The Power Of The Dog TIFF Review

The Plot

A slow burn western drama set in 1925 following the Burbank brothers, a pair of wealthy Montana ranchers. When George Burbank unexpectedly brings home a new wife Rose and her existing son Peter, it triggers a menacing campaign of cruelty and psychological torment from his tyrannical brother Phil. Setting the new ‘family’ on a tense and perilous path toward possible destruction.

The Good

Director Jane Campion brings her much celebrated talents for tense drama and sumptuous visuals firmly to bear on a palpably menacing tale of repressed desire and cruelty. The Power Of The Dog is an openly hostile and terse examination of familiar Western tropes that will captivate considerable compulsive viewing thanks to a barrage of talented performances from an all-star cast. Understated and relentlessly intense it’s an unapologetically challenging piece of fraught psychological drama that rides towards some truly unexpected conclusions.

Benedict Cumberbatch expertly transforms his quintessentially British charms into an authentically menacing presence as a tyrannically hard edged Montana rancher. As the film’s cruel antagonist Cumberbatch absolutely excels in injecting layers of inner turmoil and seething toxicity into the character. The Sherlock and Star Trek star has always been able to adeptly turn his cold eyed stare and hard spoken eloquence into powerful villainous weapons. Yet again he does so to excellent effect in a compelling performance that paints rancher Phil as dangerously harsh and fragile.

Alongside Cumberbatch’s totemic performance the real life pairing of married stars Jesse Plemmons and Kirsten Dunst as the couple caught in the crosshairs of Phil’s cruelty provides the film with a ready-made understated emotional authenticity. Both Dunst and Plemmons are on typically fine form as the victims of toxic torment struggling to navigate a path to happiness in the face a truly menacing obstacle.

Kodi Smitt McPhee likewise is an invaluable asset to the film as Rose’s seemingly mild mannered son Peter. His character instantly becomes the explicit battleground over which Phil launches his sustained assault on Rose and any hopes of coexistence within the newfound Burbank family. Phil’s openly bullying hostility and tense proximity to Peter throughout the film is precisely what creates an ominous sense of danger and ultimately drives the story towards truly unexpected end games.

Kodi Smitt McPhee’s performance is certain to garner awards attention and firmly establishes that his talents extend far beyond playing smaller roles in blockbuster franchises like X-Men. He belongs firmly alongside top billed acting powerhouses with star billing. Although he may possibly find it a little hard to quickly shake off this career defining role as Peter.

The Bad

The Power Of The Dog has the familiar visual landscape of a traditional western, but beneath that superficial similarity of setting it is actually more of an aggressive deconstruction of the eternally popular genre than an actual true ‘Western’. While some people will welcome a sluggishly paced meditation on ‘toxic masculinity’ it obviously won’t satisfy anyone expecting the typical crowd pleasing delights of a conventional ‘western’.

While director Jane Campion might clearly intend to hijack and explicitly confront the alleged ‘myths’ of admirably heroic hyper-mascuiline cowboys  that the western genre traditionally exists to celebrate; that obviously won’t be a particularly pleasant or welcome character assignation for some audiences.

Despite the film’s attractive cinematography and arresting score, its unapologetically languid and brutal slow burn drama might still prove somewhat offputting for those that find its’ relentlessly brooding tone to be genuinely uncomfortable viewing.  Others may also find some of the films tropes about emotional repression to be a little too heavy handed in places. Leaving the film with less of a deconstructive shock value than it perhaps aspires to deliver.

The Ugly Tuth

Undeniably beautiful on screen thanks to expertly moody cinematography, The Power Of the Dog is a seemingly inevitable awards contender that will attract a large audience due to its abundant star power, though might not satisfy those seeking a more conventional western. Slow paced, bleak, serious and by turns shocking it’s a film that at the very least commands attentio

Last Night In Soho TIFF Review

The Plot

A 60’s obsessed modern day fashion student finds herself seemingly magically transported each night from her bedsit to the lurid and dangerous world of 1960’s London nightlife. Her visions of the mirrored life of wannabe singer Sandie quickly posing strange questions about whether these are purely figments of imagination or a genuine ghostly connection across generations.

The Good

Edgar Wright is a director of distinctive and unique style. His flair for eccentric visuals, compelling camerawork and pop culture infused musical masterclasses have been long celebrated. They’re all tools that make him ideally suited to breathing surreal dream like life into a script from Oscar nominated screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns.

The films unapologetically dizzying descent into flashbacks of a neon drenched nighttime wonderland of London’s swinging sixties heydays is a unique form of frenetic escapism. Those that have habitually enjoyed Wright’s past cinematic treats will welcome his unleashed explosion of imagery and ideas.

Wright’s best loved work has always toyed with an alluring mix of cinematic nostalgia and jukebox musical charm. In a way this latest offering boldly stretches this even closer to being a full blow musical that is lush, eerie and evocative by equal measure. Packed with plenty of familiar cinematic references for enthusiastic film buffs the combined result is a truly original creation driven by deeply personal undertones.

