post

SXSW ’17 Review: ‘PREVENGE’

A case of in utero homicide, Prevenge comes born of triple-threat Alice Lowe’s fertile but twisted mind. Taking duties as writer, director and star in this slop-rock ballad of killer prepartum impulses, Lowe weaves her story of a knocked up avenging angel in the strangest of circumstances. Pregnant at 37, art found itself mimicking reality (to a degree) as Lowe put pen to paper to stitch together a one-page pitch early in her first trimester. Read More

post

Out in Theaters: ‘INDIGNATION’

The basic plot structure of Indignation couldn’t be simpler. The precocious son of a New Jersey kosher butcher heads off to college, goes on a date, changes dorm rooms and gets appendicitis. For a film with such narrative simplicity, the margins are sprawled with a rich tapestry of emotionally vibrant reveals, loaded with unconventional wordplay comedy and brimming with decadent forbidden relationships, all pumping along to a mule kick of a curtain act. As a crossbred of coiffed 1950s romance and genteel protest piece, Indignation is a delicate ballet that culminates in first time writer/director James Schamus doing a tap dance on your fluttering, caved-in chest. Read More

post

SIFF ’16 Capsule Review: ‘UNDER THE SHADOW’

With Under the Shadow, Babak Anvari has his finger on the pulse of what we want, and deserve, from an independent horror movie. A potent location in 1980s missile-wary Tehran, a compelling lead in Narges Rashidi who grapples with cultural and professional oppression in addition to her family being haunted, and an actively restrained director who suckerpunches his audience with powerful scares when they least expect it. Shadows is the latest in a string of politically-charged paranormal exports (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, to name one) from Iran and from the physical traits of the fearsome Djinn, who’ve latched onto daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) for nefarious ends, suspiciously remind one of an anthropomorphized burka, an extension of the societal persecution Rashidi’s Shideh suffers daily. Under the Shadow joins the ranks of recent modern horror greats (Babadook, It Follows) that combine meaningful social commentary in with effective frights. Consider it a must see. (A-)
Read More

post

SIFF ’16 Capsule Review: ‘MIDDLE MAN’

Ned Crowley stresses “comedy” in his offbeat desert kill spree comedy of errors Middle Man. A darkly humorous dredge through despair and desperation, Crowley’s film emulates the dark comedy stylings that define greater desert noir the likes of No Country for Old Men with enough tics to call its own to warrant an existence. Parks and Recreation’s Jim O’Heir shines as a bumbling unfunny “comedian” with high aspirations and little talent and his dedicated deadpan gives Middle Man its power. All the viscera Clowery throws O’Heir’s way signals a dark transformation that results in a whopper of a final shot, even if all the detours along the way – much like the world’s biggest ball of yarn – aren’t always entirely worthwhile. (C+)
Read More

post

SIFF ’16 Capsule Review: ‘DON’T THINK TWICE’

Improv is about following the germ of an idea until it’s reach its most preposterous conclusion and with emotionally honest and rib-tickling seriocomedy Don’t Think Twice, Mike Birbiglia has, like a great improv thread taken to its most radical extreme, tangentially bloomed into himself as a director. His comedy manifesto has always tilted at harvesting truth over triviality and his framing of lifelong relationships splintering and fraternal bonds fracturing creates a heartrending account of the invoice of self-interest as a group of comic friends/collegaues infight to land a gig on an intellectually-bankrupt SNL-type sketch show. Watching Birbiglia drive a wedge between this collection of funny people who feed off each other’s energy for a living makes for powerful, character-driven work and the cast, including a standout Keegan-Michael Key and Gillian Jacobs, is more than game bringing dramatic gravitas, in addition to comedic jabs aplenty, to the table. (B+)

Read More

post

SIFF ’16 Capsule Review: ‘LIFE, ANIMATED’

