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TIFF 2017: ‘The Journey’ Is A Creative Exploration Of Post-War Iraq And Its People

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2017 is quite the poignant moment to make and release a film surrounding a suicide bomber. Irrespective of the fact that The Journey is set in Iraq in 2006, the truth of the matter is that over the past couple of years the West has been rocked on a number of occasions by terrorist attacks in extremely public spaces. If a film of this nature had been released a decade ago, the reaction of Western audiences would arguably have benefited from the comfort of geographical and cultural distance. Not so today. Welcome to a world where now almost everyone can relate in small or significant ways to what life was like in the immediate aftermath of the infamous 2003 Iraqi invasion.

Sara (Zahraa Ghandour) starts the day by walking a solitarily path amongst the parked trains as she heads towards the station in Bagdhad. There is purpose to her stride, conviction. Upon arriving, she takes notice of the various people that temporarily populate it: children selling flowers and cigarettes, a mother scolding her soon-to-be-wed daughter, a band of musicians, a mother soothing her baby, and a salesman of sorts, Salam (Ameer Ali Jabarah), speaking especially loud on his cell phone. Sara would much rather be left on her own, but when accosted by Salam, who wants to woo her, she finally reveals her full purpose for being there: her thumb rests just inches above the ignition button for her suicide vest. Thus begins a roller coaster day during which Salam will try to talk her out of her kamikaze mission.

The Journey is a very particular film, the sort of movie that dares to take new turns rather than settle into a predictable pattern, thus keeping the audience on its guard. That said, the bold storytelling choices opted for by director Mohamed Jabarah Al-daradji are not exactly the sort where plot twists change everything the viewer thought they knew about the characters or story. Rather, Al-daradji whimsically has the film’s tone, style, and visual pallet morph as Sara’s titular journey encourages her to rethink her ways via the many people she encounters, from American soldiers to the children salesmen, and even Salam. Cinematographer Duraid Munakim deserves plaudits for helping create a variety of worlds for the viewer to discover, from the dusty, gritty reality seen in the early stages, to the dreamlike version of Baghdad Sara strolls through.

What makes The Journey‘s fluidity so engaging and grounded in emotional and intellectual realism is that Sara’s episodes are not perfect Kodak moments. Rather, they are rooted in the reality of the Baghdad’s denizens: strenuous relations with the U.S. soldiers patrolling the grounds, mourning for family members dead through various tragedies, romantic struggles steeped in local cultural and religious realities, etc. Sara slowly begins to see the light, so to speak, but the movie is smart enough to not make the moments of personal redemption saccharine. Their individual beauty lies in the fact that real people lived through such chapters in 2006, and probably still are today to varying degrees, more than a decade removed. Despite that obvious tragedies and struggles have befallen many of the characters Sara meets, there is an undying ray of hope that keeps shining throughout the film. Iraq is a difficult place to live by all accounts in 2006, yet here are people nevertheless living their lives, trying to appreciate what they have, always pushing forward.

It goes without saying that The Journey‘s heart rests with the dynamic between Sara and Salam. Here as well the director proves his intelligence as a great storyteller. Sara is remarkably stoic, in stark contrast to Salam, who rarely shuts his mouth. While their tit-for-tat repartee is primarily inspired by how their respective personalities are so different, which itself produces a few brief moments of levity, the film never loses sight of the fact that Sara is there to kill a bunch of innocents. The tense interplay is juggled brilliantly, aided in no small part by non-professional actors Zahraa Ghandour (who has a face one could just as easily fall in love with as be terrified of) and Ameer Ali Jabarah. On the topic of the cast, just as remarkable if not more so is that every member a non-professional. Al-daradji revealed in the post screening Q&A that they are all performing for the very first time. This should come as little surprise given that Iraq lacks a robust film industry, so for the director to get such good performances out of his cast is nothing short of remarkable.

The Journey is an adventurous endeavour. The significance of such a statement reaches beyond the mere fact that the protagonist herself goes on a personal journey through a series of poignant encounters. The film as a whole is a unique concoction of cinema vérité coupled with audacious directorial flourishes. It successfully avoids falling into the trappings of artificiality, using its occasionally ostentatious touches to delve deeper into the emotional heartbeat that keeps the people of Baghdad going. Smart, well acted, and touching in surprising ways despite its subject matter, The Journey is well worth taking.

The 42nd annual Toronto International Film Festival is scheduled to be held from 7 to 17 September 2017.

