The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1166): THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN -- They Don't Make 'Em Like This Anymore
By Sean Boelman
Terry Gilliam is no stranger to the Criterion Collection, with the editions of his films Brazil and Time Bandits being among the most popular ones available. His cult classic fantasy epic The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is the most recent of his movies to enter the fray, and watching the film, one will be reminded of how they just don’t make ‘em like they used to anymore.
The movie is an exaggerated retelling of the story of Baron Munchausen, a fictionalized character itself inspired by a real baron. In typical Gilliam style, the film is exaggerated beyond belief, but it’s perfectly fit for a movie like this that is all about tall tales and how storytelling is exaggerated as it passes through the generations.
Of course, Gilliam is known for infusing his films with an absurd, whimsical sense of humor — being one of the founding members of Monty Python and all — and there is no shortage of that humor here. The adventure comedy premise is rife with opportunities for slapstick comedy, and there are also just plenty of moments that feature Gilliam’s characteristic weirdness.
It’s no secret that, like many of Gilliam’s other movies, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen has a troubled production history. However, perhaps one of the most interesting quirks of the film is that it features a supporting turn by Robin Williams — who is absolutely hilarious here, mind you — that was not allowed to be credited so as not to use his name to market the movie.
Gilliam’s sense of visual grandeur also resulted in the film going massively over-budget, but every penny that was spent on the movie is seen on the screen. The film received four Academy Award nominations — Set Decoration, Costume Design, Visual Effects, and Makeup — and deserved every single one of them.
Thankfully, Criterion presents the movie in an all-new 4K restoration that is absolutely stunning. It’s already a visually splendid film, but getting to see it in the glory of a brand new restoration makes it even more impressive. The movie is being released on both Blu-Ray and 4K UHD for those with an upgraded system.
The only new bonus feature in the edition is a new video essay about the evolution of the eponymous character. However, there are still plenty of bonus features that give viewers a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes drama that happened during the production, like a documentary on the making of the film, storyboards, deleted scenes and more.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is an amazing movie and it’s definitely worth adding to any cinephile’s collection. Terry Gilliam was in his heyday in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and this is one of his most ambitious pictures.
The Criterion Collection edition of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is now available.
By Dan Skip Allen and Sean Boelman
The Slamdance Film Festival is known as the indie cousin of Sundance, taking place in Park City, UT at the same time and featuring a lineup composed of exciting independent features and short films. Offering an in-person event for the first time since the pandemic, Slamdance also continues to offer virtual access to the entire program through their streaming service, the Slamdance Channel.
We at disappointment media are again covering Slamdance remotely, and will continue to share our thoughts on films as we screen them.
Where the Road Leads
Review by Sean Boelman
Where the Road Leads won the Audience Award and came in runner-up for the Grand Jury Award for Narrative Feature at this year's festival, and it's understandable why. It's a sleek, beautifully-shot feature that has stronger production values than the average narrative film at Slamdance, but it's more effective as an exercise in aestheticism than anything else. The film's narrative is needlessly convoluted, and it takes until the last five minutes for it to make its point. Still, it's gorgeous enough to be mostly transfixing despite the flaws.
