Tag Archives: Little White Lies

Isadora’s Children (Damien Manivel, 2019)

Among the most influential figures in dance of the 20th century, Isadora Duncan faced a horrible tragedy in 1913 when her infant children both drowned while in the care of their nanny as their runaway car plunged into the Seine. During her grieving process, Duncan choreographed a three-part piece called ‘Mother’ as a means to express her heartbreak.

Written and directed by former dancer and acrobat Damien Manivel (who won the Best Director prize at Locarno in 2019), the delicate and deliberately-paced Isadora’s Children is cut into three distinct parts, each exploring how the lives of three sets of women – all of different ages and backgrounds – are touched by ‘Mother’…

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Special Actors (Shinichiro Ueda, 2019)

When your breakout feature as a writer/director is predicated on narrative twists and sudden aesthetic left turns, there can be pressure for your next film to retain a similar element of surprise. Shinichiro Ueda’s Special Actors is his solo follow-up to One Cut of the Dead (he co-directed another feature in-between), the independent Japanese zombie horror of sorts that earned more than one thousand times its budget back in its home country, and became a word-of-mouth hit overseas.

For the sake of those still yet to see it, this review will avoid explicit spoilers for One Cut of the Dead; suffice it to say that Special Actors was always going to struggle to live up to its predecessor. That said, the results are largely entertaining and inventive…

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A Julia Fox erotic drama explores domination and digital life

In one of the more attention-grabbing openings in recent memory, PVT Chat begins with a climax, opening on a young man, Jack (Peter Vack), in a dingy apartment, masturbating during a one-to-one session with leather-clad camgirl Scarlet (Julia Fox). They’re participating in roleplay, Scarlet commanding Jack to lick her boot and swallow the cigarette end she pushes towards her webcam.

Scarlet says she lives in San Francisco, while Jack lives in New York City. During their deepening nightly conversations where they get to know each other, Jack tells her he works in tech and waxes lyrical about his revolutionary app idea. In fact, his ‘profession’ is as an online blackjack player, using his wildly inconsistent earnings to pay for his Scarlet time at night, while bullshitting his way into constant rent deferrals for his tattered room and living off cheap noodles…

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Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles (Salvador Simó, 2018)

With the Jean-Luc Godard portrait Redoubtable and Peter Greenaway’s Eisenstein in Guanajuato still lingering in the memory, and a Rainer Werner Fassbinder biopic on its way, there seems to be growing interest in fiction features chronicling the early years of some of Europe‘s most influential filmmakers. As an animation, Salvador Simó’s Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles – about the father of cinematic surrealism, Luis Buñuel – immediately stands out from the pack on form alone. Following the success of 1929’s surreal short Un Chien Andalou (where he was overshadowed by collaborator Salvador Dalí) and the controversy surrounding its follow-up, L’Age d’Or, Buñuel decided to take a comparative left turn by making a pseudo-documentary in a remote region of Spain as both his career and the country entered a turbulent period…

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Blow the Man Down (Bridget Savage Cole/Danielle Krudy, 2019)

Blow the Man Down opens with an attention-grabbing group rendition of the eponymous sea shanty, which originated in the 19th century, with alternate lyrics referencing the New England port town of the film’s setting. Thanks to a montage of misty skies, icy-looking water and squelchy sea creatures, as well as the region and shared taste for anachronistic music, viewers may initially be reminded of Robert Eggers’ recent The Lighthouse.

Instead, writer/director pair Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy present a multi-layered contemporary mystery that’s less stylistically outlandish than Eggers’ film, though certainly full of its own memorable idiosyncrasies. To name just one, those singing fishermen reappear as a Greek chorus of sorts, popping up throughout the film with a song and the odd fourth wall-breaking glance to camera…

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Dogs Don’t Wear Pants (J.-P. Valkeapää, 2019)

Thrilling Finnish feature Dogs Don’t Wear Pants, from director J-P Valkeapää, is a drama about trauma and recovering from great loss, set in the world of BDSM. It also has plentiful body horror, deadpan dark humour and plotting beats reminiscent of a romantic comedy – think Sleepless in Seattle, except instead of a meet-cute atop the Empire State Building, Tom Hanks’ widower had just wanted someone to strangle him…

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Run (Scott Graham, 2019)

Scottish writer/director Scott Graham regularly explores isolated communities in the furthest reaches of Scotland. His third feature, Run, advances his explorations of family and regret to Fraserburgh in the far northeast, a small town where the fishing industry dominates. Thirtysomething Finnie (Mark Stanley), a fish factory worker, has a malaise that’s sabotaging his relationships with teenage-sweetheart-turned-wife, Katie (Amy Manson), and their two sons…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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