Matthew Heineman has made a name for himself over the past few years hawking visceral documentaries in some of the world’s most harrowing war zones. In 2015, he brought Cartel Land to the screen, a story about drug smuggling and vigilantism that put the documentary filmmaker in the midst of fire fights and in the bellies of meth labs and torture chambers. He’s since set his sights on ISIS and a group called RBSS (Raqqa is Being Slaughter Silently), a guerrilla band of civilian journalists committed to exposing the horrors that have taken place since ISIS seized their hometown and made it into their de-facto capital. City of Ghosts follows the members of RBSS as they flee the omnipresent threat of ISIS, contend with the reality of their family’s being tortured and killed and still continue to do all they can to rally support against the terrorist organization dead set on dismantling everything they care about. Read More
Gillian Robespierre took the independent film world by storm in 2014 with her breakout hit Obvious Child. A story about millennial maturity told through an abortion comedy, Obvious Child‘s blatant irreverancy was all the rage, making her an overnight name in many in-the-know film appreciation circles. Robespierre’s follow-up, a 90s set comedy about a family dealing with two separate instances of infidelity, may not have accrued the same cult following, nor is it likely to pock as many end of year favorites lists, but the dramedy has tonal and directorial elements similar of a budding Noah Baumbach, who has since gone on to great acclaim. Read More
Perhaps the biggest breakout hit of this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Michael Showalter‘s The Big Sick. The semi-true love story of star and writer Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, The Big Sick tells an unfamiliar courtship saga that involves, you guessed it, hospitalization and, you probably didn’t guess it, Pakistani 9/11 terrorist jokes. Uncommonly earnest and full of unique cultural perspectives, this slice-of-life dramedy fits perfectly into producer Judd Apatow‘s wheelhouse with the personal touches courtesy of Kumail and Emily’s true story keeps it from fresh and funny throughout. Read More
Best known for her depiction of April Ludgate on NBC’s hit sitcom Parks and Recreations, Aubrey Plaza has found a niche in the tv and Hollywood stratosphere as the perpetually awkward, alarmingly tongue-in-cheek millennial type. Quick with a jab and quicker with an eye roll, Plaza has flexed her thespian muscles lately playing Lenny Busker on FX’s standout superhero series Legion and her resume shows no signs of slowing. Her most recent venture, playing an irreverent nun in Jeff Baena‘s subversive slice of per-Renassiance feminism The Little Hours may see the star angling in familiar waters but the fit is perfect nonetheless.
Sam Elliot‘s baritone has taken on an almost mythic quality. Be it his narration of the Coen Bros cult hit The Big Lebowski or his iconic “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner” ad campaign, everyone knows the distinction growl of the California native with a classic Southern Drawl. And we haven’t even brought up his iconic mustache yet. Of late, Elliot has undergone a twilight career resurrection, offering a number of standout performances in smart, sensitive independent drama, including his excellent co-star role in Paul Weitz’s Grandma, but perhaps none is more personal than his turn in Brett Haley‘s The Hero.
The cast and crew of The Book of Henry have lamented its critical spanking but none moreso than director Colin Trevorrow. It’s no easy task to usher a film into the world, much less-so when the day finally arrives and critical voices rally their pitchforks. Though The Book of Henry has its fair share of issues, my conversation with Trevorrow shed some much needed light on why the film turned out the way it did. Read More
In Buster’s Mal Heart, Rami Maleck plays a man at war. Struggling to overcome bad wiring, Rami’s “Buster” (or Jonah as he’s called in earlier memories) is a fractured individual in the throes of a crisis of faith and self. Writer and director Sarah Adina Smith cleverly skirts objectivity, opting for storytelling that operates in moody abstracts, whose core is more about emotionally resonance than narrative distractions. Her surreal deconstruction of a man mentally and spiritually fractured defies easy answers which had us all the more excited to chat with her about her work. Read More
From the Peruvian rainforest to the Katmai Alaskan Wilderness, the depths of the Chauvet caves of Southern France to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, Werner Herzog is a journeyman who has long questioned man’s relationship with nature. In Salt and Fire, Herzog takes us to Bolivia’s sprawling Salar de Uyuni, the worst’s largest salt flat. A desolate beauty of biblical proportion, here transpires a kidnapping and desertion in this eco-minded quasi-thriller that feels like a natural extension of Herzog’s last documentary, Into the Inferno. The auteur again twisting his most recent obsession (volcanoes) into narrative form to varying success. Read More
Man of vision Olivier Assayas is not your average filmmaker. The Parisian director is the kind of filmmaker that makes critics blush, his last feature Clouds of Sils Maria making its way onto a sizable share of Critic Top Ten Lists circa 2014/15. Dedicated to making bold, often female-led poetic musings, Assayas is celebrated for helping shape rounded, vibrant characters. For the second time, Assayas pairs with Kristen Stewart to tell an unconventional ghost story in Personal Shopper, a woeful tale of a woman’s tedious professional life and search for peace after her brothers passing ingrained within larger themes of spirituality and self-doubt. Unsurprisingly at this point, Stewart is phenomenal in the role, with more emotion spilling from her jittery, anxiety-wracked texting fingers than in some lesser performer’s entire arsenal. Read More
Fans of the darker side of cinema may recognize Mark Webber from last year’s excellent Green Room where Mark played a Nazi trying (and failing) to defect from a gnarly order of backwoods skinheads but his roots in the film world run deeper than you’d think at first glance. A seasoned actor and filmmaker both, Webber has not followed a traditional path but has found success nonetheless. With his latest feature, a documentary-cum-drama, Webber has pioneered something unclassifiable, a powerfully pure art piece where the lines of reality and fiction become blur and indistinguishable. Read More