Review by Camden Ferrell
The Reason I Jump is a documentary film that had its premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival where it won the audience award for World Documentary. This film is directed by Jerry Rothwell and based on the book by Naoki Higashida. While the intentions are noble and it removes a lot of stigma around individuals with autism, the documentary can benefit from a longer runtime and more thorough exploration of its subjects.
This movie uses passages from Higashida’s book to highlight five individuals from around the world who have nonspeaking autism. This is a significant topic that isn’t seen enough in media, and these young individuals are fascinating. They are the perfect subjects to create a sense of empathy in viewers and to educate viewers on their unique experiences.
The narration of the book that is dispersed throughout the film is its strongest aspect. Despite being young, Higashida’s insights into his own experiences are beautiful and eloquent, and they do a great job of vividly imparting his experiences onto the viewers. While this mainly provides a framework for the rest of the documentary, it contributes significantly to the film’s quality and the power of its message.
Each of the subjects are remarkable in their own ways, and it’s fantastic to see the movie celebrate and educate viewers on their differences. They are interesting and the movie treats them very tastefully and didactically. The movie sometimes feels unbalanced in the way it tries to juggle all five subjects, but this flaw is often redeemed.
The cinematography is also a highlight of the film. Ruben Woodin Dechamps frames the subjects with humanity and grace, and it elevates the stories being told. It doesn’t shy away from the subjects, and it is an unbiased camera that humanizes individuals with autism who are often overlooked. It carefully crafts its shots in order to teach us about their unique experiences and the various aspects of their daily lives.
Running under ninety minutes, this film often feels like it could have spent more time with its subjects and sharing their experiences. I really enjoyed the way the film employed many senses to share its message, and I believe it could benefit from more of it. However, the film has probably done wonders in progressing the conversation around autism and removing any stigma surrounding it.
Rothwell’s movie is very empathetic, and it’s important that these stories are no longer in the shadows. These individuals warrant attention, and it’s important that as a society, we progress in order to better accommodate and understand their point of view.
The Reason I Jump makes up for its brevity and occasional lulls with an essential and timely message. Hopefully, it opens the doors for similar movies and stories to be told in the future. This is an interesting documentary, and it’s one that will help close the bridge separating society from these fascinating individuals.
The Reason I Jump is available in virtual cinemas January 8. (A list of participating theaters can be found here).
Review by Camden Ferrell
Based on the Aleksandrs Grins’ novel, Blizzard of Souls is the first narrative feature film from director Dzintars Dreibergs. This film is Latvia’s official submission for the Academy Awards this year. Utilizing strong historical context and brilliantly staged battle scenes, this movie is haunting yet hopeful examination of World War I.
Arturs is a young man who enlists in the Army after losing his mother at the hands of German soldiers. With dreams of being a hero in his Latvian battalion, he soon finds out through brutal battles and trench warfare, that war is not what he thought it would be. The horrors of war have been examined excessively through the medium of film, but this is still a very strong foundation on which the movie is built.
Dreibergs and Boriss Frumins’ script is well-written but is not it’s most developed aspect. There is sufficient exposition for novices to this period, but it doesn’t over explain the political intricacies of the war. This works in allowing the emotions of the character’s take center stage. It makes the war a backdrop and allows each character to be a subject that stands alone in the film.
Oto Brantevics’ lead performance is somewhat shaky in its quality, but it is still commendable. It is an intense role that slowly shows the breakdown of one soldier’s morale, and Brantevics mostly does a great job of showing that struggle. There are some scenes where his acting doesn’t land properly, but he typically makes up for these inconsistencies.
The crowning achievement of this film is its battle scenes. In gruesome detail, we see the horrors, anxieties, and consequences of war. The way the scenes are blocked are extremely visceral and immersive. Some sequences elicit genuine fear and heart racing tension. It is easily one of the most thoroughly invigorating presentations of WWI on film.
The cinematography is also extremely gorgeous. Valdis Celmins brilliantly encapsulates moods and emotions in the way he lights and frames his scenes and subjects. Some parts of the movie have an optimistic glow while others are hopelessly bleak. He strikes a balance in this spectrum of emotions that really boost the overall quality of the film.
One of the film’s flaws does come from its length. At around two hours, the pace can sometimes drag in certain scenes, and it feels like the length of the film could have been reduced or reallocated to develop its themes and characters. Regardless, this is a movie that is equal parts hopeless and optimistic and warrants attention from the Academy this coming year.
Blizzard of Souls is a brutal watch that both history buffs and novices will enjoy. It’s an interesting emotional journey of one boy through the brutalities of war. Despite its length, it is very much worth a watch.
