Review: ‘Aftershock’ (2022), starring Shawnee Benton Gibson, Omari Maynard, Bruce McIntyre, Helena Grant, Neel Shah, Felicia Ellis and Paul Ellis

September 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Shawnee Benton Gibson and Bruce McIntyre in “Aftershock” (Photo by Kerwin Devonish/Hulu)

“Aftershock” (2022)

Directed by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, Boston, Houston and Tulsa, Oklahoma, the documentary film “Aftershock,” which was filmed from 2019 to 2021, features a predominantly African American group of people (with some white people and a few Asians) talking about the systemic racism in U.S. maternal health care that results in a disproportinately high death rate of African American women who died from childbirth or complications from childbirth.

Culture Clash: Family members of African American women who died in hospitals during childbirth have become activists to try to end systemic racism in maternal health care, but they face uphill battles and resistance from people who want to enable or deny this racism.

Culture Audience: “Aftershock” will appeal mainly to people who are interested seeing true stories about how race relations and social classes affect the type of health care that people get in the United States.

Shawnee Benton Gibson, Omari Maynard and Khari Maynard in “Aftershock” (Photo by Kerwin Devonish/Hulu)

“Aftershock” is a disturbing but necessary documentary to watch for a reality check about how systemic racism in the U.S. health care system has resulted in black women dying after childbirth at disproportionately higher rates than other races. The film isn’t just about spouting statistics and facts, although that important information is included. What will emotionally resonate with viewers the most are the stories of real people whose lives have been permanently changed by these medical injustices.

Directed by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee, “Aftershock” is a no-frills documentary that thankfully isn’t overstuffed with too many talking heads. “Aftershock” (which is Lewis Lee’s feature-film directorial debut) had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, where “Aftershock” won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award called Impact for Change. “Aftershock,” which is filmed and edited clearly and concisely, is certainly the type of documentary that will motivate people to want improvements in the U.S. medical care system.

“Aftershock” essentially tells three main stories of African American people who’ve been affected by maternity health care in the United States. Two of the stories are about two families coping with the deaths of a woman in their family who died after childbirth. The third story is about a married couple who have to decide if the pregnant wife will give birth in a hospital or opt for an alternative location. Meanwhile, some experts and activists weigh in with their perspectives and sharing of information.

One of the documentary’s main stories is about the aftermath of the October 2019 death of 30-year-old Shamony Gibson, who died in New York City from pulmonary embolism (blood clotting in the lungs), 13 days after giving birth by C-section to her second child, a son named Khari. “Aftershock” shows how Gibson’s mother Shawnee Benton Gibson and Gibson’s partner Omari Maynard (the father of Khari) became activists as a result of Gibson’s death, which they believe could have been prevented if she received adequate medical care from the medical professionals who knew about her blood clot symptoms.

Before she died, Gibson had been suffering from shortness of breath and chest pains, which are two symptoms of pulmonary embolism. Gibson’s reported these health problems to medical professionals, who dismissed her concerns and told her that she just needed to rest more. According to Gibson’s family, she also was repeatedly asked by medical professionals, “Are you on drugs?”

Gibson was not using drugs, and the medical people were repeatedly told that information, but they didn’t seem to believe it, because they kept asking the same question. The family members believe that the medical people who repeatedly asked this “Are you on drugs?” question would not have been so stubborn in assuming that Gibson was a drug user if Gibson were a white person. They also believe that medical professionals would not have been so quick to dismiss Gibson’s health problems if she were white.

Unfortunately, the hospital where Gibson was taken was underfunded and understaffed. According to Gibson’s family (including her sister Jasmine Gibson, who is interviewed in “Aftershock”), Gibson was taken to the emergency room, where she had to wait 12 hours before getting medical treatment. By then, it was too late. She died at the hospital.

In “Aftershock,” Benton Gibson says that she worked at the hospital as a loyal employee for 25 years and never thought that the hospital would play a role in her daughter’s death. It was a rude and tragic awakening that fuels a lot of Benton Gibson’s activism. One of her biggest messages, particularly to Black women who give birth, is to not be fooled into thinking that what happed to her daughter can’t happen to them.

Another documentary story is about what happened after the April 2020 death of 26-year-old Amber Rose Isaac, who passed away after having a C-section at Montefiore Hospital in New York City’s Bronx borough. Isaac’s son, Elias Isaac McIntyre, survived the C-section, but Isaac did not. Bruce McIntyre (Elias’ father) eventually met Maynard, and they formed a support group for single fathers whose partners died from maternity health care that’s believed to be inadequate and rooted in racism.

While in the hospital for the childbirth, Isaac was diagnosed with HELLP (Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes and Low Platelets) syndrome, a pregnancy complication that affects the blood and liver. Isaac’s family members believe medical negligence caused Isaac’s death and are suing Montefiore Hospital with this claim. The plaintiffs’ lawsuit contends that Isaac could have been diagnosed with HELLP syndrome long before she was in the hospital to give birth. Isaac’s family also believes that Isaac would have received better medical attention if she were white.

The third main story in “Aftershock” follows married couple Felicia Ellis and Paul Ellis as they prepare for the birth of their first child in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Felicia and Paul know about the horror stories about black women (especially low-income black women) getting treated as inferior in the U.S. health care system, compared to women of other races. The documentary shows Felicia and Paul being wary of Felicia going to a hospital for the birth of their child and looking into the birth center Breathe Birth and Wellness as an alternative. The documentary includes footage of Felicia giving birth.

It would be very easy for skeptics to say that people are just being paranoid when it’s pointed out that racism exists in the U.S. health care system. However, plenty of statistics from independent reports back up the racism claims. “Aftershock” has those statistics, which are also publicly available to anyone who wants to find them.

One of the alarming trends is that childbearing black women in the U.S. are more likely than childbearing women of other races to be told that they need a C-section when giving birth. C-sections take less time than vaginal births, but because C-sections are surgeries, women giving birth are more likely to die fom C-sections than from vaginal births. In addition, “Aftershock” points out the cold, hard fact that hospitals get more money from C-sections than they do from vaginal births.

Helena Grant, director of Midwifery at Woodhull Medical Center (a public health facility in New York City), comments in the documentary: “Very early on in my career, black women were used as guinea pigs.” Grant, who is also a certified nurse-midwife (CNM), mentions that people training in obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) in the U.S. usually do their training in hospitals and clinics in low-income communities, which are often largely populated by people of color. These inexperienced OB-GYN professionals are more likely to be the lowest-paid in the OB-GYN field and most likely to make mistakes. And guess who suffers the most as a result?

Multiple people in the documentary mention that Black women are at the most risk of getting the worst maternity health care in the U.S. because of attitudes that still linger from the enslavement of black people in America. Enslaved black women were considered “property,” not human beings, and therefore were not given the health care that people who were not enslaved were entitled to get. There’s also a persistent misconception, stemming from America’s shameful slavery history, that black women are more tolerant of physical pain than women of other races.

“Aftershock” also mentions how patriarchal and sexist attitudes changed practices of assisting during childbirth. Before the 20th century, midwives and home births used to be more common in the U.S. than they are now. During the years when slavery was legal in the U.S., enslaved black women were often the midwives for the white families who enslaved them.

When men wanted to take over the practice of assisting during childbirth and make money from it, the OB-GYN profession was born in the 1700s. In the OB-GYN profession’s earliest years in the U.S., the profession was open only to people who had access to a getting a medical degree, which usually meant white men only. And although medical schools in the U.S. can now enroll people of all races and genders, to this day, most OB-GYN doctors in the U.S. are white men.

“Aftershock” also mentions the money-motivated campaign that began the early 1900s to get more women to go to hospitals to give birth, in order to take business away from midwives who helped women give birth in places other than hospitals. There are certainly advantages to having a doctor rather than a midwife assist in childbirth. However, “Aftershock” shows that more people are considering alternatives to giving birth in a hospital (options include licensed birth centers or home births) if they think the hospital will be giving incompetent care due to a patient’s race.

Neel Shah, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard Medical School, comments: “I think the well-being of moms is the bellwether for the well-being of society in general. That’s why every injustice in society shows up in maternal health care.” Shah also notes that it wasn’t until 2018 that the U.S. federal government began tracking maternal health trends. Many racial disparities can be found in these trend reports.

“Aftershock” includes footage of Shah leading an OB-GYN seminar, with McIntyre as a guest speaker. The seminar’s students (who are mostly women of various races) are visibily moved by McIntyre’s story and seem to have learned a lot from his personal account of how racism can affect the health care that someone can get. One of the students speaks to McIntyre after his talk and says to him that she had heard about Isaac’s death on Twitter, but it made a difference to see firsthand how her death affected someone in Isaac’s family.

“Aftershock” also has powerful moments of Benton Gibson, Maynard and McIntyre doing activism work to try to raise awareness about racism in maternity health care and to pass better laws about maternity health care. They attend rallies and do community outreach in these endeavors. In one scene, Benton Gibson passionately testifies during a New York City Council hearing on maternal health. New York City Council member Carolina Rivera expresses her support of Benton Gibson during this hearing.

In New York City’s Brooklyn borough Maynard and McIntyre choose Weeksville Heritage Center as a meeting place for other single fathers who have experienced similar tragic losses of their partners who died from childbirth-related deaths. Maynard says of this meeting place: “I want to create a space where we can star to try to change policy, where we can have hundreds of thousands of people backing what we’re saying, because that’s the only way it works.”

Maynard, who is an artist who paints portraits, also began painting portraits of other women of color who died as a result of inadequate maternity health care. Maynard has met many of these women’s families through his advoacy/activist work, and he gives these portraits as gifts to the surviving family members. In one of the documentary’s emotionally potent scenes, Maynard gives a portrait of the late Maria Corona to her surviving partner Sam Volrie Jr., who is moved to tears by this gift.

Other people featured in the documentary include registered nurse Giselle Chebny; certfied nurse-midwife Regina Kizer; and Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative executive director LaBrisa Williams; and doulas Nubia Martin, Ashlee Wilson and Myla Flores. Toward the end of the documentary, Maynard and McIntyre are shown making plans to eventually open birth center in the Bronx, with the intention to help low-income pregnant women in particular, since these low-income women are less likely to get the proper medical care that they need.

“Aftershock” is not propaganda for birthing centers, nor is it a sweeping and unfair condemnation of all hospitals and OB-GYN medical professionals. However, the documentary does a very good job at sounding the alarm that pregnant black women in America are more likely to die from inadequate or incompetent medical care than pregnant women of other races. “Aftershock” is an effective presentation of facts and human stories to serve as a reminder that this problem is not just a concern for people of color but for all people who are against racism.

Hulu premiered “Aftershock” and released the movie in select U.S. cinemas on July 19, 2022.

Review: ‘Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel,’ starring Merle Lister, Bettina Grossman, Zoe Pappas, Nicholas Pappas and Steve Willis

September 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Merle Lister and a construction worker in “Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel”

Directed by Amélie van Elmbt and Maya Duverdier

Culture Representation: Taking place at New York City’s Chelsea Hotel, the documentary film “Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel” features a group of nearly all-white people (and one African American) discussing the past and present of the Chelsea Hotel.

Culture Clash: Current residents of the Chelsea Hotel, which is known for being the home of artists and eccentrics, express frustration about the hotel’s massive reconstruction/renovations that they think are taking too long and disrupting their lives.

Culture Audience: “Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in the legacy of this famous hotel, but they won’t find anything substantial about the hotel’s history, and almost all of the people in documentary are actually very boring.

Bettina Grossman in “Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Don’t expect to get the fascinating history of New York City’s famous Chelsea Hotel in the documentary “Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel.” The movie is a rambling, disjointed look at some of the hotel’s current residents, who are mostly dull. Expect to hear more complaining in this documentary about Manhattan real estate than any interesting stories about past and present residents of the Chelsea Hotel.

Directed by Amélie van Elmbt and Maya Duverdier, “Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel” takes a scattershot approach to documenting the happenings at the Chelsea Hotel, whose official name is actually Hotel Chelsea. The Victorian Gothic/Queen Anne Revival-styled building—located at 222 West 23rd Street, in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood—was constructed from 1883 to 1885, and originally opened as a co-op apartment building but closed after just a few years, due to financial issues. The building re-opened as a hotel in 1905, and was officially declared a New York City landmark in 1966. None of this background information is in the documentary.

Most of the movie consists of cinéma vérité footage, but some other parts are a nod to the Chelsea Hotel’s past, with archival footage of some of the hotel’s famous former residents, including rock singer/songwriter Patti Smith, at the hotel and/or talking about the hotel. The Chelsea Hotel’s notoriety peaked in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as the hotel became known for attracting creative artists, bohemians and other eccentrics. Some of the celebrities who called the Chelsea Hotel home at one time or another included Smith, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, writer/poet Allen Ginsberg, writer/poet Dylan Thomas, writer Mark Twain, novelist Arthur C. Clarke and notorious rock’n’roll couple Sid Vicious (former bass player of the Sex Pistols) and Nancy Spungen.

The hotel was also the site of Spungen’s murder by stabbing in October 1978. Vicious was arrested for her murder, but he died of a heroin overdose in February 1979, before the case was resolved. Clarke wrote his classic 1968 sci-fi novel “2001: A Space Odyssey” at the hotel. Filmmaker/artist Andy Warhol’s 1966 movie “Chelsea Girls” was about the Chelsea Hotel’s artistic community at the time and was filmed at the Chelsea Hotel.

