Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: Encounter

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

Encounter is slippery. It defies easy definition and weaves between genres, though it starts firmly as your average sci-fi thriller, one which sees ex-Marine Malik Kahn (Riz Ahmed) spying a meteor flash through the night sky as it hurtles towards Earth. Upon landing, a wordless montage shows something infecting the insects of our world which in turn infect the humans they bite, evoking memories of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Malik, when he pieces together the information, rushes to save his sons, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), a rescue made all the more frantic after the viewers see Malik’s ex-wife, Piya (Janina Gavankar), get bitten by a mosquito and then later rush to the bathroom to vomit during dinner.

The kids think little of this as Malik frames it all as a game and tells them they are going on a road trip; he’s been away for two years, and in the interim has become all the more heroic in his sons’ eyes, especially as they deal with new step-dad, Dylan (Misha Collins). This is a new, grownup adventure, one that gives the boys a sense of self-importance as they set out for a mysterious base Malik knows from his Marine days. Like I said, average sci-fi thriller: father saves his sons from imminent threat, tries to whisk them off to safety, and they all attempt to overcome their differences on the trip there, though Pearce and fellow writer Joe Barton weave in social commentary as well as Malik and his children flee across the lonely desert.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

Then, slowly, another layer to the movie unfurls, until all at once Octavia Spencer’s Hattie, whose role can’t be revealed without spoiling the movie, reveals another side of director Michael Pearce’s movie. The perspective shifts from Malik to those outside him, and as we begin to see the bigger picture, we start to see our protagonists’ flaws and unreliable narration. The anxiety the first third of the film built switches to different sources, but never goes away; in fact, gets only doubled as we start to see Malik as filtered through his sons’ eyes.

Ahmed, as usual, turns in an excellent performance, his every act oozing love for his children while teetering on the edge of reason, and he once again proves his versatility and charisma as a performer. Yet the real stars of the film are Chauhan and Geddada as Malik’s sons, the elder Chauhan in particular; the performances that Pearce coaxes out of his child actors are nothing less than remarkable. Jay watches his father with increasing worry, gradually adopting the mantle of protector as his father grapples with his own demons, and Chauhan displays subtlety and nuance that many actors far beyond his years fail to grasp.

Encounter falters when it moves the focus away from Malik, and while Octavia Spencer is always welcome, her plot could be excised with minimal retooling and just a little more faith in the audience’s ability to suss out the truth; its genre-hopping also hinders the film at times and the gear shifts aren’t as smooth as they could be, though it’s hard to fault a film that’s so ambitious in its tone and scope, even if it does stumble. By the time the film reaches its conclusion, the tears (or at least mine) feel well-earned; it’s an audacious sophomore feature from Pearce and quite worth a bit of patience.

Encounter Trailer

Encounter was screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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

BAFTA 2021 Awards Preview

Written by Alexander Reams

UPDATE 4/10/21

Finally, the endgame of award season approaches, and despite the elongation eligibility, the awards season rush has never left. If anything it has built up to even more excitement than usual, and without further ado, lets jump into the nominees and who I think will be taking home the BAFTA. 

I think it’s obvious by now that the Best Picture and Best Director races are entirely locked up at the BAFTAs. Nomadland has these awards almost entirely on lock. Be advised however, do not be surprised if Lee Isaac Chung or Thomas Vinterberg sneak in and take Best Director. 

The acting races however are a bit more complicated, especially best actress. After the SAG awards last weekend the race got even more complicated, the BAFTAs have seemingly taken out some of that complication however. Only Frances McDormand and Vanessa Kirby are nominees here and at the Oscars. Do not be surprised if McDormand takes home the award, but with Kirby being from England, she does have home court advantage so she is definitely a dark horse to win. 

Best Actor is almost entirely locked up, Chadwick Boseman has won almost every award possible for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and he will undoubtedly continue his streak here. Best Supporting Actress will probably go to the recent frontrunner Yuh-Jung Youn for her performance in Minari. Best Supporting Actor is almost entirely locked up by Daniel Kaluuya ever since Judas and the Black Messiah came out, and he will undoubtedly continue his streak. 

