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. 

 

Quite the unparalleled cinematic offering, Kornél Mundruczó’s “White God” and its plot can actually be summarized in a fairly straightforward manner: Girl loves dog.  Dog trusts girl.  Girl’s Father, as well as the rest of society, scorns dog.  Dog, after experiencing the harsh realities of life, trains, rounds up a military-like legion of mutts, and goes on a revenge-seeking rampage.  While the synopsis flows off the tongue like the reciting of a campy, B-movie plot, “White God” is anything but that.  It’s locked and loaded, unrelenting in its depiction of both a girl and her dog’s adjustments to the injustices and changes around them.  Below the surface, this is also a curiously metaphorical depiction of social inequalities within contemporary Europe.  Telling this through the guise of a dog lover’s revenge flick, be warned: “White God” is no “Homeward Bound”.

 

We enter into this sort of part familiar, part darker reality as 13-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) and her dog Hagen are temporarily left in the care of her father Daniel (Sándor Zsótér).  When Daniel refuses to pay the taxes necessary to keep the mix breed dog at home, he promptly releases the mutt out into the wild, unknowingly starting an eye opening turn of events for the whole city.  As Hagen starts to experience brutality at the hands of humans, he becomes the scene stealer of the film.  Lili also stands out with her own particular stoic, rebellious demeanor.  Her growth as a teenager is told in parallel with Hagen’s own dog troubles, creating an interesting narrative formula.  Sometimes the parallel storytelling has its flaws, but as the credits play, it's hard to find fault.  For this, credit should be given to the trainers that managed to create dog-centric scenes that were often more captivating than any shared between the human actors.  Luke and Bodie, the two mixed breed dogs that shared the role of Hagen, are remarkable.  That Mundruczó and crew were able to create moments where you actually feel the dogs’ emotions exuding from the screen is a feat well worth applauding.

 

 

Winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, “White God” easily fits within the award’s predilection for original and different work.  It’s a gripping fantasy about a world where humans, so often asserting their authority as an all-powerful being, are finally punished for their “sins”.  Whether we are talking dogs or just using them as a metaphor for ethnic inequality, the message is clear.  Now widely available on several VOD platforms, “White God” is the type of filmic fare that should be consumed, if only to finally see the hand that feeds get rightfully bitten back.

 

 

White God – Hungary, 121 MINS

Directed by Kornél Mundruczó

Starring Zsófia Psotta and Sándor Zsótér

Link to Trailer: https://vimeo.com/114052375

Link to VOD Links (July 28, 2015 Release): http://www.magpictures.com/whitegod/

 

 

One mind’s manifestations, challenged by new and total blindness, are the main focus of Eskil Vogt’s highly inspired debut drama “Blind”.  A somewhat self-reflexive portrait of one woman’s creative struggle with recent loss of vision, the film explores the consequences of both sightlessness and loneliness.  With the shutting down of one sense, every other sense becomes heightened.  Taking this direction, “Blind” allows the audience an amplified and surreal viewing experience completely withdrawn into fantasy.

 

The film follows newly blind Ingrid, played by standout Ellen Dorrit Petersen, as she copes with the darkness by embracing her vivid imagination. We learn early on that Ingrid’s blindness came without much warning.  She now spends her days constantly awaiting the return of her elusive architect husband, Morten (Henrik Rafaelsen).  During his absence, and sometimes even in his presence, she imagines the world he must surely be inhabiting, or craving to inhabit.  Is he present in the room, secretly watching her, or is he off seeking physical satisfaction from other women?  These doubts are what drive the entire film and start to create the nuanced narratives and characters within her mind.  Ingrid's narration introduces us to two peripheral characters: a single mother and a porn addicted loner.  These characters, complete with backstories, effortlessly blend into both her imagined world and reality with Morten.  It’s not until the absurdity of her creations start to unravel into more serious territory that we see the true reality behind her paranoia.

 

 

 

Bathed in a whitened glow, the ethereal Petersen creates an almost animalistic Ingrid.  Hungry for knowledge of the space around her, we become part of her desperation and playful demeanor.  As Ingrid states at the beginning: “They say that my ability to visualize will fade away.  That the optic lens wither without new impressions ... but I can maintain it”.  And maintain it she does.  Like one of the film's standout scenes, we stand with Ingrid, pressed against the surface of her apartment window, craving to see and be seen.  Currently available on DVD and UK/Ireland VOD platforms, Vogt has created a debut film that leaves behind a haunting, lingering memory of derailed reality long after watching.

 

Reviewed By: Indie Street's  Sarah Rice 

I Believe in Unicorns Film Review: an honest, raw look at how it

With a title like “I Believe in Unicorns”, audiences could easily be forgiven for expecting light, cheery fare.  It’s easy to see the fairytale charm on the surface of this story as it is the bind that visually holds the narrative’s progression together.  However, there is also a darker reality behind that whimsy.  This is more than your classic tale of young love and the intertwining magic that accompanies it.  Director Leah Meyerhoff’s offering often steers away from solely being a positive portrayal of love in order to show a much more raw perspective.  In this world of unicorns and fantasy, reality steps in to help tell the tale of a lustrous young girl’s sexual awakening.

