The Cutting Smörgåsboard – February Edition

Movie-wise, no one really expects anything from the first few months of the year, so why does this February feel promising? Obviously many people are looking forward to the Oscars coming at the end of the month, and like me this past January, are trying to see as many nominees as possible. Also, if you’re another William &Mary alum, then maybe you’re looking forward to the Global Film Festival and this year’s ‘community’ theme. Finally, the number of promising theatrical releases is quite surprising for this early in the year. Personally, if Deadpool and The Witch are good, then I’ll consider February a perfect month. Hail, Caesar! from the Coen Brothers and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies are high on my most anticipated list, as well, and we’ll see about everything else.

With the occasional Naro visits and some endless Netflix streaming to round it all out, I expect February to be a big month. So how does 29 more days of movie watching begin? Well, it starts with…

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The Nightmare (2015), dir. Rodney Ascher

Could this not be an omen for the rest of February, please? Anyway, The Nightmare is a documentary about sleep paralysis, a phenomenon so terrifying in concept alone that Ascher believes it warranted some comparatively elaborate dramatizations of the stories his subjects tell. Sleep paralysis is a fascinating subject in and of itself, so the experiences Ascher’s interviewees share are naturally compelling, especially because while there are key similarities in their stories, there are smaller details that separate them. It was refreshing, as well, to see most of the interviewees come to completely different conclusions as to how they rationalize these occurrences. The dramatizations depicting theses stories straddle the fine line between the stylish and the low budget – if such a fine line exists – and are often unsettling enough to contribute at least a little dread. Overall, it’s a decent doc good for a few shivers.

3/4

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The Trials of Muhammad Ali (2013), dir. Bill Siegel

Here’s a sports doc that anyone can watch. Telling the story, or at least part of the story of the one known simply as ‘The Greatest,’ The Trials of Muhammad Ali covers some expected ground, but focuses greatly on Ali’s conversion to Islam and refusal to take part in military service. As you’d expect, they depict his upbringing and how he gradually deviated from it, his athletic accomplishments, and his struggles with Parkinson’s in later life, but those subjects are covered in merely a passing glance to leave more room for the central narrative. Ali, however, is inherently a fascinating figure on his own, so it’s hard to imagine a documentary about any portion of his life wouldn’t be compelling. Additionally, its focus confirms that not only is Ali one of the greatest sports icons, he is one of the greatest cultural and civil rights icons coming from an era of rebellion. Plus, I never would have known Ali was in a musical in the ‘70s unless this doc existed, so every other Ali documentary is now invalid.

3.5/4

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Proxy (2013), dir. Zack Parker

Well, that was depressingly quick. Only one day was all it took to learn that Proxy is likely to be the worst film I see this month. Proxy begins rather unsettlingly, with pregnant Esther suffering a brutal attack that results in the death of her baby, and after meeting a new friend at support group meeting, it just gets stranger and more confusing with every passing moment. The narrative is, or at least attempts to be Hitchcockian in its construction and unraveling – in fact, the structure is very similar to Psycho – but at least Hitchcock actually answered the numerous mysteries the plot would progressively introduce. For a film that tries to pass itself off as a conspiracy thriller, it creates more questions than it solves, which isn’t saying much considering it doesn’t solve much of anything. On top of that, the film loses momentum as it passes through the second half and it’s misogynistic. Avoid at all costs.

1/4

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Let the Fire Burn (2013), dir. Jason Osder

Alas, the night is saved! Using archival footage of courtroom testimonies, depositions and news broadcasts among other means, Let the Fire Burn creates an explosive narrative whose power unfortunately stills resonates today. Given the high amount of footage Osder potentially had at his disposal, the editing appears even more impressive, weaving through testimonies and broadcasts while remaining cohesive. What’s presented unfolds like the best courtroom drama you can think of, slowly building momentum towards an energetic finish. It’s rather commendable how objective the film remains, refusing to always paint MOVE as the victims and police/city officials the aggressors – even though both were the case on a few occasions. The film contains many poignant moments, but none more so than perhaps the end, when it reminds its viewers that those in MOVE were people, too; people who suffered numerous injustices. When concerned with one particular police officer, the film offers a sliver of hope while never ignoring that progress that still needed, and needs to occur. Simply put, few documentaries are as painfully relevant as Let the Fire Burn.

