January 2020 archive

Sundance 2020: Charm City Kings, Save Yourselves!, Blast Beat

Angel Manuel Soto’s “Charm City Kings” is a movie with big dreams. It wants to bring you into a rich world through the exhilarating spectacle of dirt bike riding, and also tell the timeless story of a boy becoming a man with the right and wrong influences. And it wants to do so with a …

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Sundance 2020: Palm Springs, Zola

Two of the most buzzed and ridiculously fun films from Sundance 2020 came out of the U.S. Dramatic Competition program, a pair of movies that I can’t wait for the rest of the world to see. Neither are perfect, but both have that kinetic energy that gets people talking. It’s no surprise that one came …

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Horse Girl

Alison Brie stars in “Horse Girl” as Sarah, a socially awkward craft store employee whose mental health is rapidly deteriorating. The history of mental illness within her family, particularly that of her grandmother, is not on the forefront of her mind as images from her dreams start to blend into reality. Written by Brie and director …

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Sundance 2020: La Llorona, Impetigore

Premiering under Sundance’s “Spotlight” selection (after previously making its way to the Venice and Toronto film festivals), is Jayro Bustamante’s “La Llorona,” a slow-burn horror movie that grapples with genocide in the director’s country of Guatemala, and a need for justice. It’s worth noting from the pitch that this isn’t the type of horror movie …

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Hillary

There is no more divisive modern political figure than Hillary Clinton. She invokes more passionate defense and unbridled vitriol than anyone – yes, even him, as a lot of his defenders often couch their praise in caveats – and so it makes sense that a bio-doc of her life would be too big for a …

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Sundance 2020: Possessor, Surge, The Killing of Two Lovers

The Sundance Film Festival has a reputation as a showcase for dialogue-heavy, character-driven independent cinema, but it’s not all dramedies about people coming to terms with their family members. There’s room in this massive program for experimentation, most commonly in the NEXT and World Dramatic sections of the program, where one could find this trio …

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The Assistant

You never see the boss in full in “The Assistant.” At the most, he is a dark blur passing in front of the camera on his way somewhere (he’s always on his way somewhere). Other than that: his voice is heard through the door, through the thin office walls, through the phone: you can hear …

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Gretel & Hansel

During this past month, the horror genre has taken it especially hard on the chin with the release of such instantly and intensely forgettable duds as “The Grudge,” “Underwater” and “The Turning,” a trio of films that collectively failed to inspire the same amount of raw terror found in the trailer for that “Peter Rabbit” …

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The Rhythm Section

Blake Lively gives it her all in “The Rhythm Section,” but the movie only meets her halfway. The glamorous star gets grungy for the role of Stephanie Patrick, an ordinary young woman who transforms herself into an international assassin to avenge the killing of her family. Lively previously has shown a yearning not only for …

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The Traitor

It took me a moment to catch up with the dry absurdist humor in “The Traitor,” a new Italian period drama about that time when, from 1980-2000, real-life Mafia don Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino) informed on a couple hundred gangsters. To be fair: “The Traitor”—the latest political drama from Italian New Wave maestro Marco Bellocchio—is …

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Incitement

We know the facts of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin because it is a true story. So “Incitement” is what newspaper editors call a “tick-tock,” showing us how it happened and, as the title indicates, why it happened. The winner of Israel’s top film award, it is now the official Israeli submission …

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José

With its engaging drama of a young gay man facing the challenges of coming of age in urban Guatemala, Li Cheng’s “José,” a prize winner and audience favorite at Venice and other festivals, might obviously be categorized as an LGBT film, one of a fairly familiar sort. Yet it also stands out for representing another …

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True to the Experience: Eliza Hittman on Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Upon learning that in the state of Pennsylvania parental consent is required for an underage girl to have an abortion, 17-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) sets out to resolve her unwanted pregnancy elsewhere with the unconditional support of her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) in Eliza Hittman’s strikingly subdued “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.” Deftly humanistic, not unlike …

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Sundance 2020: Eight Highlights of the Shorts Programs

Whenever a festival like Sundance appears on the calendar, the major features and documentaries take up much of the oxygen. And for good reason. However, short films are often skimmed past on the way to other brighter and shinier titles with either established or soon-to-be big Hollywood names.  It’s a difficult habit to break, one …

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The Last Thing He Wanted

Dee Rees’ “The Last Thing He Wanted” is incomprehensible to an almost impressive degree—usually when a movie’s narrative gets so out of control, it over-corrects itself at some point before the end. But not here. This international anti-thriller, which freely mixes hardworking journalism and weapons smuggling, continues to blaze its own path of gibberish up through a …

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A Roller Coaster in the Dark: Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham on Promising Young Woman

Emerald Fennell’s biting dark comedy “Promising Young Woman” serves up a new take on old revenge narratives. In the movie, Cassie (Carey Mulligan) spends her days working at a coffee shop and her nights playing intoxicated so she could trap then scare predatory men from harming other women. When she reconnects with a former college …

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Downhill

Every movie, even a remake, deserves to be viewed on its own merits. But that’s easier stated than done when you have a film like “Downhill,” a largely inferior American knockoff which is far less dynamic than the 2014 dark comedy it is based on. Not that this project didn’t come together with some inspiration, …

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Sundance 2020: Relic, Amulet

My favorite horror movie of this year’s Sundance Film Festival is Natalie Erika James’ terrifying “Relic,” a slow burn genre pic that erupts in a climactic final act that had me fidgeting and squeezing my hands together with anxiety. This is a remarkable debut, a movie that deals with a common theme of Sundance 2020 …

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Sundance 2020: Exil, Jumbo

From Germany, writer/director Visar Morina’s “Exil” is a quietly nightmarish character study about the daily paranoia of being intentionally left out—something that everyone experiences, but very few people dare make movies about. With an extremely tempered performance from Mišel Matičević the film puts those feelings under a microscope, and turns all of those moments of sitting …

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Lost Girls

Liz Garbus, the award-winning documentarian behind films like “What Happened, Miss Simone?,” makes her narrative directorial debut with the powerful “Lost Girls,” an emotional examination of one of the most famous unsolved cases of the modern era. When non-fiction filmmakers turn to directing actors, there’s often something lost in the process, but Garbus proves a …

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