Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: January 2021

Saturday

30

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided To Go For It

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Rita Moreno is one of the greatest actresses of all time. The truth so evident in the modern era remained tragically elusive to many of the men who governed Hollywood for much of the early chapters of her illustrious career. The new documentary Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided To Go For It exposes these injustices, perfectly capturing the essence of the star whose mere stage presence is enough to evoke a smile on one’s face.

Director Mariem Pérez Riera sets an ambitious agenda for her documentary, covering a career that spans across seven decades. The audience hardly needs any reminders for why Moreno is so beloved, but the first few minutes perfectly set the tone for the film’s intentions. Moreno makes for a fascinating subject, willing to take the questions to depths that plenty would rather avoid.

Using extensive archival footage from Moreno’s early years on screen, Riera does a superb job illustrating the ways that nonwhite actors, particularly women, were boxed into offensive supporting roles. Moreno was forced to act in roles that required extensive tanning makeup and an accent to fit whatever race she was cast to play, a stark contrast from her normal voice. Hollywood’s racist past is no secret to anyone, but the documentary frames the extent of the discrimination in terms that prevent anyone from painting the era with rosy excuses of ignorance of a bygone era. It was always wrong.

The film spends a great deal of time focused on Moreno’s personal life. She recounts past traumas with intimate detail, freely opening up about sexual assault, an attempted suicide, her years-long relationship with Marlon Brando, marital unhappiness, among other life hardships that many prefer to keep to themselves. It’s incredibly moving to watch a woman with so much life experience reflect with such a raw degree of honesty.

Riera includes extensive interviews from Hollywood actors such as Morgan Freeman, Eva Longoria, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who help provide some context as to the scope of her legacy. Moreno’s impact breaking down barriers for the Hispanic community cannot be understated, nor can her importance to American film as a whole. West Side Story is a great cinematic treasure, one that Moreno helped elevate beyond some its problematic aspects, something she continues to shape as part of Steven Spielberg’s upcoming adaptation.

Perhaps the greatest inspiration that Moreno provides is through her sheer determination. Never content with success, she remains a tireless advocate fighting for women’s rights, especially abortion access. To be a working actor in Moreno’s early years meant accepting some roles beneath her stature, but she never forgot her worth. There’s a lot of food thought in the documentary for working artists, especially in today’s climate.

Riera’s film dazzles both as a tribute to Moreno’s trailblazing career and a contemplative piece exploring life’s great inequities. This documentary is nourishing for the soul. Ninety minutes of Rita Moreno doing just about anything would make for a good film, truly one of popular culture’s most charming figures, but Riera puts together a marvelous narrative that beautifully captures the legacy of an icon.

Share Button

Saturday

30

January 2021

1

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: The Most Beautiful Boy in the World

Written by , Posted in Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

The film industry has no shortage of young stars who found fame early in life, well before any person could be reasonably expected to handle such stardom. It is hard to imagine that anyone could truly handle the moniker of “the most beautiful boy in the world,” which was bestowed upon Björn Andrésen after his breakout role in Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice. Andrésen’s life has been full of great triumphs and heartbreaking tragedies, beautifully chronicled in the new documentary that shares its name with his famous moniker.

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World provides a three-dimensional perspective on Andrésen’s life, past and present. There are glimpses of the boy who captivated global audiences in the aged man, fifty years older, hidden beneath his grey hair and deep lines. Andrésen makes for a subtly charming subject, albeit clearly carrying with him plenty of grief that the film gradually begins to unpack.

The tabloids have no shortage of articles on young celebrities who peaked at an early age, a phenomenon that tends to attract the same kind of people who rubberneck through highway accidents. Directors Kristina Linström and Kristian Perri seem acutely aware of this notion, careful to steer their film away from the kind of coverage that these stories seem to attract.

Countless models could only dream of being called “the most beautiful boy in the world.” Reality shows us that such an honorific rarely serves as anything other than a curse. Linström & Perri prove this time and time again, often merely through their prolonged shots of Andrésen, a deeply sad man.

The film presents many different angles to explore Andrésen’s life, a globe-trotting journey that keeps things interesting as the directors continue to basically bang the same drum throughout the narrative. Visconti receives a damning verdict for the irresponsible handling of his young star through his formative years. Death in Venice created Andrésen in his present form, still carrying the aura of superstar in personal interactions.