4/4

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Of Miracles and Men (2015), dir. Jonathan Hock

For all of its sporting and political contexts, the ‘Miracle on Ice’ is one of the greatest sports stories in history, certainly American history. But for the most part, we only know the perspective of those plucky American college students and their hard-ass coach Herb Brooks; how they came together, how they beat the mighty Soviet Union and what it was like for them after the game was over. Comparatively speaking, we don’t really have a clue what the experience was like from a Soviet perspective, and that’s what Of Miracles and Men achieves. How the Soviet Union began building their ice hockey empire is rather fascinating, what happened with the team after the 1980 Winter Olympics and even how they were treated at the Games. While their story is captivating, and perhaps this is the fault of the formula for ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries, but it tries to cover too much of the story in its 102 minute runtime, and it spends too much time on the game against the U.S. Regardless, it’s an entertaining documentary, and if you would like something with a more specific focus, I highly suggest the documentary Red Army.

3.5/4

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In the House (2012), dir. François Ozon

Here’s a film that actively reminds its audience how we all become voyeurs in the film viewing process and how disgusting it can feel. François Ozon’s In the House depicts a high school English teacher attempt to mold a gifted student into a brilliant writer, in spite of the fairly disturbing content in his assignments. This student of his, with a less than joyful home life of his own, tries to insinuate himself into the lives of his best friend’s family, including trying to get close to his friend’s mom. This film consistently speeds by thanks to stellar chemistry between all of its characters and solid performances from its actors. Additionally, perhaps it’s just me, but Ozon’s film seems to be making some comments on active audiences who want to push further into the details of a story, thereby placing us in the shoes of gifted student Claude. Overall, it’s a gripping comedy-drama with a bit of a dark streak that gleefully attempts to make its audience feel gross. At least I felt that way.

3.5/4

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Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008), dir. Kurt Kuenne

How would you choose to remember a dead friend? Well for director Kurt Kuenne, remembering childhood and lifelong buddy Andrew Bagby, murdered by his girlfriend, means finding all of the lives Andrew touched around the world and asking them to share memories and thoughts about how his case was handled. As one might expect, Dear Zachary is an exceedingly personal film. Listening to Kuenne’s narration, he is sometimes overcome with emotion and at times, one can audibly hear his voice breaking up. Additionally, where this film succeeds is because of the character, for lack of a better word, that Andrew was. Of course, most people watching this documentary will not have known him personally, but Andrew feels like a person we all know and embrace because there is an immediate connection, making what’s presented more heart-wrenching. Kuenne repeatedly calls this film one last attempt at making a film with Andrew, and it’s an exceptional effort, indeed.

4/4

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The Heart Machine (2014), dir. Zachary Wigon

We may always have the best intentions, but often enough, relationships bring out the worst, as well as the best in us. Making this incredibly clear scene by scene, The Heart Machine is a peculiar portrait of the neuroses love/relationships may produce in us, especially when the relationship in question is long distance. For the most part, the film passes by on low-key poignancy, making subtle and some not-so-subtle comments on modern relationships, including how technology only serves to distance us rather than connect us – which, to be fair, is preaching to the choir at this point. Additionally, being intellectually satisfied means having to put up with two leads who aren’t always very likeable, although that is perhaps a testament to the solid work done by John Gallagher, Jr. and Kate Lyn Sheil in their respective roles. If you’re looking for a more truthful romance film, perhaps you should give this one a fair chance.

3/4

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The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012), dir. Sophie Fiennes

Here’s a film that is the absolute epitome of ‘you’ll either love it, or you’ll hate it.’ Sophie Fiennes’ documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is a sequel to another documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, and both films feature Slovenian psychoanalyst and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek discussing ideas of reality, materialism, desire and sexuality in film, commercials and international affairs. All of the points Žižek presents include some heady subject matter, and either you’ll embrace his many theories and how they considerably slow down a two hour and fifteen minute film, or you won’t. Even if you are mildly interested in psychoanalysis, you’ll find the overall experience very stimulating.

3.5/4

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Hail, Caesar! (2016), dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

Whenever the Coen brothers announce a new project there is always at least a little excitement in the air. Dark comedies and more dramatic efforts have always been the duos forte, but their lighter screwball comedies aren’t always met with the acclaim they’re mostly accustomed to, and Hail, Caesar! is simply one of those films just this side of rotten. Now, the film can be pretty funny, but most of the effective humor takes place during the script’s more uneven stretches. Old Hollywood in the 1950s is an inherently interesting era for the film industry, and the Coens’ attention to period detail is much fun to look at and pick apart, but none of that can save a narrative that has little to no momentum reaching toward its recognizable conclusion. And while moments like Channing Tatum’s sailor musical number may be one part of a truly affectionate love letter to Old Hollywood (in this instance, Gene Kelly pictures of the ‘50s), the elements that speak more to parody confuse the distinction between affection and goofy criticism. It’s a fine film with good intentions, but it tries to do too much and could’ve been done much better.

