PHOTOS COURTESY OF SYFY FILMS

Having a Fin-Tastic Time

It’s been five years since the last Sharknado hit. Astro X has saved the world from the utter destruction of sharknadoes. By stabilizing the atmosphere, they have ended severe weather, ensuring that the debilitating events of global warming are not felt by the people of the Sharknado universe. Fin (Ian Ziering), the protagonist in charge of making questionable decisions and pulling living people out of sharks, is living pleasantly in Kansas with his young son, finally free of his dangerous past at the start of Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens. He even leaves his standoffish disposition behind for a full few minutes when he sees his son.

COURTESY OF LIONSGATE FILMS

Best Western: Hell or High Water

Considering its high-profile cast and overwhelmingly positive reviews, it is a mystery why Hell or High Water went relatively unnoticed as an end-of-summer thriller. David Mackenzie directs, with Ben Foster and Chris Pine playing the Howard brothers, two Texan ranchers struggling against the foreclosure of their family farm who decide to organize a series of bank robberies to raise some needed funds. Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham play Texas Ranger Hamilton and his partner Alberto, respectively, who are investigating the thefts, constantly and threateningly close on the heels of the Howards. From the outset, the film holds its audience in unparalleled suspense. The soft country music foils the searing heat of the Texas sun, palpable thanks to the artful cinematography: every surface carries an auburn tinge, and as a result the entire film feels burnt.

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“Every Shot Means Something”: A Conversation with Marty Gross about Janus Films and Seijun Suzuki

Marty Gross is a man of many hats in the film world. Coming to Japanese cinema in the ’70s after spending years studying pottery, Marty has written and directed documentaries, restored and licensed films and archival footage with his company Marty Gross Film Productions, conducted interviews and served as consulting producer on many projects, including Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 film Dreams. All the while, Marty has continued to teach art classes in Toronto, teaching creativity to future generations of students (including myself). More recently, Marty has worked as a freelance consulting producer with the legendary arthouse distributor Janus Films, the parent company of the Criterion collection. If you pick up a Criterion release of a Japanese film, there’s a good chance you’ll see Marty’s name in the credits. In 2005, Marty’s work for Janus brought him into contact with Seijun Suzuki, one of the most eccentric figures of Japanese film.

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The (Dim) Light Between Oceans

There’s a scene early on in The Light Between Oceans where Alicia Vikander’s character speaks of a mother and father still being referred to as such even after they no longer have a child, and she states that she feels like a sister even after losing siblings of her own. Moments such as these tease the potential for interesting themes and ideas to be played out in the film. Unfortunately the film becomes lost in a heap of overwrought melodrama that ends up squandering an extremely high amount of potential. Based on the 2012 novel of the same name by M.L Stedman, The Light Between Oceans revolves around a lighthouse keeper named Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) and his wife Isabel (Alicia Vikander). They live on an island off the coast of post-World War I Western Australia, and who one day discover a newborn baby that has washed ashore on a boat.

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A Tragedy of Errors

If you’ve always wanted to take your date to that amazing improv show but not wanted to be “that guy” who takes their date to improv shows, have I got a film for you. Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice offers a harshly authentic look into the rough and tumble world of professional comedy, and the often depressed, existentially bewildered and ultimately confused players that writhe in it. While movies about the unique struggles that plague comedians have made a resurgence in the past few years since Annie Hall in 1977 (notably Obvious Child and Birbiglia’s own Sleepwalk With Me), Don’t Think Twice is the first to deal with improv as a unique art form. Balancing the arduous duty of creating good art with furthering one’s own professional goals becomes an impossible task when even your teammates, students or partner is competition. Miles (Birbiglia), the nearing-40 founder of The Commune, an acclaimed NYC improv troupe, serves as the de-facto patriarch of its current six members.

