Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Talking Tribeca: 7 Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

7 Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh
Directed by Vivieno Caldinelli

Any form of religion can seem crazy in some way. Observant subscribers of even the most mainstream religions may do things on a daily basis that appear extreme, illogical, or completely insane to those unfamiliar with the concepts or unimpressed by the reasoning behind them. Less-supported faiths are often termed cults because of the way in which followers immerse themselves in its teachings to often drastic levels. Usually, cults are the subject of dark thrillers that find innocent would-be adherents becoming trapped with no way out, but it’s also possible to turn that premise into something inherently comical and unapologetically bizarre.

Claire (Kate Micucci) has just moved from Ohio to Los Angeles with her boyfriend Paul (Sam Huntington) to pursue a promising new career. They quickly discover the reason that their freeway-adjacent apartment is so cheap when a devotee of its former inhabitant, Storsh (Taika Waititi), breaks in to commit suicide in their bathtub. This becomes an almost nightly occurrence, with a hapless cop (Dan Harmon) hoping to turn his experiences on the job into a screenplay arriving to shrug and remove the bodies. Claire and Paul begin to find a beauty in the way in which these people choose to end their lives and try to help them along on their journey, which seems harmless enough (aside from the reliable fatalities) until Claire starts to lose it.

Though many elements of this movie are absurd, it’s not entirely haphazard. Storsh’s followers have a routine they must follow, which includes performing a talent before ending their lives, and Claire and Paul eagerly listening to their stories and watching them before giving them a glass of their highly poisonous “Bliss Juice” is endearing to a degree. Storsh’s explanation that someone wouldn’t want to be told that they could eat a pint of ice cream sitting in the freezer seventy-five or eighty years from now as a call to commit suicide is simplistic and mildly amusing, which is a great way to describe much of this very odd film.

Micucci, best known for “Garfunkel and Oates,” “Scrubs,” and other TV supporting roles, is a fantastic fit for this story, quietly bubbly and perky as she searches for a way to express herself. Huntington is well-cast opposite her as the lazy and aimless Paul, and the two characters are obvious choices for susceptibility into this cult. Up until its third act, this film is enjoyable enough, and as it becomes unhinged along with its protagonist, it becomes a bit more difficult to endure. Its classification in the Midnight section of the Tribeca Film Festival is wholly appropriate, and audience members should find the title helpful enough in preparing them for what to expect.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Talking Tribeca: O.G.

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Directed by Madeleine Sackler
U.S. Narrative Competition

Any time spent in prison is likely to change a person, even if it’s just a short stay. For those incarcerated for multiple decades, the effects are considerably more intense and may present someone completely unlike the person who first went into the system. Returning to life without the same restrictions on personal space and behavior can be especially jarring for those who have spent years behind bars, and the run-up to an anticipated release is a time fraught with excitement and positivity but also uncertainty about what comes next.

Louis (Jeffrey Wright) is a very affable inmate at a maximum-security prison who gets along well with the guards and is afforded a certain respect from other inmates. Earlier in his twenty-four-year sentence, Louis ran the prison, but now he has moved past that to keep to himself and focus on his future. As his release date nears, Louis is forced to confront the man he has become as he meets a young new inmate, Beech (Theothus Carter) who he fears may go down the wrong path, is pressed by a prison investigator, Danvers (William Fichtner), to report on illicit goings-on at the prison, and comes face-to-face with a relative of the man he killed as part of a restorative justice program.

There are so many prison movies that have been made, and one of the most iconic and famous ones, “The Shawshank Redemption,” was released right around when Louis would have started serving his time. This film succeeds at feeling fresh and important because it doesn’t dwell on predictable tropes of the genre and instead shows Louis as a relatively comfortable resident of his own cell who works in an auto body shop each day. He is so close to freedom yet it’s apparent he won’t be nearly as well set-up on the outside as he managed to make himself over many years in his current situation. His stature inside the prison is evident when Danvers describes their latest conversation as below their paygrades, to which Louis jokingly responds that they definitely make different salaries.

Wright is an incredible actor whose profile has been slowly building over the past few decades, winning accolades for “Angels in America” and his continuing role on “Westworld.” This performance is exceptional, anchoring the film and demonstrating just how at ease Wright is with any character, capable of capturing what it feels like to live in his skin. Carter makes an impressive debut, all the more astounding because of his status as an inmate of the prison where the film was shot. Documentarian Madeleine Sackler pulls off an extraordinary feat by filming the movie in a prison with real inmates and real guards, giving the film a definitive authenticity. Given its genre, it’s not quite as harrowing or miserable as it could be, and instead serves as a captivating but also mildly optimistic look at life behind bars and what comes next.


Talking Tribeca: Back Roads

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Back Roads
Directed by Alex Pettyfer
Spotlight Narrative

Family life is never perfect, and for some, it can be downright destructive. The breakup of a marriage with children involved can be extremely damaging for the growth and well-being of all involved. When a parent dies, that leaves a void which is difficult to fill, and in the rare cases where one parent is responsible for the other’s death, it’s hard to imagine that anyone will come out of the situation unscathed and with a positive outlook on the world. In such cases, the oldest child is usually called upon to take charge as the closest thing left to a responsible adult.

Harley (Alex Pettyfer) skips college and lives at home working two jobs to care for his three younger sisters after his mother (Juliette Lewis) is sent to prison for killing his father. His hours are the least of his problems, as the oldest of his sisters, Amber (Nicola Peltz), frequently lashes out at him for imposing rules on her and acts out sexually to anger him. As they watch over the two younger girls, Misty (Chiara Aurelia) and Jody (Hala Finley), Harley becomes intoxicated with a married neighbor, Callie (Jennifer Morrison), and quietly begins an affair that serves as his only outlet from a stifling life he never expected to have to lead, which proves to have had even more devastating and horrifying effects on his family members.

This is not a film that attempts to glamorize any of the experiences of these children. Scenes at the home are far from pleasant, ranging from complaints about food preparation and lack of funds for car insurance to screaming matches and furniture set on fire. Harley’s life is monotonous and grim, and Callie, who feels repressed in an entirely different way, represents a rare bright light and instance of beauty. The way he sees her and expresses his feelings about her contrasts so drastically with everything else he experiences and does, and the fact that she is married with two kids, one of whom is Jody’s frequent playmate, means that the one good thing in his life surely can’t last forever.

