Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Movie Review: Wild Wild Country

Wild Wild Country **** / *****
Directed by: Maclain Way & Chapman Way.
The recent glut of documentary series that span multiple episodes and many hours telling a single story has mostly been a blessing – giving filmmakers a chance to more fully explore complex subjects that a two or even three hour runtime couldn’t adequately handle. At their best – like Ezra Edelman’s astounding O.J. Made in America, the result can be a masterpiece – one of the best documentaries ever made. There can be downsides of course (something like The Keepers doesn’t earn its runtime), but for the most part, I am glad of this recent development. The best new doc series in this vein has to be Maclain and Chapman Way’s Wild Wild Country – which as the title implies really is a wild ride, telling the complex and extremely entertaining story of what happened when an Indian Guru – known as Bhagwan and his followers – known as the Rajneeshees – bought an expansive plot of land in remote Oregon, and built a massive community there.
The film has a traditional documentary feel – with a host of archival footage and news reports from the time (the early to mid-1980s), and modern interviews with many of the participants. From the Rajneeshees point of view, this new area was paradise. It was a large, rocky plot of land that no one was using – they exerted great effort and spent a lot of resources turning it in a community full of homes, restaurants, a massive hall used for worship and everything else you could imagine. The Bhagwan was extremely wealthy – he owned many Rolls Royce’s for example. Most of the money likely came from his followers – mostly white Americans or Europeans, some with a lot of money. They all came willingly, and they all wore red. This was either a glorious new religious movement or a cult depending on the way you looked at it.
Problems arise though when the Rajneeshees start angering the locals in the nearest town – Antelope, which doesn’t even have 100 people, and most of them are older, retirees. They, and other, Oregonians, don’t like the way the Rajneeshees are using the land – and want to force them out. The Rajneeshees respond by getting involved in local politics. What follows is absolutely crazy – and will eventually include mass poisoning, arson, assassination plots and massive American government bureaucracy exerting its will on the Rajneeshees.
Throughout it all, the Way brothers never really express their opinion on things – never really lead the audience in what to think. Certainly, you can understand the point-of-view of the Oregonians, who thought they were living in a small, sleepy town – only to be invaded by a loud, red clad horde, who believed in (and practiced) free love, and eventually essentially took over their town – buying everything they could, including the local diner (who local recalls how they went from frying bacon on the grill to bananas – and never went back). But it’s hard to argue with the Rajneeshees either that a lot of it was motivated by bigotry, and they were just trying to practice their religion – which they have every right to do. The most fascinating character in the whole series is undeniably Ma Anand Sheela, the Bhagwan’s personal secretary, who pretty much ran the commune for years, as the Bhagwan remained silent. She reveled in all the media attention she received – and she kept on receiving it because she gave fiery, often profane interviews. She is a lot calmed in the modern interviews with her now, but you still feel that same passion from her. She is also the catalyst for much of what happens. One wonders what would have happened without her – would the Rajneeshees been run out sooner, or would eventually they have been allowed to go about their lives?
The film runs in six parts, each lasting just over an hour – and it really does earn that runtime (in fact, you could argue it could just a little bit longer – it does feel like some of what happens is rushed). The Way brothers know what they’re doing here – the pacing never flags, which is accomplishment when dealing with some stuffy government bureaucrats explaining in detail what they were doing, and each part ends with perhaps a little too explosive of a cliffhanger to make sure you’ll keep watching – and it works (I may well have watched all six in a row had I not started part one at 11pm one night). Most retellings of this story, understandably, concentrate on some of the more explosive details – the mass salmonella poisoning for example – but by taking so much time, Wild Wild Country puts everything in context, and tells an wildly entertaining, strange story – and really is one of the best docs you will see this year.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Movie Review: The Strangers: Prey at Night

