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Toronto Film Review Werner Herzog’s Salt and Fire

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Toronto Film Review: Werner Herzog’s Salt and Fire

Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto Film Review: Werner Herzog’s Salt and Fire

Werner Herzog’s fiction filmmaking in the 21st century has struggled to live up to his quest for the “ecstatic truth,” producing a spate of strange, out-of-step experiments that never cohere like his documentaries. Initially, Salt and Fire, about the abduction of UN-appointed ecologists by the company responsible for the man-made disaster they’re sent to probe, is every bit as enervating as some of Herzog’s recent fiction. Characters are established via blunt, awkwardly extraneous exposition, and everyone speaks lines with obvious discomfort, as if the actors had been handed the script just before the camera rolled, with no time to internalize the material’s meaning. Some of the dialogue suggests that Herzog himself has grown accustomed to being a meme, as when two of the captured scientists eat bad food and develop diarrhea. Or, as Gael García Bernal’s Dr. Fabio Cavani puts it: “There’s hordes of protozoans swirling in my digestive tract!”

Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Madly

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Tribeca Film Festival 2016: Madly

Chloe Thomson

Tribeca Film Festival 2016: Madly

Featuring shorts by Gael García Bernal, Mia Wasikowska, Anurag Kashyap, Sebastián Silva, Sion Sono, and Bat for Lashes, Madly broadly tackles the subject of love without, even at its least successful, stooping to the dire, barrel-scraping cultural condescension of Rio, I Love You. The omnibus film kicks off on a disturbing note with Kashyap’s Clean, Shaven, the title referring to Archana’s (Radhika Apte) pubic hair, which she shaves off to the extreme consternation of her old-fashioned husband, Allwyn (Adarsh Gourav), who proceeds to imprison her in their apartment as punishment. Without the luxury of time afforded by the epic scale of the filmmaker’s two-part crime epic Gangs of Wasseypur, the short often comes off choppy in its storytelling, but its feminist anger still comes still resonates quite, well, madly.

Marrakech International Film Festival 2015 Desierto, Very Big Shot, Thithi, & More

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Marrakech International Film Festival 2015: Desierto, Very Big Shot, Thithi, & More

STX Entertainment

Marrakech International Film Festival 2015: Desierto, Very Big Shot, Thithi, & More

The Marrakech International Film Festival does an excellent job of bringing in first and second films for their main competition, which includes entries from across the globe, from India to Iran to Mexico. This year, the last of those three countries was represented by Jonás Cuarón, with the Mexico-France co-production Desierto, a narratively stripped-down thriller about a group of Mexican refugees, led by Moises (Gael García Bernal), being hunted at the border by Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a whiskey-swigging American accompanied by his high-caliber rifle and ferocious pooch, Tracker.

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 Eden, Rosewater, & Jauja

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Toronto International Film Festival 2014: Eden, Rosewater, & Jauja
Toronto International Film Festival 2014: Eden, Rosewater, & Jauja

Filled with retro house cuts, Eden insists upon a good time whenever Paul (Félix de Givry) or his DJ peers spin in various house parties and clubs, yet the prevailing atmosphere of Mia Hansen-Løve’s film is melancholic. One of the more sensitive contemporary directors of youth, Hansen-Løve flips the dynamic of Goodbye, First Love, a film in which the passage of time is keenly felt in the protagonist’s maturation and regression occurs from the reintroduction of outside elements. In this film, it’s everything around Paul that changes and outpaces him while he remains resolutely, depressingly, the same person at 34 that he was at 20.

Berlinale 2014 Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?

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Berlinale 2014: Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?
Berlinale 2014: Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?

It’s easy to greet the prospect of Michel Gondy making a doodle movie about the ideas of Noam Chomsky like that aggrieved nerd on The Simpsons: “Ugh, why does it have be zany?”

Not since Chomsky humored wingnut conservative Alex Jones by sitting for a long-form radio interview has the 84-year-old linguist, political commentator, cognitive scientist, activist, and all-around good guy been so weirdly paired up as he is here. Proceeding from some half-baked idea that making a conventional movie about the author of Manufacturing Consent would be inherently disingenuous, as every cut is a lie and every meaning ascribable not to the film’s subject, but to its director, Gondry proceeds to laboriously hand-animate a series of conversations conducted with Chomsky over the past few years. Given that these morphing, mercurial sketches are even more beholden to Gondry’s halfway-grating/halfway-charming personality of wide-eyed, quasi-autistic bemusement, the whole wacky setup comes off like an intellectual contrivance. It would have been more honest for Gondry simply to say, “I wanted to draw it.”

