VOD REVIEW: There’s No Saving ‘Cave Rescue’

It’s probably still in the back of your mind. In June 2018, a children soccer team and their coach were trapped inside a cave in Thailand after monsoon rains flooded the exit. The event mobilized dozens of volunteers, including local and foreign divers, American forces and even Elon Musk (if only to provide an impractical solution and then harass a volunteer). The situation seems ready-made for a feature.

Lo and behold, here it is, less than two years since the rescue effort.

Cave Rescue is the kind of movie produced in a rush to take advantage of recent events while still fresh in people’s minds: Undercooked, underwhelming and with an inflated sense of self.

The film dedicates precious little time to how the kids ended up in the cave and rather focus on the rescue efforts (a mildly competent filmmaker would have spent time establishing the children as characters to raise the stakes. Not the case here). People pop up in and out of screen: American military personnel issuing obvious orders, farmers happy to sacrifice their crops to save the boys, interchangeable divers looking busy and a religious figure embodying the spiritual aspect of the rescue. Why not. Continue reading “VOD REVIEW: There’s No Saving ‘Cave Rescue’”

Vivarium: Quarantine Horror

Embrace your Coronavirus confinement in Vivarium’s surreal suburban nightmare

IT CAME FROM MIDWICH Eisenberg, Poots and their invasive offspring.

Vivarium
VOD/Apple TV

Vivarium is a rare surrealistic horror. More structured than a David Lynch film and darker than something by Terry Gilliam, it takes petite bourgeois goals (own a house, have a kid, become your own boss) and reveals them as nightmares.

Tom and Gemma (Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots) are a young couple looking for a starter home who are roped into checking out a house just outside the city by a creepy-looking real estate agent. The place is one of dozens of identical green households in a very quiet neighborhood — so quiet, there are no neighbours in sight.

Red flags accumulate and Tom and Gemma make a run for it but fail: the hood is endless and the pair lands in front of the same house time and time again. Out of gas and ideas, they go to bed. The next day there’s a baby on the porch and they’re instructed to raise the child and be liberated.

Suffice it to say, the kid is weird. Friction ensues.

Continue reading “Vivarium: Quarantine Horror”

REVIEW: Portrait of a Lady on Fire Left Me Cold

A minor controversy took place last year when the Centre National de la Cinématographie selected Les Miserables over fan favorite Portrait of a Lady on Fire to represent France in the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Film process (not that either had a shot against Parasite). I’m here to tell you the CNC had it right.

Don’t get me wrong. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a good film, but comes way short from being the transcendental experience that has been advertised.

It’s late in the eighteenth century and like in most of the world, women in France are treated as trade goods, unless independently wealthy. Marianne (the drop dead gorgeo…  super talented Noémie Merlant), a freelance painter, is hired by a countess to make a portrait of her daughter Héloïse (Adele Haenel, BPM). The fresco is to be sent to a suitor in Milan with whom Héloïse is to be betrothed. Continue reading “REVIEW: Portrait of a Lady on Fire Left Me Cold”

