Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Something in the Dirt (2022) Sundance 2022


Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson return with a film where they are everything in front of and behind the camera. Its a wild psuedo documentary (of sorts) about two guys who try to get to the bottom of the weird things going on in on of their apartments. 

This may very well be Moorhead and Bensons best film. It's certanly as messy as their other films and in some ways it hold's together better than their other films. Its a film full of heady ideas, some brilliant and some crack pt. Its the sort of like hanging out late at night and talking with friends about all sorts of crazy stuff. I was  hooked because I really wanted to see where this was going and as a conspiracy/pranormal junkie from way back it as wickedly ccool how they wove all sorts of crazy things together into the story.

If thre is any real flaw it's that the running is about 120 minutes. Thats a lot of time to watch to guys talk about the mysteries of the universe and go in all sorts of weird directions, especially when most of the film is in one room. For what ever reason the film the film runs out of steam about three quarters of the way in.  Its not that the narrative collapses, it's just that there is so is so much here that we grow weary without a pause.

Exhustion aside I liked SOMETHING IN THE DIRT.

Aside note: In order to help fight piracy Sundance changed things up and made it so the film had to be watched a certain way on certain platforms. While I like the effort,  I hpe that next time Sundance works out the kinks since I know several people could not log in. I also had issues with the picture early on, and then I had the film lock up  toward the end. 

Liz Whittemore of Reel News Daily on two of Sundance's best shorts WASHA an LONG LINE OF LADIES

The always wonderful Liz Whittemore of Reel News Daily  Began her coverage of Sundance with reviews of a couple of great shorts. In order to get more eyes on the shorts I've stolen the reviews from Reel News and ruunning them here.


LONG LINE OF LADIES
A journey of tradition and self-discovery, Long Line of Ladies is a Sundance 2022 short film that allows us to peek behind the curtain of a once lost ceremony in the Karuk tribe.

The openness of the Karuk culture and the lack of toxic masculinity are so refreshing to witness. The entire community comes together to support each young lady as an individual. They are gentle and ceaselessly encouraging. The deep connection to traditions and nature is mirrored in the ceremony. After fasting, a young lady is blindfolded on a journey through the woods for 4 days, then emerges to perform a dance. The meaning and emotion behind it made my heart swell. It symbolizes her journey into womanhood so perfectly. This intimate portrait of cultural tradition will live with me for a long time. As a mother of a little girl that will soon be five, Long Line of Ladies inspires me to seek out a way to honor what has mostly been deemed an embarrassing or awkward transition. It makes me want to do better for the next generation.


WASHA
Circumstance drowning out his authenticity, Mohammad takes a risk at his construction job in the short film Warsha. Handheld and tight cinematography force the viewer into the vibrating chaos. But it’s the wide shots that astound in their scale and shared panic and awe. You will not see where this short is going.

Khansa plays Mohammad with a captivating vulnerability. Warsha introduces the entire world to Khansa, a multi-disciplinary artist redefining masculinity in the Middle East. I had chills watching his transformation. What brilliant casting. Writer-director Dania Bdeir has given Sundance audiences a short film that defies gender stereotypes. Its celebratory nature will leave you breathless.

To read more of Liz's writing go to Reel News Daily

Girl Picture (2022) Sundance 2022


Girl Picture is a good film. Its also not something I fully connected to. Forgive me I’m a old fart of a guy and sometimes I see a film and realize that this film wasn’t made for me.

Taking place over three Fridays the film concerns two female friends. One of them is looking just to get laid and is chasing various guys, while the other falls into a relationship with a figure skater. As one chases feeling good the other chases her heart’s desire.

Well-made and well-acted GIRL PICTURE is a portrait of the lives of the young ladies at the fore front. It’s a film that beautifully portrays the long for love and experience that we all feel. In all honesty there is a white hot heat coming off the screen that most other films never manages to generate. I was held captive by the emotion.

And yet I never fully committed. Perhaps I’m too far removed from the lives of these young ladies to connect to them or perhaps it was something else, outside of the emotion of the romance I remained outside of the film.