The directors wisely put Visconti aside after a while, reluctant to rest the burden of antagonist on negligence conducted a half century ago. The film follows Andrésen to places such as Copenhagen and Stockholm in an attempt to learn more about his absentee father, as well as his mother, gruesomely murdered in his early childhood. Perhaps most interesting is Andrésen’s trip to Japan, where he enjoyed superstardom in years following Death in Venice. Linström & Perri do an excellent job explaining the broader cultural dynamics that led to his outstretched popularity in Japan.

The film’s greatest strength is its ability to intimately capture Andrésen while maintaining a healthy degree of distance. It would be easy for a film crafted like this to fall into the trap of essentially playing PR machine, but Linström & Perri aren’t afraid to show their subject acting like a brat at times. Andrésen isn’t a perfect man, nor an angelic martyr whose fate was decided fifty years ago.

At its core, The Most Beautiful Boy in the World provides a great perspective on the humanity that endures even as we face obstacles beyond our natural sense of comprehension. There are very few people on this earth who know what it was like for Andrésen to ascend to that level of fame at an early age. Empathy does not necessarily require anything more than to listen.

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is a harrowing, deeply moving experience that captures a star as gravity forces it back to earth. Ninety-four minutes is not a lot of time to capture a life, but Linström & Perri provide an immensely thorough perspective of this complicated man. Much of Björn Andrésen’s existence has been defined by considerations beyond his control. The film presents that reality with a sense of compassion that rarely connects through the screen on such a powerful level.

Share Button

Friday

29

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: Strawberry Mansion

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Social media has commoditized our daily lives in a way that no one should be completely comfortable with. Whether you choose to post pictures of your lunch on Instagram every day or not, the world has transformed into a place where that rather mundane action carries the perception of value in our broader consciousness. There is nothing that needs to be private in a world where anything can garner a “like.”

Strawberry Mansion takes place in the not-too-distant future, a world where dreams are recorded on VHS tapes for tax purposes. James Preble (Kentucker Audley, who also co-directed the film with Albert Birney) visits the quiet home of Arabella “Bella” Isadora (Penny Fuller), an elderly artist, to conduct an “audit” of her dreams to render unto Caesar what he’s owed. James quickly finds himself charmed by Bella’s hospitality, sparking romantic feelings between the two that transcends time and space.

Audley & Birney’s worldbuilding works on just about every level, crafting a charming, full-bodied space for their whimsical adventure. The color palette mesmerizes the eyes while the work of composer Dan Deacon supplies a steady stream of electronic beats that help anchor the mood. The retro-futurism is pretty believable for our nostalgia-obsessed timeline.

Audley also excels in the lead role, possessing a subtle sense of confidence and curiosity as the humble tax collector. Loneliness brings James and Bella together, but there’s an organic chemistry driving the two to seek companionship in one another. The world deals its cards, but we all have agency to choose what to do with our hands, a foreign notion to James in his role as a professional observer.

The intergenerational romance is refreshing, demonstrating love’s ability to transcend common stereotypes toward age-gaps that we see both in society and film Audley has great chemistry with Fuller, as well as with Grace Glowicki, who portrays a younger Bella in some of the film’s dreamier sequences. There’s a natural sense to their affection that provides a refreshing contrast to the gloomier reality of the world they inhabit, something undoubtedly relatable to many of the viewers.

The themes that Strawberry Mansion spends much of the second half of its ninety-minute runtime focusing on pretty heavy issues that philosophers have spent centuries grappling with. There aren’t easy answers here. Audley & Birney never try to pretend otherwise, instead celebrating the joys that come about through the pursuit of those nuggets of wisdom we hope to discover along the way.

It’s easy to see dystopia in the film’s commoditized world. The thought of dreams being mined for taxation value is bound to be uncomfortable for many, including the protagonists. Strawberry Mansion never lets itself become consumed in the endless churn that social media produces, spiking anxiety and depression levels in much of the population. It’s a deeply optimistic narrative that finds beauty in life, the idea of a moment that belongs to you and no one else.

Strawberry Mansion offers the perfect antidote to our beleaguered reality. It is both easy and understandable to be depressed by the world, especially the ways we have become intrinsically linked to our devices. The world is a messed up place.

Art doesn’t necessarily have an obligation to bring hope to counter that rather reasonable notion. Audley & Birney made a pretty compelling case for the wonder of life. True connection is rare, a bizarre irony in this age where we can live our entire lives online. Strawberry Mansion gives a glimpse of a world where we can appreciate the fleeting moments, the ones that don’t last forever on your camera roll.

