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How Bong Joon Ho’s ‘Parasite’ Finds the Humanity and Tragedy in Modern Society

Written by Logan Kenny, October 16, 2019 at 8:45 am 

Note: This article includes spoilers for Parasite.

South Korean auteur Bong Joon Ho’s platform has grown considerably in the West following his two American co-productions Snowpiercer and Okja, both of which had issues with theatrical distribution. Thankfully these woes aren’t being repeated with Parasite, which is already connecting with U.S. audiences. His Palme d’Or winner captures the dichotomy of the modern family in a continuously regressive capitalist society, the idealization of glamour and wealth in a place where the poor can barely keep themselves alive. The Kim family is stricken by poverty and the increasing lack of sustainable work. A father, a mother, a son and a daughter all unable to find regular jobs that generate enough revenue to keep themselves fed and warm. They have to fold pizza boxes out of the hope that employers will pay them fairly, they sleep in a rotten shelter in a neighborhood where drunkards piss themselves on the street, they can’t even pay for their own connection to the internet. Each one of them is skinnier and dirtier than you’d expect, their eyes filled with determination and grit as they scheme to get themselves elevated in the class hierarchy. 

One day, the son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) is visited by an old friend who is heading out of the country. He is elevated in status, although not by too much; he has been able to get an education, able to piece together the connections and funds to escape this place. A dream that feels increasingly impossible for Ki-woo to achieve. There is an intense tension between the two men in their limited interactions with each other, a lifetime of history conveyed by a few gazes. A modicum of sexual tension is present, the way Ki-woo’s eyes linger on the irises of his respectable friend, the clear idolization he feels towards him is hard to ignore. One of the most interesting elements of this scene, and how it syncs up with the rest of the film, is the blurred lines between Ki-woo’s interest in him as a man and as a symbol of something greater. Parasite, especially towards the end, is a film largely about the hollowness of aesthetic: people who have no compassion or insight being elevated by society and individual perception because of their amount of money and nice clothes. Ki-woo seems as drawn to his education as he does his jawline. 

His friend lets him know about a girl he tutors, Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), the youngest daughter of the Park family. He has a clear sexual interest in her and a sense of protection over her body. He doesn’t want her to be taken away by another man while he lingers in another world. Ki-woo is recommended for the position as her new tutor and he uses this gateway to assimilate the rest of his family into their space. The Park house is lavish and gorgeous, a testament to modern architecture. The main room is built around a window, as high as the walls and as long as the house itself. You can see everything that the inhabitants get up to, the idyllic rich nuclear family with nothing to hide. In every room, covered from head to toe with expensive furniture and art, there is an absence of cheapness. Nothing inside these walls feels truly lived in or worn down. It is the reality that the Kim family has been told is perfect, the one that they’re willing to do anything to get closer to obtaining. 

In the first act–largely centered around the methods of the Kim family to insert themselves into the Park family’s lives–daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) uses her technical expertise to ensure that Ki-woo fits into the standards of the Park family’s staff. Ki-woo pays close enough attention to find a role for his sister, lying to the Park mother about her background and their relationship to get her the job. Their methods originally are deceitful but not harmful, restrained enough to be justified. They are desperate for work and would rather slightly scam a family with the income levels to keep them fed for the rest of their lives than starve. When they want more–as the father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and the mother Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) seek to have employment as well–is when Bong Joon Ho’s yarn gets the most conflicted and morally fascinating. They plot schemes to get the driver and the housekeeper fired, lying about transgressions and diseases, triggering allergies to create the evidence that serves their agenda. Morality is placed to the side when it needs to be.

The edge that Bong provides to his characters is framed through empathy: he has an understanding of why they’d cause havoc to other people’s lives in similar positions of fortitude. Humans act largely out of self-preservation, and in a capitalist society, they are encouraged to think only of themselves and their immediate family instead of others or the greater community. Bong understands this and directs most of his anger towards the systems that make people hurt each other in these ways, just for the chance to do the dishes for a rich person. While he utilizes the slickest direction of his career for the set-piece where the Kim family poisons the old housekeeper, building the suspense with flawless editing and the elegance of a great heist picture, there is nothing but sadness that lingers in their wake. Their joy from succeeding at their scheme is contrasted by the panic of an old woman realizing that her future is now in doubt. 

Ki-woo falls in love with the girl he is tutoring, seeing her as a gateway into the world he wants to be a part of, just another cog in the machine. After everything occurs, the hollowness of his attraction becomes overwhelming and he refuses to care about a shallow romance. The rest of the family fall in love with the aesthetic and it either kills them or ruins them beyond belief. For a while before the violence kicks in, there is a shared celebration that they’ve achieved the first step of their goal. They all have positions in the same place. They get to make money and continue being a family in a beautiful home surrounded by opulence. Life is good, finally. Once everything happens, some of them re-enter this home and stare out of the breathtaking windows. There is no glamour left to cling onto, just faded memories of a better time and the wish inside their hearts that they could have done things differently. 

The moment where everything shifts–bliss turns into fear and the film’s walls collapse–is when the man downstairs is discovered. It is unsurprising that the realities of this economic paradise are built around deception and suppression. The husband of the former housekeeper has been hiding in the basement of the Park family’s home for the last few years. Loan sharks have threatened him with death and would stop at nothing to take his life for being unable to pay his debts. South Korea’s lack of support for the disenfranchised has driven him to live in a pit, forever hidden from sunlight and intimacy. He’s barely even alive at this point. The film quickly shifts into a battle of wills between these two families for the devotion of their employers, for the protection that these walls are supposed to offer. As we know, that’s a facade, just like the supposed betterness of the elevated. Parasite is set in a world without winners, one where the only people left are those who’ve managed to survive another day amongst the rot. From that point on, it is inevitable that one side will die, and the other will suffer as if they had. 

There has been a lot made of the darkness that awaits viewers in the second half of Parasite, many critics (and even the director himself) have insisted that audiences go in blind, to be met with the revelations of shock and horror as they unfold. However, the descent that Parasite makes into class violence and devastation is unsurprising. There is no great monster in the shadows, nothing fantastical for the blame to be placed upon. There is only the lingering specter of classism and regret. People get hurt and die in Parasite. Ki-jung gets stabbed to death at a birthday party. Her mother kills the man who did it, skewering him out of instinct and maternal hatred. The former housekeeper gets thrown down the stairs in a panic, hits her head, and dies of an untreated concussion. Even the father of the Park family doesn’t make it out alive, murdered in a frenzy by Ki-taek after he is more focused on the disgusting stench of poverty than the deceased in front of him. Parasite ends with the memories of those gone haunting every person who survived: the photos of a dead sister and daughter staring at the family that left her behind, the trauma of knowing your responsibility in the decay. 

Does Parasite offer any answers at its center? After the violence concludes and the dead are buried in their graves, is there anything but emptiness and melancholy? There’s an argument to be made that Bong’s portrayal of class dynamics is too centered on the selfishness of the lower classes and not enough about the casual vindictiveness of the ruling ones. While the ending is the most profound moment in the film–all about the pain of realizing that everything’s a lie–it could be argued that the focus is on the poor family because it’s easier to show the foot soldiers of state violence than to totally interrogate the structures that enable them. Aspects of the film could have used more depth and rumination, ideas and themes that deserve more focus than what is presented. However, the consistent preservation of the Kim family’s POV makes the slow disintegration of fantasy feel scathing and disorientating. The deconstruction of South Korean class in its entirety isn’t achieved but that’s not the aim; it is all about the personal link to capitalistic chaos. That’s where the humor, heartbreak, and horror stem from. In that sense, it is one of the most effective contemporary genre films at examining the tragedies of modern society. It never loses the link between the praxis and humanity. 

Parasite ends with ambiguity. Ki-woo has seen the hollowness of everything he was taught to idolize. His past and future will be defined by violence and loss. Yet he stares out of the window from where he started the film, a little viewpoint out onto a street covered in trash, piss, and abandonment and still has hope. Whether his hope is for a good life within the limitations of capitalism or remaining optimism that he can become a figurehead on a dying planet is unclear. It doesn’t really matter. He is allowing himself to feel hope after pain, to keep the memory of someone he loves alive by refusing to linger in sorrow. He stares out of the window and sees a world filled with beauty, fire, and desire in every corner–a place that’s worth fighting to stay alive in. The sun shines in and Bong’s camera stays for a while, focusing on nothing but silence and light. There is still a chance for beauty in this place. Tragedy doesn’t have to be our defining trait. Parasite is the kind of film that haunts your daydreams, one that will enlighten generations about the disillusionment of capitalism as well as instilling the need to keep hope alive. It’s crucial that it doesn’t linger in pessimism or cruelty. The physical action of violence will never be as important as the loss it provides. Parasite believes that things don’t have to be this way forever. That’s a message that people in 2019 can cling on to. 

