Reviews - Page 75

Giving you our points of view on the latest docs in release and on the circuit.

TIFF Reviews: ‘The Trial’ and ‘Donbass’

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The Trial and Donbass (Netherlands, 127 min.; Germany/Ukraine/France/Netherlands/Romania, 121 min.) Dir. Sergei Loznitsa Sergei Loznitsa must be unique in the history of film in working in three distinct modes. This year, madman that he is, he released three films, one from each mode. At Hot Docs, I saw his latest observational documentary, Victory Day, which pursues the vein he has previously tapped in work like Austerlitz (2016) and Maidan (2014). In these works, Loznitsa’s approach is austere: long takes; wide shots; little in the way of incident; an obsessive focus on crowds. It’s like the last shot of Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005) blown up into an entire aesthetic. In addition to

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TIFF Review: ‘An Elephant Sitting Still’

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An Elephant Sitting Still (China, 234 min.) Dir. Hu Bo Sometimes criticism is beside the point. An Elephant Sitting Still is Chinese director Hu Bo’s first feature film. It’s also his last: he committed suicide last October. The film premiered at the Berlinale to the very particular kind of rave reviews a four-hour film by a dead director might be expected to get. The film weaves together four storylines that crisscross over the course of an exceptionally violent day in a post-industrial town in China. The moody teenagers, abusive parents, small-time gangsters, neglected old folks, and unscrupulous administrators who make up

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TIFF Review: ‘Fausto’

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Fausto (Canada/Mexico, 70 min.) Dir. Andrea Bussmann Andrea Bussmann’s solo debut feature after 2016’s Tales of Two Who Dreamt, made in collaboration with partner Nicolas Pereda, is a bit slippery. Ostensibly, it’s a freeform adaptation of the Faust myth, but I can’t say I caught many of those resonances beyond occasional references to the devil. Much of the film is comprised of voiceover narrators, or occasionally on-screen characters, telling enigmatic fables about ghosts or other shadowy figures often over hazy images of the Oaxaca coast. Very little, indeed almost nothing, happens onscreen. Though the images are often lovely they don’t quite

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Review: ’14 & Muslim’

The students of Toronto’s Islamic Foundation School (IFS) have the same stresses and worries that most kids their age do. Concerns over fitting in, being cool, preparing for the future, and fulfilling expectations set by parents are headaches felt by most teens. But the students of IFS have an additional anxiety not faced by most kids in other schools: Islamophobia. The new CBC doc 14 & Muslim offers a snapshot into the lives of Muslim students growing up in Canada at a time when prejudice and Islamophobia are on the rise and when ultra-conservatism and white supremacy are sadly making a comeback. Justin Trudeau ackknowledge in

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TIFF Review: ‘The Biggest Little Farm’

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The Biggest Little Farm (USA, 90 min.) Dir. John Chester Programme: TIFF Docs (International Premiere) The Biggest Little Farm is a wonderful portrait of the hands that feed us. This personal documentary by John Chester shares the filmmaker’s mission to create a natural farm that harkens back to traditional practices. The farm builds upon the vision of Chester’s wife, Molly, a writer and food blogger, who emphasizes the natural methods of cultivating and preparing food. More importantly, though, the mission for the farm builds upon a promise the Chesters made to their rescue dog, Todd. They told Todd that his home with them

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TIFF Review: ‘Angels are Made of Light’

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Angels are Made of Light (USA/Denmark/Norway, 117 min.) Dir. James Longley Programme: TIFF Docs (International Premiere) James Longley returns to the Middle East a decade after his 2006 Oscar-nominated documentary Iraq in Fragments. Longley’s latest, Angels Are Made of Light, brings him to post-war Afghanistan to chronicle how a nation looks to rebuild in the aftermath of a long and brutal war. The doc offers a portrait of Afghanistan’s children as Longley sharpens his focus to tell the stories of the kids at Kabul’s Daqiqi Balkhi School. The powerful doc is a tough but necessary portrait of the generation that will rebuild a country

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TIFF Review: ‘The Death and Life of John F. Donovan’

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The Death of Life of John F. Donovan (Canada/UK, 107 min.) Dir. Xavier Dolan, Writ. Xavier Dolan, Jacob Tierney Starring: Kit Harrington, Jacob Tremblay, Natalie Portman, Thandie Newton, Ben Schnetzer, Susan Sarandon, Sarah Gadon, Emily Hampshire, Kathy Bates Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere) I really feel for Xavier Dolan. When critics eviscerated his 2016 film It’s Only the End of the World, many of them, particularly the Americans, made a point of panning him personally while ripping apart the claustrophobic family drama. Making it personal shouldn’t be part of the job. The consequences of these deep digs and hot takes are

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TIFF Review: ‘Screwball’

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Screwball (USA, 105 min.) Dir. Billy Corben Programme: TIFF Docs (World Premiere) Who knew baseball could be so entertaining? America’s two favorite past times—baseball and crime—join forces in a Billy Corben’s hilarious and eye-opening documentary Screwball. This madcap doc is one of the hidden gems in the TIFF Docs line-up this year. Screwball is a truly original home run in documentary storytelling. This true crime farce interviews a peanut gallery of stupid criminals as Corben dives into the recent scandal of performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. The film gives new meaning to the USA’s “three strikes rule” as Corben recounts the all-American tradition of lying, cheating,

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TIFF Review: ‘Maiden’

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Maiden (UK, 93 min.) Dir. Alex Holmes Programme: TIFF Docs (World Premiere) There’s a fairytale aspect to Maiden, a documentary about a pioneering women’s sailing crew that waived the rules and ruled the waves. One day, while working in the sailboat of a kitchen in the mid-1980s, a young English woman named Tracy Edwards found herself talking to Jordan’s King Hussein, who was touring the boat. Hussein said she should follow her dream of sailing around the world. Later, when Edwards was struggling to raise money for her project to take the first all-female crew in the 1989-1990 Whitbread Around the World Race

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TIFF Review: ‘Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes’

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Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes (USA, 107 min.) Dir. Alexis Bloom Programme: TIFF Docs (World Premiere) Near the start of Alexis Bloom’s documentary, Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes, we hear a voice-over of Ailes, the mastermind behind Fox News who resigned in disgrace in 2016. He’s describing how he grew up in Warren, Ohio a town of real American values, not like Hollywood or the East Coast. Real American values — like extorting sex from women, eavesdropping on employees and promoting paranoia, what Fox News producers called “riling the crazies”, to boost ratings? Of course that’s entirely

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