Blizzard of Souls is available through virtual cinemas January 8. (A list of locations can be found here).
Review by Camden Ferrell
Gun and a Hotel Bible is the newest movie from directors Raja Gosnell and Alicia Joy LeBlanc. It is based on a play of the same name and is written by Bradley Gosnell and Daniel Floren. While the dialogue-heavy script is well-done, the other aspects of the film don’t do much to elevate the experience.
In this film, Pete is a man on the verge of committing an act of violence. He goes to a hotel room beforehand and encounters Gideon, a personified hotel bible. There, he has a thorough discussion with Gideon about morality, scripture, and their own shortcomings. It’s an interesting premise that may sound daft but is surprisingly written with adept maturity.
The highlight of this film is its script. Written by co-stars, Gosnell and Floren, this film is heavy in dialogue and not much else. This is the be expected from an adaptation of a play, and it ultimately works in the film’s favor. It abandons gimmicks and flashiness in order to create an environment that facilitates the earnest discussion between the two characters. The script frequently waxes philosophically, and it manages to remain engaging throughout its brief runtime.
The acting in the film is passable more than anything. Gosnell and Floren aren’t miraculous with their own script, but they definitely do not bring it down either. It’s about as adequate of a performance you can expect, and even though the performances are fairly unobjectionable, they don’t particularly contribute the final products quality. Their chemistry is decent, but there are moments where the acting can come off as somewhat bland.
The direction of the scenes is also very boilerplate. The movie doesn’t feel like it has its own unique character. The blocking of the actors maintains energy and motion on screen, but the rest of the execution plays it safely and predictably. It does a great job of cohesively capturing the action onscreen, but it lacks a distinct personality.
The film’s runtime is a double-edged sword. Running at fifty-eight minutes, the film never loses any steam or momentum, but it also suffers from a story that progresses far too quickly. I believe the film could have benefitted from an additional fifteen minutes to explore the character’s more and their own beliefs and motivations.
More than anything, this film is a feat in conversational dialogue. Its religious discussions don’t break new ground, but it still has some great insights into scripture, its validity, and its contradictions. The dichotomy between the well-informed and skeptic Pete and Gideon, the literal word of the Lord, is interesting and it creates some great moments of moral conflict.
Gun and a Hotel Bible probably works better as a play than a film. The script is very well-written, and it contains some great exchanges and interactions, but everything else in the film is mostly forgettable. The film shows great promise for Gosnell and Floren as a writing duo, and they may be worth keeping on your radar in the future.
Gun and a Hotel Bible is available on VOD January 5.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Greenland is the newest film from director Ric Roman Waugh, and it was one of the major studio releases to be delayed due to the global pandemic. Luckily, in these trying times, this is a movie that provides plenty of mindless apocalyptic fun even if it isn’t very original.
In this movie, citizens around the world are gathered to watch Clark, a celestial comet, enter Earth’s atmosphere and touchdown in the ocean. However, this does not happen and the comet fragments and creates devastating crashes worldwide. In the face of impending apocalypse, John desperately tries to get him and his family to safety. This is a fun premise that is perfect for casual action and thrills. It’s not very layered or subtle, but it is sufficient for the genre.
The script, written by Chris Sparling, is very forgettable but ultimately adequate for the type of movie they are trying to make. It relies heavily on explosions and chaos, and it doesn’t do much else to develop its characters or situations. Granted, when it does try to explore character’s backstories, it interrupts its momentum, and it doesn’t always work to the benefit of the film.
The acting in this movie is also very adequate. Gerald Butler leads in a performance that is not so different from his other films. He gives the same stoic performance that one would expect from an action film protagonist, and there isn’t anything special about it. Morena Baccarin co-stars as Allison, John’s wife. Her performance is easily the best, and there are some really great moments of fear and desperation, but her character can often be reduced to a very standard maternal archetype.
One of the reasons why the movie works is due to its stakes. Its highly unrealistic apocalyptic stakes allow the viewer to shut off their mind and just enjoy the widespread chaos. This approach works really well in providing an escape from the actual horrors our world faces today. Thankfully, the film understands that for its sake, bigger is better, and this is a grandiose story.
The action itself is decently enjoyable. It is full of devastating debris from the comets, shockwaves, explosions, and everything else you can think of. It spreads these moments out fairly well through its two-hour runtime, and it doesn’t try and cram too much into one particular part of the film.
While the film is enjoyable, it is hard to overlook just how passable the film is. It doesn’t break new ground, and it doesn’t quite live up to past disaster movies, but it is still just about what you would expect from a film such as this. It’s fairly derivative, but it ends up being a mindless two-hours that are pretty entertaining.