RAW FEED: The Call of the Wild

A peek inside the mind of a film critic in real time. Warning: It’s disturbing

  • 2oth Century… Pictures. End of an era.
  • Maybe the trailers are misleading, maybe the CGI dog is better in the movie…
  • No, that’s a CGI dog. The eyes are a dead giveaway. Too much white. Where are The Lion King people when you need them.
  • Granted, kids are more forgiving.
  • Wonderful. Bradley Whitford is in this (he’s never to be seen again after two scenes).
  • Jack London’s novel was raw and complex. This version feels soft. Has the dramatic subtlety of Legends of the Fall.
  • I really don’t need the dog to emote AND Harrison Ford to tell me how the dog is getting in touch with his wild side.
  • That said, Ford knows grizzled.
  • So, John Thornton is in the Yukon mid-Gold Rush, but he’s not there for the money. Got it.
  • Whoever thought of pairing Omar Sy with Cara Gee is genius.
  • Gee is the most stylish postman in history. Love the glasses.
  • “We don’t carry mail, we carry love.” I’m going to say this is not verbatim Jack London.
  • Evil CGI husky about to be dethroned… in a PG kind of way.
  • The power of London storytelling breaks through, but barely.
  • Not quite clear why Buck’s spirit animal is a wolf if he is half St. Bernard, half Scotch Collie.
  • Brits carry a gramophone, champagne and fashionable clothes to explore the Klondike. In case you haven’t figure it out they are clueless.
  • Wonderful. Karen Gillan is in this (she’s never to be seen again after two scenes).
  • Kudos to Dan Stevens for making a clueless dandy mildly menacing.
  • The fact Buck is so noticeably CGI deprives the film of actual stakes.
  • The movie avoids the most unsavory passages of the book, which is a disservice to the public. “The Call of the Wild” is a classic because of them. It’s often an introduction to young readers to the darkest corners of the human soul.
  • Then again, the original ending wouldn’t fly in today’s climate.
  • Janusz Kaminski shot this? This is Lost Souls level.
  • Oh, Terry Notary (Planet of the Apes) plays Buck. Nobody better to play a dog. Except an actual dog. Or Andy Serkis. Two prairie dogs.
    The Call of the Wild is now playing, everywhere.

INTERVIEW: Lee Majdoub, Sonic the Hedgehog

Lee Majdoub and Jim Carrey in Sonic the Hedgehog.

Now that Sonic the Hedgehog is a bonafide hit and talks of a sequel are afoot, the focus has shifted from the speedy mammal to the cast. Jim Carrey is back in manic mode as Dr. Robotnik. At his side, a surprisingly competent henchman: Agent Stone. Loyal to a fault, Stone manages to keep a straight face as Robotnik goes unhinged barely two inches away.

The actor behind Agent Stone is Lee Majdoub, a journeyman actor who, after working consistently for over a decade, is getting noticed not only as one of Sonic’s nemeses but as a recurrent character in the CW series The 100. We contacted Majdoub in Burbank, CA. He relates to Agent Stone in two key areas: His work ethic and big heart.

Jim Carrey is constantly in your face in Sonic. What are the challenges of that?

I would have to tell myself “he’s doing such an amazing job, don’t ruin it, don’t you dare laugh right now.” All my scenes were with Jim and I was feeding off what he was doing. He is a very sweet person to work with. Very collaborative.

What was your reaction when you found out Sonic was getting redesigned?

As an actor, you don’t play much of a part in what’s going on behind the scenes. I was more blown away by how many fans were engaged and how much of a response there was to it.

Before the movie, what was your relationship with the game?

The first video game console we had was a Sega Genesis. I spent a lot of time playing Sonic the Hedgehog

Your IMDb page is quite packed. What’s your career plan?

It’s always been about working hard, developing relationships and being a good person. I’ve always tried to help anybody who needs it, give advice when I can, and be prepared. A lot of it has to do with working on myself. If you don’t know who you are, it’s really tough to do a good job on auditions.

Is there any performance of yours you wish more people had seen?

There was a play I did seven, eight years ago. I played five characters who were all suffering loss, a child, their sanity, their home. For a small, ninety-seats theatre, it seemed to have resonated with a lot of people. It wasn’t as much about my performance as much as it was about the story.

At the end of Sonic the Hedgehog, your character is still on the board. Does this mean you’re coming back?

If there’s a sequel and they want me back, I’m going to be very, very happy. Fingers crossed.

Sonic the Hedgehog is now playing, everywhere.

From a Critic’s Notebook: Underwater

K-Stew and Vincent Cassel go Underwater.

Take a peek inside the mind of our film critic, as he watches a film in real time. 

