Monday, September 26, 2016

Certain Women (2016) Like a horror anthology about misunderstood women.

Last week the fifth and final movie I saw at TIFF, was also my most anticipated of the entire festival, Kelly Reichardt’s sixth and soon to be most seminal film yet: Certain Women.


Certain Women is exactly about that, three mini stories about three different women who work in the same rural counties and whom lives cross paths with unfortunate acquainted circumstances of crisis. Laura Dern is the focus of the first movie, then Michele Williams the second and then Lily Gladstone the third along with Kristen Stewart. Each section is a character study about a certain version of oppression towards a woman and the effects it has on their perspective.


Kelly Reichardt creates her best and most thoughtful piece yet of human observation with Certain Women, by naturally presenting the subtlety in the way a woman in a big career position is seen as less assuring next to a man, how a woman is seen more aggressive when she’s being assertive and how woman can’t easily be seen as heroic. Kelly Reichardt’s signature style perfectly encapsulates this, by letting us sit with these characters and absorb their organic emotional reactions, in a rural setting that reciprocates and highlights those exact feelings. The best thing about Certain Women is that Reichardt’s doesn’t only show the plight of these women, but points out these women have allowed their own resentment based disillusions to remove them from realizing their emotional mistakes.


Laura Dern does a surrounding job as a broken down lawyer with a troubled client, Michele Williams does a poignant measured job as a wife and mother who cares more about her business than her own family, but Lily Gladstone is the break out performance of the film, as a naïve loner ranch worker who falls for the maniac yet cavalier Kristen Stewart.


Certain Women is no doubt Kelly Reichardt’s best film and is a marvel in exposure, and the best way to understand it, is to see it.


  • Maurice Jones

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Personal Shopper (2016) A ghostly Technohorror…….

My fourth screening at TIFF was by Olivier Assayas with his newest movie starring Kristen Stewart, called Personal Shopper. I’ve never been familiar with Olivier Assayas’ work, so this was definitely a testing experience of what his movies conjure. I was excited to realize Personal Shopper is an observant venture that begs you to take from what you’re experiencing, and as much as it proves enthusiasm towards making a statement; it’s as enthused to have you piece together your own with unconventional attributes to a ghost story.
Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, a personal shopper to a celebrity in Paris, buying her boss dresses, necklaces and anything else needed within the fashion world. Part time Maureen is a medium, escorting ghost from newly bought homes. Maureen’s deceased older brother Lewis was a medium, which leaves Maureen to believe she made have conjured his abilities to speak to ghosts, but what confirms she’s capable is her recent encounters with her brother from the spirit world to the present world.
Personal Shopper is a deliberately stagnant observation of our connection to technology and our subconscious desire to relate to something from a pre-technological age that requires only the human soul to get in contact of; IE ghosts. Olivier Assayas does a neat uncalculated view on how someone in modern times does research, through watching videos on Youtube and searching online on an iphone, creating a visually absurd display of disconnect and commerce with advancement and convenience; the result could be that our minds could develop
Personal Shopper also delves into the fact that fashion and material items have gone up in interest in recent years (due to technology), and with the advent of online dating turning relations into order, inanimate objects have replaced sex and intimacy, and being current Is what now excites people the most. The connection with ghosts in Personal Shopper and fashion has to do with Assayas suggests how easily technology can trick us into thinking we’re experiencing something organic, the more we rely on it to get us by, the more we can forget it’s a machine and capable of dysfunction. The idea that technology can erode a soul by making everything so service based and instant, to the point where one loses their imagination and one’s sense of wonder of a natural world, with an obsession of wealth where you can change one’s self with clothing and shiny items in place of a self core.
Kristen Stewart is a great choice to play Maureen, as a subtly manic reserved actor as she easily portrays the symbolization of a personal shopper:  the link between tech capital and the self, as she Is the medium between her boss and her bosses self, therefore Maureen also being a mundane machine who transfers an item to another, like an iphone.
Personal Shopper has some strong intriguing themes, and just when you think it doesn’t know what it’s doing as a movie, it waits for you to realize it’s intentions by giving you straight ideas purposely distracted with a ghost tale, all-the-while being truly frightening with the reality it suggests of our present day.
  • Maurice Jones

Monday, September 19, 2016

Strange Weather (2016) A falsely progressive Lifetime movie.