There’s no debating the value of Roger Ross William‘s accomplishment. In Life, Animated – a touching documentary centered on late-onset autism “victim” Owen Suskind and how he remarkably rediscovers language through animated Disney films – he has given voice to the voiceless (technical ingenuity had him pioneer a groundbreaking method to illicit confessionals from Owen). In Owen’s journey, we discover universal truisms that extent far beyond the realm of the autistic; bone-clattering truths about life, love, loss and suffering. Original animation from Mac Guff helps fill in the documentarian voids and provides stirring and visually resplendent representations of Owen’s young years and the self-penned stories he would escape into. Framing Owen’s relationships – with family members, his girlfriend Emily and some very special friends – in such a way that rejuvenates our collective faith in humanity, William’s picture is an objective triumph, one that shines a light on a misunderstood population, that weaves triumph from tragedy and crafts a moving portrait of perseverance. It’s a tribute to an uncommon hero and is truly something special. (A) Read More

post

SIFF ’16 Capsule Review: ‘THE LURE’

As dark and psychosexual a rock opera about mermaids that could be imagined, Poland’s The Lure is a melodramatic fairytale plumped with melodic house music, chilling surrealism and dripping monster fangs. Two all-singing, all-stripping sea-born sisters populate seedy dance-halls and sudsy clubs with their the croon of their siren lullabies, flirting with the idea of first love and eating the clientele. Big, bold and weird, The Lure is a Freudian nightmare of BDSM Grimm Brother woes that engagingly pairs its wacky siren songs to the fairly basic narrative arc at play. This technically impressive 80s-Tim-Burton-creation-that-never-was is a grungy, grimy, punky protest maritime song splattered with boobs, blood and peculiarly catchy ballads. (B-)

Read More

post

SIFF ’16 Capsule Review: ‘CARNAGE PARK’

Mickey Keating‘s Carnage Park starts in admirably economic fashion, rending down its slim cast to even slimmer form with a dead-eyed, high-pitched, Bible-thumping Pat Healy tagging human targets with his handy sniper rifle beset with all the rage and judgement of the Old Testament guy upstairs. Ashley Bell plays opposite as the desert-set horror’s shrieky final girl – the victim of a kidnapping who then finds herself in even more hostile territory – and while Keating’s film goes through fits and starts of amassing and losing steam, the final product feels like an over-saturated amalgam of grindhouse slasher flick tropes forked together and raked over a somewhat barren “based on a true story” conceit. Imagine Wolf Creek stripped of its anarchic edge and plunked down in an equally sun-scorched Jesus-lovin’, American nowheresville and you’ll get the picture. (C)
Read More

post

SIFF ’16 Capsule Review: ‘ALONE’

This shantytown import from South Korea sees a voyeur stalked and killed by criminals before seemingly being reincarnated and forced to live out his attack over and over again under different circumstances. Structured a bit like a choose your own adventure book when you keep running into the wrong ending and starting over, Alone covers a lot of narrative ground, forklifting dramatic and romantic plotlines into its dreamlike psycho-thriller framework to mixed effect. The result is kaleidoscopic and disorienting but the individual moments contribute dramatic heft to Park Hong-min’s altered state cinema. When all is said and done, it’s tough to parse fiction from reality and, most frustratingly, if anything ever even happened at all. (C+)

Read More

post

SIFF ’16 Capsule Review: ‘WEINER’

The political arena is an ugly, soul-sucking vortex before you add a sexting scandal. Weiner, the inflammatory expose from Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, documents how fiery liberal congressman Anthony Weiner’s NYC mayoral campaign went up in flames, engulfed by public outrage following ironically weiner-centric indiscretions. The pair offer up a poignant critique of media’s misguided circus-making, all the while capturing the torturous effects on Weiner’s wife and former Hillary top dog, Huma, to craft a potent and illuminating picture of gross, cheap tv-ready gossip overshadowing political ideology and the cogs that chew up candidates and dispose of them in disheveled pieces. (B) Read More