InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 11

Create successful ePaper yourself

Turn your PDF publications into a flip-book with our unique Google optimized e-Paper software.



SXSW 2023<br />

I USED TO BE FUNNY <strong>—</strong> 1<br />

THIS CLOSENESS <strong>—</strong> 2<br />

PARACHUTE <strong>—</strong> 3<br />

ANHELL69 <strong>—</strong> 5<br />


SAMARITAN <strong>—</strong> 5<br />

THE ARTIFICE GIRL <strong>—</strong> 7<br />

CITIZEN SLEUTH <strong>—</strong> 8<br />

REVIVAL69 <strong>—</strong> 10<br />

ANOTHER BODY <strong>—</strong> <strong>11</strong><br />

ABERRANCE <strong>—</strong> 13<br />

WAR PONY <strong>—</strong> 14<br />


MOVIE <strong>—</strong> 15<br />

TALK TO ME <strong>—</strong> 15<br />


MERLE HAGGARD <strong>—</strong> 16<br />



THE GODS <strong>—</strong> 19<br />

FULL RIVER RED <strong>—</strong> 20<br />

BOSTON STRANGLER <strong>—</strong> 21<br />

FURIES <strong>—</strong> 23<br />

RODEO <strong>—</strong> 25<br />

MOVING ON <strong>—</strong> 27<br />

MONEY SHOT <strong>—</strong> 28<br />


TONIGHT? <strong>—</strong> 30<br />

RIMINI <strong>—</strong> 30<br />

COUNTRY GOLD <strong>—</strong> 31<br />

SELF-PORTRAIT <strong>—</strong> 31<br />

INSIDE <strong>—</strong> 32<br />

THE ORIGIN OF EVIL <strong>—</strong> 32<br />


MILEY CYRUS <strong>—</strong> 34<br />

YVES TUMOR <strong>—</strong> 36<br />

ONEW <strong>—</strong> 38<br />

March 17, 2023<br />

<strong>Volume</strong> 1, <strong>Issue</strong> <strong>11</strong>

SXSW 2023<br />


Ally Pankiw<br />

An angry young girl runs away, leaving behind an affluent but<br />

troubled home life to throw in her lot with unsupervised older<br />

teenagers and low-level drug dealers. Her former caregiver,<br />

straightjacketed by PTSD, must shake off her mental cloud and<br />

track the girl down, venturing into the criminal underworld to<br />

bring her home so she can be cared for by her family. In that<br />

particular framing, Ally Pankiw’s I Used to Be Funny perhaps<br />

sounds like a Schrader-esque, quasi-reactionary, deep dive into<br />

moral decay. Of course, that’s not really what the film’s about, but<br />

it’s easier to talk about it in those terms than what the film’s<br />

actually attempting to do. That’s because I Used to Be Funny is<br />

about very, very slowly revealing that trauma at the center of its<br />

main characters’ shared pasts <strong>—</strong> an event that inextricably<br />

altered the course of both of their lives, the full nature of which<br />

isn’t revealed until nearly an hour into the film. It would be unfair<br />

to the film, premiering this week as part of SXSW, to give away<br />

what that trauma is, but that speaks to the fundamental problem<br />

with it: there really isn’t much to chew on here other than<br />

navigating the obfuscation. One must wait a small eternity for I<br />

Used to Be Funny to finally come out and simply acknowledge the<br />

thing we’ve been watching its characters endlessly talk past.<br />

Indie it girl Rachel Sennott (Shiva Baby) plays Sam, a<br />

Toronto-based standup comedian and nanny mired in a crippling<br />

depression (she receives mock adulation from her roommates<br />

simply for bathing). We learn from a local news broadcast that<br />

14-year-old Brooke (Olga Petsa), whose family Sam had worked<br />

for two years earlier, has run away from home. Sam had a<br />

fraught confrontation with Brooke only days earlier <strong>—</strong> the teen<br />

showed up at her house, drunk, demanding to be let in <strong>—</strong> which<br />