Share Button

Friday

29

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: Mother Schmuckers

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Comedy does not need to achieve more than its obvious primary objective of making people laugh. Seinfeld found global success with its “no hugging, no learning” mantra. As a film, the Belgian-produced Mother Schmuckers delights in crafting a hilarious narrative that’s heavy on laughs and light on anything resembling character growth.

The film follows brothers Issachar (Maxi Delmelle) and Zabulon (Harpo Guit, who also co-directed the film with his brother, Lenny), who live with their mother, Cashmere (Claire Bodson) in a run-down apartment. The brothers are pretty hapless, completely governed by their own primitive instincts. Issachar and Zabulon are the kind of people you’d avoid if you saw them on the street, the kinds of characters that would make one want to move away if you discovered them in your building.

As a narrative, Mother Schmuckers has less of a plot than an organized sequence of events. Issachar and Zabulon are hungry and need to find their dog, January Jack, before their mother gets even angrier with them. The search for January Jack takes them all across their city, meeting a horde of characters as unsavory as the brothers.

Mother Schmuckers offers pretty much non-stop laughs for the entire runtime, an impressive feat for the Guit brothers. There’s an endearing quality to Issachar and Zabulon that makes no sense, two absolute idiots. The humor translates quite well from its French language, aided by Delmelle and Guit’s talent for physical comedy. Perhaps the only drawback is that it can be hard to read the subtitles with so much laughter.

The film’s seventy-minute runtime is one of its best assets. Mother Schmuckers cares nothing for character development or any kind of plot besides the leads being hungry and in search of their dog. That’s a tricky dynamic for a film to tackle, something that the Guit brothers manage masterfully, but part of that skill lies in their ability to know when to call it a day.

Mother Schmuckers is a celebration of laughter as an artform, pure joy from start to finish. One does not necessarily look at toilet humor with the same critical lens as a work of Monet, for obvious reasons, but it would be unwise to discredit the value of the strong emotions that the film manages to evoke. Film exists to make us feel. This film will make you feel really, really good.

The film probably carries the most appeal for fans of films like Jackass or The Hangover. Hardly for the faint of heart, the Guit brothers pieced together an impressive narrative that succeeds solely on the strength of their ability to garner laughs. One of those films that makes you marvel at the form, reminding its audience of the sheer ability for art to inspire such pleasurable emotions for an extended period of time.

Share Button

Friday

29

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: Flee

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

The terms through which the film Flee engages with its subject shines a spotlight on the countless voices that won’t be heard at it. Filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen illustrates the story of an anonymous Afghan refugee, presented as Amin Nawabi in the narrative, who he befriended growing up in Denmark. To protect Amin’s identity, Rasmussen uses animation to bring Amin’s story to life, a novel approach that’s as haunting as it is powerful.

Through a simple 2D palette, Rasmussen manages to capture the power of Amin’s narrative without losing any of the emotion that his real face might be able to provide. Amin’s voice speaks volumes alone. A skilled storyteller, Rasmussen quickly dispels any apprehension that the audience may have toward his fairly novel approach, a bit of humor in the form of an 80s pop music homage to bring some early levity.

Amin has lived an incredibly tough life. Forced to flee Afghanistan at an early age, his family was stranded in Russia, relying on an older brother, who had escaped early to avoid being drafted into the army, for money. The complex geopolitics of the late 1980s made travel difficult, forcing the family to rely on shady human traffickers to gradually smuggle their family out of Moscow.

Rasmussen’s grasp of pacing is exceptional, portraying the agony of waiting that Amid and his family experienced through their years in Moscow, under constant fear of further deportation and imprisonment. The film hammers home the brutality and cruelty, which never loses its impact across the eighty-three-minute runtime.

The animation continuously enhances the narrative, especially during its bleaker moments. Rasmussen constantly plays with the color scheme, introducing shades of black, white, and grey that captures the anxiety of that period in Amin’s life. The film occasionally includes archival news footage, providing a fuller context for the audience’s understanding.

Flee blurs the lines between documentary and biopic, a relentlessly haunting masterpiece by an extremely innovative filmmaker. At times, Amin is understandably drained, reluctant to share his traumatic story. The animation clearly takes some artistic licenses, it would have to, but it never feels like it’s operating on a different wavelength from his subject. Rasmussen compiles it all so beautifully.

Amin’s homosexuality serves as an anchor throughout the film. Rasmussen includes some contemporary animation featuring Amin’s occasionally strained relationship with his partner, Kasper, exacerbated by his anxieties toward settling down and buying a home. You get the sense that by opening up to Rasmussen, Amin finds some therapeutic value that helps him come to terms with all that’s happened in his life.

