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!
Jacqueline Castel’s My Animal is so much of an homage to the horror movies of the ‘90s that it begins to feel like it was made in the ‘90s. However, unlike the films that it clearly owes so much of its artistic inspiration to, this film lacks a feeling of campy fun and sexual tension. There are some scenes that have a solid visual pastiche that imply Castel is a talent to watch out for, but Jae Matthews’s script is so lethargic that this film ends up being rather uninteresting.
Young. Wild. Free.
Thembi Banks’s Young. Wild. Free. has a solid premise and a strong supporting cast led by Sanaa Lathan and Mike Epps. Unfortunately, this unorthodox romance turns into a cringe-worthy YA drama for much of the runtime before taking a twist that brings the film into absolutely laughable territory. Perhaps this could have been salvaged, but the leads Algee Smith and Sierra Capri both give terrible performances and have no chemistry whatsoever, making this nearly unwatchable.
Justin Chon’s Jamojaya is a fascinating film, and while it doesn’t always work, it absolutely slaps when it does. Following an aspiring rapper and his father, who also works as his manager, the film has some clunky symbolism but offers a compelling examination of fame and the love between a father and his son. The lead performance by Brian Imanuel (better known by his stage name, Rich Brian) is exceptional and full of emotion, and his involvement also ensures that the film has an amazing soundtrack.
Eddie Alcazar’s Divinity, produced by Steven Soderbergh, is understandably one of the more divisive films of this year’s Sundance, because it absolutely is *not* for everyone. A cerebral indie sci-fi epic, the film gives off vibes of a Mad Max by way of Eraserhead. It’s unabashedly weird, and its themes aren’t always explored as deeply as one would hope, but it’s surprisingly entertaining and led by an unexpectedly great performance by Stephen Dorff.
Yet another film in this year’s Sundance lineup giving off weak Aftersun vibes, Scrapper is about as sentimental of a drama as they come. Charlotte Regan clearly thinks that she is infusing a different life into this somewhat traditional father-daughter story with her stylistic flourishes, but the film is overly simplistic and underdeveloped to make much of an impact. Rising star Harris Dickinson’s performance isn’t even enough to save the film from mediocrity.
D. Smith’s KOKOMO CITY is probably the film that best represents the spirit of independent filmmaking that Sundance was designed to highlight. Amidst all of the polished and mainstream films is this documentary that, quite frankly, looks cheap, but tells such a powerful and important story that it resonates nonetheless. These transgender sex workers offer an almost inhuman level of insight that is better than any sociologist would offer. The result is a portrait of Black womanhood that, while imperfect, is unabashedly personal.
Rotting in the Sun
Sebastian Silva’s Rotting in the Sun is without a doubt the most audacious film to play at Sundance this year, and it would not be surprising if it simply dropped off the map after this festival. It’s slow burning, and perhaps even a bit too long, but it’s also darkly hilarious, insightful, and even occasionally unnerving. It’s the type of cinematic experience that is hard to summarize without spoiling it, but it’s created with a very specific niche audience in mind, and when (or perhaps if) that audience finds it, this will become a cult classic. [Available for in-person viewing only.]
Based on the memoir by Alysia Abbott, Fairyland is the type of blandly liberal crowd-pleaser that will warm audiences’ hearts and then be forgotten as soon as the credits roll. The film deals with big topics including the AIDS epidemic, but it does so in a way that is so saccharine that its tear-jerking nature prevents it from having any real emotional impact. Emilia Jones is solid here, if underused, and Scoot McNairy gives a career-best performance, but there’s little else about this film that elevates it beyond a mediocre but well-intentioned family drama. [Available for in-person viewing only.]
Bad Behaviour will go down as the festival’s most unfairly maligned film. Perhaps it’s a case of misguided preconceptions, as filmmaker Alice Englert is the daughter of acclaimed New Zealander filmmaker Jane Campion — and her style is nothing like her mother’s. And while the film does admittedly take almost a full hour to get into its full rhythm, there is a point in the film where it becomes a devilishly cathartic satire, and the performances by Jennifer Connelly and Ben Whishaw are both extremely funny.
Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out
Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out has the most playful title of any film in the Sundance lineup, but the film is unfortunately unable to match the title’s energy. Although the film is entirely harmless, a cutesy if often cringe-worthy family-friendly adventure, it’s not particularly interesting. The film settles for sentimentality rather than legitimately engaging with its themes in a meaningful way, and the result feels rather inauthentic.
David Zonana’s Heroic is a simple and relatively familiar film. However, in terms of films whose message is “war is hell,” it’s pretty staggering in its emotional effect. The film could have used stronger character development, and the ending doesn’t tie the themes together in a particularly cohesive or engaging way, but there are plenty of images throughout the film that will linger in viewers’ minds long after the credits roll thanks to their raw, harrowing nature.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Actor Michael J. Fox has been very vocal about his journey with Parkinson’s Disease in recent years, so it seemed like Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie wouldn’t be essential viewing. However, Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim takes such an extraordinarily dynamic approach to telling this story that it is absolutely captivating and heart-warming. Blending creative reenactments with footage from Fox’s films and intimate talking head interviews with the actor, this is one of the most moving, inspiring documentaries of the festival — and likely the entire year. [Available for in-person viewing only.]
Adura Onashile’s Girl gives off the vibes of a more abstract version of Aftersun, albeit about a mother-daughter relationship. The film is gorgeously shot, and thrives when it focuses on the dynamic between the two core characters, played lovingly by Déborah Lukumuena and Le’Shantey Bonsu. Unfortunately, the film’s attempts at creating a parallelism between the coming-of-age stories of the daughter and her young mother aren’t entirely effective, but there are some strongly resonant moments nonetheless.
Babak Jalali’s Fremont puts up a much more simple guise than what it may seem. The film follows an immigrant who once served as a translator for U.S. troops in Afghanistan as she attempts to assimilate into the daily life of her tight-knit community in the Bay Area. It’s a quaint little film, with much of the runtime being the protagonist working in a fortune cookie factory or in therapy sessions (with a therapist played humorously well by Gregg Turkington), but the script has the right level of acerbic wit and tenderness for it to work. (There’s not enough Jeremy Allen White, though.)
Filmmaker Erica Tremblay has made a splash on the festival circuit in recent years with her acclaimed short films, so her feature debut, Fancy Dance, was one of the most exciting prospects of Sundance. This story of a woman and her niece who set out on a journey to reach the state powwow looking for their missing family member, the film is without a doubt one of the most emotionally affecting films of the festival. Add in a timely message about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis, and this is a film to keep an eye out for.
The Eight Mountains
Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’s The Eight Mountains won the Grand Jury Prize at its debut at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and it’s understandably why. The tender, gorgeous film benefits from some extraordinary cinematography by Ruben Impens, a great score by Daniel Norgren, and strong performances all-around, particularly from Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi. Although this story of a decades-spanning friendship may be a bit conventional, it is powerful nonetheless.
Although it is billed as a modern riff on Frankenstein, Laura Moss’s birth/rebirth feels more reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West–Reanimator than Mary Shelley’s gothic classic. Regardless, this dark, moody sci-fi is an intriguing and compelling look at two women bringing a little girl back from the dead. The lo-fi visual style is accentuated by bursts of effectively utilized gore, and the lead performances by Judy Reyes and Marin Ireland are both fantastic. The film will be released on Shudder later this year, and will undoubtedly end up being a hit among their subscriber base. [Available for in-person viewing only.]
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.
With Peter Bradley
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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 Criterion Voyages (Spine #1163): 71 FRAGMENTS OF A CHRONOLOGY OF CHANCE [Part of Michael Haneke: Trilogy] -- The Bleakest Christmas Movie Ever
By Sean Boelman
Michael Haneke and Christmas movies are not two things that people would generally associate with one another, but one of Haneke’s earliest films, 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, is about as unorthodox of a holiday film as they come. Still, for fans of the director, it’s a unique pick of a festive watch.
The film tells the stories of interconnected groups of people — an undocumented immigrant, a couple looking to adopt a child, a college student, and a lonely old man — culminating in a violent crime on Christmas Eve. If you’re looking for a jolly movie to watch with your family this holiday season, this isn’t it.
If one is familiar with the work of Haneke, they will expect this movie to be about as bleak and unsettling as they come. However, this film is dark — even for him. Basically a hundred straight minutes of straight misery and desperation, 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance is a difficult film to endure, but it asks some interesting questions nonetheless.
