AFFRetro Review: While Beautifully Filmed, THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE Doesn’t Escape the Conventions of Holocaust Cinema

Posted on: Apr 1st, 2017 By:

THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE (2017); Dir. Niki Caro; Starring Jessica Chastain, Daniel Bruhl, Johan Heldenbergh; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Before the Atlanta Film Festival screening of THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE, an introduction promised the audience that this film was not going to be “just another Holocaust film.” Although it seems callous to think that films about the signature human rights catastrophe of the 20th century could ever be boring, it would be accurate to say that, over the years, a particular set of tropes has taken root when portraying the event on the screen. The situation will look bad; some will say that it will pass; the noose will tighten; and then comes the iconography of the horror—trains, camps, ash. Inevitably, choices must be made about who to help, and how. Sometimes the films end on a down note, sometimes on an up note. But no ending can ever accurately be called “happy.”

I’m sorry to say that, despite that hopeful introduction, THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE doesn’t quite escape these expectations. Apart from a few key flourishes, the film follows the pattern mostly down the line. To garble a famous phrase, the people who don’t like this kind of thing will find this the kind of thing they don’t like.

Jessica Chastain plays the title character, Antonina Zabinski, principal animal caretaker at the Warsaw Zoo and wife to stoic Jan (Heldenbergh). We follow Antonina on an idyllic day through the zoo, which is presented as a utopian free-range menagerie where visitors can run alongside a camel or frolic with a set of baby lion cubs. Of course, this scene takes place in 1939, and within short order the German invasion has begun. The zoo is hit particularly hard—the animals are “liquidated” for soap and meat (mostly off-screen, with some startling exceptions—be warned), and the Germans place a permanent munitions garrison on the site. But the Zabinskis are concerned when a Jewish friend is forced to relocate into the Warsaw ghetto, and they decide to hide his wife, at great personal risk (“You can be shot for giving them a cup of water,” Jan reminds Antonina).

The situation is complicated by the presence of Lutz Heck (Bruhl), Hitler’s top zoologist who hopes to breed an extinct auroch from the Zabinski’s oxen. Heck has designs on Antonina, who spends most of her time at the zoo alone as Jan involves himself into the Warsaw resistance, helping as many as he can flee the ghetto to safety. As the war goes on, and as the tunnels beneath the Zabinski house fill with hidden Jews, it becomes harder, but ever more critical, to keep Heck from discovering their secret.

The film’s stakes are certainly high, and the drama is reasonably intense. But director Niki Caro [WHALE RIDER (2002)] fails to give the film the kind of visual tension it deserves. At its weakest moments, the film appears like one of the more inert of the Merchant-Ivory films, nicely decorated but somehow flat, with the performers stuck pantomiming rote material in a dollhouse. For example, as Jan becomes aware of Heck’s flirtations, he becomes bafflingly infuriated with Antonina. Surely he understands her need to keep the German distracted while on their property? And yet he seems to be angry simply because there’s not enough conflict in the second act, and the film still has the rest of the war to wait out.

Jessica Chastain stars as Antonina Zabinski in director Niki Caro’s THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE, a Focus Features release. Credit: Anne Marie Fox / Focus Features

The star attraction should be the movie star Chastain, but she plays Antonina with a demure squeak of a voice that befits the muted passions of the movie she’s in. If there is any element to distinguish the film (beyond the costuming and production design, which are lovely), it’s the way in which the story is shifted to Antonina from her more traditionally heroic husband. While Jan is crossing into the ghetto, rescuing abused children, and taking up arms in an open fight, the film posits that Antonina’s role in protecting her family and the all-important hiding place is worth every bit the heroic acclaim. The film attempts to identify a female perspective on the life in occupied Warsaw, where Nazism is inextricably intertwined with toxic masculinity. The Germans don’t simply kill their victims, they displace and starve and rape them, dominating non-German bodies as outbursts of masculine bravado. If there’s a second element to distinguish the film, it’s that it seems eerily uncomfortable when compared to the modern mood in some of the more unsavory—but increasingly visible—corners of our national conversation.

Ultimately THE ZOOKEER’S WIFE is another holocaust movie. Your interest in that promise may vary, but let us be clear that the world, the trajectory, and the situations in the film are nakedly (and all too uncomfortably) familiar.

THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE screened this week at the Atlanta Film Festival on march 29. For more information, check out the official site.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , ,

AFFRetro Review: Skateboards, Jet Packs & Silver Scream Spook Show Stars: SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE Is a Graveyard Smash!

Posted on: Apr 1st, 2017 By:

SAM & MATTIE PRESENT SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE (2016); Dir. Robert Carnevale; Starring Sam Suchmann, Mattie Zufelt, Madeline Brumby, Allison Maier; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Sam and Mattie are typical American teens. They like to skateboard and play video games. They chase girls. They have cybernetic implants coveted by the devil and his army of zombies, demons, and zombie-demons. The usual stuff.

SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE is an unexpected title for a heartwarming, feel-good picture. The real-world Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt hail from Rhode Island, inseparable best friends who became fixated on the idea of making a violent, gory zombie film starring themselves, an idea that may have seemed easy for their friends and family to dismiss before the boys revealed the elaborate storyboards they’d been building in their spare time. Director Robert Carnevale helped them launch a Kickstarter, thinking that a few bucks might allow them to put a film together. Sam and Mattie’s story, however, struck a nerve, went viral, and became a runaway crowdsourcing success story. The boys became stars of the mainstream press, and their project attracted talent from across the country, including Atlanta actors Madeline Brumby (Kool Kat here) and Allison Maier, and local special effects maven Shane Morton (Kool Kat here). 

