Arriving in time to ring in the holiday season, David E. Talbert's "Almost Christmas" should provide some appealing counterprogamming to all the serious films opening this fall. In this comedy, a family comes together for Thanksgiving in the hopes that they can finally get along. With hints of "Soul Food" in its premise (they're brought together by the death of the matriarch), the film features a talented ensemble cast of woefully underused black actors like Kimberly Elise, Mo'Nique, Gabrielle Union. Check out the trailer below:
"Almost Christmas" opens in theaters November 11th.
Winner of Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2016 and recently chosen to represent Finland at the Oscars, “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki” is one of this year’s most pleasant surprises. As its director Juho Kuosmanen would firmly explain, this unusual true story is not your typical boxing drama. Based on the exploits of its title character Olli Mäki, it follows his preparation for the biggest fight of his life. But while his country primes him to be their next sporting hero, Olli is much more concerned with his burgeoning romance with his sweetheart Raija. Earlier this week, I had a chat with Kuosmanen to learn more about his approach to this unique character, the making of the film and his personal attachment to its themes. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
In 2015, South Korea selected Lee Joon-ik’s “The Throne” as their official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film. Based on the life of the Crown Prince Sado, it was crafted around a rather sadistic premise where said prince was ultimately forced to be locked up in a rice chest until death. Unsurprisingly, the Academy snubbed the film, as they have routinely done with Korean entries in the past. This year, however, the East Asian nation may finally have a chance with Kim Jee-woon’s “The Age of Shadows.” Exploring another dark period in Korea’s past, this handsomely produced spy thriller will surely prove to be more accessible and rewarding for general audiences.
If you take a cursory glance at the previous Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, you’ll notice a trend of films about serious issues like war, terminal illnesses and other types of strife. Among this year’s list of submissions however, six films will hope to change the tone of the final shortlist by going straight for the heart. Hailing from places as culturally distinct as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, their narratives have one thing in common – love.
Animation director Rémi Chayé and producer Henri Magalon are no strangers to awards season, having worked on nominated films “The Secret of Kells” and “Ernest and Celestine.” And with Chayé’s debut feature “Long Way North,” they may have another contender to add to their filmography. In this progressive female-centric film, an aristocratic Russian girl defies conventions by embarking on a perilous adventure to the North Pole in search of her missing grandfather and his ship. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of chatting with Chayé and Magalon to discuss the film, their upcoming Calamity Jane project and how hard it is to impress kids. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
You’ve seen it countless times before. An underdog fighter gets the chance of a lifetime to compete for the world championship title against a formidable opponent. He undergoes rigorous training to overcome the odds, often to triumphant ends. Juho Kuosmanen breaks away from the formula with “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki,” however, putting his own original spin on the classic boxing movie.
If there is one thing that the current hoopla surrounding Disney’s upcoming live action “Mulan” proves, it’s the evolving tastes of today’s audiences. Amid the anti-whitewashing protests, many were also concerned about the perceived prominence of the romance element. Indeed, audiences are no longer satisfied with the “princess needs Prince Charming for her happily ever after” story. Instead they crave stronger, more independent female characters from their animated films. One such example is the protagonist of Rémi Chayé’s debut feature “Long Way North,” who desires adventure rather than romance.
At one point in “Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang,” the film mentions its subject Cai Guo-Qiang’s desire to top the great Pablo Picasso. Under normal circumstances, the statement would appear to be overly arrogant. But as director Kevin Macdonald proves in this new documentary, Cai Guo-Qiang is no ordinary artist. Indeed, this account of his life and work shows a man of incomparable vision and talent.
Apart from the likes of Deadpool, 2016 has been a pretty bad year for the Hollywood blockbuster movie. With Batman V Superman getting lost within the complexities of its own plot, and Suicide Squad seriously underperforming at the box office, the lack of summer
blockbusters has meant that we need the return of the Jurassic Park franchise more than ever!
