Film Review: The Long Dumb Road

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The Long Dumb Road resembles an update of Albert Brooks’ 1985 masterpiece, Lost in America. Only instead of yuppies attempting to emulate Easy Rider, we follow a 19-year-old boy who wants to experience “the real America” before matriculating to college and manhood. Director Hannah Fidell, heretofore known for dramatic fare like A Teacher and 6 Years, joins forces with Carson Mell (Another Evil) to breathe new life into the odd couple road trip comedy.

Fresh off his sheltered suburban Austin upbringing, Nathan (Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel) documents his trip on a 35 mm Pentax camera, operating as if his photos of dive bar patrons, abandoned buildings, and strip malls are groundbreaking works. But when his mini-van won’t start, his trip changes course both figuratively and literally. His car trouble serendipitously leads to Richard (Jason Matzoukas, The League, The House), a mechanic who has just tendered his middle-fingered resignation from his employers. Richard is upbeat and friendly, albeit rough around the edges. Nathan admits that he’d hoped to meet interesting people on his trip and as Richard puts it, “I’m interesting as fuck!” So, Nathan agrees to give Richard a ride in exchange for his services…

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Film Review: Blindspotting

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Carlos López Estrada tackles such a staggering number of themes in his feature debut, Blindspotting, that it almost feels like too much for one film. Then again, that may be part of the point. The truth of the matter is that gentrification, police shootings, racial profiling, cultural appropriation, and post-incarceration trappings don’t take turns affecting people on a daily basis. If we can’t handle it for 93 minutes, imagine how it feels to the people who can’t get away from it. Despite an implausible ending that dramatically shifts the film’s tone, Blindspotting is a candid, and occasionally humorous, look at the systematic oppression of the disenfranchised residents of Oakland, CA.

Stars, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal spent nine years writing the script, a story set in their native city. Diggs (Hamilton, Blackish) plays Collin, an African American ex-con with only three days left on his probation, so long as he can stay out of trouble. But trouble seems to find Collin wherever he goes. Much of the credit goes to his ever-present and volatile best friend, Miles (Casal), who is white. Miles and Collin are a walking sociology study. They grew up on the same side of the tracks, and both were involved in the violent incident that sent Collin to jail for a year. But the police didn’t give Miles a second glance when they came to arrest Collin…

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Film Review: That Summer

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Göran Olsson assembled this prequel to the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens using long-lost footage that director Albert Maysles recently uncovered in a studio archive. Since the 4 reels alone weren’t enough to warrant a feature, Olsson added another layer by interviewing photographer Peter Beard about his involvement in That Summer that spawned a cult phenomenon. Uninitiated audiences may struggle to grasp the significance of the found footage. However, Big and Little Edies’ pre-existing fans will relish this early look at the eccentric recluses who lived in squalor despite their familial connection to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

Not many documentaries earn a sequel, let alone instigate a franchise. But that’s what happened with Albert and David Maysles breakout hit. Grey Gardens warranted a sequel, a musical, a play, and a 2009 TV movie starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. It was more than a precursor to Hoarders. It was a commentary on faded glory, high society, public image, and autonomy. But the much-beloved film happened almost by accident. Lee Bouvier Radziwell initially hired The Maysles and her then-boyfriend Peter Beard, to explore what became of the Bouvier sisters’ childhood summer stomping grounds. When the crew accompanied Radziwell to her relatives’ estate, they stumbled upon an unexpected and irresistible opportunity to capture the larger-than-life former socialites who were languishing in squalor…

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2018 San Francisco International Film Festival Recap

Every April, talented filmmakers from around the world coalesce in the City by the Bay for the San Francisco International Film Festival. Now in its 61st year, SFIFF is the longest running film festival in the Americas. SFFILM, a nonprofit organization, helms the fest which caters to an audience of 75,000 people from both inside and outside the industry. This year, the fest ran from April 4th to 17th and showcased almost 200 films.

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SFIFF Highlights…

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Film Review: Revenge

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Rape revenge movies are practically a subgenre of horror, and they are (like most movies) typically directed by men. Not that men are incapable of making great films about women. But maybe it shouldn’t be just men telling stories about one of the most traumatic experiences a woman can have. Especially since society can’t even agree on the definition of “rape.”

French writer/director Coralie Fargeat is an insanely talented up-and-comer. She’s clearly capable of crafting a cinematic masterpiece and comes pretty close to achieving perfection with her debut film: the rape vengeance genre up-ender, Revenge. Fargeat has studied her predecessors and pinpointed all of their missteps. Films like I Spit On Your Grave and Last House on the Left spent way too much time on the violation part of the story…

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Film Review: Her Composition

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Her Composition is a feminist film that was made on the cusp of an ideological revolution. Though it was just released on V.O.D. in 2018, it was made in 2015. Back then, time wasn’t yet up. Films about the emotional Odysseys of women were all told by white men and didn’t pass the Bechdel test. That’s not to say Stephan Littger’s debut is a bad film. It’s actually quite lovely and ambitious. But it also feels a bit like a feminist time capsule.

Captivating up-and-coming actress Joslyn Jensen plays Malorie, a music PhD student who loses her scholarship to a man because her thesis piece doesn’t come from the heart. Desperate for money and inspiration, Malorie takes on the dossier of a high-end sex worker. She doesn’t seem to have a plan at the outset. She just knows she needs to shake things up. But she discovers self-assurance during her first encounter and soon, she’s got a “crazy wall” covered in quotes, snippets of written music, and meaningful insect corpses. There is no shortage of men saying and doing awful things to Malorie, but she also meets a few kind and lonely people. As she goes deeper into her titular composition, she begins to mentally and physically unravel. Before long, Malorie is racing her declining health to the finish line…

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Film Review: Scary Mother

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Scary Mother is a quietly riveting film that is richly layered with themes of identity, traditional gender roles, sacrifice, and hypocrisy filtered through the lens of a middle-aged mother of 3. At 26, first-time writer/director Ana Urushadze possesses remarkable insight into the psyche of a woman who spent the majority of her motherhood suppressing her artistic urges. But now that her children are more self-sufficient, Manana (Nato Murvanidze) has taken the opportunity to write her novel. But the writing process has caused her to neglect her “duties” as a stay-at-home mother. Her husband, Anri (Dimitri Tatishvili), is fed up and is desperate to return to the status quo.

Urushadze does an outstanding job of introducing her characters and setting the scene. As the film opens, Manana is checking in with her family after having spent many nights in literary exile. She dutifully clutches a laundry basket as she quietly tiptoes through their crowded tower block apartment in Tbilisi, Georgia. While he dresses for work, Anri reminds Manana how accommodating he has been, sleeping on the couch so she can work in peace. He complains about her unkempt appearance and how long she’s taking to write her book. This interaction informs the audience about Anri’s values and the emotional rift that exists between husband and wife. From what we see of her children, they are detached teenagers who are a bit thrown by the recent inaccessibility of their formerly omnipresent mother…

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