Now, Sam and Mattie’s dream film is very real, and happily delivers more than just its great backstory. The Sam and Mattie of the film are the coolest, most interesting teens at their school, the kind of kids who tend to the needs of their knockout girlfriends before humiliating the local bullies with their sick skateboarding skills. Sam is the sensitive type and Mattie is his aggro best pal. They’ve literally known each other since birth, the moment made memorable when Satan appeared in the delivery room and murdered both of their moms—one of the downsides of having an epic destiny.

Now that they’re teens the Devil is back to finish the job, calling on all the bullies who hate Sam and Mattie’s unbridled awesomeness to join his undead army. The boys respond by unlocking their full superhuman potential, partying at Spring Break, and learning valuable lessons about the dangers of buying drugs. Also, Mattie has jet packs.

L-R: Madeline Brumby, Mattie Zufelt, Sam Suchmann in SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE (2016). Used with permission.

The project resembles less of a coherent narrative than a series of isolated vignettes strung together by the boys’ needs to kill zombies and have their hero moments. The emotional weight of the zombie outbreak is high in some scenes, while in others the monsters resemble irritating pests that have sprung up on Mattie’s lawn. What the film really provides is a bright and imaginative window into the way that Sam and Mattie see the world. Their script—every word of which Sam and Mattie wrote on their own, with Carnevale’s helpful translation—allows them to play out power fantasies and express their take on right and wrong. Sure, it’s a kick to watch Mattie shotgun zombies in the head (he has a surprising presence in the action scenes), but it’s hard to see the occasional quiet moment, such as the pivotal bit where Mattie and Sam stare into mirrors and remind themselves how valuable and special they are, and not think of the artists behind them. This thing is destined for endless cult screenings at midnight festivals and Halloween parties.

SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE may be a vanity project, but it finds its own heartwarming moments amidst its Michel Gondry-inspired cardboard hellfire. The word is that Sam and Mattie are hard at work on a sequel. That’s good. The movie screen is always hungry for real heroes.

SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE screened at the Atlanta Film Festival on March 25. For more information on the film, visit the official site.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

RETRO REVIEW: Pablo Larrain’s Noir-esque NERUDA Takes Us for a Wild Ride and Cuts to the Chase at the Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema on January 27

Posted on: Jan 26th, 2017 By:

by Melanie Crewposter
Managing Editor

NERUDA (2016); Dir. Pablo Larrain; Starring Luis Gnecco, Gael Garcia Bernal, Mercedes Moran; Opens Friday, January 27 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

Oscar Award-nominated Director and Producer Pablo Larrain’s NERUDA released to select theatres in December 2016, after screening in the Director’s Fortnight  section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and cuts to the chase in Atlanta, January 27, at the Midtown Art Cinema. Larrain [JACKIE (2016)/dir. – His first film in English; THE CLUB (2015)/dir.; NO (2012)/dir.)] has created his niche as a filmmaker stepping outside the typical biopic box and granting his viewers a biting yet intimate and unfamiliar glimpse into the lives of prominent world-known personalities.   

NERUDA, written by Guillermo Calderon [THE CLUB (2015)] lures the viewer into a 1940s noir-ish absurd and fantastical chase into the Chilean political underground which centers on two seemingly opposite characters, Chile’s Communist “traitor,” “People’s Poet” and exiled Nobel Prize-winner Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) and a romanticized straight-laced law enforcer Inspector Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal). Although Larrain’s film centers on a small slice of Neruda’s life, he uses Peluchonneau’s dreamy pursuit as a vigorous vehicle to carry the film from opening scene to el fin. Ever the poetic egoist and larger than life Neruda, played effortlessly by Luis Gnecco [Narcos”/TV series (2015); NO (2012)], who exclaims, “This has to become a wild hunt!” And so the viewer is swept away on a wild imaginative goose chase from town to town as the poet gives a collective voice to his suffering Chilean Communist comrades from afar. The thrill of the chase gives Larrain’s “Neruda” ample fodder to champion his cause as he barely escapes the clutches of his mustachioed arch nemesis, played ever so movingly by Gael Garcia Bernal [THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (2004); THE LIMITS OF CONTROL (2009); NO (2012)].

Mercedes Moran as Delia del Carril and Luis Gnecco as Neruda

Mercedes Moran as Delia del Carril and Luis Gnecco as Neruda

If Larrain’s objective is for the viewer to feel like they’ve stepped out of a time-machine into 1940s Chile and beyond, his use of antiquated yet absurdly fun film techniques unquestionably serves its purpose. His use of rear-projection during the car chase scenes for example is reminiscent of gangster and noir films of that time. Further, his unique visual style, utilized in his other works [THE CLUB (2015)] is characterized by blue and purple hues setting this story apart from the plethora of over-digitalized films that lack a distinct atmosphere, a distinct tone. Nevertheless, the genuine focus, the pure genius of NERUDA, is the cat-and-mouse chase narrative reminiscent of the film’s era, and more precisely the story that unfolds within the story. Larrain’s utilization of a mere snippet of Neruda’s flight from Chile’s brutal anti-communist crackdown constructs a vivid painting of the internal battle within a very self-aware and assured protagonist, the “People’s Poet.” In complete contrast to Neruda is Peluchonneau as the insecure, naïve and self-doubting narrator and antagonist. Calderon’s ability to depict both characters as completely separate entities with opposing personalities who could easily meld into one distinct being should one desire, gives the film a depth of character unlike most in the genre.

