BAM Cinemafest: from THE FAREWELL to DE LO MIO

If there is any city on Earth that can offer more film festivals of all shapes and sizes for the movie lover than New York City can I would love to see it. And yes, I may be a tad biased because I’m from New York myself, but bear in mind, when you live in a city where film simply happens, all over, in the subways through the lens of the casual iPhone user with a penchant for short little scenes of the quotidian or self-referential; when you can walk into any neighborhood and spot a film crew rehearsing a scene; when you have not one or two but close to two dozen art-house theaters offering some of the biggest film events in the world, you begin to realize just how intensely, New York breathes cinema, all over, and how omnipresent cinema as a perpetually evolving story complete with characters, is.

For reasons of geography and commute issues that I won’t go into here, BAM Cinemafest had been one of the few film festivals that I had yet to experience. For some reason, the ghost of having to commute to Brooklyn, even when BAM Rose Theater is a couple of stops away from downtown even on local trains, refused to go away. I’d received an invitation to come see Diana Peralta’s debut (and World Premiere) film dissertation on women education in india kostenbernahme viagra student paper go to site go here is it dangerous to mix alcohol and viagra viagra side effects itching cialis online prices covers letters samples bibliography law dissertation help with zoology admission essay address barack obama best thesis ghostwriters websites for phd compare university essay click proofread my essay free go to site kegunaan pirofel gel click here agente activo del viagra crestor generic offshore pharmacy De lo mio, and upon checking the roster, I decided to on a lark try a couple more, one of them being The Farewell, which is playing now in theaters and made its NYC Premiere June 12th as the Opening Night selection, the other being Michael Tyburski’s The Sound of Silence, which will receive its US release September 20th before heading to streaming platforms.

The Farewell”

A little over a year ago, had anyone asked me who Awkwafina was, I wouldn’t have been able to give a reply. Not until her breakout supporting turn in Ocean’s 8 alongside marquee names like Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett and her equally hilarious role in Crazy Rich Asians, plus her standout bonkers presentation at the Oscars earlier this year, did I take notice. And suddenly, there she is, a comedic force of nature that in her third movie, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, is giving a performance so lived in, so natural, so sad and full of angst that doesn’t draw attention to itself and she still manages to make you crack a chuckle even when the facade that makes the story’s foundation is threatening at every turn to implode at the seams, that it’s almost a wonder that she hasn’t been in movies more. In The Farewell, she plays Billi, a Chinese-American New Yorker who on hearing her grandmother, affectionately called Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) is dying of cancer, drops everything to return to her native China to be with her during her last days. Billi’s parents, and by extension, the entire family, decide not to tell Nai Nai of her condition, and stage a false wedding between a cousin and his Japanese girlfriend as a reason to all converge together. It s a ruse that pays off as Nai Nai becomes fully involved in the preparation for this spectacular event. Meanwhile, Billi, neglected and moping around the corners, witnesses everything with a growing sense of unreality. Torn between the need to reveal this news to Nai Nai and her own sense of keeping with the family’s decision, she’s a tangle of tension just waiting to explode at the seams, and it in fact presents itself in some awkward family confrontations, most notably with her mother Jian (Diana Lin).

Despite the premise, The Farewell never descends into maudlin, and more often than not deviates from the premise of Nai Nai’s impending death to focus on cultural clashes. One that is played for laughs happens at the expense of the cousin, Hao Hao (Chen Han) getting married to his Japanese girlfriend. Aiko (Aoi Mizuhara). Another, a bit more true to the unspoken truths that exist in most families with relatives overseas, is the reality of Billi’s parents who left the Chinese mainland for a better life in the US. Billi’s mother is especially outspoken at times about her disdain for the country she left behind and a wonderful, tense scene develops when parents start comparing one country against the other. Most notably, the clash of cultures comes to full focus between Billie herself and Jian. Billi wants to comes back to China, a thing Jian is firmly opposed to. What kind of opportunities could China give Billi? Billi, on the other hand, feels that she has lost a part of herself, that having moved to the US stole this portion of her heritage that she is trying to figure out, and watch the performance of Awkwafina as she delves into these themes: it’s a revelation to see her carry this awful weight of displacement on her perpetually hunched shoulders.

Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is simply a beautiful love letter to her own China, a fragment of her own self, her past, and potentially, her future, seen through the eyes of a family coming to terms with the death of its matriarch. An assured hand makes it never venture close to manipulation but simply, let the story unfold itself at a natural pace, and reach its marvelous conclusion. I hope that it gets the expansion it most decidedly deserves as it’s only been playing at the Angelika since July 12.

Mostly Indies rating: B+

“The Sound of Silence”

PeterSarsgaard in The Sound of Silence, coming to theaters September 27, 2019.

This is an odd bird of a movie, and of course it would star Peter Sarsgaard, an actor that can pop up in mainstream feature films like Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, Scott Cooper’s Black Mass, but stand out in minor indies like Michael Almreyda’s Experimenter, a role that is not too far removed from the one he plays in Michael Tyburski’s debut feature film The Sound of Silence. Here, Sarsgaard is the introspective, almost withdrawn Peter Lucian, a man whose career in music didn’t pan out, but left him scarred and eking a life as a professional sound tuner. The profession is as vague as heck, because it involves Lucian staying for hours on end in a client’s apartment, listening attentively for even the tiniest of vibrations, in order to find the source of discomfort for the tenant (or apartment owner) and fix it through tuning via either replacing a discordant appliance with another one that has more pleasing sounds, or simply removing the source altogether. For New Yorkers living in a city that never sleeps, Lucian has become the go-to commodity if a little eccentric — a 21St Century shaman for sound and sound comfort if you will, and his profession indeed has a link to the actual science of sound and sonic vibrations. He also hopes to publish a discovery he’s made about how the City is a network of these sonic tones and how each tone affects a neighborhood, and its inhabitants, a certain way.

In the midst of this, he encounters a new client, Ellen (Rashida Jones). What starts as another protracted, awkward dance of tuner meets skeptical client slowly starts to go out of its frame and into an outer layer of comfort. Ellen is an outsider herself, having moved only recently to New York City. His attentive nature towards resolving her issue — which turns to be coming from an appliance that he promptly and politely replaces — morphs into one that has the faintest glimpses of something romantic, but not quite physical. You see, his replacement doesn’t work on her, but she, nevertheless, becomes drawn to him, his demeanor, his quiet intensity bordering on the neurotic. This is an odd love story in which the characters have little chemistry to hold them, but they themselves can’t but escape each other, and Tyburski keeps them often together for several stretches until the cracks in what constitutes both Lucian’s passion (or obsession) for sound (and his discoveries), and Ellen’s attempts at drawing the person hiding inside Lucian start to come between them. This is a clever little story that never quite warms up on the audience and in fact, it is filmed in a tapestry of grays and browns, perhaps indicating the dullness that both characters (but mainly Lucian’s) is trapped into. If anything, the film is defined by sound, and the lack of it. Tyburski’s New York is almost pregnant with hums and drones and this makes for quite a view; however, the true story of a man trapped inside his own obsessions is the root of The Sound of Silence, and with Sarsgaard’s affected portrayal, one can only hope that by the end, he’s managed to escape his own shell and join the living world.

Mostly Indies: B+

“De lo Mio”

Diana Peralta’s De lo Mio, which roughly translates to “My Own” or in this case, “My Blood” is a gem of a movie that one could say forms a perfect parenthetical bookend to the opener, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell. Here we’re also introduced to the topic of alienation from your heritage in the story of two sisters, Carolina (Darlene Demorizi), and Rita (Sasha Merci), who have arrived to Santiago, Dominican Republic, to alongside their half-brother Dante (Hector Anibal, a dead ringer for a younger Denzel Washington and with the role with most depth), decide what of the belongings and family memories they will keep and which ones they will dispose. The property in question is a large, sprawling mansion covered in lush vegetation that has been sold to developers, and is worth nothing — only the land is. When the sisters try to raise an argument as to why does the place need to be bulldozed, Dante pretty much lays down the law and informs them that unless they can come up with the equivalent of 400,000 dollars, the destruction of the place will be inevitable because in Dominican Republic the land is the only thing that has value. What’s on it, can be replaced, anytime. The sisters would rather conserve the house due to sentimental reasons, and in a way, the house in which they grew up in becomes a silent fourth character that silently asks the viewer, what happens when the last living connection to the homeland and your own cultural identity is set to be destroyed?