Leonard Cohen’s 1974 song “Chelsea Hotel #2” was inspired by a sexual fling that he had at the hotel with singer Janis Joplin, who died in 1971, and who spent a lot of time at the Chelsea Hotel when she was staying in New York City. Jefferson Airplane’s 1971 song “Third Week at the Chelsea” is about the Chelsea Hotel. None of that history is in this documentary, but some viewers might be fooled into thinking that “Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel” will be a chronicle of the hotel’s most famous stories.

Instead, the movie focuses on some of the current residents, who spend a lot of time complaining about how the ongoing construction in the hotel is inconvenient, noisy and not worth the rent that they pay. The interviewees live in cramped spaces, which are often shabby and overcrowded with their possessions. Most of the interviewees are over the age of 60. They include Merle Lister, Bettina Grossman, Zoe Pappas, Nicholas Pappas and Steve Willis.

Lister is a social butterfly who has the liveliest personality out of them all. In one of the documentary’s few memorable scenes, she somewhat flirts with a construction worker, as they talk about how they both think the hotel is haunted with ghosts. Later in the movie, Lister is seen having a friendly dinner at the one-bedroom apartment occupied by Zoe Pappas and her husband Nicholas Pappas.

Architect/engineer Zoe Pappas, who is the president of the Chelsea Tenants Association, talks a lot about the residents’ frustrations with the Chelsea Hotel renovations. Grossman, a cranky hoarder, is described in the documentary as being the hotel’s oldest current resident, but her age is never stated in the movie. Willis, a Chelsea Hotel resident since 1994, gripes about how his living space has shrunk because of the building renovations. He says of all this reconstruction at the Chelsea Hotel: “For a long time, I felt like I was witnessing a slow-motion rape of this building.”

Far from being the vibrant artistic hub that it was in its heyday, the Chelsea Hotel looks more like resident hotel for retired senior citizens. Much like the hotel, many of the residents have seen better days and are holding on to past glories that will never come back. “Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel” can’t even get any great stories out of these residents. In the end, this so-called documentary just looks like a self-indulgent student film that’s trying too hard to be avant-garde artsy.

Magnolia Pictures released “Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on July 8, 2022.

2022 New York Film Festival: main slate announced

August 9, 2022

Cate Blanchett in “TÁR” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

The following is a press release from Film at Lincoln Center:

Film at Lincoln Center (FLC) announces the 32 films that comprise the Main Slate of the 60th New York Film Festival (NYFF), taking place September 30–October 16, 2022, at Lincoln Center and in venues across the city.

“If there is one takeaway from this year’s Main Slate, it is cinema’s limitless capacity for renewal,” said Dennis Lim, artistic director, New York Film Festival. “Collectively, the films in the program suggest that this renewal takes many forms: breathtaking debuts, veterans pulling off new tricks, filmmakers of all stripes seeking new and surprising forms of expression and representation. We love the range and eclecticism of this group of films and are excited to share it with audiences.”

This year’s Main Slate showcases films produced in 18 different countries, featuring new titles from renowned auteurs, exceptional work from returning NYFF directors as well as those making their NYFF debuts, and celebrated films from festivals worldwide, including Cannes prizewinners: Claire Denis’s Stars at Noon; Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave; Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness; and Charlotte Wells’s debut feature film, Aftersun. Carla Simón’s Alcarràs was awarded the Golden Bear at the 72nd Berlinale Festival, and Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes took the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and the l’Oeil d’Or for best documentary at Cannes.

Appearing in the NYFF Main Slate for the first time are Margaret Brown, Davy Chou (New Directors/New Films 2017), Laura Citarella (ND/NF 2015), Alice Diop (ND/NF 2021 and Art of the Real 2022), Mark Jenkin (ND/NF 2019), Marie Kreutzer, Ryuji Otsuka and Huang Ji, and Cyril Schäublin (ND/NF 2015). Hong Sangsoo marks his 18th and 19th film festival selections with The Novelist’s Film and Walk Up; additional returning NYFF filmmakers include Todd Field, Mia Hansen-Løve, Joanna Hogg, Pietro Marcello, Cristian Mungiu, Jafar Panahi, Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Kelly Reichardt, Paul Schrader, Albert Serra, Jerzy Skolimowski, and Frederick Wiseman.

As previously announced, the Opening Night selection is Noah Baumbach’s White Noise; Laura Poitras’s documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is the Centerpiece; and, marking his first appearance in the festival, Elegance Bratton’s narrative debut The Inspection will close NYFF60. James Gray’s Armageddon Time will be the NYFF 60th anniversary screening event, celebrating the enduring spirit of New York City and the New York Film Festival. Currents, Revivals, Spotlight, and Talks sections will be announced in the coming weeks.

As part of its 60th anniversary celebration, the New York Film Festival will offer festival screenings in all five boroughs of New York City in partnership with Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (Staten Island), BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) (Brooklyn), the Bronx Museum of the Arts (Bronx), Maysles Documentary Center (Harlem), and the Museum of the Moving Image (Queens). Each venue will present a selection of films throughout the festival; a complete list of films and showtimes will be announced later this month.

Please note: Masks are required for all staff, audiences, and filmmakers at all times at FLC indoor spaces. Proof of full vaccination is not required for NYFF60 audiences at FLC indoor spaces, but full vaccination is strongly recommended. Visit filmlinc.org/safety for more information. For health & safety protocols at partner venues, please visit their official websites.

The NYFF Main Slate selection committee, chaired by Dennis Lim, also includes Eugene Hernandez, Florence Almozini, K. Austin Collins, and Rachel Rosen. Regina Riccitelli is the NYFF programming coordinator, and Violeta Bava, Michelle Carey, Leo Goldsmith, and Gina Telaroli serve as festival advisors. Matt Bolish is the producer of NYFF.

Presented by Film at Lincoln Center, the New York Film Festival highlights the best in world cinema and takes place September 30–October 16, 2022. An annual bellwether of the state of cinema that has shaped film culture since 1963, the festival continues an enduring tradition of introducing audiences to bold and remarkable works from celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new talent. 

Festival Passes are available in limited quantities with discounts through this Friday, August 12. NYFF60 single tickets, including those for partner venue screenings, will go on sale to the General Public on Monday, September 19 at noon ET, with pre-sale access for FLC Members and Pass holders prior to this date. Save 20% on FLC Memberships through August 16 with the code SUMMER22. Support of NYFF benefits Film at Lincoln Center in its nonprofit mission to promote the art and craft of cinema.

FLC invites audiences to celebrate this milestone anniversary by reflecting on their NYFF experiences with our NYFF Memories survey and by taking part in our Letterboxd Watch Challenge.

The 60th New York Film Festival Main Slate

Opening Night

White Noise

Dir. Noah Baumbach

Centerpiece

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Dir. Laura Poitras

Closing Night

The Inspection

Dir. Elegance Bratton

NYFF 60th Anniversary Celebration

Armageddon Time

Dir. James Gray

Aftersun

Dir. Charlotte Wells

Alcarràs

Dir. Carla Simón

All That Breathes

Dir. Shaunak Sen

Corsage

Dir. Marie Kreutzer

A Couple

Dir. Frederick Wiseman

De Humani Corporis Fabrica

Dir. Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor

Decision to Leave

Dir. Park Chan-wook

Descendant

Dir. Margaret Brown

Enys Men

Dir. Mark Jenkin

EO

Dir. Jerzy Skolimowski

The Eternal Daughter

Dir. Joanna Hogg

Master Gardener

Dir. Paul Schrader

No Bears

Dir. Jafar Panahi

The Novelist’s Film

Dir. Hong Sangsoo

One Fine Morning

Dir. Mia Hansen-Løve

Pacifiction

Dir. Albert Serra

R.M.N.

Dir. Cristian Mungiu

Return to Seoul

Dir. Davy Chou

Saint Omer

Dir. Alice Diop

Scarlet

Dir. Pietro Marcello

Showing Up

Dir. Kelly Reichardt

Stars at Noon

Dir. Claire Denis

Stonewalling

Dir. Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka

TÁR

Dir. Todd Field

Trenque Lauquen

Dir. Laura Citarella

Triangle of Sadness

Dir. Ruben Östlund

Unrest

Dir. Cyril Schäublin

Walk Up

Dir. Hong Sangsoo

The 60th New York Film Festival Main Slate Films & Descriptions

Greta Gerwig May Nivola, Adam Driver, Samuel Nivola and Raffey Cassidy in “White Noise” (Photo by Wilson Webb/Netflix)

Opening Night

White Noise

Noah Baumbach, 2022, U.S., 135m

North American Premiere

In one of the year’s most gratifyingly ambitious American films, Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story) has adapted Don DeLillo’s epochal postmodern 1985 novel, White Noise, long perceived as unfilmable, into a richly layered, entirely unexpected work of contemporary satire. Adam Driver heartily embodies Jack Gladney, an ostentatious “Hitler Studies” professor and father of four whose comfortable suburban college town life and marriage to the secretive Babette (Greta Gerwig, perfectly donning a blonde mop of “important hair”) are upended after a horrifying nearby accident creates an airborne toxic event of frightening and unknowable proportions. In a tightrope walk of comedy and horror, Baumbach captures the essence of DeLillo’s cacophonous pop-philosophical nightmare on unbounded consumerism, ecological catastrophe, and the American obsession with death. Impeccably matching DeLillo’s and Baumbach’s similarly percussive form of stylized dialogue, White Noise is wonderfully abrasive and awe-inspiring, a precisely mounted period piece entirely befitting our modern, through-the-looking-glass pandemic reality. A Netflix release. Campari® is the presenting partner of Opening Night.

Centerpiece

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Laura Poitras, 2022, U.S., 116m

In her essential, urgent, and arrestingly structured new documentary, Academy Award®–winning filmmaker Laura Poitras (Citizenfour) weaves two narratives: the fabled life and career of era-defining artist Nan Goldin and the downfall of the Sackler family, the pharmaceutical dynasty greatly responsible for the opioid epidemic’s unfathomable death toll. Following her own personal struggle with opioid addiction, Goldin, who rose from the New York “No Wave” underground to become one of the great photographers of the late 20th century, put herself at the forefront of the battle against the Sacklers, both as an activist at art institutions around the world that had accepted millions from the family and as an advocate for the de-stigmatization of drug addiction. Illustrated with a rich trove of photographs by Goldin, who mesmerizingly narrates her own story, including her dysfunctional suburban upbringing, the loss of her teenage sister, and her community’s fight against AIDS in the eighties, Poitras’s film is an enthralling, empowering work that stirringly connects personal tragedy, political awareness, and artistic expression.

Jeremy Pope in “The Inspection” (Photo courtesy of A24)

Closing Night

The Inspection

Elegance Bratton, 2022, U.S., 93m

U.S. Premiere

Known for his affecting and dynamic documentary Pier Kids, about homeless queer and transgender youth in New York, and the Viceland series My House, on underground competitive ballroom dancing, filmmaker and photographer Elegance Bratton has made his ambitious narrative debut, a knockout drama based on his own experiences as a gay man in Marine Corps basic training following a decade of living on the streets. In a breathtaking first cinematic starring role, Tony and Emmy–nominated actor Jeremy Pope is run through an emotional and physical gauntlet as a young man dealing with the intimidation of a sadistic sergeant (Bokeem Woodbine), his desire for a sympathetic superior (Raúl Castillo), and his complicated feelings toward the mother who rejected him (a revelatory Gabrielle Union). Bratton’s film is a nuanced portrait of American masculinity and evocation of the military during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era, as well as a forceful, electric work of autobiography. An A24 release.

Michael Banks Repeta and Anthony Hopkins in “Armageddon Time” (Photo by Anne Joyce/Focus Features)

NYFF 60th Anniversary Celebration

Armageddon Time

James Gray, 2022, U.S., 114m

The most personal film yet from James Gray (The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z) is also one of his greatest, an exquisitely detailed and deeply emotional etching of a time and place: Queens, 1980. Set against the backdrop of a country on the cusp of ominous sociopolitical change, Armageddon Time follows Paul Graff (Banks Repeta), a sixth grader who dreams of becoming an artist. At the same time that Paul builds a friendship with classmate Johnny (Jaylin Webb), who’s mercilessly targeted by their racist teacher, he finds himself increasingly at odds with his parents (Jeremy Strong and Anne Hathaway), for whom financial success and assimilation are key to the family’s Jewish-American identity. Paul feels on firmest ground with his kind grandfather (a marvelous Anthony Hopkins), whose life experiences have granted him a weathered compassion. Rejecting easy nostalgia for a more difficult, painful form of recall, Gray’s film—shot with intimate naturalism by Darius Khondji—is a perceptive and humane coming-of-age story that does what only cinema can do, elevating the smallest moments into the greatest drama. A Focus Features release.

Aftersun

Charlotte Wells, 2022, U.K., 98m

In one of the most assured and spellbinding feature debuts in years, Scottish director Charlotte Wells has fashioned a textured memory piece inspired by her relationship with her dad, taking place over the course of a brooding weekend at a coastal resort in Turkey. The charismatic Paul Mescal and naturalistic newcomer Francesca Corio fully inhabit Calum and Sophie, a divorced father and his daughter often mistaken for brother and sister, who share a close and loving bond that creates an entire world unto itself. Wells employs an unusual and gorgeous aesthetic that brings us into the interior space of this parent and child, even as she judiciously withholds details, an approach that finally grants the film a singular emotional wallop. Aftersun reimagines the coming-of-age narrative as a poignant, ultimately ungraspable chimera, informed by the present as much as the past. Winner of the French Touch Prize of the Jury at this year’s Cannes Festival. An A24 release.