just adds to her former nanny’s guilt. In spite of this, we watch<br />

Sam attempt to resume a normal life, gravitating toward the local<br />

comedy club she used to perform at and where her network of<br />

comedian friends congregate backstage. At the same time, the<br />

film repeatedly flashes back to years earlier, when Sam first met<br />

Brooke and her family. We learn Brooke’s mother was in the<br />

hospital, battling a chronic illness, leaving the tween especially<br />



moody and disinterested in being saddled with a “babysitter.”<br />

Hired by Brooke’s police officer father, Cameron (former The Daily<br />

Show correspondent, Jason Jones), who is himself not taking his<br />

wife’s sickness especially well, Sam becomes an adjunct member<br />

of the family, practically living out of their enormous house and<br />

eventually serving as a confidant and friend to Brooke.<br />

Regularly jumping between the parallel narrative tracks, we<br />

alternate between Sam, then and now. Old Sam had a supportive<br />

boyfriend, Noah (Ennis Esmer), an ascendant comedy career, and<br />

an almost older-sister-like relationship with Brooke, serving as a<br />

literal shoulder to cry on in the wake of her mother’s eventual<br />

passing. Present-day Sam is practically a ghost haunting her own<br />

life; incapable of performing on stage and isolated, having<br />

pushed away Noah and tensing up at the mere mention of his<br />

name. This hazily defined, traumatic life event casts a long<br />

shadow over Sam as well as the film itself. Characters make<br />

snarky allusions to Sam being desperate for attention or being<br />

subject to online trolling campaigns. Her roommates (Sabrina<br />

Jalees and Caleb Hearon) try to maintain a positive attitude but<br />

Sam’s inability to pay rent or even stomach houseguests is<br />

clearly a hardship for them.<br />

“The fundamental problem<br />

with [the film is] there really<br />

isn’t much to chew on here<br />

other than navigating the<br />

obfuscation.<br />

And then there’s Brooke, who long before she ran away from<br />

home had soured on Sam, weaponizing the Internet as only a<br />

teenage girl can to make her life miserable. Crumb by crumb, the<br />

film fills in exactly what happened between Sam and Brooke<br />

(although most attentive viewers will be far ahead of the film and<br />

its miserly dispensing of exposition) and why they’re no longer<br />

on speaking terms. But at some point along the way, I Used to Be<br />

Funny stops giving us a reason to care about Sam or the<br />

explanation for her depression, and it becomes an exercise in<br />

hiding the football for as long as humanly possible. The film is so<br />

determined to keep us at arm’s length about the vague nature of<br />

Sam’s trauma <strong>—</strong> it’s even unclear for much of the runtime<br />

whether Sam was the perpetrator or victim of the very bad thing<br />

<strong>—</strong> that we’re simply left to infer motive behind her sullen<br />

behavior. And “why won’t Sam get out of bed or wash her hair?”<br />

just isn’t enough to sustain a feature film.<br />

By the time all the pieces have fallen into place and the audience<br />

is up to speed, the film is already in its homestretch and the<br />

search for Brooke becomes little more than a hasty formality (it<br />

turns out the girl isn’t as hard to find as the local news media<br />

would have us believe). The film emphasizes the wrong things,<br />

teasing out “what happened that night?” when the more<br />

constructive question would have been “...and knowing that, how<br />

did that change everything?” Pankiw may believe she’s saying<br />

something about trauma and the corrosive effect it has on a<br />

happy, successful, and semi-public young woman, but in treating<br />

the event itself like a game of twenty questions, it reduces it to a<br />

storytelling gimmick <strong>—</strong> a manipulative means of introducing<br />

tension and imposing an ad hoc structure upon the film by<br />

treating the misery of its characters as an almost tawdry<br />

mystery, with misdirection and red herrings aplenty. Like a house<br />

of cards built upside down, it contains all the necessary elements<br />

to succeed, but the manner in which it is constructed is<br />

self-defeating. <strong>—</strong> ANDREW DIGNAN<br />


Kit Zauhar<br />

In contrast with the high-profile and ostentatious trappings of<br />

Everything Everywhere All At Once, which enmeshed the<br />

idiosyncrasies of genre with patent identity politics, Kit Zauhar’s<br />

survey of contemporary millennial society takes place within the<br />

microcosms of locale, character, and affect. Her first feature, the<br />

caustic but self-reflexive Actual People, was a study of<br />

disconnected youth struggling to both fulfill and reject the<br />

cultural labels imposed upon them, following a soon-graduating<br />

philosophy senior around the last weeks of college life as she<br />

flitted in and out of ennui and desperation, and toward the<br />

banality of the working world. Actual People resonated with its<br />

audience in part because they saw themselves in the somewhat<br />

amorphous character of Riley <strong>—</strong> played by Zauhar herself <strong>—</strong><br />