Diana Peralta hasn’t any easy answers, and De Lo Mio doesn’t try to answer them in its short running time. As a matter of fact, much like The Farewell, the question of identity doesn’t present any kind of satisfying answer: all Carolina and Rita do is accept the situation for what it is, and while cleaning up the mess of items that paint a ghostly picture of a family that does not exist anymore in the traditional sense, do a little playacting and quietly skirt around issues involving Dante that Dante himself would rather not discuss. It’s clear that there is some unresolved tension between the siblings and their geographical separation is more than just a fissure in their relationship. Growing up in the US, I could relate to this: having a half-sibling myself who was largely raised in the Dominican Republic, there was a clear and distinct hierarchy in how we were raised. It seems that Carolina and Rita got the better shot at life and it shows in the somewhat entitled way they act. Dante, on the other hand, it seems wasn’t the father’s favorite, and suffered for it. While remaining behind, he has handled the family’s affairs and is really the only one who knows the ins and outs of a country and its laws, a thing neither Carolina and Rita do.

De Lo Mio packs a lot of character observation in a short running time; I almost wished that it had lingered on a bit more, perhaps centered just a tad more into the three siblings, leave a more satisfying resolution to their situation. However, and being a story firmly entrenched in realism, De Lo Mio doesn’t delve too deep in its hurts and scars and leaves that for its climax, which arrives in the most casual and natural of forms. The threesome’s acting is superb — you truly believe these could be brothers and sisters caught in a situation without a definite sense of closure, and Diana Peralta unifies their relation in almost every scene they are in, which is almost the entire film,. A standout sequence is one that also manages to insert the color of the Dominican people front and center. While it technically is a movie trope to have a musical scene, here it absolutely makes sense. For people to whom merengue is life, the usage of the classic “Compadre Pedro Juan” and how the siblings react by moving to the music is as natural as the country’s greenery.

There is not a shred of romanticism in De Lo Mio. Peralta let’s her story settle, breathe, and take its natural course without any force nor manipulation. She exposes the secrets and sadness of a house with an expiration date and a haunting legacy. Whatever the sisters take — we never do see the entire house cleaned up — will be of a symbolic nature. These are heavy themes for a director’s first feature film. I loved it, it resonated, and is the latest and strongest entry of films made in the Dominican Republic that have emerged from the indie scene.

Mostly Indies rating: A

Everyone shows up for THE DEAD DON’T DIE

:From left to right: Danny Glover, Bill Murray, and Adam Driver

THE DEAD DON’T DIE. Country, USA. Director: Jim Jarmusch. Cast: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Ester Balint, Larry Fessenden, Carol Kane, Iggy Pop, Selena Gomez. Screenwriter: Jim Jarmusch. Language: English. Runtime: 102 minutes. Venue: AMC Newport Mall. Rating: C

Eventually, it had to happen. Sooner or later every director at one point tries to delve into the horror genre and what better way to do it than the zombie flick? Jim Jarmusch isn’t actually a stranger to horror; in 2014 he directed TIlda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as languid lovers lounging in the middle of Detroit, barely alive, observing a world overtaken by zombies (i. e. “humans”). Fast forward five years ahead and Jarmusch returns to the genre in a generic and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny new movie, The Dead Don’t Die (which is also a song performed by Sturgill Simpson), a tepid take on Night of the Living Dead that features a laundry list of everyone who at one or various times worked with Jarmusch, and some social commentary on the woes of society through the staging of the action in small town Centerville. So, instead of two vampire lovers in a world they don’t recognize, we now get two yokely cops (Bill Murray and Adam Driver), with a female thrown in for scream queen moments (Chloe Sevigny), also commenting on a world that seems to have gone to hell without them knowing it.

For the most part, The Dead Don’t Die works even when the entire feature film feels as though Jarmusch left it at the level of sketch other than fully develop it. There are so many characters featured and all seem to demand as much attention as they do in their short screen time, I can’t see how this wasn’t a compendium of shorter sequences in style of Night on Earth tied together by the zombie thread.

First we have Tom Waits scuttling around the forest in full bushman regalia, observing everything happen through a safe vantage point. If anything, an despite not being credited first, he seems to be the true protagonist. Next we have Tilda Swinton in a role that makes her to be the resident eccentric who not only works at a funeral home and applies garish amounts of make up to the recently deceased but also has a penchant for sword fighting and walking in severe right angles wherever she goes. Swinton is clearly in her own movie zone, and later on it becomes clear why in a clever but WTF moment that basically, performs a magic trick and leaves us scratching our heads.

