VIFF 2021 Review: Mothering Sunday

Written by Taylor Baker

40/100

Mothering Sunday is a staggered storyline period piece, that follows Jane Fairchild played by Odessa Young as she variously writes a novel, and experiences the sultry romance of forbidden love by imagining herself as the main character in the story she’s telling. Her lover Paul Sheringham is played by Josh O’Connor, and though he spends little time in our camera’s focus he is undoubtable, always seeming not only of the time but the place. Both lovers are lengthily photographed nude, in each other’s arms, lounging, or walking around. Husson’s camera never elicits an overtly sexual gaze as much as an intimate or personal one.

Vancouver International Film Festival 2021

Young’s Jane is a serving girl in the household of Niven. The head of the house of Niven is played by a tightlipped Colin Firth. Trying to stay cheery in the face of difficulty alongside his wife, played by a restrained Olivia Colman who scarcely utters a word. These two heavies seem to serve more as big name finance anchors, than any tangible value to the story. Collectively showing up for scarcely 10 minutes of total screen time.

Based on the novel of the same name by Graham Swift. Mothering Sunday like many adaptations before it accomplishes little. Young continues to have a unique magnetic quality that we’ve seen on display in Shirley and The Stand. Though that fails to compensate for the brooding slowness of the piece that loses its edge the clearer it gets. At best it’s a delicate omage to a moving piece of romanticism rather than a notable entry into the genre.

Mothering Sunday Trailer

Mothering Sunday was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

VIFF 2021 Review: The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

Written by Anna Harrison

75/100

Will Sharpe’s The Electrical Life of Louis Wain has all the features of a typical biopic: a cast of well-respected British thespians, including Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular Louis Wain, a clear life trajectory for our subject to follow, and some nice period costumes to boot. Yet The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, like its protagonist, has something else, too—a certain spark, an unwillingness to entirely play things by the rules—that elevates it above your standard, stuffy British fare.

Louis Wain would go on to become known for his paintings of cats, both anthropomorphized and not, but starts the film doing illustrations of livestock shows for Illustrated London News’ editor, Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones), trying to stretch what he earns far enough to provide for his mother and five sisters while paying the salary of their new governess, Emily (Claire Foy). Louis, whose mind is rather more preoccupied with his illustrations, pending patents, and opera librettos than with the family finances, finds himself drawn to Emily, and Emily likewise to Louis. Their courtship is bumbling and awkward, sweet and charming, but it causes eldest sister Caroline (Andrea Riseborough) to seethe at the impropriety of it all.

Vancouver International Film Festival 2021

The two nonetheless get married and settle into a blissful married life—so blissful, in fact, that many moments of their life rather resemble paintings, and the line between reality and fantasy blurs. Cinematographer Erik Wilson adds to the whimsy, and so despite Louis’ recurring nightmares and troubled mental state, things are cheery and beautiful; however, when Emily finds herself diagnosed with breast cancer, that whimsy begins to fade. To cheer his wife’s spirits, Louis takes to painting pictures of their adoptive stray cat, Peter, and at Emily’s urging, shows his work to Sir William, who takes an immediate liking to the art. Louis’ art begins to take off, but his financial state and mental health decline. 

Cumberbatch plays to his strengths here, though the frequency with which he plays other tortured geniuses means that some of his good work as Wain threatens to become routine or familiar, only because he’s done it so often before. That doesn’t mean he becomes complacent by any means; in fact, he also serves as executive producer, and the passion for this project is palpable. Foy gives an equally compelling performance as Emily, and the rest of the cast proves up to the task as well; simply sit back and watch the rest of the cast, from Nick Cave to Taika Waititi to Olivia Colman, do their work.

