Screened as a selection of the virtual 2021 Rotterdam Film Festival. There is always room for more dark comedies in the world of cinema. Laughter makes everything better. The latest film from Danish filmmaker Anders Thomas Jensen is yet another very dark comedy, which is precisely his forte as a filmmaker. He's written dozens of screenplays with complex characters, and directed a handful of films previously that also involve complex dynamics between good and bad people. He gracefully and gleefully explores that gray area inbetween good and bad, and takes us on the journey into their experiences. Riders of Justice (originally Retfærdighedens Ryttere in Danish) is his latest film, both written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, and it's so astoundingly dark and strangely twisted and wickedly hilarious. I loved it through and through.
Holy smokes what a film. Swedish filmmaker Ninja Thyberg brought her feature directorial debut to the Sundance Film Festival this year and it unquestionably made a splash. The film was originally chosen for the 2020 Cannes Film Festival but never premiered because it was cancelled. If it would've premiered at Cannes last year, the whole town would've lost their shit over this film. For sure. It would've been THE hot ticket of the festival. It also became THE hot ticket of Sundance this year, and I'm lucky I had the chance to catch it. Pleasure is an extremely explicit journey deep in the pornography industry in Los Angeles. But it's much more than just that, and when you start to pull it apart and examine what's really going on in the film, it becomes a metaphorical reference for all industries and all kinds of different pursuits in life. We follow this woman who wants to be the biggest pornstar in the world, but realizes that's not as glamorous as it seems.
What would you do if you knew that the world was ending? Liza, played by Zoe Lister-Jones, sleeps in late, then eats the tallest stack of pancakes possible. For her last day on Earth, she decides to participate in her friend's farewell party. But first, Liza has a few tough conversations lying ahead. Lister-Jones, also the co-writer and co-director of How It Ends, perfectly captures Los Angeles' panorama while teaching us about the significance of loving yourself and dealing with past regrets. If you're asking about Liza, there's one weird, most incredible thing about her. No, it's not the fact that she invented an app and now lives in a large, modern house. It's that she is constantly in the presence of her younger self. Younger Liza, played by Cailee Spaeny, is a personification of conscience for the older Liza. She's there to listen to her and advise her. She's usually invisible, but the last day on Earth is exceptional because everyone can finally see her.
Mayday, mayday! It's time to fight the patriarchy! One of my favorite premieres from the 2021 Sundance Film Festival is this gritty war film Mayday, written & directed by filmmaker Karen Cinorre making her feature directorial debut. There are many, many films being made these days about fighting the patriarchy and the power of modern feminism. There are also plenty of films telling stories about women fighting back against abusive men and pushing back against oppressive societies. But few films, few conversations ever, dare to wade into the discussion on toxic feminism. But this film finally does. Mayday is a compelling sci-fi fantasy thriller set in "another place" where a group of women are fighting a never-ending war against men. All men. Soldiers and others that randomly appear in their paradise are swiftly & mercilessly killed. But this film isn't really glorifying violence, it's examining how feminists fight back (literally) against the patriarchy.
For as long as I've been attending the Sundance Film Festival (since 2007), coming-of-age films have been regular part of their line-up. Year after year, indie coming-of-age flicks premiere at the festival and most of them are quite good… but not always. The coming-of-age concept is always enjoyable and a good setup for new filmmakers, for many reasons, but often because it allows the filmmaker to express their authenticity and their creativity in order to make their particular story unique. The worst kind of coming-of-age films are the formulaic ones with nothing new to add or say. But the ones that risks, and are crafted with originality and ingenuity, always stand out. Kate Tsang's Marvelous and The Black Hole is one of the newest teen coming-of-age films from Sundance that really stands out, and I'm delighted to discover it this year. It's a very lightweight, easy-to-enjoy film about an angsty teen who finds some inspiration thanks to a new friend.
Before blood-dripping horror movies became an integral part of our pop culture, there were "video nasties." The term was born in the UK and referred to the gory, violent films, mostly C-level creations, distributed on VHS tapes and heavily criticized by the press, government, and society. While some people basked in said horrors, at the time the UK government feared for children's safety and the effects that these films could have on individuals. In the Sundance premiere Censor, directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, Enid (played by Niamh Algar) has an unusual job. Depending on the amount of violence in each film, her assignment is to determine whether the horror film passes or is rejected. Her days are saturated with scenes of blood, gore, and oftentimes rape. But she believes thoroughly in her work. Enid prevents people from seeing too much, continuously thinking about their mental health and psyche. She is the titular censor, and she thrives on it.