Gnecco

Gnecco

Whether you are a fan of Pablo Neruda, noir, or one who delves deeply into the land of nostalgic filmmaking, NERUDA is a film well worth checking out. Larrain dishes out an unexpected tale filled to the brim with intrigue, ambiguity and a genuine love for his characters. It is highly recommended that you catch this beautifully crafted piece of cinema, featuring standout performances, in the cinema. As Larrain conveyed to DEADLINE’s Nancy Tartaglione, “It’s less a movie about Pablo Neruda than it is like to going to his house and playing with his toys.” (Dec. 2016)

Gael Garcia Bernal as Oscar Peluchonneau

Gael Garcia Bernal as Oscar Peluchonneau

Category: Features, Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Vampire Clowns, Buckets of Blood and ’80s Cult Movie Mayhem: An Interview with Mitchell Altieri, Director of THE NIGHT WATCHMEN, World Premiere at Buried Alive Film Festival Thursday Nov. 17

Posted on: Nov 16th, 2016 By:

night watchmenTHE NIGHT WATCHMEN (2016) Dir: Mitchell Altieri. Starring James Remar, Matt Servitto, Tiffany Shepis. Opening Night Feature, Buried Alive Film Festival. Thursday Nov. 17. 9 p.m. 7 Stages. $12. Trailer here. ]]

Put together vampire clowns, buckets of blood, four bored security guys and their corporate gal crush and a trippy ’80s-sounding soundtrack set in Baltimore and you have THE NIGHT WATCHMEN, which has its U.S. premiere Thursday night at 7 Stages as the opening feature of the 2016 Buried Alive Film Festival. Which is to say that we enjoyed the hell out of it.

We caught up with director Mitchell Altieri to go behind the coffins and see how something this crazy and retro got made in the 21st century. Oh, and what it was like working with James Remar of THE WARRIORS!

ATLRetro: How did you guys get the idea to mix clowns with vampires?

Mitchell Altieri: Hello Anya, thanks for having me at ATLRetro. When I was hired to direct the film, the script was already written. Ken Arnold and Dan DeLuca came up with the story and Dan and Jamie Nash wrote the script. The script went thru a few different drafts and incarnations and when I came on board there were no clowns in the script, but during pre-production Dan and Jamie mentioned that they had a version with clowns. And I was like, “yes, please.” It just really fit with the fun story we were filming!

Anything else you’d like to add about THE NIGHT WATCHMEN’s genesis?

Go see it! It’s a real fun ride, with lots of action and scares but I’d like to let the movie to speak for itself.

The movie has an ‘80s horror movie vibe down to the soundtrack. How intentional was that, and do you have a particular affinity to ‘80s horror movies, and maybe some favorites?

Yes, it was definitely intentional! I love those ‘80s horror films that you rented on VHS from the local video stores, films like THE NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984), FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) or KILLER CLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988). And that’s what I wanted to do with our film, make it super fun and scary, even silly at points like those ‘80s films.  

Loved the soundtrack. Can you talk a little about it?

Our composer Kevin Kerrigan out of London, ate it up… he had a blast scoring the music! He was so excited to do such a retro score. And the guys who wrote the original songs, Fake Figures, loved it just as much. They are an actual band that wrote and recorded these songs while on tour, so it was a fun break for them. I really wanted the score and soundtrack to make you instantly get that 80s feeling, even though it’s a film set in present day, I want the audience also think that it can easily take place in the 80s.   

Mitchell Altieri with Tiffany Shepis, Diona Reasonover, Cheryl Staurulakus, Rain Pryor & Donald Imm. Photo credit: Herbert Mann.

Mitchell Altieri with Tiffany Shepis, Diona Reasonover, Cheryl Staurulakus, Rain Pryor & Donald Imm. Photo credit: Herbert Mann.

There’s a hell of a lot of blood in this movie. How much did you go through?

Let’s just say we ran out of blood like five or six times. We used a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever run out of that much blood before.

Hopefully this isn’t too spoilery but the main five characters could have just been stereotypical, they had little touches to them that both defied the usual tropes and enhanced the humor. And you scored a great ensemble with a real chemistry who seemed to be having a great time. Anything you’d like to share about that?

Yeah, I agree. I really value strong characters in films. Even if it’s a straightforward film, you can never go wrong with interesting, bold characters. I was very pleased with the cast. Ken, Dan and Kevin Jiggetts all have worked together many times before so it was dynamic when they worked against Kara Luiz who plays the journalist and Max Wilbur, the young rookie. I challenged them and they challenged each other and had a great time with it.

Again without giving too much away, the film is full of fun scenes. What was the most fun to actually film and why?

There were a few scenes I remember just laughing out loud and not being able to stop laughing. It was mainly when the actors just started riffing off each other, adlibbing, etc, The entire crew would be in stitches from laughing. Well, you can really laugh out loud during a take, so you would look around and people’s faces would be buried in their jackets or whatever they had in their hands so they wouldn’t ruin the scene. That was always fun. I personally ruined a scene or two from not being able to stop laughing but it comes with the territory I guess.