Alcarràs

Carla Simón, 2022, Spain/Italy, 120m

Catalan and Spanish with English subtitles

North American Premiere

Winner of the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale Festival, Carla Simón’s follow-up to her acclaimed childhood drama Summer 1993 is a ruminative, lived-in portrait of a rural family in present-day Catalonia whose way of life is rapidly changing. The Solé clan live in a small village, annually harvesting peaches for local business and export. However, their livelihood is put in jeopardy by the looming threat of the construction of solar panels, which would necessitate the destruction of their orchard. From this simple narrative, pitting agricultural tradition against the onrushing train of modern progress, Simón weaves a marvelously textured film that moves to the unpredictable rhythms and caprices of nature and family life. A MUBI release.

All That Breathes

Shaunak Sen, 2022, India/U.K./USA, 94m

Hindi with English subtitles

High above bustling New Delhi, birds of prey known as black kites have for years routinely been falling from the skies due to injuries sustained from pollution or manja, the dangerous cotton threads of paper kites that slice through their wings. For decades, brothers Mohammad Saud and Nadeem Shehzad—who believe in the interconnectedness of human and animal life—have taken it upon themselves to save the birds, which the general city population largely sees as nuisances despite their essential role in the city’s ecosystem. In is hypnotic, poignant, and beautifully crafted documentary, New Delhi–based filmmaker Shaunak Sen immerses himself with Saud and Shehzad for a portrayal of their struggle to make change that doubles as a diagnosis of a city rocked by turmoil. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary (World Cinema) at Sundance and the L’OEil d’or for Best Documentary at Cannes. A Sideshow and Submarine Deluxe release in association with HBO Documentary Films.

Vicky Krieps in “Corsage” (Photo by Felix Vratny/IFC Films)

Corsage

Marie Kreutzer, 2022, Austria, France, Germany 113m

German, French, English, Hungarian with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere

In a perceptive, nuanced performance, Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) quietly dominates the screen as Empress Elizabeth of Austria, who begins to see her life of royal privilege as a prison as she reaches her 40th birthday. Marie Kreutzer boldly imagines Elizabeth’s cloistered, late-19th-century world within the Austro-Hungarian Empire with both austere realism and fanciful anachronism, while staying true and intensely close to the woman’s private melancholy and political struggle amidst a crumbling, combative marriage and escalating scrutiny. Star and director have together created a remarkable vision of a strong-willed political figure whose emergence from a veiled, corseted existence stands for a Europe on the cusp of major, irrevocable transformation. An IFC Films release.

A Couple

Frederick Wiseman, 2022, U.S., 63m

French with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere

Countess Sophia Behrs married Leo Tolstoy when she was 18 and he was 34. They were husband and wife for 48 years, had 13 children, and she outlived him by nine years. Yet their relationship, among the most discussed and written about in literary history, was anything but harmonious, as Sophia, an artist in her own right—a photographer, memoirist, and editor—was constantly forced to negotiate her happiness with her husband’s infidelities. Inspired by Sophia’s story, legendary American documentarian Frederick Wiseman has made a film based on Sophia’s diaries and letters from Leo to Sophia, structured as a series of monologues delivered with magnificent poise and gathering intensity by star and co-writer Nathalie Boutefeu, pillowed by graceful images of natural beauty from the film’s bucolic French setting. Wiseman’s captivating one-woman portrait presents a remarkably contemporary rendering of a marriage. A Zipporah Films release.

De Humani Corporis Fabrica

Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, 2022, France/Switzerland/U.S., 117m

French with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere
In their thrilling new work of nonfiction exploration, Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, best known for such aesthetically and ethnographically revelatory films as Leviathan and Caniba, burrow deeper than ever, using microscopic cameras and specially designed recording devices to survey the wondrous landscape of the human body. More transfixing than clinical, the film, shot in hospitals in and around Paris, eschews the normal narrative parameters for medical documentation in favor of a rigorously detached, expressionistic look at our tactile yet essentially unknowable flesh and viscera. With its unshakable images of biopsies, cesarean delivery, endoscopic procedures, and the little-seen crevices inside all of us, De Humani Corporis Fabrica both demystifies and celebrates life and death. A Grasshopper Film and Gratitude Films release.

Decision to Leave

Park Chan-wook, 2022, South Korea, 138m

Korean and Chinese with English subtitles

Busan detective Hae-joon finds that he’s increasingly obsessed with a puzzling new case: a middle-aged businessman has mysteriously fallen to his death during a rock climbing expedition. Upon discovering photos of his abused wife, a Chinese national named Seo-rae (Tang Wei), Hae-joon begins to suspect it wasn’t an accident, all the while becoming emotionally and erotically drawn to her. From this Hitchcockian situation, director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) weaves a swelling, expanding, ever more complex tale about a possible black widow and the investigator who just might be fashioning his own web. One of Park’s most enveloping and accomplished thrillers, which earned him the Best Director award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Decision to Leave is a constantly surprising, elegantly constructed film that builds in power to a truly haunting denouement. A MUBI release.

Descendant

Margaret Brown, 2022, U.S., 109m

In 1860, decades after the U.S. banned the practice of kidnapping and importing humans for enslavement, yet five years before the 13th amendment emancipated the nation’s already enslaved people, a ship named the Clotilda docked in Mobile, Alabama. There, it unloaded more than one hundred African souls before it was ordered destroyed and sunk to eradicate evidence. Freed in 1865, yet unable to return to their homeland, the survivors founded Africatown—a testament to their strength which persists today despite the town’s governmental neglect and economic disparity. This long submerged history symbolizes a nation’s forgotten atrocities in this poignant and cathartic documentary from nonfiction veteran Margaret Brown (The Order of Myths). Reckoning with the legacy of this history and giving voice to the descendants of these enslaved people, Brown’s intricately drawn film tells an urgent tale of community revitalization, environmental action, and racial justice. A Netflix release.

Enys Men

Mark Jenkin, 2022, U.K., 91m

U.S. Premiere
In 1973, on an uninhabited, windswept, rocky island off the coast of Cornwall in southwest England, an isolated middle-aged woman (Mary Woodvine) spends her days in enigmatic environmental study. When she’s not tending to the moss-covered stone cottage in which she lodges, her central preoccupation is a cluster of wildflowers at cliff’s edge, their subtle changes noted in a daily ledger. Yet she’s also increasingly haunted by her own nightmarish visitations, which seem both summoned from her own past and brought up from the very soil and ceremonial history of this mysterious place. Shot on enveloping, period-evocative 16mm,  this eerie, texturally rich experience from Cornish filmmaker Mark Jenkin conjures works of classic British folk horror but remains its own strange being, a genuine transmission from a weird other world. A NEON release.

EO

Jerzy Skolimowski, 2022, Poland/Italy, 86m

Polish, Italian, English, French with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere

At age 84, legendary director Jerzy Skolimowski (The Deep End, Moonlighting) has directed one of his spryest, most visually inventive films, following the travels of a peripatetic donkey named EO. After being removed from the only life he’s ever known in a traveling circus, EO begins a journey across the Polish and Italian countryside, experiencing cruelty and kindness, captivity and freedom. Skolimowski imagines the animal’s mesmerizing journey as an ever-shifting interior landscape, marked by absurdity and warmth in equal measure, putting the viewer in the unique perspective of the protagonist. Skolimowski has constructed his own bold vision about the follies of human nature, seen from the ultimate outsider’s perspective. A Sideshow and Janus Films release.

The Eternal Daughter

Joanna Hogg, 2022, U.K./U.S., 96m

One gloomy night, a middle-aged filmmaker and her elderly mother arrive at a fog-enshrouded hotel in the English countryside. An ominously brusque clerk, an apparent lack of other guests, and disturbing sounds from the room above theirs bode a less-than-welcome arrival. Yet all is not what it seems on this increasingly emotional trip into the past for these two women, one of whom has definitely been here before. Joanna Hogg (The Souvenir), among today’s foremost filmmakers, uses this Victorian gothic scenario for an entirely surprising, impeccably crafted, and, finally, overwhelming excavation of a parent-child relationship and the impulse toward artistic creation. And Tilda Swinton, in a performance of rich, endless surprise, turns in one of the most remarkable acting feats in her astonishing career. An A24 release.

Master Gardener

Paul Schrader, 2022, U.S., 107m

North American Premiere

Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) takes great care and pride in his work as the longtime head horticulturist at Gracewood Gardens, the historic estate of the demanding, imperious Norma Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver). An enclosed, scrupulously run world of its own, Gracewood has been in the Haverhill family for generations, and Norma trusts no one other than Narvel to continue its traditions. However, a threat of change is harkened by the arrival of Norma’s troubled grand-niece, Maya (Quintessa Swindell), whose presence sets off a chain reaction of events that catalyze Narvel into coming to terms with his own shocking past. Following First Reformed and The Card Counter, Paul Schrader continues his dramatic renaissance with an equally effective, startling tale about dormant violence and the possibility of regeneration.

No Bears

Jafar Panahi, 2022, Iran, 107m

Farsi, Azerbaijani, Turkish with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere

One of the world’s great cinematic artists, Jafar Panahi has been carefully crafting self-reflexive works about artistic, personal, and political freedom for the past three decades, and his risk-taking output has never slowed down even amidst his globally condemned treatment by the Iranian government. Now, as the international film community vehemently denounces Panahi’s summer 2022 arrest, this time for his vocal support of a fellow artist’s independence, he has gifted us all with a new film, and it’s another virtuosic sleight of hand. In No Bears, as in many of his recent titles, he centers himself, having relocated temporarily to a rural border town to remotely oversee the making of a new film in Tehran, the story of which comes to sharply mirror disturbing events that begin to occur around him. In these parallel yet cross-hatching narratives, Panahi keeps pulling the narrative rug out from under the viewer as he confronts tradition and progress, city and country, spiritual belief and photographic evidence, and the human desire to escape from oppression.

The Novelist’s Film

Hong Sangsoo, 2022, South Korea, 92m

Korean with English subtitles

North American Premiere

For his playful and gently thought-provoking 27th feature, Hong Sangsoo takes on the perspective of a prickly middle-aged novelist, Junhee (Lee Hyeyoung, the magnetic star of Hong’s In Front of Your Face). After revisiting an old friend who now runs a bookshop outside of Seoul, she embarks on a restorative journey that leads her to a chance encounter with a famous actress and former movie star (Kim Minhee); the two make an instant connection that stokes both women’s dormant creative impulses. Within this simple, loose-limbed premise, Hong locates a deep well of emotional truth, and poses a bounty of questions about the necessities and expectations of art-making, leading to a poignant, entirely unexpected, mode-shifting climax. A Cinema Guild release.

Melvil Poupaud, Camille Leban Martins and Léa Seydoux in “One Fine Morning” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

One Fine Morning

Mia Hansen-Løve, 2022, France, 112m

French with English subtitles

Few filmmakers are as adept at exploring the contours of modern love and grief as Mia Hansen-Løve (Bergman Island), whose intensely poignant and deeply personal latest drama stars Léa Seydoux as Sandra, a professional translator and single mother at a crossroads. Her father (Pascal Greggory), rapidly deteriorating from a neurological illness, will soon require facility care, and her new lover (Melvil Poupaud) is a married dad whose unavailability only seems to draw her nearer to him, despite—or because of—the fact that she’s going through an overwhelming time in her life. Hansen-Løve, so finely observant of the small nuances of human interaction, creates, in harmonious concert with a magnificent Seydoux, a complicated portrait of a woman torn between romantic desire and familial tragedy that is a marvel of emotional and formal economy. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Pacifiction

Albert Serra, 2022, France/Spain/Germany/Portugal, 162m

French with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere

Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra reconfirms his centrality in the contemporary cinematic landscape with this mesmerizing portrait of a French bureaucrat (a monumental Benoît Magimel) drifting through a fateful trip to a French Polynesian island with increasing anxiety. Pacifiction charts the various uneasy relationships that develop between Magimel’s autocratic yet avuncular High Commissioner, De Roller, and the Indigenous locals (including nonprofessional actor Pahoa Mahagafanau in a hypnotic breakthrough as De Roller’s trusted right hand and maybe lover) who operate essentially under his faux-benevolent thumb, many of whom we meet at a resort that caters to the prurient exoticism of foreign tourists. Serra’s gripping, atmospheric thriller is a slow-building fever dream that lulls before catching us by surprise with the depths of its darkness, a film that allows its incisive social commentary about the remnants of colonialism to surface through quiet observation and aesthetic audacity. A Grasshopper Film and Gratitude Films release.

R.M.N.

Cristian Mungiu, 2022, Romania/France, 125m

Romanian with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere

Cristian Mungiu, whose bravura films such as 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days and Beyond the Hills dramatize the tensions of a modern Romania still beholden to dangerous traditions, returns with a gripping, mosaic-like portrait of a rural Transylvanian town riven by ethnic conflicts, economic resentment, and personal turmoil. Matthias (a glowering Marin Grigore) has returned to the village after an altercation at his job in a German slaughterhouse, only to find that his estranged wife has grown more distant and his young son has stopped talking after witnessing something disturbing in the forest near their home. Meanwhile his former lover, Csila (Judith State), with whom he hopes to rekindle an affair, has become involved in an escalating controversy when her local bread factory hires Sri Lankan migrants. These strands converge in increasing combustibility, building to an unsettling climax and a bravura town hall sequence that ranks with Mungiu’s best work. An IFC Films release.