New York Film Festival 2012: No

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New York Film Festival 2012: <em>No</em>
New York Film Festival 2012: <em>No</em>

Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín (Tony Manero and Post Mortem) gives us another take on his country’s dark dance with military dictatorship in No, an often lighthearted, sometimes inspirational, but ultimately unsettling feature. The film covers an extraordinary time in 1988 during which the Pinochet regime was shamed by international pressure into holding an election to produce a show of legitimacy. For 27 days leading up to the election, the state-controlled TV station aired 15 minutes a day of free programming for the government and 15 minutes against it. After 15 years of silencing the opposition with torture, death, or sheer terror, the junta was confident that their supporters, the Yes party, would turn out in allegiance, and that their opposition, the No party, would stay home, fearful of retaliation or (rightly) convinced that the vote would be fixed. But they didn’t account for the brave and canny image-shapers, straight out of the advertising world, who would steal the election back from the junta.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot R. Kurt Osenlund’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: R. Kurt Osenlund’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: R. Kurt Osenlund’s Top 10 Films of All Time

The highly subjective task of compiling a list of the 10 best films of all time is nearly as daunting as the thought that plagues every film completist: How on earth will I ever catch up with more than a century’s worth of cinema? The answer, of course, is that nobody really can, and in a sense, surrendering to that truth offers a kind of liberation. We all want to devour as many great movies as possible, but there comes a time when we have to accept a certain morsel of defeat. Which is basically my disclaiming way of saying that I came at this project with a highly personal and minimally authoritative approach, selecting a group of favorites instead of stamping my feet and declaring history’s 10 best films. Contributors were encouraged to tackle their lists however they saw fit, and some have certainly delivered what they regard as the definitive cream of the crop. More power to those folks, and to those whose picks are far less populist and more Sight & Sound-friendly than mine. Ultimately, while I gave much consideration to artistic influence and chronological diversity (and winced at the snubbing of films like The Red Shoes, Pulp Fiction, My Own Private Idaho, and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), there were really only 10 titles I ever could have chosen. Quite simply, these movies changed my life.

15 Famous Movie Heavens

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15 Famous Movie Heavens
15 Famous Movie Heavens

No, this list-maker hasn’t had the pleasure of devouring Kate Hudson’s ticking-clock romance, A Little Bit of Heaven, which sees everyone’s favorite Almost Famous alum continue to chase her first hit like an undiscerning free-baser. The movie did, however, inspire thoughts of cinema’s approach to the great hereafter, which has been visualized as everything from an inhabitable oil painting to your good old field of clouds. Diagnosed with terminal cancer by a doctor (Gael García Bernal) who in turn becomes her squeeze, Hudson’s character tries for a little heaven on earth before her time runs out. These 15 heavens, however, almost all exist on another plane.

New York Film Festival 2011: The Loneliest Planet

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New York Film Festival 2011: <em>The Loneliest Planet</em>
New York Film Festival 2011: <em>The Loneliest Planet</em>

If nothing else, The Loneliest Planet, the second fiction film from Russian-American filmmaker Julia Loktev after her 2006 female-terrorist chronicle Day Night Day Night, is a terrific example of a minimalist style employed with near-maximum effectiveness. Here is a film that needs only offhand bits of dialogue, carefully worked-out mise-en-scène, precise editing, long takes, and strategically placed close-ups and camera pans to draw us effortlessly into the emotional dramas of its three main characters. Loktev further challenges us by basically throwing us into her scenario in media res and thus keying us from the start to pick up on details—visual, aural, or otherwise—to help us get our bearings. This is the kind of filmmaking that uses utmost economy of means to sharpen our senses and attune us more carefully to the people and the environments Loktev presents to us—an approach that dares to take an audience’s intelligence seriously, at least as far as an audience member’s ability to read images goes. Whether the destination is worth the sometimes elusive narrative journey is the real question. I suspect, in the case of The Loneliest Planet, the answer will depend entirely on what a viewer perceives that journey to be.