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Showing posts from January, 2018

Review: "Before We Vanish"

The Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa has been directing films for both the big screen and television since the mid-1970s. Kurosawa is not exactly genre-specific but he's probably best known for his Japanese horror films, like The Cure and Pulse (which Wes Craven later wrote an English adaptation for in 2006). However, I find Kurosawa a more interesting filmmaker when he steps out of his popular horror genre, like he did with his 2008 masterpiece Tokyo Sonata. That film was a straightforward drama on the surface, observing a family in disarray after the patriarch loses his job but doesn't have the stomach to share that information with his wife; it curdled with an implosive sadness and palpable urgency beneath the surface. Kurosawa depicted the everyday struggle as a sort of a horror spectacle, but with dialed down theatrics in order to let us feel his characters angst and uncertainty. It's really a remarkable film. Now Kurosawa returns to a more visually spectacular ent…

Watch: "Antonioni’s Walkabout"

Rowena Santos Aquino's video essay "Antonioni's Walkabout" looks at how the formal act of walking emotes both practical and big postwar experiences in three of Michaelango Antonioni's films: L'Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961) and L'Eclisse (1962).

Abandoning the traditional academic technique of using voiceover narration to make its points clear, Aquino subtly fades into sentence fragments at the bottom of the screen, giving the viewer enough time to process the moving image as well as understand the given footnote. It's an appropriate strategy and one that lingers in the mind, much like Antonioni's films do.

In short, there's a staying power to simply suggesting an idea.

Watch the video via Aquino's FilmStillLives Vimeo page:

Trailer Alert: "Unsane"

Steven Soderbergh's latest television project Mosaic (currently available on HBO) utilizes a mobile app that's lets viewers decide how they view the show's story (e.g. choosing a specific character's vantage point) while also supplementing the viewing experience with immersive content available only through the mobile app. Soderbergh has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to innovative storytelling and while viewers are just starting to wrap their head around his HBO project, the Oscar-winning filmmaker just released the trailer for his next feature film, a thriller titled Unsane (starring recent SAG Award winner Claire Foy), which was shot entirely on an iPhone. Yes, an iPhone.

The film's website provides the following synopsis: "A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution where she is confronted by her greatest fear — but is it real or is it a product of her delusion?"

The trailer for Unsane is below and you can watch it …

#InformedImages: “The Mirror” and “The Tree of Life”

#InformedImages is a Free Cinema Now series that studies and brings to light influential films and other examples of moving images that informed and inspired specific visuals in later works.

By the time Terrence Malick's first feature film Badlands debuted in 1973, Andrei Tarkovsky had already made Ivan's Childhood (1962), Andrei Rublev (1966) and Solaris (1972). It's obvious that Malick was one of several 1970s filmmakers who came up on Tarkovsky's work, no doubt influenced and moved by the Russian auteur's moving images. Badlands (and Malick's follow-up film Days of Heaven) had a meditative and introspective quality that was elevated by stirring images of the natural world -- a Tarkovsky concoction if there ever was one. Tarkovsky's 1975 film The Mirror was a turning point for both the filmmaker and the films it would influence going forward, since The Mirror broke the rules of what a traditional narrative should look like and how a story could be conceiv…

Watch: “Based on a True Story" -- Comparing Historical Footage to Hollywood Reenactments

Assistant Camera and Video Essayist Zackery Ramos-Taylor's latest video takes the side-by-side visual essay form to exciting frontiers with his fully comprehensive "Based on a True Story." Those who follow my own video essay work on this site will know that I'm an enthusiastic supporter of this kind of visual style (e.g. my #InformedImages video series).

Ramos-Taylor describes his inspiration for "Based on a True Story" (via Vimeo):

"How does Hollywood interpret History? This video compares historical/found footage of moments in history with Hollywood’s attempt to reenact these moments. Oftentimes Hollywood categorize’s these films with the overused tagline “Based on a True Story” in order to show a dramatized retelling of these historical moments. Production design, costumes, props, blocking, and body language are several factors that determines the authenticity of these moments as true or far from it. Ranging from interviews to sports highlights, th…

Watch: "Words and Love" Video Essay on "Arrival"

Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, which was one of the very best films of 2016, told the compelling story of a linguist (played by Amy Adams) who is recruited by the U.S. Army to help establish communication with alien invaders before an all out world war breaks out. Of course, the real plot of Arrival was more about the complexities of human affection and yearning, as well as exploring the costs of love; the film is bookended by nonlinear vignettes that reinforce the theme behind Alfred Lord Tennyson's “'tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” quote.