  • This is an expensive movie to open in January.
  • Exposition dump via newspaper clippings. Not the most elegant approach.
  • Love when a movie starts mid-action. The whole underwater structure is collapsing around Kristen Stewart.
  • There’s something very watchable about K-Stew. She’s at her best when you can see her face (looking at you, JT LeRoy. Bad, bad movie.)
  • K-Stew is Norah, a mechanical engineer. I’m sure that will come handy later in the movie…
  • Norah leaves characters behind to save herself and a colleague. I recognize this hero’s journey. I hope I’m wrong.
  • These are not characters, these are types.
  • J.T. Miller… Why isn’t he in movies anymore?
  • Oh, right. Yeah, he’s not coming back.
  • The setting is an oil drilling operation at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The water looks viscous, polluted. Good job, production design department.
  • Vincent Cassel as the captain. Always a smart move to surround yourself with competent actors. Cassel has never been bad.
  • I feel guilty every time I laugh at a J.T. Miller joke.
  • Surprisingly, Cassel is not the villain. There may not be any villains, actually.
  • I spoke too soon.
  • The creatures are humanoid-looking but are not affected by the pressure. Is this feasible? [SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF: ON]
  • The survivors need to go from point A to point B to point C. It’s like 1917 made by Roger Corman.
  • These deaths by water pressure are disturbing.
  • [JUMPS] [SCREAMS] You got lucky, movie.
  • I suspect T.J. Miller ad-libbed all his dialogue and made it better.
  • Cloverfield.
  • Can’t believe I’m having fun.
  • Engineer powers, activate!
  • The cinematography of Underwater is quite solid. Despite the shaky camera, I always know where the characters are.
  • The trailers made this movie no favors.
  • John Gallagher Jr. is the equivalent of the damsel in distress from years ago (a couple). He is like a budget Ben Affleck.
  • Has anybody else noted all monsters are starting to look like [REDACTED]. H.P. [REDACTED] must be smiling from below.
  • This is a little too Sigourney Weaver at the end of Alien. Not the action, the getup.
  • Underwater is a very feminist film. Like, actually feminist.

3/5 prairie dogs. Underwater opens Friday, January 10th, everywhere.

From a Critic’s Notebook: Spies in Disguise

Will Smith as a pigeon and Tom Holland as a science geek in Spies in Disguise.

Take a peek inside the mind of our film critic, as he watches a film in real time. 

  • A Blue Sky production. Surprised they’re sticking around and sharing the same playground as Pixar and Disney Animation.
  • I miss Scrat. As for the rest of Ice Age, I hope they went extinct…
  • Will Smith is Lance, a lone wolf/super spy taking on an army of henchmen. So, a standard Will Smith movie.
  • STOP THE PRESSES!!! Ben Mendelsohn is the bad guy.
  • Mendelsohn is such a compelling presence. It’s unfortunate he’s the pigeonholed (see what I did there) as a villain. Totally writing that.
  • The short this movie is based on, Pigeon: Impossible, is a hoot. So far, the feature version is very standard.
  • In this world, everybody wears skinny jeans…
  • Tom Holland is Walter, the would-be sidekick Lance doesn’t want. Good to know he has a future as a voice actor (he’s also the lead in Pixar’s Onward).
  • Is… this… movie… anti-gun? Bold choice!
  • The Red States won’t like that…
  • I could watch a whole movie about Will Smith freaking out over becoming a pigeon (“I can SEE MY BUTT!!!”)
  • I get it: Mom died in the line of duty, Walter wants to protect everyone with silly inventions. There’s an acronym for that.
  • What is DJ Khaled famous for?
  • The movie reminds us for the twentieth time Lance is not a team player. Street pigeons be like…
  • Animated Venice looks nice. No floods. Oh, wait…
  • Spies in Disguise has a deconstructive vibe: Violence begets more violence. I dig…
  • Writers, you’re killing me, you have a chance to humanize poor Ben Mendelsohn and you pass?!
  • I’ll take Spies in Disguise over any glorification of firearms, especially in movies for children.

