The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1182): THE SERVANT -- One of the Most Gorgeous Restorations in the Criterion Collection
Review by Sean Boelman
Filmmaker Joseph Losey’s The Servant is a product of a time where it’s stunning that a movie this transgressive was even able to exist. Although the film suffers from some issues with pacing, its historical context and beautiful visuals make it more than a worthy addition to any cinephile’s Criterion shelf.
The movie follows an upper-class man who hires a new servant, whose intentions may not be as altruistic as they seem. The film’s commentary on class relations is quite interesting, and made even more so when one realizes the context of the director having been blacklisted from Hollywood during the height of the Red Scare.
In many ways, the movie is an extremely slow burn. And given how bleak so much of the story is, the combination of the dark tone and slow pacing can start to feel somewhat oppressive at times. By the end of the nearly two-hour runtime, viewers will be absolutely exhausted, and not necessarily in a way that feels rewarding.
Although the film is effective in developing characters that are morally ambiguous, this can also end up being somewhat frustrating. We are presented with protagonists who, for lack of a better word, simply aren’t very likable. And while the purpose is clearly to challenge and provoke audiences, it’s not always effective.
That being said, the movie is brilliant as an exercise in formalism. The visuals are fantastic, as is the score. Even when the story and its power dynamics aren’t able to keep the viewer engaged in the film, the brilliant aesthetics will keep their eyes glued to the screen. The atmosphere that Losey is able to correct is fantastic.
The new 4K restoration of the movie included on the Blu-Ray edition is perhaps one of the finest restorations the Criterion Collection has put out in recent years. It’s absolutely stunning — a sight to behold, making the crisp black-and-white cinematography by Douglas Slocombe pop in ways one would never expect.
The bonus features are much stronger than recent output from the Criterion Collection, with some new documentary materials as well as interviews, including a rare one with director Losey that cinephiles might not be able to find anywhere else. Additionally, author Colm Tóibín contributed an essay for the booklet.
The Servant is an interesting product of its time, and while the story might not be the most captivating, the beautiful 4K restoration offered by the Criterion Collection accentuates its gorgeous visuals. The fact that the Criterion Collection is giving a platform to such challenging films as this is why cinephiles love them.
The Criterion Collection edition of The Servant is now available.
By Sean Boelman
The Tribeca Festival is one of the largest gatherings for film and media in New York City, and represents the transition from the spring to the fall festival circuit. Before film festivals become all about predicting who are going to be the next big awards contenders, we get another opportunity to see some great premieres and encores of other films that have been lighting up other festivals.
We at disappointment media are covering the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival — in person for the first time ever, as we have only covered previous editions virtually. We have already gotten the chance to sneak a peek at certain films in the lineup, and here are some we think you shouldn’t miss out on.
Dustin Guy Defa’s dramedy The Adults debuted earlier this year at Berlinale and is making a stop at Tribeca before its theatrical release later this summer. Starring Michael Cera as an awkward guy who finds his short trip home extended by an addiction to a local poker game, this is the type of comedy that gets most of its humor from putting its characters in increasingly uncomfortable situations. The characters are purposefully grating at times, but excellent performances from Michael Cera, Hannah Gross, and Sophia Lillis are more than worth the price of admission.
One of the biggest world premieres at this year’s Tribeca Festival is the LGBTQIA+ drama Our Son, which plays out almost as a gay version of Marriage Story. The film stars Luke Evans and Billy Porter as a long married couple who decide to separate suddenly to one of their dismay, setting off a devastating custody battle. It would be difficult to find a more emotionally harrowing film than this in the lineup this year, and Evans and Porter’s performances are the icing on the exceptional cake.
Irene Lusztig’s documentary Richland is the type of film that is hard to recommend in that it is not a particularly pleasant watch, but it is essential viewing despite its often depressing nature. The film tells the story of a town in Washington state that was created to house the workers of a nearby nuclear site, but has since grown to be a microcosm of the generational conflict happening in America right now. The points that Lusztig is able to make with her verité footage are shockingly profound and harrowingly effective.
Rule of Two Walls
This year’s Tribeca Festival lineup includes several documentaries about the war in Ukraine, but there’s unlikely to be one as innovative and unique as David Gutnik’s Rule of Two Walls. What makes this documentary stand out is its hopeful approach to the topic. Although the film pulls no punches when it comes to depicting the aftermath of this conflict on the Ukrainian people, its focus is on a group of artists who have decided to remain in their country and continue to create their art despite the circumstances. The result is a surprisingly hopeful reminder of how the human will can overcome, and how perseverance is necessary in the face of adversity — a perspective that needs to be heard right now.