The third movie I saw at TIFF was regrettably Strange Weather. What I thought would be a gritty rural revenge film seen from the female perspective; turned out to be a sugar coated version of a gritty rural revenge film seen from a stereotypically female perspective.
Strange Weather is about a woman from the South (played by Holly Hunter) who finds out her deceased son’s friend has stolen his business ideas and was involved with his murder. She decides the take things into her own hands and goes on a road trip to find out the truth behind her son’s legacy.
Not to be funny but the best part about Strange Weather is the near end, where it actually seems gritty, intriguing and almost experimental compared to the rest of the movie. Holly Hunter has a gun pointed at her antagonist’s head and by the way the music hits and how direct and strip down the scene is orchestrated, you have no idea whether the trigger will be pulled. That being the only interesting scene in the movie, you unfortunately have to sift through self indulgent, trace the lines scenes with faux liberal imagines intended to seem indie and hip without realizing how obvious this is. To further that, one has to put up with scenes of extended meaningless character involved dialogue, explaining the plot and quirks of its characters no one has asked for. Scenes of enjoying long drives and basking in the summer sun when a easy listening track is played right over! Yeah, in a tale about gun revenge……..Leading to scenes of white understanding where Holly Hunter stumbles upon the aftermath of a Southern flood where black families are gathering their stuff from wreckage, and Holly Hunter asks the one white couple amongst the families as to what happened, not to mention how bizarre the black extras are filmed and how none of them speak a word. Now in the Q&A at TIFF with director Katherine Dieckmann and actor Holly Hunter, Katherine said she wanted to show a white mind being enlightened seeing the reality of black families, being the ones to always suffer in Southern floods. Ms. Dieckmann, I know you had the best intentions in mind, but maybe viewing black people as “other beings” and not giving the people speaking parts isn’t the best way to go about displaying social injustice. Also, obnoxiously holding on a shot of an interracial lesbian couple kissing probably isn’t the best way to show equality if it’s obvious you’re trying to sit at the “cool kids” table.
Holly Hunter does a great job as expected, but unfortunately her character clearly was directed to be cartoonish as oppose someone with a death wish who is upset and determined. Now an animated Holly Hunter isn’t a bad thing but in this context made me completely for forget at times I’m watching a revenge plot.
Katherine Dieckmann set out nothing more than to create a stereotypical film for middle aged white housewives and wants us to believe she’s hip, liberal and socially aware, but instead reminds us of a white feminist who thinks her antics will relate to a black females outlook. If you have a brain, best to leave Strange Weather at the door.
  • Maurice Jones

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Una (2016) The film equivalent of the friend who dumps their problems onto you all at once, to the point they drain you mentally and your fingers physically can’t text them back.

The second movie I saw at TIFF Wednesday was Una, from novice film director Benedict Andrews and written by David Harrower. Benedict Andrews is originally a theatre director having Una being his first venture into films. Una is about a twenty-something female named Una (played by Rooney Mara) who decides to visit a middle-aged man from her past named Ray (played by Ben Mendelsohn) at his place of employment. The terms of the visit turns out to be gravely delicate as Ray was involved in a sexual, skeptically romantic relationship with Una, when she was thirteen.


Una is an unfortunate misguided headache of a mess that becomes absolutely horrific with its senselessly careless execution of its subject matter.


Now it might be cliché and quick to say that the big problem about this movie is the theatre background of Benedict Andrews leading into directing, but sadly this is the case.  As Una starts off subtle and quietly transparent with a European aesthetic (cold opening inside a dim night club), but then immediately displays it’s misunderstanding of its own tone, by having its title sequence open with a scratchy pop song over an uncomfortable scene of a thirteen year old girl staring at the camera, sandwiched in between deliberately frigid scenes with little to no music. This immediately exposed the fact that Benedict isn’t a seasoned director, and may not himself know the tone he is trying to convey with this movie. For second I forgot he was in theatre as that title sequence came off like a music video, clashing with the demure scene to follow. As the moment comes for Una to confront Ray, things seem promising as scenes are taken seriously even with the visual metaphor of a lone women walking into the male dominated atmosphere of a warehouse workplace. This all goes out the window painfully, as the confrontation turns into a suspense thriller execution, and as Una and Ray converse as it urgently becomes a theatre play narrative and direction, camera shots to signify a character entrance and exit and dialogue beats of exposed secrets and unleashed acting beats. Unfortunately it goes beyond that though, as the writing is as obvious as all hell. The dialogue explains every detail of their relationship in a yelling motion, and displays the confrontation in a way that probably wouldn’t be allowed during anyone’s work day to spend an entire day arguing without repercussion. Benedict treats the workplace location as a theatre stage for the actors to play with which completely steals from the realism of the story, with characters running around and even having sex inside the warehouse setting……… misguided. All this coupled with an ignorance of subplots that are way more interesting than the plot at hand, and directorial emotional shifts that are too sudden to make any sense of, makes Una laborious to watch. Worse of all, playing with material of this kind in this fashion instantly takes away from the seriousness of the subject matter, the idea that an incident like this can destroy a person’s physical and mental well being fifteen years later. A movie like this just leaves one with shock, confusion and unrest knowing there was an allowance for a movie like this to be funded and completed.