3/5 prairie dogs. Spies in Disguise opens Christmas Day, everywhere.

REVIEW: Why Jojo Rabbit Matters

Coming out of a screening of Jojo Rabbit last week (my second), I asked my wife her thoughts on the film. She said she liked it, but didn’t think the message was all that ground-breaking. Fair enough, the notion of “hate” as learned behavior children acquire early on and has long-lasting effects has been dealt with on screen before.

Then I saw a clip on Facebook.

In this video essay, a very angry girl in her early teens argues against the separation of church and state. She believes that if Christianity is kept out of school and government, so it should “liberal ideas” like abortion or transgender rights. Her argument holds no water, but that’s not the point. The rigidness of her reasoning reveals she has never been exposed to a different set of beliefs. The teen is so convinced, she is happy to put it on tape for the world to see. Forever and ever.

Enter Jojo Rabbit. Continue reading “REVIEW: Why Jojo Rabbit Matters”

REVIEW: Planet of the Monos

Colombian cinema is having a moment. Not only the local industry has an auteur in its hands –Ciro Guerra, director of Embrace of the Serpent and Birds of Passage— a second one has emerged fully formed from Sundance Labs: Alejandro Landes.

In Monos, Landes zeroes in on a group of teenagers recruited by the local revolutionary army to protect an American woman (Julianne Nicholson, August: Osage County) they keep hostage. The rebels expect a handsome paycheck in exchange for the prisoner, so her wellbeing is a priority.

Things start going south almost immediately when the expected source of protein –a cow– succumbs under a hail of bullets. With little supervision or boundaries, the squad crumbles under the weight of responsibilities, power plays and a warped understanding of discipline. The fact they’re armed to the teeth makes their volatility lethal.

Monos doesn’t take the traditional route of the child-soldier subgenre. Each character is more than their circumstances; the atmosphere is oppressive, but there are laughs to be had and beauty to be taken in (the jungle setting amplifies the drama tenfold). Nicholson is superb as the sullen, scared hostage, same as Moises Arias (The Kings of Summer) as Bigfoot, an ambitious foot soldier who craves power but doesn’t understand the concept of leadership.

The film unfolds swiftly as the Monos squad has no notion of teamwork and breaks down at every corner. That said, I would have liked to spend more time with the teens: Each one seems to carry a story worth telling. Still, the one we actually get is worth the price of admission. Three and a half dogs.

Monos is now playing at Studio 7 in Regina.

REVIEW: The Farewell Gets to the Heart of Being Asian-American

As much as I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians, the treatment of the film as a triumph of representation gave me pause. Sure, an all-Asian cast in a Hollywood production is something to celebrate, but the characters are obscenely wealthy and the audience-surrogate is well on her way to become a one-percenter. In short, they are hard to relate.

The infinitely more modest The Farewell is more successful at bring the Asian-American experience to the big screen. Not only that, it transcends culture clash shenanigans to depict the very real melancholy that accompanies immigrants through their entire lives. Trust me, I know.

There is a connecting vessel between Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell: Awkwafina. The rapper-turned-actor who played Constance Wu’s best friend in CRA delivers a compelling dramatic performance as Billi, a burnt-out millennial with more debts than prospects. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Farewell Gets to the Heart of Being Asian-American”

REVIEW: The Tomorrow Man Is a Bit Stale

About three years ago, a mediocre action flick made it to Canadian cinemas for no discernible reason. It was called Precious Cargo and featured noted muscle-head Mark-Paul Gosselaar. The former Saved by the Bell star had to go head-to-head against a villainous Bruce Willis, noticeably bored out of his mind. The movie was perfunctory and ended with a collection of bloopers (none of them funny), weird for a thriller. At least Willis got his paycheck.

What has Precious Cargo got to do with The Tomorrow Man? Both are labors of love by people too attached to material that’s not nearly as good as they believe it to be. If nothing else, there is a modicum of humanism in The Tomorrow Man thoroughly absent from the Gosselaar-Willis “romp”.