With its 2023 edition, Tribeca is introducing a new “psychotronic” sidebar called “Escape From Tribeca,” which features a much weirder and wilder set of midnight movies than festival-goers may be used to seeing in the festival’s usual Midnight lineup. One of the highlights of that group of films this year is Suitable Flesh, directed by Joe Lynch (Mayhem) from a story by H. P. Lovecraft. As one would expect, it’s a fittingly unhinged, campy throwback — with tons of gore and sex. You really couldn’t ask for more from a midnight movie.
The 2023 Tribeca Festival screens at the 2023 Tribeca Festival, which runs June 7-18 in NYC and June 19 through July 2 online.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
New York's largest LGBTQ+ film presenter, NewFest, is kicking off Pride Month with NewFest Pride, a 5-day event full of film premieres, filmmaker Q&As, and parties. While NewFest's annual festival is in the fall, NewFest Pride is happening in early June, which allows the festival to take advantage of the spring festival circuit and the plethora of films slated to release in the summer.
NewFest Pride opens with Fairyland, a star-studded film about growing up with a gay father in 1970s and '80s San Francisco. Several other films showing take place in the '80s, including the queer coming-of-age love story Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
Based on the award-winning YA book of the same name, Aristotle & Dante centers around two Mexican-American teenagers as they learn about each other and themselves in return. Produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda and directed by Aitch Alberto, this film gives an honest voice to queer Hispanics.
Problemista is another notable film showing at NewFest Pride from a Hispanic writer-director. Directed by and starring comedian Julio Torres, Problemista tells the story of Alejandro, a Salvadoran immigrant hoping to become a toy designer in New York City. The film also stars Tilda Swinton as an art world outcast and Alejandro's last chance to keep his work visa.
Produced by A24, Problemista has recently gained a lot of buzz from its premiere at SXSW. Surreal and intensely comedic, this movie takes Julio Torres' beloved wry humor from shows like Los Espookys to a new level.
Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott's follow-up to Shiva Baby, Bottoms, was another hit at SXSW. Along with Rachel Sennott, the comedy stars The Bear's Ayo Edebiri. The two play teenagers who start a fight club in order to impress their cheerleader crushes. With Sennott and Edebiri's recent roles and work on Comedy Central's Ayo and Rachel Are Single, it's no wonder that this is one of the more anticipated movies of the festival.
After the screening of Bottoms, there will also be a Women's Night Out Party, which is a chance for both filmmakers and film lovers to mingle and unpack the film. Meanwhile, other films will be followed by a discussion with their respective filmmakers.
Along with the festival's live screenings at SVA Theater, NewFest Pride is hosting virtual showings for attendees to enjoy in the comfort of their own homes. Some virtual showings include 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture and Before I Change My Mind.
That's just the beginning, as there are even more movies showing at NewFest Pride. From much-anticipated indie comedies to documentaries about queer history, this festival has something for everyone and is the perfect way to kick off Pride Month.
NewFest Pride runs from June 1-5 in New York City.
By Sean Boelman
Targets is the directorial debut of iconic filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) produced by genre film extraordinaire Roger Corman. Although the movie was already pretty widely available on home media, it’s rare to see genre cinema get picked up by the Criterion Collection, so physical media collectors should be frothing at the mouth to own this new edition of an underrated masterpiece.
The film follows an aging horror star who begins to contemplate retiring, believing that the movies are no longer as scary as the real world, as a disillusioned young man begins to plan and execute a killing spree. Although these two storylines seem somewhat independent at first, the way that Bogdanovich ties them together — both narratively and thematically — is often nothing short of brilliant.
Of course, given that the movie features a late-career performance by the legendary Karloff, there’s certainly a metatextual element to be found here. Yet, Bogdanovich doesn’t seem overly preoccupied with the novelty of his approach. It’s an interesting and provocative take, but Karloff just gives a damn good performance — preventing it from ever feeling gimmicky.
On the other side of the film is little-known actor Tim O’Kelly, who only had 18 credits in his filmography in his short stint in Hollywood — most of which were one-off roles in television series. In fact, Targets is his sole leading role. However, O’Kelly is simply chilling in his role here, giving a performance that will rattle you to your core.