(L to R) Kevin Jiggetts, Dan DeLuca, Kara Luiz, Max Gray Wilbur, Ken Arnold. Photo credit: Robert Neal Marshall.

(L to R) Kevin Jiggetts, Dan DeLuca, Kara Luiz, Max Gray Wilbur, Ken Arnold. Photo credit: Robert Neal Marshall.

Did you face any challenges while making the movie?

A film is a challenge from beginning to end. It is exhausting work! But for this particular set, the most challenging thing I faced was I got sick. We shot in Maryland and it was their worst winter in 76 years. I never have been sick on set but I guess the cold got me this time. But as a director on set you don’t really get sick days, so I had to push through. It was brutal. I was very thankful for an amazing crew that helped pick up the slack those few days.

OK, being a big THE WARRIORS  fan, gotta ask James Remar shared any anecdotes on the set?

I’m a huge fan of THE WARRIORS as well, so yes it was very cool to have him on set. I mean he was Ajax! He would tell great stories about different films, and how the sets were, or working with different people. We all got a good kick out that.

What’s next for you?

I’m attached to a couple projects right now that I can’t really talk about, but I also did five feature films in a row, one a year basically, so I’m also enjoying taking a little time off, traveling and just plain relaxing!!

 And finally, your favorite flavor of cannoli? 

Question should be which flavor don’t I like. Thank you for the interview. I appreciate it.

Category: Features, Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RETRO REVIEW: What Keeps a Musical Alive? 7 Stages Feeds Audiences a Dark, Fresh Take on THREEPENNY OPERA

Posted on: Sep 16th, 2016 By:
The wedding of Mackie (Aaron Strand) and Polly Peachum (Stephanie Lloyd) with cinematic insert of Mack's trio of cohorts (Jed Drummond, Tad Cameron and Evan Hynes) showcasing the all-stolen posh furniture. Credit: Stungun Photography.

The wedding of Macheath (Aaron Strand) and Polly Peachum (Stephanie Lloyd) with cinematic insert of Mack’s trio of cohorts (Jed Drummond, Tad Cameron and Evan Hynes) Credit: Stungun Photography.

THE THREEPENNY OPERA; directed by Michael Haverty and Bryan Mercer; Play by Bertolt Brecht; Music by Kurt Weill and translated from German by Marc Blitzstein; Starring Aaron Strand, Stephanie Lloyd, Kevin Stillwell, Don Finney. 7 Stages. Sept. 9-25, 2016 (EXTENDED TO OCT. 2!). Tickets here.

Atlanta doesn’t have the theatrical reputation of many comparable American cities, but with THE THREEPENNY OPERA (Sept. 9-25), 7 Stages proves once again that this city can and does produce innovative, provocative performances of the sort one expects to see Off-Broadway. This production, envisioned and co-directed by Michael Haverty and Bryan Mercer, is quite simply a must-see if you like Brecht and Weill, value drama that provokes, disturbs, and makes you laugh like Hell, and/or don’t believe Atlanta produces theater at the level of New York.

Set in working class Victorian London, THREEPENNY tells the cautionary tale of MacHeath, aka “Mack the Knife,” a brutal but charming thief and murderer, as well as the many women who love him. The rest of the cast of characters include beggars, criminals, whores, and corrupt police officers. First performed in Berlin in 1928, it was Brecht’s attempt to adapt and update John Gay’s 18th century BEGGAR’S OPERA into a socialist satire of both the profit motive and the mode of musical theater itself right down to a perhaps (or perhaps not) unexpected ending.

From the moment Nicolette Emanuelle (read our Kool Kat of the Week interview with her here) emerges, dressed almost only in an accordion, and belts out the eponymous song, “Mack the Knife” in deep, guttural tones, the visceral, unrelenting tone is set. Let’s say definitively that this ain’t Bobby Darin’s homogenized hit. One can’t help but be reminded of CABARET though that was written much later,. The comparison is appropriate given that while the setting is London, Brecht conceived THREEPENNY in Weimar Germany with a jazz-influenced soundtrack. And thanks to subversive drama such as THREEPENNY, in 1933, Brecht and Weill would have to flee their home country in the wake of Hitler’s rise to power.

Polly Peachum (Stephanie Lloyd) and Macheath (Aaron Strand). Credit: Stungun Photography.

Polly Peachum (Stephanie Lloyd) and Macheath (Aaron Strand). Credit: Stungun Photography.

This THREEPENNY shows more spunk and further establishes its 1920s setting, along with embracing Brecht’s expressionistic theory of theater, by mimicking silent film at various points, including a cast titles segment at the beginning. The characters parade live in front of a period-consistent unsteady camera with the resulting black-and-white footage projected onto the rear stage wall. THREEPENNY works better with a minimalist set and lower production values (vis-a-vis the abject failure of the big-budget 1989 Broadway revival with Sting which I unfortunately saw but mercifully remember nothing about). In this case, the camera is used a number of times during the show not only to compensate for a limited budget but also to enhance the theatrical experience in creative ways. I won’t divulge the details so as not to spoiler.

