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.
Florian Zeller’s "The Father" explores aging and dementia by questioning our need for a stable point of identification
The Father is the kind of film that’s got “awards season” written all over it - which is also the kind of film that’s difficult and daunting for an aspiring critic to approach. With its untouchable cast (namely, Oliva Colman and Anthony Hopkins) and unconventional narrative style, The Father may seem, at first glance, like a lofty art film that’s supposed to go over everyone’s heads. Directed by Florian Zeller and based on his play of the same name (Le Père), The Father has already received lots of attention ahead of its U.S. release. After its world premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, The Father secured four Golden Globe nominations along with a slew of other award considerations. Unlike other stage-to-screen adaptations, which tend to be dialogue-driven, there’s a lot more going in The Father than lengthy speeches used to show off a certain actor’s mastery of the craft. At first, we might expect it to be a highbrow, intellectually-driven film, and perhaps that’s what Zeller was going for. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the best way to watch it.
“Tell Me Your Secrets” is an emotional whirlwind that eventually runs itself into a wall with Freudian sexual tension
Content Warning: Tell Me Your Secrets involves heavy subject matters that may be triggering to some viewers, including violence and rape. These issues are briefly discussed in the following review.
Available now on Amazon Prime, Tell Me Your Secrets is a mystery/thriller series revolving around two women who have little in common except their unfortunate connection to a convicted serial killer. While it’s not the most original or nuanced thriller, I’d be lying if I said the show wasn’t engaging. The 10 episodes that make up season 1 are so jam-packed with explosive emotions that it almost watches like a desperate attempt to snag viewer attention with drama and shock value amidst the insane amount of streaming content that’s now being produced. One you start watching, you’ll no doubt want to stick around until the end to find out how everything fits together. But you might find yourself rolling your eyes along the way.
With a darkly comedic, absurdist and fantastical tone, the style of “The Mimic” is more impressive than its content
The tagline for The Mimic, “the lighter side of being a sociopath,” boasts an intriguing story for anyone interested in representations of mental illness on screen. While this dark comedy from writer/director Thomas F. Mazziotti is not quite the informative and mental health-positive flick you might expect, The Mimic still has several interesting stylistic tidbits to offer. The story’s self-proclaimed narrator (Thomas Sadoski) is a brooding screenwriter and widower who becomes suspicious of the new guy in his neighborhood, referred to as “The Kid” (Jake Robinson). After both men attend a meeting for the community newspaper, The Kid starts following The Narrator around everywhere and popping up in the most unlikely places, leading The Narrator to believe that this unwanted “mimic” is a certified sociopath. However, The Narrator is also pining after The Kid’s young wife, who is characterized as a beauty so perfect that she cannot be shown on screen. As The Narrator takes a deep dive into obsessive research on sociopaths and even begins writing a screenplay about The Kid, it’s hard to tell if he is being stalked by his overeager new neighbor or if The Narrator is turning into a stalker himself. With dark humor and an obscure style, The Mimic is an off-beat, self-referential buddy comedy that touches on psychology and interpersonal relationships.
With strong performances, a compelling story, and a satisfying blend of romance and mystery, all “32 Weeks” needs is a better ending.
Originally published on Elements of Madness
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.
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.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."