Relive your angsty teen years with “Shoplifters of the World,” a cinematic tribute to The Smiths from director Stephen Kijak.
Originally published on Elements of Madness.
When you’re a teenager, every little upset feels like the end of the world. Failing a test, losing the big game, watching your crush take someone else to prom, or even finding out that your favorite band broke up can send you to bed in tears. In fact, in 1987, one teen was so moved by the music of The Smiths that, after the band broke up, he plotted to break into a local radio station and force the DJ to play nothing but Smiths tracks at gunpoint. In real life, the young man turned himself in before going through with his plan. But in Shoplifters of the World, a cinematic tribute to The Smiths, writer/ director Stephen Kijak imagines a different outcome to the story. Although The Smiths may be long broken up, you can relive the mood and culture they inspired with a DVD or Blu-ray copy of Shoplifters of the World from RLJE Films.
As literature and media consumers, we’re accustomed to reading stories that fit neatly into one of a few familiar narrative templates. Regardless of genre, even the most unique original screenplays can be reduced down to a basic plot formula that we’ve already encountered a million times (according to author Christopher Booker, there are in fact 7 basic plots, hence the title of his 2004 book). The hero’s journey, for one, is proven cinematic gold, as we’ve seen with the Marvel franchise’s takeover of 21st century cinema. This plot structure not only provides us with a thrilling adventure, but it allows us to indulge in the possibility that we, too, could one day be a hero. With social media personalities plastered all over our screens, it’s nice to escape into a fantasy world where the most ordinary people get the chance to prove their moral strengths. This is the kind of fantasy that screenwriter Tom O'Connor created in his Cold War espionage thriller, The Courier. Working with director Dominic Cooke, O'Connor pulls together a variety of historical sources to craft a classic based-on-true-events story that reminds us why we keep going back to the movies.
Created by the founding members of American folk-rock band, The Sweet Remains, "The Independents" takes us on a delightful musical adventure
Simply put, The Independents is about three guys, a van, and some jams. That tells you just about all there is to know about the content of this little indie film, but it doesn’t account for the experience of watching it or the incredible way that this flick establishes a nostalgic, comfortable tone. The Independents stars Rich Price, Greg Naughton, and Brian Chartrand, real-life band members of The Sweet Remains, who play fictionalized versions of themselves. Loosely based on their actual interactions and experiences, The Independents tells the story of three down-and-out artists who happen to meet at a time in their lives when they need to make music more than ever before. As you might expect, this road-trip band fantasy movie is filled with musical montages, crowded bars, shared joints, and even a grandiose monologue delivered on a hilltop overlooking LA. More than anything, however, The Independents is about capturing a certain mood, like a glossy motion-picture scrapbook of the band’s favorite memories.
“Dara of Jasenovac” (Dara iz Jasenovca) is a technical beauty, but leaves us wondering about the purpose and effect of Holocaust films moving forward
Serbia’s official submission for the 2021 Academy Awards, Dara of Jasenovac, reminds us that no matter how many Holocaust films are made, there are important details and individual stories that have not yet been represented on the screen. Directed by Predrag Antonijević, Dara of Jasenovac is the first film about the Jasenovac complex in The Independent State of Croatia during the 1940s, which was run by the fascist Ustase government and used for the systematic murder of ethnic Serbs, Jews, and Roma people. While the film’s protagonist, 10-year-old Dara (Biljana Čekić), is not based on a specific historical person, the filmmakers chose to tell the story from a child’s perspective to emphasize the fact that there were specific camps in Jasenovac for children. The film begins when Dara is first transported to the complex along with her mother, infant brother, and other people from her village. She is subsequently moved through different facilities, gradually coming to understand the evil unfolding around her as those who entered the camp with her are killed one by one. Taking on more responsibility than she should ever have to bear, Dara resolves to do everything she can to keep her brother alive.
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.
Bold political thriller “Run This Town” speaks to millennials and Gen Z’s entering the workforce, posing complex questions about integrity and corruption
Originally published on Elements of Madness
Although we’re just two months into the new year, 2020 has already seen the landmark trials of two immensely powerful figures who were both accused of abusing their power in different ways: President Donald Trump, who was acquitted by the U.S. Senate at the conclusion of his impeachment trial, and former film producer Harvey Weinstein, who was convicted of rape and sexual assault in late February. While public response to these trials and their outcomes is sharply divided, such power scandals are always sure to hook a massive audience. These stories bring followers not only to news outlets, but to the movies as well. The recent film Bombshell (2019), for example, revisited the 2016 sexual harassment scandal at Fox News. This week, another political scandal will play out on the big screen with Ricky Tollman’s feature directorial debut, Run This Town. Packed with suspense from start to finish, Run This Town tells the story of late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who was exposed for drug abuse in 2013. Run This Town reimagines the scandal through the eyes of a group of ambitious young adults at the start of their careers.
Rising director Kantemir Balagov paints a haunting picture of human need with his Oscar-shortlisted film, “Beanpole”
Originally Published on Elements of Madness
With just one other feature film under his belt (Closeness, 2017), Russian director Kantemir Balagov takes on a challenge with his second feature, Beanpole. The film packs a complex story of female friendship and desire that requires precise characterization and emotional nuance. Balagov certainly delivers with this exceptional film, demonstrating both his technical skill and his gift for storytelling. With Beanpole, Balagov uses the devastating setting of war-torn Leningrad to dissect the human need for intimacy in a manner that is both honest and biting.
While lacking the depth and emotional nuance of previous Holocaust films, “Quezon’s Game” honors the past by bringing a nearly forgotten story to light
Originally published on Elements of Madness
As early as 1945, two years before the liberation of Auschwitz, filmmakers began to grapple with the challenge of preserving Holocaust memory on screen. Directors like Mark Donskoy and Wanda Jakubowska took great risks with their films, The Unvanquished (1945) and The Last Stage (1948), respectively, which were some of the first to depict the mass violence of the Holocaust. Since the release of these early films, directors have continued to use cinema to preserve Holocaust memory and honor victims, survivors, and those who risked their lives to help. With the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 2020, it seems there are still more stories to tell about these events, stories and perspectives that have yet to be explored on the big screen. When director Matthew Rosen learned of one such story, that of former president of the Philippines Manuel Quezon and his efforts open the borders of his country to Jewish refugees, Rosen decided to bring the narrative to the screen with his feature film debut, Quezon’s Game.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."