The Father

Written by Taylor Baker

82/100

Playwright Florian Zeller’s directorial debut The Father an adaptation of his own play is an exquisite demonstration of tone management and trusting of central players. There is no gawdy tricks, nor leaning on tropes. From start to finish The Father is exactly what you see it as. Confusing, scary, loving, and sad.

Wonderful turns by Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, and Rufus Sewell cement the ever changing world that Hopkins encounters. The deft balancing of the preceding players is remarkable, them together with an understated brief performance by Olivia Williams end up mixing together as the beating heart of this thing you take with you. It’s a story to be sure, and Zeller is masterful at telling it. But the very unreliability of it, make the people Hopkins leans on the reality of the piece. Likewise they are the keystone’s of the film that the audience will assuredly carry away with them, unable to explain the film without bringing them to central focus.

We don’t know what happened to Lucy and by the end it doesn’t quite matter. But if you like me found yourself continuing to think about it. Then perhaps we can agree this isn’t just deft storytelling, this is mastery of structure. This is one of the most fully formed voices I’ve seen spring into the film medium this year. More exciting than this project, is the promising future that Florian has. I can’t wait to watch that future in theaters instead of at home.

Highly Recommended.

Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 10/21/20

The Father is part of the AFI Festival 2020 line up.

AFI Fest Website: https://fest.afi.com/

Possessor

Written by Nick McCann

95/100

It fills me with joy when filmmakers have kids that go on to do filmmaking of their own. Enter David Cronenberg, the king of body horror! His movies over the years raised as many social and thematic questions as they did drain blood out of people. Now comes his son Brandon, following in his footsteps with something that’s as entertainingly gross as it is thought provoking!

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Possessor moves at a methodical pace, slowly building it’s world when appropriate and taking the viewer on an increasingly crazy trip. It leaves plenty up for interpretation. I’m still going over details in my head as of this writing, but I could see some parallels to topics of invasive technology, identity and others. All while the plot goes in a couple of neat and unexpected directions! Even with some parts that are slower than others, nothing feels unimportant.

With the Cronenberg name also comes the trademark bloodshed. Again, Brandon takes nicely after his father. The violence adds to the story rather than simply exploiting content. That’s great on top of the effects simply looking solid in their disturbing nature. This may be some of the best practical work and make-up I’ve watched all year! It’s composed to a degree that reminded me slightly of the tangibility found in 80’s horror. Whether it be shootings, stabbings or other nasty details in between, there’s genuine creativity and craft on display. It’s plain gnarly.

It’s backed up with a good cast that looks well suited for the world they roam. So good that I can honestly listen to them talk cerebral sci-fi for a good hour! Andrea Riseborough once again shines, with her most strung out emotional state that’s felt even in places where she isn’t on camera. I also gotta give props to Christopher Abbot! That guy I genuinely believed he wasn’t the person he was. At a point, his performance only gets better thereon. Jennifer Jason Leigh should not be ignored either, being a reserved foil to Riseborough. Top it off with a delightfully scummy Sean Bean and you really don’t have a weak link on screen. They have strong dialog and interesting characters to take their time with for excellent results.

Cinematography looks incredible, with particularly interesting uses of dead space and PLENTY of psychedelic colors. This combined with the editing gives off a mood that’s intense on a subconscious level. It’s about the ideal joining of Inception and Scanners, in the weirdest and best way I can put it. Just as it should, everything on screen is reflecting the subsurface hectic feeling in the plot. All of it strung along with the menacing drone of the score that had my heart pounding a bit.

This is strange. Possessor is an arthouse horror movie that I actually mostly get and enjoy! It asks many questions and succeeds in following through on its varied concepts. Equally entertaining in it’s shocking bits of carnage as it is ponderous about the bigger picture. Most won’t get it or be really turned on by it, but I’m jiving good with it. It’s a thinking man’s blood fest. 

Highly Recommended.