 

As we are introduced to Davina (Natalia Dyer), we see the juxtaposition of her life: she is left both naïve and hardened by her home situation.  She exists as the sole caretaker of her disabled mother but constantly dreams of escaping that reality.  This has left her no choice but to escape via her vivid imagination.  As we get to know her character, we enter into her creation - an animated fairytale of unicorns and dragons.  Dyer is able to realistically embody that dueling mix of endearing youth and caged maturity evident within Davina.  However, this all starts to change when she falls in love with an older skateboarding punk named Sterling (Peter Vack).  Abandoned by his abusive father, Sterling draws Davina in with his carefree, dangerous attitude.  He’s everything her world hasn’t been able to be.  And as soon as they set their sights on each other, their wild and mad journey begins. 

 

There is something candidly real about this relationship as they discover each other and parts of themselves.  As the second half of the film shifts into more of a road trip movie, we twist down a road that starts to reveal more of its winding curves.  The contrast between the two lovers as they escape their pasts complements the fight between reality and fantasy constantly going on within Davina’s mind.  By escaping reality, they ironically get closer to their real existence.  As Sterling falls back on the abusive traits learned from his upbringing, fear starts to interrupt Davina’s fantasies, leaving her to crawl back into a now tainted, made up world.

 

Together, Director Leah Meyerhoff and actress Natalia Dyer make a visceral duo.  Meyerhoff’s direction coupled with Dyer’s natural approach to her character’s transition is evocative.  Meyerhoff is able to create a disarmingly simple yet complex world that, as a female director, enables her to show this story through the eyes of female youth and wonder.  Yet, this isn’t simply a story about a curious girl.  This is the story of a girl that wants to chase more, and for the first time in her life, feel more.  Her sexual awakening paints a nuanced portrait of a headstrong girl that gets in a bit over her head.  For both Davina and Sterling, upbringing has stained every part of their existence: past, present and future.  And at the end, as their road trip screeches to a halt, the weight of reality falls hard.  Fantasies must end.  We want a return to the safety of our initial understanding of our main female character.  We want, at least for now, her innocence restructured.

 

Sometimes “I Believe in Unicorns” gets lost within its own brand of whimsy.  However, beneath the hazy glow of its cinematography, this is effectively an honest, raw look at how it feels to grow up.  Similar to the mythical unicorn, Davina is like a beautiful, misunderstood creature.  It's through her eyes that the audience is guided on a voyage into the very human concepts of awakening and freedom.  Though sometimes the lessons are harsh, “I Believe in Unicorns” deals with that brutality in an original way.  Fantasy, in this case, is not a distancing technique.  Ironically, the addition of fantasy shows us more truth than reality would alone.  Currently available on Vimeo on Demand, it’s that innovative blend of two worlds that makes “I Believe in Unicorns” a worthwhile experience and a unique cinematic journey.

 

Reviewed by Indie Street's Sarah R Rice

Here's Why This Filmmaker Risked His Life To Make A Film

The award-winning documentary Saving Mes Aynak was a hit at IDFA 2014 and Full Frame 2015, but more than just a documentary it's also harnessing an activist campaign to save this ancient site.

READ MORE: The Best Documentary Filmmaking Advice from Full Frame Documentary Festival

The film follows archaeologist Qadir Temori as he races against time to save this 5,000-year-old Buddhist archeological site in Afghanistan from imminent demolition. It's endangered not only by religious fundamentalists, but by a Chinese mining company chasing corporate profits.

In traveling to the region on his own many times, "Saving Mes Aynak" director Brent E. Huffman risked his life at the hands of landlines and Taliban fighters. 

"It felt like my duty, my obligation, to tell this story and to spread the story about the imminent destruction of this incredible site," said Huffman in a video on Indiegogo. Read Full Story

Films saddled with the label “quirky” are often dismissed sight unseen these days as they’ve earned something of a bad rap in recent years. It’s frequently well-deserved as many attempt to take a shortcut into our good graces with oddball supporting characters, manic pixie dream girls and impromptu dance/singalong scenes, but few succeed because they’re usually surface-level efforts. So when a movie comes along that backs up its fun-loving eccentricities with raw honesty, sincere depth and glorious belly laughs you should pay attention. Read more

For the uninformed: Back in 1983 the video game industry crashed and burned, and a pretty terrible game adaptation of Spielberg's E.T. took (deservedly or undeservedly) a large part of the blame. On its last legs, Atari was forced to dump millions of unsold and returned cartridges of the E.T. video game into a landfill—or so the legend goes. For years, this was one the gaming industry's biggest urban legends, like a video game El Dorado. Read on

Throughout writer-director Farhadi's wrenching, relentlessly intelligent drama, characters shield their feelings with unspoken motives and actions. Like last year's Oscar-winning "A Separation," Farhadi's new work confirms his unique ability to explore how constant chatter and anguished outbursts obscure the capacity for honest communication...click post title to read full review written by Eric Kohn, Indiewire

So I guess we should listen. IndieStreet loves brilliant human curation of film, and Scorsese is unsurpassed as a cinephile and film historian. His collaboration with The Criterion Collection on World Cinema Project is a merger of masters, and the first volume of classics does not disappoint. Check out the PopMatters Review here. We highly suggest you read more about the restoration mission of Scorsese's Organization, World Cinema foundation. Major Streetcreds!