“The Strange Ones”
Courtesy of SXSW
Out of SXSW, we termed “The Strange Ones” “Terrence Malick meets Andrei Tarkovsky,” no pressure. Our review lays it out: “For a good 45 minutes, ‘The Strange Ones’ is a bracing, unpredictable movie, building its disquieting suspense around unknown relationships and invisible threats. Eventually, the feature-length debut of co-directors Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein reveals all its cards, and the full picture of this brief tone poem doesn’t match the level of engagement generated early on. But its atmospheric sophistication holds strong throughout, channeling a wonder for the natural world reminiscent of Terrence Malick with an air of existential dread straight out of Andrei Tarkovsky. The result is a strong indication of filmmakers in command of their material, and eager to keep viewers guessing throughout.” Check out our full review here.
Fans of supercut king Kogonada have long been anticipating his feature debut, and his “Columbus” does not disappoint. Earlier this year, we went deep on the feature, when our David Ehrlich noted that “‘Columbus’ feels like an extension of Kogonada’s previous work; fans will likely recognize his unique way of synthesizing his influences into something new. ‘There are definitely people who are like collectors, with encyclopedic minds, but my approach has always been more existential,’ he said. ‘I’m interested in pursuing some question that feels personal to me.’ Set entirely in the overcast city of Columbus, Indiana, a small town that’s renowned as an unexpected mecca of modernist architecture, ‘Columbus’ unfolds like a remake of ‘Garden State’ as directed by Yasujirō Ozu (though less twee than the former and more direct than the latter).” Read up on the film here, then see it when hits theaters later this year.
Sundance Film Festival
There’s nothing else quite like Marianna Palka’s “Bitch” playing at a theater near you, we promise. Out of Sundance, we noted that “there are plenty of stories about domestic housewives who grow tired of their oppressive routines, but none quite like Palka’s vicious feminist satire ‘Bitch,’ in which the writer-director-star plays a woman who takes on the identity of a wild dog. It’s a blunt metaphor, but Palka transforms an absurd premise into a chilling look at the destruction of the nuclear family with a vivid, snarling vision driven by the propulsive energy of its biting critique. Inspired by a real-life case study documented by psychologist R.D. Lang, ‘Bitc’h follows the plight of afflicted matriarch Jill (Palka) and her clueless husband Bill (Palka regular Jason Ritter). The usually sweet-natured Ritter boldly plays against type, initially coming across as an hAmerican Psycho’-like creep who sleeps with his secretary and buries himself in the office, leaving the care of his three young children to his clearly unstable wife. When she snaps, he’s forced to reconsider his ways, although the deranged events around him suggest he may have missed his window to set things right.” Read our full review here.
An early contender for the most surprisingly satisfying documentary of the year, “Dina” was a winner right out the gate at Sundance, where it bowed in January. As we wrote there, “Directed by Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini (‘Mala Mala’), “Dina’ comes from a deep place of love (Sickles’ dad was one of Dina’s teachers), but it’s a minor miracle that the film sidesteps the number of traps that it sets for itself. Any film about the mentally disabled is a potential minefield of bad ideas, let alone a film that frames its story as an accidental rom-com and plays even its most crushing moments for laughs,” and it only gets more rewarding from there. Read our full review here.
Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut is coming off a major high, picking up a big win at Cannes after screening at the lauded fest months after its Sundance premiere. At Sundance, we wrote, “Sheridan tells stories the way a predator hunts, looping around an idea in ever-tighter circles until he’s standing on top of its carcass. His movies take place in vast spaces that leave precious room for interpretation; they are written within an inch of their lives, every word carefully selected in order to surround a theme that might as well be spelled out in skywriting across the stratosphere above the American Midwest.” Read our full review here, and catch the film when when The Weinstein Company releases it on August 4.