Now Luxembourg filmmaker Lukas Grevistakes two of the film's key topics -- words and love -- and has made an introspective video essay that plays like a lucid memory (which ties into Arrival's nonlinear structure) on the emotional arc of the film.

Here is Grevis' video below.

Video Essay: Rachel Morrison, Cinematographer

On the morning of Tuesday January 23, 2018, cinematographer Rachel Morrison made Oscar history by becoming the first female director of photography to be nominated for the Best Cinematography Academy Award. Morrison's exceptional photography work in Mudbound (read my review) was rightfully acknowledged but it's crazy to think that in nearly a century's time, a woman has not been honored in the cinematography category. Now that Morrison has made history, we can hope that going forward having a female nominee won't be such a rarity.

To help commemorate such a watershed moment, I went back through Morrison's filmography to showcase her beautiful and sharply unique cinematography over the years. Her body of work boasts television and documentary credits but for the purposes of my video essay, I focused on her feature film work starting with 2007's indie comedy Palo Alto, CA. The canvas of her resume ranges from small independent films to singular works like Tim an…

Review: "The Road Movie"

The "found footage" genre has been around for some time, in both fictional form (1999's The Blair Witch Project) and nonfiction form (1927's The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty). If one considers the overwhelming amount of available found footage content online, namely through social media videos that people Snap or Tweet or Facebook Live every few seconds, it becomes clear that we need to gauge this appropriated art catalog through a new cultural viewfinder. It also prompts us to ask this important question: What public imagery is worthy of being curated for studied viewing?

Russian filmmaker Dmitrii Kalashnikov's The Road Movie (distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories) is a good example of social videos being culled together to give us a surprising and thoughtful insight into how we behave and feel -- today. The Road Movie is a moving image montage that is comprised of dashboard camera footage from dozens of Russian drivers, from all walks of life. As the film op…

Full List of Nominees for the 90th Oscars

Here are the nominees for the 2018 Academy Awards (aka 90th Oscars), which will be handed out on Sunday March 4, 2018.Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water leads the pack with a whopping 13 nominations, followed next by Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk with 8 nominations. Some big surprises were the inclusion of Denzel Washington for Best Actor for his work in the critically ill-received Roman J. Israel, Esq. which no doubt was a slot many were expecting for James Franco to take for his turn as Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist. Although Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri won big at the SAG Awards and the Golden Globe Awards, McDonagh failed to earn a Best Director nod this morning, which will be crippling for the film's chances to win Best Picture (thankfully). Next to Three Billboards' 7 nominations are Joe Wright's Darkest Hour and Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread, each with 6 nominations.

Phantom Thread's Anderson was a …

Watch: "Cut Up In A Dream: Guy Maddin's 'Cowards Bend the Knee'" Video Essay by Matt Zoller Seitz and Kevin B. Lee

Independent filmmaker and editor Guy Maddin is without question one of the most important artistic voices to come out of Canada. His filmography should be essential viewing for any aspiring editor and video essayist. Maddin's bold signature trait is recreating the look and emotion of silent films from the 1910s and 1920s in his moving image works. While his features My Winnipeg and Brand Upon The Brain! are some of his more widely known films, this informative and entertaining video essay by Kevin B. Lee and Matt Zoller Seitz (two of titans of the video essay form) does a spectacular job of shining a spotlight on what may be Maddin's unsung masterwork Cowards Bend The Knee, from 2003.

On a side note, I want to especially commend Kevin for curating and saving this particular video essay. It's one of the countless video essays that were removed from the Fandor website once that company underwent a change in its artistic direction.

Please watch the video below and be sure to…

#InformedImages: "Rebecca," "The Passionate Friends," "Rear Window" and "Phantom Thread"

#InformedImages is a Free Cinema Now series that studies and brings to light influential films and other examples of moving images that informed and inspired specific visuals in later works.

The two things that made the strongest impressions on me while watching Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread (read the review) were the music (by Jonny Greenwood) and the costume design (by Mark Bridges). You can practically feel the fabrics that dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) cuts and and sews together throughout the film. Not to mention the fact that you can smell the soft boiled eggs and toast Reynolds has for breakfast every morning. The beautiful music keeps this all humming along splendidly. It really is an achievement in cinematic immersion.

