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Saturday, October 24, 2015


Courtesy of Focus Features
2015, 123 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity

Review by Joshua Handler

Suffragette is a film that we should be viewing wondering how people's views towards women could have been so antiquated. But, while Suffragette is set 100 years ago, its story is unfortunately still timely and relevant, especially in light of the gender inequality issues being brought back to light recently.

Suffragette tells the story of Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a mistreated young factory worker and mother who joins the women's suffrage movement in 1910s England.

Narratively, Suffragette is fairly generic. It follows familiar story beats and structure. The screenplay, while obviously well-intentioned, doesn't have enough of a potent punch to it, which somewhat undermines the excellent direction. In many ways, Suffragette should have been more narratively similar to Selma, a film that relied much more on the smaller moments of power than the bigger ones. It was a human drama of vivid characters - ordinary people who did extraordinary things in a story filled with violence that hurt to watch. Suffragette's violence does hurt, but it only hurts because its actresses and director make them hurt. It's not because the characters are so beautifully-written or extraordinary.

Sarah Gavron's graceful, yet urgent direction makes up for a lot of the film's flaws. The best historical films immerse audiences into the time period that they depict like Selma and even Zero Dark Thirty (though that's much more recent history). Gavron primarily uses gritty, grainy 16mm photography to place her audiences right in the middle of the violent clashes of the women's suffrage movement. Much to her credit, Gavron does not shy away from the police brutality that occurred during this time. There's an intensity to Suffragette that's entirely unexpected and very welcome.

No matter if people like Suffragette or not, no one will dispute the quality of its performances. Carey Mulligan gives yet another heartfelt, moving performance as Maud. Mulligan possesses one of the most angelic faces in cinema, one that almost immediately provokes a sense of sympathy. She also happens to be one of the few actresses who can rest the weight of her performance on her face. But, like one of the greats like Marion Cotillard or Meryl Streep (who gives a short, memorable performance in this film), Mulligan can also shine in her bigger moments.

Helena Bonham Carter and Anne-Marie Duff give strong supporting performances. Bonham Carter leaves a lasting impression as Edith Ellyn, a doctor who is one of the movement's leaders. Bonham Carter's performance can be compared to Gavron's direction in that it's graceful where it needs to be but brings the power when it needs to.

As important as the film's technical and performance-based merits are, they pale in comparison to how important Suffragette is to this day and age. More so recently than in a long while, gender inequality has been brought to the forefront of discussion, making Suffragette disturbingly relevant. This is not a film that should be relevant, just as Selma was a film that shouldn't be relevant. But Suffragette is and will remain so until attitudes towards women change. Let's hope it doesn't take another 100 years for this problem to be eliminated.


Saturday, October 10, 2015


Courtesy of A24 Films
NYFF Review
2015, 107 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Noah Baumbach is on a roll. With this year's enjoyable While We're Young and the brilliant Mistress America, this would be a great year in anyone's book. But, Baumbach had to one-up himself with one more film that proves that he's mastered another kind of filmmaking craft: documentary. De Palma is essentially the results of Noah Baumbach and co-director Jake Paltrow interviewing famed director Brian De Palma (Carrie, Blow Out, Scarface) about his career. It's simple in concept, but endlessly fascinating. 

De Palma is very candid in front of the camera, giving insights into his own films while telling stories about their productions. He isn't afraid to discuss his regrets about many of his films, which deepens the film and our understanding of its subject (while many of his films are considered classics, a fair amount are not, to say the least). 

It's very refreshing to see a piece of work as passionate as De Palma. Baumbach has made it no secret that he is a huge cinephile. When watching a Baumbach film, it's fun to see which films he has paid homage to. His past two paid homage to the French New Wave (Frances Ha) and the screwball comedy (Mistress America), and the attention to detail in those films is astonishing. So, it comes as no surprise that De Palma is a detailed, comprehensive work, covering every one of De Palma's films. This may sound tedious, but De Palma is so entertaining to listen to that it never once becomes less than completely compelling.

A few years ago, I saw Yves Montmayeur's Michael H. Profession: Director, a comprehensive look at Michael Haneke's career, at the Tribeca Film Festival. While I certainly enjoyed that film, it grew tedious by the end. That film wasn't told by its subject, which is something unique about De Palma. Listening to De Palma is like listening to the greatest Hollywood insider story ever told, except with brutal honesty.

Overall, De Palma is one of the best movies about movies I've seen. It made me want to revisit a number of De Palma films and then watch the ones I haven't. This is a passion project that went very right. While it will help to have seen a few of De Palma's films before viewing De Palma, it isn't essential since this could serve as someone's entry point into his fascinating filmography.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Géza Röhrig as Saul
Photo by Laszlo Nemes, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

NYFF Review
2015, 107 minutes
Rated R for disturbing violent content and some graphic nudity

By Joshua Handler

Holocaust films are inherently horrifying. However, most of them show a big-picture or impersonal view of the atrocity told through the story of someone extraordinary (Schindler's List, The Pianist, etc). While films like the aforementioned ones are by most people's standards excellent films, they aren't experiences to watch. László Nemes' Son of Saul is a visceral experience. Shot in a claustrophobic 4:3 aspect ratio, Saul is tells the story of a member of a sonderkommando (a group of Jewish prisoners who worked in the gas chambers), Saul (Géza Röhrig), who finds the body of a young boy in a gas chamber who resembles his son, and his struggle to give him a proper burial. 