At just twenty-eight years old, British actor Pettyfer pulls double duty with his feature directorial debut, presenting a surprisingly deep and dark drama, and also acting in the lead role. Morrison, best known for less serious TV work on “House” and “Once Upon a Time,” is terrific in a role representative of a slightly older generation, and all three actresses portraying the sisters are superb, with Peltz turning in a particularly fierce and unforgettable performance. As this film navigates disturbing material, it handles most of its scenes, adapted from Tawni O’Dell’s 1999 novel, well, though many viewers are sure to be put off by the content and the way the film addresses the abuse its characters have endured. It’s an impressive effort by Pettyfer and certainly one worthy of analysis and exploration.


Talking Tribeca: Woman Walks Ahead

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Woman Walks Ahead
Directed by Susanna White
Special Screenings

There is often intersectionality between people from vastly different backgrounds who find themselves oppressed. Though there is still a long way to go and certain forces seem more intent on keeping divides rather than breaking them down, a considerable amount has been accomplished in the past century in regards to the rights of both women and the Native American population. This story from the late 1800s finds one woman determined to do as she pleases after a life of appeasing others and set on capturing the essence of a powerful leader not always given the respect he deserves.

Following a year of mourning for her late husband, Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain) decides to take up the love of painting she put aside when she got married and journey to North Dakota to paint esteemed Sioux chief Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes). Upon arrival, Catherine finds considerable hostility to her presence from the local American commander (Ciarin Hinds) and Colonel Silas Groves (Sam Rockwell), sent by the military to assure the passage of a lopsided treaty with the Sioux. Shunned by many white locals who have not gotten over past conflicts with the Sioux, Catherine finds herself surprisingly welcomed by the population and builds a strong relationship with the initially resistant Sitting Bull.

In a stirring speech given to a group of Native Americans sitting before white men seeking to ratify this treaty, Sitting Bull attests that land cannot be bought or taken because it does not belong to men. Regardless of how one feels about the subject, this is a film that respects its landscape, first appearing when Catherine steps off her train from New York with nothing but flatness in sight and serving as the setting for the moments in which Catherine and Sitting Bull find themselves able to get to know one and understand each other’s experiences. This is a film that, for as much as this reviewer, born one hundred years after the events of this film, actually knows this time period was really like, feels like an authentic excerpt spotlighting an unusual friendship.

Chastain has been making many movies lately, and while this is a good role for her, the New York accent she tries to put on distracts considerably. Greyeyes and Chaske Spencer, as Sitting Bull’s nephew who works with the American forces, deliver effective performances, with Rockwell turning in an expectedly rascally follow-up to his Oscar-winning work in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” This is a well-directed movie with a decent script that tells an important story of cooperation which unfortunately does serve as the exception rather than one instance of many.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Cargo

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke

Zombies are everywhere right now in film and television, existing undead in various forms that find them feasting on brains and generally not gelling completely with whatever remains of the human population. Certain tenets seem to be consistent across the cinematic zombie universe, while the level of brain functionality and ability to communicate verbally vary, as does the cause of the virus that turned people and whether there’s any hope of an antidote. Lighter fare with comedic interpretations of undeadness like “iZombie” and “Santa Clarita Diet” have become common recently, but an old-fashioned serious take on the inevitability of becoming a zombie still proves reliably dependable.

Andy (Martin Freeman) is floating along the water in a house boat in the Australian Outback with his wife Kay (Susie Porter) and his infant daughter, scavenging for food and trying to make human contact in the aftermath of a devastating outbreak that has turned most people into zombies. The government supplies kits with instructions and materials for what to do if you are bitten, including a watch that counts down the forty-eight hours until you turn and an epi-pen of sorts to inject straight into the brain. When the unthinkable happens and the clock starts, Andy must do whatever he can to ensure that Ruth has a chance at survival.

The setting of rural Australia works very much to the film’s advantage, with seemingly endless landscapes providing little hope for salvation or a crucial alliance. The inclusion of Aboriginal characters including young Thoomi (Simone Landers), who supervises her undead father with the hope that she can rescue his soul, is a boon to the film and its contemplative approach to mortality. The focus here is so much on what comes next once death, or something much worse, is positively certain, and the way in which that guides Andy’s determination to save his daughter is immensely compelling and serves this film remarkably well.

Freeman, known primarily for his role in the Hobbit movies and on “Sherlock,” delivers a committed, unflinching performance that shows the lengths he will unhesitatingly go to for even a chance that his daughter can be allowed to grow up once he is gone. The entire experience is gripping and involving, which is even more impressive given how much of it features aimless wandering. It’s reassuring to know that, in the unlikely event of a zombie apocalypse, there’s still new ground to be covered in telling the story of those who survive.


Talking Tribeca: In a Relationship

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

In a Relationship
Directed by Sam Boyd
Spotlight Narrative

It’s truer now than ever that people feel a need to define their relationship status, or fight back against that desire because they don’t want to be labeled. That line on ever-popular social networking site Facebook can lead to much anxiety and agony for those who opt to publicize how they feel about someone else and then, should the relationship not last, find themselves under immense scrutiny from strangers who may notice the removal of that electronic identifier. Not having the pressure of labeling how you feel about someone else to casual acquaintances doesn’t necessarily make firmly establishing how to define a relationship any easier.

Hallie (Emma Roberts) and Owen (Michael Angarano) are a happy couple, or so it seems. When Owen rejects Hallie’s suggestion to move in together and she responds poorly, the two suddenly decide to take a break, prompting poor choices on both of their parts that are entirely unproductive to any future they might share together. While they navigate what life looks like without each other in it, Owen’s best friend Matt (Patrick Gibson) falls for Hallie’s cousin Willa (Dree Hemingway), and the two connect in a way that includes all the elements of romance that have fallen out of Hallie and Owen’s relationship.

So many movies have focused on relationships that may be typical or atypical, and this film’s title addresses its subject matter perfectly. The small moments that are shaken off as unimportant when everything is rosy seem all the more problematic when cracks begin to emerge in this longstanding dynamic between Hallie and Owen, who immediately feel like a real, believable couple that has been together for years. The decay of their romance contrasts sharply with the intensity with which Matt pursues a flattered Willa, and makes for fascinating if uncomfortable moments when the four intertwined characters find themselves interacting at remarkably different points in the life of their relationships.

