Notes from the Screener Pile: 2017.1

Notes from the screener pile are back! I am way, way, way behind on movies this year, particularly anything that came out between March and June since work was like a forest fire this year. The screener pile is thankfully stacking up with goodies and oddities—a fun mix of the typical Oscary prestige and left field contenders to help get back on track. I’ll still try to review in full when possible, but in the spirit of catching up, some notes from the screener pile:


'Small Talk': How Much Better Is Silence?

Small Talk (Ri Chang Dui Hua)
(Taiwan, 80 min.)
Dir. Hui-chen Huang

How much better is silence? It’s not better at all if one were to ask director Hui-chen Huang. Huang, after spending years in an impersonal and distant relationship with her mother, Anu, finally decides to speak. She turns the camera on herself in Small Talk, a profoundly intimate documentary and Taiwan’s no-frills submission in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race. Huang describes the relationship she has when the film begins—and maintains arguably throughout most of the production—in which she and her mother share an apartment, but experience none of the love or closeness that a parent and child might feel after living together for so long. Anu gets up every morning, goes to work, stays out late, comes home, and goes to bed. They define their relationship by silence.


Last Flag Flying: It's Not Dark Yet

Last Flag Flying
(USA, 124 min.)
Dir. Richard Linklater, Writ. Richard Linklater, Darryl Ponicsan
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne
VVS Films
American independent filmmaker Richard Linklater returns to the dramatic element of time: how it shapes us, defines us, divides us, and unites us. After the 12-years-in-the-making Boyhood and the rollercoaster ride through love and marriage in the Before trilogy, Linklater tries something different with his approach to time: following up a story that is not his own. He’s sort of done this thing before with the random remake of The Bad News Bears, but his latest film Last Flag Flying offers a spiritual sequel four decades in the making to the 1973 Jack Nicholson classic The Last Detail. Last Flag Flying loosely adapts Darryl Ponicsan’s book about navy buddies reuniting and remembering the ghosts of their time together in Vietnam, and this smart and meditative film reflects upon America’s attitude to war across the ages.


'Big Bad Fox' and Memories of Farm Frolics

The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales (Le Grand Méchant Renard et autres contes...)
(France/Belgium, 80 min.)
Dir. Patrick Rimbert, Benjamin Renner; Writ. Benjamin Renner, Jean Regnaud
Starring: Céline Ronté, Boris Rehlinger, Guillaume Bouchede, Guillaume Darnault, Magali Rosenzweig, Elise Noiraud, Jules Bienvenu
My family was never really big on movies when I was growing up. (Strange, I know!) But I distinctly remember a well-worn VHS tape of this cartoon Farm Frolics. The film, a 1941 Warner Bros. animation, featured a bunch of gags with animals on the farm, like pigs watching a clock, a hen who gets her eggs stolen, and a lazy dog. Fond and simple nostalgia, Farm Frolics is.


'The Breadwinner': Canadian Feature Animation on the Map

The Breadwinner
(Canada/Ireland/Luxembourg, 93 min.)
Dir. Nora Twomey, Writ. Anita Doron
Starring: Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Laara Sadiq, Shaista Latif, Ali Badshah
It’s so exciting to see The Breadwinner open on the heels of Window Horses. 2017 is a great year for putting Canadian feature animation on the map. Like the poetic Persian epiphany of Rosie Ming in Ann Marie Fleming’s animated work of art, The Breadwinner is a visually striking fable with a grand international scope that tackles complex subjects of family, identity, and belonging.


'Thelma' Has Love on the Brain

(Norway/Sweden/France/Denmark, 116 min.)
Dir. Joachim Trier, Writ. Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt
Starring: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen

While The Killing of a Sacred Deer might have the most inaccurate title since Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, Joachim Trier’s Thelma puts a blessed Bambi in the crosshairs in its opening scene for anyone who needs a cut of venison and another child in peril. The scene sees a father (Henrik Rafaelsen) out with his young daughter hunting deer in the forest. A prized catch comes trotting through the snow and the hunter raises his rifle, sets his sights, and takes aim. He pauses. He hesitates. And then he moves his aim to his own little fawn.