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Homo Sapiens: A Timely Film at Cornell Cinema

Homo Sapiens, showing at Cornell Cinema on September 6, opens with a drenching view of what Ithaca lacks: rain. Not the misty sort of showers that ironically serve to heighten the humidity but the real wet drops of purifying, sustaining rain. From this point, director Nikolaus Geyrhalter spans from one scene to another, each averaging about 26 seconds with a different naturalistic soundtrack of birds, bees, breezes, blizzards and beaches. Intermittent power outages — in which Geyrhalter cuts to black — provide the only pauses from one still life to the next. In its human-free view of the world, Homo Sapiens presents a powerful glimpse of our ethereal human legacy.

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Walkabout: Poetic, Progressive Cinema

Made just three years after the 1967 referendum recognizing Aboriginals as Australian citizens, Walkabout is an immensely progressive film, challenging contemporaneous white Australian attitudes in its complex treatment of the character on its eponymous journey. Nicolas Roeg — who carries over some of the cinematographic beauty we witness in Lawrence of Arabia, for which he served as second unit director — incorporates the clichéd, Anglo-centric trope of innocent white children getting lost in the desert, but skillfully upends it in his treatment of the earnest, and erotic relationship between one of the two Caucasians, an adolescent girl, and the similarly-aged Aboriginal teenager they eventually meet. While some may criticize the boy as having been reduced to a ham-fisted symbol for all of Aboriginality, the film’s sympathetic treatment of him as a likable, pubescent figure (after all, how many films, to this day, explore with sympathy the sexual awakening of a black male?) is more than enough to offset the reductiveness necessary to broadcast its noble political implications. Even the mating dance that the boy initiates toward the film’s end, while initially confronting, slowly becomes a tragic demonstration of his naiveté with regard to race relations. Such a scene crystallizes the film very much about the coming-of-age process too.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF LAIKA STUDIOS

2016’s Animation Surge: Kubo and the Two Strings

First things first, I absolutely adore animation. In my eyes, it’s the most creative and culturally diverse medium in the film industry today, and if 2016 has proven anything to us, it’s that animated films are on a roll with hits like Zootopia, Finding Dory, Sausage Party and the upcoming Moana. Animation works so well for fictional stories because it’s able to make anything believable. It takes just as much time and money for an animator to draw a man walking down the street as it does for them to draw a dragon fighting a giant octopus. The only limits are the filmmakers’ imaginations.

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The Neon Demon: Loudly Didactic, Yet Quietly Haunting

Nicolas Winding Refn’s most well-known film, Drive, was rapturously received by critics at its Cannes premiere in 2011. Writing for The Guardian, Xan Brooks lightheartedly observed how after “witness[ing] great art and potent social commentary; the birth of the cosmos and the end of the world,” – referring to other films such as The Tree of Life and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which also competed at Cannes that year – “all we really wanted all along was a scene in which a man gets his head stomped in a lift.” Indeed, one could assume from how Refn won the festival’s award for Best Director that year that Drive’s hyper-stylized violence resonated with many. However, for a director who has made a name for himself by realizing physical brutality beneath sordid neon lights, his latest film, The Neon Demon, is so restrained in its depiction of sexuality that by the time it unleashes a torrent of sexual imagery, we can’t help but be horrified. Jesse (Elle Fanning) is an aspiring model and recent arrival in Los Angeles. Living out of a motel in Pasadena, she initially roams the town in search of agency representation; her doe-eyed, adolescent features betray the beguiling innocence of someone new to town.

Courtesy of A24

The Lobster: You’ve Been Warned

If you haven’t seen Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, you may be under the impression that it is a dark comedy about modern romance. At least, that’s how the movie’s social media accounts and many reviewers portray it. “Still haven’t seen the year’s wildest comedy?” asks a tweet in @LobsterFilm’s stream. An out-of-context gif of Ariane Labed twirling in the forest accompanies the post. This representation, bolstered by trailers that cut out any mention of the movie’s most disturbing aspects, needs to be corrected.