RETRO REVIEW: Don’t Call Me Nico, Reviewing NICO, 1988

Posted on: Sep 6th, 2018 By:

by Brooke Sonenreich
Contributing Writer

NICO (2018); Dir. Susanna Nicchiarelli; Starring Trine Dyrholm, John Gordon Sinclair, Anamaria Marinca; Opens Friday, Sept. 7 at the Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

“Don’t call me Nico. Call me by my real name: Christa,” says the disheveled, 45-year-old Danish actress, Trine Dyrholm who plays Nico in NICO, 1988.

The film is a biopic of the last two years of the life of Christa Päffgen, better known as Nico from The Velvet Underground. However, the story is an authentic representation of a time long after Nico’s involvement with The Velvet Underground. It’s a look at Christa’s middle-aged debauchery as she tours through Europe with a group of amateur bandmates. In between driving through beautiful roads, the artist participates in interviews that often bore her with questions concerning her being Lou Reed’s femme fatale. She seems annoyed at, if not completely oblivious to, the fact that without The Velvet Underground her solo rock career wouldn’t be as successful as it is. Indeed, it is her spot in 1960s history that makes her important to her fans more than anything else.

She makes a respectable point though when speaking at an Italian press conference: “Well, I only sang three songs with them. The rest of the time I was playing the tambourine in the background. I did the same thing when I was a model; I was there for my image. Look, my life started after the experience with The Velvet Underground.”

The film moves slowly through Christa’s ups and downs on the road, sometimes following her into the bathroom as she brazenly shoots up heroin into her bruised ankle. Still, it moves through these spaces with little judgment.

Trine Durholm in NICO 1988, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Often times director, Susanna Nicchiarelli, oscillates between archived footage from Nico’s time with Andy Warhol’s stylish gang to the late 1980s moments of her on stage at various European venues. In contrast to the archived footage of her youth, the singer now shamelessly indulges in food and alcohol. She celebrates her unkempt look as she confidently states, “I’ve been on the top, I’ve been on the bottom; both places are empty.”

Perhaps the most memorable scene is after the star does heroin in a club restroom. She enters the stage to perform the song “Nature Boy” with the backing of an Italian jazz band. It’s a solemn rendition of the song and it conjures up emotions regarding her estranged, suicidal son Christian Aaron Päffgen, or “Ari.”

The film picks up when Ari joins the tour for quality time with his estranged mother. In a rare moment of desperation, when Christa is doing methadone in a room next door, Ari slits his wrists and winds up in a foreign hospital. Here we voyeuristically experience the downside of the Päffgen family’s drug use. Despite Christa’s seamless ability to perform while on heroin, the drugs have infected her and her son’s lives in ways that become more visible than the bruises on her ankle.

The conclusion is weak compared to the rest of the film, if only because of its lazy reliance on end title cards to inform us of the star’s actual death. Nevertheless, even though the biopic is slow moving, it stands well as an entertaining and thorough look at Christa’s last moments in the limelight.

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RETRO REVIEW: You Can’t Help Falling in LOVE, CECIL, Opening July 27 at Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Jul 27th, 2018 By:

by Claudia Dafrico
Contributing Writer

LOVE, CECIL (2018); Dir. Lisa Immordino Vreeland; Narrated by Rupert Everett; Zeigeist Films/Kino Lorber; Opens Friday, July 27 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

“Be daring. Be different. Be impractical.” Such are the words of Cecil Beaton, famed photographer, designer, all-around renaissance man, and the subject of Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s highly entertaining documentary LOVE, CECIL, opening Fri. July 27 at Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema.

Through interviews with Beaton’s peers and admirers, narration drawn directly from personal diaries, and archive footage of the man himself, Immordino Vreeland, who also directed PEGGY GUGGENHEIM:ART ADDICT (2015; Retro Review here) crafts an intimate portrait of the visionary force that was Cecil Beaton. To document every photograph taken, every costume designed, or every diary entry written by Beaton would be a Herculean task, seeing as how his massive body of work spans from the early 1920s to the end of his life in the late 1970s, but Immordino Vreeland touches upon each era of Beaton’s work with such grace and brevity that the viewer feels as though they have accompanied Beaton on his artistic journey each step of the way.