Bogdanovich is known to be a talented director, but for this to be his debut and him to already be so accomplished is certainly impressive. This movie could effectively be a masterclass in suspense — and on a Roger Corman-sized $130k budget, the filmmaker does a lot with a little. The actual shooting sequences when they occur are absolutely terrifying.
That said, the most unsettling thing about this movie is how it still rings true, even 45 years later. Recent months have even seen an uptick in senseless violence, and the condemnation that Bogdanovich offers of the institutions that allowed our country to reach such a depressing point of desperation is just as accurate today as it was in the ‘60s.
The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of Targets boasts an impressive 2K restoration of the film supervised by the late director before he passed last year. Most of the bonus features are recycled from previous releases of the movie, with the exception of one: a new interview with filmmaker Richard Linklater.
Targets is a film that might have flown under many cinephiles’ radars, but its addition to the Criterion Collection is a perfect opportunity to check out this eerily timeless thriller. Bogdanovich was truly one of the best to do it, and this debut is perfect proof of that.
The Criterion Collection edition of Targets is available beginning May 16.
By Sean Boelman
This month, Steve McQueen’s five-film anthology Small Axe joins the filmmaker’s Hunger in the Criterion Collection. Although it is another case of a widely-available film (or, in this case, films) joining the fray, these five movies are more than important enough in their representation and storytelling to earn their place.
Mangrove is considered to be the most acclaimed of the five films, having earned the anthology its only Emmy nomination. It’s a powerful, if somewhat simple courtroom drama that is buoyed by fantastic performances and an urgent message. Even though the film is set over 50 years ago, it still feels relevant today.
Another one of the more widely acclaimed entries in the anthology is Lovers Rock, which is set in the West Indies house party scene in London. It’s a hangout film with a reggae soundtrack that is truly unparalleled, and this film is good enough alone to be worth adding the set to your Criterion shelf.
In addition to Lovers Rock, the only other film in the anthology following fictional characters is Education. However, even though the story itself is fictionalized, the topic and themes are very much real issues, and McQueen dissects them in a way that feels familiar, yet still harrowingly effective.
Red, White and Blue boasts a commanding lead performance from John Boyega, who is absolutely riveting as a police officer who attempts to challenge the system in ways that begin to fundamentally affect his outlook. It’s arguably the most challenging of the five films in the anthology, and one not to miss.
Alex Wheatle is arguably the most conventional film of the bunch, but even it is quite good thanks to McQueen’s deft directorial hand. It’s also worth noting that the real-life Wheatle played a large role in consulting on the film, ensuring that there is a level of accuracy and realism to the storytelling.
The set’s bonus features are somewhat underwhelming, with the only new addition being a conversation between McQueen and professor Paul Gilroy, who served as a consultant on the anthology. The rest of the bonus materials are recycled from what was available on Prime Video, as well as the documentary Uprising directed by McQueen and James Rogan.
It’s also a bit disappointing that they decided only to go with 2K masters of the films, rather than 4K masters, as the quality won’t differ that much from what you could already watch streaming the films on Prime Video. Still, getting the opportunity to own these excellent pieces of cinema by an absolute master.
Although the Criterion Collection set for Small Axe does leave something to be desired in terms of its offerings, the importance of the films themselves is too undeniable not to add this to your collection. If nothing else, it’s great to have these works available on physical media for the first time.
The Criterion Collection edition of Small Axe is available beginning April 25.
Review by Sean Boelman
The Overlook Film Festival is well-known by cinephiles to be one of the greatest film festivals in the United States dedicated to showcasing horror and genre cinema. However, for 2023, the festival left its usual summer dates to offer an edition in the spring, allowing it to take advantage of some of the buzziest films from the spring festival circuit.
We at disappointment media are again excited to be covering the Overlook Film Festival, and we wanted to point you to some of the films we think you should keep an eye out for.
Apart from the world premiere of the Nicolas Cage Dracula movie Renfield on opening night, the other jewel in the crown of the Overlook lineup is the second festival showing of Evil Dead Rise. Although no talent from the film will be present, festival-goers won’t want to miss this opportunity to see this gnarly reboot of the iconic horror franchise. The film absolutely brought the house down at its SXSW debut, and is sure to shake Overlook visitors to their core.