    Quick run through of the other categories, best original screenplay is definitely between Promising Young Woman and The Trial of the Chicago 7, and I would give the edge to Chicago 7. Best Adapted Screenplay will probably be going to The Father, however don’t count out the huge amount of love that Nomadland has. The best cinematography race has been between Mank and Nomadland the entire awards season, and I believe it will end up going to Mank. Film Editing will most likely be going to The Trial of the Chicago 7. 

As always take my predictions with a grain of salt and good luck with your ballots.


Original Article Below

Well, the BAFTA nominations have come out and saying there are some surprises, is quite an understatement. Just a quick show of what got snubbed mostly, or not even nominated; Da 5 Bloods, only nomination was supporting actor for Clarke Peters, Tenet, whose only nomination was for visual effects. While films like The Mauritanian, Rocks, and The Dig all lead with impressive nominations. Without further ado, let’s jump right in. 

Best film

  • The Father
  • The Mauritanian
  • Nomadland
  • Promising Young Woman
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

    Well this is certainly an interesting batch of nominees, however, after the Golden Globes, Critics Choice, and its PGA nomination, I think that Nomadland will take home Best Picture at the BAFTA’s.

Outstanding British film

  • Calm With Horses
  • The Dig
  • The Father
  • His House
  • Limbo
  • The Mauritanian
  • Mogul Mowgli
  • Promising Young Woman
  • Rocks
  • Saint Maud

Unfortunately I have not seen as many of these I wish I had, such as Mogul Mowgli, The Mauritanian, The Father, and The Dig. This award seems to be between The Father, Promising Young Woman, and The Mauritanian. Most likely, Promising Young Woman will take home the win. 

Leading actress

  • Bukky Bakray: Rocks
  • Radha Blank: The Forty-Year-Old Version
  • Vanessa Kirby: Pieces of a Woman
  • Frances McDormand: Nomadland
  • Wunmi Mosaku: His House
  • Alfre Woodard: Clemency

    I will admit, I was a tad surprised when this batch of nominees was announced and the name “Carey Mulligan” was left off, as she seemingly had become the frontrunner. That being said, I think Vanessa Kirby of Frances McDormand will be the winner at the BAFTA’s. 

Leading actor

  • Riz Ahmed: Sound of Metal
  • Chadwick Boseman: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Adarsh Gourav: The White Tiger
  • Sir Anthony Hopkins: The Father
  • Mads Mikkelsen: Another Round
  • Tahar Rahim: The Mauritanian

    1 Question: Has everyone forgot about Delroy Lindo? One of the best performances of 2020. Now, that has been addressed and I can gush about Mads Mikklesen, my favorite leading actor performance of 2020, being nominated for Best Actor, I am beyond thrilled to see him finally get some recognition for this beautiful performance. The winner will most likely be Chadwick Boseman, unless the BAFTA’s decide to go with Riz Ahmed. 

Supporting actress

  • Niamh Algar: Calm With Horses
  • Kosar Ali: Rocks
  • Maria Bakalova: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  • Dominique Fishback: Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Ashley Madekwe: County Lines
  • Yuh-Jung Youn: Minari

    Yuh-Jung Youn will most likely be winning this award, as the Best Supporting Actress race has been tied up all awards season, and she has been the one to make her way to the front of the race. 

Supporting actor

  • Daniel Kaluuya: Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Barry Keoghan: Calm With Horses
  • Alan Kim: Minari
  • Leslie Odom Jr: One Night In Miami…
  • Clarke Peters: Da 5 Bloods
  • Paul Raci: Sound of Metal

    While I think Daniel Kaluuya has this award on lock, there were definitely a few surprises here, Clarke Peters for Da 5 Bloods, Alan Kim for Minari, and someone who had fallen behind in the awards race, but my favorite supporting actor performance of 2020, Paul Raci. Really glad to see him in here, and hopefully that boosts his Oscar chances. 