Written, directed and shot by Noble Jones —who has done videos for Taylor Swift and OneRepublic— The Tomorrow Man is the kind of movie you would take your parents to. At the center of the film is Ed (John Lithgow), a lonely retiree that spends his time in chatrooms and his money on a bomb shelter. Ed is not deranged but he is rigid and prone to rants (so, close). Continue reading “REVIEW: The Tomorrow Man Is a Bit Stale”

REVIEW: The Biggest Little Farm Is Hipster Heaven

It’s an all too common pipedream: Trading the rat race for the simpler life, one in which you cultivate your own food, grow your own eggs and work your patch of land from sunrise to sundown. Nobody follows through because, as delightful as it sounds, we know farming is a lot harder than this hipster visualization of heaven. Heck, I can’t even grow basil on my balcony.

The Biggest Little Farm chronicles seven years in the life of a couple who actually did it. Inspired by their rescue dog —too loud for apartment living— John and Molly Chester traded their L.A. apartment for 200 all-but-abandoned acres not far from the city. It wasn’t a blind bet: John turned this move into a project open to investors and people who want to learn how to farm.

With the support of a “farming guru”, John and Molly go through every stage of the process. From generating soil to animal husbandry. Sooner than later they discover the number of factors involved in having a successful farm is too high to have them under control, but also that the solution to most challenges lies in the interaction between existing components. The most difficult task is not a practical one, but to overcome the disillusionment of their earnest intent. There is only so many pests one can eradicate.

For someone with zero farming knowledge, The Biggest Little Farm is fascinating. John Chester, who doubles as director and cinematographer, manages to cram seven years of ebbs and flows into one coherent package, without depriving the audience of the small joys and heartbreaks of country life. It even dispenses some pearls of wisdom, like the advantages of taking a step back and solving a problem with existing resources, as opposed to introducing a new variable.

One issue that’s never tackled is the sustainability of the farm. We see the Chesters pivot constantly to maintain a prosperous biodiversity, but whether the project is profitable or not, we’re never told. Similarly, the presence of investors is mentioned in the beginning and never again. It doesn’t detract from the experience, but it would be useful to know if this is just a hipster camp or an example worth replicating. Three prairie dogs that probably wouldn’t be welcome at the farm (out of five).

The Biggest Little Farm opens tomorrow Friday 31st at the Rainbow (Studio 7).

REVIEW: Aladdin Gets a PC Makeover

Given all the revenue Disney is generating by turning animated classics as live-action features, it’s very unlikely the House of Mouse will stop doing it any time soon. Even the so-so Dumbo made over 340 million dollars worldwide.

While I would prefer Disney to take risks as opposed to mine the back catalogue, there is some joy to be found in these remakes: The breeziness of Cinderella, the underlying melancholy of Pete’s Dragon, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera in The Jungle Book. The one thing you won’t find: Freshness. These movies have been fussed over within an inch of their lives. They are expected to hit all four demographic quadrants and please everybody. Not hair is out of place and most scenes seem airless.

Aladdin has problems but at least is light on its feet, thanks to director Guy Ritchie’s anything-goes approach and Will Smith leaning hard on his charm. Continue reading “REVIEW: Aladdin Gets a PC Makeover”

REVIEW: High Life, Dubious Rewards

I first saw High Life last September at the Toronto International Film Festival. It made no impact on me. How much so? Am I so jaded a thoughtful study about human nature doesn’t even register? I had to see it again because I couldn’t remember a thing about it. I wasn’t sure if it was the movie to blame or the fact I was sleep-deprived after a week of watching three to four features a day (plus a couple of parties).

Surprise. It was the movie.