While the 1940 Oscar winner Rebecca has its fingerprints all over Phantom Thread, I wanted to bring to light a couple of other films whose heartbeats pulsate throughout Anderson's film: David Lean's 1949 drama The Passionat…

Trailer Alert: "Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot"

Gus Van Sant's latest film Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot will have its world premiere this Friday at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival before hitting theatres in May. The film is getting distributed by Amazon Studios and it tells the story of the late cartoonist John Callahan (played by Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix) who became a quadriplegic at the age of twenty-one after a serious car accident. The film looks to study Callahan's battle with alcoholism (the driver of the car was drinking with Callahan on the day of the accident) and the discovery of his talent for creating darkly humorous cartoon drawings.
Callahan had a distinct drawing style that may have looked simplistic on the surface but his drawings carried a deep pain and perceptiveness that made them all the more piercing to laugh at.

Don't Worry co-stars Oscar nominees Rooney Mara and Jonah Hill. Considering all the players involved, don't be surprised if this film ends up resurfacing during awa…

Watch: "Under The Blanket"

In his video essay for Troiscouleurs, editor Nicolás Longinotti has put together a concise and interesting look at how sheets (or thin blankets) have been used as the central figures in certain moving images throughout film history. In 2017, Casey Affleck went through most of A Ghost Story under a bed sheet and this video reminded me of some other notable examples, like the ghost under the thin red blanket in 1999's The Sixth Sense and the way the hanging sheets on the rooftop became part of the playful marital fight in 1977's Una Giornata Particolare. 

Watch the video for yourself and see which examples bring an unexpected smile to your face.

Review: "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool"

If you follow the Oscars -- especially, if you've been following them for many years -- sometimes the stories behind who win and why they win can become more fascinating than the Oscar-winning films themselves. Take the case of Annette Bening, for example. After her Best Supporting Actress nomination for 1990's The Grifters, her first real shot at winning an Oscar came with her Best Actress nod for 1999's Best Picture-winner American Beauty. Bening lost to Hilary Swank for Boys Don't Cry that year. Flash forward a few years later to Bening's next Oscar nomination, 2004's Being Julia (for which the National Board of Review awarded her Best Actress): Bening lost the Oscar again. And to who? None other than Hilary Swank (again) who won for Million Dollar Baby.

It was after this "Swanky-twofer" that Bening's hunt for the prestigious Oscar-worthy performance got kicked into high gear, for better and worse. Outside of her nod for 2010's The Kids Ar…

Review: "Phantom Thread"

There's a section in the opening act of Paul Thomas Anderson's perplexing and often brilliant 2012 film The Master where its protagonist Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is working as a portrait photographer in the main foyer of a Marshall Fields-esque mall. It's the 1950s and the wardrobe donned by all the background extras is meticulously true to the time and the whole scenario feels very lived in; you can almost smell the apparel, the perfumes coming from the cosmetics department and the hot light bulbs burning at Quell's photography stand. I mention this particular section from The Master because Anderson's new film Phantom Thread takes those tangible atmospheric qualities and creates an entire film built around the convincing sensory experience of living and breathing during a historical time and place.

This time Anderson has chosen the couture world of 1950s London and he reunites with the great Daniel Day-Lewis (the two previously collaborated on There Will …

Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele earn DGA Award Nominations (Full List)

The Directors Guild of America have just announced the nominees for "Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film for 2017" and while Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri continues its inexplicable streak of success during this awards season (news flash: it is not a good film) the DGA did have some happy surprises with their nominations, like nominating a woman director after the BAFTAs shut women out of the category earlier this week.