Born in Hampstead, London in 1904, Cecil Beaton came into the world with less of a clear career goal and more of a broad artistic flair that manifested itself in every part of his life. Instead of attending classes at University and receiving what one would consider a “traditional” education, Beaton  spent his days creating theater clubs, performing as a female impersonator, and photographing his friends, many of whom were a part of the London socialite group known as the “Bright Young People.” Through this circle, Cecil became enamored with the aristocrat Stephen Tennant, and thus began a long pattern of Beaton finding himself infatuated with both men and women who did not necessarily return his affections. In one of the most commendable facets of the film, Immordino does not eschew Beaton’s sexuality, but chooses to highlight it, pulling direct quotes from Beaton’s diary where he explicitly states that he is attracted to men. This is not to say that Beaton did not have feelings for women as well however, as his long lasting obsession and possible affair with Greta Garbo is discussed in the film at length.

After his years as a Bright Young Person, Cecil moved to New York and was soon hired by Vogue, where he became a noted fashion photographer. Beaton’s career highlights are too numerous to list in full, but among his most notable achievements Immordino features are the portraits of the Queen Mother, Wallis Simpson, and the rest of the royal family, his wartime photographs taken during World War II (Beaton took over 7,000), and the costume and set design for films such as GIGI (1958) and MY FAIR LADY (1964), for which he won Academy Awards for both Art Direction and Costume Design on the latter.

No matter what the medium, Cecil was noted for being able to do more than just make something pretty; he was able to create an entire mood, and present the world as he wanted it to be seen as opposed to how it appears on the surface. His portraits of royalty, Hollywood starlets, and ordinary citizens and close friends all have a classic yet Modernist feel to them, an aesthetic that would carry over to his works on the big screen. While many artists who achieved fame in the pre-WWII era through the 1950s failed to keep up with the rapidly evolving youth culture, Beaton continued to mesh with whatever was fresh and innovative. He made art with the “Bright Young People” of this new generation, including Mick Jagger and Twiggy, and still maintained his classic sense of style and Jazz Age wit.

Cecil Beaton may not be a household name to many in 2018, but as LOVE, CECIL proves, the man had a sensibility to him that remains timeless, and his art continues to inspire those who seek to eschew the traditional in favor of the unique. Be sure to catch Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s charming new film to have a chance to fall in love with Cecil.

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RETRO REVIEW: Big Movies Come in Small Reels: This Year’s Oscar-Nominated Short Films Are All Winners at the Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Feb 8th, 2018 By:

by Claudia Dafrico
Contributing Writer

OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2018: ANIMATION & LIVE ACTION (2017);  Opens Friday, February 9 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

With awards season in full swing, cinema-loving Atlantans may be wondering where they can have a more personal experience with this year’s nominees. While Atlanta is now rivaling Los Angeles in terms of film production, the bulk of movie premieres and award ceremonies continue to take place in Hollywood. If you’ve already bought your Oscar party decorations and filled out your personal ballot but you’re still wanting more Academy goodness, Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema has got you covered. Starting Friday February 9, OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2018: ANIMATION & LIVE ACTION will be screening there. With 10 shorts total (five live action and five animated) that range from heart-wrenching tragedies to whimsical reveries, there are sure to be some new favorites for everyone.

Dekalb Elementary

Many of the entries in this year’s short film categories are inspired by or direct retellings of true events. This is certainly the case with Reed Van Dyk’s Dekalb Elementary, which recounts an incident on August 20, 2013 in which an armed man holed himself in the front office of an Atlanta elementary school with violent intent. Tarra Riggs shines in her role as the secretary who has the fate of hundreds on her shoulders when she is forced to negotiate with the gunman. The film is filled with tense moments, none of which feel unrealistic or nerve-wracking for their own sake. While it is very easy to exploit real life trauma for cheap thrills, Dekalb Elementary does no such thing, and instead chooses to showcase the immense emotional capacity of the actors to convey the many nuances of such a terrifying situation.

The Silent Child

It is not uncommon to see young children struggle with the transition of leaving their mother at home to start school for the first time. For the protagonist of The Silent Child, that transition is made even more difficult due to her deafness. When Libby’s parents hire a sign language proficient nanny, played by Rachel Shenton, to aid her in communication, the child’s difficult situation starts to become less of a burden. But while Libby’s signing skills begin to improve and the bond between the two strengthens, outside forces begin to inhibit Libby’s opportunities for growth. The Silent Child raises many questions regarding how a parent should handle the education of a deaf child, and the consequences that can arise from those decisions.

The Eleven O’Clock

If the comedy in The Eleven o’Clock can be described in any one word, that word would be “maddening.” The film starts off innocently enough: a psychiatrist arrives at his office at the start of the work day, whereupon he finds out his regular secretary has been replaced by a temp for the day, who reminds him that his 11:00 AM client is soon to arrive. The client’s ailment? He thinks he is a psychiatrist—more specifically a psychiatrist that practices in the very same office, who also has an 11:00 appointment with a client who believes he is a psychiatrist. What follows is a “who’s on first” routine that manages to be both hilarious and unsettling. As the two men quarrel over who’s who, the audience begins to question their own identities and perceptions.