The film is perhaps most interesting as an experiment in structure, with the interconnected but seemingly random scenes weaving together in a frustrating yet intriguing way. It’s like a cinematic puzzle, and it takes a ton of effort to unravel, making this a film that few outside of fans of European art cinema will particularly enjoy.
Beyond the segmented structure, Haneke also plays with form in unique and fun ways. For example, some of the fragments throughout the film are structured like news footage, including a few that deal with the Michael Jackson child abuse allegations. It’s full of weird, dense choices, but the appeal of this film is trying to dissect its choices.
71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance comes as part of a box set with The Seventh Continent and Benny’s Video — making up his “glaciation trilogy.” These early films from an auteur who would later come to be regarded as one of the best filmmakers in his genre show the formation of his stylistic and narrative approach.
All three films are presented in wonderful high-definition masters, although it is surprising that they didn’t opt to do a new, higher-definition remaster. The box set also includes several bonus features including brand new interviews, as well as archival interviews and a documentary about Haneke’s career featuring several of the actors who have worked with him over the years.
Haneke already has several films in the Criterion Collection, so it is only fitting that his early work would enter the fold. Although the generally wide availability of the films means that this isn’t a necessity to pick up, it’s a worthy buy when you get the chance at the next Criterion sale.
Michael Haneke: Trilogy is now available via the Criterion Collection.
The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1159): The INFERNAL AFFAIRS Trilogy -- More Important Hong Kong Action Cinema Added to the Collection
By Sean Boelman
Many viewers likely recognize the first Infernal Affairs film thanks to its enormous legacy, but fewer cinephiles have gotten the chance to see and appreciate the two other movies in the original franchise. Criterion’s box set of the Infernal Affairs trilogy allows cinephiles to bring home all three films on Blu-Ray, or perhaps even discover them for the first time.
The first Infernal Affairs is perhaps one of the most acclaimed movies to ever come out of Hong Kong — its story of a mole and an undercover cop trying to outwit each other and figure out whose allegiances lie where entertaining audiences worldwide. Thanks to a perfect whirlwind of Andrew Lau and Alan Lak’s direction, Andy Lau and Tony Leung’s acting, and a sharp script, it became a global sensation.
The influence of Infernal Affairs has stretched internationally, to the point of inspiring Martin Scorsese’s Best Picture-winning crime saga, The Departed. Although the film had already received some recognition thanks to its warm critical reception, this remake catapulted it into the spotlight and cemented it as an important movie in cinematic history.
Infernal Affairs would also kickstart a series in Hong Kong with two more feature films that had been much less widely available internationally until Criterion put out this box set. Infernal Affairs II, a prequel following the younger versions of the characters as they first embed themselves into the triad and the police force, the movie does lack the starring duo of Leung and Lau.
Leung and Lau would return for Infernal Affairs III, a true sequel to the first film, which was still not as acclaimed as the first movie but still very enjoyable. Released in the same year as Infernal Affairs II, this had all the potential of becoming an event trilogy a la The Matrix, but suffered the same fate of giving audiences too much too quickly.
All three of the films are presented in beautiful new 4K restorations that were released in theaters earlier this year. And while there are only a handful of new bonus features, the relative unavailability of the sequels in the United States means that these materials will largely feel brand new to audiences.
Now that audiences across the world finally have the opportunity to easily access the remaining two movies in the Infernal Affairs trilogy, this Criterion box set is one that any cinephile will want to add to their shelves. Criterion has recently been showing a commitment to releasing important Hong Kong action cinema, and this was a natural progression.
The Criterion edition of the Infernal Affairs trilogy is now available.
Review by Sean Boelman
Bringing nonfiction cinema to viewers across the United States in a hybrid format for the third year in a row, DOC NYC returns with a 2022 edition that is even bigger and better than in years past. Featuring an extensive lineup of documentary films — from ones that have been picking up buzz on the festival circuit to smaller independent productions waiting to be discovered by audiences — there is something for everyone who loves watching docs.
We, at disappointment media, are excited to again be covering the festival remotely. As we screen films in the lineup, we will continue to update this page with more thoughts about the films so that you can find something you want to watch in-person or at home via their virtual festival offerings.