While the cast was consistently strong in the preview performance I saw, several actors stood out. THREEPENNY can be made or broken by who plays Mack the Knife. I can say thankfully that Aaron Strand is no Sting. And don’t be fooled by his pretty face. Strand takes the role of bastard by the balls and rides it all the way unabashedly, from displaying a full grasp of the nuances of the play’s dark and biting humor to enthusiastically embracing Mack’s raw sexuality, even endowing a rock n roll edge at points that makes the role feel contemporary without compromising Brecht’s vision. Brecht never wants us to empathize with his characters, but we need to sense Mackie’s extreme charisma despite his inherent sociopathy. The directors have admitted  tossing a nod towards this year’s presidential race, and it’s hard not to see some parallels in a man who can say or do anything and still be loved by many. “What keeps a man alive? He lives on others.” Indeed.

Also memorable are Mr. JJ Peachum (Kevin Stillwell) and especially his wife, played in drag by Don Finney. The Peachums run a lucrative and, to them anyway, respectable business training professional beggars and taking a share of their earnings. If Mackie is a capitalist, the Peachums could be community organizers of sorts especially when later in the play they assemble an army of beggars to disrupt the queen’s coronation. They aren’t pleased at all when their daughter Polly abandons the family business to marry Mackie and take it upon themselves to get him arrested and hanged. Stillwell is an earnest Mr. Peachum who hits all the ironic humor of his character, but Finney is a show-stealer–effusive, maternal, dominant, and absolutely hilarious. In other hands perhaps placing a man in the role would simply be a gag, but Finney sets fire to the stage and easily matches Mack as a formidable adversary.

Mrs. Peachum (Don Finney). Credit: Stungun Photography.

Mrs. Peachum (Don Finney). Credit: Stungun Photography.

For all the darkness in THREEPENNY, as noted, Brecht injected a lot of humor. A special nod should also go to Adam Lowe, who plays not only the clumsy Filch, who applies to Peachum and needs some serious education in begging, but also Tiger Brown, the esteemed police chief of London. Tiger and Mackie served together in the military, and Tiger has been, at least thus far, protecting Mackie from arrest. Their boisterous nudge-nudge-wink-wink rendition of “Army Song” is a show highlight. A call-out should also go for slapstick mastery by Mackie’s trio of henchmen–Readymoney Matt (Jed Drummond) who reminded me in voice, if not hair, of VENTURE BROTHERS’ Pete White, Crookfinger Jake (Tad Cameron), and Bob the Saw (Evan Hynes).

Among the ladies in the cast, Stephanie Lloyd is an appropriately pretty and savvy Polly Peachum, madly in love with Mackie and to whom he leaves the control of his shady business when on the run from the law. The production makes an interesting choice by having her, rather than Jenny the prostitute and Mackie’s original lover, sing “Pirate Jenny” (perhaps the play’s second best known song), a change which I am uncertain about maybe because Lloyd’s voice hits a much higher pitch than the deep-throated Lotte Lenya (composer Kurt Weill’s wife), who played Jenny in both the 1931 German film adaptation and the 1954 Off-Broadway revival which debuted Mark Blitzstein’s translation of Weill’s lyrics, the best-known translation also used in this production. However, casting Dorothy V. Bell-Polk, who resembles Grace Jones, as Jenny is an intriguing surprise. And Jessica De Maria brings the right balance of passion and disgust to Tiger Brown’s daughter Lucy, Mackie’s other “wife” who is considerably less dainty. (As a side note for those who don’t know, a young Bea Arthur played Lucy in the 1954 rendition and Lucy was played by a man, Brian Charles Rooney, in the 2006 Broadway revival which toyed with Mackie’s sexuality and featured Alan Cumming as Mack and Cyndi Lauper as Jenny).

A big hand should also go to DeeDee Chmielewski, 7 Stages’ longtime costume designer, for her monochromatic black and white designs which blend well with the expressionist cinema ambiance,, as well as the simple props and sets designed to maximum effect by Melisa DuBois, and lighting design by Rebecca M.K Makus. And of course, the band. As with 7 Stages’ DRACULA, THE ROCK OPERA (Read ATLRetro’s review here), the musicians are onstage but woven seamlessly into the action. In sum, 7 Stages shows yet again how to maximize a parsimonious assemblage of performers, with my only possible regret being that there weren’t more beggars to march on the coronation.

Move fast and don’t miss this THREEPENNY because while the characters may be perennially stuck in their low societal positions, Atlanta theater runs are always short. As with DRACULA, one wishes this production could hang around for a while and build an audience. 

Category: Features, Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RETRO REVIEW: DEMON Clings to the Screen, and Then to Your Soul

Posted on: Sep 15th, 2016 By:

Demon_poster_finalDEMON (2015); Dir. Marcin Wrona: Starring Itay Tiran, Agnieszka Zulewska, Andrzej Grabowski; Opens Friday, September 16 at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

By Brooke Sonenreich
Contributing Writer

Before arriving to Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, Marcin Wrona’s DEMON had its Atlanta premiere at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Intrigued by Jewish mysticism, body horror and my own Polish-Jewish roots, I went into this movie with a fresh curiosity. DEMON is set in contemporary Poland, but within a small village that is still recuperating from Nazi occupation. Before attending to the characters, Wrona posits the spectator in the abandoned parts of this Polish town. Before any indication of a character being possessed, Wrona privies us to the haunting of the location with opening images of rundown, abandoned ghettos.

DEMON is a dybbuk story, and the most complex and intriguing one I have ever followed. In Jewish mysticism, if a Jewish body has not been properly buried it remains in purgatory. However, the soul can latch onto a living soul in order to carry out its business. Quite literally, the word dybbuk means to cling.