The Strangers: Prey at Night *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Johannes Roberts.
Written by: Ben Ketai based on the screenplay by Bryan Bertino.
Starring: Christina Hendricks (Cindy), Bailee Madison (Kinsey), Martin Henderson (Mike), Lewis Pullman (Luke), Emma Bellomy (Dollface), Damian Maffei (Man in the Mask), Lea Enslin (Pin-Up Girl).
It felt rather lonely in 2008 thinking that Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers was one of the scariest films I had seen in years – most reviews dismissed it as another cheap horror movie, but it was a film that creeped me out to no end. To be fair, home invasion movies do that me more than most horror films do (I rarely get all that scared by movies featuring ghosts for example) – and having kids has only heightened that anxiety. Re-watching The Strangers in the lead up to the long awaited sequel, I was even more impressed by it now than I was then (and seeing how I hadn’t watched it in 10 years, the scares worked again). I’m glad that the film has become a new horror classic in that time. The Strangers: Prey at Night is now here – why it took 10 years to make it, I’ll never know (especially since it as announced right after the original was released), and while it isn’t quite as good as the original, it’s pretty damn close. For horror sequels, it’s tough to do better.
The original film was about a couple, who were already frayed when the film opened – thanks to a proposal gone awry – but for the sequel, the filmmakers have decided to expand that to a family, but has kept the fraying part. After a brief prologue that re-establishes the trio of masked killers – the film sketches this film in strokes that seem broad, but still get to the heart of who they are. Cindy and Mike (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson) are concerned about their teenage daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) – and have decided to ship her off to boarding school (her exact “crimes” are not spoken, but she wears a Ramones t-shirt, and smokes cigarettes). Kinsey is angry at her parents for sending her away, and resentful of her older brother Luke (Lewis Pullman), who she thinks her parents see as the golden child. The family is headed to a trailer park run by an older, drunk uncle for the night before dropping Kinsey off at boarding school. It’s off season, so no one else is going to be around. If you’ve seen the original film you know what will happen next – a knock on the door late at night, a young woman, faced obscured by darkness and long blonde hair asking for “Tamara”, and then escalating terror as that woman is joined by two others, another woman and a man – all wearing fake cheery masks, as they torment the family.
The Strangers: Prey at Night is smart enough to know that it cannot repeat everything from the first film. The original eventually does build to a bloody, bleak climax, but it takes almost its entire runtime to get there, so that for most of the runtime you don’t really know what the masked stranger’s intentions are – they could just be really committed to pulling off a perverse prank. You cannot get away with that twice, so this film doesn’t hide what those intentions are, and while the result is a fairly standard structure of the family members getting picked off one at a time, it also means that once the terror starts, it never really lets up.
Bertino is back as a screenwriter, but not as a director – that falling to Johannes Roberts this time, but improves greatly from last year’s surprise hit 47 Meters Down, starring Mandy Moore and Claire Holt as a pair of sisters, trapped underwater, with diminishing oxygen, as sharks circle above them (that film was effective, but not this effective). Roberts in many ways takes his cues from what Bertino did in the original film (at least when he’s not cribbing from John Carpenter – especially Christine) – there are a lot of shots of the potential horror in the background – we can see them, the characters cannot. Roberts makes great use of the confined spaces inside the trailers – but perhaps even better use of the dark fields around them – providing just enough light to see what’s happening. Sure, he may too heavily on the ironic use of 1980s pop songs against the killings – but that’s a cliché he fully embraces, and works wonderfully.
The result is another horror film that has haunted me for days since seeing it – a truly scary film that may not be original, and may not have quite the impact of the first film, which was one of a number at that time turning horror clichés on its head – but is ruthlessly effective at what it’s doing.

