Cinemalinks: Weekly Reads (Sundance Edition!)

The Witch: "To the horror films of 2015, the gauntlet has been thrown down."
This week’s offering of Cinemalinks is the Sundance edition! Here’s a round-up of reviews from the folks enjoying the snow in Park City, with an emphasis on the Canadian films at the festival:

The Witch

This Canuck co-pro, which was reportedly shot in Mattawa, is earning raves:

Justin Chang, Variety
Between the bad-seed moppets and the ruined harvest, the mysterious disappearances and the frightening instances of animal misbehavior, “The Witch” is rife with intimations of inexplicable evil, of something deeply twisted and unnatural at work… The result plays like a sort of cross between “The Crucible” and “The Shining” (which Eggers has cited as a key inspiration), with a smattering of “The Exorcist” for good measure. But in peering ahead to the Salem trials, “The Witch” also faintly echoes Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon,” another drama in which the forces of patriarchal repression and the cruel realities of agrarian life will exact a devastating future toll: We’re watching not just a private tragedy but a prequel to a larger-scale catastrophe, sowing seeds of suspicion, violence and fanatical thinking that will be passed down for generations to come.

Alex Springer, Slug Mag
The performances are explosive, the tension is gut-wrenching, and the settings are nightmarish. To the horror films of 2015, the gauntlet has officially been thrown down.

Todd McCarty, The Hollywood Reporter
(not quite as enthusiastic as the others are, but still promising)

The narrative becomes choppier and murkier as it progresses, but the increase in violence pushes the fright meter only marginally higher; The Witch is nowhere near as scary as what's considered de rigueur on the horror circuit these days, leaving the film in a sort of no-man's-land between a promising art film and a genuine scare-fest.

Still, Eggers creates a special feel and ambiance in his first feature after a couple of shorts. Shot in the wilds of northern Ontario, Canada, the film succeeds in creating a sense of complete isolation on a farm that looks very hand-made, as do the unaffected costumes. 

Drew McWeeney, HitFix

This is one of those films where I can't think of a single complaint, where things are so complete, so singular, that I can't imagine any other version. The film has a great eye for period detail, and it does a tremendous job of painting a terribly bleak portrait of what even the best life must have been like at that time. Because the world and the language feel authentic, it grounds even the most bizarre moments in the film in the real.

Ryland Aldrich, Twitch

Linguists will have a field day with the film's 17th Century vocabulary and sentence structure. Eggers went to painstaking lengths to reference period source material for both the story and dialog. While the result is sometimes hard to comprehend, the authenticity it lends makes the film stand out in a sea of period accents.

The Chorus

This drama from François Délisle sounds tough, but worth the effort:

-Ryan Lattanzio, Thompson on Hollywood:
This sort of wallowing parental grief movie — "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" and "Antichrist" being the subgenre's polar extremes — risks alienating an audience completely, with its unrelentingly bleak through-line and depths-of-hell level grief cycles. Yet "Chorus," under-the-radar Québécoise director Delisle's sixth feature after 2013's "The Meteor," makes the doom and gloom palatable thanks to his empathetic lead performances and silvery, hypnotic cinematography. This overwhelmingly emotional tragedy's saving grace is ultimately its visual wonder, which lifts the film out of deep-dwelling misery for its own sake — and into sublime, even transcendent aesthetic heights.

-Rob Thomas, Madison Movie
“Chorus,” the tale of parents dealing with unimaginable grief, made all the worse because it has been long deferred, is extraordinarily hard to watch at times. Several patrons at the press screening I was at Saturday did in fact head for the exits halfway through.

But you need to see it through, to see the arc that Delisle has constructed, and the way it bends, not sharply but slightly, back out of darkness towards light. It’s a really good film, but one that’s unflinching in the way it sees loss as an inevitable part of the human condition.

-Justin Lowe, The Hollywood Reporter
Mallette imbues Irene with an air of enduring sorrow, as she laments the loss of her son as well as her husband with repeated, fragmented voiceover, amply conveying the tragedy of her personal loss. While Irene occasionally reveals her fragile emotional state, Ricard gives a stonily stoic performance, embodying Christophe with the trauma of a man still imprisoned by shock and grief. That facade cracks when he insists on viewing the video of the police interview with Jean-Pierre as the prisoner describes in detail how he abused Christophe’s child, in just one of several wrenching scenes of unvarnished full disclosure.