The inclusion of the contemporary narrative also firmly grounds the film as Amin’s story. The hardships of his life are undoubtedly similar in nature to countless other refugees, many of whom weren’t able to escape the horrors of war. Flee connects on a universal level, illustrating the injustices of the refugee system, while also maintaining a deep sense of intimacy between the audience and its subject. Without ever showing his face, Amin bares his soul for the world to see. Rasmussen’s grasp of storytelling is absolutely exceptional to experience.

Share Button

Friday

29

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Series: The Fourfold

Written by , Posted in Blog

As our Sundance coverage rolls along, we are excited to welcome Alisi Telegnut to the show to talk about her short film The Fourfold. Alisi talks about her technique that combines under camera filming with stop-motion animation, all in breathtaking detail. This is one short you won’t want to miss!

You can learn more about Alisi on her website http://cargocollective.com/AlisiTelengut/

Alisi’s Instagram also features some fascinating behind-the-scenes photos of her process @alisitelegnut

 

Poster image of The Fourfold by Alisi Telengut, an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Share Button

Friday

29

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Series: GNT

Written by , Posted in Blog

Our Sundance coverage continues with another film from the Shorts Program. GNT is a hilarious film all about thrush, aka yeast infections! Filmmakers Sara Hirner and Rosemary Vasquez-Brown chat with Ian all the way from Australia about their process making the short. The color palette and writing is top-notch. Ian highly recommends checking out the film!

 

Poster image of GNT by Sara Hirner and Rosemary Vasquez-Brown, an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Share Button

Friday

29

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: Censor

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

For all the talk of censorship and “cancel culture” in this modern age, previous eras had a much firmer ability to shape public consumption. Set in Britain during the 1980s, a time when Margaret Thatcher ruled over the standards of public decency, the film Censor explores the toll inflicted upon those trusted to determine what material is fit to watch.

Enid (Niamh Algar) works as a film censor, presiding over reels of horror movies ripe for the burgeoning VHS market. Her work is woefully depressing, serving as the vanguard against scene after scene of tasteless violence. It is a somewhat amusing notion that people back then were concerned about the effects of repeat viewings of such abominations by the youth of England.

For the ones tasked with making the determination of what’s suitable for the masses, the gore takes its toll after a while. Algar does a great job conveying that turmoil, leading Enid on a downward slope throughout the narrative. The decay is so convincing that you’re never really left wondering why she wouldn’t just quit. The edge of oblivion is an invisible cliff.

Director Prano Bailey-Bond showcases her impressive command of the craft in her debut feature. The sets are wonderfully exquisite, particularly in the third act. The lighting throughout the film perfectly captures the mood that each scene is trying to convey. From a technical standpoint, Censor gives the eyes plenty to marvel at.

Trouble is, the story starts to lose steam pretty quickly into the eighty-four minute runtime. The second act is a mess, muddling the narrative without any clear sense of purpose. The film does rebound a bit in the third act, which has a few entertaining sequences, but the whole thing never really comes together.

For all the ways Bailey-Bond nailed the period aesthetic, she spends a fair bit of time at the beginning on broader cultural exposition that doesn’t really matter as the narrative progresses. She also hints at a bit more of an ensemble dynamic early on that ends up not being the case. Algar works well opposite Michael Smiley for a bit, but she’s left on her own to carry the film for large chunks.

Censor is a visually stunning film that’s dragged down by an incohesive narrative. There are too many ideas left unexplored to make for a compelling experience. Bailey-Bond has a lot of skill as a director, but the story just doesn’t work. Fans of horror might find much to appreciate in the aesthetic, but the material feels too comfortable emulating the b-movie fare it attempts to subvert.

 

Share Button

Friday

29

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: Coda

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

A natural part of growing up for many is the understanding that one’s own path may differ from that of their parents, an often awkward departure from the nest. The heart can tear itself in two directions, attempting to plot a course that fits both reality and dream. The film Coda tells the story of a girl caught between her natural gift for singing and her role within her family where she’s the only one who can hear, a moving narrative of love wrestling under the weight of the world.

The Rossi family have a nurturing home. Parents Jackie (Marlee Matlin) and Frank (Troy Kotsur) are madly in love. Leo (Daniel Durant) works alongside his father on a fishing boat, both carrying the natural stress that comes with that grueling profession burdened by regulations. Ruby (Emilia Jones) may have grown up in a different kind of household than her peers, but the Rossi’s are a hell of a lot happier than most families.