Director

  • Another Round: Thomas Vinterberg
  • Babyteeth: Shannon Murphy
  • Minari: Lee Isaac Chung
  • Nomadland: Chloé Zhao
  • Quo Vadis, Aida?: Jasmila Žbanić
  • Rocks: Sarah Gavron

    The only big Oscar frontrunners in this category are Lee Isaac Chung and Chloé Zhao, that being said, Zhao has this award on lock. Thomas Vinterberg getting this nomination made me so happy, Another Round has not been getting the acclaim it deserves, besides Best Foreign Language film, but its direction, performances, and screenplay are all incredible. 

Film not in the English language 

  • Another Round
  • Dear Comrades!
  • Les Misérables
  • Minari
  • Quo Vadis, Aida?

I’ll keep this short and sweet, Another Round has this award on lock, plain and simple

Animated film

  • Onward
  • Soul
  • Wolfwalkers

    Soul has been sweeping the animated categories wherever it goes, and I have no doubt it’ll be any different here. 

Original screenplay

  • Another Round 
  • Mank 
  • Promising Young Woman 
  • Rocks 
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 

    Since Emerald Fennell was omitted from the directing category, I think she might win in this, however Aaron Sorkin is in this category, and you can never count him out. Be on the look for one of those 2 to win the award. 

Adapted screenplay

  • The Dig 
  • The Father 
  • The Mauritanian 
  • Nomadland 
  • The White Tiger 

    At this point I don’t know any film that can challenge Nomadland winning adapted screenplay.

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

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.

2021 Golden Globes Preview

Written by Alexander Reams

Well folks, it’s that time of year, where all of Hollywood’s best and drunkest get together, have one big cocktail party, and hand out a few awards.

In all seriousness, the Golden Globes aren’t the most prestigious or serious awards show, but they can boost or take away from a film more than people realize. Thinking back to 2019 BC (Before COVID), 1917 did not have much steam, until the Golden Globes where it picked up the Best Director and Best Motion Picture: Drama awards and became the frontrunner to win those awards at the Oscars.

Now this Sunday, February 28, are the 2021 Golden Globes and I’ll be giving my predictions as well as my insight into the upcoming night. 

BEST MOTION PICTURE; DRAMA 
– The Father 
– Mank 
– Nomadland 
– Promising Young Woman
– The Trial of the Chicago 7


These nominees are very similar to what we’ve been seeing throughout the critics awards nominees, with the surprise addition of Promising Young Woman. I agree that Carey Mulligan gives a great performance, but in my opinion it has no place being in this category. Be that as it may, I still think that the HFPA will award The Trial of the Chicago 7 with Best Motion Picture; Drama. My personal pick would be Mank, as my other choice was not even nominated Da 5 Bloods

BEST ACTRESS; DRAMA 
– Viola Davis: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom 
– Andra Day: The United States vs. Billie Holiday 
– Vanessa Kirby: Pieces of a Woman 
– Frances McDormand: Nomadland 
– Carey Mulligan: Promising Young Woman


Full disclosure, I have not seen The United States vs. Billie Holiday and Nomadland yet, however I believe that the winner will be neither of those films, Viola Davis or Carey Mulligan are who I believe will take home the award, Viola Davis is (FINALLY) getting more and more recognized for her fantastic work, and while Ma Rainey, might not be her best performance, the HFPA has always been about those career wins, and I think this would be another one after her win for 2016’s “Fences”. On the flipside, this is Carey Mulligan’s second nomination for a Globe after a very impressive career filled with fantastic performances so the HFPA might award her since Viola Davis already has won before. My personal pick would be Vanessa Kirby for Pieces of a Woman. 