That said there is enough here to make GIRL PICTURE worth a shot, especially if you are a young lady close to the ages of these young women.

Liz Whittemore of Reel News Daily on Maika (2022) Sundance 2022


Once more Liz Whittemore of Reel News Daily returns to talk up the family film MAIKA

A grieving boy comes face to face with an alien girl trying to find her way home. Their adventures will bring unadulterated joy to Sundance 2022 audiences. Maika‘s cinematography is eye-popping. The production team dressed the sets and the actors in ways that hypnotized me. It’s the perfect eye candy for kids and parents alike.

Our three youngest leads, Phu Trong, Diep Anh Chu, and Tin Tin are darling. These kids are out of this world fantastic. Their relationships are the purest and most honest I’ve seen in ages. You’ll double over in fits of giggles at Hung and Maika’s first interaction, while unexpected sidekick Beo takes the comedy to the next level. 

Maika has a familiar arc with all the finesse of E.T. and the charming goofiness of Little Rascals. Maika stands out with the emotional pull of grief and unconditional love. Add in some family-friendly subplot hijinks, all wrapped in a hilarious and sweet package, and you’ve got yourself a hit. With a whimsical score, every aspect of this film is enchanting. I laughed and cried a lot. Dub this in every language because its messaging is undeniably universal. It is a magnificent addition to Sundance 2022. Maika’s future is written in the stars.

For more of Liz's reviews head over Reel News Daily

THE COW WHO SANG A SONG INTO THE FUTURE (2022) Sundance 2022


A mother takes her kids back to the dairy far she grew up on after her father claims he saw her dead mother outside a cellphone shop. Her mother had died years before so she thinks something is wrong. The truth is that the mother has crawled out of a river walked toward home. 

This is a magical realism infused film nominally about man's destruction of the planet. The village by the farm is up in arms because the pulp plant is killing the fish in the river the town depends upon. There are also some ther strange things afoot such as the animls seeming to sing.

This rambling film never generates much interest because things take a bit too long to get going. I sat their wondering when things would come together but by the time they did I was largely disinterested.  I kept wishing that everything in the film was pushed aside and we simply focused entirely on the main character's trans daughter quest for acceptance. 

This was a miss for me.

MY OLD SCHOOL (2022) Sundance 2022


This is the story of "Brandon Lee" who in 1993 went to a crumbling prep school and became the tost of the school until it was discovered that he was actually 30 and trying to get his way into being accepted into medical school. Director Jono McLeod was one of his classmates and via interviews with them and lip synced performanance by Alan Cumming as Lee he attempts to get to the bottom of it all.

Odd mix of animation and live action tells a hell of a hell of a story that kind of  leaves you scratching your head at the end. Yea, its a crazy story and it should be told but at the same time there really isn't enough here to support a feature. There is no dark revelations  or conflict. There is no real cautionary tale, I mean, hell, everyone likes "Brandon", even if they think he is a bit daft. There are just the stories of what happened and at a certain point that stops being enough. There is no reason for this to be almost two hours. At a certain point this was like a dinner guest who is really interesting but wouldn't shut up.

Worth a look for the curious but you may want to wait for streaming.

RIFKINS'S FESTIVAL (2020)


RIFKINS'S FESTIVAL was bitter sweet for me. It is this could be the last film Woody Allen will make, his years long battle concerning what happened with his daughter finally making it nigh impossible for him to find financing for his projects (though apparently he has a new film in the works). Never mind that his last few films have been terrible, with A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK being an absolute disaster unconnected to reality. It is also a film that had Woody had a collaborator might have actually been a return of form.

The plot of the film has Wallace Shawn playing Rifkin, a one time film professor now frustrated novelist. He heads to the San Sebastian Film Festival with his wife Gina Gershon, who is doing the PR for a French actor with whom he suspects she is having an affair. While there he strikes up a friendship with a married therapist.