Greenland is perfect for fans of action and mindless chaos. It’s a fun movie that doesn’t require any effort from the viewer, and it should satiate your big blockbuster needs until theaters are once again reopened.
Greenland is available on VOD December 18.
Review by Camden Ferrell
To the Ends of the Earth is the newest film from writer/director Kyoshi Kurosawa. This film played at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as well as several other festivals. While the film’s attempts at being a contemplative journey are pronounced, it often finds itself in tonally and structurally inconsistent territory.
Yoko is a Japanese host of a travel show. She is dedicated to her work, and it has brought her on a trip to Uzbekistan. In this foreign land, we watch as she adapts and explores the area with a caution that accompanies her introverted nature. The premise isn’t anything miraculous, but this allows the perfect opportunity to properly explore a character’s nature, their desires, and their fears. Unfortunately, the exploration ends up being tepid in comparison to what it could have been.
The script is minimal, and it evokes characteristics of realism more than anything. It’s not flashy or cinematic dialogue, but it creates a lot of space for characters to interact by other means. What is being said isn’t always of the utmost importance, but it’s more important to observe actions and reactions. Kurosawa understands that to explore his protagonist, he doesn’t need to confound the narrative with unnecessary dialogue.
The acting in this film is mostly forgettable save for the remarkable lead performance from Atsuko Maeda. She is joyous and optimistic on camera, and she is cautious and shy off camera. It’s a balancing act that Maeda does very well. Her performance is the best aspect of this movie, and it can sometimes elevate some lackluster moments throughout the film.
The main problem with the film comes from how unevenly paced the film can be at times. While it was designed to be a slow and meditative piece, it often meanders too much for its own good. It’s a balancing act that the film never really perfects, and the final product suffers as a result.
The film isn’t bad, but it is underwhelming. It clocks in at around two hours, and it never truly warrants it. It doesn’t do enough to examine the nature of the protagonists and the deep personal struggles she faces from being a fish out of water in a country that is unfamiliar to her. Some of these ideas are presented, but they’re not fully developed.
There are a handful of great moments throughout. It’s interesting to watch Yoko on the job and to see how her media personality constantly covers up her discomfort in these situations. There are also two instances in which we see Yoko singing a cover of Hymne a L’Amour by Edith Piaf that is actually quite beautiful.
Overall, this is a noble attempt at personal meditation through the eyes of a woman who is out of place in a new country. Unfortunately, its execution isn’t fully developed, and it leaves the viewer with something to be desired.
To the Ends of the Earth opens December 11 as a part of The Metrograph virtual cinema and in nationwide virtual cinemas on December 18. (A list of participating theaters can be found here.)
Review by Camden Ferrell
Alabama Snake is a new documentary from director Theo Love. It’s a case that has haunted the people of Scottsboro, Alabama but may be new information for non-natives. Despite how unique this case is, this documentary feels repetitive and somewhat shallow in its exploration of the event.
Murder (or in this case attempted murder) is a crime as old as mankind, but it has never been executed quite as uniquely as the focus of this film. The documentary explores the attempted murder of Darlene Summerford by her husband, Pentecostal preacher, Glenn Summerford. What’s interesting about this case is the alleged murder weapon: a snake.
While the case is inherently fascinating, the movie doesn’t properly exhibit how exciting it is. Divided into separate chapters, they all feel too similar and can come off as repetitive at times. There were certain aspects of the case that weren’t explored well enough, and then there were moments that seemed unnecessary.
The movie features a combination of reenactments and interviews with knowledgeable individuals. The movie definitely overused the reenactments, and it made the movie feel gimmicky and slightly cheap, but it wasn’t too off-putting. When they did the interviews, that was when the documentary was at its best. It was interesting especially when the people doing the interviews had firsthand accounts of the events that happened.
The separation of the story into different chapters was an interesting narrative choice, and it had the potential to provide unique and detailed perspectives into the case. While it did examine different subjects and angles of the case, there was too much narrative overlap as well as repetition of information that didn’t make the chapters feel particularly distinguished.
The content is all present, but it’s the form and execution that are lacking in this film. Even though the information is sufficient in painting the picture of this case, it doesn’t treat its subject with the curiosity and intrigue that it deserves. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s merely underwhelming.
Its brief runtime prevents it from going too in depth into the specifics of the case, and that’s why it feels shallow at times. It will satisfy those interested in a recounting of events, but it won’t do much for viewers looking for a more contemplative examination of the events.
Alabama Snake may not live up to the originality of its subject, and it may not have the best execution, but it’s still a somewhat apt exploration of the events. It may appeal to some viewers interested in true crime or those with some background knowledge of the case.