Casting is key in a movie like this, and fortunately, all four leads are excellent choices. Roberts, the most established of these four, is superb at rapid-fire speeches, something Owen complains about when it happens first thing in the morning, and at portraying the party in the relationship who feels like they’re much more committed. Michael Angarano, who has made a number of films since his early days on “Will and Grace,” does a great job of making Owen reliably despicable, more concerned with being congratulated for the few things he does right than being accountable when he falters. Gibson is marvelously full of sweet and endearing energy, painting a rare portrait of a male suitor who’s actually all about kindness. Hemingway, who had a similar role in “It Happened in L.A.,” wisely doesn’t allow Willa to simply accept much of Gibson’s courtship, offering up a layered portrait of her own. The cast helps to make this engaging and involving film an altogether enjoyable and worthwhile look at love – and how little it’s actually changed – in today’s society.


Talking Tribeca: Slut in a Good Way

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Slut in a Good Way
Directed by Sophie Lorain
Viewpoints – Narrative

There are so many movies about teenagers for a reason: it’s a formative period in which all children begin to transform into adults, whatever that may mean for their specific experience. It’s not a time upon which many look back fondly, making it great fodder for comedy. The ways in which the story can be presented vary based on the focus of the film and its plot, and this edgily-titled film chooses to lens its story in black-and-white and showcase only teenagers, formatting choices that enhance an involving take on teen angst that’s funny and feels fresh.

Charlotte (Marguerite Bouchard), Aube (Rose Adam), and Mégane (Romane Denis) are inseparable best friends all experiencing their own woes in teenage love. Charlotte is devastated after discovering that her perfect boyfriend is gay, Aube has yet to express her feelings for a guy, and Mégane doesn’t seem the least bit interested in romance, viewing it as an aggressive infringement on her self-expression. Bored, the three apply for jobs at Toy Depot, which allows them to spend time with a whole host of eligible and eager boys, creating conflicts in their relationships and allowing them to learn a great deal about themselves and each other which may or may not last into their adult years.

This French-language Canadian film is the latest Tribeca Film Festival selection to confront female teenagers with an overactive sexual imagination, following in the footsteps of memorable movies from years past such as “Being 14” and “Turn Me On, Dammit!” This film uses the setting of its massive warehouse as a breeding ground for flirtation and the embodiment of the frustration all of its employees feel about the world as a whole. Omitting any adults from the story heightens the sense that, for these girls, working in this hormone-filled megastore feels like all there is in the world.

All three actresses who share top billing have relatively short resumés, and this film serves as a fine addition to all of them, with all three delivering lived-in, genuine performances. The emphasis here is on comedy, with the developments that could be termed serious presented in an entertaining light and expressed creatively rather than matter-of-factly. Presenting the film in black-and-white helps the vast Toy Depot feel like a truly timeless place, and there are a number of clever moments that help this film’s originality show through, including the ending that serves as the most fitting conclusion possible to a worthwhile excerpt that these characters would be sure to want to forget were they to come of age.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Stockholm

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Directed by Robert Budreau
Spotlight Narrative

It’s actually not so uncommon to see a film where someone gets taken hostage and ends up falling in love with their captor. Even if it’s not a romance, there are many instances of those who come to understand what it is that the criminal that has taken them aims to accomplish and to be able to emit some sympathy for their struggle, even if their chosen method of attaining it is far from commendable. There’s a term for such behavior, and it stands to reason that the original case that gave Stockholm syndrome its name would be worth exploring.

An American man (Ethan Hawke) identified as Lars bursts into the largest bank in Sweden in 1973, fires off a few rounds, and takes two hostages, employees Bianca Lind (Noomi Rapace) and Klara Mardh (Bea Santos). He demands that criminal Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong) be released from prison and makes clear what it is he wants from the unamused Chief Mattsson (Christopher Heyerdahl). As this remarkable standoff plays out, Lars and Bianca develop a bond and a trust, one that defies their situation and even pushes Bianca to help Lars try to make his getaway.

This is not an overtly serious film, beginning with the note “This is based on an absurd but true story.” From Lars’ first appearance on screen with a wild wig and an American flag on the back of his jacket, he’s a comic figure who never poses much of a threat, something that Bianca comes to understand when she recognizes him from a news report about a burglar who helped stop a man he was robbing from dying of a heart attack. As Chief Mattsson tries to manage Lars and con him into giving up or getting caught by surprise, it’s not just Lars who softens but the people around him who find their predicament to be horrifying but not nearly as miserable or frightening as it should be.

Hawke has been busy lately, both in front of and behind the camera, premiering several others film at Sundance and South by Southwest, and it’s good to see him in a comfortable role than allows him to be unhinged and energetic as always, and extremely entertaining. Rapace, the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” makes a return to Swedish cinema with an English-speaking part that’s well-suited to her talents, and a Canadian actor best known for playing a character named the Swede, Heyerdahl, is perfectly cast as well. This film may not be as resounding as true crime caper “American Animals,” but it’s still an enjoyable and captivating look at an unusual crisis.


Talking Tribeca: Duck Butter

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Duck Butter
Directed by Miguel Arteta
U.S. Narrative Competition

Romance isn’t something that can be forced, at least not in a way that’s truly enduring. In today’s age, many people meet on dating apps where they might message each other back and forth long before they finally meet face-to-face. If two prospective partners are lucky enough to meet in a happenstance way at a bar or event, the likelihood that a one-night stand turns into something substantial may not be all that high. Some may seek to jump-start the process and skip past any initial awkwardness or lack of closeness, but such efforts are sure to have unintentional consequences that may undo the entire dynamic.

Naima (Alia Shawkat) is having a rough day following a less-than-perfect opening shoot for her new role in an independent film. When she meets and locks eyes with aspiring singer Sergio (Laia Costa), she goes home with her. Sergio’s suggestion that they spend twenty-four hours together, having sex every hour and getting to know each other deeply, initially strikes Naima as crazy, but after she leaves and finds out that she has been cut from the film, she returns, begging for a second chance. As they stay up through the night connecting on a level that aims to provide complete honesty and skip over any relationship hurdles, problems with their plan that demonstrate that they are moving way too fast begin to emerge.

The appearance of the Duplass brothers (who also serve as executive producers) and Kumail Nanjiani as themselves in the opening scene suggests a very different kind of film than this is. It attempts to mirror reality in a different way, diving deep into this two-person relationship and how both parties are so intensely attracted to each other that, shortly after meeting for the first time, they are ready to tune out the rest of the world to achieve an unprecedented intimacy. Their night-long marathon is a captivating one which navigates a range of emotions and exposes their true aims that eventually overshadow whatever honesty they claim to project and share.

