Posts tagged "SXSW"

“Us” is a mixed bag of horror, comedy, and inexplicable twists

March 20th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Us” is a mixed bag of horror, comedy, and inexplicable twists”

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” pleased critics and audiences alike with an original concept that was as creepy as it was funny. We are expecting a lot from his newest film, “Us” which premiered to rave reviews at the SXSW Film Festival. Can it and he live up to all the hype? The answer is yes and no. It’s a mixed bag this time as he creates a crazy story that focuses more on the twists in the road than the road itself.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

It’s 1986 in Santa Cruz, CA at an amusement park where little Adelaide (Madison Curry) wanders off into a house of mirrors. With worried parents, the little girl returns, but seems traumatized. What actually happened in that house will haunt Adelaide forever. Fast forward to the current day and Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family return to a vacation home near the fateful site where she disappeared as a youngster. With a gut-sinking feeling that she and her family are in danger, she wants to leave, but it’s too late. The apocalypse has begun and we witness the bizarre and gruesome tale unfold in the dark of night in a cabin in the woods.

Peele masterfully sets up an eerie and spine-chilling vibe as young Adelaide wanders off, slowly and deliberately, candy apple in hand, capturing her trance-like reaction to her surroundings. We are with her every step of the way, holding our breath as she enters a “Beetlejuice” type of house complete with a neon arrow showing the way. Jumping at the corniest of things, the image Adelaide sees before her makes her (and us) gasp. We now know what we are in for as the family comes back to the scene of the incident 30 years later.

“Us” showcases Peele’s seemingly innate ability to perfectly blend comedy and horror with the timing of a Swiss watch. Unfortunately, after the initial set up of the premise, the film becomes an exercise in typical horror gore. The family is being chased, they make stupid decisions, and blood is spilled…lots and lots of blood. Thankfully, Peele and his cast expertly continue the humor to pull us out of the shock of the brutality, allowing us to stick with it. As we learn the truth about what lies beneath our green grass, we yearn to find out how this family will survive. That’s great writing, but Peele sets up so many possible paths and red herrings throughout the film, that we feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us. And the use of a speech to explain everything in the last 20 minutes is a let down. It feels much like a classroom where the teacher dutifully spells out what actually had been going on deep inside this other realm.

While there are issues with the twists that still don’t quite square up, and to describe them would be a major spoiler, the acting from this ensemble cast is stellar. Curry’s portrayal of young Adelaide is exceptional as she is responsible for setting the tone of the entire film. That’s an incredible weight to carry and she does so with ease. Nyong’o creates two totally different personas and never do we question the “fact” that we are seeing two people on screen. Her eyes are wonderfully expressive, allowing us to understand her every thought immediately as the caring, loving mom who will do anything to save her children. Then there’s her doppelgänger who she portrays with a soulless void. Winston Duke (Gabe) adds most of the humor with his actions and reactions, both physically and verbally, lightening the heaviness of the brutal carnage that ensues. And the kids, Shahadi Wright Joseph (Zora) and Evan Alex (Jason), find the depth to give us double performances, again never questioning that there are two different people before us.

With any horror film, camera work has to be as much of a character as the actual actors. Having actors portray two different people, frequently on screen at the same time, takes some heaving lifting and it works. Additionally, and with utmost skill, the cameras have a way of making us peer around the corner to see what’s ahead. It also gives a sense of dread as it follows the characters from behind or blinding us from seeing, allowing us to only hearing what’s to come.

“Us” is a typical horror film in many ways, but the consistent humor throughout elevates it, but not to the level of Peele’s first blockbuster that had powerful social statements, humor and horror. With “Us,” it feels as if he was more interested in surprising the audience with zingers and entertaining with gore than giving us a consistently good story. And it will behoove you to look in the Bible for Jeremiah 11:11 before you go. Trust me.

3 Stars

An Interview with writer and director Josephine Mackerras, SXSW Feature ALICE

March 10th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “An Interview with writer and director Josephine Mackerras, SXSW Feature ALICE”

(Published in FF2 Media, Sunday, March 10, 2019)

Award-winning writer and director Josephine Mackerras’ first feature film, “Alice,” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival recently. Living around the world, this NYU educated filmmaker delves deeply into how one woman, a wife and mother, reacts to her husband’s double life, leaving them in debt and on the brink of eviction. Filled with extraordinary performances from this ensemble cast, Mackerras turns the psychological tables on acceptance and understanding of one of the oldest trades known to women. Mackerras shared her insights on the making of “Alice” and the complexities of creating a story that questions the concepts of marriage, dependency and motherhood.
To read the interview in its entirety, go to FF2 Media