On a whim, Ruby joins the school choir, seeking an outlet for her musical gifts. Her abilities are instantly noticed by her teacher, Bernardo (Eugenio Derbez), who quickly takes her under his wing, attempting to prepare her for auditions for a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music, just weeks away. Ruby’s extra-curricular quickly overburdens her obligations to translate for her family, causing additional strain as Frank and Leo attempt to form a co-op with the local fishermen to make a better living.

Director Siân Heder packs an impressive amount of story into a runtime of just under two hours. In the leading role, Jones juggles the worlds of her music and family life quite well, even as Ruby naturally buckles under the stress involved. Jones expresses all the angst of a teenager while layering in Ruby’s gradual understanding of her life’s passions.

Though Jones centers the bulk of the narrative, Heder gives the rest of the principals an arc of their own. Matlin and Kotsur are incredible together, bringing plenty of humor to their characters. Durants plays the role of older brother well, coming into his own as he helps his father carry the load of their business.

Heder’s script wears its emotions on its sleeves. Coda celebrates life in real-time, both the highs and the lows. There’s a clear picture painted of why the Rossi family thrives, through their willingness to express themselves. Other families crumble under the weight of repression. At times, maybe the Rossi parents are a bit too open, but everything leads with love. It’s rare for a fictional narrative to connect with such a level of authenticity.

While the film takes full advantage of its runtime, the narrative does kind of bend over backwards to squeeze itself into a period of only a few weeks. Set in Gloucester, Massachusetts in the fall, Coda’s affection for water-based scenes grows a little puzzling for anyone familiar with the region at that time of the year. The clashes that result from Ruby’s social life feel a bit under-cooked, considering Frank’s long history as a fisherman.

The meteoric rise of Ruby from prodigy to music school applicant also feels a bit unnecessarily rushed, a senior in high school undergoing a major pivot in an incredibly short period of time. The sheer force of will of the film works wonders toward forgiving some of the plot decisions. Backed by a spectacular cast and Heder’s emotionally charged script, Coda is an electrifying cinematic experience. Few films depict family drama so beautifully.

Share Button

Thursday

28

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: Hive

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

A film like Hive strikes at the core of the global fight for women’s rights. To think of a woman being mocked for obtaining a driver’s license is so fundamentally sad on a human level. For all the triumphs that feminism has achieved, a simple look at a war-torn region like Kosovo demonstrates how far the world still has to go.

The film follows Fahria (Yllka Gashi), a woman struggling to keep her family afloat after her husband went missing in war, a plight that plagues thousands of families in the region. Fahria seeks to support her family by making homemade ajvar, a popular pepper-based condiment, and honey. Fahria employs many women in her village, struggling to support herself in a highly patriarchal society.

Based on a true story, director and screenwriter Blerta Basholli crafts an intimate family drama that’s easy to follow along with regardless of one’s understanding of the politics of the region. Fahria is a very relatable protagonist, a person who merely wants to support herself in a part of the world that doesn’t look too fondly on women with agency. She puts her skills to good use, undeterred by any external considerations.

The acting is top-notch. Gashi delivers a subtle performance that aims for more an inspirational tone than to evoke a degree of pity from the audience. Fahria doesn’t need help, she needs a fair chance, the kind of opportunity sorely missing for women in too many parts of the world.

As Fahri’s father-in-law Haxhiu, Çun Lajçi delivers a strong supporting performance. Haxhiu is predictably old-fashioned, but with a sense of depth that reflects both Lajçi’s talents as an actor and Basholli as a screenwriter. Haxhiu is a proud traditional man living in the rubble of a world that no longer exists. The two have a relationship based on mutual respect rather than a stubborn adherence to rules that no longer apply.

Basholli is a confident filmmaker who recognizes the raw power of her narrative. Rarely does the film play any drama up for shock value, nor does it feel the need to wallow in misery that would be pretty understandable given the circumstances. Hive is an uplifting story of perseverance with a stellar cast and first-rate production values.

The only element that could have been improved upon, especially for international audiences, is the lack of exposition regarding the broader politics of the area. The film frequently mentions how many men were forced to fight in the war, with many lost without any sense of clarity or closure for their families. It is quite impressive that a film clearly made for people with ties to the region possesses such a degree of universality.

Hive is a great film for those looking to understand the struggles that women still have to face in other parts of the world. Basholli works with a bare-bones sense of realism that’s quite inspiring. Rarely does a film win over its audience with such effortless execution.

Share Button