September 20, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: The Dinosaurs Always Won

In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk Stranger Things' El as a PC, Nosferatu, kids games with Michelle Nephew, and the Gunpowder Plot.

September 16, 2019

2019 Toronto International Film Festival Capsule Review Round-Up

It’s the Monday after the Toronto International Film Festival, which means it’s time for me to once again bundle my capsule reviews into an omnibus edition for your clipping and saving enjoyment.

My personal programming focuses mostly on items that mostly don’t have distribution (or didn’t when the schedule was announced three weeks back.) Judging from press response it was also a good year for films I didn’t catch. Titles garnering buzz included Jojo Rabbit, Hustlers (already in wide release), A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Judy, Sound of Metal, and the divisive Joker. I’m particularly stoked to catch Parasite, Dolemite Is My Name, Bad Education, Portrait of a Lady On Fire, The Laundromat, Pain and Glory, Marriage Story, and Platform.

But back to the films I did see. These are ranked from greatest to least, with titles mostly in order within categories, although that doesn’t mean much and could easily change were I to assemble this document again. Watch cinemas, streaming platforms and even good old physical media over the next year and a while for these titles to wend their way to you.

The Pinnacle

La Belle Epoque [France, Nicolas Bedos] Aging cartoonist (Daniel Auteuil) on the outs with his wife (Fanny Ardant) uses a high end historical recreation service to visit the days in 1974 when they first met and fell in love. Propulsive, funny, moving farce where, instead of doors, the characters rush between memories and layers of fiction.

Love Child [Denmark, Eva Mulvad] Because their adulterous relationship is punishable by death, a couple flees Iran to Turkey, where they seek refugee status and permission to live in a safe country. Fly-in-the wall documentary places you inside the subjects’ family life, with emotional rollercoaster suspense as they wait for the UNHCR to determine their fate.

So Long, My Son [China, Wang Xiaoshuai] A cruel decision made under the One Child policy compounds a family tragedy, reverberating through the decades for a working couple and their circle. Saga of the effect of the political on the personal in fragmented time from the 80s to the present.

Recommended

Color Out of Space [US, Richard Stanley] Cozy family life for a cancer survivor (Joely Richardson) and her ex-artist hubbie (Nicolas Cage) on a farm an hour’s drive from Arkham takes a terrible turn when a glowing meteor strikes their property. Exhilarating, funny, horrible, and packed with reference points for the cognoscenti,, this is Stanley’s best film and the most philosophically faithful Lovecraft adaptation.

The Truth [France/Japan, Hirokazu Kore-eda] Legendary actress (Catherine Deneuve) launches her memoir and shoots a role opposite an intimidating new star as her resentful screenwriter daughter (Juliet Binoche) and her husband (Ethan Hawke) come to visit. Funny, beautiful tribute to French cinema and showcase to an actor even more legendary than her character.

A Girl Missing [Japan, Koji Fukada] Nurse’s tangential connection to the kidnapping of a client’s granddaughter later leads her to assume a new identity in pursuit of an enigmatic plan. Twisting psychological thriller generates suspense by interweaving a past and a present timeline and making us wonder how they’re going to connect up.

A Sun [Taiwan, Chung Mong-Hong] High schooler’s juvenile detention sentence strains his family, particularly his relationship with his father, a truculent driving instructor. Bittersweet family drama with a noirish fourth act.

Ema [Chile, Pablo Larrain] Seductive dancer (Mariana di Girolamo) married to insecure choreographer (Gael Garcia Bernal) tries to regain custody of the boy they returned to the adoption agency after he burned her sister’s face. Unnerving, visually arresting, sex-drenched Bunuelian provocation.

Wasp Network [France, Olivier Assayas] In the early 90s, a Cuban pilot (Edgar Ramirez) defects to Miami, leaving behind his patriotic wife (Penelope Cruz) and entering into a web of terrorism and covert counterterrorism. Ensemble spy docudrama tackles a dauntingly detailed real story with a tapestry-like screenplay structure that keeps resetting itself to introduce new allegiances and agendas.

Jallikattu [Malaysia, Lijo Jose Pellissery] Chaos erupts when villagers try to recapture a rampaging water buffalo. Kinetic action spectacle where man vs beast devolves into man vs man, driven ever foreward by massed bodies in motion, a roving camera, quick cuts, masterful compositions and a propulsive score.

Incitement [Israel,  Yaron Zilberman] Right-wing student activist opposed to democracy and the Oslo Accord pursues the justifications he requires to act on his plan to assassinate Yitzhak Rabin. Political crime docudrama depicts Benjamin Netanyahu as a key contributor to the atmosphere of permission leading to Rabin’s murder.

Varda by Agnes [France, Agnes Varda]. Documentary self-summation of the director’s body of work in cinema and installation art, expanded from a series of masterclasses shot prior to her death this March. Reveals the formal rigor underlying the apparent lightness of her style.

Devil Between the Legs [Mexico, Arturo Ripstein] Even in old age, a retired pharmacist and his wife remain tormented by lust, memories, and one another. Caustic B&W drama of passion twisted into hate.

La Llorona [Guatemala, Jayro Bustamante] An ex-dictator let off the hook for genocide becomes the target of unearthly retribution. Engrossing mix of political drama and horror follows the classic tradition of using genre as a bearable way of approaching the unbearable.

