Monday, January 25, 2021

Sundance Curtain Raiser


Days away from the start of this year's Sundance and I'm still trying to sort out what form my coverage will take. I've seen a bunch of films, most really good and I'm going to see a bunch more.

This is the first year I am officially credentialed. Its not that didn't want to be previously, but rather until this year you really had to be there. This year its largely a virtual fest so I could stay home and cover it. I was kind of hoping that I could wander in and see it all and then wander out, but the set up is different and I've had to put extra thought and consideration into what I'm doing because I can't see it all - though I'm still trying to make a stab at it.

So far I seem to be making good headway. At the same time so many films are still being worked on that they haven't been ready for anyone outside of the festival committee to see them. I'm still waiting for access to most of the films playing the festival.

While Sundance tends to be the first festival most films play at they do occasionally pick up films from elsewhere. To that end here are the films I have previously covered:

NIGHT OF THE KINGS is one of the best films I saw in 2020
YOU WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND is a loopy scifi short
IN THE AIR TONIGHT is a look at the Phil Collins classic
VIOLATION is a thriller that will curl your toes- just don't read anything about what happens

And what would a curtain raiser be without some must sees - here are the musts from the handful of films I've seen so far:

PLAYING WITH SHARKS-visually over powering film about Valerie Taylor who is singlehandedly responsible for our not seeing sharks as mindless killers. (I should hopefully be running an interview with the director and producer about the film)

SEEDS OF DECEIT  forget the HBO film BABY GOD, this 3 part series about a  fertility doctor who used his own sperm covers similar ground and way more. It will get your mind going and then some.

SOUVENIR SOUVENIR about director Bastien Dubois's effort to find out what happened to his grandfather in the Algerian war kicks up questions about what we know about our families and the secrets we keep.

HUMAN FACTORS is about the curse of a marriage centered around a break in at a summer home, but it is much more. I highly recommend you see this film sooner than later because I suspect the talk about it will ruin the chance to see it blind.

ONE FOR THE ROAD- A dying young man asks his friend to return home and help him run some errands making amends. A killer soundtrack heightens one of the most moving films I've seen in years. 

REBEL HEARTS- the story of some nuns in the 1960's who challenged the church and society and did what they felt was right in the name of justice and the advancement of everyone. Look for this to be on the Oscar short list.

And with that I bid you a adieu as I go back to the darkness and try to catch up on all the great films playing at Sundance.

The Night (2020) opens Friday

THE NIGHT is the story of a couple and their infant daughter who leave a party with friends and break down on the way home. Refusing to go back they instead take a room in a hotel nearby for the night. As the night goes on things begin to go sideways and it looks like there is a malevolent force in the hotel with designs on the family.

Kudos to director Kourosh Ahari for making a sweet little thriller. A creepy uneasy tale, the film uses silences and shadows to great effect. It also uses the fact that the film is a mix of English and Persian to further ratchet up the suspense. If you need a good example of why we need voices that are more than just white male, this film is it. While the film seems to be set in America, the mixture of cultures creates a gumbo that spices up everything up since we never know which way things are going to go.

I don’t know what else to say other than when you get a chance to see The Night do so. Get yourself a huge bowl of popcorn and beverage of choice and curl up in your seat and get ready for some winter chills.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Nightcap 1/24/21- The 26th Verse or Nate Hood waxes on Pixar's Soul (plus Slamdance's killer pricing and other random bits)


This piece by Nate Hood originally appeared in the newsletter for the First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach.

One of the most beautiful passages in the entire Bible is the twenty-sixth verse of the second chapter of Genesis. It happens immediately after God reaches into Adam, plucks a rib, and makes the first woman, Eve, with it. In this wonderful verse, all is well in God’s creation. Man and Woman live together with God in perfect harmony in the Garden, naked, unashamed, innocent. The very next verse introduces the Serpent, and with it a disruption of the Garden’s peace. From there all things rush inevitably towards the Fall. But here in the twenty-sixth verse everything is As It Should Be.

There is, of course, no twenty-sixth verse.