Movie Review: Jane

Jane *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Brett Morgen.
Written by: Brett Morgen.
The discovery, in 2013, of over 100 hours of footage of Jane Goodall during her time in Gombe in the 1960s – thought lost forever – is the basis for Brett Morgen’s documentary Jane. He was clearly the right director for the material – as he’s proven with The Kid Stays in the Picture (with Nanette Burstein) about Robert Evans, the best ever 30 for 30 Documentary June 17th, 1994 – about a very busy day in sports news, and no just because it was the day O.J. went on that chase in the white Bronco, and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Morgen is incredibly skilled at taking hours and hours of footage, and editing it together in a way that makes it all flow, given it broader resonance. Having Goodall herself still around to narrate the film helps too – it allows her to expand on the context of what we’re seeing, and why it was so groundbreaking. Add in Phillip Glass’ best score in years, and you really do have one of the year’s best looking and sounding docs. My only real complaint about the film – which does mar it somewhat – is that someone decided that the film had to be a fairly typical biopic about Goodall’s life as well – forcing the material into a direction that isn’t quite as interesting as the footage itself.
That footage was shot by Hugo Van Lawick – assigned by National Geographic to go out and film Goodall after she had already been in Gombe for a while – and was making remarkable discoveries. The footage is stunning and beautiful – and looks amazing, not something you really expect when it was shot more than 50 years ago, and has been “lost” for most of that time. The colors are glorious, and you understand by Van Lawick is considered one of the best nature photographers in history.
The film though is – and rightly so – mostly Goodall’s story. And it is remarkable when you consider that when she went into the jungle to try and observe chimps, she was a 26 year old secretary, with no scientific training, who was afraid of the chimps because she didn’t know she was supposed to be. Yet, she was able to observe them, in part because, she just didn’t go anywhere – they got used to her. Her journey from an untrained secretary to one of the most justly celebrated scientists of her era is remarkable. It is the stuff of Hollywood dreams of when they set about making a biopic.
And perhaps that’s why the material is ended up being shaped that way, especially as the film goes along. It’s odd no one has thought to make a fictionalized biopic of the woman – she’s certainly less controversial than Diann Fossey, who was the subject of Gorillas in the Mist (1988) with Sigourney Weaver (although, perhaps that project was greenlit because of Fossey’s murder a few years before, making her even more famous than she already was). The film is able to draw some fascinating observations from Goodall about her life – and how she learned a lot about herself from her time with the chimps – especially as it relates to be a mother (one wonders if a man would be asked this question, but Goodall seems comfortable with it, so whatever). The film foregrounds the budding romance between Goodall and Van Lawick, and later their son, Grub. Personally, I would have liked more on the chimps, and what was there – and less shots of the modern Goodall, who is clearly invaluable to the film, but also interrupts the visual flow of the film.
Still, it’s hard to complain about Jane – which features remarkable sights and sounds throughout, and really does tell a fascinating story – even if it’s one we’ve heard before, it’s not one we’ve seen quite this way.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Movie Review: Like Me

Like Me *** / *****

Directed by: Robert Mockler.

Written by: Robert Mockler.

Starring: Addison Timlin (Kiya), Larry Fessenden (Marshall), Ian Nelson (Burt), Jeremy Gardner (Freddie), Ana Asensio (Anna), Nicolette Pierini (Julia), Stuart Rudin (Henry). 


I’ve been sitting with Like Me – Robert Mockler’s debut film – for a few days now, trying to sort through just what I thought of the film. It isn’t a subtle film, and I’m not sure that the message of the film is any deeper than social media is a vile cesspool of human depravity, but I’m not sure it needs to me. While the concept and narrative are thin, Mockler goes over-the-top stylistically – this is a Natural Born Killers inspired fever dream visually. The lead performance by Addison Timlin – which is about the exact opposite of her work as the sweet, quiet Goth kid turned nun in Little Sister from a couple years ago, gets under the skin of this young woman, whose existence seems to hinge on getting likes.


The movie opens with Timlin’s Kiya – in a mask, holding a convenience store clerk at gunpoint, and filming the whole thing on her iPhone for upload to Youtube. She doesn’t say anything as she holds him up – and its amusing and creepy to watch him as he flails in front of the camera, not quite sure what to do or how to react even before she pulls out the gun, at which point, he pisses himself. The video draws a lot of attention on social media – of course – and soon Kiya is the talk of the internet. Most people find it funny – while, of course, stressing that they don’t really condone it per se, but it’s funny. One person who isn’t impressed is Burt (Ian Nelson) – an internet troll spewing out hateful misogyny in his response to Kiya’s video. Kiya is smart though – and sees how many “likes” she is getting, and knows she needs to up the ante. This is when she kidnaps a pervy motel owner – Marshall (Larry Fessenden, because if you need a creep in an ultra-low budget horror or horror adjacent film, you are legally required to hire Fessenden). The pair end up kind of, sort of bonding – and their drug fueled road trip gets stranger.


The film is obsessed with over-consumption – of all kinds. Mockler shows the audience, in graphic, sickening detail people eating junk food - nowhere worse than when, shortly after they meet, Kiya ties Marshall to a bed, and then force feeds junk of all kinds. The message is clear – this is sickening and disgusting, but so is everything being done online, which is over-consumption of a different sort.


