Jesse Hawthorne Ficks

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

Hockey! Drums! Pianos! And TRASHY MOVIES! Passions ruled TIFF 2014

|
()

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks reports from an epic Toronto International Film Festival. Read his first installment here.

Despite notable entries like George Roy Hill's defining Slap Shot (1977) and Michael Dowse's remarkable Goon (2011), hockey films have always been a little more overlooked in the US than they should be. Gabe Polsky's blood-pumping Red Army (US/Russia) is begging to be adapted into a rip-roaring narrative, à la Catherine Hardwick's Lords of Dogtown (2005) take on Stacy Peralta's skateboarding doc Dogtown & Z-Boys (2001).

Read more »

Toronto International Film Festival report: in defense of the long, long movie

|
()

The unstoppable Jesse Hawthorne Ficks keeps his eyes open 24/7 through another Toronto International Film Festival, and lives to tell the tale (but shares no spoilers!) Read on for the first in several reports back from the 39th TIFF.

Starting on a high note: Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep (Turkey/France/Germany) won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, so it arrived in Toronto with its share of hype. I can report Sleep is the director's funniest and most satisfying film to date. That said, it does run 196 minutes, and more than a few critics walked out early, which poses an ever-important question about the current trend toward slow-moving, observational, and meditative narratives: Who's actually watching 'em? 

Read more »

SFIFF 57: Strange love, Varda, Swedish grrrls, and more!

|
()

The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival runs through May 8; all the details are here. Guardian correspondent and confirmed film fest addict Jesse Hawthorne Ficks checks in with his mid-SFIFF picks and reactions.

Charlie McDowell's The One I Love (screens tomorrow; ticket info here) showcases exceptional performances by Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss and should be a multiple Independent Spirit Award nominee come next statuette season. This unique genre fluster-cluck digs much deeper into marital problems than you would ever expect (audiences seemed quite flipped upside down after the film's world premiere at Sundance). Similar to films like Darren Araonfsky's Pi (1998), Christopher Nolan's Memento (2000), and Shane Caruth's Primer (2004), this will be a film that'll spark conversations and inspire repeat viewings.

Read more »

The spectacular docs of Sundance and Slamdance 2014

|
()

Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam's Web Junkie (Israel-China-US) is an eye-opening investigation into China's declared number-one threat against youth: internet addiction. The doc observes as kids are sent (often against their will) to video-game rehab — and the takeaway is that many generation-gapped parents are even more clueless about emotions than their sons.

Read more »

Slamdance Film Festival 2014 report!

|
()

Twenty years ago, a few filmmakers — including Dan Mirvish, Peter Baxter, and Paul Rachman — rented out a room in a Prospector Square hotel, creating the first Slamdance Film Festival

Their motivation: "the other film festival in Park City" had perhaps lost some of its independent spirit. Over the years this "little festival that could" has continued to showcase emerging filmmakers. Some of those upstarts have achieved A-list status since their Slamdance debuts: Christopher Nolan (more on him below) and Marc Forster, for example. 

Read more »