Una uses flash backs throughout the movie to explain the past of its two lead characters when Una was thirteen and when Ray was a much younger age himself. In all honesty these flash back scenes would have made a more compelling movie, about a thirteen year old girl who carries an inappropriate relationship with a fully grown man. The acting in those flash backs are way more natural and the writing is straight forward and realistic and non explosive which immediately makes for a far better movie. This movie is like if you gave high school students who just got into Gus Vant Zant movies, the project to make a serious slice of life film about statutory rape without any guidelines of tact.

Rooney Mara proves regrettably to be only effective within movies that have a reserved tone and intention, but when faced with portraying actual emotional and physical stress, she just comes of removed and beyond the material at hand. As some say Rooney Mara is a mask that you can put your own ideals upon, but unfortunately in this instance, that face is just blank. Ben Mendelsohn handles the exertion far greater but definitely doesn’t escape the amateurish out pour of the script written by David Harrower.

Before the TIFF screening the director talk to us (with Rooney Mara quietly standing next to him) about how difficult and complex the subject is to handle and how in some way you have to be careful in how you portray it. So I guess this is how tentative Benedict Andrews and David Harrower could treat the plot at hand? This is a bad movie. Forget about it.


  • Maurice Jones

Monday, September 12, 2016


Onur Tukel grows up…………sort of…


After seeing Catfight at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) Saturday night, in which I was anticipating to see, I was alleviated to notice this Catfight is Onur Tukel’s turn at a proper structure of story. As oppose to taking an idea that is too small to make into a feature, and bloating it out into a concave of amateur misguided starter film making to make a full length. Onur’s past movies; Summer of Blood (2014) and Apple Sauce (2015) are usually padded out with jokes and conclude in a manner that subtracts from the point of his movies due the overdone miscalculated timing of the film itself. Now whether Onur Tukel always intended to have his films fell longer than they should be or if he’s unaware of how that fact spoils his movies, is up to debate for now as I didn’t get a chance to ask him at the Q&A Saturday, due to the fact I was sitting behind him as he was doing panel. Never the less Catfight has the over length in spades but it actually feels necessary and experimental with making the statement of the monotony and uncertain endlessness of war.


Catfightis a deeply sardonic satirical tale about the pointlessness of status, of two middle aged women living impossibly far apart ideologically lifestyles, who we’re good friends in college but haven’t seen each other since then. They both become examples of justification for their opposing outlooks and butts of jokes displaying their disdain of said ideals. The hidden resentment boils over however, when the two reunited unexpectedly at a fundraiser event. Veronica (played by Sandra Oh) discovers Ashley (played by Anne Heche) is now a struggling artist, working part time as a caterer for her girlfriend Lisa’s catering company (played by Alicia Silverstone) and Ashley discovers that Veronica is a strict mother/house wife. The encounter beholds both women disturbed to find out how either person resulted decades later, and avalanches into physical retaliation.


Onur Tukel could be known for his jovial social commentary throughout his movies, and with Catfight he takes that commentary to a more politically aggressive level, that reaches a more meaningful plateau beyond all the laughs. Onur expresses his views on social status and how a person’s venture in life can end up affecting someone else’s on the complete opposite site of the spectrum. Assumingly created based race relations. How art and politics can easily clash and therefore have a huge impact on culture. How art to a certain extent, though meant to be free and inspiring, ironically needs financial backing to reach a wide audience and to continue as a career. That though someone maybe rich and seemingly behave with condescension, they can still have empathy and love inside them, especially if they’re selfless enough to parent a child, and the juxtaposition of being an artist of meaning, yet being consumed with the process that it becomes more about the artist than the statement of the work itself. Onur also tackles his thoughts on Donald Trump, throwing in a cackling line said by a side character about a tree……”That’s Donald….he’s a dick.” Going even further, Onur really hammers in his disdain for Republicans and the idea of the war on terror. Craig Bierko (who Onur Tukel has always wanted to work with) plays a “Jimmy Fallon” type tonight show host who’s always broadcasted on North American television. He displays the daily depressing headlines of political war and then counter acts those details with a man farting in his underwear, pointing out our conditioning to laughing at the cruelest low brow humor in order to stomach and forget the reality of current civilization, though suggesting laughter maybe the best thing to have when being left out of the higher level loop. Also, Tukel displays the underlining truth that a war on terror is impossible, but that lots of North Americans just want an answer to what they’re being told and through that believe war has its place. There as well is a theme sprinkled quite often though out the movie, about the need for companionship, that when things seem distance you always have the ones you love and the ones who love you to console you no matter what we think.


