Lost in thought, a woman pulls a key out of her mouth. As she holds it in her hand, it transforms into a knife. She enters another room using the key, where two women, who look exactly like her, scrutinize the situation and carefully take a seat. She comes up to the table and places the knife in the middle. The knife turns back into a key. The women raise their heads in surprise.
As Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon progresses, we realize that the key plays a big role in the main character’s state of mind. It’s an image that has spread itself throughout visual arts in multitudes. Whether it be the weird key to the Dead Man’s Chest from Pirates of the Caribbean or the thin triangle shaft to the blue box in Mulholland Drive, it often illustrates the threshold between unknowingness and realization, a state of mystery — entrancing, very evocative, yet also hazy. In that, it mirrors some of Maya Deren’s most present sensibilities as a storyteller.
Continue reading “Female Director Spotlight: The Surrealist Female Gaze of Maya Deren”
The ocean is a vast, unknown, and frankly terrifying place. It is home to massive whales and other creatures that have adapted to huge amounts of pressure and total darkness. Some of the weirdest animals on Earth can be found in the ocean, but, there’s so much we still don’t know about it. More than 80% of the ocean has not been explored, so who knows what lurks beneath the waves? Director Neasa Hardiman takes that aura of mystery to create her latest feature film, Sea Fever, an eco-thriller that reflects on aquatic possibilities as well as the effects human beings continue to have on ocean life.
Siobhan (Hermione Corfield) is a PhD student who is most comfortable in the lab, surrounded by specimens, books, and numbers. But, her professor forces her to board a fishing boat to do field research, which means mingling with a crew of fishermen. Despite her protests, she ends up on the trawler captained by Freya (Bonnie Corfield) and her husband, Gerard (Dougray Scott). While Siobhan tries to connect with the crew, Freya and Gerard battle financial problems that could lead to them losing their boat. Despite advisories from the Coast Guard to avoid a certain part of the ocean, Gerard sets a course right through the restricted area due to high volumes of fish.
Continue reading “TIFF ’19: Get Swept Away by ‘Sea Fever’”
If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who are you gonna call? Rosa’s Driving Service, at least in the world of Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman’s feature film debut, Extra Ordinary. Their first feature is a touching and hilarious tale about one woman trying to run from her paranormal gifts, one father trying to save his daughter and placate his dead wife, and one washed up rockstar who turns to the Devil for success.
Rosa (Maeve Higgins) is the daughter of a deceased ghost expert. She possesses gifts to commune with the dead, but chooses to avoid them, turning to her driving school instead. She passes her days educating people how to drive cars, her evenings eating yogurt, sitting on her exercise ball, and listening to messages of people begging for her ghost services. Yet, she has sworn off the paranormal ever since the death of father, bent on living a normal life sans ghosts. However, that all changes when she meets Martin Martin (Barry Ward), a father haunted by his dead wife who nags him even from beyond the grave.
Continue reading “[North Bend Film Festival] ‘Extra Ordinary’ Weaves A Touching Tale About Grief and Ghosts”
Editor’s note: this piece contains references to racial violence and sexual assault
Tasmania in 1825 was a British penal colony. England shipped its prisoners to its wilderness, a wilderness that they stole from Tasmania’s native population. England abused prisoners and Aboriginals alike, treating them like livestock. In Jennifer Kent’s second feature film, The Nightingale, she navigates the colonial atrocities performed by the British and creates a film that wishes to directly address the cruelty of past while also encouraging empathy for the victims of such violence.
Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is an Irish woman who has been on the island for seven years. She was first sent to prison, then purchased by Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin). Hawkins has taken a special liking to Clare, routinely assaulting her after he’s had something to drink. Despite her requests for freedom after her marriage and the birth of her daughter, Hawkins clings to her like a starved leech, sucking out whatever life Clare has left. This culminates in a horrific act of violence that leaves Clare alone and full of rage. She hires Aboriginal tracker, Billy (newcomer Baykali Ganambarr), to guide her through the wilderness to catch up the soldiers and enact her revenge.
Continue reading “Jennifer Kent’s ‘The Nightingale’ Carefully Treads Through a Maze of Trauma”
“I don’t like when you do that.”
Media is rife with teen crime dramas. From Riverdale to 13 Reasons Why, these shows and films are always melodramatic, trying to capitalize on pubescent turbulence. They try to depict the world of teenagers with some kind of reality, as if to connect with a young audiences. However, in Jennifer Reeder’s newest film, Knives and Skin, she paints the world of teenagers as a surreal, anachronistic experience that resembles a dream about to turn into a nightmare, set somewhere between the 1980s and now. But even in this dreamy world that seems to exist in another reality, Reeder still portrays issues of sexuality, consent, and trauma with more care than most teenage films.