Playing like a summing up of Woody’s career the film has riffs and references to not only Woody’s earlier films but film itself. Rifkin is constantly seeing the world as if it was scenes from various films (for example Christoph Waltz shows up as Death in a riff on the Seventh Seal.). Its an odd mix of forms and styles with Woody’s early funny comedy crashing into  some of his mid-period more serio-comedies.  It some times works and sometimes doesn’t, more often than not the result of clashing styles, say a goofy joke in a more realistic moment.

The real problem here is in the writing. Woody has crafted some good sequences and monologues that are in need of shaping. Bits run on too long. Speeches need trimming. As I said above the tone with in scenes sometimes shifts uncomfortably.

While I was watching the film I was kind of shocked that the film actually feels like a Woody film from about 15 years ago. It’s a film that actually kind of (almost) works. There are these flashes of brilliance that made Allen’s films the toast of Hollywood for decades. Granted they are encapsulated in a film that is wildly imperfect, but it isn’t the absolute train wreck of his last few projects.  My biggest take away was that if someone took the script and gave it a once over you’d actually have a good film.

While the film isn’t perfect (Its clear Woody hasn’t been at a festival in years)it isn’t a complete waste. It’s the first Allen project in many years where I didn’t wonder how it got made.

Is t worth seeing?

For Woody Allen fans, yes. It’s a nice palette cleanse after the last few films. For me a life long fan of Woody it was nice to see that Woody hadn’t completely fallen off the table.  More importantly in a film that will probably be his last hurrah it’s a nice summing up. It’s a nice end to a career. If nothing else it has Woody fading out while standing on his feet instead of on his knees

2nd Chance (2022) Sundance 2022


Portrait of Richard Davis who created the modern bulletproof vest and his company Second Chance. Davis is a man of contradictions with his actions putting just as many people in danger as he saved.

The legend is that Davis turnd to making bulletproof vests after several robberies and his pizza businesses went belly up. Developing a product that could stop a bullet and be light weight he sealed the deal by shooting himself repeatedly. However things turned dark as his crazier nature got him int trouble.

I don't particularly like Davis but I hav to admire his ability to keep going. Things happen and somehow he has largely been able to rise above the shit storm he creates. I was totally hooked by his tale and stared at the screen more intently than many other big titles at Sundance.  This is one of those films where you can't believe what you are seeing. Gtanted he got away with a lot of stuff because he was the big man in town but still...

You have to see this. Its a wild and crazy story that will keep you wondering how this guy isn't broke and in jail.

A must,

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Nanny (2022) Sundance 2022


Aisha is a young mother from Senegal. She is working a a nanny for a couple in Manhattan as she puts enough money together to bring her son over. As time get close for his arrival strange things begin happening.

I know it was labeled as a horror film by the Sundance people but the truth is the film is not really that. Yes it may have scray moments and fantastical elements, but the truth is this is just a really good drama.

For what it's worth I was all in on NANNY for probably the first three quarters of the film. It was a beautifully acted (Anna Diop is incredible) acted drama that refused to be overt. Hell, the film film goes out of the way to subvert expectations and be what it is, which is a the story of a woman trying to navigate her life and the life of the people she works for.  I went all in because I cared about everyone on screen.

The problem is there is a point where the film get a bit messy. The weird stuff begins to pile up and there are a couple of turns that don't fully make sense.It feels that the script is moving things along faster than it should. (And apologies I can not explain because it would require a detailed plot discussion which I don't want to do because it will give too much away). I took a step back. I didn't disengage but I was a bit less invested.

I am happy to report that the film pulls it together in the end with an ending that is right. I mean I got to the final fade out and as like "ah yes that works nicely." It was good enough that I leaned back into the film.

Ultimately NANNY is a winner. If you can go in know it's not a big tim horror film but a small jewel of a drama with a supernatural flavoring you will be delighted.