Late Night With the Devil was another SXSW premiere that is now making its way to the Overlook, and while this writer’s reaction was initially a bit more mixed, it has stuck with me more than most movies from the SXSW lineup. David Dastmalchian (virtually flawlessly) plays a late-night talk show host in a show that does not go according to plan, resulting in a blend of mockumentary and found-footage horror that is flawed, but undeniably chilling.
Ted Geogehegan’s Brooklyn 45 also debuted in the Midnighters section in Austin a few weeks back, where it was one of the more universally acclaimed films. It’s the type of spooky chamber piece that is a slow burn, but it boasts a sharp script and many impressive performances — including a career-best turn from legendary horror character actor Larry Fessenden, who is absolutely riveting in his role.
Overlook is also known for the quality of its retrospective programming, and this year’s biggest highlight is an anniversary screening of Only Lovers Left Alive, which will be followed by a discussion with Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan (whose band SQÜRL will be headlining the opening night party, the Vampire Ball). It’s sure to be a fascinating, enriching discussion for cinephiles.
For those looking for a reprieve from the terror, Overlook also offers a small selection of genre-adjacent films, the highlight of which is the festival circuit gem The Artifice Girl. The low-key sci-fi drama has been making several stops since its Fantasia debut and has been getting more and more acclaim with each one — and it’s understandable why, as it is absolutely gripping and thought-provoking.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg of Overlook’s lineup. There are plenty of choices for any horror cinephile, and it is sure to be a great weekend filled with scary movies, friends, and fun.
The Overlook Film Festival runs from March 30-April 2 in New Orleans, LA.
Review by Sean Boelman
In 2023, the Gasparilla International Film Festival is back and better than ever in Tampa, Florida, with a lineup of some of the hottest films that have played the festival circuit in the past year, alongside some exciting world premieres from filmmakers — from everywhere from the Tampa Bay area to internationally. But the big draw of this year’s festival is some of the high-profile celebrity guests who will be in attendance, including Sung Kang (the Fast Saga) for his directorial debut Shaky Shivers, and filmmaker Matt Johnson (The Dirties, Operation Avalanche) with his new film, BlackBerry.
We at disappointment media are excited to again be covering the Gasparilla International Film Festival in our home base of Tampa, Florida. We’re excited to catch up with some of the films we have missed on the rest of the festival circuit, but there are also a few films in the lineup that we have already seen, and we want to point them out to you so you can check them out.
One of the highest-profile films playing at GIFF this year is Stephen Williams’s Chevalier. The film tells the story of the composer Joseph Bologne, who rises through the ranks of being the illegitimate son of a plantation owner and a slave to becoming the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Chevalier is driven by a show-stopping performance by Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (Waves, Luce) as the unlikely tragic hero. The first ten minutes of the film are also simply extraordinary, and one of the most kinetic sequences you will see in any movie this year.
Another buzzy movie that Tampa cinephiles will want to check out is Chandler Levack’s I Like Movies, a film which debuted to an enthusiastic reception at last fall’s TIFF and seems destined to gain a cult following. Telling the story of a high school senior who gets a job in a video store as he applies to get into film school, this will certainly be a nostalgic watch for many festival-goers. But as is the case with any great coming-of-age movie, the film is also both extremely endearing and entertaining.
For those looking to see a film with more of a local connection, look no further than the hybrid documentary Starring Jerry as Himself. Shot and taking place in the Central Florida area, the film follows a family whose father — a recently divorced and retired immigrant — begins to believe that he has been recruited by the Chinese government as an agent. Law Chen’s film took home both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards in the Documentary Competition at this January’s Slamdance Film Festival. In other words, it’s not just an exceptionally well-made film — it’s also a crowd-pleaser in a way that few other documentaries are.
With all of these amazing films in the lineup, cinephiles in the Tampa area should certainly have plans this weekend. Taking place over the next four days, be ready to see a showcase of some of the best films you will see this year.
The 2023 Gasparilla International Film Festival takes place in Tampa, FL from March 23-26.
By Sean Boelman
After a 2022 edition that brought fans back to Austin for an in-person component in a hybrid festival, the SXSW Film Festival came back better than ever with a 2023 edition that was in-person only and boasted one of the most impressive lineups of any festival in recent memory.
