Anita: Directed by Freida Lee Mock and playing at the Seattle International Film Festival, Anita tells the story of Anita Hill, a law professor best known for her testimony during the 1991 confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas for the United States Supreme Court. She stated he had repeatedly sexually harassed her while she worked for him on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and that she—like many women—chose to grit her teeth and find a better job rather than report it. (For the young people out there, sexual harassment in the workplace was commonplace in the old days and hard to stop. Go watch some Mad Men for examples. Because it never happens now. Mmmhmm.)
Who has a more intimidating face than Michael Shannon? This is an actor who just breathes intensity. He twitches and sneers with scary effect, often appearing as though he can barely hold his rage in. Heck, this guy just recently proved he could recite a simple email with awesome effect. Clearly, he knows what his strengths are, and capitalizes on them. He is almost always the most interesting actor in a scene, because he has such an unpredictable delivery that we wonder what he’s going to do next. His talents are on full display in Ariel Vromen’s crime film The Iceman (2012). Here, we get to see Shannon at his best: constantly on edge, nearing the breaking point, chewing scenery as if it’s bubblegum. In a vacuum, this is some of Shannon’s finest work. It’s unfortunate the film isn’t as good as he is.
Ron Morales’s Graceland (2012) is a mostly effective thriller hailing from the Philippines. Being Filipino myself, I’m glad to see films from there making their way to the States, because at this point (at least in the mainstream) they are still few and far between. Even better is how Morales gives us a story that doesn’t simply paint the country in any manipulative way. I’ve seen too many works from other countries that solely try to show their culture in the most positive fashion imaginable. Here, these are real characters in tense situations. No one is perfect, everyone has their secrets, and the moral line between right and wrong is clearly blurred. This makes the film—imperfect as it is—much more thoughtful than your random, run-of-the-mill crime story. If anything, this is a good stepping stone, showcasing what the country has to offer to world cinema.
Connecting to one another through writing, stirring passions with words, blurring the lines between fact and fiction, uncovering sad personal truths buried in a typical family dynamic…that is a lot of the subtext running throughout the compelling new French film In The House. Directed by the renowned François Ozon with a simmering noir-ish intensity, he portrays a connection between a disillusioned literature teacher and his gifted student.
It seemed unlikely, but J.J. Abrams did it when he captured my interest with Star Trek in 2009. For most of my life, I really hadn’t given the franchise much attention. But his combination of a fantastic cast, solid plot, and great action proved to be the perfect combination to win over naysayers and even the most difficult critics. Now, with the release of the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams tackles perhaps his biggest challenge as a director—repeating that success.
“When people tell me ‘you are famous for being famous,’ I say ‘no, we are famous for having three TV shows.’” – Kim Kardashian
Unease immediately sets in when this quote is presented in the opening moments of Adam Rifkin’s abysmal faux documentary Reality Show, a “message movie” so manipulative and obvious in approach it took everything within me not to walk away from the very task of writing this review. An ever-growing number of Americans are driven by the public misfortune and mockery of others. You know it. I know it. Director and star Adam Rifkin CERTAINLY knows it…and exploits the concept to an embarrassing degree.
As a fan of independent film, I’m excited when I’m introduced to the work of noteworthy filmmakers. For several years now, I’ve been hearing about the prolific career of Joe Swanberg and have been curious to check out his movies. Finally at SXSW this year, forces aligned and I was able to check out his latest project, Drinking Buddies, and saw how hype met reality.
Before I write about The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez, I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss Ernest Borgnine. (In all actuality, it’s not going to be a discussion, but more of a monologue. I’m writing in bed by myself right now.) I adore Ernest Borgnine with a love that is pure and true. I’ve been known to yell at people for talking smack about him, and fervently believe that people who hate Cabbie in Escape From New York are going to burn in hell. I wept when Cabbie died. (Oh yeah, spoiler alert. But you should have already seen that movie at least five times by now.) He was incredibly nasty as Fatso in From Here to Eternity, and unbelievably tender in Marty, a performance for which he won an Academy award. He was always professional, appreciated his fans, and knew he was one lucky SOB. I think my grandpa was more awesome, but Borgnine was a close number 2 in my older-gentlemen-hall-of-fame. When offered the chance to review his last movie, I took it; in fact, I was honored.
There are few films that have legitimately left a chill down my spine. The Act of Killing (2012) is one of them. This is a haunting, disturbing, and eye-opening documentary that looks into the minds of mass murderers. Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer (and co-directed by Christine Cynn and a source listed only as “Anonymous”), this story goes to places and reveals information I was shocked to see access to. This is like a real life nightmare, where the bad guys have won and are now in control. They freely admit responsibility for the bloodshed they caused, and do so with an enormous sense of pride. And to make matters even more unsettling, these men are actually considered heroes in their native country. Dealing with themes of morality, righteousness, and government control, this is a film that will burrow itself in your mind long after you’ve seen it.
The amount of pluck and drive necessary to produce an independent feature is immensely admirable, and so it makes it hard for me to talk about Headcase with the candidness necessary to compose a film review. But here it goes: Headcase is a film whose title is as generic as the rest of its parts. There is no uniqueness of vision or creative ingenuity on display here; everything about this film is uninspired. It attempts to smooth over its own clichés with a sense of self-awareness that is all too obvious of a crutch. It wants to be both a dark comedy and a crime film, but it is devoid of both humor and menace. In their attempt to create a madcap comedy of errors about an unlikeable hero’s run-in with the mob, the filmmakers have crafted a film that, it pains me to say, is weightless and dull.