“Snowy Bing Bongs”
Directors Rachel Wolther and Alex H. Fischer’s 40-minute whatsit features the dance-comedy trio Cocoon Central Dance Team — Tallie Medel, Eleanore Pienta and Sunita Mani — in a hilarious, psychedelic hodgepodge of visually inventive vignettes. Half of it plays like an Adult Swim remake of Matthew Barney’s “The Cremaster Cycle,” and the rest defies even that absurd description. The so-called Snowy Bing Bongs first surface in the midst of a cheap sci-fi setting with practical effects seemingly lifted from “Plan 9 From Outer Space”: They lounge about a planet against a tropical rear projection and prance about in scantily-clad fur outfits, dodging incoming beach balls that seem to threaten their whole existence. These beguiling sequences are interspersed with black-and-white audition sessions, a prolonged bit about a woman with two hearts, a Reggie Watts cameo involving pizza and the most peculiar Q&A session in history. The mind-numbing experience is at once a canny look at femininity and the creative process as well as a satire of such high-minded interpretations. Readymade for viral glory, it’s a shrewd conceptual gamble unafraid to go wherever it pleases. While executive producer credits for “Swiss Army Man” producers The Daniels suggests some precedents for the playful surrealism on display, “Snowy Bing Bongs” is primarily a vessel for a kind of lunacy all to its own. -EK
“I Am Another You”
courtesy of filmmaker
Nanfu Wang’s engaging followup to “Hooligan Sparrow” follows a young homeless man in Florida and finds some unexpected personal truths along the way. Wang is edging ever-closer to documentary superstardom — her next doc just landed her a spot at Sundance’s Documentary Story and Edit Lab — and her newest film (partially made before her first actually bowed) will likely only earn her more admirers. In our review, we noted, “It turns out her sincere inquisitiveness is actually a keen vessel of cultural investigation; it continues to develop once she parts ways with Dylan and returns to China to make ‘Hooligan Sparrow,’ then returns to Florida with more ambitious aims and the confidence of a filmmaker in full control of her material. It’s there that she finds Dylan’s family, including his grief-stricken father, who provides a surprisingly lucid assessment of his wayward son. With new information about Dylan’s history, Nanfu revisits some of her earlier footage, and a bigger picture comes into focus.” Read our full review here.
Courtesy of Sundance
Sabaah Folayan’s directorial debut was vital when it premiered at Sundance back in January, but it’s positively incendiary a few months on. As we wrote back then, the doc is “a vibrant firsthand portrait of the Ferguson uprising and the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement. The film weaves a compelling narrative, beginning with the community’s mournful protests in the days following Brown’s murder, to the militarized police tactics that needlessly escalated the situation, and ending with a united resurgence of the movement after the non-indictment of Brown’s killer, Officer Darren Wilson.” It’s only gotten more compelling with (brief) time. Read our full review here.
“Most Beautiful Island”
Orion Pictures/Samuel Goldwyn Films
Ana Asensio’s SXSW winner burst onto the scene when it bowed at the festival back in March, and as it hits BAM and readies for a theatrical rollout, the timely feature will likely only garner more well-deserved attention. Our review explained, “Asensio, a thirtysomething Spanish actress whose work is virtually unseen on these shores, not only wrote, directed, and produced this fraught metropolitan thriller, she also appears in just about every frame. And while the film might begin by suggesting that its heroine was chosen at random (a mesmeric prologue follows seven different women as they weave through the sidewalks of Manhattan, the camera picking them out of a crowd as if to wordlessly reassert that most of the Naked City’s seven million stories remain untold), Asensio’s compulsively watchable lead performance splits the difference between the specific and the representational.” Check out our full review here.
Joe Wigdahl Photography
In our review, Eric Kohn described the documentary “The Work” in searing terms. “Imagine a Tony Robbins session with a bunch of testosterone-fueled convicts and you’ll start to get an idea of ‘The Work,’ an emotionally riveting documentary that may very well be the most powerful group therapy ever caught on camera. Co-directors Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous gained access to a tense four-day session at Folsom State Prison, where inmates engage with civilians in intimate conversations about their repressed frustrations. Scene by scene, their masculine armor falls away, and the tears erupt with volcanic intensity. The minimalist scenario, almost exclusively set within the confines of a nondescript room, foregrounds the visceral process of confronting anger and regret through a fascinating collaborative approach, with results that are alternately terrifying and cathartic.” You can read our full review here.