-Dylan Griffin, Sound on Sight
Chorus is powerful at its best, and ambitious even at its most faulty. The only drawback to the film is its reliance on narration. Various points throughout the film Delisle puts in narration for Irene and Christophe where they directly say what they are feeling. It’s ultimately unnecessary. As mentioned before, Delisle is very confident in his film, but he could still stand to be a bit more confident.

The Forbidden Room

Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room played not too long before this article went to post, so I’ll have more reviews when I come back with updates on Hellions, Turbo Kid, and others, but this five star review (albeit a very synopsis heavy one) is pretty exciting:

-Nicholas Bell, ioncinema
… a majestic culmination of Maddin’s prowess in silent cinema tropes, a delirious, maddening rabbit hole of rippling nightmares that somehow, inextricably, fashion themselves into a cohesive narrative made up of cascading tangents. With co-director Evan Johnson in tow, this is a masterful, operatic delight of strangeness, and those prone to its magic will find themselves exhilarated.

And on the Twitter:

And the non-Canadian stuff:

On the new Greta Gerwig/Noah Baumbach offering Misstress America:

-Jason Bailey, Flavorwire:
This is Baumbach and Gerwig’s third collaboration — one as director and actor (Greenberg), two in those roles and co-writing as well. They make a good team; she’s brought back a light touch that eluded some of his efforts in the 2000s, and he’s helped her find the right vehicles for her sui generis charisma. I’m not sure how long they can keep this up (it’s always a little nerve-racking when a creative partnership depends on a personal one), but here’s hoping they keep it together, because they’re doing the best work of either career together.

On the return-to-form of Toni Collette in Glassland:

-Nathaniel Rogers, The Film Experience
Breaking News: Someone finally gave Toni Collette something to act onscreen again. She has lines and emotions and everything. (Tammy and Hitchcock -- never forget!). But I'm jumping too far ahead since Glassland takes some time to come around to her story. When we finally get to it she all but dares you to listen with hostile self-pity in an amazing and amazingly lengthy monologue.

On the Nicole Kidman flick Strangerland:
-Jenni Miller, The Playlist
Kidman does her best "dingo ate my baby" freak out, complete with dusty naked wandering through the middle of town, and Brown is compulsively watchable. Fiennes seems completely out of place, even more than he was in "American Horror Story" as a sexy priest.

On James White, which is earning raves for the performances by Cynthia Nixon and Christopher Abbott:

-David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
The behavioral turnaround that inevitably has to shape the loose narrative's development might easily have become formulaic. But in Abbott's full-throttle performance, James' aggressive resistance to self-discipline is convincingly rooted in internal anxiety and fear. While he's an unreliable caregiver, the mother-son bond is never in doubt, and scenes depicting severe medical crises late in the movie are played by both Abbott and Nixon with wrenching tenderness. The progression of James hitting rock bottom and then coming through as a source of comfort in a harrowingly beautiful all-night vigil is extremely moving. 

On Going Clear, the latest doc from Alex Gibney:

-Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Set to clear-eyed analysis that puts them in context, these clips effectively illustrate the scope of Scientology's brainwashed masses. But it's the tales of former members waking up from the madness that give the movie its vibrancy.

 On the sleeper hit Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, which was just picked up by Fox Searchlight
-Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist
Brimming with wit, crushing last-act melancholia, laughs, and poignant heart, “Me And Earl And The Dying Girl” is a spectacular delivery of tears, love and laughter, and a beautifully charming, captivating knock-out that asks us to keep the departed in our hearts and their narratives surging in our memories forever.  

On the phoniness of the “Sundance Movie”:
-Noel Murray, The A/V Club:
I don’t mean to pick on Braff here… But I see too many independent films every year that are like Wish I Was Here: phony and faux-profound, and filled with recognizable actors who make the project seem even more like a fiction, divorced from real-world relevance. Not all are bad. Some indie filmmakers, like Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers, have built substantial careers out of telling stories about regular folks muddling through their lives while hamstrung by hazy feelings of dissatisfaction. After a while, though, the sheer preponderance of these cutesy Amerindie movies about arrested adolescents—and other people with non-problems—starts to become numbing.

More to come! Any other good Sundance news/reviews?