There are films that reject your cozy thirst to love them. Films that want not to comfort you, but to crawl under your skin and make it itch. They make you feel a deep, drowning unease. They submerge you in their story through sensation and leave you begging for release, for salvation. They leave your nerves raw and your mind rattled. Josephine Decker’s coming-of-age drama, Madeline’s Madeline, is such a film. [Read more…]
When reality is too grim, fantasy can be a blessed escape. For the 11-year-old heroine at the heart of the modern fairy tale, Tigers Are Not Afraid, fantasy becomes her rocky path to salvation. It guides her through a Mexican city overrun by a merciless drug cartel that cages kids, pays off cops, and murders without consequence. When her mother goes missing, brave little Estrella (Paola Lara) goes on a quest to find her. Along the way, she’ll discover whispering phantoms, a tiny dragon, and a deep inner strength that might pull this spirited survivor through the most dangerous turns unscathed. [Read more…]
Imagine Marilyn Manson going on a madcap adventure with Carly Rae Jepson and the Three Stooges. That is the astonishing blend in the Japanese musical-comedy LOUDER! Can’t Hear What You’re Singin,’ Wimp!, which made its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Vocal-chord scouring rock music collides with toe-tapping pop and gleefully silly slapstick to make a movie that’s wonderfully bonkers and totally unpredictable. [Read more…]
at Fantasia International Film
Reviewed by Kristy Puchko
Making its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival, Lifechanger is a lean, mean, and intense dose of shapeshifter horror with a chilling message perfectly suited to the complex conversations of the Me Too era. Written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Justin McConnell, Lifechanger follows a mysterious “skin-walker” who steals the form, memories, and lives of his victims, leaving behind a withered husk of a corpse. This creepy crime premise might have you expecting the movie would follow a cagey detective who is on this cruel creature’s trail. But McConnell offers something far more surprising, sophisticated, and richly disturbing. [Read more…]
In the rapidly changing landscape of modern cinema, where streaming, the internet and television are fast becoming the dominant mediums, the art of the short film is becoming more than a mere calling card for aspiring filmmakers. Like collections of short stories, short films are as powerful and satisfying these days as full features, if only because media is making time itself feel as if it is hurtling forward. A short music video such as This is America, by Childish Gambino, will ignite passions about race relations in America faster than any feature film. Yet this is not a particularly new phenomenon to storytelling. With few exceptions, the great literary minds of the last two centuries have flourished in the art of the short story. From Roberto Bolano to William Faulkner, smaller narratives have encapsulated powerful ideas. [Read more…]
“Jesus and the Brides of Dracula. Hipster pirate. Topless bird-lover. Paddleboat stalking. Literally barking mad women. Hobo king with a cardboard crown.” The notes that I scrawled while watching Under The Silver Lake at its North American Premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival look like the scribbles of a madman. That madman is writer/director David Robert Mitchell, who won wild praise for his art-house horror hit It Follows, and now has returned with a wildly ambitious, unapologetically bizarre, and intriguingly polarizing stoner-noir. [Read more…]
I was not prepared for Eighth Grade. Since its rave-rousing Sundance premiere, stand-up comedian turned writer/director Bo Burnham’s debut feature has been gaining buzz as a great coming-of-age tale. I knew my peers thought it was “so good,” and I assumed that meant captivating and fun with occasional streaks of agonizing secondhand embarrassment. Basically, I imagined Lady Bird Jr. But Eighth Grade is not a bittersweet romp. It is not fun. It’s less a movie, and more a cringe-inducing, full-body flashback to the exquisite excruciation of being an adolescent.