Liz Whittemore on Meet Me in The Bathroom (2022) Sundance 2022


Liz Whittemre from Reel News Daily returns once again with a look at the Sundance Film MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM

I was a Freshman in college in NYC when The Strokes, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, Interpol, and The Moldy Peaches were making a name for themselves. They came about in the city pre-9/11 and the ensuing global turbulence in the following years. New York’s energy back then was a revitalized monster that has not let up since. Music and art would serve as our escape and savior and influence us forever. Based on Lizzy Goodman‘s book, directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern Sundance 2022 doc, Meet Me In The Bathroom, perfectly encompasses that rebirth.

Meet Me In The Bathroom talks about the push and pull between art and fame. The relatable anxiety of Julian Casablancas makes the film all the more charming. The Strokes, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, Interpol, and The Moldy Peaches‘ nonchalance and earnest wonder at their lives will enchant you. The fame facade was just that; these artists were far more interested in music than money. It speaks to the plight of the artist in general. The darker reasons we make art. It’s a deflection and/or coping mechanism.

9/11 is still visceral for those that were here on that day. Any footage still brings cold sweats and chills from head to toe. There’s a video of these musicians walking in the ash-covered streets. The aftermath of sadness in the days and nights that followed, how we coped was through art and creation. I was a musical theatre major at the time, which means I really wanted to be a rockstar. At the time, Karen O explains, performance was our only outlet. We were not quite kids, not quite adults. Any Gen X New Yorker still has that fire 20 years later.

The editing is a whirlwind of wonderful. Their personal footage and raw confessions make Meet Me In The Bathroom a pretty riveting watch. Their bold honesty keeps you glued to your seat. (Almost) ending with one long uncut take of Karen O in “Maps” is goddam magic. It’s a real stand-out from Sundance 2022 because it just plain rocks.

To read all of liz's Sundance coverage as well as her regular excellent coverage of other films go to Reel News Daily

HATCHING (2022) Sundance 2022

 


Tinja, teenaged girl, finds an egg in the woods and hatches it- giving birth to a nightmareish doppleganger she names Alli.

This is a disturbing film from Finland that will have you wincing repeatedly as unlesant things happen. Your reaction is not going to be from the gore but from the disturbing nature of the creature as well as the decaying on the inside notion of the perfect family.

And of course this is a grand allegory for growing up and life. Its clear from the minute the perfect mother dispatches a bird that got into the house that something rotten is living in the house. Mom is a crazy and horny for th repair guy. Additionally the creature is very much another facet of Tinja with the whole arc of the creatures life calling into play the notion that Tinja is now growing up. I am going to be very curious how women react to the film and its turns.

I was both delighted and deely disturbed.

Recommended

You Won't Be Alone (2022) Sundance 2022


Described as a horror film in some Sundance material YOU WON'T BE ALONE isn't. Its a fairy tale about a a young woman who becomes a shapeshifter who takes on the form of a number of dead people. It ends where it begins.  

I liked YOU WON'T BE ALONE but I didn't love it. The film is the story of a someone learning about life and herself by walking in some eles's shoes, literally. I think it is a solid and very good film.  The cast is great with the multiple actors and actresses playing the same role blending together prefectly. Its a beautiful film to look at and has a great pastorl feel.

The problem for me was it was watching it was kind of like having a friend drive me some place I thought I hadn't been to before only to realize about half way in I knew the destination. Realizing what I was seeing altered how I saw the film. It took the wonder off the trip, despite having a blast taking it.

To me this film feels like a melding of Justin McConnell's LIFECHANGER with one of 2021's most haunting films ALL THE MOONS with a dash of La Ronde sprinkled in by way of Malick (TREE OF LIFE), Tarkovsky (ANDREI RUBLEV) ,Sergei Parajanov (SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS) and David Lowrey (A GHOST STORY). 

Its a film that feels it has been made with the best ingredients, it just didn't knock my socks off. 

Worth a look

Brief thoughts on blood (2022) Sundance 2022


 After the death of her husband Chloe travels to Japan on a photo assignment . There she reconnects with Toshi and his young daughter. 

