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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Review: DOLEMITE IS MY NAME finds Eddie Murphy back on top

Hearing that Eddie Murphy and Netflix are teaming up might give you pause. Given the last 20 years of Murphy's career arc, you wouldn't be blamed if images of Pluto Nash are what first come to mind. It's been a brutal couple of decades for a man that was once one of the hottest stars in Hollywood; a cavalcade of fat suits, prosthetics, and bottom of the barrel scripts had basically turned his career into something resembling Adam Sandler's, minus the occasional foray into more thoughtful material. Even his huge Oscar play in 2006 for Dreamgirls was derailed when he appeared in Norbit that same year. But a funny thing about expectations: they can sometimes delightfully be upended.

Enter Dolemite.

It's no surprise that Rudy Ray Moore aka Dolemite might be a bit of an icon for Murphy. It's hard to imagine he didn't have a copy of "Eat Out More Often" on his shelf right next to his Red Foxx and Richard Pryor albums. The idea that he would eventually play him on screen is, at it turns out, a natural fit. For director Craig Brewer (who himself has struggled for a hit post-Hustle and Flow), Murphy ends up finding perhaps the role of a lifetime. He doesn't sound like Moore, he doesn't really look like Moore, but on gravitas and charm alone he somehow becomes him in a sharply sweet film that plays a whole lot like a Blaxploitation version of The Disaster Artist.

Just to catch (probably white) people up, Moore is basically considered the Godfather of Hip Hop. The singer and dancer was a struggling record store employee, just looking to finally find his big break in Los Angeles through music or stand-up comedy. At one point he starts to hear stories from local vagrants of a man called Dolemite and his unbelievable sexual conquests. Inspired, Moore created a new on-stage persona based on these stories, adorning himself in full pimp regalia and a rat-a-tat-tat style rhyming delivery that left audiences enraptured and made him a word of mouth success, with youth just having to own his crude act in brown bags. It was all marketing, but it was a stroke of brilliance, and it unintentionally influenced a generation of comedians and rappers. It even eventually culminated in a movie, which is where surely most viewers will immediately recognize the name, even if they've never seen the film in question.

Dolemite Is My Name smartly bifurcates this story over its two hour running time, spending the first hour with Moore's initial struggles, the creation of his act, and his rise as a cult performer. When it enters its second half, Brewer (and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski) deftly spends the remaining running time on the eponymous film that made Moore a household name. While the build-up to get there is a lovely story of self-made determination, its in this second half where Dolemite Is My Name really starts to get into the swing of things.

Murphy's warm and ingratiating performance as the seemingly hapless, yet extremely shrewd Moore is some of the best work of his career, and certainly the best of this latter period. Though he gets terrific support from Da'Vine Joy Randolph as his close confidant and creative collaborator Lady Reed, and (another comeback surprise) Wesley Snipes as D'Urville Martin, the Hollywood bit-player turned blaxspoitation star of whom Moore is so enamored, he offer him directorial reigns of the film. Where Murphy's Moore is an affable figure, Snipes' Martin is haughty and off-putting, and he drives a unique kind of energy into the film, creating a fun two-some in that excellent sequence of events.

There's nothing new here, structurally. Dolemite Is My Name doesn't reinvent the biopic wheel. But that it tells this triumphant story in such a lush and vibrant way, and that it acts as a vehicle for Murphy's continually bottomless charisma, makes it easy to recommend. It also acts as a pitch-perfect love letter to the Blaxploitation genre and underscores the passion that went to the making of those films.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Review: JOKER is deeply stupid and creatively bankrupt

The idea of marrying Batman to the work of Martin Scorsese is not a new one, with writers like Gerry Conway and Doug Moench parlaying some of that gritty influence into their work with the character and his bevy of rogues. But this union comes especially screaming out at the reader with Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One, with the visuals and tone of Taxi Driver permeating page turn after turn. On its face, Todd Phillips' Joker utilizing that same palette and approach for an examination of the property's most iconic villain makes a good deal of sense.

Transporting viewers into a 1980's version of Gotham that appropriately looks like post-70's New York, with "super rats" infesting the sewers and late night talk show hosts as a communal bonding exercise, Joker is the first film to successfully evoke the aesthetic value of that classic short run of comics. With a slight yellowing of the picture, to top-notch art direction, Joker is a beautiful example of craft and one can tell that no expense was spared in not only evoking a particular period, but also securing on-location shooting through New York City itself (being able to work with the MTA to secure a shooting permit might be worthy of an Oscar alone).

