Pixel Vision

TIFF 2014: Three more notables, plus a lucky top 13

|
()

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks reports from the recent 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Previous installment here!

Three films at this year's Toronto Film Film Festival achieved a consistently exhilarating cinematic aesthetic. 

The first was instant horror classic Goodnight Mommy (Austria), which had critics tripping over each other as they ran out of the theatre. I overheard one woman hailing the psychological terror film as the best movie she had seen at TIFF in five years.

Read more »

Sound sneak preview: Ai WeiWei Alcatraz exhibition

|
()

Here’s a taste from @Large, the exhibition by internationally renowned Chinese artist Ai WeiWei, which will open to the public on Alcatraz Sat/27.

This recording is from Illumination, one of the sound installations, which makes use of the prison hospital – an Alcatraz site not normally open to daytime visitors. Read more »

Extended review: British prison drama 'Starred Up'

|
()

By Haley Brucato

Scottish filmmaker David Mackenzie’s prison drama Starred Up is a brutally raw indie film starring rising actor Jack O’Connell as Eric, a 19-year-old offender who has just been “starred up,” or transferred to an adult prison due to his uncontrollable and dangerous behavior. Though he's passive when we get our first look at him, he won't be for long: One of the first things Eric does upon entering his new cell is expertly rig a shank out of a toothbrush and a shaving razor, which he then hides in an overhead light fixture. Clearly, he's done this before.

Read more »

TIFF 2014: American standouts

|
()

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks reports from the recent 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Previous installment here!

In high school, Hal Hartley was my first cinematic battle. On paper, his existential themes of truth, his French New Wave references, and the stilted dialogue he favored seemed like they would align perfectly with my sensibilities. Like many film students of the era, I gobbled up The Unbelievable Truth (1989), Trust (1990), and Surviving Desire (1993) multiple times. But as Simple Men (1992), Amateur (1994), and Flirt (1995) graced art-house theaters, I found Hartley's films to be more and more like fingernails shrieking down a neverending chalkboard.

Read more »

Mezcal: Mexico In a Bottle fest sets high bar for mezcal lovers

|
()

When it comes to tasting mezcal, the experts have some generally accepted rules. Chief among them is that "you should never taste more than four together," cautioned Oaxaca's Graciela Carreño of Mezcal Real Minero at the Mezcal: Mexico In a Bottle event, held at Public Works, Sept. 14. It's usually good advice: With the spirit's alcohol content regularly topping 50 percent ABV, and its flavor components so nuanced yet so varied from one bottle to the next, it can be hard to distinguish mezcal's finer points when your tastebuds are aflame with intense spice, smoke, and minerality.

But when you're staring down nearly 20 of the world's absolute best mezcal brands in one room, each of which has at least three or four different offerings on hand (if not plenty more), heeding that first caveat is a patent impossibility.

Read more »

TIFF 2014: Foreign favorites, part two (Asia and beyond)

|
()

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks reports from the recent 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Previous installment here!

Zhang Yimou's Ju Dou (1990) was an unofficial remake of the American film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) — and it was also a showcase for the 25-year-old Gong Li. I've grown up with each of his films over the past decades, including classics To Live (1994) and The Road Home (1999). His latest, Coming Home (China), is his most gut-wrenching film yet. 

Read more »

TIFF 2014: Foreign favorites, part one

|
()

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks reports from the recent 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Previous installment here!

** Working steadily for over 40 years, achieving more than 20 features, Mike Leigh has stayed true to his "kitchen sink realism" aesthetic. Contemporary audiences could all too easily take him for granted. His latest, Mr. Turner (UK), is a rigorous and immensely rewarding journey that explores the life of British artist J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851). 

Spall won the award for Best Actor at this year's Cannes Film Festival, not just for emulating Turner's cartoonish and almost frightening physique, but also inhabiting and truly expressing the ghastly terror one struggles with after the death of a loved one. Recalling Jane Campion's dazzling An Angel at My Table (1990), Leigh's film places emphasis on the immense difficulties that an artists put themselves — and the others around them — through, and cinematographer Dick Pope (who has shot ten of Leigh's films since 1990, and won a special jury award at Cannes for his work on Mr. Turner) gives every frame an almost spiritual look. 

Read more »

Questions of the week: Who is the walrus? And who is Liam Neeson gonna take down next? New movies!

|
()

If Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' ongoing Pixel Vision posts about the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival have you longing for your own festival experience, check out the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's one-day "Silent Autumn" series at the Castro Theatre, as well as Cine+Mas' San Francisco Latino Film Festival, which opens tonight at the Brava Theater and runs through Sept. 27 at various venues.

First-run picks o' the week include Liam Neeson's latest lone-wolf action movie, an ensemble movie starring Tina Fey and Jason Bateman, and Kevin Smith's new joint, in which Justin Long turns into a walrus. Yep, you read that right. Read on for reviews and trailers!

Read more »

Dave Chappelle kept me up until 5am this morning and I'm still trying to process what just happened

|
()

The first time I saw Dave Chappelle perform live was 10 years and three months ago, in a large, echo-y gymnasium at UC San Diego. It was my 20th birthday and I was so excited

This was June of 2004, and the comedian was at the absolute peak of his Chappelle's Show fame, which meant he suddenly found himself performing for sports arenas full of college kids who had neither the patience nor the decorum (nor the sobriety) to actually sit and listen to a standup comic performing material, choosing instead to holler "I'M RICK JAMES, BITCH!" or "WHAT!" and "YEAH!" in Lil Jon voices at random — in reference, of course, to their favorite Chappelle's Show impressions. Read more »

TIFF 2014: Joshua Oppenheimer's 'The Look of Silence'

|
()

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks reports from the recent 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Previous installment here!

News broke earlier this week that Joshua Oppenheimer — the Texas-born, Copenhagen-based filmmaker who scored an Oscar nomination for 2012's harrowing The Act of Killing — received a MacArthur "Genius Grant." Not a bad follow-up to the Toronto screening of his latest Indonesia-set doc, The Look of Silence (Denmark/Indonesia/Norway/Finland/UK), which is both a direct sequel to Killing and a complete stand-alone work. Either way, it's one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever experienced. (It's due in theaters in summer 2015.)

Read more »