Return to Seoul

Davy Chou, 2022, France/Germany/South Korea/Belgium, 115m

English, French, and Korean with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere

Freddie (Park Ji-Min), a young French woman, finds herself spontaneously tracking down the South Korean birth parents she has never met while on vacation in Seoul. From this seemingly simple premise, Cambodian-French filmmaker Davy Chou spins an unpredictable, careering narrative that takes place over the course of several years, always staying close on the roving heels of its impetuous protagonist, who moves to her own turbulent rhythms (as does the galvanizing Park, a singular new screen presence). Chou elegantly creates probing psychological portraiture from a character whose feelings of unbelonging have kept her at an emotional distance from nearly everyone in her life; it’s an enormously moving film made with verve, sensitivity, and boundless energy. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Saint Omer

Alice Diop, 2022, France, 118m

French with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere

Rama (Kayije Kagame), a successful journalist and author living in Paris, has come to Saint Omer, a town in the north of France, to attend the trial of a young Senegalese woman, Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanga), who allegedly murdered her baby daughter. Although she admits to killing the child, she cannot or will not provide motivation, claiming it was a kind of sorcery out of her control. Rama’s plan to write about Laurence in a book inspired by the Medea myth increasingly unravels as she becomes overwhelmed by the case, and reckons with memories of her immigrant mother as well as her own impending motherhood. In her consummate fiction feature debut, Alice Diop (We) constructs an arresting yet highly sensitive, superbly acted film of constantly revealing layers. Saint Omer is at once a tense courtroom drama, a work of abstracted psychological portraiture, an inquiry into human agency, and a provocative examination of the limits of myth and cross-cultural knowledge.

Scarlet

Pietro Marcello, 2022, France/Italy/Germany, 103m

French with English subtitles

North American Premiere

Pietro Marcello, one of contemporary cinema’s most versatile talents, follows his dramatic breakthrough Martin Eden with an enchanting period fable based on a beloved 1923 novel by Russian writer Alexander Grin. Beginning as the tale of a sensitive brute (Räphael Terry) who returns home from World War I to his rural French village to discover his wife has died and that he must take care of their baby daughter, Juliette, the film blossoms into a pastoral portrait of Juliette as a free-spirited young woman (Juliette Jouan) reckoning with a local witch’s prophecy for her future and falling for the modern man (Louis Garrel) who literally drops from the sky. In his first film made in France, Marcello proves again he is as comfortable in the realm of folklore as he is in creative nonfiction, delicately interweaving realist drama, ethereal romance, and musical flights of fancy.

Showing Up

Kelly Reichardt, 2022, U.S., 108m

North American Premiere
Continuing one of the richest collaborations in modern American cinema, director Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women) reunites with star Michelle Williams for this marvelously particularized portrait of a sculptor’s daily work and frustrations in an artists’ enclave in Portland. Lizzy (Williams) struggles to put the finishing touches on her latest pieces for a gallery show, all the while juggling admin work at the local art school; dealing with the neglect of her well-meaning landlord (a funny and nuanced Hong Chau), who also happens to be a rising-star conceptual artist; and tending to the emotional wellbeing of her increasingly fragmented family. Christopher Blauvelt’s patient camerawork, Reichardt’s precise cutting, and Williams’s physically transformative performance coalesce to create something remarkable in Showing Up, a delicately humorous drama of the experience of being a creative person that avoids all clichés that plague films about artists. An A24 release.

Stars at Noon

Claire Denis, 2022, France, 137m

English and Spanish with English subtitles

North American Premiere

A dissolute young American journalist (Margaret Qualley) and an English businessman (Joe Alwyn) with ties to the oil industry meet by chance while on different, mysterious assignments in modern-day Nicaragua. The two tumble into a whirlwind romance despite knowing little about each other’s true professional identities—all while abstract forces close in on them as they desperately try to book it out of a country that won’t seem to let them leave. Stars at Noon, based on the 1986 novel by Denis Johnson, represents a new mode for director Claire Denis, a contemporary thriller suffused with political intrigue and languid eroticism, moving entirely to the tactile rhythms of its actors, especially rising star Qualley, who gives a live-wire performance of fervid spontaneity and mercurial passion. Winner of the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. An A24 release.

Stonewalling

Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka, Japan, 148m

Hunanese with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere

For more than a decade, Beijing-based wife-and-husband team Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka have been making films about the lives of young people in China—in many cases “left-behind children,” or those whose parents are forced to leave their families to find jobs in cities. Expanding their project, their gripping, humane yet uncompromising latest, shot with a precise formal economy by Otsuka (who also serves as cinematographer), focuses on a year in the life of Lynn, a flight-attendant-in-training whose plans to finish college are thrown into doubt when she discovers she’s pregnant. Not wanting an abortion (a decision she hides from her callow, absent boyfriend, away on modeling and party-hosting gigs), she hopes to give the child away after carrying it to term, while staying afloat amidst a series of dead-end jobs. As incarnated by the filmmakers’ quietly potent recurring star Yao Honggui, Lynn—whose story continues after being the center of the filmmakers’ acclaimed The Foolish Bird (2007)—is both a fully rounded character and the vessel for an urgent critique of a modern-day social structure that has few options for women in need of care.

TÁR

Todd Field, 2022, U.S., 157m

The charisma and emotional precision of Cate Blanchett are put to astounding use in this deft showcase for the actor’s nearly musical artistry, a stinging portrait of a world-famous orchestra conductor’s gradual unraveling that is the first film in sixteen years from director Todd Field (In the Bedroom, Little Children). A Focus Features release.

Trenque Lauquen

Laura Citarella, 2022, Argentina, 250m (presented in two parts)

Spanish with English subtitles

North American Premiere

In her dazzling and enormously pleasurable new opus, Laura Citarella takes the viewer on a limitless, mercurial journey through stories nested within stories set in and around the Argentinean city of Trenque Lauquen (“Round Lake”) and centered on the strange disappearance of a local academic named Laura (Laura Paredes). Through initial inquiries by two colleagues—older boyfriend Rafael and a driver named Ezequiel with whom she had grown secretly close—we learn about her recent discoveries, including a new, unclassified species of flower and a series of old love letters hidden at the local library, which may help them track her down. Yet as flashbacks and anecdotes pile up, we—and the film’s intrepid investigators—begin to realize that this intricately structured tale is larger and stranger than we could have imagined. Citarella, a producer of the equally remarkable shape-shifting epic La Flor, has confidently crafted a series of interlocked romantic, biological, and ecological mysteries that create parallels between past lives and present dangers, invoke the rapture of obsessive pursuit, and salute the human need to find personal freedom and happiness. Trenque Lauquen is told in 12 chapters spread across two feature films.

Charlbi Dean and Harris Dickinson in “Triangle of Sadness” (Photo by Fredrik Wenzel/Plattform-Produktion/Neon)

Triangle of Sadness

Ruben Östlund, 2022, Sweden/France/UK/Turkey/Germany, 147m

Cinematic mischief maker Ruben Östlund liberally applies his customary playfulness to the wide canvas of his wildly ambitious, frequently hilarious latest film, which won the Swedish director his second Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Kicking off as a satirical romance, following the bickering, money-soured relationship between two hot young models (Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean), the three-part film escalates into increasing absurdity after they are invited on a luxury cruise, where they rub elbows with the super-rich, as well as a disheveled and disillusioned, Marx-spouting sea captain (Woody Harrelson). To tell more would ruin the Buñuelian twists of this poison-dipped farce on class and economic disparity, which doesn’t skewer contemporary culture so much as dunk it in raw sewage. A NEON release.

Unrest

Cyril Schäublin, 2022, Switzerland, 93m

Swiss German, Russian and French with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere

A film of immense delicacy and precision, Cyril Schäublin’s complexly woven timepiece is set in the hushed environs of the Swiss watchmaking town of Saint-Imier in the 1870s. In this unlikely place, a youthful Pyotr Kropotkin, who would become a noted anarchist and socialist philosopher, experiences a quiet revolution, finding himself inspired by the buzzing activity of the town’s denizens, from the photographers and cartographers surveying its people and land; to the growing anarchist collective at the local watermill, raising funds for strikes abroad; to the organizing workers at the watch factory, whose craft is depicted with exacting detail and devotion. Schäublin’s abstracted, geometric visual approach reinforces the singularly contemplative nature of his project: this is a film about time—its tyranny as well as its comforts—and how it relates to work, leisure, and the larger processes that shape history. A KimStim release.

Walk Up

Hong Sangsoo, 2022, South Korea, 97m

Korean with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere

Hong Sangsoo uses a delicately radical structure in his latest exploration of the complexities of relationships, growing older, and artistic pursuit. Successful middle-aged filmmaker Byungsoo (Kwon Haehyo) drops by to visit and introduce his daughter to an old friend, Mrs. Kim (Lee Hyeyoung), the owner of a charming apartment building that houses a restaurant on the ground floor. After Mrs. Kim tries to persuade him to move into one of the walk-up units, the film and Byungsoo’s future take a series of unexpected turns, as the various floors of the apartment come to contain different stages of his romantic and professional lives—or perhaps they’re different realities? Hong’s playfully existential drama consistently surprises, asking provocative, unresolvable questions about desire, illusion, and satisfaction and what we need—and take—from one another as we seek our own answers. A Cinema Guild release.

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Review: ‘Fourth of July,’ starring Joe List, Sarah Tollemache, Paula Plum, Robert Walsh, Robert Kelly and Tara Pacheco

July 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Joe List, an unidentified actress, Nick Di Paolo, Tony Viveiros, Courtland Jones and Tara Pacheco in “Fourth of July” (Photo by courtesy of Circus King Productions)

“Fourth of July”

Directed by Louis C.K. 

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and in Maine, the comedy/drama film “Fourth of July” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A neurotic jazz musician, who’s a recovering alcoholic, goes to his family’s annual Fourth of July reunion to confront his parents about how he thinks they didn’t show him enough love when he was a child.

Culture Audience: “Fourth of July” will appeal primarily to fans of director/writer/co-star Louis C.K. and anyone who doesn’t mind watching predictable and trite dramedies about obnoxious people.

Paula Plum and Robert Walsh in “Fourth of July” (Photo by courtesy of Circus King Productions)

The comedy/drama “Fourth of July” can’t decide if it wants to be offensively edgy or effectively sentimental, and it ultimately fails at being both. It’s just a boring display of sloppily written clichés about a bickering and dysfunctional family. Louis C.K., who directed and co-wrote “Fourth of July,” is known for his boundary-pushing and intentionally insulting comedy. But in “Fourth of July,” in which he has a small acting role as an incompetent therapist, Louis C.K. seems to be trying too hard to “clean up” his image after damaging his career with #MeToo scandals.

The results are that “Fourth of July” looks like very phony. The movie’s tone shifts drastically from being about a deeply neurotic jazz musician with a lot of personal issues to this protagonist suddenly transforming into a contented self-help guru who gets all warm and fuzzy. All of it is just a tedious slog to watch because most of the characters in the movie are shallow stereotypes.

“Fourth of July” is yet another forgettable movie about a feuding family where the filmmakers think that putting a lot of arguments in the movie will automatically equal an interesting story. But before getting to the family discord, “Fourth of July” takes too long (the first third) showing central character Jeff (played by Joe List, who co-wrote the “Fourth of July” screenplay) in repetitive scenes of Jeff moping around and feeling sorry for himself.

Jeff, who is in his late 30s or early 40s, is a recovering alcoholic who’s been sober for the past three years. He lives in New York City with his wife Beth (played by Sarah Tollemache), who is adoring but insecure about her self-worth. Not much is revealed about this marriage except that Beth wants to start a family, Jeff doesn’t think he has what it takes to be a good parent, and Beth has recently gotten the upsetting news from a doctor that Beth won’t be able to conceive a child (not even through in vitro fertilization) because it’s “too late” for her.

Jeff plays piano in the type of jazz band that can only get gigs playing in small, local bars. Near the beginning of the movie, Jeff is seen driving in his car and suddenly stopping the car and getting out because he’s sure that he hit someone. But nothing is there. Jeff is convinced that he accidentally hit someone with the car and the person walked away.

Jeff is then shown in a session with his unnamed therapist (played by Louis C.K.), who has an obvious prickly relationship with Jeff. The therapist condescendingly tells Jeff that this “car accident” is one of several that Jeff has talked to him about and that the odds are next to none that he could have all of these incidents happen in such a short period of time. The therapist irresponsibly treats Jeff’s paranoid delusions as just a pesky personality quirk instead of a serious mental illness.

At one point in “Fourth of July,” Jeff’s paranoid delusions are never mentioned or shown again, as if this mental illness just magically disappeared on its own. That’s one of many examples of why “Fourth of July” is so forced and fake. In fact, the filmmakers of “Fourth of July” spend so much time and effort trying to make Jeff look like a sad sack who’s been beaten down by life, but then it soon becomes apparent that Jeff is his own worst enemy who wants to blame his parents (especially his mother) for all of his problems.