Shawkat is absolutely the right actress to play this character, having honed characters with unique perspectives on the world and an awkward approach to communication. Spanish actress Costa, a less established personality in America, is a very fitting on-screen companion, one who displays an immense passion for creative expression and at times a frightening energy that overwhelms her every impulse. The film’s title speaks to the sexual nature of its content, which is far from gratuitous but instead meant to truly explore what it looks like for intimacy to be created in a fast-forwarded manner. Co-written by Shawkat and director Miguel Arteta, whose past films have included “Cedar Rapids” and “Youth in Revolt,” this often dreamlike experience is one that’s very memorable and difficult to shake, traversing a vast array of feelings in its characters’ quest for a shared existence.


Talking Tribeca: Virgins

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Directed by Keren Ben Rafael
International Narrative Competition

There’s an almost mythical importance assigned by popular culture and many societies to a person’s first time having sex. It can serve as the dominant obsession of someone’s existence until it finally is turned into a reality, regardless of whether that experience is a positive or negative one and what it leads to next. Along with the unnatural emphasis on the impact of this milestone come other passing interests which can divert attention away to things that may be far less attainable but equally alluring for the mystery and anticipation they create.

Lana (Joy Rieger) spends her days in a beach town in Israel trying to find some excitement with a few male friends and rebelling against the monotony of her life. Her mother (Evgenia Dodina) operates a café that is rarely visited and may soon close, and her younger cousin Tamar clings to her more than she would like. When a journalist, Tchipi (Michael Aloni), arrives in town, he immediately invigorates Lana’s life as he serves not only as a prospective romantic interest but also engages her and everyone she knows by perpetuating a local rumor that a mermaid has been sighted in the water, an impossibility that nonetheless strikes residents near and far as immensely intriguing.

This film’s title may carry a deeper meaning than the more conventional, sex-related implications that are presented in its first scene, which finds Lana playing strip poker with boys who are far less willing to accept the consequences of losing their hands – and clothes – than she is. More than wanting to experience sexual satisfaction, for which Tchipi serves as an attractive ideal, Lana wants to do something with her life and escape the boring repetitiveness of where she is to live it up in Tel Aviv, a dream destination she imagines for the near future. Her mother and her fading business represent the reality of what Lana may have to endure, footsteps in which she does not wish to follow.

“Virgins” follows in the footsteps of a number of recent Israeli films, including “Six Acts” and “Zero Motivation,” Tribeca entries from 2013 and 2014, respectively, merging their themes of sexual enthusiasm and overwhelming boredom to create a product that feels like a far less fantasy-oriented version of “Ondine.” Whether the mermaid exists here is less important than how the concept that it might captures the spirit of those in the town, including Lana, who latches on to it as a way to be relevant. Rieger and Aloni both turn in solid performances, as does Dodina, and this film ultimately can’t match the allure of its fiction, traveling a journey with no clear ending, literal or metaphorical, in sight, just as uncertain about its own future as Lana is about hers.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never to Play Football

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never to Play Football
Directed by Louis Myles

Sports stars earn an eternal place in celebrity history due to an excitement that watching a live game can provide which other things in life simply cannot. While this reviewer can hardly be considered a sports aficionado, the appeal is clear, and the prevalence of fantasy leagues where participants hedge their bets on their favorite players to go far illustrates just how iconic they can be. Most who earn worldwide acclaim do so because of their demonstrated skill on the field or court, but there are those rare few who are known specifically for the opposite.

Carlos Henrique Raposo, better known as Kaiser, is an incredible figure in the history of sports. The Brazilian soccer star was known for playing on nearly every team he could around the globe, save for one thing: he never actually played. His penchant for faking injuries and telling tale tales illustrates the degree to which Kaiser established a larger-than-life career full of infinite affiliations and accomplishments, none of which involved scoring a goal. Reflecting back upon years of fabrication, Kaiser opens up to the camera about his very critical role in creating a fiction hard to distinguish from the bits of truth embedded within it.

This documentary boasts high production values in its interview sequences and dramatic recreations of moments from Kaiser’s past, either alleged only by him or corroborated by others, which contrast effectively with grainier archive footage of Kaiser’s famous moments on – and mostly absent from – the field. The film’s visual style is energizing and appealing, framing its interview subjects and facts about them as colorfully and creatively. Best of all, those who have the opportunity to share their recollections with the camera are most often amused by the way in which Kaiser’s ridiculous trajectory continues to astound them.

Not everything that comes up during this movie is played for laughs, which helps to give it a certain dramatic potency. Kaiser himself pushed for this story to be told, yet it’s clear at several points throughout the film that he’s hurt by the way in which people perceive him and doesn’t always appreciate being the butt of a joke that he started telling. His passing physical similarity to Tommy Wiseau is appropriate given the way that their fame is based on not exceling at their chosen fields and serving as a source of unintentional entertainment as a result. This documentary does a great job of examining, with wide-eyed wonder, everything that makes up the unique achievements of the greatest footballer never to play football.


Talking Tribeca: Mary Shelley

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Mary Shelley
Directed by Haifaa al-Mansour
Spotlight Narrative

Some authors are almost synonymous with their works. The name Mary Shelley immediately conjures up images of a monster created by Dr. Frankenstein who has been part of literature and cinema for the past two hundred years, serving as the inspiration for many other horror stories. What’s less known is the history of Shelley herself, who as a woman in the early 1800s wrote a book that propelled her to the kind of success that could only truly be experienced long after her lifetime. Like Emily Dickinson, who got a spotlight in “Wild Nights with Emily” at South by Southwest, Shelley now gets her turn to have her story told.

Mary Wollstonecraft (Elle Fanning) grows up feeling a connection to her father (Stephen Dillane), a bookseller, but much more negatively affected by the repressive attitude of her stepmother (Joanne Froggatt). Gifted a precious getaway to Scotland, she realizes that there is more than she can attain in her life, something that begins to come to fruition when she meets the charming poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). Though their relationship affords her the opportunity to express herself creatively, she is also held back by his own antics and the nature of the times, retreating often to elements that constitute her dreams and will later make up the nightmares of others.

Understanding just what it was that led Shelley to write one of the most iconic horror stories ever written is appealing, especially since it’s likely that there were people and moments in her life that she adapted and transformed into the characters and themes of that original novel. Yet, as a number of other films that have delved into the people behind the work have shown, the story isn’t always quite as intriguing as it may seem. This depiction may have been more effective had it shown some version of the Frankenstein story even as it merely played out in Shelley’s head, since that link isn’t explicitly made and events seem to cut off long before the story reaches a point of truly becoming fascinating.