For Piotr (Israeli Jewish actor Itay Tiran) the dybbuk attaches to his soul the night before he marries Zaneta, a Polish woman whose family is still a group of strangers to Piotr. As the possession takes over his ability to speak and his overall motor skills, questions about the village and its Jewish past bubble to the surface. However, the cling of the dybbuk only strengthens and the dybbuk’s Jewishness begins seeping out of Piotr through shared memories, language, and voice.

(Left to Right) - Itay Tiran, Agnieszka Zulewska, and Cezary Kosinski in DEMON. Used with permission.

(Left to Right) – Itay Tiran, Agnieszka Zulewska, and Cezary Kosinski in DEMON. Used with permission.

My first viewing of DEMON was followed by the realization that it would be in a cycle of festivals before being distributed for at least another year. But I left the theater feeling haunted myself and made it to the other screenings in hopes of retaining as much of this film as possible before it was passed to the next festival. The film’s arrival at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema should not go unnoticed. It is a film that resonates months after the first viewing and, much like how the dybbuk’s hold on the spirit only strengthens, DEMON has the ability to cling to its beholder.

On the day of the film’s screening in Poland, Wrona committed suicide, and even if the film is watched in a loop, there is an unanswerable question that continues to arise: Is Piotr the only haunted subject of DEMON?

Brooke Sonenreich is a film instructor and theorist. She likes sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers and staring at a bright wall for an extended period of time, and she has somehow made that into a job.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RETRO REVIEW: TICKLED Digs Deep, Becomes No Laughing Matter

Posted on: Jul 6th, 2016 By:

tickledBy Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

TICKLED (2016); Dir. David Farrier, Dylan Reeve; Starring David Farrier; Now Playing at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

Before we get started, just know that I enjoyed the new documentary TICKLED, and I absolutely recommend you take the time to see it in theaters. Know as little as you can. Don’t google. Watch the trailer only if you must.

If you’re unconvinced and still reading… well, here’s where it gets tricky. Because central to the experience of TICKLED is watching its twists and turns unfold. You won’t even believe how weird this thing gets, and many of the film’s best moments are tuned precisely to the shock and thrill of that escalation. To review it properly risks spoiling it. Spoiling it risks ruining it.

I’ll provide an overview. New Zealand journalist David Farrier (see Kool Kat of the Week interview here) is the kind of guy who trafficks in weirdness. Known in his home country as an entertainment reporter and personality, Farrier is the guy you send in to the field to witness the weird and off-kilter. His territory is the human interest story, the kind of thing that would show up at the tail end of a news broadcast to give you a light laugh and send you on your way. Need a guy to do a sit-down with GWAR? Farrier’s your man. In his quest for the odd, Farrier stumbled upon something he’d never seen before—a competitive endurance tickling league. Videos produced by an entity called Jane O’Brien Media lurked on YouTube, depicting young men in athletic gear tickling one another for sport. Farrier laughed, and sent out an email asking for an interview and a profile.

That’s when all hell breaks loose.

The film chronicles Farrier’s surprise as he becomes the target of seemingly crass, homophobic emails attempting to prevent him from writing his small article. Sensing a larger story, Farrier begins a collaboration with filmmaker Dylan Reeve, a partnership that takes them to some weird corners of the internet, across the Pacific to the United States, and into a web of harassment and hate that spans decades. At one point, the film shows Farrier engaged in an actual car chase.

Let me repeat that. From tickling videos to a car chase on American streets.

This movie is unbelievable.

Tickled VideosTICKLED is a slick, well-produced documentation of Farrier’s investigation that takes great pains to provide the context the story needs to avoid feeling like a hit job. Farrier takes time to meet with innocent tickling enthusiasts who demonstrate the innocent, victimless nature of their fetish that contrasts wildly with what’s going on in the YouTube videos, making it clear that this is not an attempt to shame a subculture, but rather a document aimed at defending it. The bad behavior on display in TICKLED is very bad indeed, stretching way beyond the studios where the videos are made and into a world that intersects at poverty and privacy, at benevolence and exploitation.

TICKLED is a living document, to an extent. Legal threats are all over this thing, and the recent LA premiere became a shouting match attended by some of the figures from the film. The story is not yet over. But TICKLED makes a very strong case for who should held accountable, and by bringing the film to the widest possible audience, Farrier and Reeve hope to bring a shadowy organization into the light.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RETRO REVIEW: HIGH-RISE Aims High with Ballard Adaptation, Falls Low …Maybe

Posted on: May 12th, 2016 By:

high-rise-poster-ben-wheatleyHIGH-RISE (2015); Dir. Ben Wheatley; Starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, Elisabeth Moss; Opens Friday, May 13 at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

When the credits rolled and the lights came up on HIGH-RISE, I wasn’t sure what to think. The audience around me murmured and shifted. The film didn’t seem to go over well on them. As I left the theater, one guy asked someone (the crowd?) repeatedly “Did you like that film? Did you like that film?” In the parking lot, I overheard two women trying to make sense out of it.

So, yeah, I think I liked it.

HIGH-RISE is an intentional provocation, an agitprop object. This thing has weight, texture, depth. A century ago, people tried to burn the screen after movies like this, movies that acted as angry screeds about the increasing stratification of the classes. HIGH-RISE acts as a period piece, but couldn’t be more perfectly suited to our times. Wow, this film is mad, and it makes a solid case that we all should be madder.