Jeff didn’t come from an abusive home. He didn’t grow up underprivileged. Jeff is bitter because he thinks that his parents didn’t give him enough hugs when he was a child. He also doesn’t like that his parents never told him, “I love you,” when he was growing up. And if they did tell him that, he doesn’t remember.

Almost all of the so-called jokes in “Fourth of July” aren’t funny at all. The therapist tells Jeff: “We could talk about your mother, and all of those other things might take care of themselves.” Jeff angrily replies, “You suck. You’re like the worst therapist.” The therapist says, “Most likely, yeah.”

Jeff is also seen visiting his dentist (played by Allan Havey), who tells Jeff that there’s nothing wrong with his teeth. Jeff insists that something in his mouth is affecting his facial structure. His doctor informs Jeff that what Jeff thinks is a facial deformity is really just Jeff’s jaw. Jeff wants to have a MRI test, just to make sure. Apparently, Jeff doesn’t know that it’s not a dentist’s job to do MRI tests. And apparently, that ignorance is supposed to be amusing.

Not only is Jeff having paranoid delusions but he’s also a hypochondriac. His hypochondria also magically disappears and is never mentioned again at a certain point in the movie. “Fourth of July” also has monotonous scenes of Jeff involved in Alcoholics Anonymous sponsorship. In the first third of the movie Jeff is shown meeting up with his AA sponsor Bill (played by Bill Scheft), who scolds Jeff for not returning Bill’s messages in a timely manner.

Bill then introduces Jeff to Bobby (played by Robert Kelly), another recovering alcoholic who’s floundering in life. Jeff has been assigned to be Bobby’s sponsor. Bobby and Jeff were acquaintances in high school. Bill thinks that Jeff would be a good sponsor match for Bobby, since Bobby is a drummer in a local pop/rock band that plays dive bars.

Do viewers of “Fourth of July” really need to see any scenes with Bobby performing with his band? No. But this type of useless scene is in “Fourth of July” anyway, as the movie drones on and on until it gets to what the movie is really about: Jeff going to his family’s annual Fourth of July reunion in Maine, and confronting his parents about what he thinks was his emotionally deprived childhood that Jeff believes is entirely his parents’ fault.

Beth would usually go on this Fourth of July trip with Jeff. But this time, Jeff tells her that this visit will be very intense for him, so he asks her not to go. Beth doesn’t seem disappointed at all. And when viewers see Jeff’s loud, crude and frequently nasty-tempered family, it’s easy to see why Beth is probably relieved she’s not at this family reunion, which takes place at the home owned by Jeff’s paternal grandfather. (Even though this family home is supposed to be in Maine, “Fourth of July” was filmed entirely in New York state.)

Jeff’s parents Shirley (played by Paula Plum) and Chris (played by Robert Walsh) aren’t quite the monsters that Jeff thinks they are. Shirley is domineering and critical, but she’s also someone who cares about the well-being of her family. Chris is very quiet and someone who doesn’t express emotions easily. Even though Jeff thinks both of his parents are emotionally aloof, he has more resentment toward his mother.

The other members of the clan who are at this reunion include Jeff’s paternal grandfather (played by Richard O’Rourke), who doesn’t have a name in the movie; Jeff’s aunt Tricia (played by Lynne Koplitz); Tricia’s husband Kevin (played by Nick Di Paolo); Jeff’s aunt Darlene (played by Dorothy Dwyer); Jeff’s cousin Brenda (played by Courtland Jones); Jeff’s bachelor uncle Mark (played by Chris Walsh); and a loudmouth named Tony (played by Tony Viveiros), whose only connection to this family is that he was the boyfriend of Jeff’s deceased aunt Marion. All of these relatives get into arguments or make snide remarks at each other at one point or another.

Mark (who is the much-younger half-brother of Jeff’s father) is close to Jeff’s age because the father of Mark and Chris was middle-aged when he became a father to Mark. Mark is the only family member at this reunion whom Jeff seems to like and trust. Mark is no angel though. One of the first things that Mark tells Jeff when they see each other at this family reunion is that he got fired from his most recent job at a copper company for selling the some of the company’s copper to a business rival.

Brenda, whose job is never mentioned, has brought her co-worker friend named Naomi (played by Tara Pacheco) to this family gathering, and she introduces Naomi when everyone is outside in a group. Naomi has been a widow for the past six months, and she’s not ready to start dating again. In other words, don’t expect there to be any surprise romances in this movie. Kevin and Tony are the blatant racists and sexists in the family, so of course they have to comment on Naomi being an African American woman.

Naomi sheepishly says that she’s actually biracial and asks if that’s okay with them. Kevin asks her which of her parents is black, and Naomi says her father. Tony then smirks as he announces to the whole family, “You know what that means: She got a big cock!” It’s a very cringeworthy scene. Naomi is a token character in every sense of the word: She isn’t given anything substantial to do but watch the pathetic antics of this angry family.

Everyone in the movie’s cast gives an adequate performance. Plum acts with the most “realism” in her role, while Robert Walsh has a brief moment in the film where he’s allowed to shine. All of the characters in “Fourth of July” are either bland, idiotic and/or very annoying. Jeff’s self-pitying gets tiresome very quickly, considering he likes playing the victim in his life, but he can be cruel to other people too. List’s depiction of Jeff has a lot of lukewarm and wishy-washy acting.

Die-hard fans of Louis C.K. fans might overlook the movie’s very glaring flaws, but anyone else who’s curious to see what the notorious Louis C.K. has to offer as a filmmaker will be disappointed by the tepid unoriginality of this “Fourth of July” movie. Many of the movie’s useless scenes look like they were written just so Louis C.K. could put some of his friends in the movie. Unfortunately, all that “Fourth of July” ends up being is insincere mush that looks like Louis C.K. reluctantly watered down his “bad boy” brand, in a very transparent attempt to get back in the good graces of mainstream audiences.

Abramorama released “Fourth of July” in select U.S. cinemas on July 1, 2022.

Review: ‘Petit Mal’ (2022), starring Ruth Caudeli, Silvia Varón and Ana María Otálora

July 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ana María Otálora, Ruth Caudeli and Silvia Varón in “Petit Mal” (Photo by Sara Larrota/Dark Star Pictures)

“Petit Mal” (2022)

Directed by Ruth Caudeli 

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Colombia, the dramatic film “Petit Mal” features a cast of Colombian female characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Three queer women—who are in a three-way, live-in relationship—navigate the shifting dynamics of their relationship when one of the women goes away on a work trip.

Culture Audience: “Petit Mal” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching movies about LGBTQ relationships or polyamory where the stories are more about being mood pieces than having a lot of dramatics.

Ana María Otálora, Ruth Caudeli and Silvia Varón in “Petit Mal” (Photo by Sara Larrota/Dark Star Pictures)

The occasionally tedious drama “Petit Mal” is an intimate and proficiently acted character study of what happens when three women in a polyamorous relationship together navigate the changing dynamics of the relationship when the “alpha female” goes away for a business trip. “Petit Mal” (which means “little evil” in French) is an interesting mix of not only being ambitiously artsy with its intent in showing a complicated relationship, but also being unpretentiously minimalist in how the movie was cast and filmed. Viewers expecting a movie with more drama and action might be disappointed, but the emotions in “Petit Mal” always look authentic. “Petit Mal” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Written and directed by Ruth Caudeli, “Petit Mal” features just three people on screen as the main characters. All three protagonists are queer women in their late 20s or early 30s who are in a three-way romance with each other. They live together (with five dogs as pets) in a middle-class house in Bogotá, Colombia. The house seems to be in a somewhat isolated wooded area, because neighboring houses are not seen in any of the scenes that take place outside.

Caudeli has the role of Laia, the “alpha female” of this trio. It’s obvious from the first 10 minutes of the movie that when the three women are together, Laia is the most dominant one, but not in an overtly bossy way. Her dominance is shown because Laia is the one in this ménage à trois who is at the center of all the affections, as if her two girlfriends care the most about making Laia happy, more than anyone else in this relationship. (“Petit Mal” is reportedly inspired by Caudeli’s own real-life polyamorous experiences.)

Laia is also the most confident and assertive of the three women when they’re together. It should come as no surprise when it’s revealed later in the movie that Laia is a movie director—a job that requires strong leadership skills. There are many signs that Laia thinks she has total control in this three-way romance. However, that self-assurance is tested when she temporarily goes away from home to direct a movie. Her work trip is to an unnamed city, where she has to take a plane flight to get there and back to Bogotá.

Anto (played by Ana María Otálora) is the woman in the relationship who is the most sensitive. Later in the movie, when a thunderstorm hits the area, Anto has a panic attack because of the sights and sounds caused by the storm. Anto is also most likely to be the “peacemaker” and “nurturer” to smooth over any arguments that happen. Anto’s job (if she has a job or a career) is not mentioned in the movie.

Also in this relationship is screenwriter/editor Martina (played by Silvia Varón), nicknamed Marti, who’s editing a documentary tentatively titled “Throuples, Dogs and Boxes.” And yes, the documentary is about this three-way relationship. Martina is the person in this threesome who seems to be the most diligent about planning and having things going according to a schedule. For example, she expresses some worries about not being able to meet the deadlines for this documentary.

During the movie’s opening scene, Laia, Anto and Martina prepare a barbecue meal together in their backyard. Observant viewers will immediately notice these women’s personality traits and how they affect this ménage à trois. Laia does some of the cooking, but she lets Anto and Martina do most of the work. Laia also shows them how she wants certain things done in this food preparation. All three women kiss each other, but Martina and Anto kiss Laia as if she’s the center of their attention.

Later, when they’re all inside eating the meal they’ve prepared, Martina asks (maybe because she wants this information for her documentary): “What’s the most difficult thing about having a throuple?” Anto replies, “Spending time together equitably.” Laia answers, “Jealousy.” Martina offers her own thoughts: “Three is not balanced. There are always two or one.”

Martina’s comments foreshadow what’s to come later when Laia goes away for the directing job. Anto and Martina, who act more like rivals when Laia is with them, find out they actually get along better with each other when Laia isn’t there. It leads to Anto and Martina become closer and more affectionate with each other, which Laia can sense, even though Laia not there in the house to see it firsthand.

There are other jealousy issues too. When Laia is away, Martina notices on social media that Laia and a man in Laia’s film crew have been flirting with each other. When Martina angrily asks Laia about this flirtation, Laia insists that she and the man are just friends. Martina is so upset that Laia has to calm her down. Viewers can only speculate why Martina has this mistrust.

Viewers are also left to speculate how and when Laia, Anto and Martina decided they would be in a three-way relationship together. However, conversations imply that it was probably Laia’s idea. The dynamics of the relationship suggest that Anto and Martina fell in love with Laia separately. And then, rather than Laia choosing one over the other, they decided to have a three-way relationship instead. That’s why it catches Laia off-guard when she notices that Anto and Martina have become closer when Laia is away.

Even though Laia, Anto and Martina are adults, the movie shows that they all have childlike, playful sides to their personalities. For example, they occasionally like to wear matching onesie pajamas (resembling wooly animal costumes for children) when they cuddle in bed together. And in an early scene in the movie, they play a game where they try to guess a word that one of them is thinking, based on one hint.

The direction, writing and editing of “Petit Mal” present the story as a cinéma vérité documentary or a video journal, rather than as a movie that has big melodramatic moments or important life lessons. For example, viewers won’t get any information on the backstories of Laia, Anto and Martina. Any previous romances they might have had with other people are not mentioned. In other words, “Petit Mal” is very much about the present lives of the protagonists.

Some of the movie’s scenes show everyday activities and mundane conversations inside the house. But underneath the surface is a question that’s not necessarily said out loud: “How will this relationship change when Laia is away and when Laia comes back?” “Petit Mal” doesn’t offer easy answers. The movie leaves it up to viewers to decide if this throuple is “three’s company” or more like “three’s a crowd.”

Dark Star Pictures will release “Petit Mal” on a date to be announced.

Review: ‘The Daphne Project,’ starring Zora Iman Crews

July 24, 2022

by Carla Hay

Zora Iman Crews in “The Daphne Project” (Photo courtesy of Mailuki Films)

“The Daphne Project”

Directed by Zora Iman Crews and Alec Tibaldi

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the comedy film “The Daphne Project” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one African American and one Asian) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: An African American actress, who’s a self-proclaimed “social justice warrior,” aims to disrupt racism and sexism by joining the cast of an off-off Broadway production of Euripides’ tragedy “The Bacchae.”

Culture Audience: “The Daphne Project” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of mockumentary-styled movies and don’t mind watching movies that look amateurish and have lukewarm comedy.

Reed Lancaster and April Lavalle in “The Daphne Project” (Photo courtesy of Mailuki Films)

“The Daphne Project” might have been a well-intentioned satire of social justice warriors and performing arts cliques, but everything about this mockumentary looks like a substandard student film. The acting is terrible and just not funny. The last third of the movie really falls apart and has an ending that’s very phony. “The Daphne Project” could have been edgy and different, but ultimately it’s bland and predictable.

Written and directed by Zora Iman Crews and Alec Tibaldi, “The Daphne Project” (which takes place in New York City) starts with a very unique concept: An African American actress named Daphne Wilco (played by Crews), who’s a self-proclaimed “social justice warrior,” aims to disrupt racism and sexism by joining the cast of an off-off Broadway production of Euripides’ tragedy “The Bacchae” that will incorporate modern dance. Daphne, who is the only African American in this predominantly white cast, has an unnamed role as part of this ensemble. In this very small cast and crew (only about 10 people are shown in rehearsals), all of the people are in their 20s.