Cirque du Soleil: Without a Net
Dawn Porter has made several acclaimed and successful civil rights documentaries over the past few years, so the subject of her newest film is rather surprising. However, Porter brings her same humanistic touch to Cirque du Soleil: Without a Net, which documents the iconic acrobat troupe’s return to performing live after the COVID-19 pandemic. Generally, the performers at Cirque du Soleil are hailed for their nearly inhuman abilities, but this documentary focuses on the people behind the costumes and spectacles. While this may be a relatively straightforward stagecraft story, Porter tells it in such a way that it is enormously compelling for fans and neophytes alike.
Finding Her Beat
Finding Her Beat tells the story of a troupe of women specializing in the Japanese drum performance of Taiko — a historically male-dominated artform. The mission of these women is extraordinary, and their performance skills impressive, but the film gets a bit too focused on their personal lives at times to be as captivating as it could have been. While the cutaways to the performers’ families are a welcome bit of grounding, the portion of the film that explores how the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic almost affected their performance showcase feels unnecessary and ineffective.
Plenty of documentarians have attempted to ape the style of filmmakers like Michael Moore, who seamlessly integrates humor and wit into his political takedowns, but few manage to pull it off in a way that is satisfying. Blake Zeff’s Loan Wolves tackles an interesting and timely subject — the student debt crisis — yet all of the genuinely important things Zeff and his interviewees have to say are undermined by his constant attempts to make wisecracks. There’s definitely some worthy information to be found in this documentary, but Zeff’s apparent need to constantly prove himself to be hip is annoying at best and distracting at worst.
The 2022 edition of DOC NYC runs in-person from November 9-17 and online November 9-27.
By Sean Boelman
While much of the focus in the fall festival season circuit goes to Oscar contenders, there’s another subsection of films that can be just as (if not more) rewarding: international films. Miami Film Festival’s GEMS program does showcase some of the higher-profile prestige pictures of the year, but it also leaves room for some of the most acclaimed films from the rest of the world, and audiences shouldn't pass up the chance to see them on the big screen.
Take Carla Simón’s Alcarrás for example. I got the opportunity to see the film via screener recently, and it did not resonate nearly as well watching it from home as it did seeing it in a theatrical setting. Getting the chance to see the gorgeous cinematography by Daniela Cajías on the big screen and hear the score by Andrea Koch and the precisely-crafted sound design made me feel that much more immersed in the world of this Spanish farming family.
Before the screening of No Bears, the festival honored Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi — who is currently serving a sentence in prison after having been arrested by the Iranian government for speaking out against the country — with its top honor, and Panahi delivered an audio message from prison. Although much of the audience had not yet seen the film, they knew they were about to experience something special after having that experience of hearing from Panahi.
However, perhaps the single best experience I had at the festival was seeing Saint Omer with a small audience of people at the Tower Theater who were completely engrossed by the film. This courtroom drama is shot in a straightforward way — and there’s nothing about the production of the film that really heralds it as a “theatrical” experience, but there’s still something that made that moviegoing experience magical. Feeling the tension in the air during every second of the testimony made the film hit unexpectedly harder.
Indeed, seeing international films in theaters gives us the opportunity to have a communal experience of being immersed in a different culture. And after all, isn’t that what cinema is all about? Whether the film is meant to transport us to a fantastic world beyond our imaginations or peel the curtain back on a portion of our world that we might not have known about, the filmmaker’s goal is to draw the viewer in and make them feel something.
Kudos goes to small festivals like the Miami Film Festival for running programs like GEMS to provide moviegoers with these experiences. Although some of these films weren’t particularly busy, as festival attendees flocked to the higher profile selections like The Whale or Women Talking (and there’s nothing wrong with that), those of us who are more canny to the world of international cinema got a glimpse into another part of the world, and left the cinema feeling profoundly moved.
The 2022 edition of Miami Film Festival GEMS runs November 3-10.
By Sean Boelman
Although the main Miami Film Festival happens every spring, the fall brings with it the Miami Film Festival GEMS program, an eight-day showcase of some of the films that have been taking the fall festival season by storm and which festival-goers can expect to be hearing a lot about this awards season.