Timlin really is terrific as Kiya – there is a blankness to her performance, as Kiya is someone who just doesn’t quite connect with people. She is an outsider, who wants to be a liked and loved (at least online), but cannot connect with people in any normal fashion. That is what ultimately connects her Marshall – an outsider of a different sort. Their connection makes up the dramatic heft of the movie, and it works, because Timlin and Fessenden work well together, and go to dark places as well. The biggest problem with the movie is probably the Burt character – who as played by Nelson is a one-dimensional, alt-right troglodyte – and not even an all that convincing one (sorry, but I don’t for a second buy that Burt would get THIS big on the internet). He is supposed to complete a sort of outsider triangle of the three characters – you need to have people like Kiya, like Marshall and like Burt, or else this sort of thing on the internet doesn’t work – it doesn’t get pushed this far. If you torment a store clerk on the internet, and no one is watching, did it even happen? But Burt as conceived and performed never really becomes anything deeper than a meme.


As a director, Mockler basically goes madly over-the-top, from pretty much the moment after the opening sequence in the convenience store, and doesn’t slow done. I bet the style will turn many off – or just give them massive headaches – but as someone who loved Oliver Stone in the 1990s, I quite liked the go-for-broke style here. Besides, indie movies have become fairly tame visually – they all look and feel the same. Mockler is showing even on a small budget, you can go mad visually.


Like Me is far from a perfect film – but it’s a fascinating one from beginning to end, shows that Timlin should be getting better roles, and marks Mockler as a director I want to see what he does next, You may up hating it – but it still deserves some attention.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Movie Review: Thoroughbreds

Thoroughbreds **** / *****
Directed by: Cory Finley.
Written by: Cory Finley.
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy (Lily), Olivia Cooke (Amanda), Anton Yelchin (Tim), Paul Sparks (Mark), Kaili Vernoff (Karen).
Thoroughbreds is a thrilling about a couple of affluent, perhaps sociopathic teenage girls that was written and directed by Cory Finley – who is amazingly making his directorial debut. Finley knows his material well, and doesn’t make the mistake that many first timers do in terms of trying to do too much or overloading on style for style’s sake. Make no mistake, Thoroughbreds is a very stylish film – but it’s one that is keenly attuned to its characters and themes. This is a cold, calculating thriller, punched up initially with witty banter, which only makes what follows all the more disturbing.
The film is set in a very affluent area of Connecticut, largely within the walls of mansion where Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) lives with her mother and stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks). We first enter this home to see her tutoring Amanda (Olivia Cooke) – and they two girls are as different as can be in appearance and demeanor. Lily is put together prim and proper, and Amanda looks like a mess. Amanda is direct in a way that’s initially off-putting for Lily, who finds her weird. The two girls were once close friends, but have gone their own ways in recent years. They are getting back together, because Lily is so perfect that she graduated her prep school early, and returned home, while Amanda is awaiting trial for a disturbing incident involving her horse. Their friendship sparks when Amanda witnesses Lily interact with Mark for a few seconds of seemingly innocuous conversation, and immediately senses (correctly) that Lily hates her stepfather with a passion. Eventually, the pair decide the best thing to do would be to kill him. But how?
The film is split up into chapters – complete with title cards (they’re not really necessary, but do break up the action). The opening scenes are the two girls feeling each other out. This is probably where the comparisons some have made to Heathers comes from – because these exchanges can be witty and funny – especially when Cooke is delivering direct, acid tongued one-liners, which she does brilliantly. In these scenes, Lily seems to be the more normal of the two – but she’s sizing everything up. While we sense from the get go that Amanda may be a sociopath – she says early on she has no feelings at all (other than hungry or tired), but has become gifted at faking them (something psychopaths excel at). Lily suffers from something else – but certainly something – and is just as gifted at reading others as Amanda is, and better able to manipulate them that her “weird” friend.
The friendship between the two of the make up the bulk of the movie. There is a lengthy subplot involving them trying to enlist Tim (the late, great Anton Yelchin), a drug dealer, with a statutory rape conviction, who nonetheless is still hanging out and selling pot to the teenagers in the area. Tim is undeniably sleaze, but in Yelchin’s hands he becomes an oddly endearing character – a pathetic guy, with delusions of grandeur, trying to act tougher than he is. He may not be the smartest character in the world – but he’s smart enough to know when he’s outmatched. For sparks, in the other major role as the stepdad, it’s the best work I’ve seen from him (that’s not saying much – he’s awful in House of Cards) – but he’s essentially playing a rich asshole, who gets to keeping being an asshole because he’s rich. The regular rules don’t apply to him – which is true of the girls to, who have grown up in this affluent area.
You pick a few nits in Thoroughbreds if you wanted to. There’s nothing overly original about the observation that even in houses that look like that, there can still be this level of malevolence and violence (there is a hint of Michael Haneke to the film, except these characters aren’t as blind to their horrific nature as his characters are). While the climax of the film is brilliantly staged, I do think it comes on a little too quickly, and I’m not entirely sure I buy the reasons behind Amanda’s actions.
Yet, those are relatively minor quibbles – ones that only bother me a little in retrospect, not in the moment. Overall, Thoroughbreds is a chilling thriller – one that has more in common with Hitchcock than Heathers, and one that announces a major new talent in Finley.

