INDIE FILM REVIEWS

INDIE FILM REVIEWS

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In filmmaker Anna Rose Holmer’s feature-length debut THE FITS, we are presented with a rare type of coming of age story. One that, at just over one hour, gives us a concoction of near silence, sportsmanship, contagious bodily convulsions, and the age old teenage desire to simply fit in. Sound bizarre? Well, I think we can all agree: secondary school can do strange, unpredictable things to the minds of youth. Heck, it might even make them physically lose control of their own bodies under mysterious circumstances. And as unconventional as it may sound, this is exactly how THE FITS chooses to show us adolescence. With a synopsis that suits the stuff of (urban) legends, the basis of this film plays out like a finger pointing witch trial. It’s a film I can’t soon forget and yet can’t really explain why. However, I’m okay with THE FITS leaving me in a “fit” of wavering confusion from beginning to end because it simply owes me no explanation. As a title, THE FITS sorta plays out like a pun, having both psychological and social implications. From the get go we meet Toni, an 11-year-old girl played by the fittingly named Royalty Hightower. A tight-lipped, preteen with eyes quietly observing her peers, Toni takes on a tomboyish role, preferring to hang out with her older brother, Jermaine (played by Da’Sean Minor), and the other boxers. It’s when Toni awkwardly makes it onto The Lionesses, an all girls dance team, that the two gender spheres start to collide. A pinch of pride, jealousy, love and other flavors of youthful drama mix within the overlap. Quietly lingering in the middle of this recipe? Toni. And though there is drama, it's without the over the top flair. Why? Because the drama becomes their movement. As mysterious seizures (or “fits” as they call them) start to take over Toni’s dance teammates, the viewers are left as stumped as the characters. Everyone starts to fall prey ... well, everyone except for Toni.  The film never really tells the secrets of this ailment. Is this a malady of the mind or body? Is there something in the water? Something paranormal or religiously transcendental happening? Or has the symbolic psychological need to fit in and the fear of being left out overcome rational behavior? Life goes on, hysteria sets in, and here we sit, observing and curious, like our protagonist. These questions bring us to the end of this indie marvel, with a poetic conclusion that plays out like an otherworldly tribal ritual. A feeling of religious release, an unspoken explanation, finally overtakes Toni, our navigator through this world. She too gets "the fits" and finds her beat. Her transition is complete. And like that, we are also done. Holmer’s debut barely gives us any adult figures, leaving us to piece together the story through the movements, words and suspicions of these teenage hysterics. Through the eyes of youth, we also live ignorantly and blissfully unaware of anything outside our circle of consequence. Finish reading this and go watch. As a viewer, you are also best to just give into "the fits" without looking back. 

 

“Fail to see the tragic? Turn it into magic!”- Marilyn Manson's "Dope Hat"  Rarely does a film open with the intensity of Marilyn Manson lyrics on screen and then evolve into such a low-key family drama. Going into this film blindly, you might ask yourself, what do a pink haired nun and disfigured war vet have in common? Stumped? Well, Zach Clark’s whimsically double entendre titled film, "Little Sister", proves that the two entities in question, a man and his "soon-to-be-full-blown-nun" little sister, have a lot more in common than you’d think. The bind between them? Well, how about the inner gothic turmoil regarding coming home, expressed through those very opening Manson lyrics. Clark’s film takes on the all too common indie trope of returning home to find oneself and deconstructs it through his signature offbeat lens while still being ruthlessly relatable and lighthearted all at once. Watching a bloody, pink haired nun lip-synching to Gwar never seems out of this world. It actually feels strikingly familiar.  Colleen (Addison Timlin), is a NYC-based nun about to take her first vows into official sisterhood. An ex-goth and keen admirer of performance art, she borrows her supervisor’s car to return to Asheville, NC, reacquainting herself with a family on the brink of a breakdown. A drug dependent mother (Ally Sheedy), a failed actor of a father (Peter Hedges), a reckless activist friend (Molly Plunk) and Jacob (Keith Poulson), her disfigured brother, newly returned home from Iraq, make up the buckling family.  Upon meeting the rather unusual crew, we see how the film's title “Little Sister” suddenly takes on both its religious and secular meaning. Colleen continues navigating her devotion to becoming a nun while reestablishing her relationship with an older brother who doesn’t quite know how to return to normality. Perhaps it can be blamed on its underlying religious tones, but there is a pervasive sense of peacefulness to this film when peace seems to have no business being around at all. Hardcore pasts and dark presents combine to give the future a sort of heavenly glow for this lot.  It's not only the subdued handling of the gothic-flavored religious subtext that makes “Little Sister” stand out as much more than an off-kilter family drama. It's also that the film is placed within the context of the lead up to the 2008 election. This is emphasized by a selection of embedded Obama speeches, championing hope and stimulating a desire for change. Colleen’s religious vocation, Jacob’s scarred normality, his girlfriend’s still burning lust, and their mother’s piling addictions all tie into something much larger than themselves within these disarmingly honest circumstances.  Clark also makes a spectacular use of text overlay throughout the film - not only with the opening Manson lyrics but also by announcing the passing days of Colleen's quest. As God is understood to have created the world in six days - how many days will it take Colleen to salvage her own world? You can find out by supporting this clever, unaffected indie about a series of flawed but honest homecomings in a politically changing landscape. Filmmaker Zach Clark is a name to keep on your indie radar. With this latest must-watch addition to his filmography ranks, he marches on with "Little Sister" at an impressive beat.  

