With the 2016 Sundance International Film Festival right around the corner, the Sundance Institute has revealed all its in-competition films including selections from their U.S. Dramatic Competition, U.S. Documentary Competition, World Cinema Dramatic Competition, World Cinema Documentary Competition and their featured NEXT competition for emerging filmmakers. Have a look through the list to find standouts in a year that looks surprisingly slim on them. Read More
Zombies! Madness! Faeries! Reggae!
Portland Film Fest returns, in its 3rd incarnation, cementing its place as a cultural tour de force and earning its reputation as one of the “Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals In The World 2014” from MovieMaker Magazine. Portland is at an interesting crossroads in its cultural evolution. On one hand, it is the run-down, rusted, gloomy, economically-depressed and overly-tattoed old school version of itself, which we all know and love. On the other, it is a shining mecca for the 21st Century, a beacon of progressiveness, DIY ethos, and collaborative creative communities. Read More
Remember those fetid middle school health videos about eating disorders? The concerned best friend, the bespectacled guidance counselor, the implied offscreen self-abuse. The gorging. The vomiting. The inevitable dramatic hospital visit. Excess Flesh isn’t quite that but Patrick Kennelly‘s wannabe horror feature is still very much the cinematic version of binging and purging. It crams a bunch of junk down your throat only to yuck it back on the screen as watery, indistinct gook. Kinda like the next day stomach movement of a truly ripping kegger. Kennelly’s narrative circle of hell exhumes outdated and/or overplayed models of violence towards women and the violence women inflict on themselves to ill-effect. Aided by a predictable and heavily cliched script from Kennelly and co-writer Sigrid Gilmer (starring bottom-feeding lines like “You’re not gonna get away with this, you know”), Excess Flesh is at once an obvious and oblivious body dysmorphia thriller that’s more than a little flabby. And by curtain time, it, like a half-starved model, has totally collapsed off the runway. Read More
Some said it couldn’t be done but goddamnit, I did it. 40 films single-handedly seen by this one naive film critic. I’ve all but overdosed on cinema. I’m obese on art films. I’m constipated by having seen films from the US, the UK, Spain, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Norway, Australia, Hong Kong, Chile, South Korea, Canada, France, Ireland, South Africa, Greece, and Poland; my pipes all clogged by the sheer amount of celluloid spun out in movie after movie. The short of it: it was a haul.
Nonetheless, SIFForty held riches to be discovered, films both foreign and domestic that I’m a better person for having seen. Amongst the truly excellent: 10,000 KM, The Skeleton Twins, The One I Love, The Internet’s Own Boy, Venus in Furs, Frank, In Order of Disappearance, The Trip to Italy, Night Moves, Intuders, Happy Christmas and To Kill a Man. Each packing a throttling punch that has lingered with me and joins the ranks of some of the best cinema of the year. On the other side of the film, SIFForty also packed saddle-bags brimming with cinematic turds including some of the worst movies I’ve seen this year; true wretches whose sitting through is an experience in pennant masochism. From the ungodly awful Firestorm to the wrecklessly hopeless Standing Aside Watching, the defunct Leading Lady to the clueless Willow Creek, they were just so, so bad. But all are topped by They Came Together – a rom-com spoof of the lowest breed – and Another – a pathetically made B-movie. Please people, don’t bother with these films.
As for the rest, feel free to dive right in and swim in the waters of 40 micro-reviews. Bask in the glory of knowing what to look forward to and the keen knowledge that you’ll know what to avoid. An article 40 days in the making, welcome to 40 for SIFForty.