Based on the 1975 J.G. Ballard novel that was long considered unfilmable, HIGH-RISE plays out like an uppercrust LORD OF THE FLIES, with an insulating luxury apartment building standing in for the far-flung desert island. Tom Hiddleston stars as Dr. Robert Laing, a desirable young doctor whose search for solitude prompts him to move to the 25th floor of the ultra-modern building that offers all the amenities of the outside world, from swimming pools to supermarkets. At first, Laing’s new environment seems like a utopian paradise full of endless parties. People from all floors mix and mingle, despite the economic divide. You see, the lower floors are for the families and the poor, and it’s these people hit the hardest when the power begins to short out. It happens a little at a time, and then all at once. The building’s architect, Royal (Jeremy Irons), offers no good explanation, and as the resources begin to dwindle, the utopia crumbles as the residents turn on one another.

2016_11_high_riseYou may be asking why the residents don’t just leave the building as it stops sustaining them? This is where we approach the novel’s unfilmable reputation. Those looking for a clean narrative like LORD OF THE FLIES or even SNOWPIERCER might find themselves thrown by HIGH-RISE’s allegorical approach. The residents do leave. They go to work. Occasionally. But when the day is over, they race back to the disintegrating nightmare of their vertical world. Dogs become food. Roving bands of the well-to-do raid their neighbors for cocktail onions so that the party can continue. Laing himself becomes intent on simply finding the perfect paint color for his apartment while the bodies pile up in the pool. The allegory is that capitalism and human nature itself is the root of the evil, and it never occurs to the citizens of the block that there might be another way.

hiddleston-xlarge_trans++3hVEJul2WVJXEjB3JWusSHndML-fnbpvlkWcWvKdhwUDirector Ben Wheatley has developed a reputation for off-center oddities, including 2013’s A FIELD IN ENGLAND, in which a group of men crossing a field becomes a trippy psychedelic mash. Wheatley (and his wife/writer Amy Jump) proves to be a great fit for this material, choosing to emphasize mood and meaning over the particulars of plot, which could never have come together satisfactorily without sacrificing some of the story’s deep symbolism. In this building, it’s not so easy that the rich prey on the poor, but that when the chips are down, they all prefer to eat each other. The only sane way to navigate this new world is to paint yourself into your own carved-out corner and hope to god it doesn’t come crashing through your door.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RETRO REVIEW: Bob Yari Paints a Rarely Seen Portrait of Hemingway, with His Most Recent Directorial Cinematic Release, PAPA: HEMINGWAY IN CUBA, opening April 29

Posted on: Apr 29th, 2016 By:

by Melanie CrewFilm Poster
Managing Editor

PAPA: HEMINGWAY IN CUBA (2015); Dir. Bob Yari; Starring Giovanni Ribisi, Adrian Sparks, Joely Richardson; Opens Friday, April 29 at select Atlanta theatres (theatre list here); Trailer here.

Bob Yari’s [MIND GAMES (1989)/dir.; CRASH (2004)/producer; THE ILLUSIONIST (2006)/producer] PAPA: HEMINGWAY IN CUBA, after two years in the making, finally releases to the masses, April 29, in select theatres across the country. PAPA delivers a poignant punch to the gut, while giving the audience a bitter glimpse into Cuba’s bloody history. Yari’s film tells the true tale of a boy (Denne Petitclerc “Ed Myers”/Giovanni Ribisi) abandoned by his own family as a child in the mid-1930s. The boy later is invited to Havana and taken in as a mentee by the larger than life, Ernest Hemingway (Adrian Sparks) in the midst of Fidel Castro’s armed revolt. As the first Hollywood film shot in Cuba in half a century, PAPA reveals not only the inner workings of a country mid-revolution in the late 1950s, but also exposes a side of Hemingway rarely depicted. To top it all off, Yari’s use of Petitclerc’s actual story locations, including Hemingway’s home, gives the audience a closer glimpse into the ghosts of Petitclerc’s and Hemingway’s past.

Giovanni Ribisi as Ed Myers

Giovanni Ribisi as Ed Myers

Yari steps away from the stereotypical brightly colored flamboyancy and rambunctious nightlife that is usually attributed to Cuba and even sometimes Hemingway. His settings and shots reveal the softer side of both, shrouding them in pale-colored linen and visually pleasing muted lighting, up close and personal. Don’t get me wrong. The Hemingway we have grown to love and/or hate is in full swing; cursing, drinking and sexually overt. But we also see a man torn apart by his past, nauseated by his personal celebrity and longing for a connection to his younger self and the love he left behind; a writer of words first; a man second. And he finds this connection in Ed Myers.

Ribisi, usually cast in unstable and somewhat chaotic roles, splendidly pulls off Ed Myers’ slightly naïve, yet driven character. Always wanting to be a writer, but not quite skilled. Myers clings tightly to Hemingway’s written word and creates for himself an imaginary father figure who gives him the courage to fulfill this calling. Myers goes on to become a Korean War correspondent and then a journalist for The Miami Herald, where we are first introduced to the character. Myers attributes Hemingway’s writing to his own budding success and decides on a whim to write a poignant letter to his mentor thanking him for the part he unknowingly played in his life. And of course, Myers expected nothing in return. Boy did Myers get more than he bargained for. Yari’s pairing of Ribisi and Sparks, the almost frail Myers and the overtly thunderous Hemingway, made for onscreen chemistry rarely matched.

