By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Plenty of eyes and ears were on the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, and with it now over, I’m hoping for a certain selection of films will screen at upcoming events, namely the Vancouver International Film Festival coming up (I’m not looking online to cheat) or next year in my hometown’s own, the Victoria Film Festival.
It’s a safe bet that The Lighthouse will be coming. This title is already confirmed for the mainland show. As for other titles, that will be up to event programmers and whether the distributors involved have submitted for my local shows. Failing that, a lot of movies will be picked up for Art house screenings or eminent release in the next ten or so months.
My picks include:
Inspired by true events, Gitanjali Rao’s debut feature weaves together the experiences of several denizens of India’s largest city: A sweetly singing flower seller constructs garlands while dreaming of a fairy tale romance. A little girl befriends an orphaned deaf boy who has lost his job. Police conduct raids on businesses they suspect of hiring children. An English teacher prepares food and sets a place at the table for her long-dead husband. A troupe of dance-bar workers consider unionizing. A young Muslim man from Kashmir explores the metropolis he believes holds the key to his destiny — and finds himself falling for a Hindu woman, believing that true love trumps the confines of faith. These and other stories are connected by a single red rose.
Color Out of Space
When an iridescent meteorite plummets from outer space and into the property and foundations of a remote New England estate, a malignant force begins to insidiously permeate the lives of an unassuming family. The effects are gradual — time begins to dilate, nature assumes an otherworldly hue — and all things bright and beautiful eventually mutate and corrupt under its influence. So proceeds this eerie adaptation of the short story by H.P. Lovecraft, one of horror’s most haunting, here presented by the enigmatic South African filmmaker Richard Stanley.
The origins of Gundala, Indonesia’s preeminent superhero, epically unfolds on screen in writer-director Joko Anwar’s latest film. A giant-size cinematic universe of comic-book characters whose astonishing exploits and uncanny abilities have for the past 50 years rivalled even those of “Earth’s mightiest heroes,” is ushered in with magnificent scope and exhilarating action.
Preserving the core premise of Harya “Hasmi” Suraminta’s popular series Gundala Putra Petir, Anwar shrewdly reconceives the source material to more relevantly reflect the country’s current socio-political milieu and uniquely soaks the ascension of this storm-fuelled warrior in a dread-filled atmosphere that recalls the director’s frequent forays into horror.
At a time when millions of people around the world are streaming e-sports content every day, it’s not hard to imagine a possible future with the blood-sport insanity of Jason Lei Howden’s Guns Akimbo. Videogame developer Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) is a little too fond of stirring things up on the internet with his caustic, prodding, and antagonizing comments.
One night, he makes the mistake of drunkenly dropping an inflammatory barb on a broadcast of Skizm, an illegal death-match fight club streamed live to the public. In response, Riktor (Ned Dennehy), the maniacal mastermind behind the channel, decides to force Miles’ hand (or hands, as it were) and have him join the “fun.” Miles wakes to find heavy pistols bolted into his bones, and learns Nix (Samara Weaving), the trigger-happy star of Skizm, is his first opponent. She’s at his front door.
In a series of deft, groundbreaking comedies, Taika Waititi took sharp left turns into coming-of-age stories (Boy), vampire movies (What We Do in the Shadows), and even our sacred superheroes (Thor: Ragnarok). Now he brings his half-Maori, half-Jewish, fully skewed sensibilities to his most daring film yet. A dazzling takedown of fascist thinking and the violence it fuels, Jojo Rabbit begins in biting satire but delivers surprising emotional impact.
Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is a precocious kid in World War II Germany with an egregious blind spot. Socially awkward, but a proud member of the Hitler Youth, Jojo passes much of his time with his imaginary friend Adolf (Waititi), a cuddly, energetic, pep-talking version of the Führer. Having completely bought into Nazi hate, Jojo is incensed when he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson, also at the Festival in Marriage Story) has been working for the resistance, helping to keep safe the Jewish people he’s been taught to hate. With Germany on the brink of collapse, he is faced with the choice of clinging to his hateful beliefs or embracing his humanity.
Lucy in the Sky
As astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) gazes at Earth from afar while on a mission, her view of the pale blue dot profoundly shifts her entire perspective. When she returns, all Lucy wants is to go back to space — no matter what. Her modest family life loses its allure and the comforting support of her gentle husband Drew (Dan Stevens) is suddenly less appealing than the masculine charisma of a fellow astronaut, Mark (Jon Hamm), a divorcee disconcertingly eager to encourage an affair. As she determinedly trains for her next mission, her growing dissociation threatens to dismantle both her personal and professional lives.