With its deeply saturated colors and its equally bold plot, Asia Argento's "Misunderstood" is a force of a film.  Argento returns to the directing chair for the first time in years with this slightly over the top Italian drama that recalls a style of decades past.  The story centers around the life of a severely dysfunctional family of artists and their children.  In particular, Argento's story of childhood rebellion mostly focuses in on young Aria, the daughter of a drug addicted pianist and a superstitious, abusive actor.  An ode to the stresses of growing up in a world that seemingly doesn't understand you, "Misunderstood" can be best described as a grim fairy tale where the only supernatural forces and dangers we face are the people that should love us the most.  Though Argento's supposedly semi-autobiographical film thrives off of caricatures and a level of exaggeration within its characters, colour palette, and situations, there's still a bit of sensitivity embedded within the film that keeps it from becoming too over the top or distant.  In fact, there's an undeniably cult vibe exuding from this particularly colorful concoction of a film.  Highlights are equally both Charlotte Gainsbourg (Yvonne Casella) and child actress Giulia Salerno's (Aria) work.  Both display their acting abilities across a spectrum of bipolar emotions, from fearful and loving to manic and everything in between.  Salerno's Aria is our tragic hero, constantly bounced from one parent's house to the other, after her mother and father's excessive hatred of each other separates the family.  Aria being thrown out from their homes is usually a result of issues born from their inattentiveness or preference for Aria's sisters.  Because her half sisters are, in a way, owned by their respective parent, Aria is the sole child that exists as the reminder born from Yvonne and Padre's (Gabriel Garko) tainted relationship.  "A mistake", a symbol of regret and hatred, is the resulting identity that Aria bears, and as she continuously navigates a biased world out to get her, she becomes a far darker, more rebellious version of herself.  In the end, her final tipping point, after years of abuse from her own family, are her friends and peers' mockery of her life.  What we are left with is a swift and brutal end to the story with small traces of false hope shining forth through the credits.  Aria's life is cyclical for the time being, so we end her portrait of it the only way we can.  Excessive and dark in a world of deep, bold colours and 80s fashion flair, "Misunderstood" is a hodge podge of styles that all come together to tell a uniquely blended coming of age story of a lone girl in a world that doesn't quite know what to make of her.  A naive oddity, just like the film, Aria captures the audience and holds our attention with her deep blue eyes and unrelenting hope for someone to love her.  As Asia Argento's third directorial offering and an Italian Un Certain Regard entry at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, "Misunderstood" is certainly a product of its own title.  It will take open-minded audiences to crave, devour and understand this rainbow hued, sometimes magically unrealistic childhood drama.  Available on various VOD platforms, Argento's film of contrasts and edginess creates an imagined world that segue-ways far from reality yet still manages to vividly share with us a world full of very real emotions.  

