Man. I guess people were so depressed in the seventies they’d try just about anything. As we live through a fast-forward remix of the Watergate scandal, it’s interesting to take a look back at those strange, hungover times. The Commune is a Danish film set in the seventies, so a rather different milieu than Nixon’s America. But societal malaise was pervasive in Western culture at that time. From the talented but uneven director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration, The Hunt), The Commune is a loosely autobiographical film of his own experiences growing up in that era. It’s a spare tale of a marriage pushed too far, veering into melodrama.
Anyone who watches Mr. Robot knows how hypnotic Rami Malek’s presence can be. He’s mastered an aura of complicated blankness, his glinting, buggy eyes set deep in his flatly inexpressive face. Malek calls on that same bright, disturbed facade to propel the shambolic, disjointed thriller Buster’s Mal Heart from director Sarah Adina Smith. A head-scratcher with a twisty split narrative, the film’s an uneven study of one man’s descent into madness, held together by the force of Malek’s commanding distance.
There was a time when The Ring was the scariest film franchise going.
Based on the Japanese novel Ringu, written by Kôji Suzuki and its own cinematic adaptation by Hideo Nakata, the 2002 film introduced North American audiences to the character of Samara and a director named Gore Verbiniski, who would go on to spearhead the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise for Disney. The film was a box office success and scared the pants of audiences, so of course there was a sequel. The Ring Two didn’t make as much money as the first, even with Japanese director Najata at the helm, and the franchise was put on ice.
Until this year, and the third entry in the series, Rings. Which didn’t do very well at the box office and which critics hated.
There’s nothing quite like a David Lynch movie. You know the second you find yourself immersed in one of his unsettling worlds, the strange blend of earnest innocence and churning malevolence vying against one another, light and dark and laughter and horror and violence but especially the eeriness. Nobody but nobody does eerie like David Lynch. Which makes David Lynch: The Art Life so fascinating, a movie about a movie-maker that takes up all the stuff he does other than movies.
The world doesn’t need another milquetoast Canadian indie comedy. But it’s a national specialty, so they keep coming around, safe, inoffensive, government-funded and mildly amusing. Unfortunately for Chokeslam, safe and inoffensive aren’t the words you want to hear about a wrestling comedy, even if it aspires to the romantic variety. Director Robert Cuffley’s attempts to fuse the world of wrestling with the genre clichés of rom-com make for a cute, unassuming yarn that never quite gets off the mat.
They don’t come around all that often, but the movies love a charismatically gruff old man. From the goofy classic Grumpy Old Men with Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau to Clint Eastwood’s racist curmudgeon in Gran Turino, there’s a strange appeal to bitter old cranks. At least, when they discover they have a heart after all. Hannes Holm’s A Man Called Ove, from the novel by Fredrik Backman, follows in the genre’s creaky, recalcitrant footsteps. With a wonderful performance as the titular Ove from Rolf Lassgård, the film hits all the right irascible notes. Nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Film category, and another for Makeup and Hairstyling, A Man Called Ove has been an unlikely success.
The Canadian Western has to be the smallest of film genres. Philip Borsos’ The Grey Fox (1982) pretty much begins and ends the genre. It’s small because Canadians don’t really think we had a western frontier, in the same way America did. That’s not entirely true, but misses a larger point, that really almost all of Canada is frontier. Still. And most of that frontier isn’t west. It’s north. Inuk director Zacharias Kunuk corrects that oversight with an arctic reimagining of John Ford’s classic western The Searchers (1956). Spare and evocative, Kunuk’s Maliglutit brings the Western to the snowbound north with arresting results.
TIFF’s been doing a retrospective on the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. A prodigious wunderkind of the seventies German New Wave, he died of a drug overdose at 37, leaving behind over 40 features and television mini-series made in a brief 15-year career. (Cocaine is a powerful drug in the right nose.) In that burgeoning output, Fassbinder made only one science fiction film. World on a Wire appeared in 1973, a made-for-TV two-parter that virtually disappeared soon after its release. Steeped in a 1970s futurist aesthetic, the film is both wildly dated and amazingly anticipatory, a speculative plunge into the world of virtual reality fully 36 years ahead of The Matrix. Turns out Neo wasn’t the only one popping pills to see what’s really going on.
I’ve been obsessed with Anne of Green Gables since I was a kid, and I’m always a bit nervous when new adaptations appear. I never want to see anything that ruins my Anne, so as I sat down to watch the PBS Holiday special, I crossed my fingers, and did my best to keep an open mind.
Ed Gass-Donnelly’s got style and atmosphere to burn, that’s for sure. In the opening moments of his new elegiac horror-thriller Lavender, we track into a frozen tableau of police investigating a grim crime scene in a rustic farmhouse. The cops hover like statues over sheet-draped bodies as the camera glides between them, coming to rest on a petrified girl slumped against a bedroom wall, clutching a bloody razor. As she stares blankly into us, we wonder, is this girl a killer? Why would she do such terrible things?