Viewers will learn almost nothing about Daphne’s backstory while watching “The Daphne Project,” which is thankfully only 66 minutes long. “The Daphne Project” has been listed in some places as being a 97-minute movie. And that might have been true when the movie was at some film festivals. However, “The Daphne Project” movie screener that was provided to the media to review has a total running time of 66 minutes.

“The Daphne Project” is really just a series of skits choppily edited together. For transitions between scenes, the movie uses a few generic shots of Times Square, as well as title cards with pretentious quotes. The first two-thirds of the movie have the repetition of Daphne—who thinks she’s brilliant, talented and an expert on political correctness—doing things to alienate her colleagues during rehearsals of “The Bacchae.” Almost the entire movie is set at the unnamed theater venue where “The Bacchae” rehearsals and live shows will take place.

In the beginning of “The Daphne Project,” Daphne is seen getting her makeup done at the theater, intercut with shots of her walking and dancing outside on the streets of New York City. Daphne talks to the camera to let people know that she’s been doing theater since she was a kid in Des Moines, Iowa. There’s no information on how long she’s been living in New York City, or if she’s ever done any shows in the New York theater scene before she was cast in “The Bacchae.”

Daphne brags, “I was once a Desdemona [a murdered character from William Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’] that woke up. My ghost was running around the palace. It was a whole thing. I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do it.” This is the type of flat remark that’s supposed to pass as “comedy” in “The Daphne Project.”

Daphne is apparently getting a documentary made about her experience doing “The Bacchae,” but don’t expect to get details on who these documentary filmmakers are. An unnamed male camera operator is heard talking to her in a scene, and that’s about it. Daphne also announces that she’s doing selfie filming with her phone for videos that she will be posting on her social media. Expect to see selfie videos of Daphne talking about herself in a narcissistic way.

Right from the beginning, “The Daphne Project” lets it be known that Daphne is extremely irritating. One of the movie’s earliest scenes takes place during “The Bacchae” production’s first table read, which is a gathering of cast members sitting together while reading dialogue from the script, with the project’s director and assistant director in attendance. Daphne says that she’s deliberately 20 minutes late for the first table read, so that she can stand out from everyone else and get them to wonder why her life is so busy that she showed up late.

Actually, it just makes Daphne look rude and unprofessional when she walks into the room with an entitled attitude about being tardy. She hastily adds in her on-camera monologue that she’s only late for the first day of rehearsals. “I don’t want anyone to think it’s a thing,” Daphne says. But she’s so tone-deaf that she doesn’t think about how being this late gives people a negative first impression of her.

The other people in this low-budget production of “The Bacchae” are:

  • Phineas Reeve (played by Reed Lancaster), a pompous Brit who is the director of “The Bacchae.”
  • Joanne Lundholm (played by April Lavalle), an insecure neophyte who is the assistant director of “The Bacchae.”
  • Dylan Horowitz (played by Duncan Menaker), the actor who has the role of Dionysus and who frequently mentions that Oscar-winning actress Diane Keaton is his aunt.
  • Carla Damiano (played by Annie-Sage Whitehurst), a snooty Brit who is part of “The Bacchae” ensemble in an unnamed role.
  • Vivian Mendoza (played by Geena Quintos), a conceited snob, who has an unnamed role in the ensemble and is the production’s dance captain.
  • Trish Ducat (played by Yael Rizowy), a hyper eccentric who has the role of Agave and who mentions that she’s obsessed with Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning 1977 movie “Annie Hall.”

“The Daphne Project” is so poorly written, it never bothers to explain why no one has been cast as King Pentheus of Thebes, one of the central characters of “The Bacchae.” Agave is Pentheus’ mother. Expect to see a lot of embarrassing over-acting in and out of “The Bacchae” rehearsals, including “The Bacchae” cast members rolling around on the floor and shouting gibberish during rehearsals. They don’t look like they’re rehearsing a classic play. They look like they’re acting how people do at a pretentious cleansing retreat that gives psychedelic drugs as part of the “cleansing.”

Considering that Trish has a fascination with “Annie Hall,” and “Annie Hall” co-star Keaton is Dylan’s aunt, “The Daphne Project” could have mined that connection for some hilarious comedy. Instead, the only “joke” about “Annie Hall” that the movie can come up with is having Trish say this boring statement: “‘Annie Hall’ really changed my life. Like, what would Annie Hall do? When I’m having a really crummy day, I just put on a hat.”

Although the Annie Hall character did wear some hats, Annie Hall’s signature wardrobe choices were more about her wearing ties and vests. The Annie Hall “joke” in “The Daphne Project” doesn’t work very well with people who are unaware of the “Annie Hall” movie and title character. It doesn’t seem like the target audience for “The Daphne Project” would understand this so-called joke about “Annie Hall,” so it’s yet another questionable choice from “The Daphne Project” filmmakers. At any rate, the character of Trish is then essentially sidelined for the rest of “The Daphne Project.”

The movie then continues with a dull parade of buffoonery scenes where Daphne is every worst stereotype of a “social justice warrior.” When Phineas and Joanne see that Daphne has no talent and is very unprofessional, they try to fire her. But then, Daphne uses the race card and makes a thinly veiled threat that it wouldn’t look good if Broadway.com had this headline about this “Bacchae” production: “Black Actress Fired From an All-White Cast.”

Daphne also acts like she’s some kind of militant feminist attorney when she sees that Phineas and Joanne are more than just co-workers and have been dating each other in a consensual relationship. Phineas doesn’t want the relationship to be monogamous, and he convinces Joanne that she’s being old-fashioned and uptight if she wants monogamy. Daphne won’t mind her own business and bluntly approaches Joanne to ask if she’s been MeToo’ed in this relationship with Phineas. This scene is as unfunny as it sounds.

Meanwhile, Carla and Vivian, who are the “mean girls” of this production group, take pleasure in making Daphne feel like a social outcast. When the group members go to a bar for drinks together after rehearsals, they deliberately leave Daphne behind at the theater when they go to the bar. The next day, Carla and Vivian try to make Daphne feel like she missed out on a great event.

Daphne tries to act like this exclusion doesn’t bother her, but she sobs on camera when she’s by herself: “I just think sometimes when you’re really gifted, people are threatened by that. It’s not the first time it’s happened. It’s really hard being extraordinary.” By this point, viewers will have grown tired of the insufferable ego posturing of Daphne and her equally unlikable colleagues, so “The Daphne Project” quickly loses any appeal it was trying to have.

There’s also a dreadful scene where Vivian, who is of Filipino heritage, gets offended when Daphne describes herself as the only person of color in this theater group. Daphne further insults Vivian’s Asian racial identity by saying that Daphne is talking about dark skin tones when she means “person of color.” None of this is anywhere remotely amusing. It’s like watching stale jokes that would’ve been rejected by “In Living Color” back in the 1990s.

Through a series of circumstances, Dylan is no longer in the show. He’s replaced by Tyler Cody (played by Jake Horowitz), a hack actor/TV heartthrob starring on a quasi-reality show series called “Redondo Beach” on The CW network. “Redondo Beach” is described as a show about affluent young people. Daphne screams in disgust that this “Bacchae” production has hired a teen idol, not a “real actor,” for this role.

However, Daphne is so insecure, when she sees that Tyler has a personal assistant with him at rehearsals, Daphne decides she’s going to pretend to have her own personal assistant. She recruits a snippy friend named Laramie Tambling-Goggin (played by Ed Norwood), who’s originally from England, to fake being her personal assistant. Laramie tells the camera that he met Daphne a few years ago through a “RADA [Royal Academy of Dramatic Art] intensive.”

Of course, Daphne haughtily treats Laramie like a lowly servant. However, Laramie is the only person in the group who will stand up to Daphne and tell her what he thinks of her. He also exposes some of her lies. Laramie’s acidic comments are the closest that “The Daphne Project” comes to being funny, but Laramie’s arrival is so late in the movie, his presence can’t save this rambling mess.

For any mockumentary to work well, it has to have characters that viewers will be engaged in watching, even if those characters are supposed to be unlikable. When a mockumentary has too many forgettable characters or characters that don’t have compelling personalities, that mockumentary is already doomed to fail. Unfortunately, that’s a big problem with “The Daphne Project,” which makes the title character an overwhelming annoyance and everyone else just hollow, underdeveloped characters that buzz around her like pesky insects.

Another big flaw that some mockumentaries have is dialogue that looks too rehearsed. That’s why the best mockumentaries have dialogue that’s mostly improvised. All the cast members in “The Daphne Project” look like they’re reciting scripted lines and are trying too hard to be funny. It’s the opposite of what mockumentaries are supposed to look like.

“The Daphne Project” (which has some very uneven and distracting sound mixing) also seems very confused about what it wants to accomplish with the Daphne character. For most of the movie, Daphne is presented as an anti-hero whom audiences are supposed to love to hate. But then by the last third of the film, certain things happen that completely undermine those intentions and ruin the movie. It’s an abrupt switch that looks poorly conceived, very inauthentic and competely unearned.

“The Daphne Project” is writer/director Tibaldi’s second feature film and Crews’ first feature film as an actress, writer and director. Even though everything about this amateurish movie looks like something from a film school, you don’t have to go to film school to be a good filmmaker. However, the filmmakers of “The Daphne Project” would benefit from studying more closely the best movies in whatever genres interest them, because these filmmakers have got a lot to learn about filmmaking.

Mailuki Films released “The Daphne Project” in New York City on July 22, 2022. Fuse+ will premiere the movie on August 16, 2022.

Review: ‘The Integrity of Joseph Chambers,’ starring Clayne Crawford, Jordana Brewster, Michael Raymond-James and Jeffrey Dean Morgan

July 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Clayne Crawford in “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” (Photo by Oscar Ignacio Jiménez)

“The Integrity of Joseph Chambers”

Directed by Robert Machoian 

Culture Representation: Taking place in Pell City, Alabama, the dramatic film “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with two African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Against his wife’s wishes, a father of two young sons goes hunting in a wooded area by himself and experiences a tragedy and a moral dilemma.

Culture Audience: “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a well-acted character study of what someone can choose to do in an unexpected crisis.

“The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” is a sparsely cast drama that presents a fascinating emotional journey of a man dealing with a tragedy and a moral dilemma during a hunting trip. It’s not a particularly outstanding movie, but the acting is commendable. Clayne Crawford gives an entirely believable performance as someone who begins mentally unraveling the more that he delays making a decision that he dreads having to make. “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Written and directed by Robert Machoian, “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” has a very simple plot. Joseph “Joe” Chambers (played by Crawford), who is in his 40s, is a former city dweller who now lives in the rural town of Pell City, Alabama, and he wants to prove that he’s a capable hunter in this rural area. Joe lives with his wife Tess (played by Jordana Brewster) and their two sons, who don’t have names in the movie. The older son (played by Colt Crawford) is about 16 or 17, while the younger son (played by Hix Crawford) is about 8 or 9. (The sons are portrayed by Clayne Crawford’s real-life sons.)

One day, in the early-morning hours near dawn, Joe and Tess have an argument at their home because Joe has suddenly announced that he’s going hunting in the woods alone that day. And nothing is going to change his mind. It’s something that he’s apparently been thinking about doing for a while, but he’s abruptly told Tess about it just minutes before he plans to leave for this hunting trip. Not surprisingly, she’s not happy about it.

Joe and Tess bicker in hushed tones because they don’t want to wake up their children, who are sleeping in a nearby bedroom. Tess’ main concern is that Joe doesn’t have enough experience to be hunting alone. He asks her, “Why are you blowing this out of proportion? Tons of guys around here hunt for their livelihood. Your dad does it. Your dog does it.”

Tess adds: “You’re not from here, Joe. You sell insurance for a living—and you’re really good at it.” Joe says defensively, “Well, I live here now.” Tess replies, “You haven’t hunted with Doug enough to go out on your own. I have a funny feeling about this, but you just keep ignoring that.” Viewers soon find out that Doug is a neighbor/friend who has been training Joe to hunt.

Joe accuses Tess of being mean-spirited, and she says she sorry. But she still objects to his decision. She comments, “We moved out here to provide our boys with a safe, familiar place to grow up in, not become some ‘end of the world’ Fox News people.”

Joe responds, “That’s not what’s happening.” Tess then says, “My dad, prepping for ‘end of days.’ That’s why I left.” She adds, “Go [hunting] with Doug next week. That’s all I ask.” Joe decides to decline that request. Tess calls Joe’s decision “irresponsible” and “stupid.”

Before Joe leaves, he goes into his sons’ bedroom and sees that one of them is awake. He says goodbye. As Joe is heading out the door, Tess tries one last tactic to get Joe to change his mind. She pulls down her trousers and wiggles her rear end suggestively, to let him know that she’s willing to have sex with him instead of Joe choosing to go hunting alone. However, Joe is undeterred and he leaves the house.

Joe’s next stop is to go to Doug’s place to borrow Doug’s truck and Doug’s hunting rifle. Doug (played by Carl Kennedy) is also skeptical about Joe’s ability to hunt alone, but he accommodates Joe’s requests. Doug also makes this decision after Joe mentions that Joe and Tess got into an argument about Joe hunting alone. Doug says he doesn’t want to get involved in this marital spat, but Doug obviously has gotten involved, because he’s taken Joe’s side by agreeing to help Joe.