Other characters paint a rather picturesque canvas of small town life: Steve Buscemi as a stand-in for every MAGA supporter you would love to hate; Danny Glover and Caleb Landry Jones as unlikely partners fighting zombies in a video store, and Selena Gomez, Rosie Perez, and a gaggle of others making appearances to either enhance the mood or be sitting ducks for the insanity that is about to happen.

The one thing the undead have in common is that aside from craving human flesh they also have specific interests; the first ones to pop up (played by Iggy Pop and Sara Driver) want coffee, a dead woman (Carol Kane of all people) wants chardonnay, and others cling on to smartphones hopelessly seeking for WiFi. It’s a clever little commentary on society and how undead we have become, addicted to our habits, our pleasures, even our wireless connection. It’s this, it seems, that may be behind Jarmusch’s observation of humanity as a whole planet gone to hell that still deserves a laugh. He even extends his sense of humor in a pivotal moment towards the film’s end that is the movie’s only truly standout scene. It’s so left field that it threatens to stop the picture and morph into something closer to Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles’ climactic sequence.. It’s almost as if he were saying, “Look, don’t take this too seriously. It’s only a momentary lapse into crazy. Wink.” While this does indeed work (I heard several loud guffaws in the audience and I myself did a double take), it’s not quite enough to fill in for the movie’ overall feel of unfinished product. It’s because of this that in the end, The Dead Don’t Die ultimately delivers at a superficial, forgettable level equivalent to a low chuckle and a “Meh.”

THE PERFECTION shape-shifts into a big trashy hot mess

Logan Browning and Alison Williams play the cello and each other in this intriguing mess of a movie.

THE PERFECTION. Country: USA. Director: Richard Shepard. Cast: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber. Screenwriter: Richard Shepard, Eric C. Charmelo, Nicole Snyder. Language: English. Runtime 90 minutes. US Release date: May 24, 2019. Available on Netflix. Rating C–.

Don’t be surprised by the rather serene looking women in the picture above since this is a movie in which both of them will be caught up in plot developments that are heavy on the Giallo (with hints of French Intensity) and, well… downright twisted. Let’s just say that Richard Shepard’s movie, which he also penned, is a piece divided in movements. The introduction starts rather conventional, before moving into what might be an erotic game of sex and professional rivalry before diving headlong into a trippy, DeSadean scenario overblown with grindhouse sensibilities and shrieking visuals. Weak stomachs are advised to stay away and simply rent another movie.

She was a onetime darling of the Bachoff Academy of Music, run by the steely Anton Bachoff (Steven Weber, hamming it up), but Charlotte Willmore’s (Allison Williams) mother fell ill and effectively ended her career aspirations. Years later when Charlotte is asked by Anton to be a judge in selecting Bachoff’s new discovery in Shanghai she travels there, only to meet her younger replacement, Lizzie (Logan Browning, very good here). Their meeting is awkward and stilted, pregnant with feelings of resentment an perhaps even envy, but that smoothly morphs into something unexpected, and soon Lizzie is hitting on Charlotte, hardcore. Needless to say, the both of them wind up in bed after a night of partying.

The following day the pair decide to hit the Chinese countryside via bus. It’s here where Lizzie starts to feel sick. Blaming it on the previous night, she takes some painkillers, but her state rapidly goes from apparently hungover to needing medical assistance, fast. As the bus moves deeper into the Chinese mainland, Lizzie starts to hallucinate. Charlotte frantically asks for help, but no one speaks English, the bus has not a doctor on board, and hospitals are not an option. Shepard develops the rising tension in a confined setting like vise, gripping its two leading actresses until all hell breaks loose and the film teeters on the edge of becoming a pandemic horror movie.

Movies like The Perfection are hard for me to review because so much depends on its twists and turns that all I can do is talk about the set up, which is terrific. What I will say is this: The Perfection is trashy, disturbing camp and Shepard knows it. It is a story that aims to shock you, and shock it succeeds. Aside from the tense bus scene, it does have a couple other clever sequences — the rewind is used more than once to reveal what was concealed, and the final sequence is one of incredible, perverse suspense that is daring and horrible to watch. Suffice to say, this is not a movie that will leave you refreshed, but perhaps a bit sick yourselves. Watch with caution… or not at all.

LATE NIGHT: the hit movie both Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling both needed.

Emma Thompson in Late Night.