“Well Groomed” A vibrant work of art and an affirmation of women

March 10th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Well Groomed” A vibrant work of art and an affirmation of women”

Director Rebecca Stern follows three veteran creative dog groomers for one year, all at the top of their game, and one newcomer, vying for the grand championship in this little-known arena of competition. While many of us have never heard of this competitive art form, and perhaps it’s initially strange to see, Stern takes us along these women’s journey as she not only highlights their artistic skills, but their personal path as well. We begin to understand who these women are and their love for what they do. It’s a compelling and beautiful story that captures our hearts as we watch these dogs and women transform, lifting one another yet still fiercely competing for the ultimate prize.

(Full review and interview with the filmmaker coming soon)

3 1/2 out of 4 Stars

“Social Animals” An Instagram story

December 27th, 2018 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on ““Social Animals” An Instagram story”

Instagram.  If you’re over 30, and I am, it’s an anomaly.  As a teenager in the 1970’s, popularity was assessed based on the number of carnations you received on Valentine’s Day during classes.  Now, it’s the number of public “likes” that can truly make or break you in high school.  Director Jonathan Ignatius Green followed three teens; an aspiring photographer in New York City, a Midwestern girl from Central Ohio, and a wealthy entrepreneur near Malibu, California.  The three are very different teens, but they all experience the emotional costs, both positive and negative of the impact of the social media platform of Instagram.

Green introduces us to Humza, a kid from the inner city of N.Y.  who develops an eye for photographs taken from forbidden vantage points.  Humza’s popularity blows up, but just at the peak of his popularity, he is vilified for revealing a subculture within the city.  Green interviews Humza before, during, and after his Instagram “success,” giving the viewers a keen insight to Humza’s rather mature and very candid expression of social media consequences.

Interwoven into Humza’s story, Green expertly incorporates Kaylyn’s unusual panache for engaging viewers with her style and look which eventually leads to greater opportunities.  Although, fame does have its drawbacks for her and her family, we are privy to the emotions at the time.  Matching Humza and Kaylyn’s story arc, we see that Green couldn’t have chosen a better representation for middle America than a small town near Cincinnati, Ohio with Emma who pays an ever greater emotional price as a negative spin is thrust upon her perceived persona.  

The pressure these kids feel is obvious, determining, in many instances, whether a teen has a sense of self-worth.  In fact, as the film reveals, purchasing “likes” and “followers” is also a technique used to increase their reputation as someone worthy of knowing.  As crazy as this might sound to someone outside of the Instagram realm, it’s a heady and real situation for kids, not to mention emotionally and financially costly.

Green tells each of these teens’ stories from beginning to end, allowing the viewer to walk in their shoes.  His ability to ask the right questions and create a trusting atmosphere for each subject to feel comfortable gives the film integrity and honesty.  These elements connect us to Humza, Kaylyn, and Emma as we watch them rise and fall and then hopefully find the strength to rise again.  Following these “kids” as well as having interviews with parents and other kids over the course of two years, Green allows you, the viewer, to arrive at your own conclusions about the impact of social media as he always takes the position of neutral observer, allowing the story to unfold naturally and honestly.

Initially, my hopes for the film were to be in some way to denounce social media platforms, justifying my inabilities to somehow master the medium, but Green doesn’t place a judgment upon it.   “Social Animals” expertly weaves together a compelling narrative, but more importantly, it allows everyone, no matter their age, to better comprehend the social pressures of today’s youth in a digital era.  It also serves as an avenue for teens to relate and perhaps even find comfort in knowing that they are all in the same boat.  

 

While I long for the days where it was only one day of a popularity contest and hoping that I wouldn’t get any green carnations (indicating “You bug me”), times have changed and “Social Animals” creatively communicates these changes.  Every parent, teacher, social worker and counselor would benefit from seeing this film.  While I no longer have teens at home, the film did allow me to let go of the pressure I feel as I attempt to “master” using Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.  Don’t even get me started on SnapChat!

For more information about the film and director, go to  https://www.socialanimalsfilm.com/home

and  http://www.ignatiusgreen.com/social-animals/

You can see “Social Animals” on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/social-animals/id1438474795?mt=6&ign-mpt=uo%3D4    or on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Social-Animals-Kaylyn-Slevin/dp/B07K1L5VF3/ref=sr_1_3?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1544750364&sr=1-3&keywords=social+animals

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