INDIE FILM REVIEWS

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. 

 

There really aren’t enough female-headlined action films, so when one comes along it’s almost worth a look on its existence alone. Ideally it will lean more Haywire than Mercenaries quality-wise, but the paucity of options means we’ll take what we can get at this point. Happily, the newest lady-led action picture, Momentum, is an entertaining and frequently thrilling ride that very nearly lives up to its title.A high-tech team of slick-looking bank robbers are midway through their heist when mistakes and bad attitudes get the better of them. One of their number is killed, and another is unmasked in front of the hostages. With her face all over the news, Alex (Olga Kurylenko, Quantum of Solace) is forced to lay low and wait for the deal with those who hired her team to wrap up, but a double cross leaves her on the run and low on options. A man named Washington (James Purefoy, Solomon Kane) is on her trail, but the bigger threat might just be the U.S. Senator (Morgan Freeman, playing against type as a character who wants to be president but isn’t yet) pulling his strings.Stephen S. Campanelli‘s day job as a long-time camera operator for Clint Eastwood takes a backseat for his feature directorial debut, and the result is a fun, fast-moving action-thriller that hits some speed bumps along the way but still delivers where it counts.The action sequences are strong starting with the opening heist and continuing on through shoot-outs, fist fights, and pretty stellar car chase. An early hotel fracas showcases both Alex’s capabilities and Washington’s malicious ways — along with Kurylenko’s action chops and the pure joy of an evil Purefoy. The fight choreography feels right for Kurylenko’s frame meaning we’re never in doubt of her abilities, and the bigger action is well-crafted to the various environments.Just as entertaining at times is the back and forth banter between Alex and Washington. Their dialogue is a the kind of witty and insulting mix that you’d hope real criminals use in their day to day exchanges but you doubt actually exists. Performer-wise these two are by far the strongest here, and it’s not just because of the rough acting seen in some of the supporting roles.The script moves the film into generic, mid-list action territory with some repetitive beats and simplicity, but there are highlights including Alex’s character and the details of the opening heist. That opening is also a source of curiosity though as it appears to exist in some manner of the near future — the robbers’ suits feature lights, voice modulators, and other advancements, and the bank’s vault uses a biological lock that feels very much like science fiction. Once they leave the bank though it feels like it could be any time between the late ’90s and the present. It’s either an odd choice or late recognition that the budget wasn’t going to last.Momentum is a fun, sleek movie that’s far better than most straight-to-DVD/VOD action films, and while I’m not as confident as the film’s ending is that it’s the start of a possible franchise I’m certainly hopeful.Read more at Film School Rejects:  http://filmschoolrejects.com/reviews/momentum-julia.php#ixzz3qdkp67i6

Of the thousands of pictures released around the world in a given year, maybe a few tens of them appear as complete creations of a singularly identifiable artist. Visuals can often look much the same, and stories tend to be inspired by the same set of stories. Jean Pierre Jeunet is one of those filmmakers with a very identifiable kind of film artistry. His films are equally colorful and drab, playful and serious, charming and ultra-quirky – and up until I saw Liza The Fox Fairy (crazily of the mind of a first-time feature length director, Karoly Ujj Maszaros) I would have said almost completely unique to himself. While Liza may feel akin to a Jeunet film in its art direction and charm mixed with a whimsical, dark humor it would feel a complete disservice to Maszaros to claim that the film channels another artist. It does not, but it’s wholly exciting to think there are two filmmakers alive who succeed at making this kind of picture.Read more#ffffff;">

Very high on our list of the best movies we saw at Fantastic Fest this year was Green Room, the sophomore effort of writer/director Jeremy Saulnier, who previously squeezed us with the tense thriller, Blue Ruin. This latest addition to his titularly colorful filmography is yet another thriller that’s like a tense muscle, held completely tight, the only relief coming from the severing of the tendons with a sharp blade.It’s a somewhat unnerving visual, but that’s exactly what it feels like to watch Green Room. Read more here: 

Filmmaker Louie Psihoyos and his team of activists and innovators that made The Cove are back with a new mission to save more endangered species. Where The Cove centered on the plight of dolphins, his latest film Racing Extinction, which premiered early this year in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the Sundance Film Festival, has a broader topic: mankind's role in the potential mass extinction of half of the world's species.A National Geographic photographer and environmental activist, Psihoyos’ new film arrives with incredible anticipation as a follow-up to The Cove, which besides becoming part of the national discourse, won the U.S. Audience Award at Sundance when it premiered in 2009 and later the Academy Award for best documentary. Racing Extinction unfolds like a blockbuster action epic and inhabits the same eco-thriller atmosphere of the director’s prior work. Viewers might feel they’ve wandered into a white-knuckle espionage flick as they witness Psihoyos and his team infiltrating notorious black markets in China using guerilla-style tactics and James Bond-friendly gadgets, or working with artists to create spellbindingly beautiful imagery with animal subjects (footage of endangered species were projected across the United Nations building). Read the interview with filmmaker

The pull of the open road is strong and tantalizes with the untold possibility of adventure and experience, but not all roads lead to their intended destinations. Such is the highway to hell that several travelers find themselves on in the new horror anthology, Southbound.

