Highly anticipated queer romance “Ammonite” doesn’t quite live up to expectations, despite its technical mastery
With its poster of Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan looking wistfully out onto the sea, Francis Lee’s Ammonite, a period romance inspired by the life of English Paleontologist Mary Anning, has certainly set high audience expectations for itself. Although Lee constructs a fictional romance between Anning and her fellow geology enthusiast, Charlotte Murchison, for his film, Ammonite is less about speculating the actual details of Mary’s personal life and more about humanizing this often overlooked pioneer for women in science in a context of connection and intimacy. Although Ammonite more than hits the target with technical mastery and beauty, creating a fictionalized version of Anning whose weathered soul and loneliness bites through the screen, the romance itself lacks the chemistry and nuance that would have taken it to the next level.
Tapping into the rich history of water-creature horror flicks, Braden R. Duemmler’s feature debut, “What Lies Below” is quite a mixed bag
As a descendant of the aquatic-creature-horror genre (sub genre? Sub-sub genre?), Braden R. Duemmeler’s feature directorial debut, What Lies Below, naturally inherited some Universal Classic Monsters nostalgia. Besides Creature from the Black Lagoon’s “Gill Man,” (1954) the common ancestor of so many cinematic water-terrors, What Lies Below also takes cues from a handful of other film classics. There’s dashes of Spielburg in the eerie lights that glow from the bottom of the lake, bits of Friday the 13th (1980) in the film’s isolated lake house setting, and echoes of dozens of teen summer camp films in the bright colors of the opening scenes. What Lies Below pulls together an eclectic mix of movie influences, but the question is whether or not all this inspiration actually works together. Although it is an entertaining thriller overall, What Lies Below takes on a bit more than it can handle. The film never quite comes into its own, jumping shakily back and forth between different themes and schemes.
The good intentions of dramatic thriller “Choir Girl” fall flat as the story devolves into a questionable savior fantasy.
Choir Girl sets up a story that begs to be told through pictures. Its protagonist, Eugene (Peter Flaherty), is a shy street photographer who hopes that his pictures will expose the hardships of everyday life in his neighborhood and, eventually, make him enough money to pack up and move somewhere better. But it’s not simply the main character’s profession as a photographer that makes this story so well suited for film. Choir Girl, the feature debut of writer/director John Fraser, is all about looking and being looked at, about capturing and criticizing images, and about creating perspective through the lens of a camera. Any narrative that is so centrally structured on these subjects is a narrative most artfully told through film or photography itself rather than words, music, or live performance. Films about film naturally develop multiple layers of self-reflexivity and can, in turn, create a self-aware viewing experience for the audience. Choir Girl sets the stage for such a viewing experience but, unfortunately, watches more like a rough first draft than a final cut. Although it is bubbling with potential, Choir Girl leaves much to be desired.
Although its technical aspects are more successful than its plot and characters, torture-horror “Sleepless Beauty” makes for an interesting watch.
Excessive and explicit violence on screen always leads to questions about whether such images are necessary. If a director packs their movie with medieval torture and bodily trauma, does that violence serve a purpose, or is it simply a sadistic celebration of gore that delights in human pain? Is the audience expected to enjoy the blood and torture, or are they likely to have a more complex viewing experience? After watching the trailer for Sleepless Beauty, a torture horror film from director Pavel Khvaleev, I’ll admit that I had low expectations for the film as far as it’s use of violence, and I prepared myself for excessive gore with little meaning or thought behind it. However, I found myself pleasantly surprised by Sleepless Beauty, which, although by no means groundbreaking or flawless, makes a definite attempt to substantiate its numerous torture scenes with a bit of social commentary. While it does not succeed in every instance, Sleepless Beauty aims to create a sympathetic victim, explore her mental state, and ask relevant questions that go beyond the blood and guts on screen.
Dazzling fantasy “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” brings a thrilling journey of self-acceptance to life
When it comes to fantasy, I’ve always been most drawn to stories that emphasize the element of escape; stories in which the setting is not just a magical world, but a world that is within reach of our own reality. There’s something almost seductive about stories like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Peter Pan, or A Wrinkle in Time in which the characters just happen to stumble upon a wondrous world that’s only a flight away or behind the thin wooden back of a wardrobe. The idea that Narnia and Neverland could exist alongside reality endows my own world with a rich and thrilling potential energy. This is the sort of thrill I experienced while watching Martin Krejcí’s feature directorial debut, The True Adventures of Wolfboy, a delightful coming-of-age drama that combines the fantastical visual style of Tim Burton’s Big Fish (2003) with the adventurousness of timeless teen classics like Stand by Me (1986). Although the hero of the story, Paul, (Jaeden Martell) never actually crosses over into another world, and all of his adventures could, in theory, take place in our present reality, his journey exudes such heroic grandeur and wide-eyed fantastical wonder that it captures the thrill of a fantasyland just waiting to be discovered behind a door or down a rabbit hole.
