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Tilda Swinton (#110 of 40)

Cannes Film Festival 2017 Bong Joon-ho’s Okja

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Cannes Film Review: Okja

Netflix

Cannes Film Review: Okja

Ten years on from his breakout hit, The Host, South Korean film director Bong Joon-ho seems intent on recreating the crossover appeal of his genre-bending monster flick for a Western audience. Okja, Bong’s Netflix-produced, environmentalist-themed adventure fantasy, also draws from 2013’s Snowpiercer, the filmmaker’s first English-language effort, specifically in its clear contempt for dehumanizing capitalism.

Bong has proven capable of uniting a variety of different tonal ambitions with some razor-sharp satire and impeccable craftsmanship, but Okja feels jarringly disorganized and rudderless for much of its runtime. Even at its best, the film merely musters convincingly imitative set pieces, the highlight of which is a chase scene—cut ironically to the John Denver ballad “Annie’s Song”—that ends with the unimaginative recycling of an action beat from The Host’s funniest sequence. Bong’s filmmaking is so singularly impressive that even at its most derivative, Okja feels like a momentous spectacle, but it’s the first film of his ever to give the impression that the spectacle is masking an otherwise underdeveloped, often incoherent, concept.

Parting Shots Rotterdam 2015

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Parting Shots: Rotterdam 2015
Parting Shots: Rotterdam 2015

“I wanted to build a bridge, a link, between a forgotten fight for Marxist ideals born a few years after Morocco’s decolonization and new political horizons recently widened there,” filmmaker Safia Benhaim says. “But my evocation of this passageway had to be very fragmented, like a dream, in keeping with my particularly split link to my parents’ country. For my film A Spell of Fever, I invented a kind of political ghost story to evoke the tale of an exiled woman whose possessed mental state I entered and whose need to make words and thoughts appear I shared. Around her runs music as a feverish flow, making images appear little by little like visions extracted from oblivion.”

The France-born Benhaim’s 40-minute film—an evocative mood piece in which a young girl wanders through present-day Morocco surrounded by ghostly voices—was one of three works given the shorts competition’s top prize at this year’s edition of the Rotterdam International Film Festival (IFFR). It shared its honor with the British filmmaker Ben Rivers’s sweet and gentle chronicling of a home’s items, Things, and American Ben Russell’s propulsive movement and music-based record of religious rites practiced by a community living in between Swaziland and South Africa, Greetings to the Ancestors. All three films helped set the pace of an unusually dispersed and energetic festival.

BAFICI 2014 Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History

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BAFICI 2014: Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History
BAFICI 2014: Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History

The Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Film seems to channel the sheer variety of the Internet, where it seems all movies from all eras are available. During 10 days, all sorts of films are made available at several venues within the Argentine capital, from horror flicks to forgotten commercial failures, classic studio productions, modern art-house fare, and experimental cinema. BAFICI seems to pride itself on its eclectic selection, and its broad pickings allow audience members to trace surprising connections between movies that might appear to have nothing else in common outside their shared inclusion in a festival. A sort of creative viewership is encouraged, as one comes to realize that an American rock fable, a miserablist Taiwanese drama, a visual poem with vampires, and an epic about social and political traumas in the Philippines have plenty in common.

Walter Hill’s unsung Streets of Fire and Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs have probably never been mentioned in the same sentence. Seen back to back, they reveal strikingly similar qualities, as both might or might not be science-fiction films. Streets of Fire is set in a fantasy land, which mixes costumes and vehicles from the 1950s with the urban squalor of the 1980s. When a motorcycle gang, led by fresh-faced Willem Dafoe, kidnaps a local pop singer (Diane Lane), it’s up to the gruff masculine hero played by Michael Paré to save the day. There are references to an unnamed war and the city appears to be in a state of crisis (its police force is sorely understaffed and justice is meted out by civilians). The characters are so conventional that they recede into the background as they follow archetypal signposts, and because their exploits are so predictable, the environment absorbs our attention instead. Diners and theaters from the American Graffiti years have decayed underneath rubble and trash. In an abandoned factory, the motorcycle gang has established a decadent bar where naked dancers strike aggressive poses, using their sexuality as a weapon. Having been recently and luminously restored, Streets of Fire plays differently today than it did back in 1984. What was originally a blend between the present and the past is now the combination of two different pasts, which together suggest a kind of future.

Berlinale 2014 The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Berlinale 2014: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Berlinale 2014: The Grand Budapest Hotel

At their worst, Wes Anderson’s films are mere showpieces. They’re meticulously stage-managed, lavishly appointed cross-sectional dollhouses erected as staging grounds for their director’s rarely not enervating quirks and obvious opportunities for Hollywood A-listers to recharge their thespian cache. (The idea that Anderson is an “actor’s director”—as if there’s another kind?—has always smacked bogus, given that to perform in a Wes Anderson movie is generally to perform in a self-consciously stilted, nouveau-Victorian, drained, and affectless pantomime that would play as totally unchallenging were it not so observably different.) And in the best cases, Anderson squares his paisley trick-bag of Godardian compositions and book of vintage carpet samples with a congruent thematic meaning. In 2011’s excellent Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson’s incurable nostalgia was a nostalgia for the lost summers of childhood. Here, in The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is either his best film or his best film since his last film, it’s the waning of historical memory, of the past slipping irretrievably beyond some distant horizon.

Cannes Film Festival 2013: Only Lovers Left Alive Review

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Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>Only Lovers Left Alive</em> Review
Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>Only Lovers Left Alive</em> Review

Considering the genre’s proliferation across various mediums over the last few years, it’s perhaps appropriate that Jim Jarmusch would now indulge the impulse to direct a vampire movie. After all, vampires have traditionally been regarded as the most suave, most elegantly withdrawn of all horror myths, and for over 30 years now, Jarmusch has been the most naturally cool, unconsciously influential of American filmmakers. Many of his characters proceed stoically, silently, and aloofly; this is their lot, however natural. Only Lovers Left Alive, then, seems like an inevitability for the independent iconoclast as much as it does an odd genre diversion.