whose professional and personal anxieties were unwoven to an<br />

almost cringeworthy, but hardly reductive, extent. The question<br />

of racial identity undergirding the film, in addition, posed at the<br />

1 2

SXSW 2023<br />

very least some thoughtful questions pertaining to lived, ongoing<br />

circumstances: Riley, as an Asian American, seems to order her<br />

dating preferences around this essentialist attribute, and her<br />

pursuit (with mixed results) of a career not typically grounded in<br />

job security or financial stability runs counter to the stereotyped<br />

traditionalism of her family.<br />

This Closeness, Zauhar’s follow-up to Actual People, retains much<br />

of this resonance but refines it for a slightly more ambitious<br />

crowd of three. Tessa (Zauhar) and her boyfriend Ben (Zane Pais)<br />

rent an apartment room in Philadelphia, where they’ve gone for<br />

the latter’s high school reunion; but their co-tenant is Adam (Ian<br />

Edlund), a long-term inhabitant by the looks of it, and an oddball,<br />

weirdo, incel, sociopath <strong>—</strong> whatever’s quick to roll off the tongue.<br />

Quickly, the tension notches up among the three; multiple<br />

tensions in fact, as romantic distrust thaws unresolved<br />

insecurities and overt hostility awakens performative sexual<br />

crisis. Tessa and Ben are otherwise intimate, but the arrival of<br />

Ben’s high school crush over beers provokes jealousy and<br />

instigates the use of defensive and poisonous rhetoric in<br />

response. Adam’s intermittent presence, similarly, colors the<br />

politics of cohabitation, as an outsider from within threatening to<br />

displace the unchallenged but inherently unstable notion of<br />

masculine self-confidence.<br />

Zauhar, like before, doesn’t shy away from portraying her<br />

characters as stereotypes in some way <strong>—</strong> Adam’s indeed a bit of<br />

a recluse, with a menacing demeanor to boot, while Ben is<br />

nothing short of a mellowed-down, frat-boy douchebag <strong>—</strong> but this<br />

doesn’t detract from the film’s merits. If anything, she makes a<br />

point with this stereotyping, that within the generality of the<br />

Airbnb apartment lie conceivable and relatable specifics which<br />

articulate our prevalent culture of individualism commingling<br />

with helpless suspicion. Despite the apparent candor all three<br />

individuals display at some point with one another, there persists<br />

a breakdown in communication, frustrating desire, resentment,<br />

reconciliation, or some coordination among them. To pigeonhole<br />

this languid pessimism as yet another instance of American indie<br />

mumblecore wouldn’t be inaccurate, but it also glosses over the<br />

hermetic framing carefully employed here, a composition meant<br />

to reflect the very ironies of pigeonholing and typification. That<br />

all three adults work in some area of communication (ASMR,<br />

journalism, video games) further ironizes,<br />

without necessarily wallowing in, their lackluster situation. The<br />

funny thing about isolation, which This Closeness skilfully<br />

realizes, is that the furthest distances are sometimes felt within<br />

the confines of four walls. <strong>—</strong> MORRIS YANG<br />


Brittany Snow<br />

At first blush (and the next few, for that matter), actress Brittany<br />

Snow’s directorial debut, Parachute, which premiered in the<br />

Narrative Feature Competition at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival,<br />

seems lab-created for a certain other, Park City-set fest. It’s a<br />

drama cut through with some messy romance and a twinge of<br />

darkness, is peppered with recognizable Hollywood faces in<br />

mostly thankless supporting roles, trades in the subject matter of<br />

mental health, and is goosed by plenty of screenplay quirks (Kid<br />

Cudi shows up to sing karaoke and wear a series of<br />

dad-approved button-ups; cinema’s greatest cheat code Dave<br />

Bautista runs a muder-mystery dinner theater; the adult<br />

romantic leads almost immediately build a blanket fort). Then<br />

there’s the plot: Riley (Courtney Eaton) and Ethan (Thomas Mann)<br />

meet under less than ideal circumstances. He has just gotten out<br />

of jail after a night of drunken tomfoolery that involved a flaming<br />

bottle of Fireball and broken up with his girlfriend; she has just<br />

been discharged from rehab for reasons she initially remains<br />

vague about <strong>—</strong> but which we later learn is a cocktail of body<br />

dysmorphia, an eating disorder, fear of abandonment, and an<br />

obsessive personality, which the official synopsis refers to as<br />

love addiction <strong>—</strong> and has committed to a year of singledom.<br />