Nemes and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély shoot the entire film from Saul's point of view, relying heavily on Tamás Zányi's complex sound design to fill in what isn't shown onscreen. Everything we see and hear is what Saul sees and hears, making this film the most immersive film ever made about the Holocaust. Nemes takes his audience through the concentration camp, a literal hell on Earth, and avoids sentimentality at all costs, finding small moments of humanity to provide momentary reprieve from the camp's horrors.

Son of Saul is not a film that evokes tears. Instead, Nemes uses this film to evoke a deep feeling of numbing horror. Because Saul is unrelentingly brutal, the viewer, like Saul, becomes numb to the horrors depicted onscreen. It's a uniquely unnerving feeling to look at a pile of naked bodies and look at it as if it's normal. 

As Saul, Géza Röhrig gives a performance for the ages, leading the audience through this hellish journey with subtlety and nuance. Röhrig's work in Son of Saul is one of the most impressive acting showcases of the year, as Nemes relies on him to tell Saul's story, past and present, through his face. He walks around with a disturbingly blank expression on his face, numb to the horrors around him. Everyone around Saul goes through their lives with one goal, survival. Saul is the only prisoner with a tangible mission, and this ultimately allows him to keep his humanity in the face of inhumanity. And, the final frame of Röhrig's performance is one that will haunt me for a very long time.

Overall, Son of Saul is an innovative masterpiece of cinema. It's one of only a few films this year to truly move the medium forward and try something completely different. Frequently experiments like this one fail, but Saul is a massive success. And it's all the more impressive when you realize that this is a debut feature. Son of Saul is likely the closest any of us will come to experiencing life in a concentration camp. While many viewers will leave the theater feeling physically ill as I did, we all need to remember to be thankful that we can return to our normal lives once the film is over; Saul and those who he represents, couldn't.


Sunday, October 4, 2015


Michael Fassbender in STEVE JOBS
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
NYFF Review
2015, 122 minutes
Rated R for language

By Joshua Handler

Thrusting the audience into the middle of mayhem during Steve Jobs' unfortunate launch of the Macintosh, Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin open up a window into the world of Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs moves like a machine. With Michael Fassbender leading the way, daring us to keep up with him, the movie is never less than completely compelling. 

Sitting through the 122 minutes of Steve Jobs feels like an unusually fast hour. Fassbender and Boyle give us a look into the head of Jobs, but like Jobs did with those close to him, they keep us at a slight distance, always daring their audience to want to see more. 

In not a single scene do we see any of Jobs' famous product launch speeches. We see the moments immediately before. The myth of Jobs is dismantled quickly. The man shown onscreen is a person. He is an extraordinary person, but a person nonetheless. Sorkin, Fassbender, and Boyle smartly create a balanced portrait of the very flawed man that was Steve Jobs, and the way in which Sorkin concludes the film provides a moving cap to an emotionally cold film. 

As informative as big-picture biopics can be, they frequently feel like "greatest hits" versions of their subjects' lives, never focusing on one scene for long enough to allow the audience to truly understand the subject. Steve Jobs is far more effective than standard biopics because it is a film built upon isolated scenes where Jobs' every move is filmed (each scene is depicted in real time). People can never understand another person from reading a Wikipedia biography of their life. It's when one person spends time with another person that they understand them. While Steve Jobs is only three scenes, it feels as if it comes far closer to understanding who this man was than any other film that would tell his life story. 

Michael Fassbender rules over Steve Jobs with a subtly shifting performance that showcases his commanding movie star side as well as his human one. It's a performance that is never less than completely convincing, as Fassbender disappears into the man that is Steve Jobs. With this performance, he creates what is possibly the most impressive of his career.

Kate Winslet leads a strong supporting cast as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs' best friend and head of marketing. She's the calming presence in Jobs' life, balancing him out and giving him a human perspective on everything. Seth Rogen is also memorable as Steve Wozniak, Jobs' former best friend and co-founder of Apple.

Overall, Steve Jobs is the result of a group of immensely talented artists at the top of their games. Danny Boyle has orchestrated an electrifying, moving, and unusual portrait of one of the most brilliant minds in human history. Only a screenwriter like Aaron Sorkin could make some form of sense out of a life like Jobs' and create a beautifully-structured three-act film out of it. In many ways, Steve Jobs is similar to Sorkin's other film, The Social Network, but it distinguishes itself admirably. I wanted to see Steve Jobs again the minute it ended.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

NYFF Report #2

Courtesy of A24 Films
By Joshua Handler

During my second day at NYFF, I caught the afternoon screening of Nanni Moretti’s latest, Mia Madre, about a film director (Margherita Buy) who must cope with her mother’s failing health as she’s directing a new film starring a pompous American actor (John Turturro). A complex, funny, and sad film, Mia Madre is never boring, as it has enough material and explores enough topics for a miniseries.

I then went to screen Ridley Scott’s The Martian (which I will review in time for release tomorrow). In short, the film was a cinematic high note for the year that is one of Scott’s strongest films in years.

Tuesday, I screened Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room. There’s no way I could explain what the film was “about”, what it meant, or what I just saw, however, I will say that I didn't care about any of that, as it was a highly entertaining, audacious film that intrigued me and kept me invested for the vast majority of its running time.

Yesterday, I screened Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s De Palma, a documentary in which famed director Brian De Palma (Scarface, Carrie, Blow Out) discusses his entire career. In execution, it’s a very simple film, but as a film about filmmaking, it’s unbeatable and shows that Baumbach is as good a documentarian as he is a narrative filmmaker.

Apitchatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor followed. That film certainly has and will have an audience, but that audience is not me. It’s simply not my cup of tea.

Stay tuned for another report and a few reviews.