A native of Montréal, Québec, Edgar has been writing about film since 2008. At first relegated to a personal blog back when those things were all the rage, he eventually became a Sound on Sight staff member in late 2011, a site managed by non-other than Ricky D himself. Theatrical reviews, festival coverage, film noir and martial arts flicks columns, he even co-hosted a podcast for a couple of years from 2012 to 2014 with Ricky and Simon Howell. His true cinematic love however, his unshakable obsession, is the 007 franchise. In late 2017, together with another 00 agent stationed in Montreal, he helped create The James Bond Complex podcast (alas, not part of the Goombastomp network) in which they discuss the James Bond phenomenon, from Fleming to the films and everything in between. After all, nobody does it better.

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70 Best Movie Posters of 2019

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Best Movie Posters of 2019

Deciding the best movie posters is no easy task…

I remember when I was younger, I used to head to the video store and rent movies I’d never heard of based solely on the movie poster art. This was, of course, a different time— sure, the internet was a thing, but we didn’t have countless websites, not to mention social media platforms, promoting new movies online with news stories, movie stills, featurettes, teasers, trailers and so on. Not to say that sort of marketing didn’t exist in the past, because it did, but it wasn’t always in your face. For better or for worse, the internet changed the way studios market movies, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the use of a poster to help build excitement and anticipation for an upcoming film. Most posters continue to be an important marketing tool for filmmakers worldwide and so once again, we’ve decided to collect images of our favourite movie posters revealed over the past twelve months. If you checked out our list of the best movie posters of 2018, you’ll remember it included posters for indie gems, thrillers, horror movies, foreign language films, Hollywood blockbusters and everything in between. This year is no different, although it should be said that some marketing campaigns were so good, we’ve decided to include more than one poster for a few select films. Also worth noting, we didn’t include any fan-made poster art below. That out of the way, here are the best movie posters of 2019.

The Best Movie Posters of 2019

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TIFF

The Piercing ‘Marriage Story’ Is Noah Baumbach’s Best Film to Date

TIFF 2019

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Marriage Story

In 2010, director Noah Baumbach began divorce proceedings with his now ex-wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh. The divorce was finalized three years later, and since then Baumbach has been in a relationship with actor and director (and occasional collaborator) Greta Gerwig. It’s impossible to view his newest film, Marriage Story, without taking into account his own dissolved marriage; this is a searching, seething work of recriminations and longing that pits two all–too–human parents against each other, and invites the audience to not only imagine which bits of psychic trauma are his own, but also to consider our own relationships, successful or not.

Marriage Story stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as Nicole and Charlie, a married couple living in New York City with their young son Henry. The film opens with a montage as Nicole recites the things she most loves about her husband, from the way he can cook and doesn’t mind waking up with their son, to his skill as a theater director. In turn, Charlie narrates his favorite aspects of Nicole, his regular lead actor. There are plenty of opportunities for tears here, but the unguarded emotions of these confessions might get them started right from the beginning. But just as they finish reciting these traits, we’re brought back to reality; these confessions were things that they had written down to read to each other as a kind of peace offering at the start of their mediation following a separation that has led up to their divorce. But Nicole doesn’t like what she has written — or at least doesn’t want Charlie to hear it. And if she won’t go, then it’s not really fair for him to read his. So neither tells each other what they most admire in the other, and instead stop seeing the mediator.

It’s the first strike in Nicole and Charlie’s mutually assured destruction agreement. Though they initially plan on avoiding using lawyers, Nicole gets tipped off to a well-regarded attorney (a funny and ice-cold Laura Dern) who advises her to take a maximalist position in order to ensure she gets half of everything she wants — at the very least. Once she has a lawyer, Charlie tries out a variety of legal counsels (a soothing Alan Alda and a fiery Ray Liotta), but the real conflict comes down to location; Nicole has taken Henry to Los Angeles while she films a pilot, and wants to stay even after it’s finished. Charlie, however, thought they would move back to New York. Each escalation in the feud necessitates an opposing reaction, and the two are driven further and further apart, even as they try to stay close for the sake of their son.

Marriage Story

Baumbach has admitted that some details of the film are based on his own divorce, but he’s also said he interviewed many of his friends who divorced around the same time, as well as lawyers and judges involved in divorce cases. In some ways, Marriage Story isn’t just a portrait of a couple separating, but a primer on divorce court that far surpasses something like Kramer vs. Kramer, which was out of date even in 1979. The film is also an opportunity to observe two of the best living actors at the top of their game. Johansson and Driver have a knack for finding the sweet spot between un-actorly naturalism and the stylistic ticks that we recognize as compelling acting. It gives us a sense that these people were actually a family, and really cared for each other. Baumbach’s script helps; it’s maybe his best writing ever, filled with so many painfully open moments, yet leavened with just the right amount of humor. He’s also as fair as he could be, and neither parent comes off as too saintly or self-centered.

