Content Warning: The Blazing World involves heavy subject matters that may be triggering to some viewers, including self-harm. These issues are briefly discussed in the following review.
The fantasy genre is endlessly attractive. It can enchant us with whimsical imagery and inspire us with dynamic characters who set off on adventurous quests. Fantasy lets us escape into mystical worlds with different rules than our own — but usually, those worlds reveal some kind of universal truth. In The Blazing World, a college student named Margaret Winter (played by Carlson Young, who also wrote and directed the movie) enters a fantasy world that reflects the inner workings of her subconscious mind. Her mystical journey through this world allows her to process grief that she’s been bottling up since childhood. The Blazing World is an attractive fantasy film, but a flawed one. It’s attractive in a sensory way, charming us with lush imagery and a rich sound design. The story, however, is more distancing than attractive, and it gets stuck under the weight of heavy-handed and self-indulgent psychoanalytic themes.
Relive your angsty teen years with “Shoplifters of the World,” a cinematic tribute to The Smiths from director Stephen Kijak.
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.
Jimmy Olsson’s latest short, “Notes,” is the cathartic relationship movie you didn’t know you needed.
One of the most difficult parts of living alone is the silence. If it weren’t for FaceTime lunches with friends, work calls, and daily conversations with my cat, there might be days where I didn’t even hear the sound of my own voice. When my TV is off, my phone stops buzzing and there’s no sounds coming from outside, there’s this brief terrifying moment where I wonder if everyone else on Earth has disappeared. Even if I break the silence by talking to myself, it feels like I’m just sending my voice out into an empty void where no one will ever hear it. Writer/ director Jimmy Olsson captures this kind of loneliness in his short film, Notes, in which he offers a hopeful answer to the question that appears on the poster, “how can you speak when you have no one to talk to?” In Notes, a man moves into a temporary apartment after his bathroom floods, where he proceeds to work on a song he’s composing for his girlfriend’s birthday. He’s a little rusty on the keyboard and can’t quite find the right notes, but his neighbor chimes in through the wall to help him out.
Samarth Mahajan subverts expectations with "Borderlands", a human-focused documentary illustrating the effects of political borders on the Indian subcontinent.
I don’t think that anyone has ever convinced me to change my mind about my political or moral beliefs by using academic theories and 25-cent vocabulary words. However, when someone tells me a personal story, I can’t help but open my mind to new thoughts and ideas. As I participate in and observe political battles on social media, I’ve also learned that it’s easier to communicate with others via storytelling rather than through theoretical explanations filled with progressive buzz-words (which will just make people mad unless they already agree with you). Naturally, then, a narrative film can easily garner sympathy from a wide audience, while a politically-charged documentary will struggle to communicate with audience members who don’t already agree with its message. This is unfortunate, since many narrative films about social justice issues often go all-in with the drama, making the audience feel like they’ve done their part just by displaying an emotional response (as in, “I thought The Help was sad so clearly I’m not racist.”) So, what are some effective strategies that filmmakers can use to educate their audience about social justice issues? Samarth Mahajan gives us some ideas with his human-centered documentary, Borderlands.
Originally posted on Elements of Madness.
Storytelling is essential. It’s one of the easiest ways to communicate our values, express our beliefs, and process our experiences. Even our 280-character tweets are a form of storytelling, and many of us couldn’t make it a single day without a little micro-storytelling on social media. While it’s natural for us to jump into a detailed account of our own experiences, it’s not as natural to stop and listen to a different perspective. Movies and TV shows can give us the opportunity to explore other perspectives by replaying the same event from different points of view, the results of which can be comedic, horrific, or totally mind-blowing. In the case of The Get Together, we get to experience a Friday night party from the perspective of four very different twenty-somethings: an outcast who wasn’t really invited, a nervous guy trying to plan the perfect proposal, a career-driven student who returns to her hometown for the first time in months, and a wannabe musician who’s wondering if his dreams might be too big.
Wheels starts with its greatest strength: music. A lively rock-n-roll tune plays over a black screen as a few opening credits fly by, and we hear the protagonist, Max (Arnstar), introduce himself while doing what he loves most: DJing. But when the music comes to a halt, we see that Max isn’t DJing at a club or fancy event, but at a children’s birthday party. The film’s memorable introduction is just a small sample of the masterful cinematic storytelling that writer/director Paul Starkman offers in his feature debut, a well-crafted coming-of-age-film that brings together the Emmy-nominated director’s love of hip hop and his fondness for his hometown, Brooklyn. Wheels premiered at the 2018 Woodstock Film Festival, where it took home the Audience award and the Best Narrative Feature award. After a successful festival run, the film was released to general audiences in September 2020.
According to the press notes for Call for Dreams, Israeli director Ran Slavin started the project in pursuit of a “new cinematic form.” Slavin began with the idea to collect dreams from strangers that he could use as inspiration for his film and he ended up incorporating this idea into the plot of the film itself. Call for Dreams revolves around a young woman named Eko (Mami Shimazaki) who posts a “Call for Dreams” advertisement in a Tokyo newspaper. Strangers can describe their dreams to Eko by leaving a message on her answering machine, and if she approves of the dream, she’ll visit the customer and act out their dream for a fee. Meanwhile, an investigator in Tel Aviv (Yehezkel Lazarov) listens to old tapes on Eko’s machine as he investigates a murder. The two stories overlap in abstract ways that blur the lines between dreams, memories, and reality. Although the film flew under the radar for its international streaming release in late 2020, Call for Dreams is an intriguing film that deserves praise and critical attention.
John Berardo’s horror flick, “Initiation,” will make you too paranoid to leave your phone on silent.
If you’re thinking that a horror movie called Initiation must be about pledge week, you’d be correct. In his first feature as solo director, John Berardo focuses on the horrors of frat culture, social media, and monetary corruption within universities. He co-wrote Initiation with Brian Frager and Lindsay LaVanchy, who also stars as Initiation’s heroine. The writing team borrows stylistic conventions from years of teen thrillers to create a horror flick that is decidedly about the social media generation. Berardo's love for and knowledge of the horror genre is evident throughout Initiation, which neatly pays tribute to horror classics of the past in both style and form. While it's an entertaining flick with standout technical elements, Initiation struggles to strike the right tone as it juggles important themes without fully unpacking them.
Refreshing political doc “Kid Candidate” goes beyond the unconventional candidacy to call out corruption in local government.
Action/adventure flick “Burn It All” trips and stumbles over its stiff dialogue, making it difficult to take the story seriously.
Like a well-choreographed action sequence, movies have a lot of moving parts. While certain aspects of a film might not fall into place, the film may do so well in other areas that it turns out alright in the end. With so many different elements at play, movies can usually balance out or even cover up their weak spots. However, Brady Hall’s Burn It All gets so tripped up by its own dialogue that it never quite finds its balance. While there’s clearly a talented team at work behind the camera and in post-production, their talents can’t quite make up for the movie’s cringe-worthy speech.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."