But craft does not maketh a film, and while Joker has style to spare, substance is another matter entirely. 

Joker answers the question that really no one was asking, "what is this character's origin?" Truthfully, the best approach surely remains Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's take which proposed a multiple choice option, perfectly echoed by Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight ("do you know how I got these scars?"). The fact is, once the unknowable monster is known and we begin to really understand why he does what he does, so much of his power is taken away. It's a faulty premise from its outset, but even taken as its own standalone project, which it presumably is, Joker struggles to justify its own existence through troubling and confused storytelling.

Joaquin Phoenix steps into the role this time out, where the titular Joker starts off as a troubled schlub named Arthur Fleck. A hapless sort of fellow, Arthur has a troubled past and is scraping by, living with his mother, making ends meet as a hired clown. He's the kind of guy who is consistently kicked when he's down, either by street toughs, or local subway yuppies. His boss treats him like garbage, never taking his side on any matter, and he carries a general air of unease that leaves his coworkers uncomfortable. Does that sound at all familiar? You wouldn't be amiss if you felt like you were reading a profile of one of these lone gunman shooters that have plagued this country since Columbine. Phillips and company tick off all the notable boxes that have filled news profiles over the last 20 years in shaping this version of the Joker. And as you can expect, one night it becomes all too much and he snaps, taking the lives of a few of his attackers and it begins his descent into darkness.

Or was he always headed there all along? 

You see, while there's certainly a compelling story to be told about systemic breakdown and the plight of those who are left behind thanks to bureaucratic decision making and budgetary cutbacks to essential social services, Joker basically just skims off the top of this idea to instead basically create another Travis Bickle but with little of the depth, and certainly none of the clear intention of a master filmmaker like Scorsese. Literally, all Phillips does here is take the plot of Taxi Driver and then graft it onto The King of Comedy and mix in a little bit of V for Vendetta style iconography to produce an experience that basically feels like little more than an exercise in brand flexibility. 

Is it exciting that we have a comic book adapted film that doesn't have a CGI-overloaded climax? Definitely. Is the idea of breaking from the tired Easter Egg filled attempts of franchise building that has been the hallmark of the superhero picture this last decade an enticing one? For sure. But instead, what Phillips does here is trade on real world pain, which is altogether a far grosser ambition (they even give Arthur what appears to be Pseudobulbar affect to explain his uncontrollable laughter, the implications of which are rather hideous to contemplate). Again, were he interested in actually trying to say something of value here, he might be onto something...but basically all Joker boils down to is "the system really puts us all down, man!". This is particularly apparent through the film's use of social upheaval. You see, the rise of the Joker ends up keying into a sense of civil unrest, which leads to his becoming a iconographic figure. Again, this might lead somewhere interesting too, imagine one of these films aiming to excavate cults of personalities and branding and what sparks off within the zeitgeist. But a film this lunkheaded? He's, of course, lauded by an adoring crowd of equally aggrieved young men.

While there are other "characters" in Joker, really the only performance of note is Phoenix's, which early notices praised as Best Actor-worthy. To be frank, he mostly seems to be going through the motions here, beyond some nice physicality - watching him contort his body is actively painful. But once he's firmly in the Joker mindset, he finally seems to have locked into something and the first real moments of tension take center stage. This is the Joker as a force of nature, but even at that point, he's still just an asshole in clown makeup taking vengeance out on literally everyone who has wronged him. 

There's also a Thomas Wayne thread here that is both an attempt to clumsily echo a Donald Trump-like figure, though only in the skimpiest of ways, while also trying to tie in the deeper Batman mythos, just in case you forgot what the hell you're watching. I sure wish I could have, as Joker is basically an idiot's version of a thinking man's film. A faint echo of far superior cinema, and a work that has troubling implications to the point of feeling shockingly irresponsible. It's one of 2019's worst.

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Friday, August 30, 2019

QUICKTAKE: Love, Antosha

The Buzz: Love, Antosha is the sign-off actor Anton Yelchin used as a child and continued to use as an adult when writing loving letters to his mother. Yelchin died in a tragic accident in 2016 at the young age of 27, at a time when he seemed primed to explore new creative heights as an actor and director. Yelchin was well known for his roles, but there was also a lot about Yelchin the world didn't know, including the fact that he was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis as a child. With the disease resulting in an average lifespan of 37 years, Yelchin lived his life with a voracious appetite for new work and experiences, wringing the depth and meaning out of everything around him. Through a series of interviews with his family, his friends, and colleagues, including the cast of Star Trek, Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence, Willem Dafoe, and more, the film chronologically explores the chapters of Yelchin's life. Filled in with home video footage, notes from his journal, and scenes from early works, this brisk documentary does a solid job in weaving pieces of Yelchin's life together to form a touching tribute. 