Two men with bloodied faces pull into a remote way station in the American Southwest. Something is on their mind, but more pressing, something is on their tail. Skeletal phantoms have followed them across the desert, and escape is clearly not an option. Read More




It speaks to the state of cinema that one of the most beautiful, haunting, and powerful films of the year will be seen by most people on a streaming service, but such is case with the growing face of movies these days. The consolation is that movies manage to find a home after their brief festival run even if they are relegated to being content for the digital pipe as opposed to having a shot at being a truly exceptional in-theatre experience.

I’m lucky, then, to have experienced Beasts of No Nation as it was intended, at a glorious, hundred-year-old theatre no less. For Beasts is surely a film to be shared collectively in the dark, one whose power is amplified by the image looming over you while your fellow audience shares in the joys and shocks as the story unfolds.

The tale of a young boy who gets swept up in a civil war and becomes a child soldier, the film proves to be one of the most raw, unforgettable coming-of-age tales ever made. Newcomer Abraham Attah is the film’s core, and his performance is the stuff of legend. His role is both physically and psychologically complex as we the audience simply follow him through his travails.

The film is stunningly shot with some terrific narrative elements, but the direction by Cary Fukunaga may be most lauded for what he draws from young Attah. Kids on film, especially in such a storyline, will make or break the project, and here we see an absolutely riveting turn that provides much of the film’s weight. Fukunaga’s script, based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala, provides its rich ideas and unsettling moments. Read More

 

 

A cathartically paced portrait of a community branded by its own self-aware dependency on prescription drugs, Sean Dunne’s directorial feature film debut, “Oxyana”, is a controversial yet necessary and affecting offering.  The film plays out like a patient yet evocative conversation that lets the audience draw their own opinions.  Dunne's documentary portraits Oceana, a small once thriving coal mining town in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia.  This is a community that that has been so stricken by prescription pill epidemic that it's residences have nicknamed it Oxyana.  What we see is a people shaped by a failed system and the failed war on drugs.

Recognizing the innate beauty of Oceana and its surrounding areas, it doesn’t take long to also recognize the ghostly reminder of what once.  As Dunne states, “Yet there it was, a constant and growing hum of anxiety. So we started to ask questions, and we started to get answers, all pointing towards a familiar narrative.”  By leaving the camera on the subjects of the film and allowing their words to naturally flow, you get an honest, staunch depiction of dependency and addiction through the eyes of the ones that are suffering.  We get their stories, and it’s a heartbreaking reality to face.

 

 

 Winner of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival Best New Documentary Director Award, clearly both “Oxyana” and Dunne have earned their prestige.  It is because this is a film that is as hauntingly memorable as it is a pretty necessary conversation starter to have on the film scene.  It doesn’t set up the film’s subjects as failures of society to be laughed off and forgotten.  It sets them up as tragic heroes, failed by something way bigger than we can imagine.  The secrets buried deep within the rolling mountains and forests of this West Virginian region are laid bare, raw and untouched.  In “Oxyana”, scandal and sensationalism are pushed aside for the true depth and revelation of honesty, pain, and darkness suffered through drug addiction.  Dunne’s skillful ability to uncover that realistic, objective narrative regarding the outskirts of America is on full display.  Produced by Cass Greener and Nadine Brown, “Oxyana” is being re-released on VOD and is truly a masterful, meditative documentary worth the watch, if only to see how well Oceana finds and displays its own unique, troubled voice for the rest of the world to try and understand.

Director Jim Strouse is excellent at conveying the emotional range of the adult male experience. It’s not something you might hear a lot, especially in the context of it being refreshing, mostly because just about every movie is delivered from the male perspective. But there’s something a little more special, insightful and tender about Strouse’s work. This began with the pain explored in the John Cusack-led Grace is Gone, continued with the failure management of the Sam Rockwell-led The Winning Season and has come to fruition once again in the fatherhood dramedy People, Places, Things starring Jemaine Clement. Read full review


There is truth in the conviction that “time heals all wounds.” But in New Orleans, exactly 10 years after one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history—and easily the costliest—the adage has met its match. In this week’s expansive and forthright New York Times story documenting the city’s recovery, the portrait of an embattled community comes into focus. Despite tremendous strides in a literal rebuild of New Orleans, the city’s longstanding economical and racial hardships remain. Read more