You may want to leave a few lights on to watch “The Last Thing Mary Saw,” a visually petrifying feature debut from writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti. [Fantasia International Film Festival]
You don’t necessarily need complex characters or ingenious plot twists to write an engaging story. With strong imagery and a clear, palpable tone that physically affects your audience, you can transform the most overdone plot into a memorable tale. Writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti demonstrates that kind of storytelling craftsmanship in his feature debut, The Last Thing Mary Saw, which premiered at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Every aspect of this suffocatingly dark period drama, including its characters and plot, takes a backseat to its tone and mood. As a result, The Last Thing Mary Saw is bursting with palpable dread that will chill you to the bone.
Explore the wonders of “Strawberry Mansion,” a love letter to the films that first sparked the imaginations of an entire generation of fantasy fans [Fantasia International Film Festival]
You don’t need a degree in film studies to make an educated guess about when a movie was made, or to at least place it within the right decade. It’s easy to recognize specific cinematic styles and themes from each decade of big-budget filmmaking, and it’s also fairly easy to date a movie based on its special effects. Innovative filmmakers have spent millions of dollars and years of their careers trying to make movies look “better” than those of yesteryear, particularly movies in the sci-fi, fantasy, action, and adventure genres. After all that work, it might seem counterintuitive for a filmmaker to purposely make a movie that looks like it was shot thirty or forty years ago. But co-writers and directors Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley did just that with their fantasy masterpiece Strawberry Mansion, a selection at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Strawberry Mansion fully embraces the visual style and effects of charming fantasy flicks from days past like The NeverEnding Story (1984) and Labyrinth (1986). It reminds us of a time when “special effects” and “set design” in a fantasy movie didn’t just mean CGI, bringing back fond memories of the worn-out VHS tapes that defined our idea of adventure.
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.
Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” is packed with thrilling twists and turns, recreating classic adventure flicks for a new generation of young cinemagoers.
If you’ve ever stood in an hour-long line just to take your kids on a 10-minute amusement park ride, you’re probably wondering how anyone could transform the brief thrills of that attraction into an engaging feature-length movie. But, in 2003, Disney did it as only Disney can, releasing the first of five Pirates of the Caribbean movies that, together, would bring in billions at the box office. Disney has taken another stab at theme park-inspired films with Jungle Cruise, which is based on the Disneyland attraction of the same name. The ride itself was inspired by Disney’s “True Life Adventure” documentaries and has been around since the park opened in 1955. Decades later, Disney now gives the “jungle cruise” concept a new twist under the direction of Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows, 2016; Run All Night 2015).
With limited resources at hand, the incredible cast and crew of A Ghost Waits truly came through with teamwork and creativity. Making the most of what they had and pooling resources from family and friends, the team shot the movie in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2016. After its first public screening at Fright Fest Glasgow in March 2020, the movie underwent a few more tweaks and changes before it was released for streaming on Arrow in February 2021. The final version of this quirky horror/romcom is a testament to the crew’s perseverance and collaborative efforts, showcasing their enormous love for filmmaking. In the words of director and co-writer Adam Stovall, the movie isn’t perfect, but it’s “the best version of itself” possible. You can now get the full scoop on the story behind the film from the interviews and commentaries included on the Blu-ray from Arrow Video, which makes the perfect gem to add to your home collection.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."