 

Ah, happiness. Such a strange, elusive beast. In the new feature documentary, The Happy Film, filmmaker and designer Stefan Sagmeister explores the emotion by putting himself through a series of self-guided experiments in order to find out if he can manufacture the feeling. For the past seven years, he has been operating on a weekly happiness 1-10 rating scale system and exploring three methods for finding happiness: meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotropic drugs. The quirky, thought-provoking film born from this endeavor recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Interested? You can read WIRED’s review of it here.

While every year new films come into our lives and stir up our emotions, rarely can they affect us in such a raw, uninhibited way. Even from the very first line of its synopsis, you know “Thank You for Playing” is that rare breed of film that you accept is going to unapologetically leave you stunned. Think back to the most personal tragedy of your life. Really dig deep into that grief. Now, imagine going back to that moment and…making a video game about it. Yes, a video game. Bizarre, sure, but there’s one couple out there that did just that. As parents of a young boy with terminal cancer, not only did they live with that pain every single day until the inevitable happened, they also transformed their situation by opening themselves up to a creative outlet. What a film like “Thank You for Playing” teaches us is that the absurdity of creating a game about cancer only lasts for a brief moment before it turns into something transcendental - something more. Watching this film introduces us to the fact that creation can become a new coping mechanism, bringing us a beautiful new way of understanding and immortalising a life. Filmmaking duo David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall wanted to chronicle the behind the scenes work that went into the video game “The Dragon, Cancer”, created by parents Ryan and Amy Green, as a way to understand and show others how it was to care for terminally ill child, Joel, in his final years. Cutting between scenes of the video game process and footage of home, hospital and family life, viewers fall deep into a strange yet beautiful rabbit hole of emotion. One must wonder, why did the filmmakers make such a personal, private film in the first place? But just like inquiries into the existence of the game itself, it only takes watching a little bit of the film to understand the necessity of telling this story. “Thank You for Playing” is a documentary that goes beyond the constraints of so many video game films before it. That’s the ironic nature of its success - its fiction is real.  Though it’s a film that doesn’t beat around the bush in terms of its inevitable outcome, don’t be scared of that brutal conclusion. The film brings many other moral questions to light: can art really be a therapeutic outlet? Are creative endeavours for the sake of healing just exploitation of an otherwise private situation? Though I believe you need to watch the film to truly decide that for yourself, there’s no denying the honesty exuding from this film, scene to scene to scene. 

 “Thank You for Playing” was released via various VOD outlets this past March and is absolutely worth the watch. While it chronicles both the creative and mourning process, this film also memorialises the short but profound life of a young child that left behind a legacy far greater than he could have ever imagined.

Masked by the mysterious identities of its directors and a darkly misleading title, going blindly into a film like 'Everyone’s Going to Die' can trigger a confused initial impression. However, British collective duo “Jones” quickly reveal the direction their debut feature will take. From the opening title, where every person that worked on the film is immediately named and given a mass identity, to the surprisingly sweet story that follows, this is a film about raw human connection. Having had its premiere at SXSW, this underrated British indie is finally releasing to U.S. audiences. While the film focuses on the relationship between a young German woman and older English man, the appeal of this film is universal: when you find that rare human connection, it can be the most powerful thing in the world, wherever you are.  'Everyone’s Going to Die' takes on many familiar indie quirks but transforms them into something totally new. In this universe, we follow the aimless wanderings of two strangers as they crash into each other’s messy lives.  Melanie (played by German favorite, Nora Tschirner) is an immigrant living in a small coastal town in England with an absent fiancé. Things get interesting when she meets a mysterious, potential hitman named Ray (played by former carpet fitter and brilliant first time actor, Rob Knighton). Ray has just arrived in town following the death of his brother and has a secret “job” to carry out. It’s not until these two meet that they start to question their existence in not only this small town, but in the overall lives they have carved out for themselves.  Sharing similar feelings of not belonging but constantly inspiring each other with conflicting opinions on the nitty-gritty of life, this isn’t a case of two lost souls having everything in common. This is a case of two lost souls having almost nothing in common but still fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s not about physicality - it’s about conversation. That strange, unidentifiable connection between two strangers is what structures the minimalism within the narrative of this film. And it's that concept, coupled with the constraints of a low budget, that allows this strange, whimsical link between the two leads blossom into something totally beautiful and real.  Indie Street is happy to present the exclusive U.S. VOD release of this modern British “dramedy”. This is an adventure into finding the meaning of comfort and “home”, made up of small moments that are evenly paced with brilliance and wittiness. From dead siblings reincarnated as cats to roller skating beavers, televised porn hotlines, and a morbid family play that cleverly delivers the origins of the film's title, the humor is quirky, understated and complementary to a lo-fi script that focuses on character development over filler. It’s in the very final moments of the film that you may find your hopes for humanity slightly lifted. Yes, one day we will die. Everyone’s going to die eventually. But first, there are many things yet to experience. Memorable duo Melanie and Ray just go to show that life is too short to make the wrong decisions. Give this one a watch - we promise it won't kill you!  Click here to watch the film now on Indie Street! 

