ENJOY THE MOVIES
Screened as a selection of the virtual 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. Many stories begin with, "a man walks into a bar." They are often light jokes, but some involve bone-chilling circumstances and plot twists that we would never expect to follow. The latter transpires in The Oak Room, a suspenseful thriller from Canadian filmmaker Cody Calahan (Let Her Out) and written by Peter Genoway (Masks). The creators set the story during a frosty storm in a small, dim-lit bar. What captures our attention right away is the filmmakers' ability to generate anxiety around a variety of storylines and surprise us with sudden twists and turns in the film. Calahan also highlights the tremendous value and significance of well-crafted, enigmatic storytelling.
Screened as a selection of the virtual 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. Working is generally exhausting. Even if you love your job, it can still be draining. Every one of us has had a bad day at work, and it can be because of many different factors. However, I guarantee that you haven't had as horrible of a day at work as Mandy (Angela Bettis) in the film 12 Hour Shift. The second feature written & directed by actress Brea Grant (Best Friends Forever), is deeply entertaining and bloody. While engaging audiences with its sick sense of humor, 12 Hour Shift explores the world of a nurse going through the worst night of her life. With extreme edginess and wicked characters, this is my second favorite watch so far of this year’s Fantasia Film Festival.
How far would you go to save someone in the face of danger? Or would you only care about yourself? Those questions and many survival quandaries are present in the original Train to Busan. Writer / director Yeon Sang-ho focuses the story on humanity, self-preservation, and greed. Coincidentally, I watched the original movie just a few weeks ago, and it completely changed my perspective on zombie films. Returning for the sequel, Yeon Sang-ho touches on similar themes in Train to Busan 2: Peninsula, and further explores these questions through the characters' actions. Although the second film stumbles and does not reinvent zombie genre nor is it anything unique, the storyline, special effects, and the message behind the film may still be worthwhile for viewers. It also touches on topics of community, population, and mutual respect.
Screened as a selection of the virtual 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. Shortly after watching The Columnist, I noticed that Twitter enabled a very interesting feature – you can now control who can reply to your tweets. It would be a highly valuable benefit for Femke Boot (played by Dutch actress Katja Herbers), the titular columnist of a local newspaper, and author of an upcoming book. The film, directed by Ivo van Aart (of Quantum Zeno) and written by Daan Windhorst, is a powerful revenge comedy horror and a cautionary tale that perfectly connects to contemporary culture, teaching us an important lesson. Plus, it's bloody good fun.
"We're all going to die at some point," says Jason (played by Chris Messina) at some point in She Dies Tomorrow, written and directed by Amy Seimetz (Sun Don't Shine). Those words brought me back to one particular moment of my childhood. It was late evening, and I was already lying down in my bed. The light was on because I refused to sleep in darkness. Suddenly, a horrible feeling came over me, and the few-year-old me started wailing. I ran to my parents, crying my eyes out. They hugged me and looked at me with concern in their eyes. "I'm very afraid of dying," I choked out. I don't remember the rest, or what my parents told me. But Neon's latest release made me think of that moment and every other one when I had a feeling of death creeping behind me. Seimetz makes sure that the audience will think about the film long after and crafts a narrative based around visualizing an eerie sense of anxiety and its contagious impact on others.
What would you do if you were immortal? Would you save people and help the impoverished? Or rather use it only for your own selfish needs? Those and many similar questions arise in the minds of audiences while watching The Old Guard. Directed by filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, Beyond the Lights) this sci-fi Netflix film touches on the subject of immortality and the abuse of body autonomy, as well as many other aspects. The Old Guard, adapted from a graphic novel series by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez, captivates audiences with its superb cast and fascinating topic that makes it more mature than other films based on comic books. The director steadily builds up the tension, leading to its satisfying finale.
Often, when a beauty pageant is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the film Miss Congeniality. Young white women dominate beauty contests around the world. But Miss Black America, Miss Black USA, and other similar competitions have been celebrating Black beauty, culture, and identity for more than half a century. This is where Channing Godfrey Peoples steps in with her first feature, a drama titled Miss Juneteenth. The film first premiered at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The director, also known as a writer for the TV series "Queen Sugar" or for her 2013 short film, Red, shines a genuine light on Black motherhood, the Miss Juneteenth pageant, and mother/daughter relationship in this heart-gripping drama.
Elisabeth Moss never disappoints. The actress proves this yet again taking on the role of a mysterious and extraordinary horror writer in Josephine Decker's film Shirley, which originally premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Written by Sarah Gubbins and based on the novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell, this oddly satisfying portrayal of lust, attraction, and stimulating inspiration holds one's interest alongside a first-class cast that dazzles. What comes to the forefront in Shirley is the emotional bond between two very different women. One thing is certain – you’re in for a pleasurable treat.
Living in a small town is hard for a teenager. It's even harder if you live in rural Oklahoma in the 1960s, and you feel different than all of your peers. Director Martha Stephens captures the atmosphere of this small town (and small-minded people) in her period drama To the Stars, which originally premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. While Stephen's production is not an innovative film that bends the standards of cinema, it's certainly an eye-opening coming-of-age story. The drama first premiered at Sundance in black & white, but it was later reverted back to color. I watched the latter version for release (on digital April 24th), and although it was unquestionably satisfying, I'd still love to experience this story in the original format.
There is always something extra inviting when it comes to small villages located by the sea. Let's take one from Practical Magic. It makes you want to go there, meet all the people, it makes you feel free and happy. But it's the opposite feeling in Easter Cove, Maine presented in indie noir, Blow the Man Down. Directed and written by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, the film tells the story of Connolly sisters - Priscilla (Sophie Lowe), and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor). After their mother's passing, the sisters have to figure out the way to save the house from bankruptcy and keep up with their store that Mary Margaret left them. Unfortunately, nothing goes as planned. After a run-in with a dangerous man (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), Mary Beth, with the help of Priscilla, tries to cover up his grim murder. Afterwards, both attempt to come back to their new normal; still, it's not easy, especially with the police asking questions and their mother's friends snooping around. One of them, Enid (Margo Martindale), is particularly interested in the sisters.
Sex worker, prostitute, escort. Never a woman, a sister, or a daughter. The headlines are always the same. The media, as well as law enforcement authorities, lack compassion and a genuine desire for rightful justice for women that provide sexual services. Lost Girls, directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus (making her first narrative feature film after directing numerous documentaries including What Happened Miss Simone? and Bobby Fischer Against the World), returns to the painful, incredibly sad story of Shannan Gilbert and her mother, Mari (portrayed by Amy Ryan). The film revisits a series of unsolved murders and recreate the actions of the Gilbert family in their desperate search for answers and justice.
Just last week, I coincidentally chose to rewatch Zodiac – David Fincher's thriller from 2007. The film about the unidentified serial killer, based on the book by Robert Graysmith, is about the search for the legendary murderer. Throughout the film, there is often a mention of The Most Dangerous Game – a 1924 short story written by Richard Connell. The infamous "Zodiac Killer" was supposedly inspired by it. The story's original plot is about a big-game hunter who is hunted [sic!] by a Russian aristocrat. It has been remade into many other film and TV projects over the years. Now The Most Dangerous Game gets another contemporary update – The Hunt, which addresses a modern society that thrives on dividing and misinforming people.