I would be the first one to advocate for more 2001 or Solaris-type films, but High Life is somehow more unwilling to explain itself. Continue reading “REVIEW: High Life, Dubious Rewards”

DVD REVIEW: The Discomfort of Dragged Across Concrete

There was a period during the 70’s in which nihilistic, misogynistic violence was a box office draw. One could argue not much has changed, but if you have seen movies by Sam Peckinpah (Straw Dogs), Don Siegel (Dirty Harry) or Michael Winner (Death Wish), you know there is something uniquely nasty about these flicks: A disregard for every perceived minority, naked belief in white privilege and a sense that violence is necessary to preserve the status quo are the predominant characteristics.

It would be easy to discard these movies if they weren’t as captivating as they are. Narratively sound, these 70’s action thrillers were misguided, but had a clarity of purpose that’s lacking in today’s cinema. Watching them today, there’s something sickly refreshing about a feature that hasn’t endured three rounds of sanitization by the way of focus groups and executive notes.

Enter S. Craig Zahler.

Early on a horror specialist (I was a champion of the terrifying Asylum Blackout), Zahler has evolved into the single representative of this trend at work today. Not a single one of his movies (Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99) has had a significative theatrical release, yet if you’ve seen them, they’re probably engraved in your brain.

Continue reading “DVD REVIEW: The Discomfort of Dragged Across Concrete”

REVIEW: Girls of the Sun, Doing It for Themselves

While the devastation in Syria is the most covered aspect of the ISIS offensive in the Middle East, the Kurdistan has suffered enormously at hands of the terrorist organization. Following the systematic killing of the male population, an increasing number of Kurdish women has joined the resistance, despite the fact the top rank treats them as cannon fodder.

Girls of the Sun follows the story of Bahar (a terrific Golshifteh Farahani, Patterson), a lawyer-turned-freedom fighter for whom personal trauma is the fuel that makes her a fearsome warrior. Her travails are covered by Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot), a journalist modeled after Marie Colvin for whom objectivity has long stopped being feasible.

While an undoubtedly compelling story, the film is broad and relies heavily in sentimentality, coming short often . Director Eva Husson does succeed at conjuring some stunning visuals, but the final outcome feels disjointed.

To no fault of its own, Girls of the Sun could have benefited from not having the (official) Marie Colvin movie A Private War in such close proximity . Still, the Kurdistan deserves more attention and the film sheds an unforgiving light on this underreported humanitarian tragedy. Three prairie dogs.

Girls of the Sun opens Friday, May 3rd, at the Rainbow Theatre.

REVIEW: Dumbo Doesn’t Fly, But Hovers

It’s no news to anybody Tim Burton’s films are hit or miss. I happen to appreciate some of his less celebrated work (Mars Attacks, Dark Shadows) and have no patience for some of his big hits (Alice in Wonderland, Big Fish). Dumbo sits somewhere in the middle, two thirds a sentimental triumph, one third an undercooked heist that would be more at home in a Michael Bay movie.

A more “realistic” take on the 1941 Disney classic, this Dumbo doesn’t have anthropomorphized animals (although all of them cameo or are referenced to, even those controversial crows). The story is driven by humans, specifically the Farrier family. The father, Holt (Colin Farrell), has returned from the war maimed and his spirit shattered. His kids have been forced to mature earlier than they should, while sheltered by the circus community. The three of them reconnect over a baby elephant with freakishly large ears.

Dumbo goes from pariah to main attraction the moment he starts using his ears to take flight. The act attracts the attention of a circus mogul (Michael Keaton), who claims to be an artist at heart, but turns out to be another greedy capitalist who Zuckerbergs everybody. Continue reading “REVIEW: Dumbo Doesn’t Fly, But Hovers”

REVIEW: Captain Marvel Answers the Call

Writer’s note: Much like with the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters, Captain Marvel has found pushback from the darkest, redest corners of the Internet. I wouldn’t normally be troubled by trolls or James Woods (I know, same thing), but some may bunch together less-than-glowing reviews with the rambles of individuals that feel threatened by Brie Larson’s activism or the idea of a feminist superhero. My critique is focused on the film exclusively and external considerations have no weight in my analysis.