Alabama Snake premieres on HBO and HBO Max on December 9.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Anything for Jackson is a horror film that had its premiere at the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. It is the newest film from director Justin G. Dyck, a veteran director of many Hallmark Christmas movies. His first attempt at horror starts strong but unfortunately descends into a narrative mess that lacks thrills and cohesion.
In this film, Audrey and Henry grieve the death of their grandson, Jackson. To rectify their loss, they kidnap one of Henry’s pregnant patients in order to perform a reverse exorcism in an attempt to revive their grandson. This is a really interesting premise that puts a twist on the exorcism genre, but unfortunately the film doesn’t live up to the potential of its premise.
The script, written by Keith Cooper, another Hallmark veteran, is pretty dull. The dialogue feels cliché and uninspired, and it doesn’t ever make an attempt to be original. While this problem could have easily been compensated by some thrills and tension, it unfortunately never happens, and this screenplay is forgettable at best.
The performances are also fairly forgettable and don’t do much to enhance the film. The one exception seems to be Konstantina Mantelos who plays the pregnant woman being held captive. She does play the role very well and she does a great job conveying the character’s terror and transcendent anguish. Sadly, the rest of the cast doesn’t match her talents, and it leads to an underwhelming experience.
The movie starts out fairly strong with an opening act that is intriguing. It is quick to start, and it foregoes a lot of exposition that usually drags down horror films. However, the film quickly loses momentum in its second act, and the third act becomes a narrative mess in order to compensate for this.
The film incorporates many ideas like exorcisms and satanic rituals, but it feels contrived more than anything. It reuses horror tropes that don’t do much to elevate suspense, and it falls short of scary fairly often. There are some interesting visual effects in the film and some creepy imagery, but it doesn’t make up for the lack of scares and thrills.
Ultimately, this is an unsatisfying movie that may appeal to some die-hard horror fans and not much else. It’s not the best horror debut for Dyck, but hopefully he returns to genre for a sophomore feature that could be better.
Anything for Jackson is a misguided attempt at horror through the lens of grief. It may feature a singular good performance, but it’s underwhelming, unnatural, and fairly bland.
Anything for Jackson will be released on Shudder December 3.
Review by Camden Ferrell
You will likely not find a film more ambitious or perplexing than Kill It and Leave This Town. This is the first feature film from director Mariusz Wilczyński, and it is a project that has been developed for the past fifteen years. Even if its themes can feel muddled and meandering at times, this is a unique experience that meditates on death and mortality.
Overcome with grief and despair after the loss of those dearest to him, our protagonist hides in the bowels of his memory. He revisits his parents, friends, and the life he once led. Describing the premise as such doesn’t nearly prepare the viewer for the absurdity of this movie. It takes its interesting premise and turns it into something utterly inexplicable.
The writing might be the weakest link in the film. There are many dialogue free moments that work really well, but some of the dialogue doesn’t always land properly. There are some really touching and resonant exchanges and conversations, but it can also come off as contrived at times.
The characters themselves are fascinating. Supplemented by a talented cast, these characters feel tangibly relatable. Regardless of the vulgar animation and haunting visuals, it truly feels like we can relate to the characters’ pain, longing, and existential dread. It’s not comforting at all, but it’s weirdly familiar in abstract ways. This is one of the film’s strong suits, and it deftly creates an environment that rings a bell somewhere in our mind.
One of the most discernible aspects of the film is its animation style. It’s crude, vulgar, and shocking, and it all works so well in context of the film. The animation style illuminates the messages and themes so well, and it is a visual spectacle even if it can be hard to watch at times. It blends its haunting animation with some poignant imagery and a hefty dose of shock value that make it a unique visual achievement.
The film also boasts some great music throughout featuring some assertive electric guitar riffs. It is almost evocative of some of the trippy soundtrack in Fantastic Planet. Unfortunately, this movie can also be a little too ambitious for its own good. Certain scenes and moments significantly drag and create a lot of confusion. While the whole film is somewhat incoherent by design, there are some moments that feel wholly unnecessary.
Despite any flaws, the movie still proves to be a memorable experience that meditates on the human condition with stunning artistry. Many films tackle mortality, longing, and death, but so few can properly encapsulate those themes and blend it with a surrealist touch like Wilczyński. This movie is not for everyone, but it is ultimately a rewarding experience.
Kill It and Leave This Town may necessitate repeat viewings to be properly appreciated. It’s a film that is ambitious and rewards audience reflection and patience. It’s run time is brief, but it’s a film that takes you on the journey of one man and the life he is trying to relive and recapture.
Kill It and Leave This Town is available to stream November 25 to December 8 from Anthology Film Archives.
Review by Camden Ferrell
The Mystery of D.B. Cooper is the newest film from director John Dower. Its subject and events have gained fame and elevated into legendary status since 1971. While this movie occasionally stumbles in its exploration of these events, it is still an interesting and mysterious look into one of the world’s most perplexing hijackings.
This film explores the legacy and potential suspects in the only unsolved act of air piracy in U.S. history. Someone under the titular pseudonym disappeared by jumping off a plane with a parachute with $200,000 and has not been found since. The documentary looks at four possible suspects and the evidence for each one. It’s a fascinating premise that serves as great source material for the movie.
Dower uses a combination of archive footage, interviews, and reenactments, and it’s a blend that works very well. He avoids the common mistake of overusing any specific type of footage, and he instead layers them over each other for more narrative coherence and flow. This seems the be a skill that Dower has honed over his career, and it benefits the film greatly.
The interviews have fairly interesting subjects that each have a unique contribution to the mystery surrounding these events. They have great evidence and anecdotal experience that is as interesting as it is unpredictable. Even if they aren’t remarkably captivating, these interviewees do prove to be essential to the film.
The main flaw of this film comes from the fact it seems to squander the potential of its story. This hijacking may be one of the most interesting heists of which I have ever heard, and the documentary isn’t nearly as sensational as it could have been. Not to say that it’s bland, but that it never achieves the greatness that it could have.
The movie still manages to feel fresh throughout despite its flaws, and it is a very fast-paced film that doesn’t waste any of its sub-90-minute runtime. It tells the story of the heist and intercuts it with the four possible suspects, and it prevents the movie from dragging too much or feeling dull. It maintains its tone and pace quite well and that is a testament to Dower’s ability as a filmmaker.
One thing this movie doesn’t provide is closure. Obviously, the title should indicate that, but it is a mystery that raises more questions than it answers. There’s an oddly satisfying ambiguity in the lack of resolution that helps consign this hijacking to legend.
The Mystery of D.B. Cooper is an interesting exploration into a famous hijacking. It uses a variety of material to tell its story in an entertaining matter. This is a documentary that will appeal to those interesting in crime documentaries and unexplained mysteries.
The Mystery of D.B. Cooper premieres on HBO and HBO Max November 25.
Review by Camden Ferrell
The Climb had its premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. The feature directorial debut from writer/director Michael Angelo Covino also played at the Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and the Sundance Film Festival. This is a one-of-a-kind film that is as unconventional as it is darkly hilarious.
This film follows best friends Mike and Kyle. We see their friendship go through the ups and downs of life over the course of several years, and we watch as they endure love, betrayal, and most of all laughter. This is a simple premise that is executed very well and provides a solid foundation for telling this story.
The script, written by Covino and co-star Kyle Marvin, is deft if nothing else. It is highly competent, fast-paced, and excessively witty. While the dialogue is a lot smarter than one would expect in real-life, it’s a full of fantastic exchanges, one-liners, and relatable moments. It blends its dark humor with a refreshing combination of dramatic and heartwarming moments. It’s a unique script that helps the movie feel fresh and original throughout.
The acting is superb throughout the film. Led by Covino and Marvin, real-life best friends, this film is bursting with great chemistry. From the very fist scene, both of the leads flex their acting chops and play off of one another with surprising skill and ease. They handle the wide variety of tones and situations well, and they have compelling screen presences that make the film much more enjoyable. While Covino and Marvin are the real stars, the film is also supplemented by a proficient supporting cast.
One of the most notable aspects of this film is its commitment to tracking shots and long takes. While some movies use this technique as a gimmick, this film utilizes it to develop characters, situations, and tension. These long takes are masterful, and they typically don’t feel like tracking shots thanks to how engaging the writing and acting is. It’s a flourish that ages well throughout the movie and never feels shallow.
A lot of the success of the aforementioned shots comes from the fantastic direction of Covino. This may be one of the most impressive directorial debuts this year, and it’s a film that is a showcase for his brilliant talent on and off screen. The scenes are blocked very well, and it helps maintain the consistent pace throughout.
Divided into chapters, this movie does a great job of incorporating its themes of love and friendship over this multi-year story. While it’s not perfect, it’s nearly there. It’s a well-told story that will resonate well with audiences. It’s a story that is hilarious and very relatable.
The Climb is a fantastic calling card for Covino, and it is a consistently hilarious portrayal of friendship. It’s quirky and unconventional, but it should easily find a receptive audience that will connect with its hilarious but flawed characters.
The Climb is in theaters November 13.