Fanning is an exceptionally talented actress who, at the age of twenty, has already had a number of terrific and memorable roles. This one is no exception, and she rises far above the material. Bel Powley, portraying her oft-sidelined stepsister Claire, is the true standout in this film that tells its story matter-of-factly without drawing out its more intriguing and worthwhile parts. Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first female Saudi filmmaker who broke out with “Wadjda” in 2012, surely seemed like the perfect choice to bring the story of an underpraised trailblazer to the big screen, but ultimately this plays as more of a forgettable period piece than a truly impactful and transformative ode to a great writer. Maybe the recently-commissioned third season of the TV series “Genius” will provide a more enlightening and involving look at Shelley’s brilliance.


Talking Tribeca: Smuggling Hendrix

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Smuggling Hendrix
Directed by Marios Piperides
International Narrative Competition

A dog is a man’s best friend, or so I’ve been told. As what many might consider the opposite of a dog person, it’s hard for me to understand the affection one can feel for a pet, but it’s certainly something I’ve seen presented in movies and on display in real life with friends who spend more time with their animals than with the people in their lives. The lengths people will go to in order to ensure the well-being of their pets are incredible, though I’d say that someone needing to chase his dog over a border would probably be considered the extreme.

Yiannis (Adam Bousdoukos) is getting ready to leave town, departing Cyprus to pursue his music abroad and run away from the debts that he has incurred and which follow him around as he makes his final preparations. The only thing that’s positive in his present life is his dog, Jimi, who turns his life upside down when he runs across the border separating the Turkish-held North from the Greek-held South. Told that he cannot bring a dog back over to his home, Yiannis must turn to more desperate methods to get Jimi home in time, enlisting the unwilling help of the man (Fatith Al) who lives in the home his family once owned, a questionably-reliable smuggler (Özgür Karadeniz), and the ex-girlfriend (Vicky Papadopoulou) with whom he shares custody of the dog.

This is a decidedly silly story, one that follows the hijinks of this absurd smuggling operation, which of course depend upon Jimi’s ability to keep from barking after it was the dog who caused the problem by running into an occupied territory from which he’s not permitted to reenter unless he does so unseen by the guards. The light plot pales in comparison to the intriguing political commentary presented on the way in which this real-life divided country sets the stage for this film’s tale. Examining the patrolled border and unrecognized status of a nation-state might make for a far better historical drama than this lackluster comedy.

Of the film’s performers, Bousdoukos is the least memorable, making Yiannis an unlikeable slob, hardly worthy of any empathy and not even concerned to dress in something more stable than flip-flops as he steps into another country to find his dog. Al and Karadeniz embrace the absurd situation in which their characters find themselves, and Papadopoulou shines as the most sensible personality in pursuit of this troublesome dog. This film accomplishes what it wants to, which isn’t much, and whether it needed to be made at all isn’t really justified by the end result.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Tully

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Directed by Jason Reitman
Special Screenings

There is no one trajectory to explain how and when major moments will play out in a person’s life. Some people don’t want a family, while others plan meticulously for it, but factors beyond their control may hasten or delay the beginning of a relationship, an engagement, or a birth. There are plenty of comedy and drama films about the miracle of life and the impact welcoming a child into the world can have, and this new film shows that there still is considerable ground to be covered, offering a fresh spin on something that many people are likely to experience or be affected by in some manner.

Marlo (Charlize Theron) is pushing the limits of exhaustion, raising two kids, including one with behavioral issues whose principal suggests that he might be better suited with a one-on-one aide that she’ll need to pay for, and very heavily pregnant with a third. Her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) is nice enough but hardly present, traveling frequently and playing video games in bed rather than helping around the house when he is home. After she gives birth, she opts to take her wealthy brother Craig (Mark Duplass) up on his generous offer to cover the costs of a night nanny. Meeting Tully (Mackenzie Davis), the young, spirited, energetic woman who arrives each night to allow her some sleep, changes everything, helping to turn her back into the person she once was.

Director Jason Reitman considers this the third in a trilogy of films directed by him and written by Diablo Cody. The first, the highly popular “Juno,” deals with an unexpected teenage pregnancy. The second, “Young Adult,” follows a woman who has never really grown up. This third chapter returns to the idea of family years later, long after the excitement of a newborn has worn off and life has become a monotonous burden without any hope of relief, which Tully’s arrival miraculously provides. Like their first two collaborations, this Reitman-Cody effort is a highly enjoyable, clever, and memorable look at a person trying to grapple with the state of her life that has spiraled well out of control.

Theron was so magnificently despicable in “Young Adult,” and it’s great to see her as a kinder but equally impatient mother who feels, rightly so thanks to her aloof husband, that she’s doing this all on her own. A substantial weight gain is the least impressive part of Theron’s layered and entertaining performance, complemented tremendously by Davis, a talented young actress who broke out in “Always Shine” at Tribeca two years ago and has since appeared in “Blade Runner 2049” and other films. Reitman suggests that Marlo’s situation is merely a location for the film, with the plot being more relevantly about a woman who rediscovers herself. Despite a questionable turn towards the end of the film, it recovers strongly and emphatically, certain of what it is and the poignancy of its story.


Talking Tribeca: Sunday’s Illness

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Sunday’s Illness
Directed by Ramón Salazar
International Narrative Competition

Reuniting with a long-absent parent or long-lost child is always an intense experience, especially if one or both parties didn’t know about the identity or existence of the other until shortly before that time. There are people who spend decades searching for their birth parents even following positive upbringings by adoptive others, and some grow to resent a parent who walked out on their family at an early age. When that fateful meeting does finally happen, it can be a joyous or miserable experience, one that is sure to require a lot of processing and may ultimately do more damage than good, depending on whether both parties are equally happy to meet or see each other.

Anabel (Susi Sánchez) lives a very elite existence in Barcelona with her husband Bernabé (Miguel Ángel Solá) which is horribly disrupted during a fancy dinner party where one waitress reveals herself to be Chiara (Bárbara Lennie), Anabel’s daughter from her first marriage who she hasn’t seen in years. Thrown by her sudden and unexplained appearance, Anabel moves to safeguard all she has amassed from ruin by her potentially vindictive offspring, who in turn makes one simple request: for the two of them to spend ten days together. Initially resistant to the experience but determined to get through it, Anabel gradually opens up to getting to know the daughter she left at a young age as they sit quietly together in and around her childhood home, occasionally venturing to enlightening conversation.