‘Pain and Glory’ and the Art of Pedro Almodóvar’s World

Written by Shawn Glinis, October 15, 2019 at 8:00 am 

In Pain and Glory, Pedro Almodóvar’s 21st feature and his eighth with Antonio Banderas, the star plays Salvador, an aging filmmaker struggling to continue working due to an oppressive cocktail of pain and his new habit for heroin. A repertory screening of his breakthrough film, Taste, gives way for Salvador to face various, unreconciled fragments of his past: his late mother’s chilly regard for him, his budding sexuality, and his first relationship, as well as a tumultuous friendship with an estranged collaborator.

Almodóvar’s cinema is an amass of messy folks in flux, like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’s Pepa or Volver’s Raimunda, suddenly trying, the best way they know how, to pacify inharmonious, frayed strands of their lives. In an interview at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, Banderas said this film, more than an addiction narrative, is about closing the circles and spaces that we’ve long left open. With Pain and Glory, the filmmaker continues a career-long testament to people’s ability to navigate these spaces through art, either as an experience, something they create or an apparatus for connection, such as the screening of Taste, which allows Salvador to reunite with the film’s star, Alberto, whom he had a falling out with on set.

During Almodóvar’s creative hot streak between 1999 and 2011, old films or new scripts based on old relationships routinely (re)connected characters with each other, most notably as the precipitating events of Bad Education and Broken Embraces, which stitch together dormant acquaintances exhuming the past for one another for the sake of gaining a better understanding of their current lives.

Since 1999, Almodóvar’s films have also become increasingly composed as narratives that weave in and out of the past, creating characters that are inextricable from little pockets of personal histories, often anchored by their experiences with works of art. Salvador claims to a friend that Taste (which at least one critic has called an analog for Law of Desire) plays better now than it did 30 years ago. She replies, “It’s your eyes that have changed, honey. The film is the same.” Art is fixed, but our lives aren’t, and sometimes, such as the case with a watercolor portrait Salvador comes across late in the film, it can feel like we found a work of art at just the right time.

In an essay for the collection All About Almodóvar, Despina Kakoudaki notes the specific importance of live art in Talk to Her. Two Pina Bausch ballets, including the one the film opens on, bring its two protagonists together. And, in one of the more moving moments in Almodóvar’s catalog, Dario Grandinelli’s character momentarily connects with his comatose lover during an outdoor performance of Caetano Veloso’s “Cucurrucucu Paloma.” The liveness of the art, Kakoudaki argues, “expand both the emotional logic of the film and its insistence that we are bound to each other through our participation in culture.” This sentiment could also be extended to the opening of Pain and Glory: Salvador’s mother and her fellow mothers of the village joining together in song while doing laundry by the creek. It’s a communal activity that Almodóvar presents with appreciation.

Pain and Glory

In Almodóvar on Almodóvar, he called Talk to Her a celebration of storytelling. Javier Camara’s Benigno spends his days relaying to his comatosed patient, Alicia, everything he sees. “Storytelling is Benigno’s way of surrounding Alicia with everything she used to like before the coma, which as far as he knows was dance and cinema.” For Benigno, storytelling is so convincingly a means to connect, he’s persuaded himself of an entirely non-existent relationship between him and his patient.

In his fourth film, What Have I Done to Deserve This?, Almodóvar’s character’s are moved by cinema. When a grandma and her grandson go to see Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass, they’re persuaded to leave the patriarchal, crime-riddled and drug-addled hellscape of Madrid and retreat home to their village. Kazan’s film made a significant impression on a young Almodóvar, “Even though my life was very different from the life of Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty and Barbara Loden, I felt very close to that. The movie talks about living in a small place, in a small community, where people can’t be free or express their feelings. I slept a lot with the character of Natalie Wood.”

Splendor in the Grass returns in Pain and Glory as a visual reference during an ode to childhood trips to the cinema in Alberto’s one-man show, Addiction, an adaptation of an old, unused script from Salvador’s hard drive. In attendance during Alberto’s performance of Addiction, which is an autobiographical piece for Salvador, is the filmmaker’s first love, Frederico, whom the story is largely based around. Frederico immediately recognizes that the narrative resembles his love affair with Salvador and uses it as a chance to track him down. What follows is an incredibly touching moment that contains the heart of Pain and Glory, and one that is made possible, again, through live performance and the creation of art. 

Referencing the scene during a Cannes press conference, Almodóvar said he experienced a similar love in his life — one that was aborted, “When you have to separate from a person you still love, that is something that is not natural.” Like his protagonist, the filmmaker seems to be using his art to explore the possibility and beauty of finding reconciliation.

Before he explored the creative process in Pain and Glory, Almodóvar became interested in the presence of art in the artist’s life in films like The Flower of My Secret, Broken Embraces and The Skin I Live In. As something experienced, like live music or theater, art grants his characters access to myriad experiences, but as something created, Almodóvar uses art as a means of self-discovery rather than mere expression.

Broken Embraces

Broken Embraces, a film about director Harry Caine grieving his lover and the lost reels of one of their old projects, offers the most tangible case. The film closes with the reel’s unearthing and Harry’s opportunity to reconnect with his lover through the process of editing together the once-unfinished film. It’s a literal discovery that gives way to a piece of his past long thought gone.

Though Broken Embraces is a film about a director and his film Girls and Suitcase, a clear riff on Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, it wasn’t met by the critical class with claims of autobiography on the same level of other works, particularly Bad Education, Volver, and now Pain and Glory. By the week following Pain and Glory’s appearance at Cannes (and two months after its world premiere in Spain), the phrase “his most personal film yet” was already well tread. I’m not sure how to quantify personal-ness from film to film for an artist, especially one who’s been making them under his own production company (facilitated by his brother Augustin Almodóvar) with no oversight for more than three decades. “Pedro is the freest artist on the planet,” Augustin once claimed.

However, Almodóvar has never had such an overt, recognizable avatar. Many reviewers have called Pain and Glory his 8 ½ (a tag also given to Bad Education), and I suppose the filmmaker eggs viewers into it with the French poster of Fellini’s film framed in clear view during a shot of his assistant’s office. But its usefulness only extends so far to say that Almodóvar has never given himself such a Guido Anselmi figure. His films have always been this personal and sincere, but Pain and Glory is the most cosmetically referential to Almodóvar’s current life — Salvador even lives in the filmmaker’s real-life apartment. “All my films talk about me,” he said at Cannes, “but I’d never made one with a main character that is a film director and that has some of my health conditions.”

As recent as this decade, Almodóvar made The Skin I Live In, a film that shares much of the same thematic impulses as Pain and Glory and that similarly pulls into view the twilight-adjacent period of the director’s life, but wasn’t host to the same claims of self-portraiture due, most likely, to its genre trappings and oblique approach to autofiction.

The Skin I Live In

Instead of a filmmaker, The Skin I Live In is about an expert plastic surgeon obsessed with creating a new synthetic skin for his own prisoner, thereby physically recreating his lost wife. As Marvin D’Lugo and Kathleen M. Vernon point out in their book on Almodóvar, the film plays on the double meaning of pelicula, or celluloid, as simultaneously the artificial skin he builds and the cinema that Almodóvar makes. Moments where Banderas’ surgeon is consumed by the image of his prisoner on TV (via surveillance cameras) further crystallize this parallel.

The Skin I Live In, which marked the first reunion between Banderas and Almodóvar, is a visually cold film that eradicates the primary colors of his early work to showcase an aging man saddened by the past and obsessed over trying to reclaim it. Similar to Broken Embraces, although much more sadistic, the film ultimately posits that the past is ephemeral and unattainable, but perhaps there’s momentary hope through the works of art.

If the act of creating art in The Skin I Live In was a brief salve on the pain of loss, Almodóvar exhibits more resolve in Pain and Glory. Being able to make a new film is ultimately a hopeful act, but only because it’s Salvador’s only means of dealing with the parts of his past that he’s no longer able to rectify in person, particularly the relationship with his late mother. “Cinema is the only thing I have … the end and the means for me,” Almodóvar recently echoed to The Guardian, saying he’s gotten used to not needing other people. “I’ve let them go. I’ve cut them off. I suppose I could get them back if I wanted. But I’d need a spur. I’d need a reason.”

It’s hard to read his thoughts on the current press tour and not lapse into the convenient thinking that Pain and Glory is, in fact, his most personal film yet. It’s one that resembles so much of Almodóvar’s life, although most heartbreaking is how it diverges from it. Salvador, unlike Almodóvar, hasn’t cut people off from his life; he’s trying to break from the increasingly insular existence he’s made for himself, using art, both old and new, to reconnect with the ghosts of his past. If making Pain and Glory was Almodóvar’s own attempt at reconciliation, I hope he’s also managed to close a couple of circles.

Pain and Glory is now in limited release.

Posterized October 2019: ‘The Lighthouse,’ ‘Parasite,’ ‘Joker,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, October 3, 2019 at 9:15 am 

“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.