If there was a time of perfect contentment between God and God’s Creation, when all of our needs were met and satisfied, the Bible’s writers thought them irrelevant to the story they sought to tell. I suspect a certain pragmatism on their part, a need to jump straight to the roots of humanity’s current misery and loneliness, our lingering sense of misdirection which so often seems distant from the hand of a loving God. There’s too much sorrow and too little sense in these lives of ours to dwell on a pre-historic time when everything was new and fresh and perfect. 

The rest of Genesis—the rest of the entire Bible, even—is the search for this twenty-sixth verse. Humanity has many names for it: the meaning of life, one’s raison d’ĂȘtre, our “purpose.” But whatever we call it, it’s the intangible something we hope will fill the meaning-sized hole in our lives. Some are lucky enough to find it. Some find their life’s purpose in ministry or helping others. Some teach. Some heal. Some build. Some parent. But Joe Gardner? His twenty-sixth verse is music. Ever since the day his dad dragged him into a murky Manhattan jazz club, he knew the sole reason he was put on this earth was to play the piano. It’s what makes him feel complete, like he’s found his center in this universe, his Peace in the Garden. So he toils away at a thankless job teaching middle school band, gigging and auditioning, hoping he can make it as a musician and finally feel whole.

And then, on the day he gets his dream gig at the legendary Half-Note Club, he falls down an open manhole and dies. This is how Pete Docter’s Soul, the latest film from Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios, opens. From there we watch as Joe’s disembodied spirit struggles to get back to his body in time for his performance. After ducking the line to the Great Beyond, he finds himself stuck in the Great Before, a strange land where pre-born souls are molded and readied for life. Through a series of very odd circumstances, he finds himself back on earth trapped in the body of a cat while his actual body is possessed by 22, a rebellious unborn soul he met in the Great Before who has spent literal millennia trying to avoid being born. All you need to know about 22—who is voiced by Tina Fey—is that she chooses to sound like a middle aged white lady because she believes it’s the most annoying voice a person can have and she loves tormenting others with it.

Joe and 22’s odyssey is one of the stranger ones in recent Pixar movies, due in no small part to the involvement of Docter who’s been responsible for some of the studio’s riskiest and most introspective films. He was the filmmaker who gave us Up (2009) with its opening montage which somehow crammed the entire lives of a married couple from their meeting as children to the man’s lonely widowerhood in five heartbreaking minutes. He also directed Inside Out (2015) which dived into the landscape of a young girl’s emotions for a story which argued that negative feelings are just as important as positive ones as they’re all part of what makes a person a person. Docter’s protagonists seldom seek a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or a princess to rescue from a tower. Instead they find themselves on journeys of self-discovery. They all seek their twenty-sixth verse.

Soul is one of the best Pixar movies in recent years, barely missing the herculean heights of the studio’s golden age in the 00s. There are a couple reasons for this, from its overcomplicated mythos of extra-dimensional zones and intra-dimensional beings to a reliance on slapstick humor that feels like a loss of nerve on the filmmakers’ part, almost like they were afraid their high-concept material would fly over their audience’s head if they didn’t jangle keys in front of them every now and then. And, as many black critics have pointed out, it’s the latest in a depressingly long line of children’s animated films where a black protagonist spends the majority of the film in an animal’s body.

But when Soul is good it’s not just good, it’s great. I won’t give away what happens in the film, but I will linger for a moment on a scene near the end after Joe returns to his apartment after getting his body back. He’s ostensibly gotten his life back in order, attaining the one thing he thought he wanted more than anything else. And yet he still feels unsatisfied. So he puts all the knickknacks and mementos of his whirlwind day on his piano and just…plays. Slowly memories start to wash over him. Good ones. Bad ones. Memories shared with loved ones. Memories spent alone. Memories of boredom and emptiness, of simple contentment in simple things. Light through tree branches. New York City’s skyline. A bite of warm pie. All the things that make Joe a very small part in a very big universe, but one nonetheless so important, so necessary, so loved that his absence caused it to grind to a halt to find him. In that moment Joe realizes that life isn’t our hopes and dreams. Life isn’t our failures or successes. Life is all the moments in-between, no matter how insignificant. The meaning of life is found in its living, and this living is in itself sacred and holy.

I like to think Joe discovered that there is no twenty-sixth verse. We’re all too busy living it.

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The Sundance Film Festival starts this week, A  curtain raiser will run tomorrow.