2.5/4

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Seymour: An Introduction (2014), dir. Ethan Hawke

Anyone who is many years our senior can offer us sound advice about their profession and life, especially those who have committed to their craft for a majority of their life. Such is the case with Seymour Bernstein, once world-class concert pianist and current piano instructor and sage philosopher about art and life. Unless you were previously familiar with Mr. Bernstein’s work as a pianist or an instructor, Ethan Hawke’s film feels exactly as the title suggests; only covering the key notes of what made Seymour who he is. In fact, one gets the feeling that Seymour’s being a former concert pianist is absolutely coincidental; it certainly aids his particular philosophies about life, but he could have been an artist of another capacity and still reached the same conclusions. Nonetheless, Seymour: An Introduction is a soulful portrait of a man whose peculiar path led him to his happiest.

3.5/4

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Like Someone in Love (2012), dir. Abbas Kiarostami

Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami is one with a distinguished pedigree, and his Japanese feature Like Someone in Love is my first experience with his catalogue. In his second feature outside of Iran – Certified Copy being the first – a young woman who is a college student by day and a high-end escort by night finds herself in the company of a lonely old professor more interested in intimate conversations than intimate relations. These are two characters isolated from society, although one’s isolation is more self-imposed. The progression of its narrative feels unconventional, as well, as it takes place over two days and consists of numerous long takes that offer quiet contemplation. There are many striking moments visually, but they don’t conceal the fact that those who are patient will be rewarded.

3/4

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Frankenstein’s Army (2013), dir. Richard Raaphorst

A found footage film supposedly shot in color during World War II, yet with image quality reminiscent from films of the 1970s: you either roll with it, or you don’t. But what if the movie threw in these cool, monstrous creations that look like they were plucked out of Marilyn Manson’s Nazi steampunk-themed nightmares – because the set might as well have looked like the set of the “The Beautiful People” music video shoot without all of the post work? Frankenstein’s Army will try to convince you that all is right as rain, and while there’s nothing wrong with buying their pitch, it’s best to recognize there isn’t much else beyond what they’re selling. Sure, the creatures look pretty awesome, but too often they’re conveniently, frustratingly clumsy. The plot confusingly jumps forward quite a bit, and when the Nazi monstrosities don’t make their way on screen, the writers are busy penning half-assed character development with simple horror movie caricatures. Frankenstein’s Army can be a real joy to watch, but it is frequently terrible. Highly recommended.

2/4

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Iris (2015), dir. Albert Maysles

Perhaps this just my perspective as an outsider, but would you believe that one of today’s strongest voices in fashion was born in the 1920s? That voice belongs to Iris Apfel, and like her wardrobe, she’s bright, brash and so often uncompromising – but that’s all exactly what you love about her. Albert Maysles’ documentary about her is an affectionate testament to the spirit of unyielding individuality. I say I was surprised at the strength of her voice in the fashion industry because it had always seemed to me that fashion is strictly a young person’s game, so this film was quite refreshing. Her vivid personality will carry you from the first frame to the last.

3.5/4

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Felony (2014), dir. Matthew Saville

Crime dramas surrounding police corruption are often refreshing to see in spite of their familiar territory, but are equally often by their very nature quite cynical. Australian drama Felony, written by lead actor Joel Edgerton, isn’t any different. It’s a similar sort of morality tale you might find in other comparable films, but a strong cast, especially one Tom Wilkinson, carries the material forward. It often seems, however, that the cast works wonders in spite of the material they’re given. Most times, the dialogue is nothing to write home about, and to top it off, the first half of the film is quite dull. Once the film hits its midpoint it begins to gain some momentum, but even after that moment, its strengthening from scene to scene is marginal. Overall, there isn’t much wrong with Felony, but the writing holds it back from true thought-provoking greatness.