October is here and Hollywood is kind of, sort of leaning into the Halloween spirit with sequels Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (October 18) and Zombieland: Double Tap (October 18). Are they horror? Not quite. But they have enough darker elements to get people in the mood to spend money on a new release rather than the countless repertory screenings of true genre classics happening throughout the country. Do they need attractive posters to do so? That’s also a no considering what’s been delivered for the latter. This Real D 3D sheet for the former, however, is quite stunning.

We therefore receive the usual ramp up to Oscar season rather than true big budget scares as fall festival selections opening in limited release flood the market with their “prestige”—horror or (mostly) otherwise.

PS: I talked about the poster for Wounds in March and now it’s finally opening in limited release on October 18.

A progression

I’m still shocked that LA’s campaign for Jexi (October 11) is what it is because these posters look like social media images thrown together with zero effort as disposable memes meant to be forgotten and recycled ad nauseam. They’re literally just poorly cropped stills of Adam Devine with slapped-on quotes stolen from other movies. And they’re hanging at your local theater.

What’s worse is that I think it’s intentional. Because the film is about a guy who falls in love with his phone’s OS, this social media angle makes sense. The problem isn’t therefore that the idea created an ugly result, but that there was probably no way for anything good to ever result. They should have realized this and scrapped the series as a misguided experiment en route to something better. The fact they went ahead with it anyway screams laziness unless the studio reveals that Jexi (the phone’s OS) designed the posters itself/herself.

While a boring image and boring text doesn’t get the job done, however, neither does the decision to increase that boredom exponentially. Take Blood & Chocolate’s The Current War (limited October 25) for example. Can’t get anything good to work with the four lead actors’ faces? Why not take an interesting aspect of the film (the light bulb map of America) and superimpose those faces atop it like ghosts? The answer is of course because that looks even worse. It muddies the water and renders the “cool” thing inert.

You could do so much with that map to craft a piece of art that pops and they chose to complicate its simplicity by covering it with floating heads devoid of intent. Why is Nicholas Hoult partially cropped off the page? Why is Tom Holland seemingly in possession of half the country by himself despite having a fraction of anyone else’s screen time? The composition wants me to think they’re positioned above their hometown or the location of their factories, but neither is the case. It’s random.

This older poster on right isn’t great on its own either, but it’s at least trying something different by making the two leads (Holland doesn’t get his name on here) into a light bulb. It goes too far by also making them the cities their electricity will power as smoke rises from of their frustrated brains, but I know what I’m looking at.

Chargefield, on the other hand, knows adding more works best via augmentation rather than excess and they utilize this knowledge on Miss Virginia (limited October 18). Like Champ & Pepper Inc.’s version at right, it’s just an image with text. But their execution is light years apart. The latter is more like Jexi with a visual flatness that projects a plastic surface of artifice on which we slide off. The former uses a shallow depth of field to conversely place us into its scene with weight—the sun overexposing aspects to create drama and emotion.

That Chargefield uses a more interesting font and palatable ratio of text size from one part to the next is merely icing on the cake. The title’s white is almost being embraced by the soft colors of the sky behind it, each element married to the next rather than popping out here or there. Both set forth with the same instructions (Uzo Aduba in front of the Capital building with title, tag, and actors) and yet deliver starkly different outcomes.

Burning Cane goes ten steps farther by turning the canvas, adjusting the contrast, and finding an idiosyncratic font with real personality. Rather than push an actor into our faces, this sheet manufactures a mood. There’s no staging on display, just a careful crop of light and dark perfectly carved for its superimpositions.

I do think it’s too perfect in this way since the text practically fills every inch of space around it, but I get the impulse to make everything as legibly big as possible. It would probably work better nevertheless by removing the critic quote at the bottom since doing so will free up some white space and prevent the weird juxtaposition of left and center justification kitty-corner to the one another. This image needs to breathe in order to reach its full potential. It’s almost there.

Peer overhead

The number of posters this month with bottom-heavy images is crazy. It’s not surprising, however, since the aesthetic is one that works by allowing a title to float above with little to distract it from its importance.

France’s selection for the 2020 Oscars, Les Misérables (limited October 18), is a perfect example of the design choice’s effectiveness. It’s nicely centered for symmetry with the Arc de Triomphe at the middle and a mass of people below as smoke is seen in the distance. The sky is then completely removed of anything that prevents it from being a strict field of color so the black title can pop. It’s a nice font choice too with deckled edges as though it’s made of ripped paper. A strong composition that might not do much, it does what it does right.

InSync Plus does a few things differently with their The Kill Team (limited October 25) and end up creating a more dynamic image by pushing things just off-center—actors bottom left with a heavy diagonal plume of smoke leading our eyes up to a title subtly covered by its cloud. That motion delivers added drama while also giving the designer more room to balance the text against that angle cutting through the middle. Its parts are simpler, but its orchestration more complex.

Heading back to straight symmetry is P+A’s teaser for The Lighthouse (limited October 18). Like Les Misérables, everything is placed on the center axis. The difference comes from letting the sky become as wild as the water below. Where the former let the chaos of people contrast the calm above, this one almost rejects calmness altogether. Only the lighthouse at the center with its beacon of light feels at rest—a trick of course considering what will happen during the course of the film on that island. The extreme horrors of sea and sky are converging to attack anyone that dares fight their whims.

The mermaid tail is thrown in for a bit of mystery, but also levity. It’s a nice decision because the film exists on that precipice between fear and laughter once its actors’ paranoia takes control of their actions. That flourish is missing in the firm’s final sheet. It relies solely on the drama born from two unhinged performances instead by focusing on cast more than atmosphere. Doing this will probably sell extra tickets, but I love the teaser’s choice to let the environment and place stand as the true star they are.

That brings us to LA’s Lucy in the Sky (limited October 4). It’s utilizes the bold choice of not only creating the white space like the other three, but also allowing it to exist on its own. This is about scale and placing the title in the white of the moon would ruin the impact of just how this celestial body dwarves humanity.

What’s interesting about the choice to keep Natalie Portman in focus rather than the moon is that it leaves a door open for her to conquer it—her David to its Goliath. It’s threatening to consume her as much as she’s rising up to show it that she’s in control. The duality of that is nice considering the film is about her losing her grip on reality upon returning to Earth. She’s no longer as small as the rest of us.

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New to Streaming: ‘Midsommar,’ Christian Petzold, ‘Crawl,’ Lina Wertmüller, and More

Written by Jordan Raup, September 26, 2019 at 10:01 pm 

With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options—not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves–each week we highlight the noteworthy titles that have recently hit platforms. Check out this week’s selections below and an archive of past round-ups here.

A Bread Factory (Patrick Wang)


With a small theatrical release and its runtime of four hours (split across two parts) it’s not particularly surprising that Patrick Wang’s A Bread Factory went overlooked last fall, but one should seek it out–and it’s now finally arriving on streaming. One of the best American indies of the year, it is a Rivettian look at an upstate theater company that takes both an authentic look at the mechanics of survival in the arts and a fanciful approach at showing the joy of performance. I don’t imagine the entire thing will work for everyone, but there are too many delightful bits to let it pass by. – Jordan R.

Where to Stream: iTunes: Part 1 and Part 2

The Chambermaid (Lila Aviles)

Set entirely within the confines of a luxurious Mexico City hotel, mostly in rooms and service corridors, The Chambermaid is a fascinating observational drama and occasional allegory for the haves and have-nots. Gabriela Cartol stars as Evelina, a 24-year old single mother working on her GED in a program provided (and later canceled) by the hotel’s union. Like Blue Crush, another film that contained explicit scenes of hotel maids cleaning up after guests, The Chambermaid doesn’t shy away from the usual demands of the job, from a guest who insists on having his room stocked with five times the amenities he needs to a wealthy Argentina woman who calls Eveline to her room to essentially babysit. When her son takes to Eveline, she’s given a tentative offer to leave the hotel behind for a new life in Argentina. – John F. (full review)

Where to Stream: iTunes, Google

Crawl (Alexandre Aja)

After forays into horror-comedy (Piranha 3D) and dark fables (Horns), New French Extremity director Alexandre Aja comes full circle with straight-forward, gnarly horror in Crawl. A precise and tense midsummer sandbox picture, Crawl allows Aja’s fixations on viscera and tension to bare their sharp teeth in a single space, recalling his earlier work (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) through sheer tempo and intensity, all while maintaining a father-daughter (and dog) narrative with just enough heft and sincerity to resonate.  – Mike M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

The Films of Christian Petzold

His so-called “Love in the Time of Oppressive Systems” trilogy with Barbara, Phoenix, and Transit has launched Christian Petzold to the top of the list of most impressive international directors working today, but he also has a wealth of incredible work earlier in the century beyond. Along with Barbara and Phoenix, two more highlights are streaming on The Criterion Channel: his chilling Carnival of Souls reimagination Yella his The Postman Always Rings Twice-inspired Jerichow. – Jordan R.