This is a sweet little romance with a poor choice for a title (blood, Really?). Its a lovely story about nice people who find each other. Its a beautifully shot to the point that you will want to disappear into the landscape. Rarely has Japan ever felt so inviting.

I love this film a great deal. I love that it doesn't reinvent the wheel, it simply does what it does extremely well with the result being a film we want to curl up with.

If there is anything wrong with the film, aside from a poor choice of a title,  its that the romance between Chloe and Toshi is pretty much a done deal from the first frame. We know its going to happen, we just have to wait for the inevitable, however, its so well done you won't care.

Recommended 

Ariela Rubin on GIRL PICTURE (2022) Sundance 2022

 


Girl Picture is a Finish movie about three women coming of age and navigating love and sex.  Best friends, Mimmi and Rönkkö are having two different experiences with love and relationships. Then there's Emma, who is a competitive figure skating who Mimmi meets and is interested in. Meanwhile, Rönkkö feels nothing with the guys she's hooking up with and all she is hoping for is to feel something. 

I think Girl Picture is the first Finish movie I've ever seen. The film isn't groundbreaking, but it's pretty realistic to real life. It explores fears and confusion surrounding love and sex. Some of the conversations were a bit cringy though and I wondered if girls would really say certain things they did in real life.  I really like female coming-of-age relationship-type movies and so overall, I enjoyed it. I liked that there was some humor in it as well, and I thought all three women did a great job.

KLONDIKE (2022) Sundance 2022


A couple living near the Russian border of the Dontesk region of Ukraine are drawn into the Donbas War between Ukraine and Russia when a plane is shot down and soldiers crisscross their property.

An impassioned scream about the horrors of war KLONDIKE is a viscerally powerful anti-war film that is loaded with meaning. There is so much going on here that director Maryna Er Gorbach wants us to take in, from the allegory or a home with a wall blown into it, main characters with families with loyalties on opposing sides to the power of women to over come the pain that we can't help but feel she's stacked the deck. Nothing we on screen is without meaning with the result we kind of disconnect. Gorbach is trying way to hard and has stacked the deck  to get her point across.

And the thing is she didn't need to be so painfully obvious. The small moments, and even some of the bigger ones would have had more impact without things like a plane crash or the woman falling from the sky still strapped to her seat. We didn't need to be on the ront line for every damn event. The turns,  like the ones in the final moments, made me sit up and go "oh shit" despite Gorbach is need to put a ribbon on it. This would have been a more moving film if the scale had been kept smaller.

This isn't to say that KLONDIKE is bad, it isn't. Rather its a emotional small human story thats been inflated into a giant allegory or polemic about the evils of war that never connects to us intellectually.

Midnight Swim (2014) is being rereleased on home video today


Odd mix of documentary, found footage and psychological thriller/horror film is going to be a like it or lump it proposition.  To be completely honest I don't know what I think of the film. I do know that this film will probably click best with those who are patient and willing to go with it.

The film follows three sisters who return home after the disappearance/death of their mother. She had gone swimming in a lake near her home and never surfaced again. The three girls are there to settle their mother's affairs and to try and make sense of what happened. As they reconnect with each other and the people in the town the family fragments as weird things begin to happen.

Told in a largely POV manner, one of the girls is shooting a documentary, MIDNIGHT SWIM tries very hard to put us into the action. We are there with the girls seeing what they see. The film looks spectacular, for what it is, with all of the shots neatly composed....which is the problem. The film staggers the fine line between "documentary" and fiction film to the point it never feels real either as a fiction film or a documentary. I know the effect is used to make the film unsettling, and it is the film has boatloads of anxiety, but there really isn't a pay off.

The film is painfully low key and I know I would have been more receptive to the film had I seen the film in a theater instead of as an online screener at home. There is lots of talk, some pretty images and some weird happenings and it all unravels at a snails pace. Watching it I kept looking past the screen and fumbling with my note pad which I filled with doodles. I was interested in where it was going since I stayed to the end, but I couldn't believe it was taking so long to get there. As I said had I been in a theater I would have been more receptive, but at home I kept finding other things to do.