What's Great About This Movie: The most striking thing about Love, Antosha is the love story it tells between a mother and son. Yelchin was born to professional Russian ice skaters who fled from their country to afford their son a better life. Devastated by his diagnosis of CF at a young age (which they withheld from him until he was 17), Yelchin's parents provided unwavering support and commitment in helping him chase his artistic pursuits. For his part, it's clear that Yelchin loved his parents in an earnest, sweet, and doting way that was so rarely openly displayed in men of his age. Yelchin's death left his parents in a state of permanent mourning -  his mother still wears his denim jacket around the house, leaving everything intact in the pockets. And to this day they visit his grave daily. But in spite of that, the film manages to feel more like a celebration than a goodbye. 

What's Not-So-Great About this Movie: I wouldn't consider it a criticism, but perhaps a missed opportunity: for a film so open about Yelchin's life and death, family and friends, I found myself wondering about the filmmaker's relationship to the project and what spring-boarded it. Once I found the answers, I wished it had been included: the story of telling the story. It turns out director Garret Price didn't know Yelchin, but decided to take on the project at the behest of his parents, who were searching for a way to get this documentary made. Yelchin's parents are essentially the reason this documentary exists. According to Price, Anton's father confided after the project was complete: "Every time I see it, I get to spend an hour and a half with my son." 

Final VerdictLove, Antosha does a lot with very little time, which is nothing if not fitting. It's a compelling and thoughtful look at Yelchin's life and it's well-worth a viewing, whether you were familiar with the actor or not. Yelchin lived his life fighting for the opportunity to do and be more than the shattering prognosis he'd lived with since he was a teenager, and even though his life was cut even shorter than he'd possibly feared, he managed to pack more experiences into 27 years than many actors could achieve in a lifetime. 

Love, Antosha is now playing at Landmark Midtown Arts Cinema in Atlanta and select cities around the country. 
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Friday, August 16, 2019

The GeekRex Podcast Episode 164: Reviewing THE NIGHTINGALE, LUCE, and WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE?

We're back! After the longest hiatus yet and Kyle and Hannah have a few reviews of films hitting the Atlanta market this weekend. Which should you spend your hard earned dollars on? Well, we're kind of split, but we do know which movie you *shouldn't* see. Take a listen to the latest episode of the GeekRex podcast to find out...

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Atlanta Film Critics name their Top 10 Quentin Tarantino Films

Atlanta Film Critics Circle Announces a Special Top 10
On the eve of the release of director Quentin Tarantino’s new epic Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood, the critics group picks their favorite Tarantino films

July 25, 2019 -- The Atlanta Film Critics Circle has announced its choices for the top 10 favorite films directed by multiple-Academy Award winner Quentin Tarantino ahead of the release of the hotly-anticipated opus Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell and dozens of other actors featured in cameo roles.
Although Tarantino has only directed eight features prior to “Once Upon a Time,” vote organizer and AFCC co-founder Michael Clark came up with a way to make it a traditional industry “Top 10” list. “Although Tarantino considers his “Kill Bill Vol.1 and Vol. 2” to be a single film, its two halves came out in different years with radically different tones,” Clark said. He added “by considering ‘Vol. 1’ and ‘Vol. 2’ separately and adding the Tarantino directed ‘The Man from Hollywood’ segment of the anthology film ‘Four Rooms’ into the mix we were able to make this a true Top 10.”
“It’s no wonder a critics group would want to celebrate Quentin Tarantino’s unique output in this way. He is the American cinema’s premiere archivist of low- and highbrow pop culture” says AFCC co-founder Felicia Feaster. “His always inventive films drop references to spaghetti westerns, yakuza films, grindhouse fare and the French New Wave and so much more in his delirious ambles through film history.”
1. Pulp Fiction

