Outside of a few unfortunate parallels to current events, “Rams” is a quaint comedy/drama with a delightful cast.
Director Jeremy Sims brings together the talents of Sam Neill, Michael Caton, and Miranda Richardson in Rams, his English-language remake of the 2015 Icelandic film, Hrútar. Rams centers around feuding brothers Colin and Les Grimurson (Neill and Caton, respectively), who have been engaged in a silent-treatment standoff for decades as they keep separate flocks of sheep on opposite sides of their family land. After Les wins the local ram judging contest, Colin and the local vet, Kat (Richardson), make a life-altering discovery. Les’s prize-winning ram is infected with Ovine Johne’s disease, a deadly bacterial disease that could easily wipe out all the local herds. The community’s agricultural department orders all farmers in the area to eliminate their flocks and undergo extreme decontamination procedures, effectively destroying the town’s main source of income. While Les responds by lashing out in drunken rages, Colin devises a secret plan to hold on to his family’s specially bred sheep for a little while longer. At the risk of losing the things they love most, Colin and Les must figure out how to reconcile their differences in the face of unexpected changes and grief.
Psychological thriller “The Night” masters the familiar haunted hotel setting with technical excellence.
Kourosh Ahari’s psychological thriller, The Night, is a stellar example of a film that may not have the next best original ideas within its genre, but is so well done that it is nonetheless entertaining and worthwhile. Despite a handful of predictable plot points and stereotypical gendered conflicts, The Night’s talented cast and distinct style create a spine-chilling, mind-bending, what-did-I-just-watch experience that reminds us why the horror genre is so exciting.
With strong performances, a compelling story, and a satisfying blend of romance and mystery, all “32 Weeks” needs is a better ending.
Sometimes, writers get a tad bit lazy with their narratives and throw in a character with amnesia as a cheap and easy way to wiggle themselves out of plot holes and avoid the extra work of coming up with a clever twist for their story. Because this predictable soap-opera-style technique is so familiar, it can be easy to dismiss and overlook stories that center around memory loss. However, when used with caution and careful thought, amnesia as a plot device can actually make for compelling storytelling, as is the case with 32 Weeks. This romance/ mystery from writer/director Brian Cavallaro works so well because the protagonist’s memory-loss-inducing-incident occurs right at the start of the story. When Cole (Nicole Souza) wakes up in the hospital after a car accident with no memory of the past 32 weeks of her life, the audience is in pretty much the same boat as Cole with no knowledge of what happened to her during that time. This setup creates a thrilling closed mystery with tons of possibilities that keep us engaged and guessing until the end. However, things begin to fall apart for 32 Weeks when the mystery is revealed with the final “twist,” a somewhat sloppy ending that doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the film. Still, the story leading up to that final let-down is a charming journey with some fantastic performances.
After the accident, Cole can remember a lot of things. She remembers her personal information, her apartment, and how to play the violin. She also remembers her best friend and former roommate, Hannah (Nicole Rainteau). What she doesn’t remember, however, is her six-week relationship with the charming, outgoing Simon (Scott Bender). Cheeky but caring, Simon does everything he can to help Cole recover her memories, even though she has absolutely no recollection of him. While Simon knows just about everything about Cole, Cole must essentially start the relationship over from scratch and can only rely on Hannah’s word and her old text messages to be sure that she was even dating Simon before the accident. As flashes from the past begin to come back to Cole like dreams, she gets the thrilling opportunity to get to know the man she had fallen in love with all over again. In soft, romantic sequences with a tinted grainy filter and twinkling music, 32 Weeks takes us back into Cole’s pleasant memories as they all come rolling back to her. However, not all the memories that come back are good ones. As Cole continues to look back through her messages and texts, she realizes that Simon isn’t the only person from her recent past that she has forgotten, and her friends are reluctant to help her fill in the gaps of the more painful memories. Cole is forced to try and put the pieces together herself until the final memory clicks into place.
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.
"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