We at disappointment media have gotten the opportunity to attend a few screenings at the festival, but we wanted to make sure you knew what you should check out yourself. Here are some of our favorite films playing at the fest that we have been able to see earlier in their festival runs.
Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont’s directorial debut Girl was relatively acclaimed, even if it was somewhat controversial, but his sophomore feature, Close, has been much more universally beloved. It’s understandable why, as it’s a thoroughly impressive film. Although it might have some characteristics typical of a tear-jerker, the script — written by Dhont and Angel Tijssens — is enormously sensitive, and young actor Eden Dambrine gives what is the child performance of the year.
One of the major awards given out by the Miami Film Festival is the Art of Light Award, and Raúl Castillo will be in attendance at the festival to receive the honor for acting alongside a screening of Elegance Bratton’s The Inspection, in which he co-stars. Inspired by Bratton’s experience as a young gay man dealing with discrimination and homophobia when he enlists in the Marines, the film is a deeply moving and unexpectedly unconventional experience. Bratton has made a film that not only feels enormously personal, but also extraordinarily artistic. It is certainly one of the indie gems of the season.
Jafar Panahi’s film No Bears could not come at a better time given that the Iranian filmmaker was recently arrested in his country (again) for speaking out against the government. Like the rest of his recent films, Panahi made this film in secret, and it’s virtually a miracle we are getting to see it. A late addition to the lineup, cinephiles won’t want to miss this fascinating exploration of Iranian society. It is perhaps one of the best works of metafiction in the history of metafiction, and something that only Panahi could do.
Florian Zeller’s first film, The Father, took the cinema world by storm and won two Academy Awards — one for Zeller’s screenplay and another for Anthony Hopkins’s performance. While the prequel, The Son, has been met with much more of a mixed reception, it is still a fascinating, moving film. It might not be particularly subtle with its themes, but Zeller’s exploration of depression and mental illness nonetheless resonates thanks to a slew of great performances, especially a knockout turn by Hugh Jackman in the leading role.
The 2022 edition of Miami Film Festival GEMS runs November 3-10.
By Sean Boelman
In a rare move, a majority of the films released in the Criterion Collection this October were in the horror genre — although that doesn’t mean they departed from their usual auteur fare. One of the new highlights is J-horror legend Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure, featuring a new 4K restoration of the film released by Janus Films theatrically earlier this year.
The movie follows a detective who investigates a string of unusual murders, where a suspect is found near the scene of the crime with no recollection of the events of the killing. It’s a structure that has been copied time and time again since — a detective unraveling a bizarre mystery with seemingly supernatural elements — but Kurosawa’s direction is so strong that it still holds up.
One of the most unorthodox things about the film is its approach to its characters. The characters all feel distant and cold, which really gives it the feel of a procedural thriller over being a horror movie. Kōji Yakusho is excellent as the weary detective who has to unravel the truth behind what is happening.
There aren’t many horror movies in the Criterion Collection, but Cure is absolutely an essential addition thanks to its role in globalizing the genre of J-horror. The film established Kiyoshi Kurosawa as a force to be reckoned with in international horror, and set the stage for other filmmakers, like Hideo Nakata or Takashi Shimizu, to enter the mix.
This isn’t what audiences will be used to with horror movies in that it isn’t super scary, instead opting to create a sense of overwhelming dread. Even within J-horror, the film is pretty tame, dealing more in atmosphere than it does in being overtly disturbing — however, it will creep under the viewer’s skin.
Indeed, this slow burn allows the movie to be haunting to viewers and stick with them long after the credits roll. Much of this is due to Kurosawa’s exquisite direction and strong crafts, especially the cinematography by Tokushô Kikumura. There is definitely a reason that Kurosawa is hailed as one of the greatest filmmakers of his genre.
The highlight of the bonus features is a new conversation between Kurosawa and fellow Japanese filmmaker Ryusuke Hamaguchi, who directed last year’s critical darling Drive My Car (which joined the Collection itself only a few months ago). The film also features some archive interviews and a booklet with an essay.
For cinephiles looking for an expertly-crafted horror movie to add to their collection this spooky season, look no further than the Criterion edition of Cure. Although it’s a bit bare bones, it was difficult to find on home media for quite a while, so this is one you will definitely want to add to your shelves.
The Criterion Collection edition of Cure is now available.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.