2.5/4

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Beware the Moon: Remembering ‘An American Werewolf in London’ (2009), dir. Paul Davis

“A horror movie that’s both scary and funny? You can’t do that; they just don’t go together!” That’s essentially the sentiment John Landis and co. received from many within the industry prior to shooting An American Werewolf in London, and the initial critical reaction sang a similar tone. More than three decades later, however, what used to be considered an oddity in Landis’s filmography is now one of the most revered horror films of the 1980s, and Paul Davis’s documentary Beware the Moon is celebratory of that very fact. Included on the Full Moon Edition DVD release, the documentary features Landis, Rick Baker and almost everyone in between, and the stories they have to tell as the documentary goes through the film scene by scene are as enthralling as the film itself. Obviously, you will need to have seen An American Werewolf in London before checking out this documentary; otherwise you’ve committed yourself to a journey down Spoiler Road. For those who have seen it, Beware the Moon is a fun little tell-all for the most ardent fans.

3/4

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The House I Live In (2012), dir. Eugene Jarecki

Fans of John Oliver may remember his main story about the faulty prison system during a first season episode of Last Week Tonight. Anyone looking for something more in-depth than a 17-minute news segment allows will want to take a look at Eugene Jarecki’s documentary The House I Live In, a personal, quietly irate look at the destructive sham that is America’s War on Drugs. In addition to examining all of the details behind this political initiative – which started under the Nixon presidency – the film takes an intriguing look into the country’s history with drugs and how previously-justifiable, racist modes of thought essentially built the foundation for what would characterize the War on Drugs during the whole of its existence. While the overall product is a sobering depiction of harsh realities dealt with primarily by those in lower income brackets, hope rests beneath the surface with people on both sides of the law who recognize the problems and want to see change.

4/4

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Housebound (2014), dir. Gerard Johnstone

How about a Kiwi horror-comedy to lighten the mood? Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound depicts a young repeat convict sentenced to eight months house detention with her strange, estranged family. Not too long after she comes home, a series of strange occurences leads her to pursue the mysterious causes. During its 103-minute runtime, the first hour is reminiscent of James Wan’s The Conjuring if it had a screwball sense of humor. The last 40 minutes or so, however, evolve the film into something else entirely. Its enjoyable unpredictability is slightly undercut by an air of formula, but it’s plenty funny enough to stay afloat. Additionally, for how funny the film means to be, the skin-shivering atmosphere it creates is nothing short of impressive. Housebound is an entertaining genre-mash up well worthy of gathering a few friends and a few drinks for a few laughs and cheers.

3/4

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Life Itself (2014), dir. Steve James

Where does one even begin with the late Roger Ebert? For aspiring film critics such as myself, that starting point is equally clear and vague, because this not only was a man that many of us looked up to as one of the leading faces in film criticism, but also he was a figure I’m sure many of us saw a little of ourselves in. There are hundreds, if not thousands of others like me who aspire for the heights he achieved and the poetic eloquence with which he wrote, and while a handful of us may attain that popularity where we become idolized by millions of anonymous readers, Steve James’s Life Itself reminds us that Roger was a singular identity who cannot simply be replicated. The viewing experience for those of us who will forever be students of cinema feels incredibly bittersweet, but of course, anyone watching will experience an equal amount of emotional fulfillment. It’s one thing to read about the man behind the myth, as many would have done with Roger’s memoir “Life Itself,” but somehow, seeing it presented to us brings us closer not to the name, but the man himself.

4/4

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Into the Abyss (2011), dir. Werner Herzog

More prison documentaries! This one coming from legendary documentarian Werner Herzog, Into the Abyss is an exploration of what drives people to kill – or perhaps in this instance, what drove two people, in particular, to kill – and the damage they leave behind. As to be expected, Herzog deals with the subject matter and his interviewees sensitively, and the results are quite moving. Like the title suggests, there is an abyss-like quality about how Herzog depicts the impending consequences of death row and the vicious cycle people fall into, so there isn’t much room for hope to bleed through by the end of the film, in spite of Herzog’s attempts to humanize those on both sides of the issue. Herzog’s bleak attitude isn’t much of a problem, but because politics never seemed to be on his agenda, it was rather perplexing to see him try to shove in his personal views about the death penalty in the form of one particular interviewee.

3.5/4

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Macbeth (2015), dir. Justin Kurzel

SPOILER ALERT, I guess

It’s a tragedy adapted by Orson Welles, Roman Polanski, Akira Kurosawa – in a rather different fashion – and almost adapted by Sir Laurence Olivier. Comedies and tragedies alike, Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s greatest works; an early example of a psychological character study with mad royalty entwined. Justin Kurzel provides the latest adaptation with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, and the results bode well for Kurzel as a marketable filmmaker in the future – Assassin’s Creed comes out later this year. Like the source material, this film is dark, gritty, sometimes grisly and rather cynical, but it’s all supported by Kurzel’s incredibly stylish view. Fassbender and Cotillard both give strong performances, and the supporting roles prop them up with solid turns, too. The first act, however, is relatively weaker compared to the rest of the film, as it hastily glances over the nuances that drive Macbeth to kill Duncan in the first place. Additionally, while the film is pretty to look at, it’s more stylish moments are, more often than not, devoid of feeling, leaving the tone to be dictated by the performances. Nonetheless, this is a fine adaptation.

