In his directorial debut, Ewan McGregor adapts Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to the silver screen. Following an all-American family across several decades, their idyllic existence is shattered by social and political turmoil that will change the fabric of American culture forever. “I have dreamt of directing a feature for the last 15 years and never found the ‘right’ story,” McGregor told Vanity Fair. “I wanted to direct, not for the sake of being a director, but because there was a story I had to tell.”
After its debut at Venice at the start of September, Ben Croll wrote of the Amy Adams-led sci-fi flick: “The film pulses with tense energy in early scenes. Louise’s (Adams) first encounter with the aliens (called Heptapods, and resembling something between a deep water octopus and a spider from Mars) could almost be taught in film schools, such does it marshal every tool in the box. From Jóhann Jóhannsson’s iron death rattle score, to cinematographer Bradford Young’s pools of black, to Adams’ ferocious curiosity, every disparate element is perfect alone and better together, and all of them support the current of dread and intensity that has become Villeneuve’s signature touch.”
“I Had Nowhere To Go”
Kohn wrote of the unexpected, abstract film: “Narrated by legendary avant-garde film diarist Jonas Mekas, now 93 and livelier than ever as he recollects his wartime experiences, ‘I Had Nowhere to Go’ attempts to capture the journeys of a man known for capturing images through their absence. Though not always the sum of its compelling ingredients, ‘I Had Nowhere to Go’ applies an appropriate degree of cinematic innovation to one of the medium’s greatest advocates.”
“La La Land”
Kohn caught Damien Chazelle’s latest at Venice, where it opened the festival: “By the time jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and wannabe actress Mia (Emma Stone) tap dance from atop the Griffith Observatory, ‘La La Land’ has laid out its charm: It’s a love-hate portrait of urban sprawl and the big-city dreamers drawn to its possibilities. But above all, it’s high-concept pastiche, filled with beautiful people, beautiful movement, and beautiful colors.”
At its premiere at Locarno in August, Kohn wrote of João Pedro Rodrigues’ mind-blowing film: “In a sense, ‘The Ornithologist’ is the film that Rodrigues has been building toward for years, consolidating many of the themes found throughout his features and shorts: questions of personal and spiritual desire, queer identity, and the twin specters of history and mythology. While ‘To Die Like a Man’ featured similarly vibrant, surreal developments, ‘The Ornithologist’ maintains a more hypnotic edge as it remains almost entirely within the confines of jungle terrain. The natural setting and intimate, dreamlike sequences suggest what might happen if Apichatpong Weerasethakul remade “Stranger by the Lake.” If those references go over your head, ‘The Ornithologist’ could be a tough proposition, but not an impossible one.”
Having premiered at Cannes earlier this year, “Raw” follows Justine and her family, all of whom are vets and a vegetarians. At 16, she’s a gifted teen ready to take on her first year in vet school, where her older sister also studies. There, she gets no time to settle: Hazing starts right away. Justine is forced to eat raw meat for the first time in her life. Unexpected consequences emerge as her true self begins to form.
“The Red Turtle”
At Cannes, Kohn wrote of the touching Studio Ghibli-co-produced animated feature: “Story matters less in ‘The Red Turtle’ than the expressionistic moments strewn throughout. Dudok de Wit never lacks for visual inspiration, enriches his island setting with a Greek chorus of crabs skittering across the sand and a fleet of sea turtles that steadily become the guardians to this self-made kingdom. At night, the colors fade to shades of gray, as the island residents gaze up at the moon; the deep greens of the inner forest shimmer with bright-red hues. Capturing the island life both from intimate closeups and high above, Dudok de Wit orchestrates a geographical orientation that allows the world to adhere to a wondrous internal logic. Even a series of miraculous twists seem to emerge organically from this textured world, merging the clarity of their symbolism with an emotional specificity that requires no heavy analysis. The movie speaks in its own enlightened voice.”
Riding off a stellar reception at its Telluride Film Festival premiere last weekend, Kohn wrote in his review: “Jenkins finds elegance in shadowy exchanges at late-night street corners bathed in yellow and black, then finds similarly expressive qualities at an all-night diner. His filmmaking is a grab bag of meaningful details, but there’s no doubting the confidence of a storyteller in full control of the material. Such an eye-opening entry in the ever-neglected arena of black cinema arrives at a critical moment — the tail-end of the Obama era, when diversity has become a keyword and discussions of racial turmoil have reached a fever pitch. ‘Moonlight’ transforms rage and frustration into unadulterated intimacy.”
At Cannes, Eric Kohn praised Brazilian drama “Aquarius”: “The filmmaker offers the ultimate rejoinder to fast-paced age of developmental progress by romanticizes a tactile setting and letting the engaging atmosphere reflect Clara’s commitment. In a broader sense, ‘Aquarius’ also engages with the paradox of a society so keen on building its future that it steamrolls the past. As one character states in a later scene, once the company resorts to dirty tricks, ‘this is so Brazil.’ No matter its specific geographical resonance, however, ‘Aquarius’ works just as well on more universal terms, particularly in its expertly crafted finale, which is rich with the spirit of defiance.”
Of Tom Ford’s highly anticipated sophomore film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams, Ben Croll wrote: “For his follow-up to 2009’s ‘A Single Man,’ Tom Ford hasn’t just made one film – he’s sort of made two. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is an impressively ambitious effort, one part mean Texas thriller, one part middle-age melodrama, and makes for a meta-textual riddle that is almost as pleasurable to reflect on as it to actually watch.”
The festival runs September 8 – 18.