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.
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.
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.
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.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."