Joe has chosen an area that is private property owned by a friend. Joe mentions to Doug that Joe got the friend’s permission to hunt on this land. Joe also found out that there would be no other people in the area at the same time that Joe would be hunting. It’s why Joe is certain that he will be safe during this hunting trip.

Most of “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” takes place in the wooded area where Joe has decided to hunt. The first third of the movie somewhat drags with not much happening except Joe trying to find something to shoot. During a stakeout in a tree, he also briefly falls asleep. But when a movie has someone with an intuitive feeling that something bad is going to happen, you can expect something bad is going to happen.

Joe sees a deer in the woods and shoots at it. When he goes to inspect the body on the ground, he’s horrified to see that it’s an unidentified middle-aged man (played by Michael Raymond-James), who was out of Joe’s eye range when Joe shot at the deer. Is this shooting victim dead or unconscious? Who is he and why was he trespassing on private property? The movie reveals the answers to those questions.

Joe now has a moral dilemma. Should he report this shooting accident, or should he cover it up and pretend that nothing ever happened? The man has no identification and there were no other eyewitnesses to the shooting in this very remote area. However, the bullet could be traced back to the gun that Joe used. The rest of the movie shows Joe grappling with what decision to make. The movie has one big surprise twist, but it’s not very shocking.

“The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” is best enjoyed by people who don’t mind watching a movie where a large part of the film has no dialogue. The tension in this psychological drama isn’t based on fast-paced actions but rather on Joe dealing with the slow and sinking feeling that whatever decision he makes, it will have a major impact on him for the rest of his life.

In his performance that anchors the movie, Clayne Crawford authentically expresses all the tumultuous emotions that someone would go through in this crisis: fear, sadness, anger and guilt. “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” is very much a showcase for Clayne Crawford (who is also one of the movie’s producers) because he’s in every scene in the movie. Jeffrey Dean Morgan has a small supporting role as an unnamed police chief. Just like Brewster’s role as Joe’s wife Tess, Morgan’s role in the movie has less than 10 minutes of screen time.

“The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” effectively shows how people’s lives can instantly change in a matter of seconds. And, of course, “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” will also make viewers think about what they would do in the same situation that Joe is in after this accidental shooting. Because of a certain surprise that happens in the movie, Joe’s problem becomes even more complicated.

The movie isn’t concerned with being sanctimonious about Joe’s fateful decision to go hunting alone in the woods on this particular day. Joe is also not supposed to represent all inexperienced hunters. What “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” is more concerned about is taking an unflinching look at what happens when a horrific mistake is made and what someone can choose to do about this mistake. This choice doesn’t just affect the future of the person making the decision. This choice is a reflection of exactly who that person is.

Review: ‘Good Girl Jane,’ starring Rain Spencer, Andie MacDowell and Patrick Gibson

July 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rain Spencer in “Good Girl Jane” (Photo by Jake Saner)

“Good Girl Jane”

Directed by Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Los Angeles area, from 2005 to 2006, the dramatic film “Good Girl Jane” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A quiet teenage misfit falls in with a druggie crowd at her high school, begins dating her drug dealer, and descends deeper into drug addiction, while she tries to hide her addiction from her family.

Culture Audience: “Good Girl Jane” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching well-acted cautionary tales about how easily drug addiction can take over someone’s life.

Rain Spencer and Andie MacDowell in “Good Girl Jane” (Photo by Jake Saner)

The dramatic film “Good Girl Jane” could have been yet another “good girl gone bad” story about a teenage drug addict. Rain Spencer’s emotionally stirring performance is the main reason to watch when the plot becomes predictable. This is not a movie that is groundbreaking, but some of it is heartbreaking, even if it’s told from the privileged perspective of a protagonist who is more likely to go to rehab than go to prison for drug crimes. “Good Girl Jane” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, where it won two grand jury prizes: Best U.S. Narrative Feature and Best Performance in a U.S. Narrative Feature, a prize awarded to Spencer.

Written and directed by Sarah Elizabeth Mintz, “Good Girl Jane” hits a lot of familiar beats and tones of movies that have covered the same subject matter of middle-class American teenagers who become drug addicts. If it’s a teenage girl, she usually has a “good girl” reputation with no previous history of drug use. And then, she meets someone or a group of people who are heavy drug users. And in order to be “accepted” into this social circle, she starts doing drugs and becomes addicted. It’s a cliché because it happens all too often in real life.

If you know this is the plot of “Good Girl Jane,” then you know what’s coming even before the movie starts. Fortunately, “Good Girl Jane” is not preachy, nor does it try to put most of the blame on the druggie clique that influences the protagonist to start doing drugs. The mistakes and self-destructiveness are the full responsibility of the person who made these lifestyle choices.

In “Good Girl Jane” (which takes place in the Los Angeles area, from 2005 to 2006), the title character is Jane Rosen (played by Spencer, in her feature-film debut), who goes from being a shy loner to a “wild child” drug addict in a matter of months. The movie begins in the autumn of 2005, when 17-year-old Jane has transferred from an elite private school to a public school, where she hasn’t yet made any friends. The reason for the transfer is revealed in bits and pieces throughout the story.

Jane lives with her sister Izzie Rosen (played by Eloisa Huggins), who’s about 15 or 16 years old, and their divorced mother Ruth Rosen (played by Andie MacDowell), who is a therapist. It’s never specified how long Ruth and her ex-husband Elliott Rosen (played by Gale Harold) have been divorced. However, Elliott doesn’t live too far away, and he has visitation rights.

Elliott is a busy executive who works at an unnamed music company. Part of his job is to go to concerts and nightclubs. Elliott is only in a few scenes in the movie, but it’s easy to see why he and Ruth got divorced: He’s a very inattentive and flaky parent.

For example, Jane and Izzie are scheduled to spend a weekend of visitation time with Elliott. It was already pre-arranged that Jane and Izzie would be staying at Elliott’s place for the weekend. Instead, he takes them to dinner at a restaurant, and then rushes them through the meal because he says that after this dinner, he has to go to a nightclub for work-related reasons. Jane and Izzie are too young to go to the nightclub with him.

At the restaurant, Elliott also tells Jane and Izzie that they can’t stay for the weekend at his place after all because he’s too busy with work. Elliott then drops off Jane and Izzie back at their mother’s house with half-hearted apologies for backing out of this father-daughter visitation. Ruth is furious, but she tries not to have a loud argument with Elliott in front of their children.

Ruth wants to emotionally connect with Jane, but Ruth’s attempts to uplift moody and withdrawn Jane just come across as criticism that Jane doesn’t want to hear. For example, when Jane is at home, she’s usually on her laptop computer (where she frequents Internet chat rooms) while listening to hardcore heavy metal music. Ruth doesn’t like Jane’s choice of music and tells Jane that the music can have a negative effect on Jane’s attitude. Ruth might have noticed that Jane is unhappy. But instead of Ruth asking Jane what’s wrong and asking how she can help as a parent, Ruth chooses to complain about Jane’s taste in music.

Jane secretly smokes cigarettes at school. When Ruth picks up some of Jane’s clothes to do laundry, Ruth smells cigarette smoke on the clothes and says in a condescending voice, “Please don’t smoke,” and starts to lecture Jane about how smoking is unattractive and bad for her health. Jane denies that she smokes cigarettes and says the cigarette odor is from being around people who smoke cigarettes at school.

Ruth is not a deliberately alienating parent. However, Ruth gives the impression that she knows more about what’s going on in her clients’ lives than she knows what’s going on in Jane’s life because Ruth spends more time asking the right questions of her clients. On the other hand, Jane doesn’t give Ruth much leeway to have a close emotional bond with her, because Jane is the type of sulky and secretive teen who would most likely say everything is fine if a parent asked her what’s bothering her.

Jane likes to wear baggy clothes and hooded sweatshirts. She often walks with a slight slouch, as if she wants to be invisible yet noticed as being “aloofly cool” at the same time. At school, when she tries to sit at a table with some other students, they tell her that the seat she wants is saved for someone else. It’s a predictable “social outcast” scene in movies about teenage misfits.

Even though Izzie and Jane go to the same school, they rarely speak to each other when they’re at school. Viewers find out later that Izzie, who has an upbeat and outgoing personality, is having an easier time adjusting to this transfer and is making more of an effort than Jane to befriend other students. There are also hints that Jane feels like their mother loves Izzie more than she loves Jane.

There’s a reason why Jane seems to be anti-social: She was cruelly bullied at her previous school, which is the main reason why Jane and Izzie have transferred to their current school. The details of the bullying are eventually revealed in the movie. But there are indications that some of the bullies are still harassing Jane online, based on the messages she gets when she’s on her computer.

One day, after classes have ended for the day, some of the school’s stoners are taking a SUV ride near Jane while she’s walking somewhere, and they invite her to party with them. A rebellious brat named Bailey Avett (played by Odessa A’zion) is the driver. The other pals in the SUV are tall and blue-haired Benji (played by Diego Chiat), easygoing Kaya (played by Jules Lorenzo) and androgynous Abel (played by Olan Prenatt). Jane already knows about this clique’s druggie reputation.

At first, Jane is hesitant to go with them, because she says she has to be at home by a certain time. But she changes her mind when they say that where they’re going won’t take long. Inside the car, the partiers are smoking weed, and Benji snorts some cocaine. They all go to the rooftop of a house, where more marijuana is smoked, cocaine is snorted, and apparent tabs of LSD are consumed, but Jane declines to partake in any of these drugs.

Instead, Jane takes a drink of alcohol offered by Kaya. During this rooftop party, these new acquaintances somewhat taunt Jane for being a “good girl” for not doing drugs with them. And you know what that means: In order to fit in with them and prove them wrong, Jane is going to start doing the same drugs.

That moment comes one night when Jane goes to a house party that she was invited to by this group of stoners. It’s where Jane does cocaine for the first time. And it’s also the first time that Jane feels like she has found a group of people at her school who could be her friends.

Also at the party is the group’s main drug dealer. He’s a 21-year-old Irish immigrant named James “Jamie” McKenna (played by Patrick Gibson), who projects an image of laid-back confidence. Although Jane and Benji had a mild flirtation with each other when they first met, Jane ends up being more interested in Jamie. After eyeing each other with some interest, Jamie and Jane sense their mutual attraction, they start talking, and then have a dip together in the house’s swimming pool.

It’s the beginning of a very co-dependent and toxic relationship. The more experienced Jamie pursues Jane, who plays hard to get, but eventually she gives in to Jamie’s persistent and amorous attention. He showers her with compliments and says many other things that Jane wants to hear. Not much is known about Jane’s dating history, but there are plenty of hints that Jamie is the first adult whom Jane has ever dated.

It isn’t long before Jane has lost her virginity to Jamie in the back seat of his car. It’s not as romantic as Jane expected because it’s on the same night that Jane finds out that Jamie is a meth addict who has occasional seizures because of his addiction. Jane quickly gets addicted to cocaine, which she usually snorts. But she also joins Jamie in his meth-smoking binges because she wants to know what it feels like. Jamie also injects meth if he wants a quicker and more intense high.

You know where all of this is going, of course. The only questions are how low will Jane go in her drug addiction and if anything will happen to set her on a path to possible recovery. Jane gets so caught up in her relationship with Jamie that she starts skipping school to hang out with him. And that includes accompanying Jamie to some of his drug deals. Jane witnesses some things that are shocking to her but won’t be that shocking to people who’ve seen enough of these kinds of “drug addict downward spiral” movies.

Spencer’s performance as Jane is particularly effective in showing how quickly someone’s boundaries and tolerance for being in demeaning and dangerous situations can change when drug addiction is involved. It would be easy to blame Jamie for being a “bad influence” on Jane. But the truth is that Jane already had low self-esteem going into this relationship, and she made the wrong choices in where to get emotional validation. Her drug use was a direct result of her own free will.

“Good Girl Jane” is also authentic in showing how denial is a huge part of the disease of drug addiction. People try to tell Jane some unsavory things about Jamie, but Jane brushes off those concerns as just unsubstantiated gossip. Some of the things she hears about Jamie are that he sleeps around with a lot of the teenage girls who are his drug-buying customers and that he’s legally married to someone whom Jane has never met.

A cliché that “Good Girl Jane” thankfully avoids is showing a scenario where divorced parents put aside their differences to come to the rescue of a drug-addicted child. That doesn’t happen in “Good Girl Jane,” which takes a more realistic approach that emotionally distant parents don’t automatically change their ways when a child is crying out for help. The movie also shows that even when someeone is a therapist, that person still might have a hard time accepting and dealing with painful truths about having a drug addict in the family.

One of the best things about “Good Girl Jane” is showing how Izzie reacts to finding out that Jane is a drug addict. Spencer and Huggins have some emotionally powerful scenes together that are among the movie’s standout moments. And there’s a particularly impactful scene that Spencer and MacDowell have toward the end of the movie. This mother-daughter scene is a like a tidal wave of the pent-up despair that Jane has been feeling before and after Jane’s drug addiction.

There’s nothing particularly extraordinary about this tale of a teenager who becomes a drug addict. Sadly, what happens to Jane happens to people from all walks of life. However, one of the movie’s faults is that it seems to willfully take for granted that Jane is a lot better off than many drug addicts because she has the privilege and resources to get professional rehabilitation for her drug addiction.