BEST ACTOR: DRAMA 
– Riz Ahmed: Sound of Metal 
– Chadwick Boseman: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom 
– Anthony Hopkins: The Father 
– Gary Oldman: Mank 
– Tahar Rahim: The Mauritanian


While I have not seen The Mauritanian yet, I think we can all agree that the Golden Globe Best Actor race is already done, with the late Chadwick Boseman locking it up. Some have said that he is only getting the buzz because of his untimely passing earlier this year, however I believe that whether or not he had passed, he would easily be winning the Globe for his performance in Ma Rainey.

BEST MOTION PICTURE: COMEDY/MUSICAL 
– Borat Subsequent Moviefilm 
– Hamilton 
– Music 
– Palm Springs 
– The Prom



I’m gonna take a quick minute and gush over the fact that a film like Palm Springs is nominated for (what will probably be) its biggest nomination this awards season. Palm Springs is one of my favorite Golden Globes nominations this year. Now the winner? I’m still on the Hamilton train, it took the world by storm, and while Borat might have more of an obvious political statement, I think that Hamilton will be taking the award home. 

BEST ACTRESS: COMEDY/MUSICAL 
– Maria Bakalova: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm 
– Kate Hudson: Music 
– Michelle Pfieffer: French Exit 
– Rosamund Pike: I Care A Lot
– Anya Taylor-Joy: Emma


I’ll keep this short and sweet, the only nominee who could challenge Maria Bakalova in my opinion is Rosamund Pike, whose nomination came out of nowhere.

BEST ACTOR: COMEDY/MUSICAL 
– Sacha Baron Cohen: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm 
– James Corden: The Prom 
– Lin-Manuel Miranda: Hamilton 
– Dev Patel: The Personal History of David Copperfield 
– Andy Samberg: Palm Springs

This Best Actor race is a bit more tied up than its other comedy/musical counterpart, between Baron Cohen, Miranda, and Samberg being the three vying for the award, but in the end I think that Baron Cohen will take it. 

BEST DIRECTOR 
– Emerald Fennell: Promising Young Woman 
– David Fincher: Mank 
– Regina King: One Night in Miami… 
– Aaron Sorkin: The Trial of the Chicago 7’ 
– Chloé Zhao: Nomadland 

The only person who could challenge Zhao at this point is Spike Lee, but seeing as he wasn’t nominated, Zhao is a lock, I’ll be shocked if anyone other than her wins. 

Thank you for checking out my Golden Globes preview, don’t forget to tune into it on NBC at 7PM EST/ 4PM EST.

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

Episode 86: VIFF 2020 & NYFF 2020 / Undine / Nomadland / Time / The Human Voice

“A documentary film-maker can’t help but use poetry to tell the story. I bring truth to my fiction. These things go hand in hand.”

Chloé Zhao

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

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: Sound of Metal & Minari. Followed by the VIFF 2020 and NYFF 2020 Titles: Undine, Nomadland, Time, and The Human Voice.

Visit us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook

Streaming links for titles this episode

Time is currently available on Prime Video

Undine has been acquired by IFC and currently awaits an official release date.

Nomadland has been pushed back from it’s December 4th 2020 release date and has not yet received an official release date.

The Human Voice will become available on March 21st, 2021

Drink in the Movies would like to thank PODGO for sponsoring this episode. You can explore sponsorship opportunities and start monetizing your podcast by signing up for an account here. If you do please let them know we sent you, it helps us out too!

Sound of Metal

Written by Anna Harrison

85/100

About halfway through Sound of Metal, Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is given a sign name in American Sign Language: a hand curled to form a “C” held up beside the right eye. The reason this becomes Ruben’s sign name is obvious the second you see Riz Ahmed’s enormous brown eyes in action, so big and expressive they seem to swallow the screen. He looks, as one character remarks upon, a bit like an owl, a trait that makes it difficult to look away when Ruben appears on screen.

Sound of Metal follows Ruben, a recovering addict who replaced heroin with music and a girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke, with unfortunate bleached eyebrows for most of the film). As a drummer in a punk rock band with Lou, Ruben bombards his ears every night with loud guitar riffs and screeching, until one day he suddenly finds he cannot hear anything. Disoriented, distressed, Ruben tries to act like nothing has changed, and goes back onstage that night. Worried that he might relapse, Lou checks him into a facility for recovering addicts populated entirely by deaf people, run by the tough yet empathetic Joe, played by Paul Raci, who turns in an excellent, understated performance.