We at disappointment media were so excited to cover the festival and see the many films in its lineup that it would have been impossible to do a full review for everything we saw. However, we wanted to make sure we gave you a brief rundown of the many films (and a few shows) we checked out at the festival.
Another Body is certainly one of the hardest-to-watch documentaries that played at this year’s SXSW. Following a college student who discovers deepfake pornography of herself online, the film shines a light on some of the most disgusting corners of the internet. Sophie Compton and Reuben Hamlyn’s documentary plays out in a way that almost feels like a thriller, but not in a manipulative way, as it follows the subject’s quest to discover the truth and get justice for the wrongs committed against her and several other women. It manages to feel both inspiring and distressing at once.
Cora Bora has a very talented ensemble cast buoyed by a charming lead performance from Megan Stalter. Unfortunately, this story of a woman in an open relationship that she discovers might not have been as open as she thought is frustratingly insubstantial and lacking in enjoyable humor. There’s tons of potential here, and a few moments that will even have viewers giggling, but it feels like a bunch of ideas thrown to the wall — and very few of them stick.
Lance Larson’s Deadland has an interesting concept, following a U.S. Border Patrol agent who is haunted by the consequences of his actions. It had the potential to be a timely commentary on the immigrant crisis, but the execution is so lacking that the film feels like a hollow shell of what it should have been. The only thing that stands out here is solid cinematography by Jas Shelton that showcases some desolate landscapes quite well, but otherwise, it’s uninspired and vague.
Geoff McFetridge: Drawing a Life
Geoff McFetridge: Drawing a Life is pretty much exactly what one would expect from a standard biographical documentary about an artist. It’s lighthearted and breezy, shot with an artistic eye, and offers moderate — if not too prying — insight into its subject’s artistic process and personal life. For cinephiles, the highlight of the film will be getting to see McFetridge talk about his collaborations with filmmaker Spike Jonze. Otherwise, it’s just an altogether pleasant film that, at under an hour and twenty minutes, it’s hard to deny its charm.
Join or Die
Inspired by Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone, the flashy documentary Join or Die is the type of film that could be exactly what America needs to see — or it could also do some tremendous wrong if it lands in the wrong hands. Although the film’s overall message, encouraging civic involvement, is a positive one, there are some significant leaps in logic that could be read by uncanny viewers the wrong way and lead them to being indoctrinated. Showy editing and interviews with well-known subjects like Pete Buttigeg and Hillary Clinton are likely to give this film a high profile, but viewers just need to be wary of its content.
The Lady Bird Diaries
Filmmaker Dawn Porter is known for her amazing use of archive footage to tell stories of important historical footage, and in First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson’s extensive library of recordings, Porter has plenty of archive materials to pull from. That being said, Porter paints in very broad strokes, offering an unexpectedly vague look at the life of the influential political figure. Nothing is said in The Lady Bird Diaries that reveals anything audiences won’t already know, and the result is a film that is good, but not as good as it could have been.
Love & Death
Love & Death is the second miniseries to come out telling the story of small town ax murderer Candy Montgomery after last year’s Candy on Hulu. The SXSW premiere only showcased the first episode of the show, and it’s hard to make an accurate judgment as to its quality based on that alone — as it’s largely the setup, making it feel more like a romantic comedy than a true crime drama to this point. Still, Elizabeth Olsen and Jesse Plemons both give fantastic performances, so it will be exciting to see where they take the rest of the material.
My Drywall Cocoon
The Global section at the SXSW Film Festival tends to be one of the weaker sidebars, and unfortunately, My Drywall Cocoon does not buck that trend. The film takes place in the events leading up to and following a tragedy occurring at a seventeen year old girl’s birthday party. You can see the potential in the film, but the nonlinear narrative structure creates an uneven melodramatic tone in a way that makes it almost feel like a telenovela. They are clearly trying to use this structure to turn the film into a mystery, but instead, they simply make it frustrating.
The New Americans: Gaming a Revolution
There is no denying the technical competence of Ondi Timoner’s The New Americans: Gaming a Revolution. However, the arguments made in the film are so backwards that it is difficult to get on its level. Although there are certainly flaws with many of the institutions that the film targets — namely Robinhood — the film also takes aim at the principles they represent, mainly the democratization of the financial market. As a result, the film feels strangely opposed to the average American, which is a concerning approach to take.
