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Staff & contributors

Visual artist Ann Oren's first foray into feature-length filmmaking is a sensual delight and a gift that keeps on giving. Oren approaches her film with sincere dedication to every single building block: Piaffe looks, sounds, and feels sensational while being a fairly modest production. A true indie film, Piaffe verges on experimentation as a young woman named Eva (Simone Bucio) takes over the job of a foley artist from her sister. Even though she's under-qualified, she tries her best t0 come up with the sounds for a horse-themed commercial to no avail. However, in the process, she notices a bump on her lower back that grows into a horse's tail. Piaffe is a tale of metamorphosis, not only of the flesh, but also of the heart, as the themes it explores are also directly related to sexuality, submission, and, of course, love as a manifestation of all those things.

Genre: Thriller

Actor: Bjørn Melhus, Josef Ostendorf, Lea Draeger, Nico Ehrenteit, Sebastian Rudolph, Simon(è) Jaikiriuma Paetau, Simone Bucio, Tristan Bumm

Director: Ann Oren

After more than six years in the making, The Little Mermaid should be a spectacle for the ages, but even the magic of Rob Marshall (Chicago) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) cannot save the live-action remake. The film feels at once too stunted for an actual musical and too expansive to be just another movie. There's something uncanny, too, in how the humans look underwater and inland so that the wetness of the characters (of all things!) becomes a weirdly icky factor. Not to mention Scuttle the diving bird who looks more like a demonic creature than a feathery companion, or the flat disappointment that is Flounder. If that's the price we must pay for reality, we don't want it.

Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Music, Romance

Actor: Adrian Christopher, Art Malik, Awkwafina, Christopher Fairbank, Craig Stein, Daveed Diggs, Emily Coates, Halle Bailey, Jacob Tremblay, Javier Bardem, Jessica Alexander, Jodi Benson, John Dagleish, Jon-Scott Clark, Jonah Hauer-King, Jude Akuwudike, Kajsa Mohammar, Karolina Conchet, Leon Cooke, Lorena Andrea, Marcus Hodson, Martina Laird, Melissa McCarthy, Noma Dumezweni, Russell Balogh, Sienna King, Simone Ashley, Sophie Carmen-Jones, Tarik Frimpong, Yasmin Harrison

Director: Rob Marshall

Rating: PG

I'm still stuck between calling The Tour 23 a clever marketing trick or a feast for the senses. Contradictions have always nested at the heart of the brand, between beauty and its toxic standards, so it's self-aware of them to highlight that in an audience-facing film. It's undeniable that the VS shows have held spectacle in high regard and cultivated a fanbase that outnumbers the actual consumers, but this film will feel like a treat even if you don't care for luxury wear. Even more, it's perhaps a bit too likable: it's lush without being kitschy, it's woke without the overt politics, it's fun, but not a joke, and most of all, it brings us closer to the visions of creators from around the world who have so much more to give than what they've given Victoria's Secret.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Adriana Lima, Adwoa Aboah, Candice Swanepoel, Doja Cat, Emily Ratajkowski, Gigi Hadid, Hailey Bieber, Imaan Hammam, Iris Law, Julia Fox, Lily Aldridge, Naomi Campbell, Sui He, Valentina Sampaio, Winnie Harlow, Yseult, Ziwe Fumudoh

Director: Cristina Sánchez Salamanca, Korty Eo, Lola Raban-Oliva, Margot Bowman, Umi Ishihara

A first feature by stuntman-turned-director Andy Armstrong, Squealer is supposedly based on real events that shook Canada in the 1990s. Robert Pickton or the Pig Farmer Killer was perhaps the inspiration for the eponymous Squealer in the 2023 film; the physical resemblance is uncanny. Extraordinarily cruel serial killers make good gore material and we love to see it, but the problem is that the audience today wants something new and fresher. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a classic, but it's hard to make a film as misogynistic and hit the same charge as it used to. In Squealer, it is only female bodies that are shown dismembered, cut open, sliced, and diced; for men, all this happens off screen. This is only one example of how the film reiterates some of its onerous tropes, without really updating them. It's not exactly good taste to hammer bits of comedy in the dialogue too, as it feels  disconcerting amidst the rivers of blood and cruelty. 

 

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Actor: Danielle Burgio, Graham Greene, Holly Kaplan, Katherine Moennig, Ramona DuBarry, Rebecca Knox, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Sydney Carvill, Theo Rossi, Tyrese Gibson, Wes Chatham

Director: Andy Armstrong

Rating: R

What seems like The Good Mother's biggest asset is actually its downfall. Yes, the three main actors (Swank, Cooke, and Jack Reynor as the civil servant son, Toby) are all good at what they do, but they're incapable of resuscitating a script that's never truly come to life. These casting choices, obviously made to give some clout to a very mediocre project, feel even more disappointing because the disconnect between actor and character is way too big. For example, Swank is not the alcoholic, fed-up mother we need her to be in this case, and its hard to see this as something else than a derogatory take on her previous more tender and glam roles. Director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte's Sundance-winning As You Are carried a whiff of fresh air, The Good Mother is drained out of all its energy, avoiding reflective depth at all costs, not to mention skirting around the ambivalences of motherhood. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Cliff Ware, Dilone, Frank Alfano, Hilary Swank, Hopper Penn, Jack Reynor, Karen Aldridge, Larry Fessenden, Laurent Rejto, Norm Lewis, Olivia Cooke

Director: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte

Rating: R

Producer-turned director Sean King O'Grady has some fresh ideas about what can shake up the dystopia genre, but The Mill needs more than a corporate critique to lift it off the ground. Even with Lil Rel Howery's apt acting skills (you'll probably remember him from Get Out), the film falls flat in its second half, losing the momentum built up by the original idea of the gristmill as an exteriorization of the corporate grind and its meaningless nature. The issue is that, aside from this smart use of symbolism, The Mill plays it rather safe by relating dystopia to capitalism. It's almost like O'Grady hasn't the slightest clue that capitalism and dystopia have been one and the same thing for decades now; if only he would have taken the equation to much, much darker places...

