Category Archives: Little White Lies

So Long, My Son (Wang Xiaoshuai, 2019)

This ambitious, epic melodrama from Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai is delivered with historical richness and
staggering emotional gravity. Across three hours, its story jumps back and forth between four decades and documents significant upheavals in modern Chinese life.

Of particular interest to Wang is how the country’s one-child policy, designed to control the population size and finally eliminated in 2015, affects an ensemble of couples, their relatives and their children. He also explores how those ripples extend to years of rage and regret after two parents, Liyun (Yong Mei) and Yaojun (Wang Jingchun), fall foul of the rule. It brings the political reality and monumental societal shifts right down to a human level…

Full review for Little White Lies

Earthquake Bird (Wash Westmoreland, 2019)

A few minutes into Earthquake Bird, Alicia Vikander’s Lucy Fly is shown translating an English-language film into Japanese for what we soon learn has been her job in Tokyo for a number of years. The film in question is Black Rain, Ridley Scott’s cross-cultural action movie in which Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia play New York City cops escorting a Yakuza member back to Japan for extradition.

It’s a cute nod given that Scott Free Productions is one of the companies behind this Netflix-distributed film, and that Black Rain opened in 1989, the year in which Earthquake Bird is set. But the reference ends up backfiring. While the general consensus on Scott’s film remains largely negative, not least due to its use of Asian stereotypes, many of its detractors have nonetheless pointed to the director’s stylistic excesses as a positive. By contrast, Wash Westmoreland’s adaptation of Susanna Jones’ 2001 novel is a pedestrian thriller lacking any zest or flair…

Full review for Little White Lies

Chained for Life (Aaron Schimberg, 2018)

A lengthy Pauline Kael quote about the good looks of actors benefitting cinema precedes Aaron Schimberg’s Chained for Life. Its opening shot, of a young woman (Jess Weixler) navigating a corridor in a shell-shocked but glowing state, appears to complement Kael’s musing.

Yet beauty is about to be imperilled as this woman is actually starring in a horror movie. And then it’s quickly revealed that this horror movie is within another movie, where notions of beauty and representation of bodies that don’t fit societal norms will be skewered to delightful effect…

Full review for Little White Lies

Monos (Alejandro Landes, 2019)

The blistering third feature by Colombian-Ecuadorian filmmaker Alejandro Landes starts with training rituals that recall the physicality of Claire Denis’ Beau Travail. Its characters are eight teenage guerrillas serving the orders of a mysterious force known as The Organisation, stationed to wait for further instructions beyond guarding both an American prisoner (Julianne Nicholson) and a loaned dairy cow.

While some have code names referencing pop culture (Rambo, Smurf), others (Bigfoot, Wolf) evoke folklore, myth and fairy tales. Their base of operations does similar, with a mountaintop fortress filmed by DoP Jasper Wolf as though it’s an island floating in the clouds, while the arrival on horseback of their adult drill sergeant, a minuscule but extremely muscular man, amplifies the surreal, fantastical quality. Were it not for the fact they’re firing guns and holding a woman hostage, the group’s early joviality and camaraderie would suggest a more gender-inclusive Lost Boys (JM Barrie’s, not Joel Schumacher’s)…

Full review for Little White Lies

Gwen (William McGregor, 2018)

We may not yet be in a full-blown renaissance of folk horror, a subgenre particularly popular in British cinema in the 1970s, but several recent high-profile offerings indicate a burgeoning interest in films eschewing traditional monsters and boogeymen for stories of the land, community traditions, and, occasionally, religion driving hysteria and hauntings.

Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England and Kill List flirt with folk horror in both period and contemporary contexts; Ari Aster’s Midsommar has an isolated Swedish village’s rituals causing terror; and Robert Eggers’ The Witch has the explicit subtitle A New-England Folktale. Gwen, the debut feature from TV veteran William McGregor (Poldark), fits neatly into this scene in terms of its use of landscape and how its writer/director flirts with macabre folklore to fuel a near-suffocating sense of dread…

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The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson, 2019)

Andrew Patterson’s incredible debut feature The Vast of Night feels like a spiritual successor to Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Set over the course of a single night in late 1950s New Mexico, it follows radio presenter Everett (Jake Horowitz) and switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick), who begin to suspect that strange things are afoot when mysterious sounds disrupt lines and broadcasts. With the aid of callers describing sightings of UFOs, they embark on a scavenger hunt of sorts to get to the bottom of the town’s apparent alien activity…

Full review for Little White Lies