Hole-y sh*t, indeed. (Let's just get that pun out of the way.) John and the Hole is, in my opinion, one of the finest films premiering at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. It's divisive in the best of ways. The film is based around a seriously messed up concept that is meant to be provocative and unsettling, and yet still be compelling in a very cinematic way. It's not at all what I expected (an indie Home Alone re-imagination) instead it's a very dark parable that acts as a metaphor for about 100 different things in society. My theory as to what it means is only what first came to my mind watching, and others will find more connections and references in it. Which is the mark of something brilliant - not only is it oddly alluring to watch, even though you hate what's going on, but in the search for meaning I found so much nuance buried within the frames.
Nothing can compare to that experience of watching a film premiere for its first time, knowing that from this point on it will reshape the industry. That's the case with CODA (which stands for Child of Deaf Adults) - one of the Opening Night films at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Despite all the hardship and challenges over the last pandemic year, there's still some extraordinary films being made just waiting for their chance to shine (and one day play in the cinema again). CODA is one of the best Sundance openers since Whiplash. It is a genuine revolution for Deaf cinema. And I really mean that - it has the power and potential to change everything, from opening the doors to the Deaf community in filmmaking, to changing the way we work with and interact with Deaf individuals all over the world. And it's a wonderful crowd-pleaser to enjoy anyway.
Over the previous 12 months, I've seen more than 110 new releases, and I'm happy to report that it's been another fantastic year at the movies, despite not being able to actually go to the movies. Throughout 2020, we got to see new work from visionary filmmakers like Spike Lee, David Fincher, Chloe Zhao, Regina King, Lee Isaac Chung, Emerald Fennell, and Oz Perkins, whose dark fairytale Gretel & Hansel is one of the most atmospheric and aesthetically pleasing horror movies of the year. We also witnessed great performances from Viola Davis, Delroy Lindo, Frances McDormand, Chadwick Boseman, Carey Mulligan, Riz Ahmed, Gary Oldman, Elisabeth Moss, and Steven Yeun. And we were left in awe by cinematic art like Mank, News of the World, The Midnight Sky, Emma – works of impeccable craftsmanship by the cinematographers, production designers, SFX artists, and costume designers alike.
Whether or not the soul really truly exists, as we humans perceive it, doesn't really matter. Pixar's Soul is a profound and moving experience and one of their best movies in years. It is a spiritual sequel to Inside Out, but only in concept, in that it visualizes and rationalizes the irrational concept of a "soul" (rather than our emotions like Inside Out) and takes us on a journey to the other side, the great beyond, to remind us how beautiful our lives really are. Much like Inside Out, also directed by Pete Docter, this film becomes a guide for helping us deal with the weight of grappling with questions like "what does having a soul mean and how do we deal with these thoughts about it?" While focusing on one specific person and his experience, we're still able to learn about ourselves and feel the warm embrace of Joe's story and his own desire for meaning.
Body swap movies have been with us for as long as we can remember. In the original Freaky Friday from 1977, Jodie Foster's character switches places with her mom, played by Barbara Harris. In 18 Again!, it's a grandfather and his grandson. The switch always differs. It can be because of a car accident, magical potion, or a wish cast during the full moon. It can also be a demonic ritual involving a mystical blade – that's what happens in Freaky where a teenage girl switches bodies with a serial killer. This horror comedy, directed by Christopher Landon (of both Happy Death Days), written by Michael Kennedy (Fox's "Bordertown") and Landon, is a bloody feast for every slasher fan, packed with inventive deaths and campy characters.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been very interested in witches – especially on screen. I used to watch "Sabrina the Teenage Witch", "Charmed", and many other shows. Hence, it's no surprise that when I discovered The Craft, I immediately became obsessed. The film from 1996, directed by Andrew Fleming, is, without a doubt, a Halloween must-watch. Which is why I was incredibly happy to hear that Zoe Lister-Jones wrote and directed a follow-up to the events that transpired in the first movie. Directing her second feature, The Craft: Legacy, Zoe Lister-Jones showcases magic, sisterhood, toxic masculinity, and more.