There is a stark contrast between the way that Anabel lives and the amount of space that surrounds her and the simplicity of the small country house where Chiara has her come to get taken back down to reality. One of Chiara’s first acts is to deliberately pour her mother the wrong kind of wine before she knows who has infiltrated her composed life, something Chiara follows up later in the film by having her mother hold a stray dog while she pretends to accidentally turn the hose on her mother rather than the dog. It’s mainly just these two for the duration of the film, Anabel offering a steely resolve to deal with this unexpected reappearance and Chiara determined to make her mother realize the impact her absence has had on her life.

Spanish actresses Sánchez and Lennie both deliver performances that get to the heart of their characters, two women who have some sense of what they want in life and have had to either overcome or change their own circumstances in order to attain it. Watching them reluctantly get to know each other is an enlightening experience, if a painfully slow one. There are multiple moments at which the film seems ready to conclude on an impactful note, and by the time it does end, the journey feels worthwhile if a bit unnecessarily long.


Talking Tribeca: Lemonade

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Directed by Ioana Uricaru
International Narrative Competition

The immigration debate in contemporary America has gone way beyond the issue of a green card, with prospective arrivals from certain countries barred from entry and racial profiling often in place which doesn’t bother to distinguish based on residency status. The green card system, while relatively simple compared to many other ways of becoming a citizen, is still plagued with many problems, where even a candidate who tries to follow all the rules may be subject to baseless discrimination and feel forced to do things they otherwise wouldn’t out of desperation or fear.

Mara (Mãlina Manovici) is a Romanian woman who has come to the United States and married Daniel (Dylan Smith), who is recovering from a serious construction fall. As her nine-year-old son Dragos (Milan Hurduc) arrives, Mara finds herself losing control of her daily life and her struggle to get a green card. Things get even worse when her immigration officer, Moji (Steve Bacic), takes advantage of the position of power he is in and puts her in an impossible situation where she must compromise everything she believes in to have any hope of attaining the life she so wants.

This is a relatively miserable movie, one that rarely finds moments of true joy for any of its characters. Mara is quiet, not merely because English isn’t her first language, and she doesn’t take much delight in anything in her life aside from being reunited with her son, who is far and away the happiest person in the film. Mara’s marriage to Daniel seems like a positive relationship, but it’s quickly revealed that the two of them don’t know each other nearly as well as they think. Watching these unpleasant people experience unpleasant things is hardly appealing, though its tone is in keeping with other Romanian cinema.

Manovici’s performance stands out as the strongest element of the film, a believable portrayal of a woman just trying to live her life in a fulfilling way with all the right intentions. This depressing film serves as a cinematic representation of a struggle many people go through when they reach a new country and must go through an arduous process to earn the rights native inhabitants automatically have. It’s hardly an inviting or optimistic one, and its unsatisfying ending suggests that a story such as this is difficult to properly and purposefully conclude.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Nico, 1988

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Nico, 1988
Directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli
Spotlight Narrative

More than any celebrity, musicians have the potential to become legendary. Many only experience their music by listening to it without seeing it sung live, while others have the unique opportunity to attend a show and see what the performance adds to the songs. When a musician dies either far too young or in a mysterious manner, their legacies are amplified exponentially for the untapped potential and the additional music they might have created had they been granted the time to do so.

Beginning in 1986, Nico (Trine Dyrholm), also known as Christa Päffgen, is hardly at the height of her career. Having attained fame for her work with The Velvet Undergound and as a favorite of Andy Warhol’s, the German singer, nearly fifty years old, finds her life crumbling as she spirals into drug addiction and struggles to keep custody of her troubled son. Her manager’s suggestion of a tour across Europe gives her some sense of purpose but also sets the stage for a tumultuous journey, one that enables select audiences to see just who Nico is and how intensely she gets into her particular brand of music and also hurtles her towards a premature end to her career.

Nico’s music can hardly be called melodic, a specifically stylized type of rock that demonstrates great passion and a certain kind of energy but isn’t always easy on the ears. This film strives for an accurate representation of how Nico interacted with the world, rarely interested in what others thought of her, particularly during performances when her behavior was less than ideal for public relations purposes or the reaction of an eager audience who didn’t want Nico to interrupt a set by storming off the stage. Though it’s hardly a flattering portrait, this film does give the sense that Nico was a layered and complicated personality, one who was difficult to understand, even with the context of her life experiences.

Dyrholm is a Danish actress and singer known for her work in films such as “In a Better World” and “Love Is All You Need.” Usually, she plays a friendlier, warmer kind of character, but here she is buried under considerable stress and dissatisfaction with her world experience, an effective if purposely uninviting turn. Her story is an intriguing but also dark one which, like Nico, has its mesmerizing moments but as a whole fails to truly spark. It’s a fine film, but not a well-rounded or deeply engaging portrait of this singer.


Movie with Abe: Little Pink House

Little Pink House
Directed by Courtney Balaker
Released April 20, 2018

Everyone deserves to be able to live in their home, and no one should be forcefully removed. There are circumstances which dictate that land should be reappropriated for a public good, and usually efforts are made to ensure that those who are told to relocate are offered fair compensation in exchange for the loss of the place they call home. When a private corporation is the one making the request, however, those impacted may not be willing to go quietly, as was the case with the residents of New London, Connecticut who, nearly twenty years ago, protested being forced to move to make way for a new Pfizer plant.

Catherine Keener stars in the film

Susette Kelo (Catherine Keener) is a paramedic nurse in New London who owns a little pink house with a gorgeous view. When she is approached by representatives of the New London Development Corporation with a generous offer to buy the house that she has renovated from a small cottage into a warm setting for her life, she rejects it outright. When they repeatedly return and ultimately decide to use eminent domain to evict holdouts, Susette reluctantly becomes the face of the movement against the intrusion of a private company pretending to be a public interest into her personal life, taking the battle all the way to the Supreme Court as the NLDC’s chosen spokesperson, Dr. Charlotte Wells (Jeanne Tripplehorn), works to spin the story in favor of bettering the town and boosting the economy.

Producer Ted Balaker, subject Susette Kelo, and director Courtney Balaker

In this case, revealing the end of the movie is necessary since it speaks to the main reason that it came to be made. When the Supreme Court decision came out against the tenants and on the side of the city of New London, producer Ted Balaker cites it as one of the few moments in his life that he can remember where he was, shocked to learn that the court ruled against them. When the film and television rights for the book of the same name by Jack Benedict became available, Ted and his wife, Courtney, the film’s director, who wasn’t familiar with the case, realized that writing the screenplay felt like the next step. The real Susette Kelo claims that, over a few beers, she knew that “they were going to do the right thing, not just make a movie but make a point and try to continue to correct what happened so that it doesn’t happen to other people.” Ted describes the desire to “use the film to shine a light on other abuses since there’s a little pink house in every town.” The film’s website and Facebook page highlight eminent domain cases going on today targeting poor, elderly, minority communities, and Ted recommends the Institute of Justice, the organization that took Kelo’s case on, as another resource for those spurred to involvement.