Where to Stream: The Criterion Channel

The Films of Lina Wertmüller


“It can’t always be about money,” says the infatuated Carletto (Nino Bergamini) to the object of his affection, a country-girl-turned-city-woman named Adelina (Sara Rapisarda) who rejects his marriage proposal because they haven’t yet reached the economic level she desires. In All Screwed Up, Adelina’s refusal to marry a man because of his position, and his violent reaction towards the rejection (he rapes her as she tries to save the new television set she bought for the apartment she shares with other girls) might very well represent the conflict that was at the center of all of Lina Wertmüller’s films, the clash between money and virtue, or more specifically can people be in possession of both? – Jose S. (full interview)

Where to Stream: The Criterion Channel

Luz (Tilman Singer)

It’s been years since a demonic entity has seen the woman it loves—she who conjured it to the surface before being driven out from the place in which she did. Tonight was a chance reunion wherein familiarity was quickly replaced by violence before a yet-unseen escape sees both parties going their separate ways. The woman stumbles towards a virtually deserted police station while the force of evil seeks out someone else who might be able to help it confront her within an environment it can control. So as Luz Carrara (Luana Velis) blasphemes God in Spanish via a distorted prayer to the two German detectives assigned to her, Nora Vanderkurt (Julia Riedler) solicits Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) at a bar with a tale of her girlfriend’s woe. – Jared M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Manta Ray (Phuttiphong Aroonpheng)

Halfway through Phuttiphong Aroonpheng’s hypnotic feature debut, Manta Ray, two men put up Christmas lights around an unadorned riverside shack. They’ve known each other for a while, but seldom speak: one (Wanlop Rungkumjad) is an unnamed Thai fisherman with dyed blonde hair; the other (Aphisit Hama) is a mute man whom the fisherman has found agonizing in a remote stretch of mangroves by the border with Myanmar, and has taken home to look after. The lights are to serve as decoration for a party the two are throwing that same night, but the sun is still high on the horizon; smiling ecstatically at the makeshift disco, the fisherman suggests the two should nap to make the day go by faster. And so they do. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Where to Stream: MUBI (free for 30 days)

Midsommar (Ari Aster)

Ari Aster wants you to know you’re screwed–that is, if you’re on the wrong side of a deal with demons or deities. In the wake of last year’s wickedly captivating Hereditary, Aster’s whimsical daytime terror Midsommar is seemingly poised as the lamb being led to the sacrificial slaughter of the Sophomore Slump. Lo! Via divine intervention, or more likely Aster’s sharp grasp on the genre, Midsommar basks you in sunlight and dread to present something far more fun to unpack than its predecessor. The comparison holds weight not just because Midsommar deals with the same playful takes on Pagan-infused scare tactics that Hereditary does, but because notes of loss and helplessness run amok here. Aster’s tendencies toward despair create a sense of sobering inevitability while still managing to surprise with a bit of impish charm. – Conor O. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Also New to Streaming


Child’s Play


The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

MUBI (free for 30 days)

The Magic Gloves
Workers, Peasants
My Name Is Joe
Sweet Sixteen


In the Shadow of the Moon

Discover more titles that are now available to stream.

12 Films to See at the 57th New York Film Festival

Written by The Film Stage, September 24, 2019 at 8:04 am 

The year’s best-curated selection of cinema begins this Friday at Film at Lincoln Center: the New York Film Festival. Now in its 57th edition, the event will kick off with one of its most high-profile world premieres in years, Martin Scorsese’s 3.5-hour crime epic The Irishman. What will follow is 17 days of the finest world cinema has to offer.

Since you are surely aware of their more high-profile selections–including Bong Joon-ho’s Palme d’Or winner Parasite, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, and a certain jokester–in our preview we’ve sought out to highlight some films that are either flying a bit under the radar or go beyond their Main Slate selections. Check out 12 films to see, along with all reviews thus far, and return for our coverage. See the full schedule and more here.

Atlantics (Mati Diop)

Somewhere along the stretch of Senegalese coastline where Mati Diop’s feature-length directorial debut Atlantics takes place, a futuristic tower stands tall and spectral above the ocean–a sinister crossbreed between a stalagmite and a lighthouse, its lights thrusting red and warm blobs into the night. It’s a fictional place in a story of magical, mysterious elements–a love story that crisscrosses between social commentaries and ghastly apparitions, addressing the global migrant crisis through a language of disquieting and stunning reveries. – Leo G. (full review)

Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles)

The school in the fictional village of Bacurau, located somewhere in the desert hinterlands of north-eastern Brazil, bears the name of one João Carpinteiro. If the throbbing synth track that introduces the opening credits, the film’s glorious widescreen photography, and the narrative’s Rio Bravo-indebted premise weren’t sufficiently indicative, Google Translate helpfully confirms that in English the name does indeed translate to that of the author of Assault on Precinct 13. Credit where credit’s due, as Bacurau owes a considerable debt to Carpenter–while also taking ample cues from another half-dozen genre auteurs–but in terms of complexity and ambition, this furious political allegory co-written and directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles (the production designer on Mendonça Filho’s previous features) is very much a case of the students outclassing the master.  – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

The Cotton Club Encore (Francis Ford Coppola)

As Francis Ford Coppola continues prepping his long-gestating sci-fi epic Megalopolis, the director has been looking back his career. After restoring Tucker: The Man and His Dream, he reworked Apocalypse Now, and now he’s returning to his 30s-set musical-meets-crime drama with The Cotton Club Encore. Following the inner workings of a Harlem jazz club, the film wasn’t a hit upon its 1984 release, but now Coppola has spent about a half a million of his own dime to restore image and sound, as well as re-edit the project to include the originally envisioned ending, new dance numbers, and more. He’ll appear in person at NYFF to present this new version on October 5, the same day a rare I.B. Technicolor print of The Godfather: Part II screens as part of a retrospective celebrating 100 years of the American Society of Cinematographers. – Jordan R.

Dodsworth (William Wyler)

Bringing the best in new restorations, NYFF’s Revivals section includes such highlights as Sátántangó, shorts from Sergei Parajanov and Vittorio De Seta, a pair of Buñuel classics, and the B-movie gem The Incredible Shrinking Man, but the biggest event is William Wyler’s Dodsworth, an adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel (and named by late TCM host Robert Osborne as his favorite film of all-time) which will get the rare screening for a revival at Alice Tully Hall. The screening of this brand-new restoration will feature an introduction by fellow admirer Kenneth Lonergan as well as a Q&A with Catherine Wyler and Melanie Wyler. – Leonard P.

Free Time (Manfred Kirchheimer)

While all three of this year’s gala slots (The Irishman, Marriage Story, and Motherless Brooklyn) capture a certain period of New York City, only one new film in the slate features actual footage from a bygone era. Manfred Kirchheimer returns to the festival after last year’s Dream of a City with Free Time, which is made from restored 16mm footage he shot during the late ’50s and early ’60s. Capturing the lives of people in Washington Heights, the Upper West Side, Hell’s Kitchen, and beyond, NYFF seems like the perfect site for a world premiere. – Leonard P.

First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)

In First Cow, Kelly Reichardt carves out space for friendship and generosity amidst an otherwise selfish landscape. Set in the 1820s Pacific Northwest, a familiar realm for the Oregon-loyal Reichardt, the film’s twin protagonists are atypically sensitive souls, both towards each other and their environments, and yet they remain hyper-conscious of the cruelty that enervates within their community. Reichardt probes at the limitations of self-preservation as a life philosophy, even though it’s basically required to survive such a hardscrabble existence. What’s the purpose of survival if life doesn’t incentivize assisting your fellow man? – Vikram M. (full review)

Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello)

The rare heavy-hitter to arrive at the trio of Venice, TIFF, and NYFF, Martin Eden finds Pietro Marcello stepping further into the international spotlight. The Jack London adaptation, which won the top prize at TIFF’s Platform section, follows a sailor who has dreams of becoming an author as he’s immersed in an Italian port city. Shot on 16mm with early comparisons to Visconti and Rossellini, this could be the international break-out of the season, and it’s already been picked up by Kino Lorber for a U.S. release. – Jordan R.