Captain Marvel has a tall order to fill: It must bridge the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Infinity War with Avengers: Endgame and has to establish a hero not only capable of going head-to-head with Thanos, but also lead the super-team into a post Iron-Man era.

I’m here to tell you the film does complete the task, but doesn’t excel at it. Captain Marvel is a functional popcorn flick without much of an identity outside being proudly feminist. It’s surprisingly drab-looking for a Marvel Studios movie and the action sequences are perfunctory at best. The performances –not the plot– carry the film, a rarity for this universe. Continue reading “REVIEW: Captain Marvel Answers the Call”

Mads Mikkelsen Brings the Cool in Polar

 

Mads Mikkelsen is Duncan Vizla a.k.a. the Black Kaiser in Polar.

Odds are you will come across a number of articles comparing Polar to John Wick. Pay no attention to them. Sure, they both revolve around (relatively) honorable hired guns whose employers turn against them, but the similarities end there. One loves dogs, the other one… you’ll find out.

Based on the graphic novel by Victor Santos, Polarrevolves around Duncan Vizla a.k.a. the Black Kaiser (Mads Mikkelsen). An accomplished hitman, Vizla is looking forward to his retirement, just days away. His plans come undone when the corporation that employs him would rather take him than pay him severance. The assassin doesn’t take the attempts on his life kindly and plans to take his grievances to the top.

If John Wick mopes the entire movie, the Black Kaiser is not above enjoying hard liquor or a roll in the hay, even if his companion has murder in her mind. He does however have a couple of regrets that reverberate throughout the film. Continue reading “Mads Mikkelsen Brings the Cool in Polar”

REVIEW: At Eternity’s Gate Dives Into Van Gogh’s Psyche

Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate.

 

Granted, there is no shortage of Vincent van Gogh’s biopics. Just last year audiences were treated to the gorgeous, underwhelmingly written Loving Vincent. At Eternity’s Gate takes a different approach, one focused on Vincent’s drive, as opposed to his mental health. Of course the signposts are there, but the movie makes a noticeable effort to keep the assorted tragedies that befell Vincent at bay.

As per At Eternity’s Gate, Vincent (Willem Dafoe) was a man ahead of his time. This is not necessarily a good thing when you are a starving artist and impressionism is all the rage. Following advice by Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), Van Gogh trades the increasingly toxic Parisian scene for the tranquility of Arles in the South of France.

While the painter clashes constantly with the town dwellers, the period is particularly prolific. During his time there, Van Gogh produces “Bedroom in Arles”, “The Night Café”, and a number of self-portraits. Unfortunately, his ongoing quarrels with friends and neighbours and his “break-up” with Gauguin send him on a downward spiral. Utter loneliness plays a bigger part on Van Gogh’s fate than any other factor, including mental unrest.

Director Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) depicts Van Gogh as a delicate soul that’s easily rattled. Likely because of his background as a plastic artist, Schnabel succeeds at capturing the drive that kept Van Gogh going, despite the scorn of the general public and indifference of his peers. The filmmaker’s obvious regard for his subject is manifest throughout, to the point of keeping the self-mutilation bit off-screen (in fairness, the ear thing has become an obnoxious trope).

While 25 years older than the painter when he died, Willem Dafoe is perfect for the part, the right mix of helpless and mercurial. Less fortunate is the casting of baby-faced Rupert Friend as Van Gogh’s barely younger brother. Schnabel brings back actors from his previous films for supporting roles, but the one who fares the best is a new hire: Mads Mikkelsen as the priest who runs the asylum where Van Gogh is committed. Compassionate and all, he doesn’t think much of the artist’s work and lets him know it. A rare moment of levity in a film carrying a heavy heart. 3.5/5 prairie dogs.

At Eternity’s Gate is now playing at Studio 7.