Alongside the film’s lurid visual charms competent performances from stars Thomasin  McKenzie and Anya Taylor Joy and menacingly murderous perils of London’s toxic underbelly make the experience even more compelling.

The Bad

While the film’s explosive barrage of ideas, themes and visuals is an initially immersive and rewarding escape, it’s also fair to admit that the film as a whole is somewhat overwhelmed at times by the sheer weight of its combined elements. It’s clearly hard beyond a certain point for the film to sustain it’s early exhilaration and service the competing needs of being a nostalgia drenched surreal musical horror thriller..

Though the film’s purposefully sleazy and dark edged underbelly does inject a sense of peril to proceedings it obviously also prohibits the film from being the kind of whimsically escapist fun that might be more universally appealing. Likewise the swirling mess of ghostly dreams within dreams makes it a little difficult to sustain a coherent conventional plot. Audiences hoping to cling to a simple narrative structure and straightforward message might find this film’s hazy fog of ideas much harder to grasp hold of.

The Ugly Truth

Director Edgar Wright delivers another eccentric musical masterclass with a luridly dream like dive into the delights and darkness of 1960s London nightlife. For fans of his past work and those similarly drawn to this alluring period of the past it will be an especially crowd pleasing if sometimes nightmarish dream.

Spencer TIFF Review

The Plot

Set in 1991 this historical fiction turns Princess Diana’s existential crisis over her potential divorce from Prince Charles into a psychological drama. Set over a tense holiday period in confines of the Queen’s Sandringham estate the film explores the suffocating claustrophobia of Dian’s Royal life during the tumultuous dying stages of her infamously doomed marriage to the future king of England.

The Good

Twilight star Kristen Stewart has worked hard to shed the reluctant mantel of Hollywood Starlet by focusing almost exclusively on serious dramatic work in low budget dramas. That path has led her to the opportunity to play one of the most iconic women of the 20th Century on screen in a credible project from an accomplished screenwriter and director. Stewart earnestly seizes the opportunity, physical and vocally transforming herself into the iconic Diana to an extent that will almost certainly see her attracting numerous awards nominations.

Beneath a mop of Blonde hair and armed with a mostly convincing British accent, Stewart does her very best to do justice to the role and transform Princess Diana’s supposed ‘darkest days’ into an arresting descent into mental turmoil and an ultimately cathartic emergence.

For those that are addicted to the real life and fictitious royal drama this will be another sumptuously set slice of familiar storytelling. Likewise younger generations perhaps lured in by Stewart’s appeal will find the sombre events of this royal era conveniently reimagined as a suitably gripping and overtly symbolic psychological drama.

The Bad

Between Netflix’s onging series The Crown and several other biographical films of vastly varying quality the absurdly well publicised and infamous personal struggles of Diana Princess of Wales have already been painstakingly examined and laid fully bare for audiences on numerous occasions. So however well-intentioned or written any fresh ‘take’ on this well-known and ultimately tragic public figure is, there will always be difficult questions for it to answer about how respectful or necessary it is to regurgitate relatively recent history on screen.

It certainly doesn’t hold any educative value as Diana herself was overly open about every intimate detail of her own life. So at best any ‘new storytelling’ can only really serve as crowd pleasing entertainment. Unfortunately as with all ‘fictionalised’ historical dramas there’s a very real risk that this ultimately serves to entrench historical inaccuracies and rewrite the innermost lives of public figures in a more crowd-pleasing and dramatic way.

At times it’s perhaps difficult for audiences to connect the coldly cruel and elitist pantomime villains the British Royal family are so often portrayed as, with the increasingly geriatric and seemingly docile reality. Likewise this film’s subplots about Diana feeling herself haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn, a contentious pheasant hunt and an intensely dependent friendship with a fictions royal dresser largely feels like clumsy and convenient shorthand.

Overall despite seemingly well intentioned performances from Stewart and a strong supporting cast there’s plenty of grounds to accuse the film of exploiting poetic licence too much in transforming Diana’s ‘imagined’ private life into a well-dressed royal soap opera.

Even if supposedly merely symbolic, the film’s brazen choice to portray Diana as suffering from hallucinatory and suicidal mental turmoil before emerging into a rose tinted escape as a KFC munching people’s princess and newly empowered mother/woman raises some difficult questions

The Ugly Truth

Spencer is a suitable star vehicle for Kristen Stewart that mostly re-treads and questionably reimagines relatively recent and overly familiar Royal history. Those addicted to The Crown will certainly be compellingly intrigued by this more anguished and sensationalised exploration of Diana. While others will inevitably feel that yet another dramatization of the ‘fictional’ private life of one of the most famous and overly publicised women of the 20th Century is largely unnecessary and perhaps even unwelcome.

The Worst Person In The Wold TIFF Review

The Plot

The third film in director Joachim Trier’s ‘Oslo Trilogy’ follows a young Medical Student Julie on a journey torn between a relationship with a significantly older comic artist and a young barista she bonds with following a chance encounter.