Despite the shambled nature of their meet cute, however, they<br />

immediately click. But soon Riley’s interior tempest returns, and<br />

their relationship (sort of platonic in its sexlessness, but mostly<br />

not) begins to deteriorate.<br />

If that all sounds fairly gauche in description, the experience of<br />

Parachute never dips below innocuous in even its worst moments<br />

<strong>—</strong> mostly when Snow and co-writer Becca Gleason invoke the<br />

indie film template for filler and temporarily disavow nuance,<br />

such as when Riley’s rich, unempathetic mother shows up to<br />

castigate her daughter’s lifestyle, deny her very real mental<br />

health struggles, and bandy a few passive-aggresions about her<br />

(very healthy) weight. The script then asks Ethan to verbally<br />

indict the bad parenting and lingering trauma it caused,<br />



ill- advisedly even suggesting a possible origin for Riley’s<br />

pathology. Plenty of these sins are covered, however, thanks to<br />

Eaton’s anchoring, viscerally pained turn (which won SXSW’s<br />

Special Jury Award for performance). She is both physically and<br />

emotionally raw in Parachute, often occupying the space where<br />

intimacy bleeds into obsession, and equally as adept at<br />

communicating Riley’s cracked-glass fragility as she is at<br />

channeling the character’s anguish and self-loathing into vitriolic<br />

lashing-outs. Eaton understands how tenderness is flayed from<br />

this young woman in even seemingly run-of-the-mill interactions,<br />

and the emotional disintegration becomes palpably more brutal<br />

as the film moves forward.<br />

Snow deserves much of the credit for the film’s successes as<br />

well. As a director, she doesn’t bring much formal swagger to the<br />

table <strong>—</strong> inserting a few indie rock-set photo montages as<br />

interstitial fodder is about as flexing as the movie gets visually <strong>—</strong><br />

but she does imbue the proceedings with a level of specificity<br />

that enriches the material. Snow has been open about her own<br />

past with an eating disorder and mental health struggles, and<br />

that experience comes through: Riley’s fidgety, anxiety-induced<br />

physical tells; the thought patterns and compulsive behaviors<br />

she dips in and out of; the infrastructure and shifting dynamics<br />

of recovery support <strong>—</strong> these details speak to Parachute’s<br />

distinctly personal construction.<br />

But there’s still the problem of narrative shape. So many, even<br />

most, films dealing with recovery storylines rely on the art of<br />

de-glamming and stick to the reliably dramatic beats, forgoing<br />

the unsexy process of incremental progress. These films usually<br />

trace the same arc: a character starts low, sees improvement,<br />

crashes to an all-time low, and then signs things off with a weary<br />

smile that signals acceptance and the promise that things will<br />

eventually be okay. It’s understandable: that’s both more<br />

cinematic and provides substance for story, but it can also often<br />

result in the impression that viewers are being asked to gawk, to<br />

exoticize the pain of others. Parachute never deviates from that<br />

frustratingly pat approach, but Snow at least finds balance to<br />

this essential artifice in the intimate texturing she brings to<br />

Parachute’s more familiar parts. She also understands the<br />

importance of picking the right song to soundtrack a film’s<br />

emotional climax, here savvily choosing Broken Social Scene’s<br />

“Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl,” its warped, haunting<br />

