Here is the second report of nothing but reviews. That’s right, no whiny this happened to me crap, no humble brag “Look who I ran into on Main Street!” stuff, and, best yet, no “Can you believe how bad my diet is, here?!” musing. There will be plenty of that in the next report. So, here’s some more movie talk…
Charles Poekel’s CHRISTMAS, AGAIN stars Kentucker Audley as Noel, who has returned to his job selling Christmas Trees on a New York City sidewalk lot for the fifth straight year. Working the night shift, and nursing a broken heart from a romance with a fellow worker the previous year, Noel manages the lot and the demanding and clueless customers that populate it, tries to stay warm and gradually gets less and less tortured sleep as the holiday season progresses. After coming to the aid of a young woman he finds passed out on a park bench, the two begin a very tentative friendship/relationship as the two damaged souls try to make a connection during one of the loneliest times of the year.
A seasonal slice of life story buoyed by the efforts of LISTEN UP PHILLIP’s cinematographer, Sean Price Williams and editor, Robert Greene, CHRISTMAS, AGAIN drifts along with an authentic New York City cynicism and world-weary angst. Audley’s performance is as internal as it gets, which is admirable for grounding his character’s experiences and arc, but could fall short of satisfying viewers weaned on studio films that demand their characters have “wins” or easily discernable hurdles we can overcome with them. If you were looking for a Lifetime Channel Twelve Days of Christmas selection, then you would wind up hanging yourself under the mistletoe after watching this film. And that wouldn’t be the worse thing that Poekel could achieve with this modest debut.
Expected Sundance Reaction: I think it will receive some appreciation for the understated work, but I don’t see it firing up the garden-variety Sundancers.
Expected Real World Reaction: I don’t think a decent VOD run is out of the question here, but it may confuse the holiday movie or not?-minded audience members.
LISTEN TO ME MARLON
Stevan Riley’s LISTEN TO ME MARLON utilizes a treasure trove of video footage and audio of Brando himself from interviews and personal self-recordings to take viewers through a tour of the enigmatic actor’s life and career. His acting career is followed from his beginnings on the stage and his tutelage under Stella Adler through the major signposts like STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, ON THE WATERFRONT, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, THE GODFATHER and APOCALYPSE NOW to the roles he was embarrassed by (THE BEDTIME STORY) and the ones he had difficulty reconciling himself with (LAST TANGO IN PARIS) to the very end. His relationships with women, the tragic fate of his children, and his tortured relationship with his father is also all woven together with Brando himself narrating and giving his own insights and thoughts to the events of his life playing out before our eyes.
More than a basic biography, and certainly no hagiography, LISTEN TO ME MARLON has more artistic ambitions on its mind. In fact, as designed/directed, you could easily imagine the film playing on a constant loop as an art installation. Normally, that would not be a compliment coming from me, as I’m not a fan of the documentary as art wing of the film world. However, in this case, the film actually has a hypnotic quality to it. In fact, some of the audio is culled from Brando’s own self-recorded hypnosis tapes apparently to help him relax. Ego and self-love jokes aside, it’s a fascinating peek into Brando’s headspace which has always been a subject of interest, confounding the people who fixate on things like that. So, while it is about as far away as something the Biography channel would program, nor a simple primer on one of Hollywood’s greatest actors, the film (and Brando himself) succeed in haunting you for awhile after you watch it. And that’s kinda cool.
Expected Sundance Reaction: I think the people that like it will REALLY like it. Others may shrug.
Expected Real World Reaction: This one begs for the one-on-one you can get with a film on VOD. So, if you are of a mind, you can just immerse yourself in it. That’s where I see it doing solid business.
David Robert Mitchell’s IT FOLLOWS focuses on Jay, a 19-year-old girl who has her world turned upside down when she makes the choice to sleep with a new boyfriend. Afterward, he informs her that through the act of having sex, he has passed something on to her – a malevolent supernatural presence that will now relentlessly follow her until it catches and kills her or she has sex with someone else – and passes it along herself. Enlisting the aid of her friends, Jay frantically tries to keep one step ahead of the being, which appears as different people during its pursuit, as she works with her friends to form a plan to try to destroy it and free herself from her fate.
