The film is all about secrets and cycles, gaining intrigue as an audience wonders just what makes the group that the brothers meet so different even from other communal folks who have escaped from the rat race. When Justin Smith (Justin Benson) and his kid brother Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) receive a videotape in the mail, we can’t help thinking that this will be one of those horror movies about screened events that warn or even imprison the viewers. This time the tape does not intimidate but rather gives the younger man the excuse to revisit the commune at Camp Arcadia whose members took them in ten years earlier when they were orphaned by a car crash.
Sometimes a film can take hold of you based on the performances alone. Obviously, with a commanding presence that an actor like Ben Kingsley is capable of, you’re at least in for something memorable whenever the camera points directly at him. Think of him in SEXY BEAST. Yes, it’s a stylish noir heist, but it didn’t do much new cinematically in the tradition of the gangster film milieu. This time however in Brad Silberling’s AN ORDINARY MAN, there are two central performances that secure and demand your attention. One is a legend, the other is a fairly new face that I’ve been assured will soon break through to the mainstream. This very unusual cat and mouse game, where both identities keep changing, make the film memorable if not unique. Even if the script isn’t anything that stands out above and beyond an episode of THE AMERICANS, for example. Brad Silberling hasn’t made a movie in awhile, which is a shame in my opinion. I’ve been a fan of his since the beginning and he made two very personal films in a row that moved me to the core. (Please listen to the interview I conducted with him for more on the subject).
Last year’s supremely cinematic journey about Jane Goodall was one of the better examples of cinematic documentary filmmaking in quite a while, and here we have another compelling entry to start the year. We know the name Hedy Lamarr, but what of her many accomplishments and life behind the spotlight? BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY certainly does feature a particular downward spiral but does not allow this incredibly charismatic figure to be defined by weakness. In fact, we learn of a particular technological contribution that showcases a woman of invention and importance.
If there was ever a time to examine the damage done to the family unit as well as the fragility of a mother/daughter relationship here in the masterful DOLORES CLAIBORNE, that time is now. We have a Joe St. George as our nation’s leader and a plethora of similar monsters throughout a wide range of industries right now, particularly the one in Hollywood. Sometimes great works of art and literature are telling truths we want to bury and forget, but our subconscious won’t let us.
Instead of going on and on about why I think this is one of the year’s most sublime movies, I’d rather just let it all wash over you the way it did for me. One of the highlights includes the slow pan of the camera towards an open window, while two characters physically connect for the first time. Let these two people have their moment together.
After the aforementioned brief musical overture, we go from black to the image of an actual human heart, splayed open in a patient’s chest during surgery, writhing and pulsing. Director Yorgos Lanthimos (DOGTOOTH, THE LOBSTER) is about to put us through an intensely uncomfortable experience and if you know the man’s work, you know what to expect in advance. This heart is one of only a few moments of gore, as Lanthimos chooses to evoke horror through profoundly strange and awkward conversations, punctuated just by sharp, dissonant strings and oddly timed percussion. To call the entire film jarring would be an understatement, but it is a welcome, albeit challenging feeling to savor.
As an exercise in minimalism, DOWNRANGE only works in spurts rather than slowly ratcheting up tension. The main problem lies in the fact that these are not characters we grow to care about therefore our investment is minimal as well. In fact, word around the TIFF campfire is that certain audience members were actually cheering on the kills, which is not a good sign or anything resembling an intended audience reaction. Yes, most of us as the sympathetic audience do not want them to suffer as they must stay alive while someone faceless is attempting to pick them off one at a time from a distance. But there is very little here outside of some flashy style to compilment.
ANIMALS comes to us from relatively unknown director Greg Zglinski. With it beginning relatively calmly, Zglinski tricks the viewer into thinking this will be a thriller/drama about a trapped married couple and their secrets. Nothing overly spectacular there. Yet, as soon as they hit the road the tone changes. Dark dreams and sudden time gaps unsettle the initial calm and unravel the true essence of the film. A descent into paranoia with a hint of Lynchian obscurity becomes apparent. Zglinski & the actors execute wonderfully that feeling of “We don’t know what’s happening either” which only enhances the enjoyment of a film so idiosyncratic it’s even acceptable to inject some dark humour with a suave French talking cat.