Genre: Horror, Science Fiction

Actor: Allya F. Robinson, Blair Wilson, Getchie Argetsinger, Jaiden K. Brown, Karen Obilom, Lil Rel Howery, Pat Healy, Patrick Fischler

Director: Sean King O'Grady

Rating: R

Pain Hustlers is based on a 2018 New York Times article of the same name exposing a drug company that marketed a fentanyl-based drug. Zanna, the on-screen pharmaceutical start-up, is modelled after Insys: the actual company who pushed a fentanyl-based spray for pain management with the help of sales reps who particularly appeal to a certain male gaze. A DIY scheme of bribing doctors through "speaker programs"—or recurring, debaucherous parties—gets Zanna off the ground, catapulting stripper-turned-manager Liza Drake (Emily Blunt) to a much-yearned financial stability. Together with the coked-up COO (magnificently played by Chris Evans), Liza puts her street smart potential to work; she goes all in, until it all crashes and burns. It's cynical how predictable the plot of such a film can be, mainly because the only character development we see is in Liza's sudden moral spark at the sight of drug abuses and overdoses. Pain Hustlers tries really hard to build a hero, tear her down, and then rehabilitate her status, but to what end? The film ends up using the fentanyl crisis as a narrative drive, a highly dubious move when you're supposed to be spreading awareness. 

 

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Adrian Eppley, Alex Klein, Amit Shah, Andy Garcia, Aubrey Dollar, Avis-Marie Barnes, Becca Breitfeller, Brian d'Arcy James, Britt Rentschler, Catherine O'Hara, Chloe Coleman, Chris Evans, Emily Blunt, Erin Ownbey, Greyson Chadwick, Jay Duplass, Josh Ventura, Mandi Christine Kerr, Mary Ann Hagan, Michael Kosta, Michael Lowry, Nicholas Christopher McNeil, Omer Mughal, Pat Dortch, Quinn Bozza, Rowan Joseph, Samantha Kacho, Selena Anduze, Sharon Conley, Tris Marie, Valerie LeBlanc, Willie Raysor

Director: David Yates

Rating: R

Just in time for Halloween, Netflix has shelled out for a new, high production value doc about demonic possession. It has all the right ingredients: a true story (that of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, also known as the "Devil Made Me Do It" case of 1981), some convincing re-enactments, the air of exclusivity (use of real archives), but it still feels like a let-down to the true horror buffs who'd tune in expecting something fresh. After all, Netflix has been in the game for a while and it's not a good look to settle for something as mediocre. For The Devil on Trial, it seems like the execs have just upped the budget on a regular cable-TV-haunted-house after hours special and then patted themselves on the back. Even the interviews featured are full of cliches, which strips down the horrifying potential of authenticity.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Arne Cheyenne Johnson, Tony Spera, Victor Serfaty

Director: Chris Holt

Rating: R

In a time where the Metaverse feels more and more a looming presence, hoping to crown our complex realities with its utopian promise, it's only natural to expect a film set precisely there. Director L.E. Staiman took a chance with Love Virtually, but his attempt to make a zany, absurdist rom-com (riffing off the title of your aunt's annual Christmas rewatch) simply fails. The premise sees a few couples on the brink of breaking up reconnect with the help of VR headsets, challenging each other's commitment, or cheating with each other (without knowing it of course). A rather funny gambit gets sucked into a vortex of dullness when the characters speak, their dialogues irksome to the point of second-hand embarrassment. Instead of exploring the possibilities of VR relations through an ironic lens, the film seems to not even care enough to look for the genuine comedic potential of the Metaverse as a concept-turned-space. Even the three separate references to Timothée Chalamet don't make a difference to how surprisingly retrograde and somehow banal all of this feels.

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Actor: Adam Ray, Cheri Oteri, Danielle Krivak, Henry Dittman, Nikki Alexis Howard, Paul F. Tompkins, Peter Gilroy, Ryan O'Flanagan, Stephen Tobolowsky, Tom Virtue, Vincent Washington

Director: L.E. Staiman

Horror likes to take a human fear and personify it. It's a winning move, materializing our worst nightmares, but what does a woman's self-doubt look like? In this case, extremely ugly and somewhat laughable, but surely not scary. The special effects team dropped the ball on this one, and the appendage's physical presence is more distracting than anything. Its concept and its aura, though, go a long way, and there are a few admirable twists and turns that make a curious point about female psychology and social expectations. Their interdependency then translates into the film's sparse backstory, tracing a journey of trauma that's surprisingly relatable. Interestingly enough, director Anna Zlokovic made a short of the same name in 2021 which teased the idea of a monster sucking your confidence in secret, but her latest feature film lacks that punch. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Annie Pisapia, Brandon Mychal Smith, Daniel Chioco, Deborah Rennard, Desmin Borges, Emily Hampshire, Hadley Robinson, Kausar Mohammed

Director: Anna Zlokovic

Rating: R