And it goes without saying that if Jane were a person of color or if she were poor, she would most liklely be treated very differently by law enforcement if her illegal drug activity resulted in her getting entangled in the criminal justice system. It’s a reality that’s implied, based on things that are shown in the movie. “Good Girl Jane” doesn’t really explore these social inequality issues in-depth, because even with Jane’s privilege, what she goes through is enough to show that drug addiction can be a nightmare for anyone.

Review: ‘Three Headed Beast,’ starring Dani Hurtado, Jacob Schatz and Cody Shook

July 10, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jacob Schatz, Cody Shook and Dani Hurtado in “Three Headed Beast” (Photo by Fernando Andrés)

“Three Headed Beast”

Directed by Fernando Andrés and Tyler Rugh

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas (mostly in Austin and briefly in Fredericksburg), the dramatic film “Three Headed Beast” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A bisexual/queer man and a bisexual/queer woman, who live together and are in an open relationship, have their relationship tested when the man seems to be falling in love with a younger man. 

Culture Audience: “Three Headed Beast” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching a boring and pretentious movie that has almost no dialogue.

Dani Hurtado, Jacob Schatz and Cody Shook in “Three Headed Beast” (Photo by Fernando Andrés)

With almost no dialogue except for one pivotal scene, “Three Headed Beast” looks more like a dull, pretentious drama experiment than a meaningful movie. It’s supposed to show how messy polyamory can be, but the movie is a mess of jumbled scenarios. The filmmakers should get some credit for wanting to do something different from how movies are typically structured, but the storytelling is woefully mishandled. “Three Headed Beast” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

“Three Headed Beast” (written and directed by Fernando Andrés and Tyler Rugh) goes out of its way to have no dialogue in the majority of the movie. But ironically, the movie’s best scene is the one with the dialogue. Filmed on location in Texas, “Three Headed Beast” makes viewers try to figure out what’s the arrangement between the three people who are at the center of the story and who are in a polyamorous love triangle.

Peter (played by Jacob Schatz) is a landscaper in his early 30s. Peter lives in Austin, Texas, with 26-year-old Nina (played by Dani Hurtado), who works as a personal trainer in a gym. It’s later mentioned in the scene with dialogue that Peter and Nina have been a couple for the past eight years. They met at a party on the college campus where Nina went to school.

In the movie’s opening scene, Peter is helping 23-year-old Alex (played by Cody Shook) move into a rental home in Austin. The move doesn’t take long because Alex doesn’t have many possessions. As soon as the moving is done, Peter and Alex have sex on a mattress, which is the only thing in the bedroom.

Meanwhile, Nina is seen at the home of a female lover named Angie (played by Sarah J. Bartholomew), as the two women lounge in bed after having an apparent sexual tryst. Nina leaves and goes home, where she affectionately kisses Peter. Now that “Three Headed Beast” has shown that Nina and Peter are both bisexual or queer, the movie keeps viewers guessing about what Nina and Peter’s arrangement is, such as if they’ve agreed to tell each other about their other lovers. At a certain point in the movie, more details emerge about what Peter, Nina and Alex have agreed to in this love triangle.

Too bad the movie takes a tediously long time to get to that point. Instead, “Three Headed Beast” just shows a mishmash of more scenes of Peter and Alex hooking up for some more sexual trysts, usually at Alex’s place; Alex partying with some friends and sometimes bringing home random men for sexual encounters; and Peter and Nina seeming to be bored with each other in a relationship that appears to have hit a rut.

Later, it’s revealed in the movie that Peter and Nina are not married and are not in a rush to get married. Alex, who likes to take photos of Peter when they’re together, is apparently living an aimless existence, since he doesn’t have a job and he isn’t a student. It’s never really explained what Alex wants to do with his life or where he gets money to pay his bills. It’s an example of how a poorly written movie can give a character a lot of screen time and yet give the character so little character development.

Early on in “Three Headed Beast,” it’s shown that Nina is a big fan of a self-help guru named Maria Mendez (voiced by Daniela Vidaurre), who is an author and a podcaster. Maria’s voice can be heard when Nina listens to Maria’s podcast, where Maria gives life advice. Nothing is ever shown in the movie about Nina getting advice from anyone else, since Nina apparently doesn’t have any friends or family members whom she can turn to for advice.

Near the beginning of the movie, Nina is shown excitedly opening a package delivery of Maria’s latest book, which is titled “After Monogamy: Open Relationships in the Modern Age.” It’s supposed to be a novel, but it really looks like a non-fiction self-help book. Nina’s admiration of Maria is seen from a different angle in a revealing scene toward the end of the movie.

Because most of “Three Headed Beast” has no dialogue, communication is mostly done by text messages. But after a while, since no one talks in the movie, everything looks phony. It’s like the filmmakers were trying too hard to be artsy and forgot about making the movie’s characters interesting enough for viewers not to get bored.

“Three Headed Beast” attempts to show realism, but it isn’t long before “Three Headed Beast” starts to look like science fiction. It’s like watching a “Twilight Zone” ripoff where people live in a world where no one verbally talks to each other. And when they do start verbally talking to each other, it’s in a scene in the middle of the movie that’s fairly brief, and then the movie goes back to having no dialogue again.

One of the phoniest-looking sublots in “Three Headed Beast” is how Nina meets and eventually gets involved with a guy in is 20s named Dylan (played by Paul Grant), who seems to be a drug dealer, based on the little information that the movie shows about him. Nina first sees Dylan when she’s visiting an animal shelter, where she is looking at some dogs outside in a field. Dylan is nearby and puffing on a vaping pipe. He and Nina look at each other (without saying a word, of course), and he offers Nina a puff from his vaping pipe. She declines.

The next time Nina goes to the animal shelter, she sees Dylan again, but they don’t say anything to each other, of course. He eventually walks away, and she sees that two marijuana joints have been left on her car windshield. Nina runs to find Dylan (because she seems to automatically know that he put the joints there), and without saying a word, they exchange phone numbers. And you know what that means: Dylan and Nina hook up later for a sexual rendezvous, which turns out to be a one-time fling.

The Nina/Dylan hookup is just more time-wasting filler in “Three Headed Beast.” This filler includes scenes of Nina and Peter played mixed doubles tennis with an unidentified couple, who are never seen again in the movie. And if you think it’s fascinating to watch a monotonous scene of Peter and Alex on a date at Alex’s place, where they binge on home-delivered junk food, dance drunkenly together, and then take a bath together (all without saying a word to each other), then “Three Headed Beast” is your kind of movie.

Through text messages, resentful facial expressions and uncomfortable silences, it becomes clear that Nina has become increasingly unhappy with Peter spending a lot of time with another lover whom she suspects is Alex. She doesn’t want to appear too possessive though, so Nina says nothing in a movie where she’s literally supposed to say nothing for most of the story. Meanwhile, Alex seems to be falling in love with Peter, who appears to be feeling the same way. Alex knows about Peter’s relationship with Nina, but Alex wants to be in Peter’s life more than Alex is now.

It isn’t until the scene where Alex talks that viewers see that he’s not a shallow party boy but someone who’s led an emotionally complicated life. The cast members who talk in the movie do their best acting in this dialogue scene, with Shook as the one who gives the most natural-looking and believable performance. But after this scene, everyone is rendered silent again.

At one point in the movie, Nina and Peter adopt a dog named Rocco from the animal shelter. And so, when Nina and Peter go on a vacation trip to Enchanted Rock in Fredericksburg, Texas, they want to find someone who will look after Rocco and their house during this vacation. You can easily predict who will be asked to be the housesitter/dogsitter.

More information is given toward the end of the movie about why Peter and Nina have ended up where they are at this point in their relationship. But by then, it’s too little, too late. That’s because “Three Headed Beast” treats the characters more like props in a wannabe avant-garde movie than as human beings with fully formed personalities.

Review: ‘Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying,’ starring Parker Seaman and Devin Das

July 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

Devin Das and Parker Seaman in “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” (Photo by Tom Banks)

“Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying”

Directed by Parker Seaman

Culture Representation: Taking place on the West Coast of the United States in 2020 (with some flashbacks to 2017), the comedy film “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians, Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class and the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two aspiring filmmakers, who are best friends and work partners, go on a road trip from Los Angeles to Boise, Idaho, to visit a quarantined friend who has been infected by COVID-19. 

Culture Audience: “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in comedies with a COVID-19 theme, no matter how silly and time-wasting those comedies are.

Devin Das and Parker Seaman in “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” (Photo by Tom Banks)

Dull and very manipulative, “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” is the worst type of filmmaking with a COVID-19 theme. Viewers will have a hard time caring about the self-absorbed cretins at the center of this insipid comedy. It’s yet another movie about the COVID-19 pandemic that fails to have much purpose other than to try to cash in on this horrific pandemic that has killed millions of people.

Directed by Parker Seaman, “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” also represents the type of self-referential filmmaking that has insecure filmmakers desperately trying to make themselves look cool by constantly telling everyone watching the movie how cool they are. In these types of movies, the filmmakers usually portray versions of themselves while they go on rants or excursions where they trade barbs that are supposed to be witty and hip but are actually very mindless and juvenile, with no self-awareness of how awful and boring the filmmaking is. “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Unfortunately, a large chunk of “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” is a road trip, so viewers are stuck with the two obnoxious main characters who make fools out of themselves on this trip. Parker (played by Seaman) and Devin (played by Devin Das), also known as Dev, are best friends, work partners and aspiring feature film directors who live in Los Angeles. Parker and Dev, who are both in their 20s, pay their bills by working as co-directors of commercials and music videos, until they can get their first big break in the movie industry. Seaman and Das co-wrote the terrible screenplay for “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying.”

The movie opens in 2017, on the set of a commercial that Parker and Dev are directing. They’re having a hard time because their stoner/slacker friend Wes Schlagenhauf (playing a version of himself) has a job to dress up as a dancing bear for this commercial, but Wes is being difficult. Parker and Dev want Wes to look like he’s dancing naturally. Wes whines in response: “You’re telling me to dance naturally in a fucking bear costume!”

Parker and Dev remind Wes that even though he’s their friend, and they are the co-directors of this commercial, it wasn’t easy to get him cast for this acting gig. More arguing ensues, until Wes snaps and walks off of this non-union job. Wes yells before he heads out the door while still in the costume: “You poked a bear, you guys! Huge mistake!” After he leaves, Parker and Dev wonder how they’re going to get another bear costume in time to finish this commercial.

The movie then fast forwards to 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Parker and Dev now work from home. Within the first 10 minutes of the movie, it’s obvious that Parker thinks he’s the bossy “alpha male” of this duo. Parker acts like he thinks he’s not only smarter than Dev but also smarter than almost everyone Parker meets. Parker’s arrogance isn’t backed up with any real intelligence, since he continues to make irrational and moronic decisions.

A conversation reveals that after Wes’ meltdown in the bear costume, Wes abruptly quit the entertainment business, and he decided to move back to his hometown of Boise, Idaho. Not much is known about Wes, except he’s described as someone who “loves baseball, cocaine and LSD.” Wes hasn’t really kept in regular touch with Parker and Dev, who both still have a little bit of resentment over how Wes wrecked the job opportunity they gave to him and how he suddenly decided to leave Los Angeles.

However, things aren’t so bad with Parker, Dev and Wes that they’ve stopped communicating with each other. During a video conference call, Wes tells Dev and Parker that he’s sick with COVID-19 and is quarantining at home, where Wes lives with his mother and stepfather. Contrary to what the movie’s title suggests, Wes never gives the impression in this phone call that he’s dying or that he needs to go to a hospital.

Parker immediately thinks that Dev and Parker should visit Wes by going on a road trip to Boise, and that they should make a documentary about it. Dev is reluctant at first, but Parker convinces Dev to go. During the road trip, Parker and Dev check in on Wes on a regular basis to see how he’s doing.

Actor/filmmaker Mark Duplass has a cameo as a version of himself in “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying.” Mark shows up on video because he’s on the roster for a service called Cameo, which has famous people sending personal video messages to people who pay a fee for these video messages. Parker and Dev have signed up to have Mark do a personal “get well soon” message for Wes.

The rest of the movie is an idiotic slog, as Parker and Dev have some not-very-funny misadventures during their road trip, where they predictably have agruments with each other. The first of many signs that “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” is a bad movie is when Parker and Dev, who work with digital technology in their jobs and are supposed to be tech-savvy, get lost on their road trip. Viewers are supposed to believe that these two bozos suddenly don’t know how to use a smartphone to get directions. It’s just a lazy way to stretch out the already very thin plot.

Parker and Dev share the same agent, whose name is Chelsea (played by D’Arcy Carden), and they have a deal where Parker and Dev are always supposed to work together on jobs that they get. But there’s a tedious subplot about how one of these director pals betrays his friend by going behind the other’s back to take a lucrative commercial job for himself. As part of the deceit, he tells Chelsea that the other friend knows and approves of this decision to work solo, which is a dumb lie because Parker and Dev having the same agent means that the lie will inevitably be exposed. The movie also keeps repeating a very unfunny joke of Parker trying to persuade Dev to tell Parker the password for Dev’s Disney+ account.

It gets worse. By the time Dev and Parker arrive at the place where Wes lives, the movie takes some very ludicrous twists and turns until the very end. The story’s big “reveal” is truly an insult to viewers. Everything about “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” looks like an amateurish skit that could have been a very short film but instead was elongated into a feature film that’s just a waste of everyone’s time.

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