Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Slamdance Review: Tapeworm

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

Films like Tapeworm force one to examine the very nature of the medium. The idea of taking what is essentially a collection of vignettes, in this case four fairly unrelated stories, and tying them together into something that looks like a film could sound like a puzzling proposition to a person who only engages with movies that follow the typical beginning-middle-end trajectory. There are no inherent rules governing how a narrative must work, even if we can understand that the vast majority of films play by this fairly accepted set of rules.

Set in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Tapeworm follows a number of fairly unhappy people being miserable. One character is a bad amateur standup comedian. Another plays video games in his mother’s home, refusing to help her put away the groceries.

The closest thing Tapeworm has to a protagonist is Adam (Adam Brooks), a man who’s convinced his wife is cheating on him. Like the others, Adam is a sad guy. He also thinks he’s sick. It’s kind of hard to blame his wife. After spending a little time with Adam, you’d probably want to cheat on him too.

The film is well-crafted. Shot on 16mm film, directors Milos Mitrovic and Fabian Velasco did a good job making Tapeworm look like the kind of indie film you’d stay up late watching in college. The Winnipeg scenery is also used well, exacerbating the misery that encompasses each of its characters. After watching the film, you’d probably never want to step foot in Manitoba.

The problem with Tapeworm isn’t that it’s a joyless experience. The film doesn’t make you feel anything at all. The characters aren’t compelling. They don’t do anything of note.

As the film progresses, you get the idea that the mundane is supposed to be the point. Trouble is, there’s simply nothing to be gained by watching characters kick soccer balls or buy Canadian flags with a marijuana leaf instead of maple. For a film hell-bent on presenting everyday life, it simply has nothing to add to the equation.

To its credit, Tapeworm isn’t a completely miserable experience. With a runtime of seventy-seven minutes, it can hardly be said that the film overstays its welcome. It’s the rare kind of awful film that’s so bad you can’t even really muster up any anger toward the waste of time. You can’t call Tapeworm overwhelming because the film isn’t capable of overwhelming anything.

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January 2020

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Slamdance Review: Beware of Dog

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

The question of social media’s value is one that’s talked about every day across the world. For all the ways technology has seemingly brought us together, plenty of people feel increasingly isolated. Nadia Bedzhanova’s Beware of Dog focuses on three characters in three different countries, each struggling to cope with loneliness exacerbated by mental illnesses.

Marina (Marina Vasileva) struggles with OCD in Moscow, faced with a boyfriend who doesn’t care much about her. Paula (Paula Knüpling) meets a traveler in Berlin who’s interested in her romantically, though her bipolar disorder causes problems with her communication skills. Mike (Buddy Duress) is doing his best to stay clean, desperate for his girlfriend to reciprocate the attention he’s trying to give.

Bedzhanova juggles her film’s three leads well, a director with a keen sense for detail. Filming in three beautiful cities, she often uses the landscape to accentuate the isolation that her characters feel. New York, Moscow, and Berlin are beautiful yet deeply intimidating cities. In many ways, the settings feel like characters themselves.

The film has a knack for communicating mental illness in nonverbal ways. Bedzhanova shows off her skills as a director to craft surrealistic sequences that illustrate the hardships that her character’s face. The audience gets a front row seat to the conflict, understanding the flaws of the protagonists while retaining a large degree of sympathy for them.

Beware of Dog captures the universality of humanity. You get the sense that Bedzhanova could swap the characters’ surroundings and the end result would be the same. The film makes easy work of cultural boundaries, showing its audience all the things we share in common.

The ideas that the film addresses are quite complex, without easy answers. The supporting characters help the narrative grapple with the leads’ imperfections. Mike in particular is a sympathetic guy who’s also essentially his own worst enemy. Paula is quite frustrating in her behavior. Bedzhanova presents these dynamics in a way that helps the audience understand where these people are coming from without condoning their actions.

In some ways, Beware of Dog is a frustrating narrative. Focusing on three leads is a tricky proposition for a film with a runtime of under ninety minutes. That line of thinking can also apply to narratives with only one lead, but the audience is left with a sense that there were plenty of elements of the film left to be explored.

Beware of Dog is a thought-provoking film that handles its many moving pieces with grace. There’s a lot left on the table, but Bedzhanova crafted a narrative that examines the many facets of mental illness in a way that never feels trite or exploitative. Loneliness knows no borders.

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