'Lady Bird': Gerwig Spreads Her Wings

Lady Bird
(USA, 93 min.)
Written and directed by Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalfe, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet
Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalfe star in Lady Bird
Elevation Picures
Is Lady Bird the Pretty in Pink for millennials? This beautiful coming of age story by Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha, Jackie) is a down to earth depiction of the growing pains of adolescence and all the pleasures and (mostly) awkwardness it brings. Gerwig makes her first solo debut as director (she previously directed Nights and Weekends with Joe Swanberg) and Lady Bird radiates the warm and offbeat charm one has come to love in Gerwig’s performances and screenplays. Lady Bird unabashedly gives a tale of girlhood with its angst-ridden and infectiously funny search for the meaning of life that one often struggles to grasp in adolescence. It’s a buoyant and joyously feel-good film.


Saint George: Dardennes/Audiard Mash-Up Doesn't Balance

Saint George (São Jorge)
(Portugal/France, 112 min.)
Dir. Marco Martins, Writ. Marco Martines, Ricardo Adolfo
Starring : Nuno Lopes, Mariana Nunes, David Semedo
Stories of economic crises take different forms. The traders and insiders of The Big Short, for example, give a satirical (and believable) look at the wheeling and dealing that fuelled America’s mortgage meltdown. The Queen of Versailles gives a documentary perspective on one member of the 1% who lost everything. 99 Homes dramatizes the dirty business of evicting homeowners.


'Jane': In the Heart of Africa

(USA, 90 min.)
Dir. Brett Morgen
Featuring: Dr. Jane Goodall
What separates humans from animals? Language? Social order? Consciousness? The capacity for love?


Top of the Pile

Infinity Baby
(USA, 70 min.)
Dir. Bob Byington, Writ. Onur Tukel
Starring: Kieran Culkin, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Martin Starr, Kevin Corrigan, Noël Wells, Stephen Root, Trieste Kelly Dunn
Infinity Baby might have been a hip and edgy indie film in 1995. The dated black and white cinematography, slow pacing, spiteful characters, and talky, dialogue-heavy scenes are the kind of things that peppered the early microbudget film scene. Between Sundance kids and mumblecore brats, however, the outburst of digital DIY filmmaking produced an overwhelming mountain of garbage. Infinity Baby is near the top of the pile. It’s been said before and it needs to be said again: just because everyone can make a movie doesn’t mean everyone should.


Votes for Women!

The Divine Order (Die göttliche Ordnung)
(Switzerland, 96 min.)
Written and directed by Petra Volpe
Starring: Marie Leuenberger, Maximilian Simonischek, Rachel Braunschweig, Sibylle Brunner, Marta Zoffoli
Marie Leuenberger stars as Nora in The Divine Order.
Films We Like
The women of The Divine Order sure know how to get the votes. This charming Swiss comedy from writer/director Petra Volpe is a fun addition to the canon of films about the women’s movement. Coming out and hitting the campaign trail as Switzerland’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar bid in an industry championing similar urgency for more women in key creative roles, Volpe’s timely comedy offers an open and engaging discussion about equality, opportunity, and respect.


It's Hard to Separate the Garbage from the Art

The Square
(Sweden, 150 min.)
Written and directed by Ruben Östlund
Starring: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, Terry Notary
Elisabeth Moss and Claes Bang in The Square.
Magnolia Pictures
My favourite moment of The Square wasn’t something that happened in the action on screen. It transpired in the theatre.


Of Rams and Men

God’s Own Country
(UK, 104 min.)
Written and directed by Francis Lee
Starring: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart
Pacific Northwest Pictures
I don’t know if “ramming” is a thing, but let’s use it as a verb since there’s a whole lotta rough play with sheep and men in God’s Own Country. There’s ample ramming between Johnny (Josh O’Connor) and Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) in the muddy and ragged Yorkshire countryside during one week of unexpected love and profound revelations. Quick fucks and tough love ensue in this restrained and thoughtful love story as God’s Own Country gives an unsentimental yet moving tale of desire. This film by writer/director Francis Lee takes place in the quiet grey farmland of Yorkshire, and it owes a debt to Brokeback Mountain with its rugged portrayal of newfound love between two men.


Oscar Predictions: Round 1 - Show Me a Hero

Clockwise from top: Dunkirk; I, Tonya; The Shape of Water;
 Darkest Hour; Three Billboards; The Florida Project
Another award season is upon us. Where do we even start after last year? The crushing defeat of La La Land by Moonlight was an upset for the ages, and it’s hard to justify any awards prognostication after that. The stats, the precursors, and the precedents are out the window. What Moonlight had that La La Land didn’t have, however, was a story.