Where other biopics might resort to overwrought melodrama as Louis’ circumstances begin to change for the worst, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain keeps no small amount of charm; Louis begins to imagine his cats talk to him, and Sharpe and co-writer Simon Stephenson add subtitles to voice the cats’ thoughts, which are appropriately cat-like in their humor. The film approaches Louis’ worsening mental state with kindness—a change from many Oscar bait biopics, which wring every ounce of misery possible out of their leads—and, while the interludes in which the audience is transported into Louis’ dreams and nightmares might have varying degrees of success, Sharpe always treats his subject with tenderness. It’s this sincerity that picks the film up when it might otherwise stumble; like its protagonist, while it’s not perfect, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain offers something to the world that’s worth having.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain Clip

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain was screened as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival 2021.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

2021 Broadcast Critics Choice Awards Preview

Written by Alexander Reams

In recent years, the Critics Choice awards have been a great predictor on what will not only be nominated at the Oscars, but what might win. This year the awards are being given out almost a whole month before the Oscar nominations even come out, on the flipside, voting begins this Friday (March 5), two days later, the Critics Choice Awards happen, which could help the winners and the nominees that have fallen behind in the guilds and other respective awards shows.

BEST PICTURE
– Da 5 Bloods
– Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
– Mank
– Minari
– News of the World
– Nomadland
– One Night in Miami…
– Promising Young Woman
– Sound of Metal
– The Trial of the Chicago 7

After the (somewhat) surprise win for Nomadland at the Golden Globes, I think that win secured its win for the Critics Choice Awards this Sunday, the only other film I think that could challenge it would be The Trial of the Chicago 7 or Mank.

BEST DIRECTOR
– Lee Isaac Chung: Minari
– Emerald Fennell: Promising Young Woman
– David Fincher: Mank
– Spike Lee: Da 5 Bloods
– Regina King: One Night in Miami…
– Aaron Sorkin: The Trial of the Chicago 7
– Chloé Zhao: Nomadland

The Critics Choice awards have historically split Best Director and Best Picture, so if Nomadland wins Best Picture, then I think David Fincher will win for Mank, and vice versa. Also, quick rant, why is Emerald Fennell even being considered for this category, her direction is the entire reason I believe Promising Young Woman is a mediocre film. Either way, she’s nominated so that should show that she is in the running for Best Director, for some reason.

BEST ACTOR
– Ben Affleck: The Way Back
– Riz Ahmed: Sound of Metal
– Chadwick Boseman: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
– Tom Hanks: News of the World
– Anthony Hopkins: The Father
– Delroy Lindo: Da 5 Bloods
– Gary Oldman: Mank
– Steven Yeun: Minari

I think we all have the same winner in mind, Chadwick Boseman, he has been the runaway winner the entire awards season thus far. On the flipside, Riz Ahmed has been the critical darling, so he is definitely one to watch for.

BEST ACTRESS
– Viola Davis: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
– Andra Day: The United States vs. Billie Holiday
– Sidney Flanigan: Never Rarely Sometimes Always
– Vanessa Kirby: Pieces of a Woman
– Frances McDormand: Nomadland
– Carey Mulligan: Promising Young Woman
– Zendaya: Malcolm & Marie

The Best Actress race is still a little tied up between Frances McDormand, Vanessa Kirby, and Carey Mulligan, I believe that Mulligan will take it, as she has always been a critical darling.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
– Chadwick Boseman: Da 5 Bloods
– Sacha Baron Cohen: The Trial of the Chicago 7
– Daniel Kaluuya: Judas and the Black Messiah
– Bill Murray: On the Rocks
– Leslie Odom, Jr.: One Night in Miami
– Paul Raci: Sound of Metal

I think with Daniel Kaluuya suddenly emerging as the freight train frontrunner for the Oscar will undoubtedly be taking the award home. The only other competitor is Sacha Baron Cohen, but even he might be too far behind to take home the award.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
– Maria Bakalova: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
– Ellen Burstyn: Pieces of a Woman
– Glenn Close: Hillbilly Elegy
– Olivia Colman: The Father
– Amanda Seyfried: Mank
– Yuh-Jung Youn: Minari

This season’s Best Supporting Actress race has been a very complicated one, but Glenn Close is who I think will be taking it home as a career win. Possibly Yuh-Jung Youn for her role in Minari, but in America she is relatively unknown and this is an American critics group, I’d lean towards Close in my predictions.

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS
– Ryder Allen: Palmer
– Ibrahima Gueye: The Life Ahead
– Alan Kim: Minari
– Talia Ryder: Never Rarely Sometimes Always
– Caoilinn Springall: The Midnight Sky
– Helena Zengel: News of the World

Helena Zengel has been getting a lot of acclaim for her role in News of the World, and will most likely take home the win. Her only competition is Alan Kim, who also has been getting a lot of acclaim for Minari.

