Myths of duplicates and alter-egos have persisted for thousands of years… In Zoroastrianism, one of the world's oldest religions, the deity Spenta Mainyu is The Holy Spirit while his "evil twin" – Angra Mainyu – is the Destructive Spirit. In Ancient Egyptian mythology, a ka is a "spirit double" with the same memories and feelings as its counterpart. Native American folklore depicts an upper world where the good people reside and an underworld where their evil doubles dwell. Today, we refer to look-alikes as doppelgängers, a German word meaning "double-walker." When it comes to cinema, numerous iconic films have tackled the phenomenon, from Vertigo (1958), Persona (1966), and Dead Ringers (1988), to more recent movies like The Prestige (2006), Black Swan (2010), and Enemy (2013). Now, Academy Award winner Jordan Peele follows up his provocative 2017 horror-thriller Get Out with a definitive take on doppelgängers in Us.
Created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, Captain Marvel debuted in 1967's Marvel Super-Heroes #12. During the Silver Age, the name belonged to Mar-Vell, a Kree military officer who becomes Earth's protector. In the '80s, Monica Rambeau assumed the title and later became the leader of the Avengers. In the '90s, Rambeau ceded the name to Mar-Vell's son, Genis-Vell, who passed it down to his sister, Phyla-Vell, in the 2000s. In 2012, Carol Danvers, a super-heroine long known as Ms. Marvel, assumed the mantle in a series written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. That series serves as the basis for the twenty-first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), titled Captain Marvel, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and starring Academy Award-winner Brie Larson as Marvel Studios' first stand-alone, female-franchise title character.
There's something strange in the neighborhood, someone new and just a bit weird. Synonyms is the latest film from Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid (Emile's Girlfriend, Policeman, The Kindergarten Teacher), co-produced by German filmmaker Maren Ade, and it premiered in competition at the Berlin Film Festival (where it also won the Golden Bear top prize). I caught this film during the festival and I must say - I have never seen anything like it before, which is always impressive. Synonyms is a very weird, wild, funny, odd, satirical French-Israeli dark comedy of sorts. It's hard to describe, and even harder to understand after an initial viewing, but the more I talk about it and play scenes back in my mind, the more I admire its boldness.
One of the most fascinating discoveries of the Berlin Film Festival this year is a German dark comedy titled O Beautiful Night, which is the feature directorial debut of a German animator and/or filmmaker named Xaver Böhm. This stylish, neon-drench indie is about a lonely, nihilistic kid named Juri who is greeted by a guy who identifies himself as Death - a spiny, chain-smoking, crack-head with a tiny scythe necklace who first encounters Juri inside one of those smoky automated casino joints (which are all around Germany). He takes him on a late night adventure around town, stopping to get drugs, win money, and finally to get drinks at a bar. It's actually a cool concept for a film - not necessarily that original, but nicely refreshed this time.
In 2007, following her breakout performance in Michael Bay's Transformers, Megan Fox was set to star in her next project, a Rogue Pictures horror-thriller produced by Bay. Then called Half to Death, the project was pitched as Groundhog Day meets Scream, with the script following a college freshman who must relive the day of her murder over and over again, stuck in a time loop that will end only when she discovers the killer's identity. For reasons unknown, the studio decided not to move on with the project. A decade later, Blumhouse Productions revived the long-gestating project with director Christopher Landon and actress Jessica Rothe. Now titled Happy Death Day, the horror comedy was a surprise hit, grossing $125 million worldwide on a small $4.8 million budget. A sequel was inevitable after that kind of success. Enter Happy Death Day 2U, an inventive and entertaining follow-up that expands upon the first in nearly every way.
"If we opened people up, we'd find landscapes." Agnès Varda is a genuine master. She is unquestionably of the greatest filmmakers, storytellers, and artists to ever live - there's really no debating this. It may have taken decades for everyone to catch up with and learn about her (and discover her work), but now we all know the truth, and gosh darnity she's still making more films (even at age 90). Varda by Agnès is a new documentary made by Agnès Varda looking back at her entire life as a filmmaker and artist. It's a beautiful examination of the inspiration and explanations behind some of her work (in cinema & in art) she created throughout her life. She has an immaculate understanding of cinema, and shares some of her insights here (but not all of them, of course) and it's an utter joy to watch her talk for nearly two hours. Varda is the best.