LATE NIGHT. Country: USA. Director: Nisha Ganatra. Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan, John Lithgow. Screenwriter: Mindy Kaling. Language: English. Runtime 103 minutes. US Release date: June 7, 2019. Venue: Angelika Film Center, NYC, NY. Rating B.

If taken at face value, the premise of Late Night has been done many times in both film and TV: an idealistic outsider of a highly competitive company gets hired with next to no knowledge of how the agency works. The head of the agency is a terrible human being who has lost the plot on reality and may be on the verge of a replacement with someone younger and more hip. Even so, through grit and determination, the outsider slowly charms his or herself into the horrible boss’ life and career, shows him or her a valuable lesson, and either leaves for bigger and better things or continues on because now he or she has learned the ropes of how things work. Often, there will be some reluctant rapport between the newcomer and the crusty old boss, which will end in an awkward good bye or continue into something bigger and better. And that, in a nutshell, is what Late Night is. By the way I’m painting it, you would think I hate it already, even before the opening credits have rolled.

However, it’s far from the contrary. Late Night might be outrageously predictable but it has a message to convey and an entertaining story to tell, and it’s all due to the presence of Mindy Kaling doing double duty a screenwriter and an underling you want to see succeed because she’s so openly earnest and relatable. Well versed in comedy herself, Kaling’s writing develops harp characters for herself and co-star Emma Thompson who stars as Katherine Newbury. Also, alongside her writing, what seems to be making Late Night such a monster hit is its resemblance to 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, a theme whose essence it closely follows without incurring in theft or being a shameless remake.

The story goes as this: Katherine Newbury is the acidic and abrasive talk show host of “Late Night with Katherine Newbury”, a show that due to failing ratings is set to be axed by the network. Having been accused of sexism within her employ (she does not hire female writers), she impulsively hires a woman — Mindy Kaling’s Molly Patel, a woman who’s never worked comedy writing before but does admire her. She informs her writers that they need to come up with funnier jokes and make her relevant again because she’s not about to retire so soon and leave a life’s work behind. Molly initially fumbles while trying to be of use and her colleagues make it next to impossible for her to have any credibility. You can see where the story is headed, but again, the writing, the story itself, brings so much to the table that you can’t not sit there and watch as if you’d never seen this type of movie before. A crisis of faith and commitment will transpire, and somehow, Katherine and Molly will find common ground, this time in the world of stand-up, a place where Katherine herself had her big break ages ago.

So far, good for the story as it heads towards re-building the brand of Katherine’s humor the way it should be, a plot that practically ensures her stay at the top and as the queen of late night. Now, here is where I’m going to start to throw in some questions. While the entire story hinges around Katherine, what about everyone else? Molly’s personal life seems to revolve only on succeeding as a writer and while I can understand that, a more realistic approach would also bring her own personal interests into play. A tentative romance between Molly and ambitious co-writer Tom Campbell (Reid Scott) doesn’t quite develop in a convincing manner. Half the time he’s putting her down to begin with, and while it is inferred that this may be a form of self-preservation, it just comes across as thinly misguided misogyny.

But perhaps I am asking a bit much of what is basically a well-timed comedy that is exploding into wide release all over the nation and has already recouped its budget of four million. While Late Night is nowhere near grounded in reality, we can see it as Kaling affirming herself as a comedic writer and actress, which she has proven capable enough to be, It has given Emma Thompson a hit picture. Considering how her previous films (where she was the lead) have failed — The Children’s Act barely got a release and went straight to VOD, as did Alone in Berlin. Effie Gray was a total flop. You’d have to go back to 2013 to Saving Mr. Banks to find a movie of Thompson as lead that made money. [Okay, she has been in some hits, but as a minor or supporting character.] Clever of her to approach her role under a Miranda Priestly look, to assure audience identification even when her persona itself would be pretty insufferable. After all, who wouldn’t want to see an ice queen go through the humiliation process only to re-emerge bigger and better than ever? I thought so.

Olivia Wilde smashes it out of the ballpark with her sharply funny BOOKSMART

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, the stars of Olivia Wilde’s excellent coming of age comedy Booksmart.

BOOKSMART. Director: Olivia Wilde. Cast: Kailtyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Billie Lourd, Mason Gooding, Victoria Ruesga, Molly Gordon, Eduardo Franco, Diana Silvers. Screenwriters: Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susana Fogel, Katie Silberman. Language: English. Runtime 105 minutes. US Release date: May 24, 2019. Venue: Regal Battery Park, NYC, NY. Rating A.