Adrian Sparks, Joely Richardson, Giovanni Ribisi

Adrian Sparks, Joely Richardson, Giovanni Ribisi

Sparks had some pretty big shoes to fill, portraying the larger than life Hemingway. Sparks’ ability to pull off Papa’s typical mountainous machismo while ever so slightly exposing a vulnerability rarely seen, was heartbreaking and felt more realistic than not. Sparks’ onscreen chemistry with Joely Richardson (Mary Hemingway, fourth wife and widow of Papa) was spot-on, even when things got ugly. Sparks flawlessly portrayed the repulsive portions of Hemingway, while effortlessly pulling the heartstrings of the audience throughout. Richardson, packed a punch in her own right as Mary, going toe to toe with the man she loved, despite his shortcomings. Not only does Yari’s film give us an insider’s glimpse into the real Papa, but it outlines his struggles with the past, his demons within and the battles he fought with the American government (i.e. J. Edgar Hoover and his hounds) that eventually led to his leaving Cuba, and taking his own life.

PAPA: HEMINGWAY IN CUBA is a film well worth checking out, particularly for those who desire a rarely depicted view of Hemingway. Ribisi’s and Sparks’ portrayal of characters that couldn’t be more opposite while being so similar is outstanding. PAPA is a rare exploration of a man who was loved and hated equally by the critics and the American public, set in a location equally loved and despised. Yari’s film explores the not so pretty past of the man and the country, while painting a picture of love, respect and the need for connection. In retrospect, Papa is Cuba. Yari’s film is a beautifully crafted piece of cinema, featuring standout performances, shrouded in linen and set in paradise. It’s one you won’t want to miss!

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ATLFF Review: SIREN Gets Weird and Makes It Work

Posted on: Apr 15th, 2016 By:

SirenSIREN (2016); Dir. Gregg Bishop; Starring Hannah Fierman, Chase Williamson; Justin Welborn; IMDB link here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

I’ll admit that SIREN didn’t encourage my expectations. Screening at the end of a long week of films, SIREN felt like a pitch from a carnival barker: “Did you like V/H/S (2012), that found-footage horror anthology? No, not really? Well, what about “Amateur Night,” arguably its most popular segment? You know, the one where some bros pick up a strange young woman for hotel porn, but get a rampaging monster ripping through their innards instead? Yeah? All right, well SIREN takes that premise but expands the world. This thing’s got a menagerie of fantasy monsters, a supernatural brothel, a southern-fried monster wrangler, and a fresh batch of victims with a fresh batch of innards. Step right up!”

Taking the original’s simple karmic reversal set-up and turning it into a NIGHTBREED-esque freakshow does not feel like a great idea. “Amateur Night” director David Bruckner had been swapped out for Gregg Bishop from the weaker V/H/S VIRAL (2014), and seeing the logo of Chiller—the notoriously cheap horror network—had me sinking into my chair and settling in for a long night. But, little by little, SIREN won me over, and horror junkies who discover the film are going to find an unexpectedly inspired bit of monster mayhem.

V/H/S Amateur Night.

V/H/S Amateur Night.

The script swaps out the assholes from the original segment for a (slightly) more sympathetic bunch. Jonah (Chase Williamson) is about to get married, and his standard issue buddies—the Asshole Brother, the Saintly Best Friend, and the Funny Guy—drive him out into the swamps for a bachelor party because, of course, that’s where the wildest stuff happens. The gang gets conned into visiting a wild house run by Nyx (Justin Welborn), who tracks and traps critters from legend, including a lady that munches on memories and a naked nymph (Hannah Fierman, reprising her role from the original) he keeps locked up in the back. In “Amateur Night,” the nature of this particular creature was unclear, but in this film she’s officially a siren, complete with a singing voice that lures men to their deaths, and which drives Jonah to do something incredibly stupid (he even says out loud, “I’m about to do something incredibly stupid,” so we know). He releases her from her prison, and the carnage begins.

The rest of the plot revolves around the bachelor party attempting to escape from the beast while Nyx and his posse try to reclaim their “property”. It should be noted that Nyx is one flamboyant sunofagun. Welborn realizes what kind of movie he’s making, chewing enough scenery to fill all the spittoons in his character’s brothel. Somehow it works, especially paired with the nearly mute, doe-eyed performance of Fierman who vacillates between innocence and savagery and back again without warning, raging all over the screen like an unchecked id.

But what I found myself enjoying the most is Bishop’s eagerness to make SIREN more than a boilerplate midnight monster movie, looking for ways to elevate the action in clever ways. When the guys take shrooms, for example, his depiction of the trip they’re on is surprisingly realistic and gives the brothel the funky intro it deserves. A later action sequence benefits from focusing on Jonah—hiding and ears plugged to avoid hearing the creature’s song—so that we only see bodies flying around the edges of the screen, and we only hear the muffled thuds of gunshots and the murky pitch of screams.

SIREN isn’t a new classic, and in many ways it feels like a step backwards from the original short film, abandoning most of the elements that made “Amateur Night” work. But by sticking with Fierman and spinning a wacky backwoods mythology around her beastie, the film manages to stand on its own, and Bishop’s clever staging wrings a lot of extra mileage from what could have been boring, standard horror set pieces. In that respect, I guess the carnival barker got it right. SIREN is a freak show, but sometimes it’s a whole lot of fun to see weirdness for weirdness’s sake.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2017 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress