A.T White’s debut feature film, Starfish, promises to be a strange, cosmic journey from the very start of the opening sequence. Beginning with a pitch black screen as voices cut in and out, disrupted by static which emits the feeling of a far away radio transmission, the first image we are shown is that of a snow covered mountain town, with a small and mysterious fire in the distance.
Starfish follows a woman named Aubrey (Virginia Gardner) grieving the debilitating loss of her recently deceased best friend, Grace (Christina Masterson). The first act of the film serves a strong, meditative look at loss, following Aubrey as she enters Grace’s home and flashes fragments of their memories together as she tries to live in a world without her. However, when Aubrey wakes up the next day she finds that strange creatures have entered her universe through some sort of radio signal that Grace was researching with a group of conspiracy theorists. Aubrey embarks on a scavenger hunt to find seven mixtapes created by Grace so that she can play them all together and save the world. What ensues is a stylistically diverse and experimental look at grief, guilt, and self-forgiveness.
In the last week of Black History Month, the Criterion Channel grants us a look into the newest film to be released in their collection – Charles Burnett’s 1990 film, To Sleep With Anger.
To Sleep With Anger starts off with an ominous long shot of a fruit bowl on fire, sitting idly next to a half-cut apple. As the credits role, we see Gideon (Paul Butler), the patriarchal figure of the film, dressed in all white church clothes. His chair is licked with flames, followed by his shoes, as we slowly fade to another shot of bare feet in dirt and realize that Gideon has fallen asleep holding his Bible and has been dreaming.
This opening scene is hauntingly beautiful and fascinating to watch, and serves as an omen for the rest of the film. Gideon and his wife, Suzie (Mary Alice) are an older couple with two sons and subsequent grandchildren living in Southern Los Angeles when one day they receive a visitor from their old home in the South – Harry, played by Donald Glover in one of his most powerful and unsettling roles to date. With Harry comes a sense of uneasiness, suspicion, and high tensions as his charming demeanor begins to unravel and bring forth a chaos within the family – particularly with Gideon’s youngest son, Babe Brother (Richard Brooks), who is frustrated by the way his father treats him and by the fact that he is not yet successful.
Ever since his role in The Big Sick in 2017, Ray Romano seems to have made a comeback and proven to audiences that he can play both comedy and drama in equal measure. Netflix’s Paddleton allows him to prove this yet again, cast alongside indie film veteran Mark Duplass.
This is the second film that director Alex Lehmann has worked on with Mark Duplass, having released Bluejay in 2016—which is also labeled as a Netflix original. Mark and Jay Duplass have been powerhouse producers of the independent cinema scene for years now, and it was announced just last year that Netflix would have the screening rights to their next four films, with Paddleton being the first of that contract.
Last night, at the 25th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Alan Alda was presented with his lifetime achievement award. Today, it is his 84th birthday. Here, I reflect back on the strangely wide effect that Alan Alda has had in my own lifetime.
With David Byrne’s True Stories (1986) releasing on Criterion today in a beautifully restored 4k edition supervised by Mr. Byrne himself, I have been thinking a lot about what makes the film so unique, and loved by so many. There is a tendency to see the film as a scathing critique of small town southern life, rather than a celebration of the idiosyncrasies that can exist in a place so removed from the rest of the world. To see True Stories this way, however, is to seriously misinterpret not only the film, but David Byrne as a person.
It is understandable that fans of Byrne’s band The Talking Heads – known for its deceivingly upbeat pessimism – would want to see a film about a town full of neurotics, fools, and people whose favorite pastime is going to an outlet mall as a harsh criticism of suburban life; that we are meant to laugh at these people rather than with them. However, what True Stories really marks is the beginning of Byrne stepping away from that pessimism. It is only in hindsight that this becomes abundantly clear, as we see what Byrne is up to now. His new album, pointedly called American Utopia takes a much more positive (although not at all ignorant) approach to the current state of the world than, say, songs such as Only the Flowers or Life During Wartime. In fact, Byrne has been working continuously on a project called Reasons to Be Cheerful that shares technological innovations, social movements, and optimistic profile pieces from all over the world, with the sole purpose to restore faith in humanity during a time where it feels like there may not be much of that left.
In the first year of my mom and dad’s marriage, my mom remembers coming home late to see my dad sprawled on the couch, exhausted, watching Die Hard (1988). When she asked him what had made him decide to watch this particular film so late in the night on a weekday, he replied, “I’ve had a stressful day. I just needed to watch people blow up.” Although not nearly as charismatic or witty as John McTiernan’s modern classic, my father’s exhausted confession perfectly sums up my feelings about Julius Avery’s Overlord (2018).
Considering his other film of 2018 was the abysmal and insensitive Death Wish remake, Eli Roth’s pivot to the child-oriented The House With A ClockIn Its Walls (based on the young adult novel of the same name from Edward Gorey) may have taken quite a few people off guard. However, while I’ll admit the thought of him filming a horror story for kids had never crossed my mind until this announcement, it seemed like an area that Eli Roth may finally be able to shine in. Roth is well known for his over-the-top style of horror that can be interpreted either as enjoyable campy fun, or ridiculously stupid schlock depending on who you ask. Most of the time, I fall into the latter category but, just like a mother who keeps sending her deadbeat son checks in the mail, I always believed that Roth had a raw potential that was being wasted. The parts of Eli Roth’s style that I do enjoy always revolved around the obvious fun that he has on set, and the pure love he has for horror as a genre. What better place to explore that melodramatic dialogue and mess around with silly effects and scenarios than in a children’s horror film? Sure, he can’t be as bloody and insane as he is in all of his other movies, but the kitschy-ness of his style that usually comes across as messy or in poor taste would fit right in with a film all about an exuberant warlock and his larger-than-life house. This is what I wanted, what I hoped for, what I was really excited for. This is not what A House With a Clock In Its Walls gave me. Instead, what I got was a film that felt like the director himself had slept through it.