Mose (L.B. Wiliams) in “Emmett Till”

The tragic, short life of Emmett Till has been taught, or at the very least mentioned, in many schools when discussing the roots of the Civil Rights movement in America. But it is rare to have the chance to experience his story through a medium as immersive as cinema. Kevin Wilson Jr.’s My Nephew Emmett seeks to provide that immersion by following Till’s uncle, Mose, in his struggle to protect Emmett from the violent hate-mongers seeking mob justice over an altercation between Emmett and a white woman that is still disputed to this day. L.B. Williams’ portrayal of Mose is nuanced and heartbreaking, and stands out in a piece that breathe new life into a piece of history worth re-examining.

Watu Wote

News coverage of international conflicts, specifically disputes rooted in religious and/or ideological differences, often have a tendency to rely upon the violence and cruelty occurring between the disparaging groups, as opposed to the bond that can be found between common citizens swept up in the strife. Watu Wote (Katja Benrath) illuminates the power of this bond with the story of a Christian woman’s journey through Kenya during a particularly violent period in the county’s Muslim-Christian dispute. She is initially wary of her fellow travelers (Muslims), but comes to learn that human goodness can transcend animosity. Real life acts of heroism are not accompanied by fanfare, nor do they always have a strictly “happy” ending. This is a film that celebrates these oft-neglected heroes.

LOU (Pixar)

Try, for a moment, to imagine a piece of media created by Pixar that lacks charm. It’s harder than you would think. Their 19th original animated short, Lou, is no exception to this rule. The film opens on an elementary school playground, where the viewer meets LOU, an anthropomorphized pile of children’s belongings that have become separated from their owners and made their way into the lost and found the bin one way or another. A schoolyard bully finds new joy in keeping the lost belongings for himself, and LOU takes it upon itself to deal out justice (in the wholesome, whimsical Pixar style, of course).

Garden Party.

Animal lovers and those with a flair for the mysterious will get a kick out of Garden Party, Florian Babikian and Vincent Bayoux’s beautifully animated short that follows a gaggle of frogs and toads on an adventure through an elegant mansion with some cryptic secrets. There is no dialogue outside of the croaks of the amphibians, but the directors are able to create a setting so lush and compelling that it allows the audience to create their own narrative; one that can be fanciful, deadly, or even a mix of both.

Revolting Rhymes.

The works of British author Roald Dahl are no stranger to the big screen. Revolting Rhymes, directed by Ian Lachauer and Jakob Schuh, is another entry into this particular echelon. As a modern take on classic fairytales, Revolting Rhymes brings characters like Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, and all of their companions and foes together in one very meta story. In classic Dahl fashion, the innocence of a fairy tale is interlaced with dry wit and some fairly dark undertones, as well as some refreshingly self-sufficient heroines. This is a perfect short for the fanciful yet wry young one in your life.

Many parents have special rituals that they share with their children. This could be something as common as a tuck-in at bedtime, or, in the case of Negative Space, it can be something less common, like packing a suitcase. Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter craft breathtaking visuals that accompany the exploration of a relationship between a father and son, all centered around the process of packing one’s suitcase. Negative Space reminds us to appreciate even the most seemingly inconsequential moments in life, and explore the depth of when we are able to share these moments with others.

Dear Basketball.

One does not have to be a basketball fan, or even a sports fan period, to enjoy Dear Basketball. As Kobe Bryant professes his love of the game through his expressive narration, it is clear even to those who don’t or have never kept up with basketball to understand his reverence for it. Accompanied by magnificent pencil animation, Bryant recounts his childhood dreams of becoming a famous athlete, and the years of hard work that accompanied the fulfillment of that dream. The short has brief runtime, yet manages to capture years of passion and success. As Bryant’s professional career nears its conclusion, Dear Basketball feels like the perfect bookend to a long and fulfilling relationship between a man and his passion.

 

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ATLFF Review: Standing By: THE WITNESS Confronts the Controversial Circumstances of Kitty Genovese’s Murder

Posted on: Apr 7th, 2016 By:
KItty Genovese.

KItty Genovese.