Spike Lee brings David Byrne’s once in a lifetime musical experience “American Utopia” to HBO and HBO Max.
On October 9th, The Broadway League announced, to the severe disappointment of theatre professionals and fans, that Broadway will remain closed until June 2021. It’s difficult to imagine that the musicals, concerts, and plays that have been a New York City staple and a popular tourist attraction for years just aren’t taking place right now. However, even before the pandemic, filmed versions of Broadway shows brought these performances to audiences across the country who couldn’t otherwise afford to experience Broadway theatre. The success of the Hamilton pro-shot, released earlier this summer on Disney+, revealed how these filmed performances can keep the love of theatre alive, even while Broadway remains closed. While film and live theatre are entirely different mediums, and a film certainly cannot replace the experience of a live performance, a pro-shot can create an entirely new perspective on an already amazing show. Oscar and Emmy-winning director Spike Lee has done just that with David Byrne’s American Utopia, which captures a breathtaking, sold-out performance in a way that only film can.
“Luz: The Flower of Evil” offers a folk-horror tale that is both all-too-realistic and wonderfully fantastical
Last year, Ari Aster set the bar high for “daylight” horror films with Midsommar, a terrifying fantasy that casts its disturbing events against a beautiful, blossoming, sunlit backdrop. The genre-play proved to be quite successful for Aster, although the effect is not so much scary as it is genuinely disturbing. Fans of Midsommar will find a somewhat similar effect in Luz: The Flower of Evil, a folk-horror fantasy from writer/director Juan Diego Escobar Alzate. Combining the narrative elements of religious-cult horror films such as The Other Lamb (2019) with the vibrancy of Midsommar, Luz: The Flower of Evil is a stunning and layered exploration of faith, evil, and the search for meaning.
During the past two years, between graduating from college, helping my family relocate for my mom’s new job, heading out to graduate school, and moving back in with my parents because of the pandemic, I’ve had to make several big moves. One of the most difficult challenges of moving around so much, aside from packing and unpacking and repacking my DVD collection, is making all of those new places feel like home. Out of all the places that I’ve lived, however, the place that continually feels the most like home to me is the one-stoplight town of Boiling Springs, North Carolina, where I lived for four years while attending Gardner-Webb University. Any GWU graduate will tell you that the university’s sense of family and community is one of the best parts about the GWU experience, and it certainly makes the campus feel like home to many. As a liberal arts university with a student population of roughly 4,300 students, GWU tends to fly under the radar. However, the community’s dedication to one another and their school spirit can make extraordinary things happen, like when the 2018-19 men’s basketball team made it all the way to the NCAA tournament for the first time in GWU history. Now, a group of three GWU graduates, Christian Jessup, Eli Hardin, and Brendan Boylan, and current GWU student Thomas Manning, have captured that extraordinary season in a feature-length documentary, The Dancin’ Bulldogs. Filled with heart and honesty, the documentary is a creative and memorable demonstration of the faith, perseverance, and team-spirit that makes Gardner-Webb such an extraordinary school.
Although the Fantasia International Film Festival was held virtually this year, it still featured an incredible lineup of wild and visceral films that celebrated everything gory and horrific. Many of the featured titles were loud and boastful with their colorful characters and wacky situations, offering a whirlwind of both dreamy and nightmarish images. On the other hand, some of the films were softer with their style, offering up slow-burning, tense narratives and minimalist imagery that hit with just as strong of an impact. Among this second category of films is the feature debut of director Jeanette Nordahl, Wildland. A tense hybrid of family drama and crime thriller, Wildland is captivating from start to finish, despite its more subdued style.
Originally Published on Elements of Madness
Over twenty years after his first experimental Shakespeare film adaptation, Tromeo and Juliet (1996), Lloyd Kaufman and the team at Troma Entertainment have released yet another irreverent and outlandish adaptation with #ShakespearesShitstorm, a wacky musical-comedy and gross-out fest based on The Tempest. Featured at the virtual Fantasia Film Festival this year, Kaufman’s unconventional take on The Bard not only translates Shakespeare for a contemporary audience but also strips it of all its academic pretension and fills it with unapologetic vulgarity. Kaufman’s film whirls through the story of The Tempest in a constant state of orgiastic frenzy and revels in images that you might not want to see more than once, pushing the limits of what is acceptable and necessary to show on screen. #ShakespearesShitstorm, while not for everyone, has the makings of a cult film that just might find its place among a select audience of contemporary Shakespeare lovers who also appreciate a crazy time at the cinema.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."
Film Lover | Writer |
Cat Mom | Member, North Carolina Film Critics Association | Contributor, Elements of Madness | MA Cinema and Media Studies, University of Chicago '19 | BA English, Gardner-Webb University '18