Synonyms (Nadiv Lapid)

Relocation becomes dislocation in director Nadav Lapid’s intense, beguiling Synonyms. Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, the story follows a young Israeli man who moves to Paris in the hope of shedding his past and remolding his identity, yet instead finds his sense of self chipped away at. This is an unsettling film about nationality and how society shapes people in a way that is difficult to entirely shake off. – Rory O. (full review)

Varda by Agnès (Agnès Varda)

Life can seldom offer us neat endings. Cinema sometimes can, and there is something nicely fitting to the notion that Agnès Varda, the seventh art’s great celebrator of all things gleaned, would leave audiences–newcomers and devotees alike–with so much to take from her final film, as Varda par Agnès has ultimately proved to be. It is a swan song but not a melancholy tune, more a joyous celebratory coda to the director’s life and work, a film that feels purpose-built to dispel any notions of solemnity around her passing. – Rory O. (full review)

Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa)

A dark back-alley drowned in shadow; towering concrete walls on either side; on the top right a row of headstones overlook; the glimmer of a walking stick emerges in the distance, and then a funeral procession. 15 minutes later a women disembarks from an airplane and is greeted not by family but by the airport’s cleaning staff. “There is nothing for you in Portugal, Vitalina,” they say. Welcome—or perhaps welcome back—to the world of Pedro Costa, the austere Portuguese director behind Colossal Youth (2006), In Vanda’s Room (2000), and other haunting works with which to grapple. – Rory O. (full review)

The Wild Goose Lake (Diao Yinan)

“Ever thought of running away?” “Where to?” This exchange comes late in The Wild Goose Lake, the latest film from stylish Chinese genre filmmaker Diao Yinan (previously awarded with Berlinale’s 2014 Golden Bear for his art film-inflected neo-noir Black Coal, Thin Ice), and within the film’s noir milieu the line fits. It’s shared between a gangster on the run and the call girl companion he’s been forcefully entwined with, however a strange combination of filmic tools means it comes tinged with a unique, near-cosmic portent, revealing even more so than his last film a much richer, wounded existentialism about two lonely, desperate people simply surviving in a dilapidated, contemporary Mainland China. – Josh L. (full review)

Zombi Child (Bertrand Bonello)

Bertrand Bonello’s last film, the terrorism-themed thriller Nocturama, hit headlines as it was released in the wake of Islamic State terror attacks in France. Supposedly it was the reason the film didn’t debut in competition at Cannes that year and with the compelling Directors’ Fortnight premiere Zombi Child, the director has again swerved away from official selection. Where Nocturama pointed to a seething social tension that Bonello believed present in the undercurrent of contemporary France, this is a genre-blending horror satire on the country’s racial divisions that delves into the country’s post-colonial heritage and the myth of Haitian zombie legend. – Ed F. (full review)

Additional Reviews

Endless Night
Fire Will Come
A Girl Missing
Heimat Is a Space in Time
The Irishman
I Was at Home, But…
Marriage Story
The Moneychanger
Motherless Brooklyn
Oh Mercy!
Pain and Glory
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Saturday Fiction
To the Ends of the Earth
The Whistlers
Young Ahmed

The 57th New York Film Festival takes place September 27-October 13. See schedule and ticket info here.

The Best Films at the 2019 Toronto, Venice, Telluride, and Locarno Film Festivals

Written by The Film Stage, September 16, 2019 at 8:23 am 

With the Toronto International Film Festival concluding this past weekend and Telluride, Venice, and Locarno in the rearview, the first phase of fall film festivals have concluded. Ahead of the New York Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, Fantastic Fest, AFI Fest, and more, we’ve rounded up our favorite films seen over the past month or so, resulting in a selection of premieres to have on your radar.

Stay tuned over the next months (or years) as we bring updates on films as they make their way to screens.  One can also click here for a link to all of our festival coverage, including news, trailers, reviews, and much more. As always, thanks for reading, and let us know what you’re most looking forward to in the comments below. Also, for a more substantial look at what’s coming to theaters this season, check out our fall preview, which also includes titles from Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, and more.

The Best

About Endlessness (Roy Andersson)

“What should I do now that I have lost my faith?” is the question that animates About Endlessness; this being the new film by Roy Andersson, it is delivered in a doctor’s waiting room, over and over again, in a creaky voice, by a dumpy man in late middle age who continues his plaint even after the doctor and his receptionist gruntingly force him outside into the hallway, from whence they can hear him scratching at the door like a zombie. About Endlessness is Roy Andersson’s fourth film of this century; it looks much like the previous three, and nothing like anything else ever made. – Mark A. (full review)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller)

It sounds almost too perfect: Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, the beloved children’s entertainer. Of course, who else could it be, really? It is so seemingly predestined, in fact, that Hanks’s first onscreen appearance as Fred Rogers elicits knowing laughter from the audience. Yes, Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers looks and sounds exactly how you would imagine. Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, however, is much more than an obvious biopic. It’s not really a biopic at all. Nor is it a rehash of 2018’s much-heralded documentary profile of Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Instead, this 2019 Toronto International Film Festival world premiere is a deeply felt story of friendship and forgiveness. Truly, what makes Neighborhood such a tremendous success is that it is not a film about Mr. Rogers. Rather, it’s a film about the impact of Mr. Rogers. – Christopher S. (full review)

Calm with Horses (Nick Rowland)

To cross the Devers family is to earn retribution. This is a known fact to all in the rural Irish town of Glanbeigh. Some strangers arrive and overstep their bounds without knowing (as if getting involved with drug dealers was an act whose danger can be unknown), but most everyone knows everyone else’s name and where to find them. So when it’s Fannigan’s (Liam Carney) turn to “make good” on a transgression, he doesn’t try to run. He sits in his chair as Douglas “Arm” Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis) enters and simply requests that it be “done quick.” Arm obliges without hesitation since he earns no pleasure from what’s become his job. Friend and “brother” Dympna Devers (Barry Keoghan) merely points him in the right direction and says, “Bite.” – Jared M. (full review)

The Fever (Maya Da-Rin)

By any conservative approximation, in the week that spanned the moment I left the Locarno screening of Maya Da-Rin’s The Fever and the minute I began writing this piece, an area as vast as 100 million square meters has been wiped away from Brazil’s Amazon basin. Over that seven-day window, President Bolsonaro has rushed to oust scientists unaligned with his regime, the international community promised sanctions against Brazil, and the Twitterverse rallied to the paean #PrayforAmazon, all while a surface as large as a one-and-a-half soccer field continues to disintegrate to flames each and every minute. The Fever, director-cum-visual artist Da-Rin’s first full-length feature project, puts a human face to a statistic that hardly captures the genocide Brazil is suffering. This is not just a wonderfully crafted, superb exercise in filmmaking, a multilayered tale that seesaws between social realism and magic. It is a call to action, an unassuming manifesto hashed in the present tense but reverberating as a plea from a world already past us, a memoir of sorts. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Hope (Maria Sødahl)

Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård) was married with three children when Anja (Andrea Bræin Hovig) met him. She didn’t want to fall in love, but twenty years and three more kids later show that’s exactly what happened. When Anja raised their babies, Tomas worked—a lot. When it was time for her to go back to work, she did too—a lot. Both alternated their career-motivated traveling so one could stay home and watch the family, a promise to be present at night with the kids honored by just her. Still unmarried (life always got in the way) and barely together emotionally, even their youngest (Alfred Vatne’s Isak) is aware their mutual affection has grown cold. And while a cancer diagnosis bridged the gap last Christmas, that distance quickly returned. – Jared M. (full review)

Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)

As an elevator pitch: it’s Kramer vs. Kramer for the 21st century, with Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver–both in career-best form–in the Streep and Hoffman roles, respectively. Nicole (Johansson) and Charlie (Driver) are partners on the verge of a break-up and parents to young Henry (Azhy Robertson), their only child. Charlie, a soon-to-be recipient of the MacArthur grant, is a playwright on the cusp of real fame, and the head of a successful theater group that is about to make the jump to Broadway. Nicole is a Los Angeles native who once starred in a frat house comedy but left the Hollywood path in order to act in Charlie’s plays. You might spot where the tensions eventually lie. – Rory O. (full review)

Sound of Metal (Darius Marder)

Sound of Metal opens with Riz Ahmed’s Ruben sitting at a drum kit while guitar distortions deafen us. Eventually, Olivia Cooke’s Lou starts screaming as his sticks connect for a steady beat until all hell breaks loose. We’re in this venue with them, the in-close camerawork proving Ahmed’s lessons paid off because he is in a groove and rocking out (not that he needed help on the second part considering his rap career as Riz MC and one half of Swet Shop Boys). With line drawn tattoos covering his chest, bleach-blonde hair, and that screaming, you’re probably assuming the after show will consist of booze and drugs before the visuals cut to a new day of health shakes and eggs in an RV. Appearances can be deceiving. – Jared M. (full review)

Uncut Gems (Josh and Benny Safdie)

There are two consistently pervasive ideas in the films of New York filmmaking duo Josh and Benny Safdie. The first is their clear affection for the art and craft of hustling. From their autobiographical drama Daddy Longlegs to their verité junkie film Heaven Knows What there’s a reliable focus on the often thrilling process of social manipulation and coercion to point where stretches could briefly be mistaken for a con man film if it weren’t for how they never lose sight of how these actions intersect with economic class. For people on the margins of society it is not just a skill but a tool of survival, which is especially true in their moody and expressive 2017 feature Good Time which saw Robert Pattinson’s Connie spend an entire evening engaging in increasingly desperate transactional interactions all across New York in attempt to bail his brother out of prison. That desperation is precisely what forces them to hone their craft. – Josh L. (full review)

Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa)

A dark back-alley drowned in shadow; towering concrete walls on either side; on the top right a row of headstones overlook; the glimmer of a walking stick emerges in the distance, and then a funeral procession. 15 minutes later a women disembarks from an airplane and is greeted not by family but by the airport’s cleaning staff. “There is nothing for you in Portugal, Vitalina,” they say. Welcome—or perhaps welcome back—to the world of Pedro Costa, the austere Portuguese director behind Colossal Youth (2006), In Vanda’s Room (2000), and other haunting works with which to grapple. – Rory O. (full review)

