Steve Macfarlane

Deaths of Cinema | Felipe Cazals, 1937–2021

By Steve Macfarlane / January 3, 2022

By Steve Macfarlane When Mexican director Felipe Cazals died this past October at the age of 84, domestic and international press alike cited the political importance of his films, while Guillermo del Toro called Cazals an “exemplary and noble teacher” on Twitter. But if the filmmaker’s stature within his home country is ironclad today, his…

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This is Not a Movie (Yung Chang, Canada/Germany) — TIFF Docs

By Steve Macfarlane / September 9, 2019

By Steve Macfarlane “The person who denies the genocide in Armenia will deny the Jewish holocaust in Europe, and will deny any other kind of massacre that comes to hand.” That’s Robert Fisk, among the most celebrated war correspondents of the last quarter-century, getting the bio-doc treatment in Yung Chang’s documentary This is Not a…

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The Land of Steady Habits (Nicole Holofcener, US) — Special Presentations

By Steve Macfarlane / September 19, 2018

By Steve Macfarlane Every day is a film festival on Netflix, and so Nicole Holofcener’s unfortunately-titled The Land of Steady Habits (I guess it’s a slang phrase for Connecticut) touches down as the lights adorning #TIFF18 are finally unplugged. Even if Steady Habits weren’t, as trade critics like to say, “better than it has any…

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Reason (Anand Patwardhan, India) — TIFF Docs

By Steve Macfarlane / September 15, 2018

By Steve Macfarlane Every TIFF features at least one epic-length historical documentary whose subject matter is way too depressing to penetrate the fog of cinephile and awards-season discussions encircling the neighbouring Town Crier, but kicks around in the back of the mind as probably advisable viewing anyway. Once I realized it was on the lineup,…

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Angels Are Made of Light (James Longley, US/Afghanistan) — TIFF Docs

By Steve Macfarlane / September 14, 2018

By Steve Macfarlane James Longley’s unfortunately titled Afghanistan documentary Angels Are Made of Light spans three years in the lives of a handful of schoolchildren (all boys) in Kabul. It’s a significant achievement in the gathering of footage, shot by the filmmaker himself, who manages to give ordinary day-to-day moments a sheen that’s elegant to the point…

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The Chambermaid (Lila Avilés, Mexico) — Discovery

By Steve Macfarlane / September 11, 2018

By Steve Macfarlane So-called “world cinema” is a dicey game. Lab-incubated dramas addressing capital-I Important issues can betray the subject matter in a direct plea for festival-land relevance (or, worse, culminate in an Iñárritu-style call to arms), and often land squarely in the middle: ungalvanizing as agitprop, pedantic as cinema. It’s rare to sit through…

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Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier & Edward Burtynsky, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Steve Macfarlane / September 10, 2018

By Steve Macfarlane Coined by scientist Paul Crutzen in the early 2000s but popularized by the Iraq War veteran cum essayist Roy Scranton’s 2015 book Learning to Live and Die in the Anthropocene, the phrase “anthropocene” (wildly popular among totebag-wielding anarchists, autonomists and accelerationists in New York City) refers to the era of Earth’s history…

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Killing (Tsukamoto Shinya, Japan) — Masters

By Steve Macfarlane / September 8, 2018

By Steve Macfarlane Tsukamoto Shinya’s Killing is the kind of movie that lives to be pull-quoted as “masterful”: a revisionist drama about a masterless samurai roaming late-feudal Japan (a subgenre known as chanbara) shot on crisp high-definition video, with an insanely sick sword battle at its centre. Tsukamoto stars as a cool-and-collected ronin named Sawamura…

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Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler, US) — Midnight Madness

By Steve Macfarlane / September 15, 2017

By Steve Macfarlane Was Vince Vaughn the Owen Wilson to Jon Favreau’s Wes Anderson? As woebegone drug runner Bradley Thomas, Vaughn delivers a rock-solid command lead in S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99 that carries the raggedy mantle of Nolte, Kristofferson, Bronson, McQueen, etc. It’s a film that makes it easy to remember…

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Angels Wear White (Vivian Qu, China/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Steve Macfarlane / September 14, 2017

By Steve Macfarlane It’s no spoiler to say the whole damn system is found guilty as hell in Vivian Qu’s Angels Wear White. While a sleepy coastal town refurbishes itself as getaway destination, a teenage migrant worker named Xioami (Wen Qi) fills in for her friend working the reception desk at a hotel. There, she’s…

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Disappearance (Ali Asgari, Iran) — Discovery

By Steve Macfarlane / September 13, 2017

By Steve Macfarlane In Ali Asgari’s slow-burning melodrama Disappearance, a young unmarried couple (Sadaf Asgari and Amir Reza Ranjbaran) spend one very long night moving from one Tehran hospital to another after their first time having sex results, for her, in a bleeding condition that won’t stop. There are several avenues to help, but each…

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The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci, France/United Kingdom/Belgium) — Platform

By Steve Macfarlane / September 10, 2017

By Steve Macfarlane Short of insider knowledge, there’s no way Veep creator Armando Iannucci could have anticipated the appetite for Russploitation accompanying the meteoric rise (and/or fall) of America’s 45th president. Nevertheless, The Death of Stalin arrives at the intersection of mid-career Beckett and later-career Mamet, cocked and loaded for maximum chortling at all things…