Catherine Keener stars in the film

Discussing the ambitious nature of Courtney’s feature directorial debut, Ted jokes that it should have been a drama with two people rather than a “sprawling, decade-long ordeal with seventy-plus actors, a demolition scene, and the Supreme Court.” The married duo commends Kelo on being an empowering subject, and note her presence at past film festival screenings as a factor in the overwhelmingly positive response to the film, adding that at least one person has gone up to hug Kelo and thank her for what she did every time she was present. Kelo responds simply that “there’s not too many people that are against having their home taken away from them.”

Jeanne Tripplehorn stars in the film

This film strikes a particular chord because, over ten years after the ruling came down from the Supreme Court, nothing has been built on the land. Acting as a springboard for important conversations and hoping to inspire political action from affected viewers, this film also serves as an affirming drama with an authentic performance from Keener and a crucially funny turn from Tripplehorn, who Courtney attributes as charming and playful, not just a black-and-white villain. More than anything, however, this film is about “harnessing the excitement from viewers about learning more and suggesting five things that people can do if they want to do more,” according to Ted. As a call to action, this deeply sentimental film should do very well.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Jewcy Interviews: Most Likely to Murder

I had the pleasure of speaking with Dan Gregor (who also directs) and Doug Mand, co-screenwriters of "Most Likely to Murder," which I saw at South by Southwest last month, for Jewcy. Check out this great conversation with two very funny people over at Jewcy, and watch for the film on digital and on demand on May 1st!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Movie with Abe: The Rider

The Rider
Directed by Chloe Zhao
Released April 13, 2018

Where someone grows up can have an enormous impact on who that person becomes. Countries and areas of the world instill different values in their societies, which their residents may either embrace or rebel against, contributing to the development of who they are. Even within a country like the United States, the way people live and what they do can vary greatly by the influences of politics, climate, and general interests of a state or region. For those swept up by a phenomenon of their area, it can be difficult if not impossible to separate from that which ends up being in a person’s blood.

Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) is a rodeo star who has recently suffered a serious head injury. Despite doctor’s orders to stay off horses, Brady finds himself immersed in that world, unable to escape it in his daily life and not content to sit on the sidelines. Visits with a friend who suffered an accident that left him unable to speak or move freely show him what his future could be, but the knowledge of what fate could befall him almost propels him more towards making the most of what he loves to do while he still can.

This is a film that feels extraordinarily genuine. Its South Dakota setting provides plenty of scenery and a fitting backdrop for its horses and their rodeo shows. All the actors portray characters either with the same names as them or with slight variations, capturing the feel of what it’s like to live this life. This story could take place at any moment in history, and the fact that Brady has a video of his accident on his smartphone is one of the only modern identifiers that places it in the present. The timeless tenderness of the experience shines through more than any current elements possibly could.

This film earned multiple Independent Spirit Awards this past year, competing with a number of the top Oscar movies, and it has enjoyed successful runs at the Sundance Film Festival and South by Southwest before finally making it to American theaters. The authenticity of this film, with naturalistic performances and a true heart, make it well worth seeing. It may not be a fast-paced or overly energizing watch, but it accomplishes exactly what it wants to in a formidable and extremely compelling way.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Movie with Abe: Shelter

Directed by Eran Riklis
Released April 6, 2018

It’s a difficult thing for people from cultures that have irreconcilable historical differences to see eye-to-eye. Previous experiences and prejudices are substantial hurdles, and only in extreme circumstances are those who haven’t had contact before given the opportunity to spend time together. Watching those who wouldn’t normally be seen together but are forced to consider each other’s circumstances begin to trust one another is usually a rewarding journey, one that provides insight into how they approach each other and break down barriers that, at the moment of their first meeting, seemed completely insurmountable.

Naomi (Neta Riskin), a Mossad agent on leave trying to have a baby, is approached by her old handler Gad (Lior Ashkenazi) with a seemingly low-key assignment: to protect a Lebanese woman named Mona (Golshifteh Farahani) who has served as an informant for the Israelis and is recovering from surgery to change her face. Naomi travels to Germany, where she must work to keep Mona from trying to leave the apartment as her bandages slowly come off. While Mona initially treats Naomi like a servant, the two begin to realize that they have much more in common than they thought.

There have been a number of movies made about Israeli agents operating undercover missions with Arab informants turning against their people. This one stands out because of the intimate way in which it portrays the bond the Naomi and Mona form, one that begins with neither of them knowing their real names and truly understanding the places that each of them comes from both geographically and emotionally. This tale of two women contains plenty of layers, not simply a surface story with a predictable ending. It’s also a compelling thriller, one that builds suspense just as it builds a relationship between its two protagonists.

Both Riskin and Farahani deliver performances that capture the sentiments of their characters, making them feel three-dimensional and real. The two operate on a level playing field, being vulnerable with each other as they have conversations which make them understand the similarities of their backgrounds and the place in which they find themselves. The script is strong, wisely spending little time on the preconceived notions that its characters might have and instead skipping to the very worthwhile meat of its great story, one that fittingly memorable to help create a solid film.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Movie with Abe: 6 Balloons

6 Balloons
Directed by Marja-Lewis Ryan
Released April 6, 2018

The passage of time is an influential device in film that can be used to show the way in which characters are transformed by their experiences. Sprawling biopics and other epics might choose to spotlight their protagonists over the course of their entire lives, beginning at childhood and finishing at the end of a long and eventful career. Meeting a character over a short period of time provides the opportunity for a different kind of interaction, one that doesn’t have the advantage of years for a person to grow but can prove just as dynamic a journey.

Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is planning a surprise party for her boyfriend Jack (Dawan Owens). She starts her day by picking up her overbearing mother (Jane Kaczmarek), who gets a little too into their shopping trip, and then goes to get her brother Seth (Dave Franco). At home with his young daughter, Ella (Charlotte and Madeline Carel), it becomes immediately clear to Katie that Seth has relapsed. While she struggles to get to the party on time, Katie finds herself preoccupied with getting Seth the heroin fix he needs so that he won’t be forced to go to rehab and potentially lose custody of the daughter he so loves, driving all across Los Angeles in search of some solution to her predicament.