Portman brings a fiery energy to a remarkably complex protagonist, whose existential crisis feels as likely to be headed towards a potential meltdown as self-liberation. Stevens and Hamm are perfect as a pair of contrastively passive and assertive men — one whose feet are firmly on the ground and the other with his head in the clouds. Ellen Burstyn (also at the Festival in American Woman), Zazie Beetz (at the Festival in Joker and Seberg), Nick Offerman, and Tig Notaro round out an incredible supporting cast.
No.7 Cherry Lane
This latest feature from the iconic Yonfan — his animation debut — finds the renowned filmmaker, photographer, art connoisseur, and collector returning to the Hong Kong of his youth, a setting simmering with political turmoil and unfettered desire.
It is 1967, the year of the leftist riots, with violent clashes between anti-colonial demonstrators and police erupting in Hong Kong’s streets. For Ziming (Alex Lam), however, a more personal revolution is about to begin. A student at the University of Hong Kong, Ziming accepts a gig tutoring Meiling (Zhao Wei), the daughter of Mrs. Yu (Sylvia Chang), a single mother and exporter of luxury goods to Taiwan. Amidst stimulating discussions of Brontë, Proust and Cao Xueqin, Ziming will find himself drawn into intimate entanglements with both Meiling and Mrs. Yu, leading him toward an education no academic institution could possibly provide.
This dazzling adventure starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones — who earned an Oscar and Oscar nomination, respectively, for their performances in TIFF ’14’s The Theory of Everything — whisks us back to 19th-century England, where a scientist and pilot make history by ascending to unprecedented heights.
London, 1862. Spectators gather excitedly at the balloon launch site while meteorologist James Glaisher (Redmayne) anxiously waits for pilot Amelia Wren (Jones) to make what proves to be a flamboyant entrance. A young man of science desperate to be taken seriously, Glaisher has little patience for Wren’s theatrics, while Wren understands that showmanship attracts funding. Their flight will serve the dual purpose of breaking the French record for altitude and helping Glaisher collect data to forward his controversial theories of weather prediction. As the duo get higher, the air gets thinner and colder, and difficult decisions must be made that could mean the difference between life and death.
The Vast of Night
A mysterious frequency descends on a small New Mexico town in the twilight of the 1950s, forever changing the lives of two youths as they investigate and encounter its origin. Spanning a single night, director Andrew Patterson’s transfixing debut barrels its characters through a tribute to the starry-eyed speculations of Rod Serling, as Patterson and his compatriots meticulously render a bygone era. It’s one that eschews empty nostalgia through judicious shading of history’s insidious margins, and which infectiously captures the wonder of technology, as well as the unsettling risks that come with peering into the unknown.
Intermittently framed within the hazy black-and-white scan lines of a television broadcast, Patterson’s scope frequently widens to a vivid roaming gaze that fluidly connects its plucky protagonists through a series of increasingly gobsmacking long takes. In other scenes, the camera settles with intense concentration on a single subject, achieving taut suspense through subtle penetrative zooms and the beguiling rat-tat-tat chatter of Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz’s breakout performances. At his most audacious, Patterson eerily fades to black for minutes at a time, inviting the audience to lean into the darkness and hang onto every word of the disturbing conspiracy that James Montague and Craig W. Sanger’s evocative screenplay weaves.
Weathering With You
An old tale taken from Japan’s ancient Shinto myths and projected onto a bleak near-future of floods, pollution, and global warming, Weathering With You follows the difficult lives of a runaway and a lonely girl who has recently lost her mother.
Sixteen-year-old Hodaka arrives penniless in rainy Tokyo and finds shelter and employment with Suga, a detective who runs a sketchy occult magazine. Working on the urban legends column, Hodaka is asked to track down a rumoured hare onna, or “clear-weather woman,” someone with the magical powers to part the clouds and let bright rays of sunlight shine through. His investigation leads him to Hina, the kind-hearted, gentle girl who works at a burger shop and offered him food when he was starving. Hina has the power to control the sky — a gift that could bring unexpected wealth in a perpetually wet and overcast city like Tokyo.