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE
– Da 5 Bloods
– Judas and the Black Messiah
– Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
– Minari
– One Night in Miami
– The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7 has one of the best casts of the year, and all of them give fantastic performances as an ensemble, and will undoubtedly win the award.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
– Lee Isaac Chung: Minari
– Emerald Fennell: Promising Young Woman
– Jack Fincher: Mank
– Eliza Hittman: Never Rarely Sometimes Always
– Darius Marder & Abraham Marder: Sound of Metal
– Aaron Sorkin: The Trial of the Chicago 7

The original screenplay award is very tied up, but Aaron Sorkin just got a huge boost from his Golden Globes win, which I think will put him ahead of Promising Young Woman and Mank.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
– Paul Greengrass & Luke Davies: News of the World
– Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller: The Father
– Kemp Powers: One Night in Miami
– Jon Raymond & Kelly Reichardt: First Cow
– Ruben Santiago-Hudson: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
– Chloé Zhao: Nomadland

Nomadland has one of the best screenplays of the year, and will most likely be taking the award home, the only competition being One Night in Miami….

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
– Christopher Blauvelt: First Cow
– Erik Messerschmidt: Mank
– Lachlan Milne: Minari
– Joshua James Richards: Nomadland
– Newton Thomas Sigel: Da 5 Bloods
– Hoyte Van Hoytema: Tenet
– Dariusz Wolski: News of the World

While Joshua James Richards crafted some beautiful cinematography for Nomadland, you cannot ignore Erik Messerschmidt’s work in Mank, his gorgeous B&W cinematography of 1930s Hollywood I think will bring home the win for him.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
– Cristina Casali, Charlotte Dirickx: The Personal History of David Copperfield
– David Crank, Elizabeth Keenan: News of the World
– Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas: Tenet
– Donald Graham Burt, Jan Pascale: Mank
– Kave Quinn, Stella Fox: Emma
– Mark Ricker, Karen O’Hara & Diana Stoughton: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Mank has some of the best sets of the year and most likely will easily take home this win.

BEST EDITING
– Alan Baumgarten: The Trial of the Chicago 7
– Kirk Baxter: Mank
– Jennifer Lame: Tenet
– Yorgos Lamprinos: The Father
– Mikkel E. G. Nielsen: Sound of Metal
– Chloé Zhao: Nomadland

The Trial of the Chicago 7 has the flashiest editing, and it’s only competition is Tenet, but Chicago 7 will probably be taking home the win.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
– Alexandra Byrne: Emma
– Bina Daigeler: Mulan
– Suzie Harman & Robert Worley: The Personal History of David Copperfield
– Ann Roth: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
– Nancy Steiner: Promising Young Woman
– Trish Summerville: Mank

Mank or Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will be taking it as critics groups love a good period piece and they have the most lavish costume design.

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP
– Emma
– Hillbilly Elegy
– Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
– Mank
– Promising Young Woman
– The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Most likely Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will be taking this for transforming Viola Davis as the titular character.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
– Greyhound
– The Invisible Man
– Mank
– The Midnight Sky
– Mulan
– Tenet
– Wonder Woman 1984

The Midnight Sky or Tenet will be taking this one, no contest.

BEST COMEDY
– Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
– The Forty-Year-Old Version
– The King of Staten Island
– On the Rocks
– Palm Springs
– The Prom

Most likely Borat, will be taking this one because of the politics, but I’d love to see On the Rocks or Palm Springs win.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
– Another Round
– Collective
– La Llorona
– The Life Ahead
– Minari
– Two of Us

Another Round has run away with this award, plain and simple, and I am definitely okay with that.

BEST SONG
– Everybody Cries: The Outpost
– Fight for You: Judas and the Black Messiah
– Husavik (My Home Town): Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
– Io sì (Seen): The Life Ahead
– Speak Now: One Night in Miami
– Tigress & Tweed: The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Let’s just say if One Night in Miami… doesn’t take it, I will be shocked.