THE WITNESS (2016); DIR. James D. Solomon; Documentary; Atlanta Film Festival; Website here. ATLRetro’s Festival Guide here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

If you saw a person in need of emergency help, what would you do? Most of us would probably say we’d call 911, but would we really? Those trained in first aid know that the best strategy in an emergency is not to scream for somebody to call for an ambulance, but to choose a specific person and tell them to make the call. Otherwise, maybe nobody calls at all.

You may or may not know the name Kitty Genovese, but you’re certainly familiar with the cultural impact caused by her 1964 death in New York City. Genovese, a 28-year-old bar manager, was murdered on the street, half a block from her home, randomly chosen by a man in the midst of a crime spree. Two weeks after her murder, the New York Times published an article detailing the unsettling circumstances of her death. It’s quite possible that Genovese’s life could have been saved, the story goes, if only the 38 witnesses who watched the attack had bothered to call the police. Although her screams ripped through the neighborhood, although she begged for aid, no help came because no help was called. The tragedy became an example of the ways that New York City—and perhaps even America itself—had lost touch with its values of community and compassion. How could Kitty Genovese bleed to death while her neighbors watched? How could so many witnesses produce no action? The case was a major impetus in the creation and marketing of 911 as a national emergency number, and became a centerpiece of a sociological theory of the “bystander effect,” in which the larger the group of people, the less likely any individual is to act in an emergency, due in part to the belief that surely somebody else will be the one.

The story is so well known, in fact, that one might be forgiven for wondering what, exactly, remains to be explored. THE WITNESS, a new documentary that screened Wednesday at the Atlanta Film Festival, spends its first section failing to make this case for itself. The film introduces Bill Genovese (younger brother to Kitty, and an executive producer on the film) who, after struggling with five decades of emotional trauma, finally decides to track down the 38 witnesses and ask them why they let his sister die. There’s a hint of redundancy around his quest. The news show 20/20 tried the same in the 1970s with poor results, and many of the witnesses, elderly even at the time, have long since passed. If this was all the film had up its sleeve, there would seem to be little reason for it to exist at all. But, as it turns out, THE WITNESS has many, many cards to play.

Bill Genovese

Bill Genovese in THE WITNESS. Used with permission.

Very soon after Bill Genovese begins his quixotic quest, inconsistencies appear. With the sight lines from the apartment building, it wouldn’t be possible for all 38 people to watch Kitty die. Some would have only heard her scream and seen nothing. Only five witnesses were called at trial, so who are the other 33? And what of the woman who raced to Kitty’s side and held her as she died? Why was she absent from the official news story? As the discrepancies pile up, Bill Genovese begins to question the canon, which is no small transition. Genovese, you see, enlisted in Vietnam in the years following his sister’s death, and suffered catastrophic injury, primarily because he refused to be like those people who ignored Kitty, the “silent witnesses” who let tragedy unfold without acting. Was it possible that his choice, and the trajectory of his life, had been based on a lie?

THE WITNESS is an engrossing exploration of the repercussions of trauma. Bill Genovese suffered not only the loss of his sister, but of his own future, and he’s not the only one. Through the careful reveal of information, the film probes how the official story shook the Genovese family, the supposed witnesses, and even the family the murderer, Winston Moseley (who coincidentally died this week in prison, putting the case back into the news), left behind on his way into prison. An astonishing meeting late in the film reveals the fear that the Moseleys have lived with for five decades and reminds us that murders often have more victims than we expect.

10294346_10153376281298424_3819900343571644880_nThe center of the film, however, remains Bill Genovese, who narrates and drives the action as he pieces together the truth, which is not so simple a thing as the ‘facts.’ He doesn’t only want to know what happened, but why, and even how. Confined to a wheelchair due to his war injuries, Genovese is a nonetheless imposing figure as he confronts reporters, lawyers, and even the aging witnesses in an attempt to set the record straight in his mind. (He has a journalist’s tenacity, often asking witnesses if they ever spoke to the police, and then regardless of their answer, revealing that he has their police statement right in front of him.) He is the witness of the film’s title, not present at the event itself, but willing to stand for his sister, to shine light on her vibrant and rich existence (and, in a particularly moving section of the film, her secrets) to reclaim her from the cold register of history and return her, in some way, to life.

If there is a complaint to be found, it’s in the final minutes, in which the filmmakers execute a macabre event that fails to do much more than provide a punchy ending for their film. But this is ultimately a minor complaint in what remains a compelling and complex exploration of the ramifications of “facts.” The Genovese family cannot bring Kitty back, but perhaps it is enough to remind the world that we are not so alone as we thought.

THE WITNESS opens in theaters in New York later this year before rolling out to additional cities. Further information can be found at http://www.thewitness-film.com/ and the filmmakers’ twitter account is @thewitnessfilm.