falsetto, underlying melancholy, and droning lyrical repetition<br />

making for a fitting thematic punctuation for Riley’s experience.<br />

For all these strengths, Parachute remains an undeniably flawed<br />

and limited film, but it’s also one that effectively articulates the<br />

immense feeling that was poured into it, which is a rare find in<br />


SXSW 2023<br />

the prevailingly soul-dead cinematic realm of shallow reboot and<br />

recycle. <strong>—</strong> LUKE GORHAM<br />

ANHELL69<br />

Theo Montoya<br />

There have been a number of meta-cinematic works over the<br />

years that detail the plans for a film that a maker had in mind,<br />

but was unable to complete for one reason or another. But<br />

Anhell69, by Colombian director Theo Montoya, is quite different<br />

from other such experiments in failure. That’s because Anhell69<br />

is a brutal examination of cinema as a kind of makeshift<br />

memorial, and how the present moment is everything when life<br />

itself becomes unfeasible. This is a story of fragile existence<br />

focused on the queer community in Medellín, a city ravaged by<br />

authoritarianism, narco wars, and relentless homophobia.<br />

In the beginning, Montoya planned to assemble some young men<br />

and women from the drag scene in order to produce a<br />

low-budget allegorical fiction, involving the coexistence of the<br />

living and the dead in the streets of Medellín. As ghosts<br />

accumulate in the city, a group of outcasts begin having sex with<br />

ghosts, an act that is perceived as a threat to the natural order.<br />

These “spectrophiliacs” become the target of death squads,<br />

which of course only adds to the crisis. Whereas death is<br />

supposed to be a terminus, Montoya conjures a world in which it<br />

is merely a new state of being, a way for Colombians to reconcile<br />

their inability to project themselves into the future.<br />

Montoya begins with a series of casting calls, which show him<br />

interviewing various street kids about their lives, and the one<br />

constant is that none of them believe they have a future of any<br />

kind. This proves entirely too true, as two of the prospective<br />

actors die before Montoya can even begin the film. This results in<br />

a pivot into a different project, a mournful essay film about the<br />

precariousness of life in a nation that seems all too willing to<br />

forsake its gender-nonconforming children to violence and drug<br />

abuse.<br />

Anhell69 takes its title from the Instagram handle of a young<br />

man, Camilo Najar, who Montoya wanted to be his star. After he<br />

dies suddenly, the film becomes a concerted effort to document<br />

a milieu under siege, an attempt to create a material record of<br />

brief lives that the dominant society is all too eager to forget.<br />

From its ominous drone shots over Medellín to the pleasures of<br />

the city’s queer nightlife, Anhell69 conveys the stark contrast<br />

between freedom and fascism in contemporary Colombia.<br />

But as the film makes clear, death is ever-present. Montoya and<br />

his cast conclude their journey in the cemetery, honoring the<br />

deceased while squaring off against their own looming demise.<br />

As a rhythmic motif, Montoya continually cuts to a hearse driving<br />

at night, with the director himself serving as the man in the<br />

casket. With Anhell69, Montoya has constructed an indelible, at<br />

times shattering portrait of a collection of lovers and fighters<br />

who have embraced hedonistic nihilism, just in order to find a<br />

place to exist. <strong>—</strong> MICHAEL SICINSKI<br />


Penny Lane<br />

In 2019, the documentary filmmaker Penny Lane donated one of<br />

her kidneys as part of an altruistic donor program, meaning the<br />

organ would be given to an individual that Lane didn’t know and<br />

would likely never meet. Her motives for doing so are outwardly<br />

uncomplicated; essentially, she’s healthy, recipients are in<br />

desperate need, and, ultimately, “why not?” In making herself the<br />

subject of her latest film, Confessions of a Good Samaritan,<br />

chronicling the years-in-the-making decision as well as the<br />

battery of physical and psychological tests leading up to the<br />

operation and the recovery period afterwards, the filmmaker<br />

places herself under her own microscope in trying to understand<br />

the very nature of empathy, approaching the subject on both a<br />

micro and macro level. What kind of person willingly hands over<br />

part of their body to someone in need, why isn’t this a more<br />



common practice, and how is one supposed to feel in the<br />

aftermath of such an act of generosity?<br />

Being interviewed mere days before her operation, Lane presents<br />

herself as sanguine while fending off anxieties about<br />

undertaking elective surgery. Single and childless <strong>—</strong> the glimpses<br />

of Lane’s homelife primarily involve her feeding her cat <strong>—</strong> the<br />

director lacks many of the external factors that often prevent<br />

people from donating their kidney to a stranger <strong>—</strong> we hear<br />

several anecdotes from people saying their spouses would<br />

threaten to divorce them or stop talking to them altogether<br />

should they go through with their donations <strong>—</strong> but Samaritan<br />

never quite addresses whether the act itself is providing<br />

something she’s otherwise lacking in her personal life. The film<br />

nibbles around the idea of deriving self-worth and personal<br />

satisfaction from such a benevolent act, but it largely plays the<br />

subject matter straight down the middle: devoting the majority of<br />

its runtime to exploring the semi-recent history of organ<br />

transplants <strong>—</strong> for example, we learn the procedure was initially<br />

limited to identical twins, the only people whose bodies wouldn’t<br />

reject the foreign tissue <strong>—</strong> while also attempting to find a<br />