There will be no Nightcap next weekend because I will be covering the fest.

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Slamdance, which runs February 12th to the 25th is only $10 for everything. 

Yes you can see every film playing the festival for only 10 bucks. Considering it always has some of the best films of the year and certainly many of the most interesting you really need to get a pass and binge.

Trust me its such a good deal that it kind of is pointless for me to review anything because you don't have to pick and choose and you won't feel bad if you don't like something you can just move on to something else with no loss.

Details can be found here.

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The great streaming platform Fandor has been purchased by Cinedigm. It's going to be run by Phil Hopkins who runs the excellent The Film Detective.

This bodes well for the future

9th CIRCUIT COWBOY: The Long, Good Fight of Judge Harry Pregerson hits VOD Tuesday


 Loving portrait of Judge Harry Pregerson who was a long time fixture in the US 9th Circuit Court. He was a thorn in the side of business and the far right to the point that President Trump wanted to break up the 9th Circuit just to try and get rid of him.

A cinematic version of the eulogy/memorial service that is intercut throughout the film, this is a wonderful little documentary that tells you a great deal about the man so many people loved. While far from complete, Pregerson lived well into his 90’s and the film runs only 54 minutes, it still gives you a solid idea of who he was and how he changed things for the better.

One of the things I loved about the film is that you get not just the accomplishments but clues to the way he made change for the better, for example he made people fighting for better sewage treatment realize that it wasn’t a matter of the plant worker intentional making things worse because they wanted to, but rather he forced them to see that the system was broken and that they had to fix that if they wanted an improvement.

Hitting VOD on Tuesday 9th CIRCUIT COWBOY is worth a look

Brief thoughts on the magnificent Irmi (2020)NYJFF 2021


 My God She Could Laugh!

This is the film we need right now. A portrait of Irmi Selver who fled the Nazis only to have her family die in a shipwreck, and then chose to go on full steam ahead. It is a film about going on no matter how bad things get and finding friends and family along the way

This is one of the great films I've seen in 2021. Yea the year is young but IRMI has already taken up residence in my heart. I adore the sense of life that bleeds off the screen, of going her sense of going on despite some truly tragic turns. I love that when the film ends we not only agree with her assessment that she had an interesting life, but that we are left feeling happy having sent time with her.

I love this movie more than I can say.

Highly recommended it is a must see when it closes out the New York Jewish Film Festival 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Slava’s Journey: Secrets of Snow (2020) Russian Film Week 2021


This is a glorious portrait of Slava Polunin and his legendary Snow Show. The man and the show have been touring the world for almost 3 decades bringing joy and wonder to everyone who sees it.

Yes I have seen the show. I saw the show several years back when it played Broadway the first time and I was floored by it. Yes it is a clown show but it is so wonderful and lovely that even if you hate clowns you will be moved to laughs and tears... and then there is the ending- a blinding blistering blizzard in the theater. I have never seen anything like it- ever.

SLAVA'S JOURNEY is magnificent. Part bio, part expose, part performance piece it is not a conventional documentary but more a cinematic attempt at bringing the emotion of the show to the viewer. No it will not reveal the whole show to you, but it will make you feel things like joy and wonder. It will remind you of what the show feels like and make you want to go see it if you haven't. 

Someone walked by while I was watching it and aught part of the film out of the film out of the corner of their eye and stopped. They then watched it over my shoulder, telling me to replay one part of the film again...and again saying "That was lovely I want to see it ne more time"

Yea, it's that kind of a film.

I love this film. It is an absolute delight. It is a film that makes you feel good even as it opens up your mind to something wonderful.

The film plays January 27th as part of Russian Film Week and is a must see. Because it is only 65 minutes the film is running with a Q&A about the film. I highly recommend you see this.

For details and more information go here.

Brief Word On 4 Oscar Contending Shorts

Here is quick word on 4 films that are possible Oscar contenders


WHITE MARE
The story of a young girl in Ireland in the 1970’s who calls home from the hospital where she has placed for conversion therapy to correct her sexual orientation.

This is a very good film that needs to be a feature film. Ten minutes simply isn’t long enough to do this story justice.


EXAM
A girl in Iran a young girl has to make a delivery of drugs before her big exam.

This didn’t quite work. It’s a good thriller but it seems to be wanting to say more with the result it just doesn’t work. Perhaps if this was longer.


REBEL
A young boy goes with his family or white supremacists to  exact vigilante justice on the migrants fleeing the US and the Trump administration.

This is too brief to really work. This is a story that needs to be expanded


BITTU
A young girl has a fight with her best friend in time leading up to a mass poisoning in India. This is a good little film

Over The Moon (2020)

 


Glen Keane's OVER THE MOON is a joy. The story of a young girl who takes a trip to the moon in the wake of her mother's passing.

I have been trying to figure out what to say about the film. Do I give you details or not. I think not because just watching this film go through it's paces is such a delight.

Accused of being a Disney knock off by some critics they seem to be missing the point since Keane was a in the Disney trenches for decades and the Mouse House is in his blood and what the film is is a kind of Disney riff. The rhythms and plot points are similar to what Disney has mass produced for years but with better everything from visuals, characters, songs and genuine sense of heart. To be certain this may be the best film Disney never made, but it also is better than most Disney films of the past decade or two because it has real characters and a genuine joy that you never feel from Mouse House.

I love this film a great deal. It is an absolute wonder that I've revisited a couple of times on Netflix.

See this film and fall in love.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Ariela Rubin's brief thoughts on the short DAVID (2020)


David is an 11 minute short about a man, played by William Jackson Harper, who many will be familiar with from The Good Place, who is very depressed and has an emergency session with his therapist, played by Will Ferrell. During his session, the therapist's son barges in, demanding his attention as well. 

I went into this thinking it was going to be a heavy short, but there was humor and sweetness involved as well. It was thought provoking as well. I really enjoyed it. One of the best shorts I've seen

Family Obligations (2019)

Peter Steele is left spinning by the death of his father. He isn't sure which way is up. Among the things his father left behind was the need for  him to become to become the caretaker for his Uncle Frank. Along the way and with the help of Melanie, a single mom and her daughter he begins to find away back to normalcy.

Kenneth R Frank's FAMILY OBLIGATIONS is a nice little surprise. It is a sweet little drama about life and death and some stuff in between. I say that it is a surprise because it is a film I wasn't planning on reviewing but the chance to see it fell in my lap so, needing a break from a mountain of festival films I gave it a shot.

While the film is most decidedly low budget, a scene in a restaurant looks more like it was filmed in the corner of someone's house, the film makes you forget that because we are among some really great people. We aren't watching characters, rather we are watching real people going through their paces. More than once I groaned an "oh god" because I knew someone exactly like that.

While I cold quibble about a couple of things like the funeral director being a bit to schticky as he leans in to make a point. Or not being certain if Chris Mollica's Peter Steele is a bit too stiff because of the performance or being written as too straight a straight man, none of it matters. Once the film is up and running and we are in the thick of it we really don't care, we just want to see how it all comes out.

While the film isn't going to rattle the pillars of heaven, it is going to give you a really good evening's entertainment with time with some people you will like. And best of all it doesn't feel like a big Hollywood production.

Recommended 

FAMILY OBLIGATIONS is currently available from MBUR Films on Amazon and AltaVOD with HooplaDigital and Blu-Ray coming soon

Love And Stuff (2020) NYJFF 2021

This is a repost of my review which ran at last years DOC NYC.

 I am not going to do a real review of Judith Helfand's LOVE AND STUFF because I am simply not in a place to review it. The film is Helfand's story about her mother, her mother's death and becoming a mom at the age of 50. It is a reassessing of her life in the midst of several sea changes in said life.

The reason I am not going to do a review is that a couple months back I lost my dad. Like Helfand and her mom, my relationship with my dad was very close. Seeing LOVE AND STUFF kicked up a great deal of stuff that I really wasn't ready to deal with. That isn't a bad thing, rather it skewed my feelings for the film to such a great degree that I don't know which way is up. I can not be even remotely objective...

...to that end I will say that despite the emotional tsunami it hit me with I do know this is a good film (I wouldn't have been blindsided if it wasn't)  and it is recommended if the subject matter interests you.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Yard Kings (2020)

 


Vasco Sancho’s YARD KINGS is a charmer.

The film is the story or a young girl and her friend who begin putting together a home in a scrap yard. She is fleeing a bad home situation, her mother is in an abusive relationship and she wants no part of it.

This is one of those films you need to see for yourself. I say that as someone who wasn’t completely pleased at the start. I thought the kids were not as good as some other kids I saw in some recent films. And then somewhere about half way in everything clicked and when the end came I just audibly said WOW.  I won’t say what happens but I will say the end has an emotional punch that makes me want to see a longer version of this. I want to have a better idea who these characters are. Don’t get me wrong what here is choice but a longer of this film could really kick ass.

Currently bouncing around the festival circuit YARD KINGS is worth tracking down

On Broadway (2019) NYJFF 2021

There is no question that ON BROADWAY is a great film. It is a beautifully told history of Broadway theater over the last 50 years. It is both direct and to the point and it contains some absolutely wonderful stories that make it feel like you are sitting in the room with all of the greats who are interviewed.

After a brief description of the classic days of Broadway when it was the source of much of popular music and created the dreams of stardom for the next wave of stars, the film shifts gears and talks about the decline of Broadway in the late 60's and early 70's when attendance was near zero. It then follows the rise out of darkness as Off Broadway began to send massive hit to the stages, how the London theater began to invade and theaters came back to life. The whole tale is hung around following the play THE NAP come to life on stage at the Manhattan Theater Club.

How in love with the greatness you are going to be determined by how much affinity you have for the history of the Great White Way. I have a great affinity for it and have spent all the money that should be in my retirement savings seeing shows over the last two plus decades so I loved it. I was enthralled by both the history and the the stories of the stars (Helen Mirren feeling kinship for the con men and sex workers of the bad old days is delightful) which opened up and made real the mythic place called Broadway.

And to me Broadway was mythic. My family couldn't really afford to just go to Broadway, so it was left to school trips (My first show was Pippin and we arrived late, hustling in as the cast sang Magic To Do, thus dooming me for all time as I entered a dream I never wanted to leave) or broken piggie banks to impress a potential girlfriend to get me to the theater. Only when I had a good job that gave me extra regular cash did I begin to go frequently. And the more I went the more hooked I became.

ON BROADWAY is a glorious peak behind the curtain. It reveals to us what it i like to be on the other side of the orchestra pit. While it is not all encompassing, the film runs under 90 minutes so its limited (for example there are no long excerpts from shows), it does give us enough to get us started. We can begin to haunt the library and You Tube and elsewhere for more and more information. Hell, when the film was done I stated pulling books off my shelf and looking through old Playbills.

This is a great film.  It is an absolute must for anyone who loves the theater and want to know how the current iteration of Broadway came to be.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Mara (Side Effect) (2020) Russian Film Week 2021

 


Wanting to help his wife forget a vicious assault a man makes a deal with a healer who will help her forget what happened. They move into the healer's spacious flat and everything seems fine until they start to have visions. Desperate to stop the weirdness consuming their lives the man tries to find out who he made a deal with and how he can get out of it.

After a WTF was that opening (I mean that in a good way) this creepy horror film slowly builds in fear as we are dragged along into hell. I love that the film takes it's time in telling us what is going on we are not told anything until we need to be informed, so that tidbits like the opening suddenly click with an "ah ha!" as revelations later on in the film show us what was going on. In its way its so nicely plotted that when the film ended I rewatched a couple of sections in the film just to see how they played knowing what comes later.

I really liked this film a great deal. Its a beautifully made film that melds modern horror with classical supernatural tales. Its so good that the only thing about it I really can complain about is the use of black light colors for some of the images at one point.

Definitely worth a look when the film plays Saturday during Russian Film Week. Details can be found here.

3 potential Oscar shorts: PURPLE BOY, ELO and SOUND OF A WILD SNAIL EATING

 


PURPLE BOY
This is a stunningly beautiful film  about who we were born as and who we choose to be. The film concerns a child planted in a garden who chooses to be male and then has to fight to be who they feel they are.  This is an amazing piece of animation that is quite moving. To be completely honest there is heavy allegory concerning being Trans going on here and I am not going to pretend I even understand a tenth of it but the basic plot is moving and mirrors the journey we all make.

Recommended.


ELO
The title is the Portuguese word for connection. This is an allegorical tale concerning the relationship of men and women how we are better together. A beautifully animated film with a palette that leans heavily word black and white, this is a wonderful piece of art. While I am not certain that the film adds up to much, I suspect it is trying too hard to be meaningful, it still delights the eye.


SOUND OF A WILD SNAIL EATING
Based on director Elisabeth Tova Bailey's natural history of the same name this film has some stunning images of a snail intercut with a woman sleeping in a bed while Daryl Hannah read an excerpt from the book.

It looks good, the narration is interesting but I don’t know if it all comes together. It has to do with a woman with a disease and a snail on her nightstand. Its supposed to be about resilience but I'm not sure I really felt that.  My reaction to it when it was done was to write “interesting but does it mean anything?” A week on I’m still pondering

Atlantis (2020) opens Friday

Valentyn Vasyanovych’s ATLANTIS is set in 2025 a year after Ukraine’s war with Russia. Things are not good. The former soldiers are all suffering from un treated PTSD. When the factory he is working in closes one former soldier takes a job delivering clean water. Traveling through the country side he comes to the aid of a young woman who is part of a group traveling the countryside digging up mass graves in order to identify the dead. The soldier begins to help her and the group and slowly finds a way back to life.

One of the best films at this years New Director’s New Films Atlantis is a masterpiece. Shot largely in long single takes that allow things to play out in uninterrupted moments this film puts us in a place in time that haunts us and stays with us. Vasyanovych’s use of the long takes result in moments that echo Michael Radford’s of 1984, as well as the work of Bela Tarr, and Peter Greenaway but it is something greater. Vasyanovych’s work is more human, more real and less staged with the result that we connect more deeply.

Sitting and writing up this film several days after seeing the film I find I am haunted by images in the film, the heatvision opening, the fall, the wrecked apartments, the autopsy, the sex. Part of the reason that I am haunted is that the images are great to look at, but at the same time those and other moments pulled me into the film. It connected me to the film and put me into this world. It made me ponder my connection to the world, to the people in it and what the future holds.

I am beyond words. I need to see this film again because I need to find the words to truly do the film justice.

Go see this film. Go see it in a theater where the larger than life image and sound can work it’s magic.

Wow.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Nate Hood on His House ★★★★½

 


“Well, why don’t they just leave the haunted house,” the smarmy viewer smirks, leering like they’ve won some great debate against people who actually enjoy horror movies. Ignoring the most obvious answer—because if they left the haunted house there wouldn’t be a movie—there are simple explanations for why some people stick around after the walls start dripping blood. Some are too stubborn or defiant to leave. Some are magnetically drawn to the house and its evil. But Remi Weekes’ His House represents a rare third option: some people literally can’t leave. 

The film follows Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), two South Sudanese refugees in London struggling through Britain’s draconian asylum system. After surviving a deadly midnight English Channel crossing which claimed the life of their daughter Nyagak (Malaika Abigaba), they’re placed in a vermin-infested government-owned flat and given several chilling ultimatums. Move out, and we’ll find you and deport you. No guests, they’re told, no fires, no parties, nothing other than the bare essentials for survival, or you’ll be back in South Sudan. But do try to be two of “the good ones” and assimilate, alright? It’s an impossible situation, but Bol and Rial both try to make the best of it, swallowing their dignity whenever they go outside and doing their best to appear and act “British.” But the more they try and distance themselves from Africa, the more Africa whispers to them from the darkness. The walls rumble in the night as infernal things scratch and hammer from the other side of the wallpaper. Terrible memories warp into waking nightmares as eyes stare at them from the shadows. Before long they realize they’re not alone in their flat. Something came with them from South Sudan. Something angry. Something vengeful. Something they can’t run from, for it will always find them. It knows the full measure of their sins during their flight from Africa, and it will see their debts repaid. 

His House might be the best horror film of 2020; not since Ari Aster’s Hereditary (2018) has one so perfectly married new school James Wan-style jump scares with the exhaustive emotional self-flagellation of so-called “elevated horror.” It manages a ghastly amount of thematic heavy-lifting—survivor’s guilt, parental grief, cultural assimilation, and self-forgiveness—yet never loses its footing. This is horror filmmaking at its most intelligent and fearless.

Identifying Features (2020) hits VOD Friday

This is a repost of my Sundance Film Festival Review.

A mother's son leaves home to cross into America. He disappears and she goes off to find him. A long the way she meets a young man heading home to his mother after being deported from the US.

This magnificent and haunting film has vexed me since I saw it the first time (I have seen it several times now).  It is not that I have nothing to say about the film, rather how do I talk about what a special and magical film this is? I want to somehow express the awe and wonder that I felt the first time when I simply sighed at the wonder of it all.

The problem with writing on the film, in discussing the  twists and turns of the plot is that it doesn't do the whole package justice. I can talk about the plot but it doesn't explain how the acting and the music and the shot choices not only make the film real but something more than that. In it's way the film is a kind of mythic tale of everyday life. Director Fernanda Valadez has fashioned a story that not only gets under our skin but reveals a greater truth about the world today.

This truly is filmmaking and storytelling at the highest level- so much so that instead of reviewing IDENTIFYING FEATURES I simply want to press a ticket in to all you hands and say "just watch this"

One of the best films  of 2020

IDENTIFYING FEATURES plays NDNF . For more information and tickets go here

Monday, January 18, 2021

Psycho Goreman (2020) hits VOD and theaters Friday

 


A young girl and her brother end up with a gem that will control a homicidal intergalactic killer and decide to use him for their own ends.

Okay why isn't anyone talking about this film? 

I mean this is a glorious throwback/send up of a 1980's kids film twisted and turned into a blood soaked comedy for adults. Its a film that gets every god damn thing exactly right with the result that you will laugh yourself silly as you talk back endlessly to the screen. 

In other words F-YOU COVID because this is a film you need to sit and watch with a theater full of  friends who love total film insanity.

Wasting absolutely no time the film  starts with the gem being dug up and a few minutes later gallons of blood and severed limbs are flying everywhere. This film just moves like the wind  with almost every minute containing a joke or some over the top ridiculous bit of violence. It just doesn't stop and as such it is a great amount of fun.

This film is in no way high art but anyone loving satire and send ups mixed with rubber limbs and fake blood this film is for you

This is a film, that for it's target audience, is going to be pure cinematic joy.

Highly recommended 

Healing From hate (2020) hits VOD Friday January 22


Excellent portrait of the group Life After Hate, which was founded by former white nationalists in order to help members who want out of the groups to get out. The thinking is that if they could do it so can anyone else.

There have been several recent documentaries where people have explored the groups from the outside but this is the first feature documentary that I’ve seen where we follow former members trying to get out and deal with all that is surrounded with leaving. As good as the other docs are on setting the table, and as good as recent narrative films such as SKIN have been in covering similar ground, HEALING FROM HATE is head and shoulders above them. Not only do we see the emotional toll leaving the movement takes but we also truly come to understand how inviting the hate filled movements are. For the first time there is a real explanation of why and how people join. It isn't something amorphous and glossed over, we really see how the groups suck people in. And we see chillingly how President Trump and the far right use the same methods to inspire his supporters to hate those different than themselves.

For me one of the biggest revelations in discussing the recruiting of members was one that I should have caught on my own but never did, and that the white nationalism and bigotry comes from a misplaced sense of entitlement. These are largely white young men who were promised a world they can’t be part of or make work. As a result their broken sense of the world looks for a reason they can't function and hating someone who isn't white is an easy way out.

I was chilled.

And I was filled with hope because the film shows us that you can stop hating and rejoin the world. To be certain it isn't easy, but we see people can change. I was moved by a particular discussion around the shooting at a Sikh Temple  where a former believer explains the change will come when you start to change the way you view yourself. The more hatred we spew is related to the amount of feeling of hate and disconnection we have for ourselves. When we connect with ourselves we reconnect with the world.

I was moved somewhere beyond words, by that and many moments in the film.

And what I love about the film is that the neither the filmmakers nor the group Life After Hate do not shy away from dialog. They present the opposing view point and engage with those who hate, for example there is an unplanned discussion with hate  monger Richard Spencer which goes a great deal with keeping the film from being a polemic

Frankly there is so much going on in HEALING FROM HATE that I really need a second or third viewing in order to full grasp everything in it

HEALING FROM HATE is a great film. It is a required viewing for anyone who truly wants to understand the hatred that is running rampant in America and the world.