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: PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT: A Passionate Ode to a Remarkable Woman Who Changed the Face of Modern Art

Posted on: Nov 25th, 2015 By:

peggy_guggenheim_art_addictPEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT (2015); DIR. Lisa Immordino Vreeland; Documentary; Opens Wed. Nov. 27; Landmark Midtown Arts Cinema; Trailer here.

By Claudia Dafrico
Contributing Writer

The name “Guggenheim” is synonymous with the art world. The ludicrously affluent Guggenheim family dominated the worlds of both industry and high society, and the influence they had on the early part of the 20th century will not likely be soon forgotten. They also had their fair share of family drama and quite a few “black sheep,” the most famous of whom is the subject of Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s latest documentary, PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT. Vreeland maps Guggenheim’s colorful life from her beginnings as a flighty heiress embracing bohemia to her later years as a famed art collector desperate to relive her past. With insightful commentary from Guggenheim’s old friends and relatives, and even excerpts from the last interview featuring Guggenheim herself, this film is truly introspective and should not be missed.

Peggy was born in 1898 to Benjamin Guggenheim, the brother of American businessman/art collector/philanthropist Solomon Guggenheim, and Florette Seligman, the daughter of a lesser known high society family. She found herself surrounded by both oddity and tragedy at a young age. Many of her family members ranged from mildly eclectic to highly unstable, and Peggy absorbed it all. When her father died in the sinking of the Titanic, she felt isolated within her own family.

Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice

Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice

Peggy left for Paris in 1920 at the age of 22 and became enamored with the free-spirited nature of the bohemian community. She took many lovers, and became close with some of the most innovative artists of the time, including Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. She married her first husband and had two children in Paris, and quickly divorced once his infidelity came to light. Undeterred, Peggy had affairs with multiple married men and continued her avant-garde lifestyle. She moved to London and opened her first gallery, Guggenheim June, where she promoted the art of her colleagues, most of which were either Surrealist or abstract in nature. With Europe entering a time of unrest, Peggy packed up her collection and headed back to New York.

One of the most compelling portions of PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT is the narrative of her years in New York City. It became clear to Peggy that the artists she had come to love would be in imminent danger were they to stay in Europe. So she arranged to have both creator and creations moved to the states, and bought many of their works to feature in her new gallery. The museum, appropriately titled Art of This Century, was a haven for up-and-coming artistic movements, such as Abstract Expressionism, as well as one of the first well-known galleries to feature exhibits consisting solely of the works of female artists.

Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice

Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice

Peggy continued to discover new artists, including the then little-known Jackson Pollock, and promote them to mainstream success. She also continued her liberated lifestyle by sleeping with many of her peers, a habit she felt no shame over. She had wed one of the artists she had brought from Europe, the famed Max Ernst, but the marriage proved to be a failure and she divorced a second time. That separation proved to be a catalyst of change, and Guggenheim closed Art of This Century and headed back to Europe, this time making her place in a Venetian Palace.

This palace would soon become home to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, one of the most visited art museums in Europe. Peggy lived with her collection in Venice and entertained many guests, both artists and members of high society. Robert De Niro, being the son of artists Guggenheim had promoted, was one of Guggenheim’s many visitors. In the film, he recalls his time spent with the collector in her palace.

But while Peggy seemed to be socially thriving, her life was proving to be remarkably lonely. Her son, Sindbad Vail, who spent his childhood with her first husband, rejected the art world, and her daughter, Pegeen, was highly unstable. Pegeen lived with Peggy in Venice and was prone to “fits” that Peggy could not learn to control. She committed suicide in 1967, and Peggy was left alone in her massive palace with only her art and her dogs by her side.

Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice

Courtesy of the Peggy Gugggenheim Collection Archives, Venice

The film does a wonderful job of illustrating Peggy’s desire to return to the past, with bits from her last interview expressing the despair she felt as she aged. After spending her life promoting others, it seemed as if no one was left to promote her well-being when she needed it the most.

Guggenheim passed in 1979, leaving behind both a legacy of sordid tales and a massive collection of art. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection still attracts visitors from around the world and proves to be a testament of Peggy’s keen eye for art of the most fantastic and enduring nature. PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT proves to be a passionate ode to one of the most overlooked roles in the art world – that of the sponsor – and the vital role these individuals play in the beginning of a sensation. Peggy Guggenheim is the sponsor we should all look up to, and her legacy is lovingly brought to life in this fabulous documentary.

All images are for review purposes only and used with permission.

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

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