Ruben struggles without his music and without Lou; he can never bring himself to truly embrace his new identity, and flounders as he tries to avoid facing his situation head-on, finding inventive ways to keep his brain thinking about anything but his newfound deafness. Eventually, he begins to settle into a new life—learning ASL, teaching the drums to deaf children at the local school, and drawing raunchy tattoos for a friend—but no matter what he does, he cannot completely quiet the noise that remains in his head. He dreams of getting back to “normal,” and always remembers what he has lost even as he finds moments of joy in his new life. If the actual plot mechanics sound threadbare, that’s because they are, but the character work is rich.

As Ruben, Ahmed gives a nuanced and powerful performance, deftly portraying Ruben’s raw pain and rage while never drifting into melodrama. He is helped by first-time feature director Darius Marder (co-writer with his brother, Abraham, and Derek Cianfrance), who walks along a razor’s edge here with surety, avoiding pandering, easy answers and working hard to accurately portray sensitive topics without schmaltz. Ahmed’s best co-star, however, is not Cooke, but the entire sound department.

From the opening beats and screams of a punk rock song, the sounds immerse us. The whir of a blender, the drip of a coffee pot, and then, suddenly, a high-pitched ringing in the middle of bombastic drumming that drowns everything else out. Like Ruben, we are thrown into disarray, struggling to understand the world around us, straining to make out coherent noises through the fog. We slip and panic with Ruben. Sound flits in and out for the rest of the movie; sometimes we hear as Ruben does, sometimes we hear what he cannot, but always we are intensely aware of the sound or lack thereof. For those who have ever wondered—like me, back before I learned better—why “boring” sound editing and sound mixing are categories at the Academy Awards, here is your answer. 

It’s not a perfect movie; it has its lulls, and Lou, while an important presence, seems thinly sketched, and we are told that she is interesting rather than shown. But these quibbles do not detract too much from the film: Sound of Metal handles its quiet, personal story with grace, making us both yearn for chaos of noise and appreciate the stillness that comes with absolute silence.

Sound of Metal Trailer

You can watch Sound of Metal on Prime Video

You can follow Anna on Letterboxd

Mogul Mowgli

Written by Taylor Baker

73/100

Tariq’s choice to keep a tighter aspect ratio in conjunction with repetitive close ups and smart if a bit overdone sound design create an experience that is far more felt than seen. His past work as a documentarian and the flourishes he learned in that work are clearly present here, thus adding a passive layer of believability. But it’s his leaning on the frenetic moments in the restaurant and the dreamlike encounters with a figure from one of Ahmed’s tapes that show he has something personal to offer in the medium of fictional storytelling.

Ahmed’s character Zed would normally be fashioned a tragic character in lesser hands. A victim of the world and the story. Their choice to keep neutrality on this by delicately building out characters and sequences of dialogue where he is unsympathetic or just a plain asshole reap a reward of treating the audience as mature and not spoon-feeding us. 

Not unlike Zed in the picture, the film does stumble along the way to it’s end. There is a lack of engrossment in the narrative, for periods of time you find yourself seeing the exact material you thought you would. Until Tariq breaks convention and pulls you back in, or you see the flashback/dreamlike sequences from the train and are drawn back.
In the end Mogul Mowgli doesn’t reinvent the wheel, or rise to glorious heights of cinematic storytelling. What it does do is cement the growth of Ahmed as an artist not just a performer, and establishes the budding flower of a possible cinematic duo for decades to come in Tariq and Ahmed as collaborators. I certainly hope Tariq brings us another feature film soon, I think he’s just getting started.

Recommended.

Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 10/23/20 in collaboration with MoviesForReel. You can check out more movie reviews and news from Movies For Reel here.

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

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