The opening night film, Onyx The Fortuitous And The Talisman of Souls, elevates Andrew Bowser's infamous, often viral, YouTube character of 'Weird Satanist Guy' into a full-blown, reference-heavy horror-comedy. Bringing an 80s shoestring vibe, along with Re-Animator veterans Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs, this should be a hoot with a well-seasoned, in-the-know, festival audience.
Scored with a didgeridoo-Valhalla vibe, and splattered with blood and soil, Jalmari Helander's Sisu pits the toughest man in Finland against an army of Nazi soldiers near the end of World War II.
After the director's deadpan Christmas creature feature, Rare Exports, and his coming-of-age manhunt Big Game, where Samuel L. Jackson is a shoeless president of the United States being pursued in the Finnish wilderness, Sisu is a bigger, wider canvas. A straight-as-an-arrow romp, which is really an excuse for the director's regular leading man Jorma Tommila to shoot, slice, and dice Nazis in truly outrageous fashion.
(Sisu's wild card is however, the great Norwegian chameleon actor Aksel Hennie as Nazi-in-Chief on the plains of Lapland.)
"Taking place in a mountain village, the story unfolds in a bucolic setting with conservative folk," writes our own Martin Kudlac in his review, "Nightsiren isn't explicitly feminist or political, but rather highlights societal norms that disadvantage women." And it "employs a colorful style palette, from dark romance to melancholy." I am completely sold on Slovak filmmaker Tereza Nvotova's ambitious new film.
Canadian filmmaker Matt Johnson brings his scrappy guerrilla style of filmmaking to tell of the rise and fall of Canadian smart phone pioneer, Research In Motion, better known as Blackberry.
Remember that phone that everyone owned before an iPhone? This is how they got started and how they got destroyed.
Blackberry is most definitely the only 'tech-biopic' where you will see Jay Baruchel, Michael Ironside, Carey Elwes, Saul Rubanik, and Martin Donovan sharing the same screen.
Before Greta Gerwig's surreal nuclear-bubblegum-fever-dream Barbie movie dominates the multiplexes, it is worth spending some time with Lagueria Davis's documentary on Mattel’s 1980 release of a Black Barbie
This documentary is a personal exploration that gives voice to the insights and experiences of Beulah Mae Mitchell, the director's aunt, who spent four decades working at Mattel. Mitchell, and other Black women, talk about their own complex, and varied experiences, of not seeing themselves represented. And how Black Barbie’s transformative arrival affected them personally.
Writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen tore up the early Aughts festival circuit with his screenplays that ran the gamut from thick drama (After the Wedding) to pitch-black comedy (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself) before directing even more madcap and unclassifiable social satire that came to nearly define Danish cinema (Green Butchers, Adam's Apples, while going full bonkers surreal with Men & Chicken. In between, he dabbled in costume pieces and a Western; he even wrote the screenplay to the ill-fated The Dark Tower Stephen King adaptation.
The man is a prolific powerhouse, and even if you only skim his large body of work, you will be relentlessly entertained -- and your sense of good manners will undoubtedly be challenged.
CUFF will be screening two of several of Jensen's collaborations with now global superstar Mads Mikkelsen, Adam's Apples and The Green Butchers, with virtual Q&A's after each screening.
Mister Organ is the latest feature from Kiwi news correspondent turned filmmaker David Farrier (Tickled, Dark Tourist). A three-year investigation of Michael Organ, an eccentric man who illegally wheel-clamps cars at a local antique shop.
Everything Farrier documents is deeply weird, and weirdly entertaining. The man must have some sort of divining rod for detecting the strangest of 21st century 'rabbit holes.'
Mel Eslyn's single-set two hander, Biosphere, is the sharp and engaging comedy of denial and ecological apocalypse that Don't Look Up should have been. It was probably made with less than the catering budget of the Netflix blockbuster, and Eslyn puts emphasis on character and dialogue, and ideas over spectacle.
Two men (Mark Duplass and Sterling K. Brown, sharing superb and quite intimate chemistry here) are slowly running out of food, and patience with each other, as they spend their remaining days in the world's last survival dome, following an unnamed global calamity.
Both a bromance and a hang-out movie, the film offers a unique spin on gender, as well as the survival of hope, biology, and the human race.
"Michelle Williams plays Lizzy in this wry comedy about the perseverance of artists and their compulsion to keep on creating," writes our own Dustin Chang. Directed by the versatile, and unpredictable Kelly Reichardt (First Cow, Meek's Cutoff, Night Moves).
Featuring Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, André Benjamin, and Judd Hirsch, Chang also describes the film as "funny and light yet packed with so much daily life wisdom, with great, natural performances by everyone involved, Showing Up continues to showcase Reichardt as a unique voice in the American film scene."
There is kind of magic at play in Kirsten Carthew's Polaris, set in an apocalyptic future where earth has been climate-ravaged and flung back to another ice age. Pockets of survivors eke out a violent and brutal existence in the perpetual frozen wasteland, armed with bows, axes and junked-up snow machines.
Polaris is a movie of meetings, many of them bloody and violent, but some warm and intimate, where a young, nearly feral girl is the chief witness to a novel kind of genre poetry. She also hangs out with a magnificent real-life polar bear.
Joe Picket and Nick Pruher return in person for their regular appearance at CUFF with their Found Footage Roadshow (now at Volume 10), a live event featuring the strangest in VHS yard-sale esoterica, as set up and screened by the ex-Onion, ex-Late Show, staffers.
From The Winnebago Man to earnest crafting little old ladies, to the McDonald's education videos ("McClean") to the fire and brimstone flatulent priest, Picket and Pruher cover cultural ephemera with enthusiasm and raunchy grace.
An anti-rom-com from Norwegian director Kristoffer Borgli, Sick of Myself promises to enter some comedically dark spaces, places that a certain kind of Scandinavian sensibility (see also Anders Thomas Jensen, Lukas Moodysson, or Joachim Trier, for example) seems to have a particular knack for.
Signe and Thomas are in an unhealthy, competitive relationship that takes a vicious turn when Thomas suddenly breaks through as a contemporary artist. In response, Signe makes a desperate attempt to regain her status by creating a new persona, hell-bent on attracting attention and sympathy.
Who doesn't want to see gonzo kiwi character actor Rhys Dharby as a time-traveling train wreck?
Luke Higginson’s feature debut, Relax, I’m From the Future, features, as our own Josh Hurtado puts it, "A casual time traveler [who] unintentionally makes a mess of the future when his latest trip winds up having potentially catastrophic consequences. Darby’s bubbly energy keeps the film engaging throughout... and his chipper deliveries often belie the dire circumstances in which he finds himself, however, it’s hard not to love him anyway."