Sean Baker made some waves in the film industry when he released crime comedy Tangerine a couple of years ago, shot entirely on an iPhone. The critical acclaim of the micro-budget marvel helped to springboard the director to his next feature The Florida Project; a mother-daughter drama set in the dishevelled surroundings of Disney World. Taking place at the Magic Castle motel run by Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the story centres around fun-loving six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friends. As they happily run riot around the town, her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) struggles to make ends meet, going to increasingly desperate measures to pay the rent each week.
After crafting string of indie movies in his native language, Greek writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos enjoyed a critically acclaimed breakthrough with madcap quasi-comedy The Lobster. He has now reunited with the lead Colin Farrell for his next feature The Killing of a Sacred Deer. The plot follows cardiac surgeon Steven Murphy (Farrell) who lives a strange but comfortable life with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their children. Unbeknownst to his family, he befriends teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan), a former patient who looks up to Steve. Events take a sinister turn when the admiration turns to obsession and Martin places a bizarre curse on Steven, presenting him with an impossible choice.
I was fortunate enough to spend a day covering this year’s Chicago International Film Festival, and can share with you my capsule reviews below!
God’s Own Country
Francis Lee’s coming-of-age coming-out feature debut has been labelled as the UK’s answer to Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed romance Brokeback Mountain; Britback Mountain if you will, but it replaces sentimentality with bleak, bruising reality. Set in the beautifully sprawling Yorkshire countryside, the progressive plot centres around Johnny (Josh O’Connor), a young farmer who works tirelessly all day and binge drinks at night to avoid acceptance of his sexuality. When his family hire Romanian farmhand Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a simmering romance ensues, and his passion is unleashed. The power of Lee’s filmmaking comes from the effective simplicity. He slowly builds atmosphere as Johnny’s feelings rise within him, and this pent-up tension is portrayed immaculately. There are questionable character traits as the story develops that don’t always ring true, but minor problems aside, this is a refreshing and compelling exploration of LGBT issues on the big screen.
Rhys Fehrenbacher stars as J in They, the feature debut by writer-director Anahita Ghazvinizadeh which tackles gender identity. Born as a boy but identifying as a girl, J takes hormone blocking medication to postpone puberty while they embark on a journey of self-discovery. When J’s parents are away for the weekend, older sister Lauren (Nicole Coffineau) and her boyfriend Araz (Koohyar Hosseini) arrive to look after her. Unfortunately, the acting comes across as amateurish and this in turn makes J’s interactions with those around her feel stilted and unnatural. What begins as an intriguing premise loses its way around halfway through when a dinner scene at Araz’s Iranian parent’s house is dragged out so long that you’d think they’d changed the reel and put a different movie on.
A character study is the focal point in steamy Chilean drama Los Perros, written and directed by Marcela Said who began her filmmaking career in documentaries. The central character is Mariana (Antonia Zegers), a bored and restless kept woman who wants to break out of the caged life she’s found herself in. Controlled by both her husband Pedro (Rafael Spregelburd) and her father Francisco (Alejandro Sieveking), she seeks solace from her horse-riding instructor Juan (Alfredo Castro), an ex-colonel with a dark and mysterious past. Visually the film is very impressive and cinematographer Georges Lechaptois takes full advantage of the stunning backdrop it unfolds against. Zegers gives a strong lead performance as Mariana’s unpredictable nature drives the story forward. However, once the initial metaphor is established and Mariana is seen to be the titular ‘dog’, the narrative treads water through the final act.
It’s commonplace for viewers to adopt a passive approach at the cinema, but a filmmaker that continually challenges audiences and encourages debate is Darren Aronofsky, known for bringing his dark directorial visions to the big screen. With his latest psychological thriller mother!, he has crafted what has become one of the most talked-about movies of the year. The story follows a couple played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem who appear to enjoy marital bliss in an idyllic rural house that they are renovating. Their peace is shattered when a doctor (Ed Harris) and his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) come to stay unexpectedly and bring mayhem which rudely interrupts the couple’s sense of tranquility.
Stephen King terrified readers with his iconic horror novel back in 1986, which was adapted into a cult television movie. Now the red carpet has been rolled out as it receives a fresh adaptation with director Andy Muschietti pulling the strings. The story has been brought forward to the late 1980s where the kids of Derry, Maine are confronted by their worst fears. Following the strange disappearance of Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) at the hands of evil clown Pennywise (Bill Skårsgard), his big brother Billy (Jaeden Lieberher) rallies his friends together to hunt down the demon that has cursed their hometown.
Taylor Sheridan has already made quite an impact on cinema in recent years, penning the scripts for Sicario and Hell or High Water with acclaimed filmmakers at the helm. Now he has returned to the director’s chair for mystery drama Wind River which he has referred to as the last chapter in a loose trilogy about the modern American frontier. The story follows game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) who works at the Indian Reservation which gives the film its name. When the body of a teenage girl is discovered, FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called to the scene of the crime. The pair join forces and as the investigation unravels, Cory is forced to wrestle his own personal demons.
Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from filmmaking back in 2003 to focus on oil painting but after already going back on his word to direct for television, now he makes his fully fledged feature comeback with comedy crime caper Logan Lucky. The madcap plot follows downtrodden construction worker Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) who, with the help of his one-handed brother Clyde (Adam Driver), hatches a plan to rob his former employers when he gets laid off. To assist with their cunning scheme to steal cash from a NASCAR speedway track on the day it’s biggest rally, they recruit incarcerated safecracker Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and his idiotic brothers. What could possibly go wrong?