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.
Nature documentary “Awaken” is a magnificent cinematic experience, reminding us that humankind is part of a much larger narrative.
Press materials for Tom Lowe’s Awaken describe the film as a documentary that explores “humanity's relationship with technology and the natural world.” Although I didn’t realize it until I was halfway through the film, this description set me up to expect a depressing film about climate change. Of course, it’s more important than ever to educate ourselves on the reality of climate change, but Lowe doesn’t use depressing imagery and horrific statistics to send a message about preserving nature. By using breathtaking montages of our planet’s most exquisite sights, Lowe puts nature itself at the center of the story and positions humanity as an integral part of the natural world rather than an inherently destructive force. The visually stunning and immersive documentary sends a hopeful message of renewal while reminding us of our responsibility as Earth’s caretakers.
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.
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.
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.
Charming, well-crafted, and funny, Adam Stovall’s romance/horror mashup “A Ghost Waits” is a delightfully spooky good time.
Adam Stovall’s micro-budget flick, A Ghost Waits, makes a pretty convincing argument that romance and horror can work really well together. Stovall doesn’t simply juxtapose the genres or jump back and forth between sweet and horrific moments. Instead, he takes the time to explore the space in which romance and horror overlap. Most of A Ghost Waits is simply a fun and easy-going good time that doesn’t require you to think too much, but it’s also got a handful of breathtaking shots that will send chills down your spine (and it’s impossible to tell if those chills are the result of horror or romance). This surprising genre mashup makes the most of its limited resources, showing that craftsmanship and technique can go a long way when it comes to movie making.
Jack (MacLeod Andrews) is a handyman for a property management company. He’s pretty lonely (a fact made obvious by how much he talks to himself) and devastatingly underappreciated by his boss and friends. While working on repairs for a rental house, he quickly discovers why all the former tenants left so suddenly. The house is haunted by a self-confident, no-nonsense ghost named Muriel (Natalie Walker). For years, it’s been Muriel’s job as a “spectral agent” to scare away every single person who moves into “her” house. While Jack has pretty much the opposite job (to fix up the house so that more people can move in), the unlikely duo quickly form a bond. Of course, that bond is tested as it’s stretched between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and a good-old-fashioned lover’s dilemma ensues.
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.
Outside of a few unfortunate parallels to current events, “Rams” is a quaint comedy/drama with a delightful cast.
Originally published on Elements of Madness
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.
“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.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."