Saturday Fiction [China, Lou Ye] Famed actress (Gong Li) returns to occupied Shanghai to run one last op for her French spymaster (Pascal Greggory) aimed at a Japanese cipher officer (Odagiri Jo.) A tale of hazy, shifting identities in deglamorized B&W, culminating in gripping ballistics.

First Love [Japan, Takashi Miike] Young boxer with brain tumor diagnosis protects a hallucinating trafficking victim as a drug ripoff gone wrong touches off a chaotic gang war. This outing finds the prolific master of all genres (mostly) coloring within the lines of the hard action-comedy.

Deerskin [France, Quentin Dupieux] Aided by an aspiring film editor (Adéle Haenel), a man fleeing a failed marriage (Jean Dujardin) goes to extremes to fulfill his costly fringed coat’s dream of being the only jacket in the world. Absurdist fable, in desaturates, autumnal hues, about…well you don’t need me to spell out such an obvious metaphor, do you?

To the Ends of the Earth [Japan, Kiyoshi Kurosawa] Logistical setbacks and microhumiliations beset a young TV presenter shooting a travelogue in Uzbekistan. Like other Kurosawa titles this episodic mood piece feels slight at first but leaves images that grow in power retrospectively.

Crazy World [Uganda, IGG Nabwana] Ex-cop and martial artist team up to rescue victims of a child sacrifice ring. Exuberant, kooky, zero budget action comedy with kid fu, homemade CGI, blood squibs and voice-over from a VJ (Video Joker) who explains, mocks, and hypes the proceedings onscreen, sometimes intoning “Movie! Movie! Movie!”

Lina from Lima [Argentina, María Paz González] As she looks after her rich boss’ new house and awaits a Christmas trip to see her family in Peru, a beleaguered maid’s mounting frustrations manifest as fantasized musical numbers. Drama of everyday yearning heightened by the interplay of naturalism and artifice.

No.7 Cherry Lane [HK, Yonfan] In 1967 Hong Kong, a student courts a woman (Sylvia Chang) who has hired him to tutor his daughter by taking her to Simone Signoret films. Metatextual cel-animated melodrama explores the role heterosexual romance plays in gay aestheticism.

Heroic Losers [Argentina, Sebastian Borensztein] Crew of everyday Joes led by local hero gas station owner (Ricardo Darin) scheme to empty a vault belonging to the corrupt official who ripped them off during Argentina’s 2001 banking collapse. Charming rural heist flick uses the power of pop cinema to recuperate from national catastrophe.

Bring Me Home [South Korea, Kim Seung-woo] Nurse’s search for her missing young son takes her to a rural village where fishing tour operators protected by a corrupt cop exploit the labor of a couple of kids. Bars no holds in pursuit of physically and emotionally brutal thrills.

City Dream [China, Weijun Chen] Bemused and/or frustrated Wuhan city inspectors try to relocate a family’s unlicensed sidewalk fruit stall in the face of relentless resistance from its tantrum-throwing grandfather. Verité documentary’s study of underdogs against putatively benign authority presents human comedy with an under-layer of pathos.

Dogs Don't Wear Pants [Finland, J-P Valkeapää] Still shut down years after his wife’s suicide, a heart surgeon seeks strange solace as client to a dominatrix. Twisted but humane drama of grief and healing.

Sea Fever [Ireland, Neasa Hardiman] Withdrawn oceanographer’s routine mission aboard a fishing vessel turns disastrous when a gigantic, multi-tendriled parasite affixes itself to the hull. Skillfully paced infection horror, with touches of Lovecraftian oceanic unease, explore’s the genre’s ethical implications.

The Other Lamb [Belgium/Poland/US, Malgorzata Szumowska] The onset of puberty changes everything for a young member of an isolated cult (Raffey Cassidy) consisting of the many wives and daughters of a charismatic leader (Michiel Huisman.) Set in a landscape of stark and forbidding beauty, this hits the baked-in beats of a cult liberation drama with an emphasis on the role of womens’ devotion in sustaining patriarchy.

Coming Home Again [US, Wayne Wang] Tightly wound writer (Justin Chen) returns to San Francisco to care for his cancer stricken mom (Jackie Chung), despite her and his dad’s worries over the effect this will have on his career. Contemplative drama of love, resentment, and the emotional weight of getting the food right.

Good

Wet Season [Singapore, Anthony Chen] High school teacher in a stagnating marriage bonds with a student who has a crush on her. Through delicate bservation, painstakingly draws the viewer along a heavily telegraphed narrative.

The Moneychanger [Uruguay, Federico Veiroj] 70s money launderer gets in over his head after accepting huge sums from mysterious Argentinians. Crime dramedy works as an inverted Goodfellas, in which the anti-hero narrating his career of illegality starts as a schnook and mostly stays that way through his ups and downs.

The Traitor [Italy, Marco Bellochio] After his sons are slain in a 1980 Palermo gang war, a top soldier cooperates in a mass trial that spirals into histrionic chaos. Mafia docudrama embraces the tone shifts, narrative sidetracks and wild implausibilities of a landmark historical case.

