American Honey (UK/USA)
In 2009, director and writer Andrea Arnold made a movie called Fish Tank that I couldn’t stop raving about. Being part of my introduction to Michael Fassbender and now a Criterion Collection film, I was looking forward to Arnold’s latest project, a foray into the youth of the United States in American Honey. The film is about Star, played by a fearless newcomer named Sasha Lane. Star lives in Oklahoma, helping raise two kids for a couple of white trash deadbeats when she sees a group of rowdy teens led by a charismatic twenty-something named Jake, played by Shia Lebeouf. Jake and Star have a fast infatuation with each other it appears, and Jake offers her a position with them, going door to door selling magazines. The job is questionable but Star sees an opportunity of escape and agrees. They head off to Kansas City to begin what will be an eye-opening experience of love, sex, drugs, drinking and the ever evolving art of being a grifter.
First thing and this is really a disclaimer, American Honey is a long movie and I’m talking almost three hours. The film feels entirely bloated, almost like Arnold couldn’t bear to trim down this story, even when there’s about an hour of celluloid “fat” that could go. That being said, the film is incredibly well acted from Lane and Lebeouf and has a great antagonist part from Mad Max: Fury Road’s Riley Keogh as Krystal, the head boss of the group. The way this film was approached really gave me a sort of sense that I had seen this style before, an almost “Larry Clark’s Kids, Road Trip edition”. It’s undeniable that the influence of Clark’s teen movies and Harmonie Korine’s Gummo had an effect on Arnold’s story, with the added element of showing the very different class systems through middle America. Had this film been made with a little or any restraint, the end product would have been more enjoyable and accessible but the way it stands this movie will not wow the regular audiences. 2.5/5
Endless Poetry (Chile/France)
If you’re looking for a mind bender of a film this festival you should look no further than Endless Poetry, a film from one of the masters of surreal cinema, Alejandro Jodorowsky. Continuing the autobiographical trilogy he started with The Dance Of Reality, Jodo bases this film around his own youth in Chile and his striving to be a poet, much to the anger of his garment store owner father. Constantly casting off the shackles that oppress his dreams and keeps his imagination captive in this film, it’s obvious how pivotal this story was in Jodo’s life and it may take multiple viewings to unlock everything he is presenting.
One of the first mysteries I had with Endless Poetry was how to react. There are scenes in the beginning of the film that deal with Alejandro as a child and the interactions with his father, played by Jodo’s own son Brontis, that come off really funny to me, though the actual subject matter is pretty tragic, and that’s basically true for a large part of the movie. Is it because there’s a barrier of language or a misunderstanding of what he’s trying to get across to us with his almost fever dream style? I’m still unsure but all I know is I enjoyed the bright and vibrant journey through this incredible artist’s life, no matter how frenetic it was at times, but I doubt many will feel the same way. 3.5/5
Sometimes, one of the best possible things you can do at a festival is take in a film you know absolutely nothing about. This is what I did with my screening of Goldstone because all I knew about it was that it was Australian and I’m a huge fan of their filmmaking. The film is a delicious little treat, which follows two law enforcement officials. One is the local cop, on good terms with all the nearby people and appears to be in the pocket of the spinster mayor. The other is an Aboriginal Federal officer, in town to investigate a missing Asian woman who may be tied to the land surveying company operating in most of the area.
This movie is absolutely captivating. Led by Chronicle’s Alex Russell and Aaron Pedersen, who smoulders like Josh Brolin in No Country For Old Men, this film is a moody detective story that has overlying themes of human trafficking and the ghastly mistreatment of the indigenous people. Director Ivan Sen delivers an eyeful with his beautiful cinematography, including aerial shots that left my jaw on the floor. What a great film. 5/5
With only one screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival, Moonlight was definitely one of the hot tickets this year and it was definitely worth it. The film is about the life of Chiron, told in three parts of his growing up. When we first meet him, he’s known as Little, a poor kid living in the ghetto of Miami with his drug addicted mother who leaves a dark cloud over him. It’s only when he meets a local drug dealer (played by the hopefully award nominated Mahershala Ali), that he finds someone to open up to, which begins to shape his entire life.
I really want to back off in telling anymore of the plot but I will say that I’m in a quandary about if this or I, Daniel Blake is my favorite movie of the festival. Chiron’s story had me captivated from the opening minutes. Told through three well cast actors, director and writer Barry Jenkins weaves a gorgeous and fascinating film that makes you think that he’s a veteran of feature filmmaking. This is the one to watch during awards season. 5/5
While The Women Are Sleeping (Japan)
I’m always compelled to check out what Japanese films the Vancouver International Film Festival has as part of their Dragons And Tigers content series but my choice last year, Gonin Saga, proved to be a mistake. This year, I decided to go with While The Women Are Sleeping, a film that features one of my favorite Japanese actors, Beat Takeshi. The film is about a novelist on vacation with his workaholic editor wife. He is bored out of his mind, unable to work on his next book. When his wife turns his attention to a couple that looks like father and daughter, he becomes infatuated with spying on them, as their actions go from curious to potentially dangerous.
Not wanting to get burned again at the festival, I really wanted to enjoy this film but instead found it immediately painfully morose. The low energy of the acting was almost literally putting me to sleep in my early morning screening and every time that things looked like it would pick up, the story finds a way to slow the momentum. Coming from director Wayne Wang, I was wondering what we would get, as he made both The Joy Luck Club and Queen Latifah’s Last Holiday. Unfortunately, we land somewhere in the middle of that. 1.5/5