dir. Daniel Junge, Bryan Storkel (USA)
Christians may preach turning the cheek but this bunch is all about turning said cheek to a bloody pulp. Following a group of otherwise devout pastors who prove their devotion to Him cage-style, Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel‘s documentary offers a peek into a fascinating world that you would have never suspected exists but fails to cement a sense of imminent purpose beyond surface-level intrigue. Probably would work better as a short than full length doc. (C)
dir. Kat Candler star. Aaron Paul, Josh Wiggins, Juliette Lewis (USA)
Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) stars as newly widowed father Hollis to exuberant (in a fire-starting sort of way) sons Jacob (off-to-a-strong-start newcomer Josh Wiggins) and younger, innocent but corruptible Wes. Ships turns towards rocky shoals as the pitfalls of young fraternity sail towards bleak recompense and ultimate tragedy. There’s enough heartbreak in Kat Candler‘s cheerless drama to go around and soulful performances to match, with this dusty no-man’s land of bum-fuck wherever offering a poignant peek into the languor of plain’s living, with all its scuzzy fruitlessness and paths towards damnation. (C+)
JIMI: All is By My Side
dir. John Ridley star. Andre 3000, Imogen Poots, Hayley Atwell, Burn Gorman, Ruth Negga (UK)
A thoughtful mess but a mess nonetheless with Andre 300 laying down an unexpectedly solid turn as the pre-Woodstock Hendrix. His take feels closer to imitation than anything but it’s certainly outside the customary league of rappers-turned-actors one might expect. Director/writer John Ridley paints a picture of un-famous (and slightly infamous) Jimi with a rounded view, giving us a glimpse of a performer who few knew and may not have even known himself, but the faulty editing seeks to sabotage the movie at every turn. (C)
Zip Zap and the Marble Gang
dir. Oskar Santos star. Javier Gutiérrez, Raúl Rivas, Daniel Cerezo, Claudia Vega, Fran García, Marcos Ruiz (Spain)
Familiar even in a foreign language (it’s Spanish), this child-lead romp is formulaic but still largely charmed. The premise follows a group of social outcasts who band together at a tortuous summer school to reclaim the lost treasure of the school’s misunderstood founder. It’s kinship to Goonies and Harry Potter means a readily consumable family feature but it lacks the magic and awe-striking wonder of a great adventure movie. (C)
dir. Manuel Martín Cuenca star. Antonio de la Torre, Olimpia Melinte, Delphine Tempels (Spain)
Carlos leads a double life: one as an upstanding citizen/fashion-forward tailor, the other as a connoisseur of human flesh. When the sister of one of his victims nervously rolls into town, Carlos accidentally becomes coiled with her search and discovers a new range of emotions: ones that don’t start and end in his stomach. Manuel Martín Cuenca‘s slow building and deliberate pacing adds depth to Antonio de la Torre‘s somber shade of monster but his film, though unflinching, still lacks a central tension: of exposure, imprisonment, or worse. (C)
dir. Richard Ayoade star. Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor (UK)
If Terry Gilliam had made Fight Club, it probably would have looked a lot like Richard Ayoade‘s The Double. Set in a steampunk dystopian tomorrowland, Jesse Eisenberg lays down august double duty, first as Simon James, a meek, nay spineless, employee in a dungy, Orwellian basement cubicle maze. When James Simon, his carbon copy in the looks department but his exact social opposite – James is an exceedingly debonair social-climber – moves in, Simon’s small world is irrevocably jolted. Grubby set design and hallucinatory foley work, set against the motif of closing doors and characteristic-less cultural nowhere, aid Ayoade’s prevailing sense of cautious pessimism in this thrilling, darkly comedic romp. (B-)
dir. Jason Bognacki star. Ana Paula Redding, Leone Sergio Bognacki, David Landry, Maria Olsen (USA)
Cheap-looking even by independent movie standards, this cultish schlock stars some of the worst performances this side of day time cable (Ana Paula Redding, *shutters*). With acting this ham-fisted and downright embarrassing, watching Another is an exercise is intelligence bludgeoning. Jason Bognacki‘s direction is comprised of shaky cam after-FX and inexplicably fuzziness that clouds our view of the “horror” onscreen, as if he’d taken cues from a pirated Bourne DVD. It’s a sad pile of crud that should be walked out on; a joker’s stain on SIFF’s lineup. (F)
dir. Bradley King star. Danielle Panabaker, Matt O’Leary, George Finn, Amin Joseph, Jason Spisak (USA)
Bradley King‘s mildly thought-provoking indie sci-fi swims around in the lazy river that is time. But Time Lapse – which sees a camera that takes pictures 24-hours in the future – is undercut by weak performances across the board. There’s a provocative allure to King’s examination of determinism versus free will at play but they’re never mined to satisfactory results. Instead, the real marvel of his deux ex machina is left to dry out like reagent on a Polaroid. For a movie that’s all about time, it’s only partially worthy of yours. (C)
Half of a Yellow Sun
dir. Bibi Bandele star. Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Boyega, Anika Noni Rose (Nigeria, UK)
Half of a Yellow Sun features strong performances from Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejioforj but after the first hour, it unexplainably loses momentum, and curls into a deep sag in the later third act. A love square between two Nigerian sisters schooled in England, who are dead set on becoming arbiters of social change, occupies the forefront of this saga that also sees the Nigerian civil war ripping their world to shreads, and subsequent creation and deconstruction of Biafra. Occassionally powerful but unsatisfying in structure. (C+)
dir. John Lundberg, Roland Denning, Kypros Kyprianou, Mark Pilkington (UK)
An engaging info-fest that posits a.) aliens exist b.) the US government funded a mild to large-scale disinformation campaign to intentionally mislead UFO researchers. Richard Doty, the former Air Force largely responsible for feeding falsified documents to UFO “expert” Paul Bennewitz – until he snapped into full blown psychosis – comes forward and is our (somewhat unreliable) guide through the proceedings. The triple directing team captures a wide range of testimony on the subject but barely have any video to play with, making Mirage Men a disappointingly “tell, don’t show” experience. (C)
The Trip to Italy
dir. Michael Winterbottom star. Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Marta Barrio (UK)