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.
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.
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.
Multi-talented writer and director Mathias Malzieu, who is known for his success as a novelist and musician as well as filmmaker, returns to this year’s virtual Fantasia Film Festival with a delightful grown-up fairytale. Malzieu’s previous animated film, Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, which he co-directed with Stéphane Berla, was featured at the festival in 2014. This year, his live action A Mermaid in Paris captures the charm and adventurousness of an animated feature and recalls the hopeful optimism of childhood with a romantic fantasy story. The film’s plot is unashamedly straightforward and simple, borrowing from familiar mermaid mythology and popular romance movie formulas, but it places this tale on a fantastical and colorful backdrop that makes the predictable story seem fresh and heartfelt.
The word “nightmarish” is one of those terms frequently thrown around when describing horror films. While the jump-scares, villains, and gore of the horror genre can certainly haunt us in our sleep, oftentimes, the plots of horror movies are quite meticulously designed and follow a much more logical story than real nightmares. Despite their terrifying nature, narrative horror films make much more sense, and are therefore much easier to follow, than our dreams. Unless you have some higher form of subconsciousness that employs a team of award-winning writers to plan out your dreams, real nightmares are so bizarre, fragmented, and convoluted that they probably wouldn’t bring in a lot of cash at the box office. While most horror movies don’t accurately represent the experience of a nightmare, anthology horror films can come pretty close. Just like a nightmare that pulls your mind back and forth among a hodgepodge of strange and unlikely situations, even tricking you into thinking you are someone else for a while, anthology films guide us through a series of loosely-connected and bizarre short stories. These stories, like a nightmare, frequently switch protagonists and force our minds to work harder to make connections between everything we are seeing. In that sense, writer/director Ryan Spindell’s feature debut, The Mortuary Collection, is a nightmarish anthology horror film. Screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival, The Mortuary Collection is both a tribute to classic cinema and a unique creation of its own.
Originally Published on Elements of Madness
One of film’s unique narrative strengths is the camera’s ability to manipulate perspective. A movie can put us behind the mask of a serial killer on Halloween or on the tip of a shark’s nose just before it attacks. Point-of-view shots are both riveting and revolting. They force us to confront stomach-turning visuals, and yet, as we share the perspective of a character who we care about, we can’t turn away. In the case of Patrick, a selection from this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, cinematographer Frank van den Eeden capitalizes on the power of perspective to create a detailed and accessible portrait of the emotionally unavailable title character. Patrick is a stylized, darkly comedic thriller that hones in on the anxiety of its antisocial protagonist, exposing (in more ways than one) the ridiculousness of the world around him.
Among the list of things that you might expect to save your life one day, perhaps one of the least likely is a night with an escort and a headfirst dive into the world of feminist pornography production. For middle-aged housewife Morgana Muses, who had silently suffered through a loveless, sexless marriage for years, it just so happened that the simple act of holding hands with an escort while on a date to the theatre was exactly what she needed to start fighting back against overpowering suicidal thoughts. In a fantastical documentary about her life, which is simply titled, Morgana, this housewife turned porn-star shares the story of how she left behind a hollow, meaningless life to pursue a career in adult films, embarking on a healing journey that would give her the identity and community she had always craved. Directed by the feminist dynamite duo of Isabel Peppard and Josie Hess, Morgana is not just a documentary about porn and sex-work, but an invitation to flourishing self-love. As an official selection of this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, Morgana gives women of all shapes, sizes, and ages permission to seek out people and communities that can meet their basic human needs, sexual or otherwise.
Anyone familiar with rape-revenge films knows that the formula for this horror sub-genre can be particularly tricky. While the genre continually offers up new ways for audiences to process and discuss trauma, rape-revenge films can be quite problematic when not handled correctly. Writer/director Teddy Grennan’s latest film, Ravage, thankfully avoids one of the most common and offensive clichés of the genre: sexualizing the protagonist as a victim of violence and trauma. Unfortunately, however, Ravage also manages to create new problems of its own.
The 2020 American presidential election is well underway, one that may prove to be the most interesting (or frustrating) elections of the past few decades as the candidates navigate campaign strategies in the midst of a global pandemic. As voters tune in to the presidential debates and our social media accounts flood with political ads and memes, it may seem like the next chapter in our country’s history all depends on the winner of this next big election. It can be easy to forget about the smaller, local elections and the changes we can make in our communities by researching and voting for local officials. As Marc Levin’s new documentary, Stockton On My Mind, shows, local elections can be a catalyst for social justice and meaningful changes in our own backyards. In 2016, on the same day that Donald Trump won the presidential election, 26-year-old Michael Tubbs became the first black mayor, not to mention the youngest, of Stockton, California. Stockton On My Mind highlights not only Tubbs’s journey and the positive impact he has had on his hometown, but the strength of local communities and the power of reform from within. It’s a thought-provoking film that seeks to tell a different narrative about low-income, high-crime communities and to inspire audiences to pursue lasting changes in their own towns.
"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