Possessor is part of the Vancouver International Film Festival 2020 line up.

VIFF Website: https://viff.org/Online/

Possessor

Written by Alina Faulds

45/100

Possessor is the latest film from Brandon Cronenberg, another attempt to live up to his father’s legendary status in the industry. On one hand, he succeeds, the sci-fi body horror is just what one would expect from a Cronenberg flick, on the other hand, Possessor doesn’t live up to its hype often losing itself in its poor pacing and fails to properly convey a message. Possessor is violent, arthouse, graphic, and just plain weird. Plenty of people are going to love it for these reasons and will actually take something from the film, but it won’t do much for the average movie watcher.

A highpoint of Possessor is its opening as Cronenberg throws the viewer straight into the film wasting no time on exposition. Holly (Gabrielle Graham) begins stabbing a random man before putting a gun into her own mouth while screaming “Get me out!” Next Holly is dead and Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) wakes up in her own body, lying in some sort of machine. The sequence is chaotic and whiplash-inducing, and full of a lot more blood than necessary. A perfect set-up for what the audience should expect out of Possessor.

Instead of ghosts and demons, it’s Tasya that’s the “Possessor.” An assassin working for a mysterious organization, they use the aforementioned machines to take over random people’s bodies, using them as pawns in their missions to assassinate too-rich targets. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character supervises the twisted science experiment but not much else is explained. When Tasya comes out of the machine she is given objects to trigger her own memories and remind her who she is. Tasya is struggling in her job, while she’s supposed to be cold and calculating, she begins to struggle as she thinks about her own family, she’s beginning to feel empathy for the people whose bodies she’s stealing. This comes to a head when she possesses Colin’s body (Christopher Abbott), the two battling against each other for control.

Possessor definitely has a compelling storyline but the pacing loses itself especially in the middle of the film. It gets rather dull as Tasya in Colin’s body is getting ready to off her next target, needing to prove herself to those in Colin’s life. With a compelling beginning and an incredible ending, unfortunately, Possessor is bookended by two great scenes that make the rest of it a snooze. Where Possessor does excel outside these scenes is in its visuals, especially those when the body’s two souls are fighting for control. With chilling screams and nightmare-inducing faces, the practical effects shine in these sequences, as they do in the killings as well. The acting between Riseborough and Abbott excel in these scenes as well. 

The other problem in Possessor is Cronenberg keeps saying the same thing. Tasya is struggling in her job and especially in Colin’s body, clearly shown in the multiple gross soul-ripping scenes. But Cronenberg never explains why this is the case, just that possessing other people’s bodies is bad. Possessor loses its touch here, getting a little too vague. Again it’s for these reasons why Possessor is such a divisive film, some will love the ambiguousness, trying to find an answer on their own. Others won’t like it, frustrated at the answers Cronenberg refuses to give the audience. 

Possessor is part of the Vancouver International Film Festival 2020 line up.

VIFF Website: https://viff.org/Online/

Suspiria (2018)

Written by Michael Clawson

85/100

By ditching the phantasmagoric color that animated Argento’s beloved classic and foregrounding the political turmoil of late 1970s Germany, Guadagnino steeps his reimagining of Suspiria in reality, only to send it dancing into the depths of a beautifully twisted nightmare at the drop of a silver hook.

Call Me By Your Name‘s warm and inviting Italian countryside setting is a distant memory in the halls of the Markos Dance Academy, which feels more like a mausoleum than the home to a group of lithe, young, female dancers. With its labyrinthine corridors draped in greys, browns, and blacks, it’s cold and forbidding; hardly the atmosphere in which one can imagine feeling emboldened to perform with the kind of carnal and instinctual drive that Suzie Bannion does. As Suzie, Dakota Johnson’s physicality is tantalizing, and the razor sharp cross-cutting between one of her first dances and her fellow dancer Olga being contorted and folded like a pretzel is an unforgettable display of weaponized art.

