Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

Written by Michael Clawson

90/100

A 21st century spin on Rohmer’s Rendezvous in Paris, with the cinematic ingenuity of Hong Sang-soo, and an enchantingly light interpretation of Sirkian melodrama. Contrasting with Happy Hour, which had the sweep of an epic novel, Wheel of Fortune & Fantasy is a collection of three short stories, all revolving chance encounters, infidelity, romantic desire, and the melancholy in wondering what could have been. A young woman learns that her best friend has fallen for her ex-boyfriend, who she realizes she might still be in love with; an unfaithful housewife sets an erotic trap for a college professor, only to see her plot take an unexpected turn; two female strangers mistake each other for someone else from their pasts, and then engage in a playful bit of roleplay: each story has a wonderfully breezy surface, beneath which lies an undercurrent of longing and regret. It’s a testament to both Hamaguchi’s fine directorial hand and the modulated performances that the film’s emotion never even remotely threatens to overwhelm the film’s easy-going nature and warmth. With narrative action that’s almost entirely conversational, Hamaguchi is constantly finding ways to invigorate the dialogue and tempo: there’s an engaging mix of long two-shots and bracing, Ozu-like frontal views, an exquisite, very Hongian piano score, and soft, subtle shifts in mood, even when emotions flare or amorous tension heats up. While it might not reach the heights of Hamaguchi’s Asako I & II, Wheel is perfect in how the brevity of its episodes aligns with the fleeting moments of connection and intimacy it explores.

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy Trailer

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is currently playing in limited theatrical release.

Follow Michael on Letterboxd or connect with him on Twitter.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: Montana Story

Written by Patrick Hao

63/100

In just a short time, Haley Lu Richardson has become one of the most dynamic actresses in American cinema. She has an ability to adapt into whatever locale she is placed in, whether it is suburban California in Edge of Seventeen, a Hooters-esque restaurant in central Florida in Support the Girls, or even in the rough and tumble farms of Montana in Montana Story. Richardson’s naturalistic acting style brings so much life and authenticity beneath the surface of all the characters she plays.

Montana Story feels like it will become a minor work in Richardson’s promising career, but it certainly continues to be a showcase for her immense talent. She plays Erin, a 25-year-old who returns to her family farm in Montana to see her estranged comatose father. Also, there is her estranged brother Cal (Owen Teague), who has been handling the burden of their father alone.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

The childhood ranch is a lot like the fractured relationships of this family: rundown, hollow, with no farm animals but a few chickens and an old stallion. A deep rift fissured the family when Erin revealed to the newspaper that her father was covering up a toxic chemical spill at a local mine leading to their father beating Erin half to death, while Cal stood there frozen.

Large landscapes like Montana have always been used as a backdrop to intimate emotions. Half of the best westerns ever made were built on that. However, despite great performances from Richardson and Teague, who are able to create quiet intimacy, the script by writer-director duo Scott McGehee and David Siegel, often falls to the rote cliché side. This could be fine if the directors had taken the movie in a more melodramatic space like a Douglas Sirk western melodrama, but to stay quietly intimate hurts the film.

The movie also hints at other more interesting aspects of the inhabited surroundings that go strangely unexplored. The Keystone Pipeline protests, and controversy is mentioned on the radio, indigenous characters and actors populate the periphery, and a sweet Kenyan nurse (Gilbert Owuor) taking care of the leads’ father hints at an interesting backstory but never goes beyond. To populate the background with BIPOC characters certainly gives the world more depth but they never go beyond that function. What does it mean to them that Cal and Erin’s father is a man that would cover up environmental crimes? Whatever the case is, Montana Story is an engrossing drama on the effects of abusive parents. None of it is new or surprising, but we continue to see great work from Haley Lu Richardson. Owen Teague holds his own as well. And honestly, sometimes just setting a movie against the beautiful vast landscape of Montana is enough to make a movie worthwhile.

Montana Story was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.