Continue reading “Overlook Film Festival 2019: ‘Knives and Skin’ is a Dreamy, Bizarre Trip into a World of Grief”
The woods are no place for punks—at least, that seems to be the case in Jenn Wexler’s feature film debut, The Ranger. Despite their studded jackets and tough attitudes, Wexler’s punks are no match for a deranged park ranger who knows these woods like the back of his hand. Set to a screaming soundtrack and chock full of gnarly kills, The Ranger is a creative reimagining of 1980s slasher films that rewrites its more harmful tropes into something perfect for our current cultural moment, a brilliant mashing of nostalgia and progressive filmmaking.
Chelsea (Chloë Levine) is an angsty punk who is haunted by a trauma in her past. She snorts coke, thrashes around at shows, and surrounds herself with insufferable people who help her keep the demons at bay. All that is initially shown about this trauma is a younger version of herself (Jeté Laurence, fresh off a wild performance in Pet Sematary) sitting on a cliff with The Ranger (Jeremy Holm), who tells her she is a wolf. But her coke-fueled haze is interrupted when cops bust into the bar where she’s partying with her boyfriend and friends. As she tries to escape the law, her intolerable boyfriend, Garth (Granit Lahu), stabs a cop to help her get away.
Continue reading “Jenn Wexler Beautifully Blends Punk Rock and 80s Slashers in ‘The Ranger’”
Film history classes may pound the French New Wave into the heads of cinema students everywhere, but not much is said about the Czech New Wave. Unsurprisingly, this movement was in direct response to the French version and was an attempt to showcase the filmmaking talents emerging in Eastern Europe. These films were made in the 1960s and featured nonprofessional actors, long dialogue, and dark humor. One of the integral figures in this movement was director Věra Chytilová, whose 1968 film, Daisies, put her on the map as a daring feminist filmmaker. As described by Criterion, “No director pushed the boundaries of the Czechoslovak New Wave further than Věra Chytilová.” Her work pulsates with an anarchic energy, each frame saying something new and explosive. While not all of her work is as overtly political as Daisies, each of her films makes a political statement about women, the Soviet Union, economics, socialism, and more.
All of the films mentioned here were made before the 1968 invasion of the Soviet Union into Czechoslovakia. Due to her controversial filmmaking, it was impossible for her to find work as a director during this time. Daisies was banned from Czechoslovakia, so she had quite the reputation for her filmmaking style. While not all of her films are described here, Chylitová worked in a wide range of genres, making a sci-fi horror film called Wolf’s Hole and a rape-revenge film called Traps.
Continue reading “Female Director Spotlight: The Radical, Feminist, and Czech Filmmaking of Věra Chytilová”
The inaugural Criterion Channel pick for the first week of February was writer/director Elaine May’s 1976 Mikey and Nicky, a character-driven “Guys Bein’ Dudes” gangster drama. Taking place over the span of a single night, the film opens in classic 70s style with a shifty-eyed Nicky (auteur dreamboat John Cassavetes) alone in a hotel room, clinging to a gun and lighting a cigarette. He’s a small-time bookie who’s just stolen money from the mob, and he’s waiting for his childhood friend, Mikey (Peter Falk), to save him from a panic-induced ulcer attack.
When Mikey arrives, he holds Nicky while he sobs, then lies him down flat on his back to force-feed him an antacid. “Nick, I know you for 30 years. You call me up on that phone, you say ‘Come right away,’ in that voice, I bring Gelusil,” he says calmly before chewing one himself in solidarity. It’s a brilliant hook that establishes the best friends’ characterizations perfectly: Mikey is steady and paternal while Nicky is neurotic and vulnerable. And you just know their story is gonna end with a gut-shot.
Continue reading “Criterion Reviews: ‘Mikey and Nicky’”
Sometimes, before watching a new film, there’s a murky feeling that it’s going to be an intense experience. The Tale is one of those films. The HBO film follows Jennifer, played by Laura Dern, as she is forced to revisit the circumstances of her first “relationship” with an older man as a child after her mother discovers a story written by her younger self. If the premise isn’t powerful and sensitive enough, the film is based on the story written by the writer-director Jennifer Fox’s younger self at the time of her abuse. Primarily because of its plot, the film is not particularly “entertaining,” at moments even difficult, but it’s so powerful that it’s a must-watch.
Continue reading “‘The Tale’ is a Brave Story of the Mind’s Power to Shield Us from Trauma”