Gundala [Indonesia, Joko Anwar] Orphaned urchin grows up to discover his lightning-based fighting and healing powers, putting them to use against a sinister counterpart. Kicks off a cinematic universe adapted from an Indonesian comic continuity with labored exposition, wild overplotting, competing structural elements, inexplicable teaser sequences for future installments—you know, like a Marvel movie.

A White, White Day [Iceland, Hlynur Pálmason] Rural cop on psych leave after his wife’s death comes to suspect that she was having an affair. Impeccably crafted Nordic bleakness drama follows a familiar thesis on the dangers of bottled-up emotion.

The Barefoot Emperor [Belgium, Jessica Woodworth & Peter Brosens] After a regrettable incident at a recreation of the Franz Ferdinand assassination, the Belgian king is confined to a sanatorium, formerly Tito’s island retreat whose head (Udo Kier) exudes a sinister solicitude. Absurdist fable of the slow-motion elite bafflement.

Three Summers [Brazil, Sandra Kogut] When her employers are busted in the Operation Car Wash bribery scandal, their resourceful chief maid steps in to protect the staff and a disregarded pater familias. Naturalistic drama with satirical undertones follows the effects of elite dereliction on the working class.

Simple Women [Italy/Romania, Chiara Malta] Novice director bumps into Elina Lowensohn, who she has idolized since her iconic role in Hal Hartley’s Simple Men, and decides to star her in a a low budget biopic about her life. The shaggy spirit of the 90s indie scene smiles on this observational meta-drama about the ways films become part of our identities.

Ibrahim: A Fate to Define [Denmark/Palestine, Lina Al Abed] Documentarian investigates the life of the father she never knew, having left his family to work for his likely eventual killers, the Abu Nidal Organization, which later (probably) executed him. As befits the subject matter, its informal interviews are less about definitive answers than coming to terms with their absence.

Okay

The Twentieth Century [Canada, Michael Rankin] Weaselly perv William Lyon MacKenzie King falls in with imperialist forces as he yearns for an icy blond harpist and aims to become Prime Minister of Canada. The stylized, ironic mantle of Guy Maddin weighs heavily on this surreal historical spoof, which runs out of joke before it runs out of run time.

Greed [UK, Michael Winterbottom] Ruthless clothing retail magnate (Steve Coogan) engineers a lavish birthday party for himself. Though structured as an antihero story, the individual scenes portray Coogan’s character as an complete villain, throwing off the emotional signals the audience needs to orient itself in the narrative.

Not Recommended

Flatland [South Africa, Jenna Bass] Bride flees rapist husband, kills abusive pastor and goes on the lam accompanied by the trashy pregnant white girl who regards her as a sister. Ill-reconciled combination of fugitive genre and social drama modes.

The Lost Okoroshi [Nigeria, Abba Makama] Unmotivated security guard transforms into supernatural masquerade spirit, performing blessing dances for the virtuous and smiting the wicked. Satire of traditionalism’s revenge on the urban is cleverer than other Nollywood films that reach the festival circuit, but the storytelling basics still aren’t in place.

The Giant [US, David Raboy] In what might be a dream, a distorted memory or a trip into the Bardo Thodol, a southern teen processes nameless trauma involving her dead mom and troubled ex. Bearing the stylistic influences of Aronofsky and Malick, this falls prey to the standard failing of head trip films—no payoff.

Lyrebird [US, Dan Friedkin] Former Dutch resistance officer investigates artist Hans van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) for his role in selling a recently discovered Vermeer to Hermann Göring. Old-fashioned, po-faced production withholds as some kind of big revelation the one thing you definitely know about van Meegeren if you’re interested enough to see a movie about him. Pearce plays for laughs, perhaps realizing that the well-conceived version of this is a satirical caper piece.

The Antenna [Turkey, Orçun Behram] Depressed building superintendent discovers that the government satellite dish installed on the roof is threatening his tenants with a bizarre black sludge. Larry Cohen-style political allegory horror realized with the very… deliberate… pacing… typical of Turkish art cinema.

TIFF 2019 Final Day: Guatemalan Ghosts, Miike Yakuza and Ugandan Supa Action

La Llorona [Guatemala, Jayro Bustamante, 4] An ex-dictator let off the hook for genocide becomes the target of unearthly retribution. Engrossing mix of political drama and horror follows the classic tradition of using genre as a bearable way of approaching the unbearable.

Listed on IMDB as The Weeping Woman.

This is my first time seeing a Guatemalan film I’d describe as fully realized on the technical and production level.

Crazy World [Uganda, IGG Nabwana, 4] Ex-cop and martial artist team up to rescue victims of a child sacrifice ring. Exuberant, kooky, zero budget action comedy with kid fu, homemade CGI, blood squibs and voice-over from a VJ (Video Joker) who explains, mocks, and hypes the proceedings onscreen, sometimes intoning “Movie! Movie! Movie!”

This dizzying meta-experience earns its recommendation on moxy and anti-slickness. It makes use of stuff that costs time instead of money: jokes, fight choreography, and jokes.

The VJ tradition comes from Uganda’s small market status. Films from Hollywood and China play video halls without subtitles; the Video Joker’a performance fills in the gap.

I was at a repeat screening with a prerecorded VJ track. He performed live at the first show for the Midnight Madness audience. However our screening did include the semi-live interruption in which anti-piracy officers onscreen ordered the programmer arrested and hauled out of the theater.