It’s in the clicks, a soft double-click sound made by the tongue of a thirteen-year-old girl. It’s a secret code to tell her father she’s near and she loves him. Leave No Trace is rich with details like this, which deftly paint its central father-daughter relationship without a word. It’s clear in their comfort, the way she falls into sync with his humming of a half-remembered tune. In their efficiency in building a fire, scavenging for wild mushrooms, and casually shooing away wild dogs, you learn this isn’t just a camping trip. This shelter of tarps and tents in the midst of a lush park in Portland, Oregon, is their home, humble but happy. However, once the authorities discover them, this simple bliss will be shattered, forcing the two to come to a brutal decision. [Read more…]
In the 2016 film Swagger (newly out on Mubi), by Parisian filmmaker Olivier Babinet, an undercurrent of fictionalized plotlines pulls the story through the surface of reality. As a storyteller, Babinet has developed a potent strategy to render the lives of children and teenagers—who recall events with exaggeration and fervent emotion—by building out their imaginative tales. His approach presents a novel documentary methodology, one that can truly illuminate the way we depict the world. [Read more…]
Their spectacular story scored them a slew of newspaper headlines. Their charming chemistry made them coveted guests on the talk show circuit, the toast of New York’s nightclub scene, and quirky celebrity cameos in Desperately Seeking Susan who were handpicked by Madonna herself. They were three strapping young men, with broad smiles, meaty hands, curly hair, and the same damn face. Robert “Bobby” Shafran, David Kellman, and Eddy Galland were triplets separated at birth, adopted into three different families, and 19 years later reunited by chance. Their reunion was a warm and wonderful story that captured the public’s curiosity and hearts. But what happened next was dark and disturbing, and is revealed in the fascinating and frustrating documentary Three Identical Strangers. [Read more…]
The Wild West is a place of fantasy long divorced from any truth that inspired its folklore. Movies have painted a gorgeous yet ferocious world of vast and vivid mesas and plains, inhabited by mysterious natives, dainty damsels in distress, black-hatted outlaws, and gruff but noble cowboys who ride high, like knights of this treacherous terrain. In our imagination, The West is a place ripe with opportunities to be a hero; the dangers are just part of that adventure. But in the sharply witty Western Damsel, buying into this fantasy means buying into deadly delusions of grandeur. Here, every man wants to think he’s the hero of this story, and every one is wrong. [Read more…]
The defining cult film of the Twenty-First Century is neither a mirror held up to nature or a hammer used to shape reality. The Room, released in 2003, is like a ninety-nine-minute episode of The Real World as performed by the inmates of the asylum of Charenton under the direction of no one. It is an incoherent broadside against evil women (or all women) and a backwards vindication of all-American male breadwinners who buy their girls roses and befriend at-risk teens. It’s a tragedy not just because it ends with a suicide, but also because sitting through it requires a robust Dionysian death drive. The Room is so bad that when you point out its idiocy, the idiocy of stating the obvious bounces back and sticks to you. [Read more…]
There can be nothing more dangerous than an awakened consciousness. Paul Schrader’s new and fierce work, First Reformed, is a portrait of a man connecting with a world in crisis, even as he is silently torn by his own scars. Beautifully composed, it is a film that reaches well beyond the surface of its story. It is about the very condition and mood of our times, and the palpable sense of some oncoming cataclysm.
We are but individuals operating within the larger panorama of societies and nations. Some of us are bond strong by belief systems; others despair within their beliefs at a world symbolically ready to burn. Paul Schrader has been a filmmaker of the latter ilk since his early days when he composed furious, violent works which, even when featuring traditional plots, displayed an artist grappling with the spirit and the flesh. [Read more…]
The new film, The Square (2017) is not marked by a tight plot; quite on the contrary it can be said to be built on vignettes, or even more precisely, by performances. Now, ‘performance’, of course, recalls Performance Art, the ‘movement’ that started out in the 1960’s; and as The Square is dealing with the contemporary art world, this connection is in no way accidental. Yet, the movie’s protagonist also explicitly refers to the work of Nicolas Bourriaud, who wrote extensively on the art of the 1990’s, which he differentiated from the issues and problems that were raised by the art movements of the past (cf. Bourriaud 2002: 7f.). He distinguishes the two in as far as Performance Art is following in the footsteps of avant-garde modernism, with its attempts to disrupt the standardised flow of our daily lives and to sketch out bold utopias with its manifestos; while for the Art of the 1990’s, or as he calls it, Relational Art, “the role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real” (ibid.: 13). The Square opens up a discussion between these two conceptions of the role of art within society, the one leading up to the 60’s/70’s and the other starting out in the 1990’s, which are based on two different interpretations of what modernity is. Let us look at them separately and see what different forms they take within the movie. [Read more…]
When a historical nightmare occurs it can distort every facet of society, in particular the arts. Artistic expression is molded by the tides of events. If a society goes completely mad, its artistic processes will be a reflection of the disease. This is ever so evident in the evolution of fascist societies. Rüdiger Suchsland’s brilliant, unnerving yet captivating new documentary, Hitler’s Hollywood, is a work of dark reverie and critical study. It challenges the viewer to ponder the very meaning of the word “beauty,” and to wonder in disturbed awe if fascism can indeed produce beautiful works. Moments in this documentary are indeed so luminous that the spectator cannot help but drink in the imagery, even if we are aware that it is all merely a veil for horrors. [Read more…]
In 2001, John Cameron Mitchell roared onto the film scene like a bat out of hell with Hedwig And The Angry Inch. Based on his daring Off-Broadway show, this outrageous rock musical was celebrated for its poignant tale of self-love and the dynamic spectacle of its sensational song numbers. Remarkably, Mitchell brought the experience of the live show into the movie theater, creating a sense of enchanting spontaneity that transformed the audiences who saw it. And that included me. [Read more…]
The poet wanders the world, his soul a caldron of anarchic nihilism. Thus we are introduced to a young Rainer Werner Fassbinder in Volker Schlöndorff’s Baal. Based on a 1918 play by the legendary German playwright Bertolt Brecht, this 16mm work, vivid and wild, has remained largely unseen since it was first broadcast on West German television in 1970. An aghast cultural hierarchy, not least Brecht’s own aged widow, ensured the film would remain locked away until 2014, when a digitally restored version was previewed at the Berlin Film Festival. Now this restored version arrives as one of the latest additions to the Criterion Collection. [Read more…]
Caked in blackening blood and punctuated by girlish flares like a pretty pink star earring, writer/director Coralie Fargeat’s feature debut Revenge is a jaw-dropping thriller that’s both nail-bitingly brutal and fiercely feminist. Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz stars as an aspiring actress whose hard-partying weekend with her rich, married beau turns deadly, then becomes a warning shot at all men missing the lessons of the Me Too movement. [Read more…]
The recent documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World is a revelation, from Link Wray’s monumental influence on the landscape of music, to the legendary stars paying tribute to the songs and rhythms of indigenous cultures whose struggles were hidden from history for far too long. The line up of celebrities in this documentary is impressive: Stevie Van Zandt, Martin Scorsese, Taj Mahal, Georges Clinton, Tony Bennett, Taboo, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Robbie Robertson and Steven Tyler, to name a few, including Iggy Pop, who owes his decision to become a musician to Link Wray’s infamous power cord.
Link Wray & His Wray Men, “Rumble” (1958) [Read more…]
The Triplets of Belleville (2003), a French-Canadian, wildly inventive and idiosyncratic animated film with no dialogue (just sound effects and simulated speech) has an exuberant original Oscar-winning soundtrack (more on that later). The plot is ostensibly about a boy, a dog, a grandmother and a bicycle, but it is really about the passing of time, aging, resilience and persistence. At the same time, it hints at a social critique of America while clearly a love letter to early Disney animation as well as a paean to those kitschy American gangster movies from the 1930’s. Add in a love affair with Hollywood’s movie musicals and you begin to sense the complexity here, as all this is served up with a dash of whimsy and with a deeply sardonic Gallic sense of humor. [Read more…]