Borrowing only the bones of the original, Guadagnino’s Suspiria is wholly his own. For all the death, rot, and decay that seems to sit beneath the dance floor, the film’s vision is new and fresh.

Michael Clawson originally posted this review on Letterboxd 11/09/18

Available on Prime Video

Episode 72: Doc Talk Part 4 / 17 Blocks / Midnight Family / What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

“I see little of more importance to the future of our country and of civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”

Pauline Kael

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

On Episode 72 of the Podcast Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: Present.Perfect. & Mother. Followed by the Documentaries: 17 Blocks, Midnight Family, and What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael.

Streaming links for titles this episode

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael on Prime Video

Midnight Family is currently available to rent from multiple sources.

17 Blocks is currently seeking distribution and is not yet widely available.

Episode 71: Valley Girl (2020) / Capone / The Night of the Hunter

“Method actors give you a photograph. Real actors give you an oil painting.”

Charles Laughton

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

On Episode 71 of the Podcast Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: The King of Staten Island & Shirley. Followed by the Titles: Valley Girl, Capone, and The Night of the Hunter.

Streaming links for titles this episode

Capone on Prime Video and Kanopy

Valley Girl (2020) and The Night of the Hunter are currently available to rent from multiple sources.

A Thousand Cuts

Written by Taylor Baker

85/100

“And we have a bomb threat, so that’s a good sign.”

A Thousand Cuts as many have aptly pointed out feels unfinished, which is more a beauty mark than a blemish. It seems fitting that a documentary about the volatility, development, and set backs presented to a democracy feels unfinished. The Philippines though is a democracy that may feel foreign and unknown to many viewers, it certainly was for me. A Thousand Cuts focuses on the story of Maria Ressa, targeted by the Filipino government for her work, she is a journalist, founding partner of Rappler Media, and CEO of Rappler Media. That resume does not begin to do justice to the human Maria is shown to be by the end of the film. Equally stoic as she is fleetingly humorous, she has a well of knowledge and a vocabulary that can easily convey her intent.

There’s been quite the hoopla made recently about Netflix’s The Social Dilemma, not to be comparative but this is a far superior, succinct, and eloquent demonstration of it’s many points-with a backdrop that feels all to familiar. The landscape presented of politics in the Philippines hinges with a war on drugs, social media influencers performing Pussy Cat Dolls songs, and people looking up in exaltation to a murderer handing out T-Shirts from the back of truck for votes. It’s plain that whatever story Ramona Diaz was filming to begin with, nothing could have prepared her for how this ended up.

I won’t spoil the actual happenings of the documentary here as that would take away from the thrust of it and it’s message. Suffice to say it’s a story we could all benefit from witnessing. PBS FRONTLINE will make this Documentary available in January of 2021 here in the U.S.. In the meantime you can view it in virtual cinemas, such as the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival here. This is one of the most impressive pieces of documentary film I’ve seen all year.

Highly Recommended.

Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 10/13/20

A Thousand Cuts is part of the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival 2020 line up.

DEIFF Website: https://dxfest.com/

Sophie Jones

Written by Taylor Baker

63/100

Jessie Barr’s directorial debut Sophie Jones starring her cousin Jessica Barr manages to to feel personal enough to never lose the interest of the viewer. Though one may meander away briefly in scenes when Sophie lays down in the grass and looks at the sky or has another empty conversation with a peer from school. The film opens up on Jessica Barr’s Sophie rummaging and ruminating in her mothers closet. Looking as one does after a loss for ‘something’. Sophie continues that search for the runtime of the film. Often entangling herself physically if not romantically with a few boys, before realizing they aren’t providing her that ‘something’ either. 