Greed [UK, Michael Winterbottom, 3] Ruthless clothing retail magnate (Steve Coogan) engineers a lavish birthday party for himself. Though structured as an antihero story, the individual scenes portray Coogan’s character as an complete villain, throwing off the emotional signals the audience needs to orient itself in the narrative.

Deerskin [France, Quentin Dupieux, 4] Aided by an aspiring film editor (Adéle Haenel), a man fleeing a failed marriage (Jean Dujardin) goes to extremes to fulfill his costly fringed coat’s dream of being the only jacket in the world. Absurdist fable, in desaturates, autumnal hues, about…well you don’t need me to spell out such an obvious metaphor, do you?

So yeah, that old premise again.

First Love [Japan, Takashi Miike, 4] Young boxer with brain tumor diagnosis protects a hallucinating trafficking victim as a drug ripoff gone wrong touches off a chaotic gang war. This outing finds the prolific master of all genres (mostly) coloring within the lines of the hard action-comedy.


Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, streaming platforms and perhaps even good old physical media over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release

September 14, 2019

TIFF 2019 Day Ten: Nicolas Cage Battles a Color. Yeah, That Color. From You Know Where

The Truth [France/Japan, Hirokazu Kore-eda, 4] Legendary actress (Catherine Deneuve) launches her memoir and shoots a role opposite an intimidating new star as her resentful screenwriter daughter (Juliet Binoche) and her husband (Ethan Hawke) come to visit. Funny, beautiful tribute to French cinema and showcase to an actor even more legendary than her character.

This is part of a funding program that brings Japanese directors to make films in France. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2016 Daguerreotype brilliantly imports his subtly weird sensibility to a French setting. Kore-eda on the other hand seems to say: “French film? If I’m getting one chance to make a French film it’s gonna be glamorous people drinking wine and hurting each other’s feelings in a beautiful house. I can’t get Deneuve can I? Really? Well then how about Juliet Binoche? Wow! Let’s also throw in Ludivine Sagnier. And Ethan Hawke as a wild card. And did I mention it’s also gonna tip the hat to Day For Night? Because it is. Because you did say French film, right?”

Unlike most films about filmmaking, this doesn’t send up the movie they’re making, and it does not appear to suck.

The Twentieth Century [Canada, Michael Rankin, 3] Weaselly perv William Lyon MacKenzie King falls in with imperialist forces as he yearns for an icy blond harpist and aims to become Prime Minister of Canada. The stylized, ironic mantle of Guy Maddin weighs heavily on this surreal historical spoof, which runs out of joke before it runs out of run time.

If you don’t laugh when you see Arthur Meighen portrayed as the archetypal rich bully, you have stumbled onto something that is not for you.

Color Out of Space [US, Richard Stanley, 4.5] Cozy family life for a cancer survivor (Joely Richardson) and her ex-artist hubbie (Nicolas Cage) on a farm an hour’s drive from Arkham takes a terrible turn when a glowing meteor strikes their property. Exhilarating, funny, horrible, and packed with reference points for the cognoscenti,, this is Stanley’s best film and the most philosophically faithful Lovecraft adaptation.

Among its many virtues it perfectly deploys its strategic Nicolas Cage reserves. I salute the choice that allows him to keep saying lines featuring the word “alpaca.” (So yes not a literal period adaptation but a modern update. With alpacas.)

The title shift conveniently allows us to distinguish the film Color Out Of Space from the story “The Colour Out of Space.”

Jallikattu [Malaysia, Lijo Jose Pellissery, 4] Chaos erupts when villagers try to recapture a rampaging water buffalo. Kinetic action spectacle where man vs beast devolves into man vs man, driven ever foreward by massed bodies in motion, a roving camera, quick cuts, masterful compositions and a propulsive score.


Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, streaming platforms and perhaps even good old physical media over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release.

TIFF 2019 Day Nine: Fightin’ the Man For Your Vegetable Stand

Lyrebird [US, Dan Friedkin, 2] Former Dutch resistance officer investigates artist Hans van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) for his role in selling a recently discovered Vermeer to Hermann Göring. Old-fashioned, po-faced production withholds as some kind of big revelation the one thing you definitely know about van Meegeren if you’re interested enough to see a movie about him. Pearce plays for laughs, perhaps realizing that the well-conceived version of this is a satirical caper piece.

Flatland [South Africa, Jenna Bass, 2] Bride flees rapist husband, kills abusive pastor and goes on the lam accompanied by the trashy pregnant white girl who regards her as a sister. Ill-reconciled combination of fugitive genre and social drama modes.

Wet Season [Singapore, Anthony Chen, 3.5] High school teacher in a stagnating marriage bonds with a student who has a crush on her. Through delicate bservation, painstakingly draws the viewer along a heavily telegraphed narrative.

City Dream [China, Weijun Chen, 4] Bemused and/or frustrated Wuhan city inspectors try to relocate a family’s unlicensed sidewalk fruit stall in the face of relentless resistance from its tantrum-throwing grandfather. Verité documentary’s study of underdogs against putatively benign authority presents human comedy with an under-layer of pathos.

Devil Between the Legs [Mexico, Arturo Ripstein, 4] Even in old age, a retired pharmacist and his wife remain tormented by lust, memories, and one another. Caustic B&W drama of love and passion twisted into hate.


Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, streaming platforms and perhaps even good old physical media over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release.Unless you mean The Color Out of Space, which I’m seeing on the 14th.

September 12, 2019

TIFF 2019 Day Eight: Kickoff to an Indonesian Superhero Cinematic Universe

No.7 Cherry Lane [HK, Yonfan, 4] In 1967 Hong Kong, a student courts a woman (Sylvia Chang) who has hired him to tutor his daughter by taking her to Simone Signoret films. Metatextual cel-animated melodrama explores the role heterosexual romance plays in gay aestheticism.

So Long, My Son [China, Wang Xiaoshuai. 4.5] A cruel decision made under the One Child policy compounds a family tragedy, reverberating through the decades for a working couple and their circle. Saga of the effect of the political on the personal in fragmented time from the 80s to the present.

Gundala [Indonesia, Joko Anwar, 3.5] Orphaned urchin grows up to discover his lightning-based fighting and healing powers, putting them to use against a sinister counterpart. Kicks off a cinematic universe adapted from an Indonesian comic continuity with labored exposition, wild overplotting, competing structural elements, inexplicable teaser sequences for future installments—you know, just like a Marvel movie.


Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, streaming platforms and perhaps even good old physical media over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release.Unless you mean The Color Out of Space, which I’m seeing on the 14th.

September 11, 2019

TIFF 2019 Day Seven: Converging Timelines & A Travelogue Gone Wrong

A White, White Day [Iceland, Hlynur Pálmason, 3.5] Rural cop on psych leave after his wife’s death comes to suspect that she was having an affair. Impeccably crafted Nordic bleakness drama follows a familiar thesis on the dangers of bottled-up emotion.

To the Ends of the Earth [Japan, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 4] Logistical setbacks and microhumiliations beset a young TV presenter shooting a travelogue in Uzbekistan. Like other Kurosawa titles this episodic mood piece feels slight at first but leaves images that grow in power retrospectively.

Ibrahim: A Fate to Define [Denmark/Palestine, Lina Al Abed, 3.5] Documentarian investigates the life of the father she never knew, having left his family to work for his likely eventual killers, the Abu Nidal Organization, which later (probably) executed him. As befits the subject matter, its informal interviews are less about definitive answers than coming to terms with their absence.

When evaluating a doc with fly-on-the-wall element, one of the odd things is you’re evaluating whether anything amazing happened while the camera was rolling—in other words, you’re reviewing reality and whether it did or didn’t deliver.

A Girl Missing [Japan, Koji Fukada, 4] Nurse’s tangential connection to the kidnapping of a client’s granddaughter later leads her to assume a new identity in pursuit of an enigmatic plan. Twisting psychological thriller generates suspense by interweaving a past and a present timeline and making us wonder how they’re going to connect up.

On the way out of the screening I overheard two patrons, one of whom had fallen asleep for a big chunk of this and was asking the other to explain what had happened and boy I do not know where I would even start.

It feels like about half of the films I’ve seen so far have included dream sequences and seeing this device used so many times in close proximity underlines what a weak choice it almost invariably is.


Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, streaming platforms and perhaps even good old physical media over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release.Unless you mean The Color Out of Space, which I’m seeing on the 14th.

TIFF 2019 Day Six: Cuban Emigre Spies and Refugee Application Suspense

Love Child [Denmark, Eva Mulvad, 5] Because their adulterous relationship is punishable by death, a couple flees Iran to Turkey, where they seek refugee status and permission to live in a safe country. Fly-in-the wall documentary places you inside the subjects’ family life, with emotional rollercoaster suspense as they wait for the UNHCR to determine their fate.

To say more would spoilerize, but this includes the most acute example of dramatic irony in any documentary I can think of.

Heroic Losers [Argentina, Sebastian Borensztein, 4] Crew of everyday Joes led by local hero gas station owner (Ricardo Darin) scheme to empty a vault belonging to the corrupt official who ripped them off during Argentina’s 2001 banking collapse. Charming rural heist flick uses the power of pop cinema to recuperate from national catastrophe.

Wasp Network [France, Olivier Assayas, 4] In the early 90s, a Cuban pilot (Edgar Ramirez) defects to Miami, leaving behind his patriotic wife (Penelope Cruz) and entering into a web of terrorism and covert counterterrorism. Ensemble spy docudrama tackles a dauntingly detailed real story with a tapestry-like screenplay structure that keeps resetting itself to introduce new allegiances and agendas.

I’d have to rewatch with a pause button to be sure, but I’d estimate that this has 4 act ones, 3-5 act twos, a fake act 3 and a real act 3 — not in that order.

The Antenna [Turkey, Orçun Behram, 2] Depressed building superintendent discovers that the government satellite dish installed on the roof is threatening his tenants with a bizarre black sludge. Larry Cohen-style political allegory horror realized with the very… deliberate… pacing… typical of Turkish art cinema.


Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, streaming platforms and perhaps even good old physical media over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release.Unless you mean The Color Out of Space, which I’m seeing on the 14th.