2. Inglourious Basterds

3. Reservoir Dogs

4. Jackie Brown

5. Kill Bill, Volume 2

6. Kill Bill, Volume 1

7. Django Unchained

8. The Hateful Eight

9. Death Proof

10. The Man From Hollywood (from Four Rooms)

Co-founded in 2017 by longtime Atlanta film critics Felicia Feaster and Michael Clark, the Atlanta Film Critics Circle is comprised of a dynamic mix of Atlanta-based critics working in newspaper, magazine and online journalism. The AFCC’s mission is to establish a national presence for an Atlanta based film critics group and to foster a vibrant film culture in Atlanta, already home to an exploding film production presence.
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Friday, May 3, 2019

REVIEW: LONG SHOT somehow makes it work

At first blush, Long Shot looks like exactly that. Political rom-com? Is that a thing anyone really wants right now? But somehow, it has emerged as one of the better romantic comedies to get a theater release in the last year. It's a strange mash-up of throwback simmered in the charged atmosphere of today's political climate that succeeds in bringing warmth and comedy in equal measure, thanks largely to the chemistry between the two leads. 

Long Shot stars Charlize Theron as Secretary of State Charlotte Field. Field's life is micromanaged to the minute, and her aspirations to move on to a higher office come into focus when the largely inept President of the United States (Bob Odenkirk) decides he will not seek another term in the upcoming election. Field decides to seize the opportunity by testing some policy ideas on a world-wide tour, but her marketing and image consultants make it clear she's also got to work on her humor to better engage with voters. 

Enter Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a left-leaning journalist who quits his job after his outlet is acquired by evil corporate overlords. It turns out Field and Flarsky have a childhood connection, and when they bump into each other at a party, their career ambitions align as Flarsky joins Field's campaign as a speech writer. Romance and lots of jokes ensue, with a constant question hanging at the back of the proceedings: is Flarsky First Man (or even First Boyfriend) material? 

The vibe of Long Shot reads somewhere between Knocked Up (Rogen dates another attractive women billed as out of his league, etc) and 50/50 (a more sentimental movie, but similar in comedy beats and helmed by the same director Jonathan Levine). It uses politics as the set dressing but doesn't get into actual political policy: Field talks a lot about some sort of climate deal but we know little beyond that. Instead, Long Shot focuses on the constant tug-of-war between two types of personalities. Field is an idealist who has made peace with the concept of compromise, sometimes to her detriment. Her career path has taught her time and time again that she must sometimes adjust or dilute her vision for the sake of hierarchy, order, and party unity. Flarsky sits on the other end of the spectrum - an idealist who has never known compromise, but is so rigid in his beliefs that he can't impact change on any serious level. 

That Rogen is hilarious here is absolutely no surprise. He's been in and out of the limelight over the last decade, but his comedic chops are sharper than ever. But Theron, who hasn't really had the same comedic roles in her career (her appearance on Arrested Development was one of the show's low points before it was so unsuccessfully resurrected), proves to be as good if not better. Watching this movie and Fury Road back to back, you'd be forgiven for not realizing it was the same actress in both - she's that transformative and versatile of an actress. Their chemistry is also off the charts and easy, void of dramatic confessions in the rain, instead enveloping the characters in a natural warmth and even maturity. 

Long Shot even uses a surprising and effective combination of supporting characters: Andy Serkis as the sleazy billionaire, O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Flarsky's best friend, Alexander Skarsgard as the flirtatious Canadian Prime Minister, and June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel as Field's campaign staff (that Raphael isn't as famous as Rogen for her comedic acting is also a crime, but hopefully her time is still yet to come). 

As big-budget franchise powerhouses dominate theaters and romantic comedies continue to slip away from theatrical release in favor of streaming vehicles, it's really refreshing to see movies like Long Shot, Crazy Rich Asians, and The Big Sick keep the tradition alive, even if only happens once or twice a year. 

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Atlanta Film Festival 2019: Features Overview

The 2019 Atlanta Film Festival showed 180+ feature films, short films, special presentations and creative media, and was one of the best lineups of films I've seen in my ten years of going to the fest. It's no wonder it was recently named the second best film festival in the country! Here's a rundown of all the feature films I saw this year.

The Farewell
dir. by Lulu Wang

When Billi's grandmother is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and given only 3 months to live, the family decides its best not to tell her. Instead, they organize a fake wedding as an excuse for the whole family to spend time with her one last time. Awkwafina stars as Billi, finally getting first billing in a great role that allows her to stretch her dramatic and comedic muscles and proving that she belongs in more leading roles. Director Lulu Wang rides a fine line between familial melancholy and awkward comedy, and it works absolutely perfectly. This one is bound to make a splash, and is hopefully a career-maker for Wang and Awkwafina. Full Review Here.

dir. by Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson

This nature documentary follows one adolescent penguin (dubbed Steve) as he becomes a father for the first time in Antarctica. The footage is pretty incredible–it's hard to believe they were able to get so close and personal with the penguins and track the same one among thousands–and the sound work is very impressive. That said, this is a documentary for kids, with Ed Helms narrating and often even giving an anthropomorphized voice to the penguins. Despite its beauty, I prefer the Attenborough style to this Disney-ized one in which suddenly Steve's mate has eggs (nothing to see here, kids) and which ends with a Whitesnake song.

