemi quickly discovers she is the heiress to half of the Yakuza crime syndicate in Okinawa. And the other half happens to want her dead.
For a film called Yakuza Princess, you might expect a non-stop action thriller with that kind of synopsis. And while there is certainly some action and thrills scattered throughout the film, it is actually more of a slow moving drama about a young woman discovering her past and coming to terms with the destiny in front of her. There is a lot of exposition, even more backstory and a whole lot going on between characters in Okinawa and São Paulo (which houses the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan). It gets a bit overwhelming at times, and some moments have a languished pacing that can be trying even at the most exciting of times.
I watched Annette a few nights ago, and have been racking my brain trying to find the words to properly describe it. It is a truly unique vision that is equal parts brilliant and bewildering. At the same time, it is profoundly weird and destined to be polarizing. This rock opera (which I guess would be the closest genre description?) will not be for everyone and I expect many will straight up loathe its very existence. The film World Premiered just under a month ago at the Cannes Film Festival as the Opening Night selection and received a 5-minute standing ovation (which bored Adam Driver and Director Leos Carax so much that they started smoking in the middle of it) as well as the Best Director prize.
Annette centres on Henry (Driver), a comedian married and in love with opera singer Ann (Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard). They both have their separate careers and goals, but all of that changes irrevocably after the birth of their daughter Annette.
Knowing this and very little else beyond what I gleamed from shortened Twitter reactions, I prepared to see something crazy. And while it indeed is the certifiably bonkers vision I expected, it is also deeper and more introspective than I ever could have imagined.
Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Jude (Jack O’Connell) are a young married couple who have their whole lives ahead of them. That is, until a viral pandemic breaks out where those afflicted lose their memories. When Jude begins to show symptoms of the disease, the couple comes together to preserve their relationship and the memories that go with it for as long as they can.
Another movie about a pandemic? REALLY?! That was my thinking before I pressed play on Little Fish, Chad Hartigan’s rather timely sci-fi romance film. Much like everyone else, the real life pandemic has left me burnt out and languishing as I wait for some form of normalcy to kick back in. And after watching multiple documentaries and dramedies made about this moment in history that we are all living through – I was not immediately keen on taking another one in, even if it was based on a fictional event that was filmed well before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19.
How could I possibly get any enjoyment out of something that hits so close to home?
Darren (Kelly McCormack, who also Wrote and Produced) is a talented musician filled with ambition and big dreams. Unfortunately, she’s broke and stuck slaving away at odd jobs. After being let go from yet another part-time gig, she signs up for a “Sugar Daddy” dating website — and ends up getting into more than she bargained for.
Sugar Daddy is the kind of picture that grows on you gradually. I did not think much of it when I first sat down to watch, yet found myself drawn to Darren’s journey of self-discovery as the film moved through its initial set-ups. It is raw, unflinching and due to the 4:3 aspect ratio, highly claustrophobic. It is not hard to watch in the least (the framing does give it a very intimate and candid feel), but it also never gives the easy answers. Should we be cheering and hoping for the best for Darren, even as she treats everyone around her so horribly? She is not quite an anti-hero nor is she particularly likeable.
Alfred Chin (newcomer Taylor Takahashi) is a high school senior living in Queens. He goes by the nickname Boogie and he dreams of playing basketball in the NBA. His has the skills and the drive, but needs a scholarship in order to play college ball — but his stubborn attitude is just one of the many obstacles standing in the way of him achieving his goal.
There is a lot I admire about Boogie. The film is the feature directorial debut of Eddie Huang, the restauranteur who wrote the memoir that inspired the wonderful ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. He infuses his experiences growing up in an Asian-American family into the film, giving it a resonance and cultural expression missing from any number of atypical sports dramas of its ilk. Huang may not have been a sports prodigy, but the struggles Boogie deals with feel authentic and lived in. The soundtrack is great, and the film looks great.
When we first meet Anne (Deragh Campbell), a single daycare worker from Toronto, she is prepping to go skydiving for her best friend’s bachelorette party. The overwhelming experience and new sensation she felt jumping out of a plane changes her — she starts to be a lot more care-free at work and home, much to the chagrin of everyone around her. Very quickly, Anne begins spiraling and starts blurring the lines of what is socially acceptable and what is not.
After watching Anne at 13,000 ft. earlier this week, I immediately regretted skipping it at TIFF 2019. Writer/Director Kazik Radwanski has composed a terrific character study about a woman on the edge that is equal parts intimate and invasive. The film is shot entirely in close-up shots, and has a habit of shifting from absolutely riveting to completely unbearable in the space of a single breath. It always feels honest, and Radwanski never shies away from how uneasy a situation Anne is in — or how awkward she makes the people around her feel. It was a lot to take in watching on my computer monitor; I can only imagine how much more intense it would have been to watch on a theatre screen.