September 09, 2019

TIFF 2019 Day Five: A Meta-Fictional French Farce Jumps Into the Lead

Incitement [Israel,  Yaron Zilberman, 4] Right-wing student activist opposed to democracy and the Oslo Accord pursues the justifications he requires to act on his plan to assassinate Yitzhak Rabin. Political crime docudrama depicts Benjamin Netanyahu as a key contributor to the atmosphere of permission leading to Rabin’s murder.

La Belle Epoque [France, Nicolas Bedos, 5] Aging cartoonist (Daniel Auteuil) on the outs with his wife (Fanny Ardant) uses a high end historical recreation service to visit the days in 1974 when they first met and fell in love. Propulsive, funny, moving farce where, instead of doors, the characters rush between memories and layers of fiction.

A thing about attending the same film festival for 33 years is, in addition to noticing that you are aging, so are the stars who once played hunks and ingenues.

The Moneychanger [Uruguay, Federico Veiroj, 4] 70s money launderer gets in over his head after accepting huge sums from mysterious Argentinians. Crime dramedy works as an inverted Goodfellas, in which the anti-hero narrating his career of illegality starts as a schnook and mostly stays that way through his ups and downs.

Dogs Don't Wear Pants [Finland, J-P Valkeapää, 4] Still shut down years after his wife’s suicide, a heart surgeon seeks strange solace as client to a dominatrix. Twisted but humane drama of grief and healing.

Not only a contender for the best title of the fest, but a film in which the title is spoken as a line of dialogue.


Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, streaming platforms and perhaps even good old physical media over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release.Unless you mean The Color Out of Space, which I’m seeing on the 14th.

September 08, 2019

TIFF Day Four: Shanghai Spies & Larrain Lets His Bunuel Flag Fly


A day that begins with Bunuel lite and ends with Bunuel flamethrower.

The Barefoot Emperor [Belgium, Jessica Woodworth & Peter Brosens, 3.5] After a regrettable incident at a recreation of the Franz Ferdinand assassination, the Belgian king is confined to a sanatorium, formerly Tito’s island retreat whose head (Udo Kier) exudes a sinister solicitude. Absurdist fable of the slow-motion elite bafflement.

Sequel to 2016’s King of the Belgians, which it recaps at the top (not that it really has to.)

Saturday Fiction [China, Lou Ye, 4] Famed actress (Gong Li) returns to occupied Shanghai to run one last op for her French spymaster (Pascal Greggory) aimed at a Japanese cipher officer (Odagiri Jo.) Hazy, shifting identities in deglamorized B&W, culminating in gripping ballistics.

Coming Home Again [US, Wayne Wang, 4] Tightly wound writer (Justin Chen) returns to San Francisco to care for his cancer stricken mom (Jackie Chung), despite her and his dad’s worries over the effect this will have on his career. Contemplative drama of love, resentment, and the emotional weight of getting the food right.

The Good Intentions [Argentina, Ana García Blaya, 3.5] When her mom and stepdad decide to move to Paraguay, her precociously together young daughter lobbies to stay with her raffish, irresponsible slacker dad. Autobiographical slice-of-life, punctuated by real life home videos, illuminated by the performance of child actor Amanda Minujin.

Ema [Chile, Pablo Larrain, 4] Seductive dancer (Mariana di Girolamo) married to insecure choreographer (Gael Garcia Bernal) tries to regain custody of the boy they returned to the adoption agency after he burned her sister’s face. Unnerving, visually arresting, sex-drenched Bunuelian provocation.


Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, streaming platforms and perhaps even good old physical media over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release.Unless you mean The Color Out of Space, which I’m seeing on the 14th.

TIFF Day Three: A Ruthless South Korean Thriller and a Forbiddingly Beautiful Cult Drama

The Other Lamb [Belgium/Poland/US, Malgorzata Szumowska, 4] The onset of puberty changes everything for a young member of an isolated cult (Raffey Cassidy) consisting of the many wives and daughters of a charismatic leader (Michiel Huisman.) Set in a landscape of stark and forbidding beauty, this hits the baked-in beats of a cult liberation drama with an emphasis on the role of womens’ devotion in sustaining patriarchy.

Three Summers [Brazil, Sandra Kogut, 3.5] When her employers are busted in the Operation Car Wash bribery scandal, their resourceful chief maid steps in to protect the staff and a disregarded pater familias. Naturalistic drama with satirical undertones follows the effects of elite dereliction on the working class.

The Giant [US, David Raboy, 2] In what might be a dream, a distorted memory or a trip into the Bardo Thodol, a southern teen processes nameless trauma involving her dead mom and troubled ex. Bearing the stylistic influences of Aronofsky and Malick, this falls prey to the standard failing of head trip films—no payoff.

Bring Me Home [South Korea, Kim Seung-woo,4] Nurse’s search for her missing young son takes her to a rural village where fishing tour operators protected by a corrupt cop exploit the labor of a couple of kids. Bars no holds in pursuit of physically and emotionally brutal thrills.


Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, streaming platforms and perhaps even good old physical media over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release.Unless you mean The Color Out of Space, which I’m seeing on the 14th.

September 06, 2019

TIFF 2019 Day Two: Final Testament of a Cinematic Master & An Argentinean Musical

Not much space between screenings to compose interstitial observations today, so its capsules and just the capsules for Friday, the first full day of films.

