Author: Aren Bergstrom

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...

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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...

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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...

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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,...

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imagineNATIVE 2016 Review: Angry Inuk

Since the 1960s, animal rights organizations have effectively argued against the commercial seal hunt, crippling the once-thriving industry through advertising campaigns and the implementation of trade bans. Angry Inuk is director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s personal argument against banning the commercial hunt. The film argues that the hunt is traditional, humane, environmentally-sustainable, and essential to the economy of the Inuit. Angry Inuk is as articulate and personal as an activist documentary can get. Well-structured and deliberately paced, Arnaquq-Baril’s film effectively counters every argument currently used in favour of banning the seal hunt. It roots the argument in the traditions of the...

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The nostalgia of horror

On a recent episode of the Filmspotting: SVU podcast, hosts Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discussed the Netflix phenomenon Stranger Things and questioned whether horror can be nostalgic. It’s an interesting question as horror is predicated on exploiting fears and anxieties, while nostalgia is generally understood as revelling in past experiences. We believe one relies on negative association, the other positive. And yet, despite this seeming contradiction, horror in film is often nostalgic. This is because nostalgia is not always about remembering the happiness of the past. Because we’re living in the midst of a nostalgia wave, people assume...

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Review: The Lovers and the Despot

In 1978, North Korean dictator-to-be Kim Jong-Il kidnapped South Korea’s most famous director, Shin Sang-ok, and his former wife, starlet Choi Eun-hee, in order to set them up as propagandist filmmakers for the communist republic. As his prisoners in North Korea, he gave them the means to make countless films all the while bolstering the notion that he was a great artist in addition to a great leader. Ross Adam and Robert Cannan’s The Lovers and the Despot tells one of the strangest and most fascinating stories in international cinema history. Sadly, the film doesn’t live up to the...

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