In this case, meeting Katie just a short time before Seth stumbles onto the scene and forces her to divert her attention exclusively to cleaning up the mess he has made doesn’t enable her to be established as a character in her own right. Instead, Katie is developed in relation to the people she spends time with, protesting her mother’s irritating habits but still allowing them to be on full display and then scolding her brother for his latest lapse but helpless not to do everything in her power to cover up the way Seth has screwed up and get him back to a good place.

Jacobson does a spectacular job of displaying immense personality from the start, taking what Katie gets and reacting without much of a filter, frequently swearing in front of her young niece, seemingly unaware that she is present in those moments since she is in such a frustrated state. The film doesn’t demand much of Franco other than to seem out of it most of the time and occasionally charm when he shows Seth’s love for his daughter, and as a result Jacobson gets an appropriate spotlight in a film that wanders without much of an endpoint in sight, showcasing a journey without a demonstrated purpose.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Best Films of 2017: #5-1

The list of my 25 favorite films of 2017 marks the culmination of the 11th Annual AFT Film Awards, my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Click on film titles below to read reviews and click here to see all categories of the awards.

#5: Thoroughbreds

#4: Lady Bird

#3: The Shape of Water

#2: The Big Sick

#1: The Florida Project

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Best Films of 2017: #10-6

The list of my 25 favorite films of 2017 marks the culmination of the 11th Annual AFT Film Awards, my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Click on film titles below to read reviews and click here to see all categories of the awards.

#10: Faces Places

#9: Coco

#8: Land of Mine

#7: Battle of the Sexes

#6: Sweet Virginia

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Best Films of 2017: #15-11

The list of my 25 favorite films of 2017 marks the culmination of the 11th Annual AFT Film Awards, my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Click on film titles below to read reviews and click here to see all categories of the awards.

#15: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

#14: My Life as a Zucchini

#13: In Between

#12: The Women’s Balcony

#11: The Wedding Plan

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Best Films of 2017: #20-16

The list of my 25 favorite films of 2017 marks the culmination of the 11th Annual AFT Film Awards, my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Click on film titles below to read reviews and click here to see all categories of the awards.

#20: The Fate of the Furious

#19: Wonder

#18: Stronger

#17: Princess Cyd

#16: Dunkirk

Monday, March 26, 2018

Best Films of 2017: #25-21

The list of my 25 favorite films of 2017 marks the culmination of the 11th Annual AFT Film Awards, my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Click on film titles below to read reviews and click here to see all categories of the awards.

#25: Voyeur

#24: The Disaster Artist

#23: Downsizing

#22: Blade Runner 2049

#21: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Sunday, March 25, 2018

AFT Awards: Top 15 Scenes of the Year

This is a special category of the 11th Annual AFT Film Awards, my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. These are my fifteen favorite scenes of the year, listed in alphabetical order by film title. Click here to see previous years of this category. Beware spoilers for these films.

Joi (Ana de Armas) is first introduced, seen in his apartment constantly changing what she is wearing in the middle of a normal conversation with K (Ryan Gosling), a masterful display of the visual creativity at work in an imagined future where desire is one commodity that is quite well-serviced.

Joi takes it one step further, bringing home a human prostitute that K can actually have sex with, positioning her projected image over the prostitute’s body and creating the illusion of melding with her, yearning for a humanity that she can’t possibly achieve.

For all of its action scenes and spectacular intensity, it’s one of the quieter moments that stands out most in this film: when all hope seems lost and those little boats finally arrive to save the day, a joyous and miraculous sight after such devastation has been felt with no seeming salvation to come.

This odd film – one that taught me that maybe I should read plot descriptions rather than just relying on seeing the names of stars – took its most hilarious turn when, in trying to intimidate the thieves who stole Ruth’s laptop, Tony (Elijah Wood) throws his weapon of choice into the wall, confusing and startling all.

This somber, lonely film was at its most effective when those prisoners of wars sentenced to clean up the bombs planted by their army first encountered an explosion, one that showed just how careful their work has to be and how easily and unassumingly a deadly consequence can occur and end a life.

After Anna (Rebecca Hall) and Will (Dan Stevens) decide to sleep with other people just to see what it’s like before spending their lives together, the funniest and most utterly shocking moment comes when Lydia (Gina Gershon) pushes Will to do whatever he’s always wanted him to do, prompting him to spit in her mouth, eliciting a shocked reaction followed by a shrug of acceptance.

The extended opening scene of this chilling thriller sets a perfect tone for the entirety of its content, introducing Christopher Abbott’s Elwood as he comes into a diner to do a job that turns violent very quickly and ends up with more than one mourning widow left to pick up the pieces.

In a film filled with sweet, great moments, the one that sticks out is very early in their courtship, when Emily (Zoe Kazan) decides to call an Uber and Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) readily accepts the trip, forcing them to spend more time together in a fitting modern-day romantic development.

This film series always has spectacular stunts and logic-defying sequences, and this film’s signature scene comes early on when Dom (Vin Diesel) drives a car backwards while it’s on a fire for more than a short time, staying calm and proving that he can handle anything behind the wheel.

The most memorable and impactful moment in this transformative film finds Halley (Bria Vinaite) treating Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) to a blowout meal at Waffle House just to get back at Ashley (Mela Murder) for daring to judge her parenting, taking every opportunity to make her friend miserable.

This underappreciated comedy from Sundance had a lot of laughs, and the scene that garnered the most was one of the quick snippets in which Anne (Amanda Seyfried) interviews people to find out about Harriet (Shirley MacLaine), where a man describes her as a horrible woman before his collar is unveiled to give some extra weight to that statement.

This scene is highly controversial since it’s the one that made people hate this movie that some boiled down to one in which a woman has sex with a fish, but it’s also one of the most beautiful examples of how this film portrays its characters and gives them humanity, demonstrated by the smile on Elisa’s face and the glow on her new partner’s skin as water leaked down onto the theatregoers below.

Though this film took some lamentable turns later on, the beginning of its main character’s woes was still immensely intriguing, as Christian (Claes Bang) steps in to help a woman being chased by a man on his way to work only to find that his phone, watch, and cufflinks have been stolen when he checks his pockets.

Early on in this great thriller, Amanda (Olivia Cooke) trains Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) on “the technique,” tearing up while watching a movie only to reveal that anything is possible with a little acting and giving plenty of insight into her psyche.

Things turn bad very quickly for David (Josh Wiggins) and Cal (Matt Bomer) at the top of a mountain with snow falling fast when David’s hand is bitten by a bear and the gun goes off, setting in motion the intense journey home.