Is it bad? No it's not. Its looks great, generates the right sort of anxiety, it just doesn't really go anywhere scary,which was how I felt when I got to the end. It was kind of like, "oh". To me the film reminded me of a number of other found footage/POV films of recent and semi-recent vintage which kept you watching interested to various degrees but petered out at the end, THE LAST BROADCAST in particular.

The film hit VOD and theaters on Friday.

I Didn't See You There (2022) Sundance 2022


Disabled person Reid Davenport tries to make a film about how he sees the world and how it sees him. 

Nominally this should be a vital and important film since it's vital that we understand how different people with different abilities see the world. How can we understand the world if we don't get a chance to walk in someone else's shoes? And while the film is full of Davenport going out in the world and talking about how he views the world the film grinds alost instantly to a dead stop.

The reason that the film quickly falls apart as whole sequences play out with the camera looking at the ground, straight up in the sky or at an odd angle that shows us nothing. Why is the camera aimed as it is? I don't know since Davenport talks about getting a new camera that he can use himself so I'm not sure why he aims the camera as he does. I say this because Davenport is mobile and able to get around. If he is going around he is not looking at the ground and he is not staring at the sky because he can not navigate that way.

The film also doesn't really show him interacting with anyone other than his family, a friend and crew on a plane. This is fine but we really don't get any real sense of what it is like to be him. It's not enough to justify a feature length

A disappointment.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Brief thoughts on The Mission (2022) Sundance 2022


The Mission is a look at young Mormon missionaries heading to Finland to spread the good word.

In a world where Mormons are either the butt of jokes (the Broadway show Book Of Mormon) or are the subject of unpleasant news stories thanks to criminal  off shoots, its nice to see a film about some good kids who are following their beliefs.  While the film doesn’t reinvent the wheel it is a good portrait of life inside the Mormon Church that is not an extreme.

Worth a look.

THE EXILES (2022) Sundance 2022


Filmmaker Christine Choy revisits an unfinished project from 1989 when she filmed the leaders of the Tiananmen Square protest after they fled China. She visits the leaders today to see where they are. Mixed into the film is a biography of Choy herself.

Okay film is in desperate need of an editor. This is a film that bounces from pillar to post as the loud and abrasive Choy's personality in the sequences focsing on her crashes into the quiet seriousness of the protest leaders. As a result the film feels unfocused. We never get a handle on what we are supposed to focus on.

Personally most of the sequences focusing on Choy alone should be removed and instead the film should just focus on the leaders. There is some incredible material there, particularly in the later portion here they look back thirty plus years. A good chunk of the Choy material has little connection to the exile thread, This isn't to say that a film couldn't or shouldn't be made about Choy, rather it's simply to day that a film called THE EXILES should be about that and not about a crazy filmmaker.

Three Minutes: A Lengthening (2021) Sundance 2022


In 2009 Glenn Kurtz discovered some 16mm in a closet. Shot in the 1938 by by his grandfather when he visited Europe it is the only known  footage of the  town of Nasielsk in Poland. It is some of the few films of a Jewish population from before the was and one of the a very rare few films to do so in color.  Director Bianca Stigter took the three minutes of footage and constructed a 70 minute documentary about the quest to find out more about the town, the people on the film and their fate in the war.

This film kicks serious ass. If you every wanted to be a detective this film is for you. While the images are only the three minutes of film, the voice over is an hour long discussion of the quest to pull details from the images in order to be able to track down more information. An inquiry about what happened to a lion on a door to a temple results into the discovery of the story of a riot in the town some time before the filming. We learn that the film being put on the web resulted in finding the family of one of the boys seen in the film. Discoveries lead to other discoveries.

Most important by seeing the images over and over again the people in the film return to life, however fleetingly. More magically what are just images at the start become people we “know” by the end. The weight of their being presses into us. While we don’t get to know who most are they still become living and breathing people thanks to their being on the screen and Stigter’s slow reconstruction of the town and the time we are witnessing.

This is a moving film and highly recommended.