The Good

Joachim Trier’s acclaimed storytelling reaches a compelling climax with this black comedy that bears all the hallmarks of rapidly becoming an instant classic. Fiercely subverting the longstanding and increasingly tired romantic tropes the film is imbued with a rich lyrical charm and raw quality that is by now utterly lacking in the overly sanitised and saccharine offerings of cheerful but blandly formulaic Hollywood romantic comedies.

Leading actress Renate Reinsve launches herself towards assured stardom with a performance that has already deservedly seen her collect top acting honours at the Cannes Film Festival where the film itself was rewarded with the Palme d’Or. Reinsve’s performance as Julie is both nuanced and compelling. Her character grapples with the poignant existential struggles of desire, aging and the daunting prospect of defining herself and her relationships.

Centred around Reinsve’s grounded and authentic emotional portrayal the film is able at times to indulge in truly joyous flights of fantasy. One hallucinogenic sequence in particular lurches towards surreal horror, whilst another breathtakingly captures the adrenalin fuelled passion of new attraction in a city that is otherwise reduced to an absolutely literal standstill. It’s an unforgettable and poetic metaphor packed into a film which consistently delivers evocative emotional truths.

The film’s darker and bittersweet tone also provides an edge and melancholic depth to the story that goes beyond the usual simple catharsis of celebrating great love by proxy in more typical romantic comedies.  It’s an exceptional example of storytelling that speaks to universal truths that are by turns inspiring and unavoidably painful.

The Bad

Despite the film’s many undeniably well-crafted qualities it remains true that for those seeking the simple feel good escape of a relentlessly cheerful romantic comedy this film may be a little too close to reality to meet their needs.

Though some will identify more directly with the existential melancholy and malaise this story offers, for those that don’t it might at times be a slightly unwelcome reminder of those apparent real world anxieties.

In pursuing a more authentic exploration of the bittersweet realities of romance the film knowingly sacrifices some of the emotional sugar rush provided by romantic dramas that merely conveniently sweep past these messy layers of tragedy and lingering confusion.

The Ugly Truth

Fully deserving of the it has already amassed The Worst Person In The World is a rare gift of a film that demonstrates the true strength of international cinema that exists beyond the starch confines of lazy Hollywood blockbusters and cliché ridden genre cinema. Visually unforgettable, charming and emotionally charged this is effective and essential storytelling at its’ finest.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain TIFF Review

The Plot

A biopic of titular eccentric Edwardian artist Louis Wain, who became unexpectedly famous for his adorable cat illustrations, whilst also struggling with the burdens of tragic loss, depression, family responsibilities and financial woes.

The Good

Benedict Cumberbatch’s ardent fanbase gets to enjoy another quirky performance from the much beloved actor, providing a look at a mostly forgotten artist with a special appeal for feline lovers. Those familiar with Wain’s work will at least be pleased to see much of the same brightly coloured and unapologetically twee whimsy packed onto screen.

Throughout the film there are also occasional flashes of talent in truly poignant moments that shine through, particularly between Cumberbatch and Claire Foy as Wain’s terminally ill wife. The authentic love and affection between them is one of the perhaps few tangible qualities the film possesses. It’s a genuine journey of loss that carries emotional weight in spite of the film’s wider struggles to refine its’ overly eccentric tone and muddled messages.

The Bad

Drolly narrated and frequently overwhelmed by an overabundance of heavy handed quirkiness this is a film that frantically struggles to charm audiences with oversaturated but mostly hollow visual charms.

It’s a sometimes perplexing mess of mixed intentions too as the film seemingly struggles to reconcile precisely whether it intends to celebrate Wain’s singular artistic achievement of cute cat drawings as legitimately vital artwork or merely to instead lament that this is tragically the only expression the world knew of his apparent artistic gifts. The seemingly insurmountable burden for the film is that it’s difficult to either take Wain’s mawkish feline images seriously or to somehow reimagine him as some kind of overlooked genius based upon very little else.

Benedict Cumberbatch playing the titular Wain don’s a comically flamboyant moustache and once again seemingly slips into increasingly familiar ‘neurodivergent’ mode. Unfortunately having already famously tread this territory with both Sherlock and The Imitation Game, this third time is sadly not a charm. Like the film as a whole Cumberbatch’s performance is well intentioned but often lost amongst a clumsy bustle of quirks and exaggerated eccentricity.

Perhaps the most awkward challenge for Cumberbatch is that Wain’s elaborately affected mannerisms are neither played for unashamedly silly comedic effect nor enough on their own to somehow transform Wain into a significant artistic figure beyond his singular embarrassingly kitsch achievement. It’s sadly impossible to avoid the impression that the film is by default suggesting that Wain should somehow be celebrated merely because he had a somewhat lively and ‘unusual’ personality, beyond the fact he drew some popularly cute cartoon cats.

The Ugly Truth

As an artistic biopic this is a film that struggles to adequately explain why Louis Wain’s fleeting fame for drawing mawkish feline doodles deserves to be either celebrated or instead lamented. Efforts to overwhelm audiences with a barrage of quirkiness never succeeds in distracting from that awkward question. Wain’s insubstantial artistic achievements leave Benedict Cumberbatch’s elaborately moustached and ‘whimsical’ performance feeling even more awkward at times.