3/4

Middle of Nowhere

Middle of Nowhere (2012), Ava DuVernay

Last month, I applied the word ‘confinement’ as the defining theme of Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood. That word is much better affixed to Ava DuVernay’s second feature, Middle of Nowhere. Middle of Nowhere depicts a woman who has been steadfastly waiting for her husband to be released from prison, but as her husband’s impending release steadily approaches, we see all parts of her life that keep her boxed in. Like Girlhood’s Marieme, Middle of Nowhere’s Ruby is similarly imprisoned by expectations; in this case, the expectations of a faithful spouse, of her career and of staying close to her family, and this is where we begin to see her transformation into a whole new woman. Solid direction and some great work from the three leads round out what many have referred to as an outstanding example of classic filmmaking. Now, we all know the talents of Ms. DuVernay, but Middle of Nowhere was her announcement of arrival.

3.5/4

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Deadpool (2016), dir. Tim Miller

Honestly, what else could you expect? Tim Miller’s Deadpool is exactly the version of the ‘Merc with the Mouth’ that fans deserved to see; the very same crude, crass, shallow, immature and sociopathic Deadpool that fans have been reading about since his first appearance in 1991. Let’s face it; for a mainstream superhero film, complete subversion was never going to be in the cards. Instead, the audience is treated to numerous moments where Deadpool mocks superhero films, and even moviemaking in general thanks to a very clever opening credits sequence. So while what we’re given is arguably formulaic – at least from the midpoint onward – we are treated to Ryan Reynolds completely owning the character. Deadpool 2 has got a pretty high bar to meet, and includes making a wittier post-credits scene.

3/4

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Fresh Dressed (2015), dir. Sacha Jenkins

Appearance carries a lot of weight, and Sacha Jenkins’ Fresh Dressed reflects upon the influence of urban fashion trends throughout its history, especially the impact hip hop made on those trends. Figures such as Nas, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams looked back to how important the appearance of wealth/well-being was in their communities, and other popular figures responsible for creating these trends provide their testimonies. This film is a fascinating look into the effects, positive and negative, of relentless material consumption, and though most of the trends the doc looks back upon have all but disappeared, its statements about the past perfectly serve as, not necessarily indictments, but truths of the present.

3.5/4

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Something, Anything (2014), dir. Paul Harrill

What exactly moves a person to drop everything that was once thought as a part in the sum of a perfect life, especially material wealth? After a horrific tragedy, Peggy (Ashley Shelton) decides this is the best course of action to keep her life from falling apart, seeking spiritual rather than personal fulfillment. Unfortunately, this was one of the films that I wasn’t able to experience with an audience at the William & Mary Global Film Festival last year, though I get the feeling being with an audience wouldn’t have swayed my position. It’s decently acted and its story is well told, but its faith-based, or perhaps more appropriately spiritual message is a tad heavy-handed, ensuring it will polarize more than a few people. It certainly wasn’t the best of the fest a year ago, but it’s fine enough to warrant a viewing.

2.5/4

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Chuck Norris vs. Communism (2015), Ilinca Calugareanu

The first of the three GFF films I was able to enjoy this was Chuck Norris vs. Communism, a part-documentary, part-political thriller about the smuggling of American films into Communist Romania during the later years of the Soviet Union. The film was scheduled to be exhibited at the 2015 Fest, but the wait was truly worth it, as this is one of few films that are a true testament to the power cinema has. Briskly going through its 78-minute runtime, the interviewees are gathered in groups to recall their experiences going to these underground screenings, opening up a lively discussion that emobies ‘community’ in the best sense of the word. It’s an amazing feeling learning how ridiculous action films from stars such as Chuck Norris had such a profound impact on a thoroughly repressed society, and teaches us not to take such titles for granted.

3.5/4

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The Duke of Burgundy (2014), dir. Peter Strickland

The Duke of Burgundy was another film I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing at the 2015 GFF, and this is one particular film I would have loved to experience with an audience. The film tells a tale of two women in a relationship of ritualistic power dynamics, and its clear effects on one rather than the other. The film is visually rich and a stylishness of erotic disposition sure to rose a few cheeks, but the story and the performances from the two lead actresses provide more heft than your typical sex drama. It is pure eroticism that keeps the romance, not to mention the frustration, in tact; nothing feels staged, and its flair doesn’t distract from its genuine emotion, either. In short, Duke of Burgundy is a solidly directed and acted film that makes you ponder about the evolving nature of relationships.

