Author: Aren Bergstrom

Review: After the Storm

Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) used to be a promising writer, but now he’s forced to moonlight as a private investigator to pay the bills. That is, if he did pay the bills. Instead, he whiles away his money at the racetrack, infuriating his ex-wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki), who threatens to cancel his monthly visits with his son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa), if he continues to miss child-support payments. However, when Ryota gets cooped up with his mother (Kirin Kiki), son, and ex-wife during a typhoon, he sees a chance to reunite his family and prove to be the man he always...

Read More

Review: The Salesman

After a construction accident renders their apartment unlivable, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) temporarily move to a new apartment owned by an acquaintance from their acting troupe. However, soon after they move, Rana is assaulted by an unknown man who arrives at the apartment believing he’s visiting the previous tenant. Rana spirals into traumatic depression while Emad investigates the assault so he can get revenge on the culprit. On the surface, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman is a revenge drama, but don’t be deceived by the plot description. The director of A Separation is not going to make...

Read More

The TFS List: an alternative top 10 for 2016

At the end of each year, critics fill publications with lists of the best movies of the past year. They even list best scenes, best performances, and best feature debuts. While each of these lists purportedly shows how the critical community respects art over commerce and demonstrates stark differences with the year’s eventual Oscar nominees, there is often plenty of overlap between critics’ lists and awards show winners. Too much overlap. The truth is that narrative matters, even to critics. If you hear that a given actor gives the best performance of the year all day long, in advertisements...

Read More

Chaos and compassion: the definitive films of 2016

The past year was a hard one to swallow. If we remove all the personal tragedies that we experience in private, our collective losses were still extreme. In the arts, we lost David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, and many other great talents. The country of Syria descended further into hell. Refugees flooded the western world’s borders even as westerners became increasingly bothered by immigration. Donald Trump was elected president after the most depressing election in memory. The world economy continued to hurt the poor and the middle class even as corporations and real estate bankers raked in record...

Read More

Review: Elle

Michèle LeBlanc (Isabelle Huppert) seems like the ideal powerful woman. She’s the pioneering head of a video game company. She lives in a big home and dictates everything in her life on her terms—who she sleeps with, what she eats, how much she wants to work, and who she wants to bestow kindness upon. However, one night a masked assailant rapes her in her home. This upsets her domestic equilibrium and sends her into a spiral of paranoia, revenge, and psychosexual perversion. Elle is as provocative as you’d expect from a Paul Verhoeven film. It starts with the image of a cat watching dispassionately as his owner, Michèle, is brutally raped. The scene is appalling, to say the least, and sets the template for the character portrait of a cunning, confused manipulator that is to follow. It also signals the creator’s dispassionate attitude towards the subject matter. Rape is terrifying and its artistic depiction carries with it many social and psychological ramifications. However, Verhoeven doesn’t care about the connotations of the subject matter. He instead uses it as a means of exploring violent desire and personal guilt. None of this should surprise us from the man who made Basic Instinct and Showgirls, but if Elle’s subject matter and artistic approach sound horrid to you, I’d recommend steering clear. Despite the glowing reviews out of Cannes and TIFF, Elle is...

Read More

Review: Keeping Up with the Joneses

Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) live a normal life in a picturesque Atlanta cul-de-sac. When Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) move in, they seem another perfect addition to the neighbourhood. However, Jeff and Karen soon discover that Tim and Natalie’s superficial domestic perfection hides the fact that they’re really government spies on a secret mission investigating Jeff’s coworkers. Once upon a time, director Greg Mottola looked like something special. He directed the outrageous Superbad, which proved to be the best of Judd Apatow’s many productions, and moved onto the poignant Adventureland, which is a minor nostalgia classic. But then he directed the lacklustre Paul, which wasn’t bad but certainly lacked any distinctive features. Now he has bafflingly made the atrocious Keeping Up with the Joneses, which bears none of the promise and composure of his early efforts. A blandly juvenile comedy about parenting and neighbourliness, the film has no visual or verbal wit. As a story, Keeping Up with the Joneses has no coherence or originality. It superficially nods to Eisenhower-era comedies with its colour palette and mixture of slapstick and high-spirited domestic humour. But its plot has no surprises, its visual style is flat, and its writing doesn’t even try for punchlines. Instead, the film relies on the actors to physically pratfall or exaggerate their line deliveries to supply even...

Read More

ImagineNATIVE 2016 Review: Bonfire

In a Yakut village in the Sakha Republic of Russia, Ignat lives a simple life with his son. However, when his son kills another man in a drunken accident, he’s taken away and Ignat’s simple life is ruined. Saddened and alone, the elderly Ignat finds hope in a local vagrant boy, hoping to impart the lessons to the boy that failed to help his son. It’s uncommon for low-budget feature debuts to have as sharp a visual style or as sympathetic a voice as Bonfire. Not that Bonfire escapes all the shortcomings of low-budget indies, but it still manages to be a quietly confident drama about remote life and familial guilt. Director Dimitrii Davydov keeps the pace slow and the emotions muted. His camera is often impartial, observing the rhythms of Ignat and the other villagers. For instance, we often see Ignat praying to an icon of Jesus or patiently carving boxes out of wood. These rhythms are important because they keep Ignat focused on work and help him resist the lure of alcohol, which seems to torment the majority of the villagers, including his son. Alcohol and its ill consequences provide most of the drama in this film. It incites the plot and plays into the tragic ending. Otherwise, dramatic conflict is mostly absent in Bonfire. Characters go about their business and Davydov never injects artificial tension. In moments, it...

Read More

Recent Tweets

Pin It on Pinterest