Sophie Jones ultimately leans on the strength of it’s tone and the directness of the conversation of Sophie to nearly everyone she encounters. It’s the small moments that provide the bits of depth to the teen. Such as when she begs her sister to sit with her at lunch after her best friend departs for college, or when she is isolated at a party and goes to sit by herself. Those quiet personal moments give us some much needed empathy for the teen. I do find myself unsure about the full runtime of the film. Her journey doesn’t feel particularly remarkable or defined, rather an extended snapshot of a young girl’s grief. This will certainly be more than enough to grab onto for some viewers, but like Sophie in her mother’s closet at the beginning of the film, I’m still looking for that ‘something’.

There’s a lot of promise in this bootstrapping duo of storytellers. Sophie Jones may have enough sincerity to ring through into the coming of age film audience, if given a solid VOD acquisition to get there. I can certainly see enough potential here for a young adult cult classic. As with many debuts, I’m curious how they’ll follow this project up, and if they can lean more into their comedic sensibilities on the editing side on the next go around. There was a bit to much melancholic harshness during some quite absurd moments for me to feel like this is the best possible edit of the film.

Recommended.

Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 10/10/20

Sophie Jones is part of the Heartland International Film Festival 2020 line up.

You can check out the HIFF Website here and stay up to date on Jessie Barr’s work here.

Episode 70: Never Rarely Sometimes Always / Les Miserables (2019) / Sorry We Missed You

“The duty of a film director is to focus more on the soul of the spectator.”

Ken Loach

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

On Episode 70 of the Podcast Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: True History of the Kelly Gang & Capone. Followed by the the Titles: Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Les Miserables (2019), and Sorry We Missed You.

Streaming links for titles this episode

Les Miserables (2019) on Prime Video

Sorry We Missed You on Kanopy

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is currently available to rent from multiple sources.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always Poster Art was generously provided by Illustrator and Designer Tom Ralston.

Tom Ralston’s Instagram, Twitter, Website, and Contact Page.

The Lobster

Written by Michael Clawson

85/100

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster is an expertly crafted and biting satire about the absurdity of modern attitudes towards single-hood and marriage. It depicts a dystopian future where single people are brought together and have 45 days to find a partner, or else be transformed into animal of their choosing. David, played by Colin Farrell, is a recent divorcee, and therefore one of the unlucky souls to be forced into the 45 day search for love. Upon arriving at a rural estate, known simply as The Resort, where singles are herded, he’s admitted as if he were a hospital patient, documenting his sexual preference, physical measurements, and, of course, the animal that he wishes to become should his quest for love be unsuccessful. His routine at The Resort involves staff-hosted and chaperoned mixers, “educational” lectures on the value of relationships, and hunts in The Woods for Loners, the band of singles that have shunned society’s romantic mandate. The rules by which the Loners operate are in dramatic opposition to the norm: mere flirtation is forbidden, and those caught canoodling are subject to violent punishment.

David’s experience ranges from hilarious to cringe-inducing and upsetting. Lanthimos exercises directorial precision and control throughout, which allows for a viewing experience that is wholly unique and unforgettable. The cinematography, which often positions characters off from center and brings attention to the cold and harsh interiors and landscapes, makes nearly every frame a sight to behold, and the string-heavy, sharply punctuated musical score eloquently enhances both the humorous and nightmarish turns of the narrative. The Lobster perfectly illustrates the ability of sound and camera-work to elevate a film’s impact.

The extent to which one will enjoy the film, however, depends on whether or not the viewer allows themselves to be enveloped by the world that Lanthimos creates. As is common in satire, many of the ideas and questions put forth by the narrative are often front and center; in other words, Lanthimos is anything but subtle in exploring what’s on his mind. Although it may be instinctive to try, analyzing its conceit while watching the movie would be exhausting because nearly every turn of events is not about audience-character connection, but rather the real-life experience that the moment reflects. The joy of seeing The Lobster results from wholeheartedly stepping into its world and forgetting our own until the credits have rolled, and only then reflecting on Lanthimos’ ideas about love and modern romance.

Michael Clawson originally posted this review on Letterboxd 06/19/16

Available on Netflix and Kanopy