BEST SCORE
– Alexandre Desplat: The Midnight Sky
– Ludwig Göransson: Tenet
– James Newton Howard: News of the World
– Emile Mosseri: Minari
– Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross: Mank
– Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste: Soul

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are ruling awards season with their scores for Mank and Soul. I think they will most likely win for Soul, however I would love to see Göransson win for his career best work in Tenet.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.

Nasrin

Written by Alina Faulds

86/100

Nasrin Sotoudeh is a human rights lawyer fighting for marginalized people in Iran. A strong proponent of civil rights, Sotoudeh has represented countless people in her country including Baháʼís, a religious minority in Iran, children facing capital punishment, and women protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab laws. Nasrin directed by Jeff Kaufman and narrated by Olivia Colman documents Sotoudeh’s fight to make Iran a more just society. 

Nasrin was largely filmed in secret over two years, with many of its camera crew wishing to remain anonymous in order to protect themselves from unjust charges at the hands of the Iranian government. The documentary is an intimate portrait of Nasrin Sotoudeh’s life, exploring not only her law career but her personal life as well. Much of Nasrin’s time is either spent in her law office or in court, a clear testament to the dedication she has to her job. In fact, Sotoudeh sees her law career as more than a job, it is a fight for justice. In court defending women from such charges as inciting prostitution and spreading propaganda against the state, simply for protesting to have the choice to wear the hijab or not, Sotoudeh is impassioned in her defense, her morals on full display as she argues for her clients. 

In her office, Sotoudeh’s beliefs in law and justice are also very present. She often gives interviews in front of Lady Justice, a blindfolded statue holding a beam balance in one hand and a sword in another. Sotoudeh is fighting for Iran’s laws to properly represent this notion of blind justice, hoping to see the country shift towards a more democratic society filled with choices instead of punishment. Despite the constant arbitrary injustices Nasrin witnesses day after day she remains a positive and happy person. She hangs up drawings and words of motivation around her office. She’s always smiling around her loving husband Reza and their two children. 

What makes Nasrin Sotoudeh such an interesting subject is the balance between her work and her life. She is loving and kind in each and every aspect of her life, driven by the belief that Iran can be a better place, for ethnic minorities, for religious minorities, for children, for women. Nasrin Soutoudeh knows this hopeful reality is possible and this is why she keeps fighting. The documentary captures this balance extraordinarily well as it shifts between Nasrin’s work and personal life in the same way Sotoudeh does. Nasrin also features a number of activists to further illustrate Sotoudeh’s incredible work. The audience is treated to words from Nasrin’s husband, women’s rights activists like Shirin Ebadi and Narges Mohammadi, along with filmmaker Jafar Panahi and many other Iranians that believe in Nasrin’s work. Olivia Colman occasionally narrates over archival footage of Sotoudeh or reads letters written by Nasrin to her family to fully round out her character.

Given Sotoudeh’s work, Nasrin should of course be classified as mandatory viewing. She is such a compelling figure and a hero for women’s rights. She teaches other women to fight for their rights. Director Jeff Kaufman illustrates this inspirational trait of Nasrin’s by showing other women protesting. One beautiful scene features different videos of women standing on podiums before pulling off their hijabs and wearing them like flags. Nasrin is unafraid to speak up for herself and other marginalized people, she’s been imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison and still continues her fight.

Nasrin follows Sotoudeh until her second imprisonment in 2018. This is what makes Nasrin fundamental viewing. She is still serving prison time, sentenced to 38 years and 148 lashes for a number of charges including spreading propaganda and insulting Iran’s supreme leader. The documentary functions as a way to put Nasrin Sotoudeh’s story out there in hopes that people will continue to pressure the Iranian government for her release. Nasrin Sotoudeh is an incredible woman and the documentary on her life’s work is no different. She is someone that deserves to have her story told and someone who deserves to be freed.

You can petition for Nasrin’s release here: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/iran-free-nasrin-satoudeh-now/

Nasrin will be available through DOCNYC Nov. 11th-19th 2020. Link below.

You can follow Alina Faulds’ LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of her work here.

Thanks to David Magdael & Associates for providing this film.

DOC NYC Website: https://www.docnyc.net/film/nasrin/

GlobeDocs Website: https://globedocs2020.eventive.org/welcome

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/

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