Film reviews

VIFF 2019 – Week One Round-Up

The 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival is well underway, with week one throwing up the usual array of weird and wonderful highlights…


The Lighthouse

“Why’d ya spill yer beans?”

When The Witch dropped in 2015, the potential of newcomer Robert Eggers was clear for all to see. Now, just one film later, and with an entire career still to come, that potential is already being realised, as horror once again becomes a true technical and storytelling skill; a theatrical tool worth wielding for the masses.

The Lighthouse stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two late-19th century keepers stranded on an unforgiving rock with nothing but each other, the gulls, and the wrath of God for company. As their minds warp, chaos ensues, drenched from start to finish in moody monochrome, blood-curdling sound design, and the best use of 4:3 since the classic boxy ratio came back into vogue last year.

A director doing his best, alongside the likes of Ari Aster, to modernise the genre, Eggers pulls no punches with The Lighthouse, delivering a towering gothic masterpiece complete with a career performance from Dafoe that deserves to be seen on the big screen and the big screen only.

READ MORE: Suspiria (2018) – DVD Review


The Death of Dick Long

Daniel Scheinert is an interesting human being. One half of the music-video-turned-fucked-up-feature directing duo, known simply as Daniels, he makes no bones about his willingness to mess with your mind from behind the camera.

Whereas Swiss Army Man propelled him into the indie limelight atop Daniel Radcliffe’s forever farting corpse, his follow up and debut solo effort has more of a side project feel as he returns to the place that made him: deepest, darkest Alabama, and the gleefully amusing horrors lurking in the shadows of stables, backseats, and autopsy reports. But mainly stables.

As true a representation of small towns everywhere (complete with a classic alternative small town soundtrack) as it is a fantastic spectacle of Darwinism at work, The Death of Dick Long is an honest to goodness hillbilly murder mystery that succeeds by not taking itself seriously.


The Twentieth Century

What happens in Winnipeg, stays in Winnipeg. Unless you’re Matthew Rankin’s reimagining of a certain Canuck Prime Minister, that is. Adding a dash of darkest satire to this year’s festival, The Twentieth Century – writer-director Rankin’s feature debut – follows seven-time PM William Lyon Mackenzie King as he struggles to negotiate his way to power in turn of the century Canada, itself a dystopian cast off of the still dominant British Empire.

Framing his nightmare like a Wes Anderson picture lodged in the throes of substance abuse, Rankin takes great joy in morbidly twisting Canadian history and national identity, revealing the ever-present dangers of blind political ambition, social inequality, and corrupt discourse in the most visceral and cerebral manner possible.

One of the most intriguing Canadian reels of recent times, The Twentieth Century is a beautiful quivering smile of a debut that marks Rankin as a director worth keeping tabs on.

READ MORE: Werewolf – Review


Parasite

Every now and then, overwhelming critical buzz can kill a film. Audiences expect too much or become convinced it can’t be that good. Then there are those rare pictures that not only meet the hyped up expectations, but somehow exceed them. In case you hadn’t guessed, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is the latter.

Examining the dynamics of family, society, and class divide in his native Korea, Bong crafts a beautifully shot master class in tension, plot development, and black humour, centred around a poor but street smart family (headed by Song Kang-ho), who seek to better their lives by gradually infiltrating a wealthy household.

The atmosphere at The Centre in Vancouver was electric, even for a festival screening. From the first scene, the audience is sold; committed to this family’s inevitable car crash of a journey as Bong keeps them guessing, keeps them laughing, and keeps them gasping with a turn of events that no-one will see coming.

Parasite’s journey, on the other hand, is only just beginning. Destination: the Academy Awards. Not convinced? Just go and see it.


Motherless Brooklyn

Having never quite reached the consistent quality of output associated with his early “best in a generation” tag, Edward Norton reemerged in 2014 not only with a supporting role in Birdman, but a handy reminder that, on his day, he is indeed one of the most talented actors of his generation.

Around the same time, it was announced that his next leading role would be his own adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, a post-war New York detective story that he would also write and produce.

You can tell it’s a personal project, and though it takes a little while to kick into gear, its 144-minute runtime turns out to be worth the effort, primarily because Norton himself is just so damn likable as the Tourette’s inflicted PI searching for the connection between his murdered mentor, the girl he was tracking, and the City’s powerful Borough Authority.

Though it doesn’t offer anything groundbreaking, Motherless Brooklyn is charming, witty, and well put together, with a colourful supporting cast made up of big hitters and cool cats.

READ MORE: The Rebel (1961) / The Punch and Judy Man (1963) – Blu-ray Review


My Window

Occasionally, unexpectedly, we’re given the opportunity to appreciate cinema in its naked, rawest form; an experience that tends to be unique, for better or worse. My Window is the former.

Shot over an 11-year stretch from a high-rise apartment in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, My Window is local director Rodrigo John’s achingly patient conveyance of basic humanity that evolves into a microscopic slice of history. Using a seemingly endless variety of vantage points, angles, and lenses, John photographs everyday people going about their everyday lives amongst the backdrop of tranquillity turned terror as Brazil eventually lurches to the political right.

Porto Alegre’s residents walk, talk, work, shop, stare, fuck, protest, and eventually riot, but with a quick glance up and away all is well, with John and his other half acting as the perfect world divide.

Follow our coverage of the Vancouver International Film Festival 2019 here.

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