As a transgender man, I have a complicated, strange, and usually arduous relationship with masculinity. Why are men so obsessed with the fact that they are men? For people who claim to be independent and strong, why is is validation from someone they perceive as superior (read; more powerful) so important to them? Why is violence, hatred, and ugliness seen as so essential to being a man in mainstream society? I ask myself these questions constantly. They keep me up at night.The same questions seem to keep Riley Stearns up at night as well, as indicated in his new film, The Art of Self Defense.
If you’ve ever seen a Jim Jarmusch film, it’s pretty easy to catch on to his style and cadence: the importance of music, a celebration of strangeness, and every character seems bored out of their minds no matter what’s going on around them. The Dead Don’t Die(2019) is no different, except this time there’s flesh eating zombies caused by corporate fracking. But don’t worry, Iggy Pop is still there.
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.