With Peter Bradley
Review by Dan Skip Allen
With Peter Bradley tells the story of the 80-year-old Black abstract painter from Connersville, PA. He was adopted by his mother, who wanted him to be an artist, at an early age. He now lives a secluded life with his wife in upstate New York. Forty-five years ago, he did two art shows but hasn't done any since. Bradley loves listening to jazz music while he's painting. Bradley has a lot to say about the art and jazz music world. He was a part of it for most of his life before being relegated to the sidelines. The film deals with his bitter side to some extent but also shows why he was such a revered painter by many in the art community in New York in the '60s and '70s. It's mostly talking heads answering questions from the director off-screen, but there is a lot of archival footage of him from the past and famous jazz musicians he knew or came in contact with. This is a good documentary about a fascinating man and world. He just wants people to sit and have a beer with him and get to know who he is as a man and as an artist.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Silent Love follows Agnieszka, a woman who tries to get custody of her younger brother, Milosz, after their mother suddenly passes away. She also has a secret lover, Majka, in Germany and struggles to balance these relationships. She wants her lover to move in with them in Poland so that they can be one big happy family. In Poland, though, it is forbidden to have a lesbian relationship. She lies to the lady asking about caring for her brother because she can't live without her lover. "Weird Love Is Better Than No Love At All," a quote from The Green Mile, hangs around Majka's neck, encapsulating this documentary film's true story. It is a tale of silent love that I can get behind because I have a gay brother, and love of some kind is better than none at all.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Set to some cool synth music, Love Dump follows an awkward, odd guy named Todd who meets a girl, Jessica, after he trips over her chasing his dog. He's a dog lawyer. She fixes his cut and his pants for him. Cut to 15 years later, his girlfriend, Leana, leaves him to go to LA. She leaves a bunch of stuff in his apartment, and he brings it to Jessica's shop, the Love Dump. Todd sees her again after fifteen years. She opened the shop with her dad when she was three years old. "One person's trash is another person's treasure" is a popular saying people use that makes sense in the context of the movie. Her dad passed away, and she's been lonely, looking for a man that can speak to her weird side. A contrived event where Todd loses Jessica's number causes some dramatic scenes, but this film is essentially a funny take on life and relationships. I enjoyed the absurdist comedy in the movie, and it didn't take itself too seriously, which was a breath of fresh air for me.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
In Mascot, a mother, Abbey (Maartje Remmers), works at a home for disabled people with her son but also sells her body for money. The son, Jeremy (Liam Jeans), has bad teeth and is a member of a fight club/league. He has a bad temper and takes his anger out on everybody, including his mother. She also has a daughter Emine (Drederike van Oordt), who dresses up in mascot costumes and goes to parties and dances. The kids are both estranged from their father. This film shows the difficulties of being in a one-parent household and how hard it is to raise kids no matter what country you are in. Mascot comes from Dutch filmmaker Remy van Heugten. He deals with a very serious subject matter in this film, and it's not for the faint of heart. As a young boy, my brother had anger issues, and as a younger man, so did I. Life is not easy for people, no matter their age. Anger and lashing out are sometimes the only way to express yourself, whether it's the right decision or wrong. I felt for this teen who thought he was on the outside looking in on his own life and his family.
Waiting for the Light to Change
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Waiting for the Light to Change follows Amy, Kim, Alex, Jay, and Lin as they take a break from college to stay at a lake house during winter break. These college-age teens and early twenty-somethings are a bit promiscuous, but this film is an emotional journey of discovery. They drink and smoke weed, take walks on the beach and sit around talking to each other at various times in the movie. They contemplate their existence in the world with each other and without. It's a typical coming-of-age type of story. Amy has the most emotional baggage and is by far the most interesting character of the bunch. The filmmaker Linh Tran tries to make her relationship with her best friend Kim an important aspect of the movie, but I wasn't emotionally involved with her as a character as I was with Amy. This is a good film about what goes through young people's minds at this age. I can see this becoming an indie hit this year.
The 2023 Slamdance Film Festival runs in-person in Park City, UT from January 20-26 and online from January 23-29.
By Sean Boelman
The Sundance Film Festival kicks off the year of independent cinema as a breeding ground for some of the most exciting films from around the world. Even before festival-goers began to convene upon the mountains in Park City, distribution deals were in the works for the movies that are going to be the next big thing. The most exciting part of attending a festival like Sundance is getting the opportunity to discover these indie gems.
We at disappointment media are covering the 2023 Sundance Film Festival remotely again, and we will be reporting on what we think may be the gems to look out for — many of which are accessible from your own home. (We will note if a film is not available for online viewing.) Be sure to check back in on this article, as we will be updating it with more brief thoughts as we continue to see more films!
There’s no questioning that Greenland Inuit lawyer and activist Aaju Peter is an extraordinary woman who has managed to accomplish some amazing things, and Twice Colonized does an excellent job of giving us an intimate, fly-on-the-wall look into her life. While the film’s call to action isn’t as urgent as one would hope, especially considering the breadth of the work that Peter is doing, the film asks some interesting questions about the idea of legacy and how the impact we make can last.
Against the Tide
One of the signs of a great verité documentary is that it doesn’t even feel like a documentary, and that is the case with Against the Tide. Telling the story of two fishermen in a village torn between traditional and modern ways, the storytelling and cinematography in this film are so exceptional that viewers will feel as if they have been transported to this village and are among its villagers. The result is a really captivating, compelling look at this remote part of the world.
Going Varsity in Mariachi
There’s no question why Going Varsity in Mariachi won the Jonathan Oppenheim award for Documentary Editing — it’s one of the most sleekly-produced documentaries in this year’s lineup. However, this unorthodox underdog story about a high school band participating in competitive mariachi runs a bit longer than it should. There are always a few documentaries at Sundance that would have been better off as a short than a feature, and while this is one of them, it’s still a ton of fun.
Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project
Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project won the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Documentary Competition, and it seems like an award more for the subject than the film itself. There’s no denying how amazing of an artist Giovanni is — and hearing her poetry spoken by herself or narrator Taraji P. Henson is wonderful — but the film otherwise follows a pretty standard biographical documentary format. Still, the film is powerful and captivating if only because of the power of Giovanni's presence and story.
A Still Small Voice
Luke Lorentzen’s A Still Small Voice has a premise that sounds like it shouldn’t be terribly interesting: an aspiring hospital chaplain begins to experience self-doubt as she attempts to provide reassurance to patients on their deathbeds. However, Lorentzen’s storytelling is so intimate — providing a level of access that borders on feeling like voyeurism — that it’s absolutely riveting. There are some parts that feel unfocused, such as a subplot about the protagonist’s supervisor experiencing his own crisis of morality, but the core of the film is so quietly resonant that it is hard to shake.
The Accidental Getaway Driver
Sing J. Lee’s The Accidental Getaway Driver isn’t differentiated as much by its story as it is by how it approaches it. The story is a somewhat straightforward crime drama — a taxi driver is accidentally caught up in a criminal scheme when three escaped convicts take him captive — but Lee tells the story with such a focus on humanity that it feels refreshing. Is it a tad sentimental? Perhaps. Still, Hiep Tran Nghia’s performance is absolutely exquisite and what makes the film successful.
Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)
This year, more so than average, the Sundance documentary slate is full of bleak and depressing films. As such, it’s nice to see something like Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis), a lighthearted music documentary that offers a relieving reprieve from the tension and devastation. Telling the story of the designers behind some of the most iconic album covers in music history, the documentary gives us the chance to hear from plenty of great musicians, and even more importantly, hear their music.
Like last year’s Klondike (which had an in-person encore showing at this year’s festival), the documentary Iron Butterflies tells the story of the downing of Malaysia Air flight MH17. While this is undeniably an important story and there is plenty more to learn and be told about this topic, the documentary’s overly abstract and experimental nature holds it back. The filmmakers were so devoted to creative expression and experimentation with form that they fail to capture what makes this story so powerful in the first place.
The Persian Version
It’s no surprise that The Persian Version won the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance, as it’s an inoffensive, crowd-pleasing comedy benefiting from its filmmaker’s extremely personal touch. However, even though it is nice to see a film with such great representation as this, its beats are so conventional and formulaic that it ends up being rather predictable. It’s not a bad film by any means, but it never ascends beyond its saccharine nature.
The Moroccan film Animalia is perhaps most effective as an exercise in atmosphere over anything else. Although the plot itself is rather simple despite putting up the guise of something more profound and challenging, strong direction by Sofia Alaoui and a great performance by Oumaïma Barid make this film an absolutely riveting watch. I do wish it had engaged with its themes a bit more deeply, but I was constantly engaged by the filmmaking on display.
The Eternal Memory
Chilean filmmaker Maite Alberdi follows up her Oscar-nominated documentary The Mole Agent with a film that is arguably equally sentimental. The Eternal Memory certainly presents a compelling look at the lives of a couple who are devastated by the effects of Alzheimer’s, but its attempts to get an emotional reaction out of the viewer by any means necessary become somewhat overwhelming at a certain point. It’s certainly a well-made documentary, and it’s hard to fault anyone for liking it, but Alberdi’s style simply isn’t for me.
One of the common things about many of this year’s Sundance documentaries is that they were extraordinarily stressful, and that is certainly the case with Beyond Utopia. Following a network of people throughout Asia who strive to help North Korean defectors reach safety, the film is shot and edited in a downright captivating way. Although this arguably could have used a tighter cut, removing some of the subplots in favor of the main family, it’s still one of the most captivating documentaries of the festival.
Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck’s Fantastic Machine won an award for Creative Vision in the World Documentary competition, and while its editing is nothing short of impressive, it grows somewhat monotonous at a certain point. Additionally, the film thinks it’s more profound in its statements than it really is, as its central thesis is actually very obvious and straightforward.
A Little Prayer
Angus MacLachlan’s A Little Prayer boasts a star-studded ensemble but suffers from overly minimalistic writing and direction. The film’s dialogue is very stilted, but it certainly doesn’t help that MacLachlan directs his actors as if they are performing in a play, leading to delivery that fails any attempt it makes at realism. Beyond that, the film’s clumsy handling of conservative politics comes across as it endorsing pro-life opinions, which is certainly frustrating.
Food and Country
Documentarian Laura Gabbert is known for making some of the greatest culinary documentaries of the past decade, so it’s shocking that Food and Country is such a dud. Exploring the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the food supply chain, Gabbert’s arguments are filled with fallacies and myths that might have done some good had they been shared a year ago, but instead reintroduce a problem that the industry has already managed to fix. The result is a film that feels both half-baked and entirely irrelevant to where we are right now.
Zackary Drucker and Kristen Lovell’s The Stroll is one of two documentaries playing at this year’s Sundance, and arguably the less effective of the two. In this portrait of the transgender sex workers of New York’s meatpacking district, the filmmakers can’t seem to figure out how we, as the audience, are supposed to feel about these subjects. Are we meant to be inspired by how these women were empowered by better trans rights and sex positivity, or are we to be disturbed by a system that continues to oppress them? Ultimately, the film wants us to feel a bit of both, and it struggles to make us feel anything as a result.
By Sean Boelman
The 2023 Sundance Film Festival is back, and for the first time since 2020, has an in-person element in Park City in addition to its beloved online options. Now, cinephiles can again converge in the mountains or can choose to watch most of the lineup from the comfort of their own homes!
For the second year in a row, we at disappointment media are covering the festival remotely, and we wanted to call your attention to what we think are some of the films you should keep your eye on — whether you’re attending the festival in person or kicking back on the couch to watch some great indie cinema!
Other People's Children
Having debuted on last year’s fall festival circuit, Rebecca Zlotowski’s wonderful romance Other People’s Children is making its U.S. Premiere at Sundance as part of the Spotlight section. Buoyed by a performance by budding starlet Virginie Efira — who gives what is sure to be the single best turn in any film at the festival this year — the film refreshingly avoids being melodramatic while being an absolute emotional powerhouse of a film.
The Tuba Thieves
For many years now, Sundance has been a champion for films telling disabled stories — just a couple years ago being the launchpad for the Best Picture-winning film CODA. The metafiction documentary The Tuba Thieves is the latest in that legacy of d/Deaf representation, and it might be the most unorthodox film at the festival this year. Don’t let the title (or the Sundance description) fool you, this is straight avant-garde cinema. That’s not an insult by any means, though. This is a singular, fascinating cinematic experience.
20 Days in Mariupol
Although there have already been some documentaries about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it would be hard to imagine one as viscerally powerful as journalist Mstyslav Chernov’s 20 Days in Mariupol, premiering in the World Cinema Documentary competition. This is an extraordinarily brutal watch, with Chernov offering a no-holds-barred glimpse into the very real terrors being experienced by the Ukrainian people at the hands of the Russians, but viewers will absolutely feel how important it is to watch this film.
The Longest Goodbye
Also in the World Cinema Documentary competition is The Longest Goodbye, which is poised to be this year’s documentary breakout hit a la Fire of Love. Like the acclaimed documentary from last year’s festival, The Longest Goodbye is a science documentary with some of the most gorgeous nature cinematography you may ever see in your life. The shots included in the film depicting the vast beauty of outer space are simply breathtaking — and the Earth-bound stuff is pretty great too. In its exploration of the isolation experienced by astronauts, the film finds an unexpectedly human and empathetic angle. It’s a crowd-pleaser in the best way.
Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls
For those looking for a bit more brevity in their Sundance viewing, Midnight selection Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls fits that bill perfectly. Inspired by writer/director/star Andrew Bowser’s character known from the “Weird Satanist Guy” meme, this is a throwback horror-comedy blending elements of so many of the movies that hardcore genre cinephiles grew up with. In other words, it’s perfectly at home in Sundance’s Midnight lineup.
And these are just a few of the amazing films playing in the lineup! Other exciting films to look out for are Slow (World Cinema Dramatic), Sorcery (World Cinema Dramatic), Kim’s Video (NEXT), Rye Lane (Premieres — playing in-person only), and L’Immensità (Spotlight). Be sure to buy your tickets now before they sell out!
The 2023 Sundance Film Festival runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.
By Sean Boelman
Although last year’s Best International Feature race seemed pretty cut-and-dry, nominations morning provided one significant upset: Iran’s entry, A Hero was left off of the final list of nominees. This year, it seems less likely that there will be a major omission, but it’s impossible to tell until that fateful morning when the nominees are announced.
Right now, the presumed frontrunner of the pack is Germany’s contender: Edward Berger’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The film is the first German adaptation of Erich Remarque’s iconic anti-war novel, which was once adapted into a Best Picture-winning film in 1930. Although one might think that this would be disadvantaged due to a feeling of “been there, done that,” Berger’s harrowingly amazing execution will cement it as an important film.
After passing him up in 2016, South Korea has now selected The Handmaiden director’s newest film, Decision to Leave, as their entry, and it’s likely to give All Quiet on the Western Front a run for its money. Some are even floating Park as a potential Best Director contender, and the approachable, entertaining nature of the thriller compared to the heaviness of the war film might prove an important factor.
Lukas Dhont’s Belgian drama Close seems like a pretty safe pick for the five, considering it is backed by A24 and is an enormously emotional tear-jerker. Santiago Mitre’s Argentina, 1985 picked up the Golden Globe and seems on its way to a nod by Oscar. The film is a crowd-pleasing courtroom drama about the unlikely trial against some of the leaders of Argentina’s brutalist military dictatorship. That said, it feels rather generic — and maybe voters will pass over it in favor of something more unorthodox.
The final spot seems to be a race between three films. Personally, I’m rooting for Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO, a surreal film shot from the perspective of a donkey a la Au Hasard Balthazar. It might be a bit too weird for the Academy’s taste, but its strong environmental message is likely to resonate.
If you had told me at the beginning of last year that Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s newest film — Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths — wasn’t a lock for this category, I’d have laughed at you. Back in September, some declared this dead on arrival, but a recut by Iñárritu has been received much more warmly. It might not be enough to overcome those initial bad reviews, though.
Danish-Iranian thriller Holy Spider (submitted by Denmark, not Iran) has earned a great deal of acclaim even though it’s not very good — and filmmaker Ali Abbasi’s last film, Border, picked up a nom in this category a few years back. It currently seems the most likely candidate to upset EO — or with any good fortune, Argentina, 1985. (I can’t believe I’m rooting against the Latino film. That’s not very much like me.)
The much better courtroom drama is France’s Saint Omer, directed by documentarian Alice Diop in her narrative debut. However, the unorthodox storytelling style of the film might cause some voters to tune out. The anachronistic Austrian biopic Corsage is likely to suffer a similar fate due to its quirks, but Vicky Krieps’s performance may be enough to set it ahead.
India chose to submit the wrong film. They went with the sentimental ode to cinema Last Film Show rather than Tollywood action epic RRR. Although Last Film Show certainly isn’t bad, had the country’s board gone with the more populist choice, they would absolutely be running the headlines in this category. That said, RRR still has some other categories — like Best Original Song — to make a showing.
In terms of likely non-contenders there are Ireland’s The Quiet Girl, Morocco’s The Blue Caftan, Pakistan’s Joyland, and Sweden’s Cairo Conspiracy. Of them, the only one that is great is Joyland, but the common characteristic between them all is that they seem far too low-key to be noticed by voters.
While determining the winner may be a two-horse race, it’s exciting to see that Best International Film again being one of the more contentious races in the Academy Awards. Apart from two slots that seem absolutely locked in place, the race is pretty wide-open, with five films to realistically fill those last two spots — and plenty of underdogs for the surprise upset.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.