You Are Here: A Come From Away Story
dir. by Moze Mossanen

Just after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, all air traffic in the U.S. was shut down and thousands of planes were re-routed to land elsewhere. This film tells the story of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, where 30 planes with thousands of passengers were forced to land in its minuscule and unprepared airport. It's a story of unending kindness in the face of horrifying tragedy, how the whole town came together to provide shelter, food, and comfort during this incredibly difficult time. You'd be hard pressed to find a better subject for a documentary, and for the most part it lives up to its fantastic topic. While it loses focus in the last act, delving into a musical that was based on the same events, the bulk of the film is wonderful and makes up for the lackluster ending.

Speed of Life

dir. by Liz Manashil

In the middle of a couple having a fight, the man falls into a wormhole caused by the death of David Bowie. When he emerges, only seconds have passed for him, but for her it has been 24 years. The main draw here is the excellent casting: Ann Dowd and Allison Tolman play the older and younger versions of June respectively and work perfectly to give a sense of continuity between the two timelines. There are some really great ideas at work, exploring the difficulties of growing older and how tragedy affects us, and even some surprisingly interesting futurism (in 2040, anyone over 60 is required to live in government controlled senior homes, and Alexa-like devices annoy everyone and are constantly butting into the conversation). Unfortunately, there is a lot of wasted potential within the time travel conceit and the interesting future Manashil has created, and the ending doesn't feel satisfying given the excellent setup.

Summer Night

dir. by Joseph Cross

This feature directorial debut by actor Joseph Cross follows a group of friends through one summer night as relationships bloom and fall apart. Cross doesn't really hide that he's attempting to make a Richard Linklater film; he cast Ellar Coltrane from Boyhood in one of the leads and even recreates the axe baseball scene from Everybody Wants Some!! In some respects, it works–the ensemble cast is good and the camera work is very nice–but the writing is sorely lacking. The main two relationships involve a girl who just found out she's pregnant and her boyfriend who doesn't know how to handle it, and a boy who goes on a date with someone but is stuck on an old girlfriend. In both situations, the women's perspectives are often reduced to sitting around and crying or even admitting "I'm such a bitch." In the end, it feels a bit too "bros have to stick together" for my taste.

The Way You Look Tonight

dir. by John Cerrito

What if you found out that everyone you've matched with on an online dating service was the same person, just in a different body each time? That's the premise of this high concept romance which introduces the idea of the changeling, a being who changes bodies against their will each night. This film explores all kinds of ideas, from body image to self identity to homophobia in a smart way while managing to be a sweet romance. Full Review Here.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile
dir. by Joe Berlinger

Lately, the response to so many recent True Crime series has been, "How could they possibly not know?" This film, directed by the same man who recently did the nonfiction Ted Bundy series, Conversations with a Killer for Netflix, seeks to convincingly answer that question by showing almost none of the violence. Told mostly from the perspective of Bundy's girlfriend Liz (Lily Collins), you begin to see how Bundy (played excellently by Zac Efron) convinced those around him that it was all just a legal misunderstanding. It's an extremely unique approach to this kind of true story, and is chilling and fascinating in a way that few narrative true crime films achieve. Full Review Here.

The Tomorrow Man
dir. by Noble Jones

John Lithgow plays Ed, a man obsessed with the inevitable end of the world, a doomsday prepper who never misses the chance to tell people who stupid they are for not seeing signs of the end. When he meets Ronnie (Blythe Danner), a hoarder, he begins to see what he's been missing out on in a romantic relationship and his family. While it has some cute and charming moments (and the ending is unexpectedly cool), it mostly feels like an empty senior citizen romance. Mostly, I was bothered by Danner's character, who is about as mousy and empty-headed as they come, especially when paired with the overpowering Lithgow character. This one didn't do much for me.