Waves (Trey Edward Shults)

The first few minutes of Trey Edward Shults’ Waves are positively dizzying. Amidst a throbbing Trent Reznor-Atticus Ross score, a high school wrestler, Tyler, drives with his girlfriend (Alexis, played by Alex Demie), hits wrestling practice, goes to class, works out, hangs with friends, and lives out a normal school day. It’s the type of schedule that seems exhausting to anyone older than their mid-20s. But this, Shults is saying, is the reality of life for a young man being pulled in seemingly endless numbers of different directions. As we watch this intense opening and dive deep into Tyler’s day-to-day, questions emerge. How is it possible for a teenager like Tyler—one with an entire future mapped out and waiting—to not make mistakes? And what if these mistakes led to others? Waves is a film that truly understands how dominoes start to fall in a young life. Just as importantly, it visualizes what happens afterwards. – Christopher S. (full review)

The Rest

Note: Also includes reviews of films that played at fall fests, but premiered prior.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (A)

Bacurau (A-)
A Hidden Life (A-)
Liberté (A-)
The Lighthouse (A-)
Pain and Glory (A-)
Parasite (A-)
Sorry We Missed You (A-)
Varda by Agnès (A-)
The Wild Goose Lake (A-)

Antigone (B+)
Atlantics (B+)
The Australian Dream (B+)
The Climb (B+)
Color Out of Space (B+)
Crazy World (B+)
Diego Maradona (B+)
Echo (B+)
Family Romance, LLC (B+)
First Love (B+)
Ford v Ferrari (B+)
Hala (B+)
Heimat is a Space in Time (B+)
The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão (B+)
Knives Out (B+)
The Laundromat (B+)
Les Misérables (B+)
Overseas (B+)
The Rest of Us (B+)
Son-Mother (B+)
Synonyms (B+)
The Tree House (B+)
The Twentieth Century (B+)
A Voluntary Year (B+)
A White, White Day (B+)
Wilcox (B+)

1982 (B)
Anne at 13,000 ft (B)
An Officer and a Spy (B)
Arab Blues (B)
The Audition (B)
Bad Education (B)
Clemency (B)
Corpus Christi (B)
The County (B)
Days of the Bagnold Summer (B)
Deerskin (B)
Ema (B)
Fire Will Come (B)
The Giant (B)
Guest of Honour (B)
Hearts and Bones (B)
Honey Boy (B)
I Am Not Alone (B)
I Was at Home, But… (B)
The King (B)
Jallikattu (B)
Jojo Rabbit (B)
Joker (B)
Just Mercy (B)
Love Child (B)
Maria’s Paradise (B)
Pelican Blood (B)
Proxima (B)
The Report (B)
Saturday Fiction (B)
To the Ends of the Earth (B)
Weathering with You (B)
While at War (B)
White Lie (B)
Zombi Child (B)

Ad Astra (B-)
Blackbird (B-)
Castle in the Ground (B-)
Clifton Hill (B-)
Coming Home Again (B-)
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants (B-)
Endless Night (B-)
Greed (B-)
Guns Akimbo (B-)
How to Build a Girl (B-)
Knuckle City (B-)
Love Me Tender (B-)
Maternal (B-)
Resin (B-)
The Scarecrows (B-)
Sea Fever (B-)
Synchronic (B-)
Tammy’s Always Dying (B-)
This Is Not a Movie (B-)
True History of the Kelly Gang (B-)

7500 (C+)
Disco (C+)
Dolemite Is My Name (C+)
Frankie (C+)
A Girl Missing (C+)
Harriet (C+)
The Last Porno Show (C+)
The Personal History of David Copperfield (C+)
Sibyl (C+)
The Whistlers (C+)

Entwined (C)
My English Cousin (C)
Nobadi (C)
Seberg (C)
The Truth (C)

It Must Be Heaven (C-)
Motherless Brooklyn (C-)
The Vigil (C-)

Lucy in the Sky (F)

New to Streaming: ‘The Matrix’ Trilogy, ‘The Dead Don’t Die,’ ‘Hail, Caesar!,’ and More

Written by Jordan Raup, September 6, 2019 at 8:20 am 

With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options—not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves–each week we highlight the noteworthy titles that have recently hit platforms. Check out this week’s selections below and an archive of past round-ups here.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller)

Do you have a Lee Israel work on your shelf? What should be a matter of owning one of her books or not since she was a notable author of biographies who hit the New York Times Best Sellers list, things get much more complicated when you look closer to see she wrote more than just about the likes of Dorothy Kilgallen and Estée Lauder. Israel also wrote as some of her subjects too. During the early 1990s when she was down on her luck professionally, financially, and personally, a fateful discovery occurred that would ultimately ensure her name would no longer be accompanied by “author” in the history books nor her own 2008 memoirs. From that point on her infamous occupation became simply “literary forger.” – Jared M. (full review)

Where to Stream: HBO

The Dead Don’t Die (Jim Jarmusch)

The zombies hobbling around the streets of the fictional, bucolic US city of Centerville have been awakened by global warming (specifically, from the ruthless fracking of the Earth’s polar caps), and that’s possibly the single most inventive spin in Jim Jarmusch’s latest, the Cannes opener The Dead Don’t Die. Ghouls can’t be killed, and neither can the tropes so many previous classics of the genre have crafted around them, and which Jarmusch’s star-studded comedy happily rehashes in a ride that offers plenty of chuckle-inducing moments, but ultimately stalls in a swamp of meta-textual references and cinematic detritus. Leonardo G. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Hail, Caesar! (Joel and Ethan Coen)

Hail Caesar 8

For being perhaps the most consistent American filmmakers working together, the Coens’ relationship with Hollywood has been depicted in atypical ways throughout their career, most notably as a life-threatening nightmare. With Hail, Caesar!, they headed back to a time in which they were never able to make movies to do just that. All while poking fun at the perpetual machine-like grind of studio output, we get to witness a handful of genres lovingly brought to life by the brothers. Some may call it scattershot storytelling, but every piece of this tinseltown puzzle works so impeccably well on its own that the cumulative effect makes for one of 2016’s most entertaining films. – Jordan R.

Where to Stream: HBO

High-Rise (Ben Wheatley)

High-Rise header

As soon as the voice of Tom Hiddleston’s Dr. Robert Laing was heard speaking narration above his weathered and crazed visage manically moving from cluttered, dirty room to darkened feverish corner, my mind started racing. Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas popped into my consciousness and then his Brazil, after a quick title card shoves us back in time to watch as Laing enters his new concrete behemoth of a housing structure, oppressively standing above a vast and still parking lot. Add the clinical precision of Stanley Kubrick dolly shots and the chaotic, linear social ladder climb of Snowpiercer with a bitingly satirical wit replacing the high-octane action and you come close to describing the masterpiece that is Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise. – Jared M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Hulu

Late Night (Nisha Ganatra)

For the first bit of Late Night, directed by Nisha Ganatra and written by Mindy Kaling, everything’s working and working well. What’s introduced as the central plot is extremely compelling: legendary late night host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson, making it look easy) fights to keep her job after a decade of bad ratings, stale jokes, and high-brow guests. After being told she has a penchant for hating female writers, Katherine demands her producer (the great Denis O’Hare) hire one. Enter Molly Patel (Kaling, charming as ever), a chemical plant manager who pulls some clever strings to score an interview for the position at the perfect time. – Dan M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime

The Matrix Trilogy (Wachowskis)

The heels of the announcement that The Matrix trilogy would become a quadrilogy (forgetting The Animatrix, I suppose), the trio of sci-fi epics are now streaming on Hulu. As The Matrix turns 20, we also recently celebrated its oft-derided sequels, naming them two of the best sci-fi films of the century thus far. Our own Nick Newman said, “I’ll ignore the wealth of received wisdom that’s surrounded these films for thirteen years and instead offer what’s deserved: praise. Following The Matrix‘s lightning-in-a-bottle success, the Wachowskis crafted a two-part sequel expanding their original picture’s strengths (aesthetics, action sensibilities, pacing, easily digestible philosophy) into the realm of be-all, end-all conflict. No matter the intensity and portent at its core, this duology makes great effort to balance in-the-moment pleasure with overarching narrative and theme.”

Where to Stream: Hulu

Miami Vice (Michael Mann)


I dare you to find a movie that is more self-assuredly cool than Miami Vice. I dare you to find a film that is more in love with itself than Miami Vice. I dare you to find two characters more cool-infused than Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell as Ricardo Tubbs and Sonny Crocket (respectively) in Miami Vice. This movie burns with the fire that only the truly un-self-conscious can embrace, and every scene drips with style and grace. The violence is sudden and real while still managing to be thrilling and electrifying. Every beat is calibrated for maximum sleekness, and thanks to the investment of the actors and the determination of writer-director Michael Mann, that cool is achieved. The soundtrack thumps, the sun shines, and the bullets fly. This is the pinnacle of action in the new millennium. – Brian R.

Where to Stream: Hulu

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)


A police procedural unfolds in the dimming twilight of an Anatolian countryside with a group of archetypical men — a police commissioner, a physician, a lawyer and a prisoner — searching for a woman’s body. This is the platform but not the subject of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon A Time In Anatolia. Pursuing the ghosts of filmmakers like Krzystof Kieslowski and Andrei Tarkovsky, Ceylan imagines his films as terrariums of image, sound and life living itself out in an environment where it can be turned and studied. The visual component of Anatolia is perhaps its most profound, an irony not lost on Ceylan who wants us to consider the interior souls of these men by becoming careful observers of their exteriors and the serene but lonesome landscape they inhabit. Watching Anatolia is sometimes like looking through the eye of God, taking in the comings and goings of figures less significant than they seem, with great interest but without judgment. – Nathan B.

Where to Stream: MUBI (free for 30 days)

Venice 2019 Premieres

As Venice Film Festival comes to a close (see our complete coverage here), FestivalScope is offering a taste of the festival to those around the world. Now streaming is a selection of films from Out of Competition, Orizzonti and Sconfini sections from Georgia, Iran, Romania, Spain, Tunisia. Available in the U.S. is Dimitri Mamulia’s The Criminal Man (pictured above), Saeed Roustaee’s Just 6.5, and Oskar Alegria’s Zumiriki.

Where to Stream: FestivalScope

Also New to Streaming


The Fall of the American Empire

Amazon Prime

Basic Instinct
Kicking and Screaming
Open Your Eyes
Raging Bull
Revolutionary Road
The Obscure Object of Desire

The Criterion Channel

Directed by John Schlesinger
A Dry White Season
Late Spring and 35 Shots of Rum


Out of Sight


Ocean’s Trilogy
The Portrait of a Lady

MUBI (free for 30 days)

Casa de Lava
Moon Child
Ears, Eyes and Throats: Restored Classic and Lost Punk Films
In Between


American Psycho
The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers & Return of the King
Rachel Getting Married

Discover more titles that are now available to stream.

Posterized September 2019: ‘Ad Astra,’ ‘IT Chapter Two,’ ‘The Death of Dick Long,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, September 4, 2019 at 9:03 am 

“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.

With four big festivals happening this month (Venice, Telluride, Toronto, and New York), it’s no surprise that the only true blockbusters hitting screens are the highly anticipated sequel to a Stephen King property and the inexplicable return of Downton Abbey (September 20). We could probably throw Rambo: Last Blood (September 20) into the mix too for the boomer crowd.

That’s not to say movies like Hustlers (September 13) and Abominable (September 27) won’t make money. They will. The distinction comes from those two titles making their debuts on that same festival circuit. Just because the former opens wide mere days after its TIFF bow doesn’t mean a little added press won’t augment exposure. An event like that wants stars like Jennifer Lopez posing for photos and studios want audiences to think they aren’t missing out on the “festival experience.”

Posters therefore become a huge part of ensuring the public knows what’s available as fall turnover in theaters happens quickly. The glitz and glamour of festival season puts a lot of titles in their heads courtesy of red carpet news coverage and a nice piece of artwork can help them wade through the noise.


When a documentarian has films like Senna and Amy on his/her résumé, their inclusion on the director’s latest work shouldn’t be a surprise. What’s interesting about Diego Maradona (limited September 20), however, is that Empire Design has risked competing with the logotype they created for this film by listing those previous works in their own. That yellow “Senna” grabs my eye every time I look at this sheet and holds my sight from peering down at what’s being sold. It’s not necessarily bad thing, though, since seeing that name is what got me intrigued in the first place.

Without it the poster is pretty forgettable. The blue “Maradona” mirrors the blue of the subject’s shirt and the halo glow around his head helps to align with the “Hero” and “God” of the tagline while his scowl depicts “Rebel” and “Hustler.” While bland is okay for fans of the athlete since his name and photo is enough to get them excited, I personally needed that aforementioned reminder that Asif Kapadia was the one who put this story together.

Depraved (limited September 13) could have fallen prey to blandness too considering it’s nothing more than a face at the center of the page, but Brandon Schaefer and Jump Cut know how to do a lot with a little via color, texture, and aesthetic.

This isn’t merely a photo of Alex Breaux in make-up. It’s an isolated head bathed in red and shadows against a grungy backdrop and d-movie title font. There’s a throwback nature to the construction of the sheet that’s been brought into the twenty-first century so it’s not too much different than the other posters on the wall. It’s an extremely polished riff on lo-fi trash—something I wouldn’t be shocked to learn the film is too.

Gravillis Inc.’s Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (limited September 6) takes a similar route albeit one that proves more conventional. Rather than create something new in the style of something old, they’ve taken an old photograph and manipulated it to add drama while still retaining the soft grain of its origins. By making the color saturation super dark, the colors become more vibrant than they’ve been since the day the photo was snapped. The yellow title doesn’t therefore pop as much as fall in line with the bandana around her neck to guide our eyes down from her face, through the fabric and her hands, and straight to the text.

The opposite is done with Empire Design’s Judy (September 27) as they push Renée Zellweger to the side so she can literally point to the title with her arm. Rather than let her dress melt into a black background like Ronstadt, the contrast from white to dark transforms her chiaroscuro to a virtual silhouette that allows the glittery “Judy” to sparkle all on its own.

It may not seem like much, but comparing it to LA’s poster (with photography by Jason Bell) shows exactly how good it is. Here the black and white Zellweger becomes lost within the black and white lights behind her—the low contrast muddying everything into a consistent gray that the red title cannot compete against. Instead of being a bright beacon in an otherwise drab whole, the glitter here undercuts the color’s power to break free. It grounds it to the blacks and whites so that the only true outlier becomes “September” at the very bottom.

Similarities abound

It’s weird that the American posters for Rambo: Last Blood (September 20) didn’t do what the Italian teaser did: copy the spray painted black/white/red stencil look of Rambo. The choice is an easy one to make considering it’s been a while since Sylvester Stallone tied up that headband and some aesthetic connection might have done it good. Better than a badly blurred agro-Robin Hood trapped in flames at least.

I’m not sure what LA was doing with the latter because it’s pretty silly when all is said and done. I do wonder, though, if the studio nixed bringing that kneeling Rambo to the States because it bore too much resemblance to Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest and thus would turn off the film’s main demographic: an American flag wearing public too dumb to realize their jingoistic clothing is what’s actually disrespectful.

The English language First Love (limited September 27) design is less about recalling something else than being something else. I know it’s not exact, but I thought this was an ad for the new HBO Watchmen series the first time it crossed my path. Between the closely kerned, bold yellow font and the pink splatter—how could I not? Someone had to have thought the same during those design meetings, so I must assume it was intentional.

Thankfully the festival sheet from Cannes has a bit more personality with its hand-drawn collection of carnage and unraveling skin. It too brings to mind something else due to the latter (Kevin Tong’s Mondo release of Mulholland Drive), but not enough to stop it from existing on its own merits. I would like to know whether a nude woman being the owner of that skin has contextual purpose to the whole, though. Otherwise it’s just another product using sex to sell tickets and that’s hardly creative.

Ad Astra (September 20) becomes an intriguing case study since almost every one of its posters bears resemblance to another. A big part of this is the fact that space carries with it a specific set of visual tools with which to wield. While an astronaut alone against the black void is one such motif we’re seen countless times before, WORKS ADV does its best to at least stand apart.

Where The Refinery’s Gravity depicts a person in crisis who’s desperate to swim to safety or reach out towards something she cannot grasp, Ad Astra shifts perspective and tone to deliver something else despite the pieces being the same. By shifting the angle lower, it’s as though its figure is walking on air without distress. And by morphing our sight with wavy static, his disappearance isn’t going to be slow and futile. He might blip out in an instant. The drama is therefore the same, but the mystery is its own beast.

Sadly, that’s the only copycat that adds something new to the equation. Brad Pitt the astronaut practically uses the same template as MOT’s Solis (albeit with a ton more polish) and BLT Communications, LLC’s French sheet proves a less effective riff on Creative Partnership’s First Man. Only BLT’s IMAX layout delivers something fresh by inverting space so it’s inside the actor with the white of possibility flooding the frame around him. It’s a beautiful visual metaphor.

I include Coffee & Cigarettes’ Extra Ordinary (limited September 27) here not because it appropriates a successful campaign from the past, but because it uses a concept that in turn makes it appear as though it does. The previous work I speak of is Being John Malkovich and its crowd of Popsicle stick masks that show how we’re all John Malkovich. It’s this idea that what makes us different can be neutralized if everyone around us adopts that same quality that’s being used here—not a visual repetition scheme on its own. Where one sheeted ghost is scary, a ton of them becomes comical.

It’s a wonderful representation of the tagline “Putting the normal in paranormal” because it shows how the unfamiliarity of an aberration is what stops us in our tracks. Once we normalize it, we can acknowledge that it’s not in our space. It’s sharing our space.

The final sheet loses this conceptual edge by simply plastering actors on the page underneath Will Forte’s goofy face. If anything, this poster shows us that the film itself might be what’s ordinary.

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15 Films to See in September

Written by Jordan Raup, September 2, 2019 at 9:58 am 

Our massive, two-part fall preview of the arthouse and foreign films to see this season (plus a few studio highlights) will give one an overview of the next four months, but now it’s time to dive a bit deeper. Our September preview features a few of the notable films that recently landed at festivals and beyond, including a good amount of genre fun.

15. Freaks (Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein; Sept. 13)

As TIFF approaches, one of our favorites from last year is finally getting a release. This psychological sci-fi bending thriller conveys the story of seven-year-old Chloe (Lexy Kolker) who has been locked in an abandoned house by her paranoid father (Emile Hirsch), protecting her from unseen horrors in the process. Jared Mobarak wrote in his review, “The film ultimately expands to encompass a worthwhile mythology with ample sequel potential…Fantasies and dreams crafted by a seven-year-old girl’s imagination give pause because the results of such interludes have a lasting effect on the future. And every little detail — straight down to a smiling child holding out a melting ice cream without caring that it’s pooling atop her hand — carries weight. Not a second is wasted.”

14. One Cut of the Dead (Shinichirou Ueda; Sept. 13)

A film shoot can be grueling enough, but add real zombies to the mix, and it will turn into one’s worst nightmare. The acclaimed Japanese horror-comedy One Cut of the Dead follows a film crew making their own zombie horror film when real zombies turn up and the director keeps rolling. Written, directed, and edited by Shinichiro Ueda with a budget of just $25,000, it went on to gross over $30 million worldwide and will now arrive in the United States this month. Set for a release by Shudder and Variance Films, the Fantasia and Fantastic Fest winner opens in NY and LA on September 13 and will have over 60 one-night screenings across the country on September 17.

13. Chained for Life (Aaron Schimberg; Sept. 11)

A highlight on the festival circuit since its BAMcinemaFest premiere back in 2018, Chained for Life, starring Jess Weixler and Under the Skin star Adam Pearson, will finally arrive in theaters. Leonardo Goi said in his review, “‘Do you feel like the story is exploitative?’ a journalist asks actress Mabel (Jess Weixler) about the new film she’s starring in, early into Aaron Schimberg’s brilliant second feature Chained for Life. In a meta-melodrama that constantly seesaws between fiction and reality, sprawling across a labyrinthine and multi-layered narrative that seamlessly jumps from one textual plane to another, I found myself wondering whether the question was in fact leveled at Schimberg’s own work.”

12. The Day Shall Come (Chris Morris; Sept. 27)

Chris Morris’ latest film isn’t the dark comedy knock-out that was his debut Four Lions, but it still aims to throw some incendiary darts at its scattered board. Premiering at SXSW, the film follows an FBI operation to turn an innocent black man into a criminal. John Fink said in our review, “Allegedly based upon a hundred true stories, The Day Shall Come, directed by Chris Morris (Four Lions), is another comedy satirizing the theatrics involved in the theater of war–this war, of course, is the War on Terror. This is difficult material to farm laughs from and the film is only marginally successful at showing the absurdity of a sting where competing organizations waste resources frying small fish that otherwise may be harmless. ”

11. Villains (Robert Olsen and Dan Berk; Sept. 20)

Two stand-outs of modern horror have teamed for a new genre feature. It stars–It Follows lead Maika Monroe and It‘s Pennywise himself Bill Skarsgård–get more than they bargained for when a home invasion goes awry in Villains. Directed by Dan Berk & Robert Olsen, the film premiered at SXSW to strong acclaim and after a fun trailer, it’ll arrive this month. Considering Skarsgård’s other major horror film of the year clocks in at nearly three hours, we’ll take this sub-90-minute genre outing instead.

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Billy Wilder, John Ford, and Douglas Sirk: Three Underappreciated Works Get New Life on Blu-ray

Written by Benjamin Goff, August 28, 2019 at 9:23 pm 

While it sometimes comes across platitudinous and trite, one cannot stay in any conversation about arthouse film more than five minutes without hearing the phrase “auteur” tossed out. It has become a tad sterile, but, as Andrew Dudley pointed out in The Major Film Theories, it is a valid form of critical theory. So for an August Blu-ray round-up, the conversation will revolve around three classic Hollywood “auteurs” and films from each that often go overlooked. Kino Lorber released Billy Wilder’s critique of war-time Hollywood, A Foreign Affair; the Warner Archive presented John Ford’s passion project Wagon Master; and Criterion added Douglas Sirk’s first foray into widescreen Technicolor, Magnificent Obsession, to their illustrious collection. While each release is a fairly underrated title in their director’s larger filmography, a close watch unveils tricks and tropes that each respective filmmaker would later use in their more popular works.

Billy Wilder, who entered WWII mostly known as a screenwriter for Ernst Lubitsch, immediately emerged from the war and won Best Picture for The Lost Weekend. In 1947, Wilder returned to begin a full-on assault against the very Hollywood that raised him. Angered by the Production Code and its lack of empathy in World War II, Wilder made Foreign Affair as a way to air his grievances. The film centers on a US Army captain (John Lund) who must choose between the seductively enticing German cafe singer (Marlene Dietrich) or the uptight American government official (Jean Arthur). Wilder was still cuffed by the Code and Postwar politics but managed to deliver quite a blow to Hollywood with regards to how he felt they were handling artistic integrity and creative expression. While Wilder is mostly remembered for his work from 1950 through the early 1960s (Sunset Blvd., Some Like it Hot, The Apartment), the traces of his genius can be found all the way back in the late-40s pictures. In an interview with Cameron Crowe, Billy Wilder noted that A Foreign Affair was one of his favorite movies that he made.

While Wilder was getting his start in the Postwar era, John Ford basked in the glory of it all. He had already made John Wayne a star with Stagecoach, reinvented the war documentary with The Battle of Midway, and won an Oscar for Best Picture with How Green Was My Valley. So it becomes interesting to hear him tell Peter Bogdanovich that Wagon Master was his passion project, one of his favorites to make. It finds Ford following a Mormon wagon train winding its way across the American Southwest up to the San Juan River Valley with two rogue cowboys leading the charge. For fans of Ford’s more commercial work, Wagon Master may fall flat. It doesn’t have the star power of his other films, the widescreen form, or even the action of most westerns, but it is in these negations where Ford thrives. As mentioned by Dave Kehr, Ford’s central themes are community and how to build one; Wagon Master finds itself well within this parameter. Here, Ford weaves a beautiful tapestry of his perceptive eye for the sweeping landscape shots, coupled with the rather simple storyline of sheer movement, which has led many critics to refer to this movie as a “film poem.” Ford’s filmography is exhaustive, but by the time you sift through the commercial layers at the start, one begins to see what a beautiful canvas the West was for Ford and how he could easily wield its frenzied power to his advantage.

Douglas Sirk is, unfortunately, not always considered in the same pantheon as the aforementioned auteurs, despite being a major influence for directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Pedro Almodóvar, Todd Haynes, and even Tyler Perry. Known for his widescreen melodramas, Magnificent Obsession was the German director’s first venture into the Technicolor form. Rock Hudson plays a wayward billionaire who, after crashing his speedboat, must use the only resuscitator machine in town to revive himself; immediately, one of said town’s most beloved doctors dies as a result of the medical shortage. The realization in the aftermath of this entire incident convinces Hudson to completely change his ways and become a lover and caretaker to the blinded widow. The logline is a hard sell for some viewers, yet melodramas that require the most suspension of disbelief bring the best out of Sirk. Coupled with his understanding of color palettes and coordination of blocking for maximum emotional weight, these stylistic choices are enough to forgive a story that is, at first blush, overly sentimental. In the accompanying Criterion essay, Geoffrey O’Brien notes that prior to Magnificent Obsession, Sirk’s film and theater career was already successful. But as history tells us, Magnificent Obsession was just the threshold to the director’s wonderful ability to utilize the forms that would come to define the glorious Hollywood melodrama of the ’50s and beyond.

Of all of the special features across these three discs, be sure to catch the Peter Bogdonavich, John Ford, and Harry Carey Jr. commentary on Wagon Master; which will encourage one to put the film on loop. While “auteur” has lost its meaning a little in a marketing world where every other director is a “visionary,” when taking a step back and recalibrating it, one has a clearer appreciation for a director’s touch on even their lesser-known works. These three directors have arguably more popular pictures than these, but it cannot be stressed enough that these new home releases are just as important to their complete filmography and offer a more granular look at how they fit into the post-war American cinematic landscape as a whole.

Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair, John Ford’s Wagon Master, and Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession are now on Blu-ray.