Lina from Lima [Argentina, María Paz González, 4] As she looks after her rich boss’ new house and awaits a Christmas trip to see her family in Peru, a beleaguered maid’s mounting frustrations manifest as fantasized musical numbers. Drama of everyday yearning heightened by the interplay of naturalism and artifice.

Varda by Agnes [France, Agnes Varda, 4]. Documentary self-summation of the director’s body of work in cinema and installation art, expanded from a series of masterclasses shot prior to her death this March. Reveals the formal rigor underlying the apparent lightness of her style.

The Traitor [Italy, Marco Bellochio, 3.5] After his sons are slain in a 1980 Palermo gang war, a top soldier cooperates in a mass trial that spirals into histrionic chaos. Mafia docudrama embraces the tone shifts, narrative sidetracks and wild implausibilities of a landmark historical case.

A Sun [Taiwan, Chung Mong-Hong, 4] High schooler’s juvenile detention sentence strains his family, particularly his relationship with his father, a truculent driving instructor. Bittersweet family drama with a noirish fourth act.

The Lost Okoroshi [Nigeria, Abba Makama, 2] Unmotivated security guard transforms into supernatural masquerade spirit, performing blessing dances for the virtuous and smiting the wicked. Satire of traditionalism’s revenge on the urban is cleverer than other Nollywood films that reach the festival circuit, but the storytelling basics still aren’t in place.


Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, streaming platforms and perhaps even good old physical media over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release.Unless you mean The Color Out of Space, which I’m seeing on the 14th.

September 05, 2019

TIFF 2019 Opening Night: Giant Bioluminescent Sea Parasites and a Meta-Tribute to an Indie Icon

Simple Women [Italy/Romania, Chiara Malta, 3.5] Novice director bumps into Elina Lowensohn, who she has idolized since her iconic role in Hal Hartley’s Simple Men, and decides to star her in a a low budget biopic about her life. The shaggy spirit of the 90s indie scene smiles on this observational meta-drama about the ways films become part of our identities.

This was apparently the first title from the Discovery program, dedicated to first time directors, to screen on opening night, which came as a surprise to me.

I’m always pleased when it’s possible to start the fest with a film about film. This felt especially circular as I first came across Hal Hartley when his first movie, The Unbelievable Truth, as an out-of-nowhere discovery at TIFF in 1989.

Elina Lowensohn was at the screening.

Sea Fever [Ireland, Neasa Hardiman,4] Withdrawn oceanographer’s routine mission aboard a fishing vessel turns disastrous when a gigantic, multi-tendriled parasite affixes itself to the hull. Skillfully paced infection horror, with touches of Lovecraftian oceanic unease, explores the genre’s ethical implications.

This is Harriman’s feature debut after episodic TV credits including “Jessica Jones.”


Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, streaming platforms and perhaps even good old physical media over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release. Unless you mean The Color Out of Space, which I’m seeing on the 14th.

August 30, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Stith Thompson Entries All Over It

In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk time as a resource, occult Blues Brothers, the Gen Con auction with Jim Kitchen, and extending Habsburg Spain.

August 23, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Live at Gen Con 2019

In a very special episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, recorded before a live Gen Con audience, Ken and Robin talk interstellar Habsburgs, balloonist danger, a trilogy of rebellions and donut hot takes.

August 16, 2019

August 09, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Jealous of My Katana

In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk lone wolf PCs, cooking shows, alien symbiotes in Night's Black Agents, and the Somerton Man mystery.

July 26, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: It Ain’t That Non-Euclidean

In the latest episode of our beautifully antlered podcast, Ken and I talk DIE and depictions of RPG in fiction, Huey Long, qi-lin, and the USAF's plan to stop the earth.

July 22, 2019

Finding Me at Gen Con 2019

Hey, look what’s right around the corner again! Can it be a knife-wielding baby shoggoth? No, something much bigger and more exciting than that—adventure gaming’s biggest, whirwindiest convention, Gen Con, kicks off just a titch more than a week from now. If you’re headed there too and want to hear me lay down the wisdom and/or nonsense, I can be caught at the following panels:

2  pm Thursday Aug 1: Game Mastering 101 with Atlas Games, Crowne Plaza Pennsylvania Station A

4 pm Thursday Aug 1: Gaming with the King in Yellow, Stadium : Meeting Rm 8

1 pm Friday Aug 2: Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Live, Stadium : Meeting Rm 8

5 pm Friday Aug 2: Investigative Roleplaying MasterClass, Westin : Grand Bllrm IV

2 pm Saturday Aug 3: Swords, Spies & Shoggoths: The Pelgrane Press Panel, Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Stn A

4 PM Saturday Aug 3: Dramatic Interaction MasterClass, JW : 202

As is its wont, KARTAS Live has sold out in advance, but perhaps you’ll be able to grab a seat left open by a no-show.

During exhibit hall hours, when I am not at a panel, on my way to a panel, or on my way back from a panel, I will be at the Pelgrane Press booth, 1417. Please swing by to say hi, ask a question, get books signed, or tell me about your favorite Hillfolk emotional tactic.

If you wish to see this year’s new shirt, and believe me you do, the day to catch me wearing it is Friday. Let no one say I don’t know how to lay down a teaser.

July 19, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: You Can’t Say Eliptonic Without Tonic

In the latest episode of their ENnie-nominated podcast, Ken and Robin talk wait point scenario structures, thinking up good names, medicine hucksterism and politics, and time-machining the DC movies.