The Death of Dick Long
dir. by Daniel Scheinert

Like most of the reviews out for this film have pointed out, it's difficult to describe this one without spoiling the gut punch of a reveal that comes about halfway through. To keep it spoiler-free, the story begins with two friends in Alabama leaving their mysteriously mortally wounded friend at the doorsteps of a hospital, and the misadventures they go on to try to keep it a secret. This one plays out much like a Coen Bros. movie, with a sense of humor that made me laugh out loud consistently. It must be mentioned that the music in the film is hysterical and adds a lot of character–the soundtrack consists largely of Nickelback, P.O.D., and Disturbed, which really puts you in the headspace of those strange goofballs. This is about as dark a comedy as it gets, and it's as hilarious as it is disturbing. Highly recommended.

dir. by Orlando von Einsiedel

Documentarian Orlando von Einsiedel turns the camera at his own family as they walk scenic routes across the UK and discuss for the first time the suicide of his brother many years ago. This one is an emotionally difficult watch, but an important one; it shows the value of communication in the wake of tragedy and the healing power of nature, but the journey is rarely an easy one. My only real issue is that despite the beautiful locales, the film gets very repetitive visually since 80% of it is the camera looking at them from ahead as they walk. Most powerful and saddening in the movie, though, is the fact that every single person they meet along their walk has also been affected by suicide of a loved one, a reminder that the awareness that the film brings is absolutely critical.

dir. by Tonia Mishiali

In this character piece from Cyprus, Elpida (Stella Fyrogeni) has just been told by her doctor that she is entering menopause, and the effects are heightened by her abusive and disgusting husband. Elpida begins to have daydreams about having affairs with younger men and fighting back against her husband, and eventually begins to lose connection with reality. Pause is very well shot and edited, and the central performance by Fyrogeni is outstanding, showing a huge range with very little dialogue (she doesn't speak for the first 9 minutes of the film). While the film feels like it's building to something huge and maybe doesn't quite deliver, it is a poignant and understated portrait of an aging woman who finds herself stuck in a terrible relationship.

In Fabric
dir. by Peter Strickland

If you're familiar with Strickland's previous films, you know they are strange to say the least, and you'll either love them or hate them, and In Fabric is no exception. When a very odd department store has a post-Christmas sale, Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) buys a red dress but soon begins to believe it is cursed when strange and violent things begin to happen. The movie is ultra-stylized, playing a bit like an Italian Giallo complete with bright colors and a killer synth score by the band Cavern of Anti-Matter, and with delightfully ornate and ominous dialogue from the store clerk. My only issue is that it tells two episodic stories of the dress, which feels like either too many or not enough. If this one is your kind of weird (it definitely was mine!), then you'll find lots to love. Full Review Here.

Teen Spirit
dir. by Max Minghella

Actor Max Minghella's directorial debut is a surprisingly polished one. Teen Spirit takes a look at the young Violet (Elle Fanning) entering a reality game show singing competition, supported by ex-opera singer Vlad (Zlatko Buric). The singing sequences are very impressive, even more so knowing that Fanning did all her own singing in the film, and they're visually very fun. Aside from being an inspirational story of perseverance, there wasn't a whole lot thematically to latch onto, though. There are times when Fanning really shines, but I found myself a little frustrated that she continues to play the exact same shy, quiet type that we've seen before.

Greener Grass
dir. by Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe

If you thought In Fabric was weird, you haven't seen Greener Grass yet. A little similar in look to something like Too Many Cooks, this pastel suburban satire is about the difficulties of a soccer mom whose world is falling apart. Here's the best way to describe it: the fact that every adult in the film has braces is the least strange thing about the movie. A man becomes obsessed with drinking his pool water, a woman pretends to be pregnant by putting a soccer ball under her dress, and a child transforms into a dog. The absurdist humor is consistent and hilarious, and best of all, there's always a feeling that it serves the greater purposes of satirizing the suburbs as a nightmarish hell. DeBoer and Luebbe write, direct, and star and are absolutely stellar. One of my favorite movies of the year! Full Review Here.

Them That Follow
dir. by Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage

Mara (Alice Englert) lives in the Appalachian mountains with her father (Walton Goggins), a pastor at a small pentecostal church where believers test their faith by handling venomous snakes. Amidst this interesting backdrop, Mara struggles between her love for non-believer Augie (Thomas Mann) and the man her father has arranged for her to marry. While the love story didn't necessarily grab me, the film has a few incredibly tense scenes that are very well crafted, and the performances are strong all around. The cast, which includes recent Oscar winner Olivia Colman, is definitely the highlight here.

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