Billed as a black as tar comedy, Nathan Silver’s 1990s period piece, Stinking Heaven, plays with the idea of a ramshackle commune of sorts, a house full of recovering addicts desperately attempting to overcome their addictions, as well as their pasts; although, I am not sure if tar is a black enough descriptor for the type of comedy found within the close quarters of this suburban home in Passaic, New Jersey.
Yet another indie Christmas-themed film thickly coated in an overall sense of bah humbug. Even the film’s title suggests a feeling of irritation towards the recent influx of holiday melancholy over the years. However, first-time writer/director Charles Poekel’s Christmas, Again reverses the trend with an uplifting tale of one man’s emotional turnaround at the hands of some old-fashioned Christmas spirit.
Gloomy and gritty, both in terms of content and aesthetics, Frownland revolves around Keith - a meek, socially-stilted man attempting to navigate the cruel circumstances of his life along with juggling the mounting social interactions with friends and acquaintances that leave him floundering and flailing endlessly, a deluge of awkwardness hemorrhaging forth from one uncomfortable situation after another. The discomfort-from-awkward-social-situations saturation point is immediately reached and exceeded within Keith’s first exchange with another person, continuing onward through various points of the discomfort spectrum.
All things familiar, yet all things becoming increasingly sinister, Clark seems to have crafted a sci-fi horror/mystery film with no real, concrete horror elements. Instead, inundating the storyline with plenty of mystery, mystery piled atop mystery. A straightforward narrative film stalked and accosted by the experimental with Clark’s experimental imagery insinuating a cinematic approximation of the metaphysical as flashes of light cycle chaotic, reasoning and context seemingly lost in its rapid shuffle, abstraction deployed as the narrative catalyst.
One of my favorite films from this year - Christopher Bell's The Winds That Scatter - is currently available for free, streaming on Bell's Vimeo page, for the next 24 hours. Bell's film (which he produced, wrote, directed and edited) is, unfortunately, even more timely than it was back at the tail-end of September when I covered it on the site for our For Future Reference feature
Amid breeze-blown curtains wafting in open windows; amid the stovetop flames responsible for boiling and brewing, there is something transpiring in the constricted confines of an apartment kitchen, a narrow off-shoot barely retaining its sole possession - a dining table. Filmmaker Gina Telaroli, along with a group of friends and acquaintances, has transformed this small, familiar space into something different, its identity has been altered as the overall appearance remains recognizable with the usual occupational parameters of the room left intact as normal activity is replaced with staged imitations.
The narrative, co-written with Kate Johnston, found at the center of Empire Builder happens to deal with one uncomplicated action, an elementary development seen as inevitable based on the build and structure of the storyline. Throughout the entirety of the beginning portions of the film, there doesn’t appear to be much of an effort placed on shrouding what could happen in mystery and/or ambiguity. Swanberg and Johnston’s interests lie in the field of the emotional, taking the time to display the emotional states of each character in an unembellished fashion relying on nothing but the body languages amid solitude and socialization, oscillating between fleeting moments of reflection and intimate interactions of playfulness and consideration.
It might have taken some time, but the Criterion Collection has now come to include to Michael Haneke into its pantheon of thoughtfully-restored films committed to blu-ray for perpetuity. It’s seems fitting that the film chosen for initiation into the Criterion treatment would also be his first French film, Code Unknown (2000); which, also marks the first time the German director would work with a bona-fide, world-renowned star such as Juliette Binoche, positioning the Criterion Collection into a kill two birds with one stone situation by generating excitement for Haneke fans while, simultaneously, inching one film closer to making the collection a Binoche completist.
Starting today, Monday, November 9th (and through November 22nd) you can check out Gina Telaroli‘s Here’s to the Future and Kurt Walker‘s Hit 2 Pass for free over at LINK. There are links provided for each filmmaker where you can send a donation
Paintings from the likes of Monet, Manet and Renoir (to name a few) populate the backgrounds of each still frame, each frame signifying one act of the film’s storyline with 18 acts in total. The actors, themselves, exist primarily in the foreground, in time period aligned garments, over-emoting in the vein of silent films, gravitas pinned to the performances by way of over-exaggeration. Their existences will occasionally blend into the paintings, two art forms bleeding into one as the oil-painted veneer of thickets and overgrowth cloud the stances and footfalls of the actors navigating the artificiality of the surrounding terrain.
The wonders of The Wonders do not reveal themselves until the tail-end of its slice-of-life narrative of coming-of-age in the Tuscan countryside. Not until the family at the center of the film treks out to an island, clad in togas and laurel wreaths, to participate in a television show competition to crown the next "countryside wonder", a distinction that would solve all of their financial problems. It is during this stretch of the story that magical realism creeps into the proceedings, transforming the entire affair into something marvelous.
The occupying quirk found in Alison Bagnall’s Funny Bunny is easily recognizable on the surface as more of the same. At first glance, Bagnall’s feature has the familiar appearance of all the other indie comedies strewn about the distribution landscape over the past several years except that Bagnall’s implementation emerges as a more thoughtful interpretation.
Right from the jump, writer/director Christopher Good unloads the viewer into the whirlwind that is Mudjackin’, a brother/sister buddy comedy murder mystery, starting with an I.C.E. raid before even considering introducing context or characters really. From there, the relentlessness continues with the tempo locked-in at high-octane with rapid-fire cuts coming from every possible direction while the brother/sister duo run through an exhaustive overview of their backstories with a swiftness - years flush with dreaming big and big, shattered dreams.
Eugene Kotlyarenko appears to be a bit of a showman; a prankster, if you will, decidedly implementing a ruse in order to pique interest and advertise his latest film, A Wonderful Cloud, to the populace, enticing viewers to witness abject depravity unsuitable for “God-fearing New Yorkers”.
90s vibes/aesthetics burrow their roots deep within the fabric of Whitney Horn and Lev Kalman’s L for Leisure, a loosely-connected collage of vacations over the stretch of 1992-93 school year presented in the hazy confines of the sun-saturated 16mm film frames. More a series of memento-style footage of downtime and recreation than an actual, standard narrative experience. Horn and Kalman’s debut feature-length possesses a certain casualness thanks to its breezy framework, where mellow is the goal and boogie-boarding is crucial.