On it’s surface, IT FOLLOWS is a clever allegorical horror film dealing with the angst and shame and, depending on the bug, the permanent association with sexually transmitted diseases. However, the film truly excels as an artful mood piece, escalating the dread and tension while luxuriating in languid takes and dreamy esthetics and presents some of the most unsettling sexual imagery this side of Kubrick’s THE SHINING. The film also effectively displays the unique isolation of the teenager’s mind, where parents and adults are not only something you can’t rely on for help, they aren’t even present in any real sense. Therefore, problem solving and dealing with crises can only be done within a very insular group – if not simply by yourself. The terror of inevitability is about as potent as it gets, and trades on that fear as well as any have in recent memory.
Expected Sundance Reaction: The film has been out there since Cannes, so it isn’t going to sneak up on anyone, but those (like me) that have been waiting to see it will not be disappointed.
Expected Real World Reaction: A film that utilizes dread over gore, it should crack the multiplex code as well as do well on VOD.
Prashant Nair’s UMRIKA opens as a young boy, Ramakant, watches his older brother Udai receive a hero’s send off as he leaves their tiny Indian village for America (Umrika). The letters his mother receives from Udai inspire the village with their tales of living and learning about the strange culture and customs of the far away country. But no one is influenced more than Ramakant, who learns to read as he pours over every letter and the pictures they receive and tries to measure up to Udai in his mother’s eyes. However, when a family tragedy reveals the truth about the letters, Ramakant makes the decision to go to Bombay in an effort to locate his brother’s whereabouts and perhaps bring him back home.
UMRIKA touches on very familiar story points of family and the prodigal son leaving humble beginnings to strike out on his own in the big city (in this case, a strange, new country). And it does so with a majestic sweep to the storytelling. The combination of the modest, yet wonderfully executed ambitions of the film’s plot combined with a respectful nod to classic Hollywood cinema makes for a warm and compelling film. You might say that it is a throwback in all the right ways – a foreign film for those that normally would be put off by subtitles and a nice popcorn movie for those that do.
Expected Sundance Reaction: I think the film fans will be charmed by it.
Expected Real World Reaction: If marketed properly, I could see crossover potential to multiplex filmgoers.
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s THE TRIBE follows Sergey, who has just arrived at a boarding school for the deaf. He goes through the typical hazing that any new student goes through when there is a major sect of kids that are involved in their own personal crime syndicate dealing drugs, pulling small-time robberies, and running a little prostitution business as a cherry on top. Sergey works his way up through the ranks, becoming a pimp to two of the girls in the group, until his feelings for, and subsequent relationship with one of the girls, puts him at dangerous odds with his fellow student criminals. It would also be absolutely vital to note that during the entire film all communication is done via sign language – with no subtitles. Because burying the lede can be fun when you know how!
Seriously, THE TRIBE comes to Sundance after having wowed ‘em at Cannes and other festivals. I mean no subtitles and no words! Subversive, right?! To a lot of discerning film people I respect, it is, apparently. However, something tells me that for a lot of film goers who don’t have the word “cineaste” tattooed on their sleeve, two hours of being challenged to figure out what is going on in even the most rudimentary sense could get old fast. Is two hours of watching a deaf drama “more” than joust watching a drama about deaf people? I don’t believe so. But then again, that just may be the point. Sergey’s journey (and I had to look up the character’s name because there’s no way you can tell during the film unless you know sign language) is actually more than compelling enough to sustain the film without the no-subtitles gimmick, but there you have it. I think the film could serve as an excellent litmus test as to how you (literally) view movies.
Expected Sundance Reaction: The majority of the people that will go gangbusters for the film have likely already seen it. For everyone else, they will certainly be talking about it – out loud.
Expected Real World Reaction: It should do well, as it has a major critical stamp of approval, so a lot of people will want to see what the fuss is about.