scientific explanation for why some people are more inclined to<br />

respond to other people’s fears with empathy. At the same time,<br />

the film presents a segment of the donor community who argue<br />

that, facing a shortage of willing donors, society should cross the<br />

rubicon of paying organ donors, long illegal in the U.S. and<br />

morally frowned upon, yet a potentially transformative act for<br />

both a recipient and impoverished donor.<br />

Lane’s previous documentaries are known for taking a<br />

particularly askew approach to incendiary subject matters,<br />

including presenting a sympathetic view of the religious<br />

organization/First Amendment concern troll organization the<br />

Satanic Temple, and, even more inflammatory, critical punching<br />

bag and smooth jazz musician Kenny G. But the filmmaker’s body<br />

of work is arguably working against her here, creating<br />

expectations that the film will present some sort of<br />

counterintuitive thesis for the viewer to consider when much of<br />

the film plays like an earnest act of advocacy, all but urging<br />

people to consider altruistic donation themselves (it stops short<br />

of throwing up the website for the national donor registry in the<br />

end credits). Confessions introduces talking heads, ostensibly to<br />

argue the ethics for and against altruistic donations, but there is<br />

no particularly strong argument against it. Even with one of the<br />

medical experts making the less than comforting claim that<br />

there’s a 1 in 1,000 chance of the donor dying during surgery,<br />

that's still being weighed against the perpetual agony of dialysis<br />

patients. Further, in cherry-picking its interview subjects (they<br />

1 6

SXSW 2023<br />

all but glow in describing how the experience of donating made<br />

them feel), the film comes awfully close to evangelizing about its<br />

subject, reserving any nagging doubts to those occasionally<br />

vocalized by the filmmaker herself.<br />

To that end, the film is far more notable as a window into Lane’s<br />

vulnerability. For example, her consternation over not having a<br />

will (who will take care of her cat?) or having an emergency<br />

contact she feels strongly about, even confessing to making up<br />

names and phone numbers for the hospital forms. Demonstrating<br />

an admirable lack of vanity, Lane allows herself to be filmed in<br />

the immediate aftermath of surgery, calling attention to the<br />

puffiness of her face, sharing the assorted rashes and<br />

unglamorous ailments she suffered in the immediate aftermath<br />

and showing off her incision scar which dips below her bikini<br />

line. Even more revealing are the more recent interviews where<br />

<strong>—</strong> in addition to candidly admitting that she’s gained weight since<br />

filming began and that it bothers her <strong>—</strong> Lane wrestles with her<br />

own depression and uncertainty; essentially, why doesn’t she feel<br />

“better” or more fulfilled by having gone through this process?<br />

Having committed one of the most selfless acts imaginable, Lane<br />

sheepishly confronts her earlier self’s flippancy as well as the<br />

disappointment that she still doesn’t like herself more, which the<br />

filmmaker acknowledges wasn’t the point of donating a kidney<br />

but “it would have been nice to be surprised by it.” It’s a<br />

remarkably candid and complicated revelation and one wishes<br />

the film had gone even further in giving voice to that<br />

perspective. Sometimes the most altruistic acts are the ones<br />

that don’t also come with a measurable increase of the warm and<br />

fuzzies. <strong>—</strong> ANDREW DIGNAN<br />


Franklin Ritch<br />

Sci-fi books and movies have been enamored with the<br />

remarkable possibilities of, and dangerous risks inherent to,<br />

artificial intelligence for almost as long as the genre has been<br />

around. HAL needs no introduction, of course, nor does Skynet,<br />

and Donald Cammell’s underrated Demon Seed is almost 50 years<br />

old now. But Franklin Ritch’s The Artifice Girl is arriving right on<br />

the cusp of a new found fascination with the subject, as ChatGPT<br />

and AI art have taken the world by storm. Think pieces both for<br />

and against are strewn about all over social media, with tech<br />

companies touting endless applications that may or may not ever<br />

come to fruition. Could this ultimately all be to the betterment of<br />

the human race? Or is it just another venture capitalist-funded<br />

shell game? We don’t know yet, but The Artifice Girl suggests<br />

some new potentialities to fret over.<br />

Ritch’s film approaches this complicated subject with a certain<br />

ambivalence, concocting a low-budget, extremely lo-fi chamber<br />

piece that centers around philosophical questions of ethics and<br />

morality, and whether or not these things apply to a fully artificial<br />

intelligence that just happens to look and sound like us. Divided<br />

into three discrete chapters, plus a brief prologue, each part of<br />

the film takes place in one location, with mostly the same cast,<br />

but spread out over the present, then the near future, and finally<br />

decades later. Chapter one introduces Gareth (played here and in<br />

chapter two by the director himself) as he interviews for what he<br />

thinks is a grant proposal. But he’s actually been targeted by two<br />

federal agents who think he’s a pedophile. Deena Helms (Sinda<br />

Nichols) is the hard-hitting, take-no-shit bad cop to Amos<br />

McCullough’s (David Girard) slightly kinder good cop. The two<br />

bombard Gareth with questions, the rat-ta-tat of the<br />

interrogation wearing him down until he admits the truth <strong>—</strong> he’s<br />

not a pedophile, but is instead frequenting chat sites under an<br />

alias to lure actual predators into admitting their crimes. Amos is<br />

impressed, but Deena remains unconvinced. There’s no way<br />

criminals would reveal so much about themselves to a man, even<br />

online.<br />

Finally, Gareth drops a bomb <strong>—</strong> he gets his information by using a<br />