Norwegian filmmaker Hans Petter Moland continues to impress me with every new film he makes. Even if it's not the best film, even if it has some issues or falls apart with a story that doesn't amount to much, his work is still remarkably compelling and gorgeous to watch. He's a true master of cinematic visuals and gives us such evocative imagery in every film, making it seem like it's so easy to capture such stunning beauty to accentuate his storytelling. Out Stealing Horses, originally titled Ut og stjæle hester in Norwegian, is the latest film by Hans Petter Moland who reteams with Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård (they last made the film In Order of Disappearance together, which also premiered at Berlinale in 2014). There are some good ideas in this, but alas it doesn't amount to much despite intriguing layered storytelling. Which is a let down.
One of the international highlights at both the Berlin and Sundance Film Festivals this year is a Colombian thriller titled Monos, the second feature film from director Alejandro Landes (born in Brazil, raised in Ecuador and Colombia; his first feature was Porfirio in 2011). The strength of this fantastic film lies in its simplicity, and its stunning dream-like feel that makes it a rush to watch. The official description is just as vague as the film: On a faraway mountaintop, eight kids with guns watch over a hostage and a conscripted milk cow. We follow as they progress deeper and deeper, yet nothing is revealed (in an obvious way) about the context of what they're doing or why they're doing it. And that vagueness works well when the film itself is as vigorous and compelling as this one, making it all the more enthralling to experience on the big screen.
The apocalypse is coming, and there's no better way to prepare for that future than to build an overstocked fallout shelter in your home. Right? That's not crazy, is it? Totally sane. Some people think that this is just being properly prepared. The Tomorrow Man is a dramatic comedy from writer & director Noble Jones that just premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It's an eccentric, amusing film with a romantic twist that is about an aging man who lives a quiet, lonely life in a small town. Jones' film is kinda-sorta mocking these "doomsday preppers", as they're known - the people who build special shelters and fill it with all kinds of extra food and supplies and survival equipment - because the media (and others from the internet) have made them think something is about to happen and they should be ready for everything to fall apart - soon.
There's only so much screaming one can deal with before they go crazy, too. And this film seriously comes close to crossing that line. System Crasher, also known as Systemsprenger, is a very intense German drama about a young girl with serious anger issues who often blows up and gets really, really crazy. It's a meaningful, well-made feature film that attempts to examine the challenges of working with a child known as a "system crasher" but unfortunately it's a one-note story that never turns the page. There's no character arc or story development or anything beyond the basics, beyond the initial introduction and then two hours of screaming and yelling and temper tantrums. There are numerous attempts at making some progress, but nothing works. And after a while it gets a bit tiring and frustrating - which is the point of it the film, I guess.
Family is everything. We must never forget them. One of the most wonderful, heartwarming, beautifully-made films of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival The Farewell. Written and directed by filmmaker Lulu Wang, her second feature after making Posthumous in 2014, The Farewell tells a very personal (and true) story from Wang's own life - about the time she had to fly from NYC all the way China to visit her grandma when they thought she was close to dying, but nobody was allowed to tell her this. The film is filled with heartfelt humor, genuine emotions that give the story so much life, along with confident filmmaking from Wang - who has an impressive grasp on managing an ensemble of memorable characters. It is a genuinely wonderful film, and one that has only grown on me more after first seeing it at the beginning of the festival.
We're currently in the Golden Age of documentaries, with so many outstanding films premiering every year. Sundance always hosts some of the best filmmakers, who bring some of the best documentaries to premiere in the mountains every January. American Factory, the latest doc by filmmaking team Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, is a documentary masterpiece - plain and simple. This is an exhilarating, impressive-in-every-way film that rivals the work of Frederick Wiseman, utilizing a similar style with massive amounts of captivating fly-on-the-wall footage. American Factory is about Dayton, Ohio and what happens when a Chinese billionaire buys a GM factory that recently shut down and re-opens it as a Chinese glass company, hiring back all the workers who were laid off. They exquisitely capture the modern culture clash that ensues.