The other day I was reading a news item after seeing Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart that the film was apparently, set to fail. I’m not sure how a movie that has grossed three times its budget to make, as of this writing, just about 20 million dollars can be called a failure, but perhaps part of the reason has to do with the fact that this is a movie made by women. And the aftertaste of having digested this information with the movie’s creative spark had me thinking, would critics and everyone else who believes this say the same thing if Booksmart had been directed by, let’s say, Paul Dano? [Nothing against Dano; he’s one of those directors I think we should pay attention to and an even better actor who can equally make me laugh while also feeling creeped out as he did in Swiss Army Man in 2016.]

I’m going to reply to myself with a resounding no. You see, old habits die hard and Hollywood, who in its infancy was teeming with women screenwriters and directors and some actresses even got into producing, still doesn’t seem to get it that women are perfectly capable of delivering entertaining material and still make a killing in the box office.

Olivia Wilde clearly knows her medium and blasts it out of the ballpark with this her debut film, no easy feat considering how many first time directors there are. Her story is close to home to anyone who goes see this movie who had a less than memorable high school. Amy (Kailtyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) have been best friends forever, but their friendship, which also carries a heavy dose of dependency, have branded them as pretentious by their classmates. Added to the equation is that Amy has been out for two years now and has a schoolgirl crush on another girl, Ryan (Victoria Ruesga), while Molly also harbors a crush on popular guy Nick (Mason Gooding).

On the day before graduation, Molly overhears some of her classmates deriding her and decides to confront them, using the fact that she’s scored next to perfect grades that will ensure her future in a prestigious college and they won’t have amounted to anything other than this moment. To her surprise, all of the students also have made it into prestigious colleges, which comes as a blow to her ego. Realizing that all this time she and Amy have been seen as boring (because all they’ve done is study and eschew social gatherings), they come to the realization that they’ve got only one last send off to crash, and it’s the one Nick is throwing. Everyone will be there. However, that turns out to be easier said than done; when you’ve been the outsider for so long and the only reason classmates call or text you is to find out class assignments, chances of you knowing where the party to be will take place are slim to none.

So the girls use all their investigative abilities to find out where the party’s at. Wilde keeps her story going from one disastrous scenario to the next as Amy and Molly edge closer to Nick’s party. The laughs come fast and furious all throughout, from an over the top yacht party they crash, to a murder mystery whodunit, to sitting in s cab driven by their principal who also has an iPad full with porn, to sitting in what may be a serial killer’s car (which bothers them not a bit, since he moonlights as a pizza delivery man and delivered to Nick’s address), to finally, Nick’s party itself, which turns to hold some surprises of its own as practically everyone converges there for a night of debauchery and self-discovery.

If you want to see a smart and sharp comedy that despite its moments of complete WTF insanity loves its leading ladies and wants them to fit in, Olivia Wilde’s comedy is it. Amy and Molly’ friendship seems so lived in it would have been impossible for me to distinguish what was fictitious for what was real. It’s also because of this that the movie’s core — female friendship — remains strong. Booksmart, despite its high school is hell mantra, is rather harmless, good, riotous fun.

In MA, Octavia Spencer tackles the psycho-biddy.

Octavia Spencer, getting angry in Ma.

MA. Country: USA. Director: Tate Taylor. Cast: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, McKaley Miller, Corey Fogelmanis, Giani Paolo, Dante Brown, Tanyell Waivers, Luke Evans, Missi Pyle, Allison Janney. Screenwriter: Scotty Landes. Language: English. Runtime 98 minutes. US Release date: May 28, 2019. Venue: AMC River 21, Chicago, IL. Rating B.

I’m going to say it. The sole reason I went to see Tate Taylor’s new movie was Octavia Spencer. From the second that the trailer hit YouTube (and then endlessly at movie theaters; you just could not get away from it, especially if it was a horror movie), I realized that a) I needed to see it because it looked like a helluva lot of fun, and b) hag-horror and the psycho-biddy seem to be making a comeback of sorts. Anyone who saw Neil Jordan’s Greta will undoubtedly agree with me… and see the similarities between the two.