proprietary AI program that he designed that looks and sounds<br />

like a little girl. Gareth has named it Cherry (first voiced by, then<br />

portrayed by, Tatum Matthews), compiling information about<br />



suspects and then reporting them to the feds. Gareth is a<br />

cyberspace vigilante, forging ahead where officially sanctioned<br />

authorities can’t go. Amos and Deena are stunned, not only at<br />

how realistic Cherry looks, but how she’s able to imitate real<br />

human conversation and react in real time to different kinds of<br />

questions. Chapter one ends with the trio agreeing to join forces,<br />

embarking on a “technological solution to a technological<br />

problem,” as Gareth puts it. Chapter two, then, begins some years<br />

later, the principal players visibly aged and arguing over whether<br />

or not to take Cherry and their operation to the next level. To<br />

reveal more of the plot here would be a disservice; there’s not<br />

exactly twists, but Ritch’s screenplay is carefully designed to<br />

gradually grow and expand as more of Cherry’s abilities are<br />

revealed. There’s just enough jargon peppered throughout to<br />

make things sound authoritative, but Ritch’s real talent lies in his<br />

ability to raise the dramatic stakes with such limited means. We<br />

get tidbits of backstory for each character, including important<br />

motivating factors for Gareth and Deena, but exposition is<br />

otherwise kept to a minimum. Instead, character is conveyed<br />

entirely through actions, as Amos grows increasingly weary of<br />

the others and seems to sense that Cherry is more evolved, more<br />

human, than it’s (she’s?) letting on.<br />

It’s almost a shame that Ritch has to end his film, as the third and<br />

final chapter has to attempt to answer many of the questions<br />

raised in parts one and two. It’s a quieter, more solemn stretch,<br />

with a lovely turn from Lance Henriksen as he embarks on one<br />

final conversation with Cherry. At the heart of the matter is not<br />

only self-awareness, but emotions; if a computer program can<br />

learn to affect human emotions by imitating them, at what point<br />

does the line blur and the emotions become real? Ritch seems to<br />

have his mind made up, although some viewers might not be so<br />

convinced. Still, wherever one lands on such profound questions,<br />

The Artifice Girl is a very welcome addition to the no-budget sci-fi<br />

canon. It doesn’t take millions of dollars and tons of CGI to make<br />

a genre movie, just a screenplay as good as this one. <strong>—</strong> DANIEL<br />

GORMAN<br />


Chris Kasick<br />

Society has always had something of a morbid curiosity with true<br />

crime. From Jack the Ripper and In Cold Blood to the<br />

near-constant stream of new Netflix docuseries on the killer of<br />

the week, it’s clear that we really love learning about and<br />

delighting in the grisly details of murder. Since the 2014 release<br />

of Serial, podcasts have been feeding the flames of that<br />

obsession. Just take a look at the most downloaded podcasts on<br />

Apple or Spotify, and you’ll see titles like Crime Junkie, My Favorite<br />

Murder, and Morbid: A True Crime Podcast <strong>—</strong> and that’s just in the<br />

top ten. This surge in popularity has in turn triggered multiple<br />

studies into how the constant barrage of true crime content<br />

affects our psyches. Some blame the 24-hour news cycle, while<br />

others claim its consumption actually has an evolutionary<br />

benefit. All of this to say, it doesn’t matter much what your<br />

personal interest level is in hearing about Alex Murdaugh or<br />

watching the latest Making a Murderer rip-off <strong>—</strong> true crime is<br />

inescapable.<br />

It’s unsurprising then that a documentary like Citizen Sleuth is<br />

premiering at SXSW, a festival that itself features a lineup of<br />

podcasts, because it’s a film about a podcast about a murder.<br />

Emily Nestor is the host of Mile Marker 181, a show that<br />

investigates the death of Jaleayah Davis, a woman who was<br />

killed in Nestor’s hometown of Parkersburg, West Virginia in 20<strong>11</strong>.<br />