Here go all the DGA nominees:

Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird
(Unit Production Managers: Lila Yacoub, Danielle Blumstein, Jamin O’Brien (New York Crew), First Assistant Directors: Jonas Spaccarotelli, Cedric Vara (New York Crew), Second Assistant Director: Brendan Lee, Dana Zolli (New York Crew), Second Second Assistant Directors: Lillian Awa, Teri Barber)

Jordan Peele for Get Out
(Unit Production Managers: Marcei A. Brown, Rick A. Osako (Fairhope Unit), First Assistant Director: Gerard DiNardi, Second Assistant Dir…

Review: "The Commuter"

For most of his career Oscar nominee Liam Neeson did a remarkable job of shifting from prestige films like Schindler's List, The Mission and Gangs of New York to edgy genre pictures like Darkman, Gun Shy and Batman Begins. Neeson, a tall, intimidating Irishman with a looming presence, knew his real strength was in those piercing eyes of his. They could emote pain and despair just as easily as they could switch to steely grit. Looking back at his filmography now, it's surprising to see that it took until 2009's Taken for studios to cash in on his leading man specialness. Taken became an unexpected hit, grossing $226 million globally on a modest budget of $25 million. And the formula of Taken was simple: position Neeson as a trusting family man and father who is put to the test when his daughter is kidnapped. Oh, and it's also good to mention that Neeson's character is a retired CIA agent who knows how to kick the shit out of anybody.

But what made the first Taken (…

Happy Birthday to the late and great Harun Farocki

Today the titan video artist Harun Farocki would've been 74 years old. When Farocki passed away in 2014, it was a major loss in the moving image critical studies arena and in the world of digital new wave filmmaking. Farocki was not only a filmmaker, lecturer, thinker and documentarian, he was another embodiment what Chris Marker etched out when he began appropriating moving images and questioning what they really mean decades ago. In the years since, Marker's contemporary Jean Luc-Godard has managed to stay in a more public spotlight (most recently playing a diabolical role in the nonfiction film Faces Places) but Farocki has always been a figure who was more celebrated among his peers, students and in targeted circles of academia.

His side-by-side imagery of panels, screens and moving frames are an obvious influence on the many video essays on cinema that I've created over the last six or so years. Therefore, I wanted to celebrate Farocki by sharing one of his more rece…

#InformedImages: "Carnival of Souls" and "Insidious"

#InformedImages is a Free Cinema Now series that studies and brings to light influential films and other examples of moving images that informed and inspired specific visuals in later works.

When director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell's Insidious hit theatres back in 2010, it became an instant hit and pop cultural fixture because it brought the horror genre back to its roots of getting under your skin through unnerving imagery, coupled with its idea of an afterlife/alternative reality known as "The Further" (which is no doubt one of the inspirations behind "The Upside Down" in the Netflix show Stranger Things). Unlike Wan and Whannell's previous collaboration Saw, Insidious wasn't reliant on shock or torture porn; instead it played like an updated version of The Exorcist (demonic forces possessing a child, for example) and one that knew how to spook audiences with the perfect mix of old school (e.g. classical violins in the score) and new sc…

Interview with "Keep Talking" Director Karen Lynn Weinberg

Film Editor, Producer and native Chicagoan Karen Lynn Weinberg's directorial debut Keep Talking is set to make its Chicago premiere at the Gene Siskel Film Center this Friday January 5, 2018. It is a documentary feature produced by Ten Trees Productions, Vision Maker Media and Kartemquin Films. Keep Talking follows a handful of Alaska Natives (mainly women) who are behind a vital movement to save the endangered language Alutiiq. The remote island of Afognak is the setting for their language camp where they inform, educate and teach Alutiiq to the Alaskan youth. Weinberg's film, much in the spirit of Kartemquin's exceptional documentaries, is an observed, clear and enlightening look at a struggle that is unfortunately underexposed.

Weinberg took the time to speak with Free Cinema Now in anticipation of her film's upcoming special engagement at the Siskel Film Center, as part of its "Stranger Than Fiction" 2018 film series.

Free Cinema Now:What was the spur for…

Watch: "Dunkirk In Real Time"

We experience life in a nonlinear fashion. I'll explain: Our day-to-day actions happen continuously and presently but in our heads we're constantly recalling memories, thoughts, daydreams and other such visual elements that disrupt the straightforward narratives that are our lives. Director Christopher Nolan must surely understand and be enthused by the way our brains use flashbacks and imagination to help us make sense of the world. It's this nonlinear experience that has been the backbone of Nolan's filmography, especially since his breakout hit Memento, which told its story backwards. Nolan's period piece The Prestige jumped all over its timeline as a trick mimicking the 'now you see me, now you don't' rhetoric of its magician antiheroes. And in his masterpiece Interstellar, Nolan created a mythos around space and time travel to help us further understand this nonlinear existence. When it comes to nonlinear storytelling, Nolan and his team of editor…