Peak Season is the type of movie where it’s hard to say anything bad about it because it is utterly harmless, but there’s also very little to recommend it for the exact same reason. The story of a woman who, facing an increasingly distant relationship, finds kinship in a fly fishing guide, simply isn’t very interesting. The film also largely lacks the poignancy or insight that it thinks it offers. The only thing that the film does unquestionably well is its cinematography, which beautifully showcases some wonderful landscapes, but that alone is not enough to make the movie worthwhile.
Periodical is a very well-made documentary containing lots of great information. Unfortunately, this very solid film will likely be put to waste, as the audience that needs to see this movie has very little overlap with those who will see it. The whole film feels like it is preaching to the choir. That’s not to say that there is no reason to watch it — some of its statistics could be used as ammunition against uninformed opponents in arguments, or it could be used to inspire young women to take up activism — but this discussion needs a platform that will better serve it being seen by the people who need to hear it.
There are a lot of things that can be forgiven about festival indies — such as poor production values, bad acting, and the “first-time director” jitters — and Pure O falls victim to a lot of those mistakes. But there’s one thing that can’t be forgiven about this film: its toxicity (and that’s putting aside its strangely conservative politics). The film obviously has a lot to say about second chances and forgiveness, and while yes, people are deserving of sympathy, this should not come at the expense of others. This semi-autobiographical story clearly means a lot to its filmmaker, and he certainly means well, but he doesn’t seem to realize that sometimes it’s not necessary — much less healthy — to subject other people to your pain.
Queendom is a verité documentary about a young queer artist and political activist in Russia. Although the film shows a lot of potential with regards to commentary on the stark reality of oppression and censorship in the country, Agniia Galdanova strangely pulls many of her punches and decides to go with a much more broadly tear-jerking approach. It’s still harrowingly effective at times — and the sequences showcasing the subject’s performances are gorgeous — but it feels like this could have been something more.
This World Is Not My Own
This World Is Not My Own desperately wants to be more than a conventional biographical documentary, and while it boasts impressively ambitious editing and technical aspects, it’s never able to overcome its somewhat standard storytelling. The story of artist Nellie Mae Rowe is interesting, and the use of animated sequences performed through voiceover and motion capture by acclaimed actress Uzo Aduba is intriguing, but it still feels like a somewhat bland overview of the subject’s life and career.
Rocio Mesa’s Tobacco Barns (also known as Secaderos in its original language) is a visually striking film, but it does little to impress from a narrative standpoint. Following a group of children growing up in an impoverished rural area of Spain filled with tobacco fields and barns, this feels like just another magical realism film about kids in poverty. In other words, it’s another movie that desperately wants to be Pan’s Labyrinth but doesn't quite capture what makes that film great. Although it’s hardly a bad film, the script certainly leaves something to be desired.
Until Branches Bend
Until Branches Bend played at last year’s TIFF, and reappeared at SXSW this Spring. And ultimately, it’s one of the most slept on films of the festival circuit. Although Sophie Jarvis’s psychological drama about a woman who her community refuses to believe suffers from some common first-time director pitfalls, it’s very compelling nonetheless, and there are some starkly affecting moments and imagery that will linger in viewers’ heads for a long time.
The Young Wife
Tayarisha Poe’s Selah and the Spades was one of the most kinetic directorial debuts in recent memory, so her sophomore feature — The Young Wife — was one of the hottest prospects of this year’s SXSW. Although Poe’s distinct style worked better in service of a high school melodrama than a more restrained character study, it goes a long way in making The Young Wife more captivating. It’s an imperfect film, but transfixing visuals and strong performances elevate the underdeveloped script.
The 2023 SXSW Film Festival ran from March 10-18 in Austin, TX.
The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1174): LAST HURRAH FOR CHIVALRY -- A Wuxia Hit From Iconic Filmmaker John Woo
By Sean Boelman
One of the most in-demand titles in the Criterion Collection is the out-of-print edition of John Woo’s Hard Boiled. It only makes sense that Criterion would add more of the filmmaker’s movies to their lineup, and the next one to join the fold is an early film of his — the Wuxia romp Last Hurrah for Chivalry.
The film is an epic adventure about a nobleman seeking vengeance with the assistance of two expert swordsmen. As is the case with many martial arts movies, the story is convoluted, with it being hard to follow whose allegiance rests with whom, but the fun is the absurd and larger-than-life nature of the narrative.