Marriage Story ends in a circle of sorts with the discovery of Nicole’s notes about Charlie’s best qualities. Their marriage was effectively over before the film even started, but I kept thinking back to that lovely introductory scene. How might their journey to divorce progressed if they had the courage to speak openly to each other in that one moment? Perhaps something might have been better. Marriage Story doesn’t harbor any of those romantic illusions, however; once it’s over, it’s over.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 12, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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Don’t Be Sad ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ Never Made it to Manhattan

Spend this rainy day playing a board game or something

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Rainy Day in New York

You do not come to late-era Woody Allen for anything resembling true originality. He is the drunken piano man, riffing off the same old hits in the same old bar, hoping that nostalgia will hit a chord with somebody. As in Midnight in Paris, Blue Jasmine, or even Irrational Man, his output over the last decade can still bring up moments of true inspiration and fresh-feeling angles on the same old tales, even if the plot-lines feel somewhat familiar. In the best humanist cinema, like that of Rohmer or Ozu, this repetition can make you see the same thing in a slightly different way. The same cannot be said of A Rainy Day in New York, a film so derivative it feels like it came out of an auto-generator, making me feel nothing but contempt for the waste of so much talent. If you are an American Woody Allen fan sad that this movie never made it to Manhattan, there’s honestly no need to be.

Timotheé Chalamet stars and narrates in a performance so poor that he must be happy this film hasn’t released back in the States. He plays Gatsby Wells, a student at upstate Yardley College, a place he detests yet tolerates because his beloved girlfriend Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) — heiress to a rich banking empire in Tucson — also studies there. As a writer for the University paper, she gets the chance to interview famous director Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber), giving them the possibility to explore New York together. Yet when they arrive there, a series of misunderstandings, mishaps, and fear of missed opportunities keeps them perpetually apart, handing them the chance to explore romance with others — including old flames, movie stars and, of course, high-priced escorts. 

Although his first name is Gatsby, Wells better resembles the other great male of 20th century American literature: Holden Caulfield. Like the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, he is born of massive privilege, shunning his supposedly phoney origins while still visiting the fanciest hotels and drinking in the fanciest bars. There is perhaps some kind of interesting modern portrait of New York privilege in here, but Woody Allen is simply not the right director for the material. It’s like asking a jazz pianist to bash out a techno tune. 

And just as Allen’s blinkered view of New York blinds him to the real world and its contemporary concerns, Chalamet’s nostalgia act cannot find a way to escape Woody’s wooden writing. The sensitive, pretentious, sensual young man who turned in such a deeply felt performance in Call Me By Your Name could be a natural fit for a Woody Allen character, if only he actually leaned into what makes him a great actor instead of trying his best Woody Allen imitation. While some actors can do Woody Allen well (Kenneth Branagh is uncanny in Celebrity, while Larry David is great in Whatever Works), Timotheé Chalamet has neither the studied talent to impersonate well, nor the arrogance to put his own distinctive stamp on it. Elle Fanning is similarly dire; playing both an intrepid, impetuous journalist and a thick floozy, she carries neither the charm nor the wit to make her a compelling co-lead.  

A Rainy Day in New York

I don’t blame either actor; they’re young, and there’s a feeling that they weren’t given much direction. In fact, almost every aspect of A Rainy Day in New York feels underdeveloped, underwritten, and under-thought. This is a film so lazy that it even recycles the ending of Midnight in Paris, perhaps hoping that the audience developed amnesia since 2011. Even Allen’s trademark eye for Manhattan is missing. Filming here properly for the first time since 2009, the city no longer seems like much of a character by itself, and instead comes off as it would in a generic TV Christmas Movie. 

While Allen’s early 00s work — easily his worst period — is characterised by its TV-movie lighting, his collaborations over the past ten years with cinematographers such as Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris, To Rome With Love), Javier Aguirresarobe (Blue Jasmine), and Vittorio Stororo (Cafe Society, Wonder Wheel) elevated his films’ look considerably, even when the writing may have been lacking. Sadly here, the legendary cinematographer behind Apocalypse Now and The Conformist — despite what seems like his best efforts to light generic hotel rooms with warmth and vibrancy — cannot save A Rainy Day in New York at all, which feels even more rushed and cut-to-pieces than usual. This is really only for die-hard Woody Allen completists; casual minds need not bother.

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