Review: ‘Okja,’ starring Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal

Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho delivers another fantastical allegory with Okja, following similarly themed, but perhaps more action packed efforts like The Host and Snowpiercer. While those films were a lot darker and more relentless in their approach and aims, don’t let Okja’s overall gentility and flashes of kindness fool you. This is just as cutting, biting, and insightful as his previous works. It’s still not a subtle effort, and a lot of the messages can easily be seen on the film’s surface without much digging or unpacking, but that approach works well with Joon Ho’s tendency towards science fiction and the ethereal.

Review: ‘Baby Driver,’ starring Ansel Elgort and Kevin Spacey

British filmmaker Edgar Wright has always imbued his films with specific, idiosyncratic, and florid sensibilities, but his latest effort – the action comedy Baby Driver – is his most assured and intricately constructed work to date. A passion project for the filmmaker over the past decade, there aren’t any details – large or small – that haven’t been lovingly thought out and executed. It’s a masterful bit of storytelling and direction. Every inch of every frame and every seemingly inconsequential sound effect or character foible get delivered with relentless, accurate vigour. It’s writer-director Wright’s most perfect film, and it’s doubtful that any other studio films released this summed could hope to clear Baby Driver’s ludicrously high set bar.

Review: ’47 Meters Down,’ starring Mandy Moore and Claire Holt

On the surface, the open water thriller 47 Meters Down sounds like just another jump scare laden fright-fest where unsuspecting vacationers have a run in with some aggressive man eating sharks. The synopsis alone reads like something that’s indistinguishable from the thousands of films, TV shows, and books with similar aims. It is all of those things (well, maybe scaled back on the jump scares in favour of subtler impending dread), but director and co-writer Johannes Roberts’ work here is stylish, quick paced, and enjoyable enough to distinguish itself from an overcrowded pack.

Review: ‘The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography’

Errol Morris has made a name for himself as a documentarian on the backs of some heavy-hitting, serious films with intense character studies and startling revelations about not only major world events, but humanity itself. Films like The Thin Blue Line, Standard Operating Procedure, and Tabloid look at the dark, violent, often contradictory underbelly of human nature. While these are some the more celebrated films of Morris’ oeuvre, he has also dabbled in lighter fare like Gates of Heaven, Vernon, Florida and Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, but even these efforts still contain some weighty overtones. His latest picture, The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography, is more in the latter category, but still a welcome anomaly in Morris’ career. It’s a charming, simplistic look at one kind woman’s passion for large scale photography; nothing more and nothing less. It’s possibly the lightest film Morris has ever made, and the director seems to be basking nicely in the glow of his titular subject.

Review: ‘The Hero,’ starring Sam Elliott

As familiar as a worn out pair of slippers or a well loved recliner that knows exactly how you like to sit in it, The Hero delivers a tried-and-true storyline in as genial a way as possible. Bolstered by a warm-blooded and nuanced leading performance from Sam Elliott, The Hero is one of those stories of a man learning to be less of an egotistical jerk and getting more out of life in the process. These stories are as plentiful as tattered paperbacks at yard sales, but when they’re done as well as director and co-writer Brett Haley’s film occasional lapses into clichéd territory are often forgivable. The Hero is a relaxed, well trod story told well enough.

Review: ‘The Bad Batch,’ a film by Ana Lily Amirpour

With her exceptionally produced and critically acclaimed debut feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour established herself a major talent to keep a watch on in the future. With her second film, the still sparse, but more visually ambitious post-apocalyptic drama The Bad Batch, many of Amirpour’s supporters will be left scratching their heads and wondering if the same filmmaker could have made both of these films. Sometimes, such a vast departure toward more artistically fruitful territory could be a good thing, but The Bad Batch proves to be one of those sophomore slumps where the vision and the imagination of the filmmaker doesn’t translate into much of anything moving or thoughtful.

The Unique Career of Olivier Assayas

Unlike many filmmakers that he sometimes gets lumped into company with, French writer-director Oliver Assayas can’t fully be regarded in rigid terms as an auteur. More of a masterful experimenter capable of constant reinvention and a filmmaker seemingly incapable of making the same film twice, Assayas has produced a wide array of work across his thirty-plus years as a proper professional artist. While it could be easy to classify him as a prolific director with distinct critical and social proclivities coming through in most of his works, Assayas is an increasing rarity among his contemporaries: a filmmaker beyond labelling. When one takes his career as a whole into account, as examined in this summer’s comprehensive TIFF Bell Lightbox retrospective Something in the Air: The Cinema of Olivier Assayas (running from June 22 to August 20), the diversity of Assayas’ imagination and soul are immediately apparent.

Review: ‘The Book of Henry,’ starring Naomi Watts

Filmmaker Colin Trevorrow continues his misguided obsession with Speilbergian themes with The Book of Henry, a unwieldy mash-up of a tear jerker and a YA potboiler that suggests maybe the Jurassic World and upcoming Star Wars filmmaker would be better off sticking to megabudget productions than smaller independent films. Like his debut film, Safety Not Guaranteed, Trevorrow proves that he has little to no clue how human beings interact with the world around them, and the left field twists of The Book of Henry come across as some of the most shamelessly manipulative storytelling gambits in recent history because it’s so hard to buy into a story this equally emotionally top heavy and logically implausible.