3.5/4

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The Tribe (2014), dir. Miroslav Slaboshpitsky

To call The Tribe unlike anything you’ve ever seen before is not only an understatement; it’s a complete disservice to the surprisingly immersive experience of witnessing it. This was the second of the three films I was able to enjoy at this year’s GFF, and make no mistake; this is one film you must watch with an audience. The Tribe is a silent film unlike all others, with all of the characters speaking in sign language. This, in addition to the film being shot in numerous long takes, thereby reducing the experience to real time, might initially lead one to believe that The Tribe is a slow-burn nightmare. Rather, its deliberate pacing not only keeps you invested in the films dystopian view, it accentuates an unsettling tone that deftly envelops you rather than pushes you away. All the way up to its disturbing finale, The Tribe is a unique picture that I lovingly refer to as ‘the most f*cked up Ukrainian Western I’ve ever seen.’

4/4

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Angry Indian Goddesses (2015), dir. Pan Nalin

My experience with Bollywood is certainly limited, as the only thing I’ve seen that could qualify as inspired by Bollywood is Slumdog Millionaire. Walking out of Angry Indian Goddesses at the GFF, some of my friends who are more experienced with Bollywood were able to point out just how ‘Bollywood’ that film became in spite of its intentions. What I can tell you is that the first half of the film is an energetic, upbeat subversion of Bollywood as a misogynistic industry, but the second half turns into an overly melodramatic mess. Now, the narrative isn’t focused, but the more it progresses, the more you realize that is intentional. The film tries to cover almost too many topics such as motherhood, gay marriage and rape – the former two helping provide some necessary dramatic weight to the comparatively light first half – but by the midpoint, one learns to accept this intent.

3/4

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Keep the Lights On (2012), dir. Ira Sachs

Keep the Lights On is a drama about the long, but doomed relationship between two gay lovers, as substance abuse and distance, both emotional and physical, threatens to tear their relationship apart. Ira Sachs smartly directs his film in that he sensitively accentuates the banality behind the seriousness of the issues this script covers, thereby allowing for some universal applicability. In fact, rarely does the film choose to tackle issues specific to gay couples. Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth provide some solid performances in the lead roles, well capturing the emotional nuances of two people in a long relationship, which feels significant due to the script jumping forward in time on many occasions. Overall, Keep the Lights On is a bittersweet exploration of keeping love from falling apart.

3.5/4

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Exhibition (2014), Joanna Hogg

Speaking of the banal, Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition is an English drama about a long-married couple emotionally preparing themselves for the sale of their home.   We are privy to the highs and lows of having been married for a long time, but Hogg’s steady direction turns a film that seems like it would be a narrative rollercoaster into something beautifully mundane. The still long takes are reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s filmography, and the two relatively inexperienced leads help fill the space with some solid, somber performances. Fortunately, the finish is easy on the palate, forsaking the bitter flavor at the beginning of the tongue and middle of the mouth for just the right amount of warming sweetness.

3.5/4

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The Witch (2016), dir. Robert Eggers

When I first saw The Innocents (1961) before my senior year of high school, I first got a taste of what dread felt like. Fast forward nearly six years later, and I found myself experiencing the same horrifying heaviness with The Witch, Robert Eggers’ first feature. The Witch is a standout in horror so far this year – which isn’t saying a lot considering the other films are The Forest, The Boy, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – with its slow burn narrative that accentuates a bleak, eerie atmosphere and some thoughtful musings on the flaws of (fanatical) faith without absolutely condemning its characters. Shivers down your spine aren’t just a warning; they’re a guarantee.

3.5/4

 

Top 5 Films I Saw this Month:

  1. Dear Zachary
  2. The Tribe
  3. Let the Fire Burn
  4. The House I Live In
  5. Life Itself

Top 10 Films I’ve Seen this Year:

  1. Dear Zachary
  2. The Tribe
  3. Venus in Fur
  4. Let the Fire Burn
  5. How to Survive a Plague
  6. Weekend
  7. Güeros
  8. The House I Live In
  9. Life Itself
  10. The One I Love

It kills me that The Witch couldn’t make it on either of these lists. Rest assured, it will find a place on my Top 20 Horror list.  Stay Tuned for March!

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