This type of film falls firmly within the wheelhouse of Hong Kong action director John Woo, whose movies are known for being heavily stylized and ridiculous, but impressive technical feats nonetheless. The same is very much true here, even though it is one of the earlier works in his filmography.
Although Wuxia films have existed for decades, they weren’t really popularized in Western culture until the early 2000s. As such, it’s always fascinating to see an early work in the genre, especially when it is made by a filmmaker with such technical prowess and maximalist tendencies as Woo.
As one would expect from a Wuxia film, there are some amazing martial arts fight sequences throughout. And for a movie that was made in 1979, the special effects are shockingly good, allowing the film to make the most out of its surreal and buoyant tone and action sequences. At a point, the swordplay begins to become somewhat monotonous, but then the action choreography takes a turn that is far more ambitious.
Last Hurrah for Chivalry contains what might be one of the greatest sequences ever committed to film. The candle room sequence includes both amazing choreography and some absolutely insane pyrotechnic effects. It sets a very high bar for the rest of Woo’s career, but fans know that the master action filmmaker one-ups himself with each and every movie he makes.
The only new bonus feature on this edition is a new interview with kung fu cinema scholar Grady Hendrix. Otherwise, it’s a bit bare-bones in that regard. Still, the film’s 2K restoration is pretty great, its crisp image being more than enough reason alone to pick up the Blu-Ray edition of this previously hard-to-find classic of Asian cinema.
Last Hurrah for Chivalry is exactly as enjoyable as you would expect from a Wuxia movie made by John Woo. Genre cinephiles will certainly want to pick up this pivotal piece of martial arts cinema history.
The Criterion Collection edition of Last Hurrah for Chivalry is now available.
By Sean Boelman
In 2022, SXSW resumed its in-portion activities with a hybrid festival and conference that welcomed cinephiles back to Austin for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that was just a splash in the bucket compared to what SXSW has in store for 2023, with a lineup that features some of the most exciting films from the rest of this year.
After covering the festival remotely for the past few years, we at disappointment media are excited to be again covering the festival from the ground this year for the first time since 2019! In advance of the festival, we have gotten the opportunity to screen a handful of the titles playing in the lineup, and here are some of the films we think you should keep an eye on:
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster
Bomani J. Story’s The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster certainly lives up to the anger in its title. It is a candidate for the most politically-charged film in this year’s lineup, and while it can be a bit on the messy side, its palpable anger when it comes to hard-hitting political issues really makes it stand out. It’s a nice little genre film — a riff on the Frankenstein tropes — that opens the door for a bright future of these Crypt TV feature films.
Confessions of a Good Samaritan
This year’s SXSW lineup is highlighted by new documentaries from some of the greatest nonfiction filmmakers working today — Sam Pollard, Jimmy Chin and Elisabeth Chai Vaysareli, Dawn Porter, and Penny Lane. Lane’s film, Confessions of a Good Samaritan, is a shining spot in her already amazing filmography. A personal dive into her decision and journey to become an altruistic kidney donor, the film contains plenty of both the probing questions and humor for which Lane’s films have come to be known.
Chronicles of a Wandering Saint
Tomás Gómez Bustillo’s Chronicles of a Wandering Saint starts out with a relatively straightforward narrative that feels like a pretty standard domestic drama, then something happens around the thirty minute mark that changes the entire course of the film. It ends up being one of the most creative, visionary works of cinema that you will see at SXSW this year, with plenty of the weird genre flair that defines the festival.
The immediate reaction you may have to Story Ave will likely be that it’s very Spike Lee-esque. It’s an easy comparison given the thematic and stylistic similarities — it even contains one of Lee’s iconic double-dolly shots early on. But there’s something so undeniably personal about Aristotle Torres’s directorial debut that it can be forgiven for its occasionally heavy use of homages. And the lead duo, Asante Blackk and Luis Guzmán, deliver some of the best performances you will see at the festival.
The Wrath of Becky
Watching the 2020 film Becky, you likely never thought that it would be a candidate to receive a sequel. But here we are, three years later, and we’re getting a follow-up in the form of The Wrath of Becky. Of course, being a sequel, it’s only natural that this film goes even bigger (and better) with its massacre of white supremacists. It’s the type of bonkers, balls-to-the-wall genre cinema that fans love the SXSW Midnighters section for.
The 2023 SXSW Film Festival runs March 10-18 in Austin, TX.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.