I also can’t but notice an upswing of horror movies with African-American actors in the lead in the types of roles previously denied by them. Remember when up until recently, in any horror movie, they were the first to die a gruesome death? There is a long list of movies in which that happens. And then came a little movie that became the breakout hit of the year, landed a Best Movie and Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards, and cemented Jordan Peele as a director to pay attention to. That movie? Get Out.

Octavia Spencer herself has stated that she’s never been given a meaty role as a lead in any movie, and having seen many of her films, I have to agree: just recently she nabbed yet another Best Supporting Actress nomination for Guillermo del Toro’s overrated The Shape of Water, in which her character utters sassy lines and sports a lot of attitude, but where she equally has little effect to the plot other than provide a solid foil to Sally Hawkins meek, mute character. Often I think, what if it were the other way around? What if Octavia had been the one who came across, and then bonded, with this odd sea creature, and gone as far as risking her life to shield it from inhuman experiments? Would the movie have worked?

I’m going to have to say that in Hollywood’s mind, which is still entrenched in ideals of beauty, perhaps it would have been a much different film. Hollywood seems content to still place women who aren’t traditional looking in roles where they either suffer nobly or provide some solid support, as long as they don’t actually lead the film. So for Spencer to play against the types of roles she has become known for (and which all have garnered her three Oscar nominations and a win for her first for Tate Taylor’s The Help, I say good for her. She’s clearly having a great time playing the part of Sue Ann, a meek woman who works for a loudmouth veterinarian in small town, Ohio who harbors a terrible secret.

Taylor’s movie doesn’t introduce her right away, though: he gives us some significant time to enter the story proper and it’s through the eyes of do-gooder Maggie (newcomer Diana Silvers, who also has a small but pivotal part in Olivia Wilde’s movie Booksmart, also in theaters). Maggie and her mom (Juliette Lewis, offering some solid support) also live in Ohio due to Maggie’s mom having become divorced and moving back to make ends meet as a waitress at a casino. Maggie faces being the new girl in school, but instead of getting teased by a group of ‘cool kids’ who notice her, they befriend her, and it’s not long before she’s hanging out with them, trying to score some liquor. It is here when they meet Sue Ann, a veterinary technician who on a lark takes pity on the kids and buys them some beer and invites them to come to her place, hang out in the basement, and have some fun. The lone caveat: they must never venture upstairs.

That warning sign — and then another, when one of the boys accidentally crosses the line with Sue Ann, a thing which prompts the first appearance of a gun and her volatile temper which she keeps under wraps at all times — should have sent shivers up their spines and made them turn tail especially when a stranger offers you to shack up at their basement and the house seems a bit run-down. But nope. the kids are anxious to let loose and get drunk, Sue Ann quickly acquiesces, and lets them have their night. Soon enough, Sue Ann experiences a resurgence in popularity among these high school kids, and she is clearly loving it. However, her benevolence hides something a little more insidious. and Maggie, who has noticed that after a night of alcoholic excess in which she passed out she is missing her earrings, begins to mistrust Sue Ann, and keeping a distance.

Maggie is right in doing so. She senses that Sue Ann is a bit off and we can clearly see it. You see, despite Sue Ann enjoying being the center of entertainment and being affectionately called “Ma” by these teens, she’s haunted by the past. It’s this past that starts to gradually resurface. The ball of hatred and resentment that Sue Ann keeps inside of her and under control now veers dangerously close to combustion. Tate Taylor and Scotty Landis take their time to add more and more tension to a situation pregnant with retaliatory violence, so when it does happen, it’s almost a relief. However, it is a shame that for a genre that demands that the story go dark and jump off an abyss, somehow, they chose not to do so. With this kind of movie you sort of expect extremes and even torture porn, but Ma sidesteps it, and leaves you wanting a bit more. However, as I said before, this This often derivative, silly hagsploitation movie works only and exclusively because of Octavia Spencer’s sheer commitment to the genre, bringing equal parts Earth-mother and a victim carrying a deep pain within herself who comes back as an abuser tied up into one sick concoction of a character.

Also, as a side note, Allison Janney, who last year won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her part as Tonya Harding’s abrasive as fuck mom in I, Tonya, shows up for what amounts to maybe three lines of sheer bitchery as the one-note abrasive Doctor Brooks for whom Sue Ann works for. That’s basically it. She does next to nothing other than verbally abuse Sue Ann within an inch of her existence. It’s comedic gold, and a simple illustration of the wheels working with this movie in which Sue Ann is truly a miserable person trapped in a cycle of abuse and no way out but with a much needed cry of revenge.