July 12, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: We’ve Still Got that Other Folder

In the latest episode of our ENnie-nominated podcast, Ken and I talk scenario openings, critical term drift, radicalized FALL OF DELTA GREEN and Livonian werewolves.

July 05, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: The Molticore

In the latest episode of our leonine podcast, Ken and Robin talk invisibility problems, Daniel Defoe's spying, manticores and a king knighted by a robot saint.

June 21, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Bad Odds In a Balloon

In the latest episode of our semantically customized podcast, Ken and I talk bespoke game terms, doomed Swedish balloonists, the expanded Yellow King Universe, and occult Buenos Aires.

June 14, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Marsupial Valley

In the latest episode of our loose cannon podcast, Ken and I talk Australian plot hooks, Dai Cathay, post-Lovecraftan King in Yellow tales and Stanton Friedman.

June 07, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: We’ve Warren Commissioned Your Witch Problem

In the latest episode of our unwaveringly as-advertised podcast, Ken and I talk switcheroo campaigns, Ronald Hutton's The Witch, Derlethizing the King in Yellow, and what went wrong with Game of Thrones.

May 31, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Everybody’s Limbs are Still On

In the latest episode of our energetic podcast, Ken and I talk RuneQuest, the British pet massacre, the core of the King in Yellow mythos, and Lev Gumilyov.

May 24, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Go Talk to Some Other Trees

In the latest episode of our robed, scholarly podcast, Ken and I talk 13th Age icons in other games, Nathan Paoletta, The Repairer of Reputations and the Neoplatonic Academy.

May 17, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Moses Does a Heel Turn

In the latest episode of their world classic podcast, Ken and Robin talk skill lists, Criterion Collection basics, Robert W. Chambers, and the Book of Jasher.

May 10, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: I'm a Baron and Classy

In the latest episode of our daring daylight podcast, Ken and I talk alternate history games, the North Korean embassy raid, Mark Morrison, and Franz Nopsca.

May 03, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Traduced by Raisins

In the latest episode of our sweet and flaky podcast, Ken and I talk playing Janet Armstrong, Chicago politics, Canadian desserts and the Gárgola de Barceloneta

April 26, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Trouser Leg of the Mythos

In the latest episode of our hobson-and-jobsoning podcast, Ken and I talk low-tech settings, film rewatching redux, Lynne Hardy and word root magic.

April 19, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Jar Cats

In the latest episode of our merry, forest-dwelling podcast, Ken and I talk envisioning game writing in play, John Hays Hammond Jr, Robin Hood and alternate ecstasy history.

April 12, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: A Lot of Bathories

In the latest episode of their globe-trotting podcast, Ken and I talk Carcosa Con, Daria Pilarczyk, stuff we saw in Poland, and Tadeusz Kosciuszko.

April 05, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Live at Carcosa Con

In an episode recorded live at Carcosa Con in Poland's Czocha Castle, Ken and I talk Marco Polo and the Celts, the mythic power of mead, holy blood for vampires and more.

March 29, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Bound by a Wussier Reptile

In the latest episode of their deliciously salty podcast, Ken and I talk Mythos creature selection, Dutch pistachio heists, the Library of Babel and  Douglas MacArthur conspirology

March 15, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Any Smart Gundamologist

In the latest episode of our high mimetic podcast, Ken and I talk options vs core experience, Northrop Frye, bugbears, and J. F. C. Fuller.

March 08, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: The Number One Mistake of Smart People

In the latest episode of their restlessly exploratory podcast, Ken and Robin talk installation horror GMCs, Richard Francis Burton, rewatching movies, and Aaron Burr's Upper Canada coup.

March 01, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Our Earth and Cincinnati

In the latest episode of our wide-open podcast, Ken and I talk spell side effects, private spy agencies, weird Kansas, and the thing in the Cincinnati subway tunnels.

February 22, 2019

February 15, 2019

February 08, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: The Crocodiles are Strictly Notional

In the latest episode of our disruptively electric podcast, Ken and I talk scooter charger culture, conspiracy literacy, misty vampires and Aldous Huxley's Project Outsight.

February 01, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: The Looming Party

In the latest episode of our superbly crosshatched podcast, Ken and I talk Edward Gorey RPGing, the Templarios, historical inaccuracy in flim, and Carlos Castaneda.

January 25, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: That Doesn’t Sound Like Y’golonac

In the latest episode of our gravity-eating podcast, Ken and I talk Delta Green at the 68 Dem convention, Steven Hammond, 43 Group and an eldritch black hole.

January 18, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Good Luck Getting Any Wood

In the latest episode of our efficient yet lovable podcast, Ken and I talk less than competent PCs, Ashurbanipal, sympathetic protagonists and the eliptony of Jackie Gleason.

January 11, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Credulous Ghost-Hunting Dupe

In the latest episode of their eerily lifelike podcast, Ken and Robin talk framed PCs, waxworks horror, @MattColville, and Samuel Johnson versus the Cock Lane Ghost.

January 04, 2019

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: NIMBY Horror

Kicking off 2019 with an all-request episode, Ken and I talk tiny houses, Operation Gunnerside, the Psalter Mappa Mundi, and Marxist UFOlogy.