Movie Review: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time *** / *****
Directed by: Ava DuVernay.
Written by: Jennifer Lee based on the novel by Madeleine L'Engle.
Starring: Storm Reid (Meg Murry), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Dr. Kate Murry), Chris Pine (Dr. Alex Murry), Reese Witherspoon (Mrs. Whatsit), Oprah Winfrey (Mrs. Which), Mindy Kaling (Mrs. Who), Levi Miller (Calvin), Deric McCabe (Charles Wallace), Michael Peña (Red), Zach Galifianakis (The Happy Medium), Rowan Blanchard (Veronica), André Holland (Principal Jenkins).
It would be easy to nitpick Ava DuVernay’s film version of A Wrinkle in Time to death. The film is deeply flawed in ways that are immediately apparent when you watch it, and grow in your mind as you look back over it. A decade ago, I probably would have cynically written off the film as overly earnest and cheesy – and a decade from now, I may well do the same thing. But at this moment, I had the perfect way of viewing DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time – and that is through the eyes of my almost seven year old daughter, who sat next to me throughout the film, at times astonished by what she was watching, and at other times deeply relating to what was up there. It’s not enough for me to think that A Wrinkle in Time is a great movie – hell, it may not even be a very good movie. But watching her watch the film, and then talking about it after made me grateful that such a film exists.
The film stars newcomer Storm Reid as Meg Murry, an unpopular girl, somewhere in the 12-13 year old age range, who is still reeling from the disappearance of her physicist father Alex (Chris Pine) four years earlier. Along with her mother, the two had developed a theory about the ability to travel through space and time – using only your mind. And then, he vanished (gee, I wonder what happened?). One day, Meg meets three interesting women – Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), who is cheerful and a little ditzy, in a lovable Glinda the Good Witch kind of way, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who is very wise, but speaks almost entirely in quotes by geniuses, and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), who is basically Oprah spewing her brand of inspirational positivity. Along with her genius little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and the boy she has a school girl crush on, Calvin (Levi Miller), she embarks on her own journey across space and time to find her father – going from one amazing planet to the next, meeting one amazing character after another.
Some of this works better than others. The special effects in the movie are hit and miss – I have a hard time believing it was a budgetary issue, since this is a Disney film – yet I think we can all agree that a sequence involving a character turning into a giant, floating lettuce leaf doesn’t really work. There are lots of special effects sequences that do however – especially when the movie finally reaches its last stop in the rescue mission. DuVernay relies perhaps too heavily on close-ups throughout the film – it can became distracting at times. The characters are mostly thinly written, and the talented cast isn’t always able to overcome that. Witherspoon mainly does – in part because it seems like Mrs. Whatsit is a role tailor made for her skillset, so she is mostly a delight. Poor Kaling cannot do much with a character than has to end every sentence with the name of a famous writer, and the country they are from. I’d be tempted to write off Winfrey as stunt casting – except because of the nature of what Mrs. Which says, I’m not sure anyone could make the role work better than Oprah does.
Besides, the movie stays grounded because of a really good performance by young Reid. It is a difficult role for her to play, one that requires elements of the fantastical, and yet grounded in real life insecurities and anxieties of little girls everywhere. I think this is what my daughter related to more than anything. She’s a sweet kid (and before you think I’m just looking at her through rose colored, parents glasses, let me say that my other daughter, who is 4, is a holy terror, who my wife and I joke we will one day have to visit in prison) who nervously applied to, and had to write an essay to get onto her school’s “Kindness Crew”. This film’s wholly, unironic embrace of kindness and goodness, as well as embracing every part of you – even your flaws – is something we don’t see very often – and we never see directed towards little girls (rarer still, to see it directed at African American girls – but I digress). This is a rare film that was made specifically for her. The elements that make it cheesy or easily laughed off by more cynical people, are exactly why she embraced it.
This doesn’t excuse the movie for its storytelling faults, or other mistakes along the way, but it goes a long way to mitigating them for me. When I looked around the movie – in the background – I also saw a world that DuVernay has created that perhaps is as fantastical as the other planets – an idealized vision of our world – perhaps the one created by Warriors like the film described. Yes, I can be cynical – but I find it impossible to be so with this film, which I got to see through the eyes of my daughter who saw something greater than herself up there on that screen – and wanted to be a part of it.