So now that Ma is off Octavia Spencer’s checklist, I’m hoping that she can command better in lead roles suited for her talent.

A dysfunctional relationship and a woman’s emerging voice is the core of THE SOUVENIR.

THE SOUVENIR, UK / USA. Director: Joanna Hogg. Cast: Honor Swinton-Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton. Screenwriter: Joanna Hogg. Language: English. Runtime 120 minutes. US Release date: May 17, 2019 (limited). Venue: Angelika Film Center, NYC, NY. Rating A +.

Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir is what I call an anti-romance, and an anti-mystery that in its own way propels its lead character into a discovery of herself, even if it comes at a hefty emotional price. This is not your run-of-the-mill romance even though it is dressed to perfection to look that way. Hogg also keeps a certain distance, reducing scenes to their bare essentials, to inflict a sense of observation of events at a near-documentary level without actually being one. That she is able to convey the sheer imbalance of the onscreen relationship and make the heroine, based in her own experience, come through, scars and all, is a true feat of a cinematographer who is able to perform a perfect marriage of knowing the material at hand and being able to convey the essence in a clear, tone-perfect voice.

The story at its basest level is one we have seen many times. Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne in her film debut, who happens to be the daughter of Tilda Swinton, also in the movie as her mother) is a naive young girl who aspires to be a cinematographer in 1980s London. She crosses paths with Anthony (Tom Burke), a dashing young intellectual who has the appearance of a romantic bad boy straight out of Lord Byron’s narratives. Julie can’t help but be taken in by the man, who is seductive, knows the power of words and manipulation, and reels her into a relationship that from the get-go shows all its cracks and warning signs. However, Julie, for reasons only she can recall, instead of saying no and walking out, inches in and receives Anthony with almost abject passivity, as if he was someone she was expecting.

What I found at first somewhat off-putting, then increasingly meaningful, was the way Hogg positioned her scenes, staged from a somewhat distant point of view, as if she herself was an observer through a time capsule and was trying to analyze what was transpiring through the increasingly dysfunctional relationship that is Julie’s and Anthony’s. How else would you look back to your own life and see the mistakes you made? Hogg never questions it, but simply, recreates it and lets Julie and Anthony clash. There is a distinctly lived-in quality to how they interact with one another. One can’t help but notice how close to life it evolves, and that makes for a visceral, uncomfortable viewing. How many of us have seen people who didn’t even look like they truly liked each other but somehow relied on the other for some form of gratification and whispered, “Why are these even together?” How many times have we met that person who was completely off, but we tossed logic out the window in lieu of ‘experience’? Julie does try to eliminate Anthony out of her life after he all but wrecks it and leaves her a mess, but inexplicably, he creeps back in for one last act of damage; when he’s gone, which is not a spoiler by the way — you know there is no other way for this to end but in a ripping of noxious ties — it comes off as a relief. The final shot, where Julie faces us, the audience, is priceless, and shows how much the character, who held a tenuous relation to herself, has finally come home.

Now, at a technical standpoint, Hogg could have trimmed some scenes from the finished product. At two hours and fractured narrative, The Souvenir does run its course and will test the patience of movie lovers. Compounding the lived in, almost lifted by the eyes of French director Eric Rohmer feel, there is a sensation one is watching a story set in the distant past. At no moment did I get a feel of the 1980s when the film transpires. My safe guess is that Hogg’s approach was to establish a timelessness to the entire package and thus cement it in a ground of repetition, where dysfunction happens, and when it does occur, it is almost casual — no flourish, no over the top drama, it just exists, and accrues little by little until the abuse of trust has become normalized. That, perhaps, led me to at first dislike the movie. It’s no wonder it bites, and does so with teeth a bit too sharp for its own good.

In terms of performances, Honor Swinton-Byrne is the early revelation of the year, and while her character often frustrates, she brings forth the evolution of Julie’s arc to its completion. Tom Burke is infuriating as the psychopathic Anthony — there were times I wanted to scream into the camera and drive him away from Julie. That speaks quite a bit of a performance. Tilda… well, shes Tilda. As for the film? It’s striking, confounding, unnerving, unsatisfying, frustrating, cold, observational, but also, a triumph of a diarist’s description of a problematic relationship with only one solution.