Thankfully it looks like developments are already well underway in bringing these fearsome dinosaurs back the big screen, as Universal have a Jurassic World sequel pegged in for release in June 2018.
It’s not surprising that the Jurassic Park series would create yet another film. After all, 2015’s Jurassic World movie received favourable ratings from reviewers and eventually managed to claim a whopping $1.6 billion in box office revenues.
Like her Greek contemporary Yorgos Lanthimos, director Athina Rachel Tsangari has an unorthodox sense of humor. As leading figures of what The Guardian termed “The Weird Wave of Greek Cinema", they have delivered some of the most unusual premises and characters to the big screen. That trend continues in Tsangari’s latest film “Chevalier,” an unusual buddy comedy designed like an arthouse chamber piece.
“From Afar” begins with a middle-aged man prowling the streets of Caracas. He is looking for a young man to bring home, using his money as an incentive. He finds one and pursues his catch, successfully luring him for sexual gratification. His arousal is derived from visual stimulation rather than physical contact, however. And similarly, director Lorenzo Vigas takes a conservative approach to this tense drama of male desire.
Craig Atkinson's debut feature “Do Not Resist” opens with scenes which have become all too familiar. A group of protesters take to the streets to march against the latest incident of police brutality. A young black man has been unjustly killed, leaving many to wonder how it happened and whether justice can be truly served in today’s flawed society. Through this enlightening documentary, Atkinson attempts to answer these questions, putting the potential threat of America as a police state into sharp relief.
It's been a banner year for "separating the art from the artist". There's the ongoing dilemma of Woody Allen, who recently released his first TV series on Amazon (following on his latest film "Cafe Society") and of course, there's the neverending story of Nate Parker's rape scandal. Earlier this summer, another lauded filmmaker John Carney showed his bad side when he publicly and needlessly criticized Keira Knightley's acting in "Begin Again". But as with the other notorious men above (among others), Carney has managed to make the work speak for itself, delivering another wonderful film with "Sing Street".
Set in Dublin during the 1980s, "Sing Street" chronicles a pivotal year in the life of Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a youngest son of a crumbling middle class family. With both his parents struggling financially and their marriage doomed to fail, Conor bears the brunt of the family's woes when he is moved from private school to public school to cut costs. As expected, the transition takes a lot of adjustment, as the strict Catholic school rules and the intimidating all-male atmosphere makes his first days a nightmare. His first new friend Darren (Ben Carolan, a terrific newcomer) recommends he find a coping mechanism, which soon comes in the form of the beautiful aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton, a perfectly cast "Helen of Troy" type). In an effort to impress her, he claims that he's starting a band and needs her to be in his music video. With no way out of this lie, Conor is forced to live up to his bold claims. But with the help of Darren, his musically-inclined older brother Brendan and a few eager recruits, the dream becomes a reality. And the rest as they say, is history, as Conor goes through a eventful year filled with music, love, friendship and family.
Taking a deep plunge into the world of an Irish teen in an 80s high school, Carney crafts a truly winning film. As befitting the time period, the hair, clothes, makeup and of course, the music make a defiant statement. Through the eyes of Conor, we feel the excitement of the wave of change about to come, sparked by the emergence of the music video and its associated MTV culture. And as with any John Carney film, the awesome soundtrack is inseparable from the film's storytelling.
But what makes the film so rewarding isn't due to only the fabulous visual design, rebellious spirit and endearing romance (Walsh-Peelo and Boynton make excellent screen partners). Indeed, the story's true brilliance lies in how the these aspects are underscored by melancholy. The clothing and makeup for example, serve to rebuke the school's aggressively strict rules. Meanwhile the vibrancy of these young characters is fueled by a desire to escape the angst of broken homes, thwarted dreams and the general oppressive atmosphere of their small, puritanical town.
At one point Raphina explains to Conor the virtues of embracing the state of being "happy-sad". And this oxymoron is the perfect way to describe what makes "Sing Street" so special. Sometimes the most rewarding feel-good movies are the ones with a dose of harsh reality underneath the bliss.