Movie Review: The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches **** / *****
Directed by: Simon Lavoie.
Written by: Simon Lavoie based on the novel by Gaétan Soucy.
Starring: Marine Johnson (Ali / Alice), Antoine L'Écuyer (Frère), Jean-François Casabonne (Père), Alex Godbout (Paul-Marie), Laurie Babin (Juste).
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is a bleak, black and white drama from Quebec. It is a film that starts out mysteriously, and has those mysteries deepen over the majority of its runtime. Yes, it basically wraps everything up by the end – a little too neatly for my taste – but overall, this is a challenging film about sexual oppression, religion, misogyny and its lasting impact. It is also a stunning film to look at – shot in stark black and white, the film can be brutal and hard-to-watch, but it never crosses the line into exploitation.
Set in 1930s, rural Quebec, the film centers of Ali (Marine Johnson), a teenage girl, being raised by her father (Jean-Francois Casabonne), shuttered away from the outside world alongside her brother (Antoine L'Écuyer). They are so sheltered, that their father is able to raise Ali as a boy – telling her penis just fell off as a child, along with cutting her hair short, and binding her breasts. But the outside world can only stay outside for so long – as is set in motion when her brother rapes her one day in the woods (I honestly don’t know what to make of the rape scene in the film – it’s quick, and non-exploitive, but I’m not quite sure what to make of the “how” it came about. It almost seems more like it was necessary to the plot, and not overly thought out). When her father examines her one night, and figures out she’s pregnant, that’s when he loses it. He will end up hanging himself, naked, in their house – his body becoming a source of fascination to both teenagers (Frere wonders if his penis is where they came from). And I haven’t even mentioned the strange, Gollum like person chained in the barn that the father refers to as Just Punishment, which Ali will shorten to Juste.
The first act of The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is mysterious, as it locks us into Ali’s perspective, so we only figure things out as she does. Obviously, we know a few things before she does – namely, that she’s a girl (because we have eyes) – and also that her father’s behavior is not normal – from the way he chases off outsiders, to the bizarre religious rituals, to Juste out on the barn, we are far more concerned about his behavior that Ali is – who sees this as normal.
His death really is the catalyst for the rest of the story – that will unfold from them, piling on one revelation after another. Johnson is great in the lead role. Her performance is urgent and animalistic, without going over-the-top. She maintains our sympathy, even as more secrets spill out. L'Écuyer is fine as Frere as well – although he perhaps goes a little too far as the film spirals towards it climax, and he tries with increasing desperation to fill his father’s shoes.
The film was adapted (apparently liberally, since you cannot hide Ali being a girl in a film like you can in a book) by Simon Lavoie, from Gaétan Soucy’s novel. Like Lavoie’s last film – Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves (that one was co-directed by Marc Denis) – it is a bold, stylistic film, although in a much different style (that film called back to the Godard films of the 1960s with its use of color). Here, he has gone for something much more stark and unrelenting in his use of black and white, and handheld camera work. It gives the film a raw, animalistic feel that perfectly matches its content.
I do wish that the film didn’t quite feel the end to tie up every loose end. I was enjoying the ambiguity of the film as it progressed, and I don’t think that wrapping it up with a neat bow was really the only way to go here. On the other hand, the story certainly isn’t over when the film ends – and its anyone’s guess as to what comes next. Overall, I think The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches confirms the potential that Lavoie showed in Those Who Dig Their Own Graves, which is a film I liked, but at nearly three hours was WAY too long, considering it had no real story. Both are provocative and daring stories about Quebec’s past – and moving into the future. Canadian film needs some new blood to in it – and Lavoie has the potential to be great.