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Kings (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, France/Belgium) — Gala Presentations

By Steve Macfarlane / September 6, 2017

By Steve Macfarlane Using the 1992 riots that followed the acquittal of four LAPD officers caught on tape beating Rodney King as pretext for a meet-cute between Halle Berry and Daniel Craig, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s nightmarishly terrible Kings has a long career ahead of it as an object lesson in how not to exploit current…

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Politics, Instruction Manual (Fernando León de Aranoa, Spain) — TIFF DOCS

By Steve Macfarlane / September 15, 2016

By Steve Macfarlane If one major lesson can be drawn (as opposed to countless small and terrifying ones) from the last few years of populist upsurges, maybe it’s this: a consistent, well-sold policy—whether Bernie Sanders’ or Nigel Farage’s—can still resonate with dissatisfied voter blocs in a major way, wild-carding the amnesiac Central Casting burlesque that…

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Birth of the Dragon (George Nolfi, US/China/Canada) — Special Presentations

By Steve Macfarlane / September 15, 2016

By Steve Macfarlane When it comes to biopic treatment, everybody deserves better. But this is especially true for Bruce Lee, who left behind a rich and varied filmography, lest we forget—by my lights, the drinking sequence in The Big Boss (1971) is as termitic a portrayal of shit-facedness as the movies have offered, facing competition…

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I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, US/France/Belgium/Switzerland) — TIFF Docs

By Steve Macfarlane / September 13, 2016

By Steve Macfarlane This past summer, I attended a screening and panel discussion hosted by the New Negress Film Society in Brooklyn; standing outside the venue afterwards, a flustered British gentleman took the evening’s general political timbre to task as follows: “I’m just a bit tired of hearing about the whole ‘white supremacy’ conversation. It’s…

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Sand Storm (Elite Zexer, Israel) — Discovery

By Steve Macfarlane / September 13, 2016

By Steve Macfarlane Tradition at loggerheads with modernity: that ancient “world cinema” chestnut gets another diffident tango in Elite Zexer’s Sand Storm, concerning a Bedouin family in the south of Israel. Ruba Blal-Asfour stars as Jalila, a steely matriarch with no choice but to suffer in silence as her husband Suliman (Hitham Omari, who also…

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Blessed Benefit (Mahmoud al Massad, Jordan/Germany/Netherlands) — Discovery

By Steve Macfarlane / September 10, 2016

By Steve Macfarlane The inmates are running the asylum in Blessed Benefit, a dissection of Jordan’s masculinist pecking order that—if documentarian-cum-satirist Mahmoud al Massad is to be believed—runs entirely on graft/dumb luck/both. An easygoing contractor named Ahmad (Ahmad Thaher) finds himself jailed over an uncompleted job, to the tune of 1800 dinars (roughly $2500 American),…

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Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, US)

By Steve Macfarlane / September 8, 2016

From Cinema Scope #68 (Fall 2016) By Steve Macfarlane It arrives as both throwaway moment and photo-historical anachronism: dozens are adorned in white on a sand dune, whiling away the hours before dusk; a girl is passed a 19th-century stereopticon, brings it to her eyes, and sees images in motion—glimpses of a city on “the…

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TIFF 2015 | It All Started at the End (Luis Ospina, Colombia)—TIFF Docs

By Steve Macfarlane / September 19, 2015

By Steve Macfarlane Long before “poverty porn” was popular parlance, a tight-knit network of filmmakers and artists in Colombia made Agarrando Pueblo (The Vampires of Poverty), a satiric mockumentary about Latin American documentarians “selling images of poverty to Europe” to boost their own careers. The 28-minute short gets a few minutes’ special attention in Luis…

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TIFF 2015 | Sunset Song (Terence Davies, UK/Luxembourg)—Special Presentations

By Steve Macfarlane / September 18, 2015

By Steve Macfarlane There is no such thing as a “minor” Terence Davies. If anything, the divisive response at Toronto to the Liverpool-born master’s new Sunset Song (based on a 1932 novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon) verifies the preciousness with which critics have been holding Davies’ auteurism, and perhaps their own experiences of his work,…

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TIFF 2015 | Lace Crater (Harrison Atkins, US)—Vanguard

By Steve Macfarlane / September 17, 2015

By Steve Macfarlane A queasy demise is the best-case scenario on the other side of a one-night stand in Harrison Atkins’ Lace Crater, a s-s-s-s-s-s-spooky and inventive indie debut that’s best seen, if possible, in a packed theatre. The ever-reliable Lindsay Burdge stars as Ruth, a twentysomething in the aftermath of a heinous breakup with…

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TIFF 2015 | Our Brand is Crisis (David Gordon Green, US)—Special Presentations

By Steve Macfarlane / September 13, 2015

By Steve Macfarlane A fictionalized, present-day reimagining of Rachel Boynton’s terrific 2005 documentary of same name, Our Brand is Crisis would have an uphill battle on its hands even if it were a masterpiece, which it most certainly is not. David Gordon Green’s latest is instead a pleasant enough if decidedly un-hip studio diversion starring…

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