Catfight has many moments where characters soberly stop the films stride in its tracks, to display realistic grim exact truths towards other characters, very reminiscent of the dark, removed, frigid dialogue from none other than the master of grim: Todd Solondz. Clearly his movies were a big influence on this film, even down to the strict dismal way it was filmed with certain scenes of dark clarity, which also can bring out the hilarity of the scene from the sudden way the dialogue is written; IE A hilarious scene with Alicia Silverstone at her baby shower, coldly and obnoxiously telling off a guest of hers who gave her a present that may not be so environmentally conscious.


Sandra Oh is at her peak in Catfight flawlessly going from pretentious, pushy and inconsiderate to frustrated, caring, respectful and lovingly determined and sentimental, definitely the anchor of the entirely film. Anne Heche is a torpedo of anxiousness, giving her all and completely sacrificing herself to her characters plight as a struggling self obsessed artist, very close to the commitment of Ms. Winona Ryder in Stranger Things (2016). Great to finally see again, Alicia Silverstone is as natural as can be as Anne Heche’s girlfriend Lisa, who is emotionally ever changing but is completely fleshed out as a character, played with lots of thought as Anne Heche’s practical centering better half. The film is then rounded out perfectly with some of the greatest amusing support roles of all time with Craig Bierko, Dylan Baker, Amy Hill and a comedic breakout performance by Ariel Kavoussi.



Catfight is a extremely poignant film of timely importance that spills the mindful contents Onur Tukel has being harboring in the past year. While being so intellectually affective and determined Onur knows when to have fun and knows who he is, a personal joke teller who has mastered his comedic craft while being deeply honest. Though the movie is awkwardly cut at some parts and some finesse could be suggested in the execution of the scenes, this is typical of Onur Tukel, who does come off as an amateur filmmaker but with Catfight is truly coming into his own by taking some tips from some greats but by being even more personal and forthright than ever. Of course all of this substance isn’t lost as the film is supported by brutally hilarious detailed fight scenes between Sandra Oh and Anne Heche, that go on purposely too long and too cartoony to take seriously but that remind us of the essence of Onur’s refreshingly comedic voice and his movie’s point of the over staying of war. Finally Onur Tukel makes a movie with a ending that doesn’t lead to exhaustion, looks professional as can be and is sure to be his breakout film.


Check out CATFIGHT!


- Maurice Jones

Friday, September 9, 2016

Viral (2016)

Whatever happened to Dimension Films? They’re great.

Viral is a 2016 horror/suspense outbreak movie put out by suspense/horror mavens, Dimension Films. And like most Dimension Films entries, especially of the 90’s. This movie involves teenagers! And in classic Kevin Williamson fashion, they are spunky, overly intelligent and self aware.


A mysterious outbreak sneaks into the United States, starting as a cold and ending as a zombie epidemic. The disease first seems controlled until it’s discovered online through viral videos, that there could be alien beings in the form of worms, burrowing into the skulls of humans and possessing them to infect everyone else on the planet. As the symptoms at first only seem like a standard virus, the world is slow to catch on, leaving two young sisters to be hip on the truth of the matter through Youtube conspiracy.


Though Viral is essentially your standard Zombie Outbreak Horror film, what makes it special is that it harkens back to the Teen Slashers of the 90’s, with a focus on the problems of the teens everyday lives, as much as a focus on the plot at hand. Like in Scream the characters are very aware of each other and the situation they’re in, responding to each other’s quirks and hang ups in an urgent expressive manner.  Viral contains the classic horror avatars, such as: The good girl, the slut, the cute guy and the fool, but all enthusiastically fleshed out and animated as characters, which in return come off more realistic and adventurous at the same time.


There’s a budding romance between the female lead character Emma (played by Sofia Black-D'Elia) and the male lead character Evan (played by Travis Tope) that plays sweet yet playful yet charmingly awkward, perfectly complementing the scares of the film. As those characters gradually depend on each other throughout the film, it feels earned as there is a while of time dedicated to their relationship with witty flair and back and forth emotional beats, Dimension Films can’t quit. You as well get razor sharp biting humor by Analeigh Tipton as Stacey and Machine Gun Kelly as CJ which is reminiscent of Tatum and Stu from Scream.


Over all Viral is exciting, cleverly spoken and creatively solitary. The movie doesn’t escalate beyond its means, making it an experience of……..“What if?”. It’s one location of an outbreak in suburbia being seeing through the eyes of teenagers, really lends to the realism throughout the movie and best of all the characters look like they should be in college instead of high school, so again bringing us back to the good ole days of 90’s suspense horror we miss so much, that were fun yet chilling yet somewhat realistic within reason. All I can say is, I hope Viral and Green Room bring back an intelligence and self aware joviality that has been missing in most modern horror. We don’t need more “window knock” frights we just need more raw wit.


  • Maurice Jones