Filmmaker Joe Swanberg is best known for his work in the mumblecore subgenre, writing and directing micro-budget films with an emphasis on naturalistic acting and improvised dialogue. His movies, like 2013's Drinking Buddies and 2014's Happy Christmas, are indie comedy-dramas concerned with the interpersonal relationships and the romantic entanglements of people in their twenties and early thirties. Occasionally, however, Swanberg works in the horror genre, as an actor (The Sacrament, You're Next, A Horrible Way to Die) and director (the V/H/S segment "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger," which he also starred in). Now, he's collaborating with Dave Franco on the actor's directorial debut, a film titled The Rental, which combines Swanberg's mumblecore and horror sensibilities with mixed results.
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.
Did you want to be a fireman when you were growing up? Great! Now what if you turned out to be a stoner with nothing to offer the world aside from crappy tattoos? As surprising as it may seem, that does describe the main character in The King of Staten Island. But that's where he is at the start. There's a story to tell, and there's a reason to tell his story. It's not about giving up drugs and getting a job, but it sort of is. It's more about giving up laziness and getting a real life. Judd Apatow is back again with a new film starring a famous comedian, Pete Davidson, playing a character who isn't really him, but it's based on his life and his upbringing anyway. And it's good! Apatow kills it yet again with an authentic, original comedy. There's heaps of dark and dry humor, but it's not an all-out comedy, which I quite liked. It is impressive to make a film about a guy who is essentially a nobody from Staten Island yet it's seriously engaging and entertaining.
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.
"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man." With this sentence, Rod Serling first introduced The Twilight Zone to American viewers on October 2nd in 1959. The influential anthology TV series, which followed in the tradition of other shows such as Science Fiction Theatre and radio programs like Dimension X, blended fantasy, science fiction, and horror with morality tales to explore pressing socio-political issues. Over the past sixty years, The Twilight Zone has inspired countless storytellers, including Gene Roddenberry, Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, Chris Carter, M. Night Shyamalan, J.J. Abrams, Charlie Brooker, and Jordan Peele. The beloved show's latest progeny is the film The Vast of Night, the feature debut of director Andrew Patterson and also screenwriters James Montague and Craig W. Sanger.
Is there ever any good in vanity? Not really. But we never seem to learn our lesson, doomed to fall prey to the merciless grip of vanity and fame and glory and success. And it always leads us down dark paths towards dead ends, no matter what. Bad Education, directed by Cory Finley, recalls the true story of one tragic downfall of vanity. The beloved superintendent of Long Island's Roslyn school district, Frank Tassone, and some of his staff, have been grossly misusing funds provided to the public school district. Bad Education is the story of how their schemes and sneakiness was uncovered – by one intrepid student working for the school newspaper. The fictionalized feature is as outstanding as everyone has been saying since it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year. I'm glad to say that I loved this film, one of the best of the year so far.
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.
"The way he looks at people. It's like… he understands. He looks into your soul, and understands." Dogs, man, they're the best. I love dogs. I mean – I LOVE dogs. My favorite animal. Always the cuddliest. Always the cutest. Always your best friend. Always. We Don't Deserve Dogs is a new documentary film made by cinematographer / director Matthew Salleh; produced by Rose Tucker. It was set to premiere at the SXSW Film Festival this year, though it deserves to go well beyond just that festival. This film joins the pantheon of all-time great dog documentaries, including the likes of Los Reyes and the Netflix series Dogs. It is a huge breath of doggie heaven fresh air. I loved every last second of it, and can't wait to rewatch it whenever I need a boost. It's an extraordinary feel-good look at how amazing dogs are and how humans connect with them.
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.