  

Short Feature 'Trump Rally': Political Pride or Circus

After the success of his previous documentaries, Sean Dunne’s signature style of allowing the subjects of his films to present themselves open and honestly, without agenda or heavy-handed direction, is once again on display in his new short, "Trump Rally". Dunne’s current subject? The most divisive presidential candidate in recent history: Donald Trump. Oh, and don’t forget his legion of, well…passionate supporters. Taking to a recent Trump rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, Dunne and friends whipped out their cell phones and decided to make a rather observational short documentary on the spot. An efficiently and aptly titled film, there’s no grand display of fancy filmmaking or fuss here. This is simply about observing fully loaded subjects through a quick, honest medium. And however observational the camerawork is, Dunne’s all-seeing cell phone cameras were surrounded by a fascinating melting pot of political POV’s that definitely steer the film. Even without trying to portray an agenda, the cameras show the truth - and with that, the insanity as well. Whether this subject and its people make you cringe or feel a swelling sense of American pride, the potential fate of our good ol’ American red, white and blue is on full display here. Like when we were younger and wanted the best rides at the fair to never end, after a quick 21 minutes, Dunne has us simultaneously wanting out and wanting more of this eye-opening mayhem.Join the “debate” by watching the new short here and be sure to check out Dunne’s other films, Florida Man and Oxyana, now up on Indie Street!

We have all probably struck up some questionable friendships in the unlikeliest of situations. In "Lamb", it just so happens that our two protagonists find their spark through a cigarette. Set within a world that feels like a latter day Lolita, this unsettling film follows the indefinable relationship between two struggling individuals that happen to sit on very different ends of the age spectrum. Unhappiness and spontaneity, amongst other things, are the catalysts that drive a 40-something year old man to deem a friendship with an 11 year old girl as acceptable after she innocently asks him for a cigarette in a dare gone awry. Ross Partridge takes the reins as not only director but actor and adapter of this story based on the novel by Bonnie Nadzam. Is this film a simple matter of identifying what could be a wolf in sheep's clothing or is it a much deeper and innocent portrait showcasing the role of destiny in our struggle to find comfort and acceptance in this world?  The premise of "Lamb" is simple on the surface but dark and deeply complicated below the obvious. Having just lost his father and starting to witness the unraveling of his marriage and affair, David Lamb (Partridge) finds himself face to face with a [keyword: very] young girl (Oona Laurance). Her high heels and cool demeanor suggest she is aged beyond her 11 years. From here we witness these two lost souls finding each other in the corner of a desolate parking lot .. and well, you can almost see where this is going tone-wise. A kidnapping joke, or more like role play, will cement the fate of the two and set the wheels of the narrative in motion towards a very unsettling yet necessary and exposed ending. Setting out West to escape the monotony of life, seeking to find something more, some beauty in the world, the two set out for their paradise and a slew of roadblocks to their destiny.  A film that is soaking in symbolism, morals, and immoral scenarios, "Lamb" proves that, though you can try to run away from life, bothersome realities will eventually find you again. It makes us ponder - who or what is the real innocent here - who is the real lamb of the story? For whatever sense of relief or anxiety the film’s ending may give you, what the film sets up is a scenario that makes us question relationships and the role that society has over defining them. Whether an inappropriate but harmless connection, something down right predatory or simply human desperation for comfort, the open road takes these two on a trip that will affect the rest of their lives. "Lamb", though sometimes lost in the dark confusion of its own plot, is a film well worth watching if only to help us in understanding something necessary about human connections and ourselves. 

Ethiopia-based Director Miguel Llansó has created a debut feature that plays out less like your typical film and more like an unpredictable dream.  On screen is a sparse, extraterrestrial looking Ethiopia that worships Michael Jordan, barters over "historical" Ninja Turtle figurines, and tries to figure out the mystery of the dormant spacecraft hovering above them.  If there ever was a romantic, post-apocalyptic sci-fi film coming out of Ethiopia that was full of characters hell bent on obtaining pop cultural artifacts, avoiding second generation Nazis and finding Santa Clause, this would be it.  An imaginative quest of a film that is certainly a mouthful to even describe, you may be asking yourself, "What did I just watch?", and though far from perfect, the unique edge of this film may be enough to quell your confusions.Our view of this post-apocalyptic world, after the big war, comes through the eyes of Candy (played by Llansó favorite, Daniel Tadesse), the film's petite, slumped hero that believes he comes from another land.  As he embarks on a journey to find a way onboard the reactivated spacecraft in the sky, we see him travel through a world both deeply profound and nonsensical, in order to find a way to what he believes is his true home.  The country's landscape is disarming and used to its greatest potential, with Daniel Tadesse’s Candy working at drawing us even more into this crumbling world.  His lover, Birdy (newcomer Selam Tesfaye), is with child and waits for him at home, biding her growing anxieties in a dilapidated bowling alley.  Supplementing their story are segments within the film regarding a cocky "antiques dealer".  We are introduced to his bartering intermittently throughout Candy's journey, learning the "histories" and anecdotes behind various cheap pop cultural artifacts from the past (AKA our present).It helps to know that the film was inspired by a quote from professor Seifu Yohannes about the end of the world and how all that will remain will be "a series of cheap plastic figurines floating in the stratosphere once everything has finally exploded".  "Crumbs" shows this depressing landscape well, where mankind’s hopes and dreams will cease to be of any great importance in the end.  In this world, human life has lost its value.  The survival of mankind is no longer a priority.  Left to fend for themselves, they get by from trading random items as if they were great relics of a lost time.  Like some voodoo spell, something about this hodge-podge of a film entices you into this very specific dreamscape, despite the disturbing references to what it means for our time.If you're on the hunt for something different, away from the mainstream and rehashed, "Crumbs" may just fit the bill.  With a low budget and minimal sources, Miguel Llansó was able to manifest a highly imaginative world out of the alien-like qualities of Ethiopia's landscapes.  It's that simultaneously primitive yet futuristic feel that becomes the true heart of this film.  Winner of the New Flesh Award for Best First Feature at the 2015 Fantasia Film Festival and nominated for the FIPRESCI Prize at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, "Crumbs" is now available in the US on VOD and DVD.  Go ahead, reserve your seat on the spaceship, at least to say you did.  At only 68 minutes, it's well worth the unusual ride. 

It feels ridiculous to say as it means nearly a full year has passed since we returned from covering Sundance 2015 in Park City, UT, but the 2016 edition of the Sundance Film Festival is right around the corner. We’re already making plans to return, and while we’re excited at the prospect of the fest’s entire roster the fest’s Midnight section of programming always holds a special appeal.The nine titles making up 2016’s Midnight section have just been announced, and is is typically the case the films are a mix of known entities and fresh faces. Kevin Smith returns with part two of his unofficial “True North” trilogy, Yoga Hosers, a spin-off of sorts from the odd, absurd, but not unfairly maligned Tusk, and Rob Zombie follows up his witch-focused (and better-than-expected) The Lords of Salem with evil clown mayhem in 31.Some lesser known but still recognizable names have made the cut too. Richard Bates Jr.‘s last film, Suburban Gothic, is an indie Ghostbusters mixing laughs and spectral shenanigans, and he’s back with the darkly humorous-sounding Trash Fire. Jim Hosking follows up his disturbingly entertaining “G Is for Grandad” short from ABCs of Death 2 with his feature debut, The Greasy Strangler. Another talent on the rise is Mickey Keating who chases 2015’s Pod and Darling with the fantastically-cast Carnage Park.Check out the complete list for Sundance 2016’s Midnight section here#ffffff;">