“Murder, or a freak accident? Cover-up, or just rumors?” reads<br />

the description of the podcast, which debuted in 2018. Jaleayah<br />

was found dead after having been struck by her own car.<br />

Reported as a tragic accident, Jaleayah’s mom and others in the<br />

community believe there was foul play. Authorities found<br />

Jaleayah’s car just down the road, her clothes neatly folded over<br />

the guardrail, and the other people involved in the accident<br />

happened to be the son of a former police officer and the<br />

granddaughter of a former sheriff.<br />

Director Chris Kasick began following Nestor early on in the<br />

podcast’s life. The documentary’s opening scenes show her<br />

explaining her homemade studio (i.e. a small padded box she<br />

puts around her microphone to deaden the sound) and<br />

contacting potential sources for interviews. She’s palpably fired<br />

up; it’s clear she truly believes there is more to the story of<br />

Jaleayah’s death, and she’s determined to find it. She’s also a<br />

certifiable true crime freak, to the point that we watch her get a<br />

tattoo of the phrase on her calf. As the film continues, Nestor’s<br />

podcast gains traction: she eventually attends CrimeCon, where<br />

she connects with Fox News’ true crime pundit, Nancy Grace; she<br />

1 8

SXSW 2023<br />

sells Mile Marker 181 merch; she hosts events at local libraries<br />

where people profess their love for her work.<br />

The turning point in the film comes when Nestor visits a psychic<br />

who, in addition to a lot of talk about angels, tells her, “The<br />

career you choose is supposed to benefit others, but your<br />

talkativeness is gonna bring you harm. Use it to your advantage.<br />

Remember this, Emily, your words have power. You’re like a<br />

vehicle. They can go forward, backward, or run amok. Watch<br />

what you recycle.” At this point, Nestor’s belief has clearly<br />

crumbled, and her inexperience and naivete become obvious.<br />

Also around this time, Jaleayah’s mom starts to disentangle<br />

herself from Nestor, and even shows support for a Change.org<br />

petition for Nestor to end the podcast. Nestor confesses that she<br />

hasn’t talked to key people involved in the case, including the<br />

others in the car on the night of Jaleayah’s death. Kasick,<br />

however, does interview those individuals, all of whom agree that<br />

the entire premise of Nestor’s podcast is flawed and that she<br />

shouldn’t continue. Nestor eventually, reluctantly, makes the<br />

decision to end the podcast, and has since taken all episodes<br />

offline. She even gets her beloved true crime tattoo removed.<br />

Were it not for its aesthetically familiar documentary style,<br />

Citizen Sleuth could be mistaken for a feature film. Kasick has<br />

taken four years of footage and crafted an engaging emotional<br />

arc, following Nestor from innocent investigator to exploitative<br />

fraud and back again. The documentary is even structured as<br />

something of a whodunnit; even if you come to this already<br />

aware of the outcome, following all of the switchbacks still<br />

proves intriguing enough. Kasick keeps things moving along, and<br />

at a tightly-packaged 81 minutes, the film never lulls or risks<br />

feeling lazy; every scene, every interview, every question has a<br />

clear purpose. But building suspense is rarely a challenge for this<br />

kind of product. What should be a bigger concern for a film like<br />

this is how to translate a podcast-oriented narrative to a visual<br />

medium, and this indeed proves to be a struggle for Citizen<br />

Sleuth. Images rarely feel necessary here, and, somewhat<br />

ironically, it wouldn’t be unfair to argue that this would be just as<br />

effective as a podcast. Still, what ultimately matters most about<br />

Citizen Sleuth is its essential question: where exactly is the line<br />

between reportage and entertainment, and what are the ethical<br />

quandaries of straddling that line? Kasick’s film may not offer a<br />

complete answer, but as the space between true crime media<br />

and conspiracy theory continues to shrink and blur, it’s a<br />

question that more people should be asking before they tune in<br />

to the latest episode. <strong>—</strong> EMILY DUGRANRUT<br />



REVIVAL69<br />

Ron Chapman<br />

In the summer of 1969, thousands of music fans gathered for a<br />

once-in-a-lifetime show that would change the course of rock<br />

history. Bona fide legends delivered electric performances to<br />

critical acclaim. Then-unknown artists were catapulted to the<br />

spotlight overnight. A spontaneous all-star supergroup gave their<br />

first live show, ending the career of another band in the process.<br />

A biker gang provided security detail. A chicken met an untimely<br />

death. It was all captured on film, aside from one stubborn<br />

iconoclast who refused the camera’s eye. No, this wasn’t<br />

Woodstock. And it certainly wasn’t Altamont. It was the Toronto<br />

Rock and Roll Revival. And odds are, you’ve never even heard of<br />

it.<br />

Directed by Ron Chapman, Revival69: The Concert that Rocked the<br />

World is an engrossing, enlightening, and even funny<br />

documentary shining a light on this forgotten moment in rock<br />

history. Similar in spirit to 2021’s fantastic Summer of Soul, which<br />

finally gave the Harlem Cultural Festival its due, Chapman’s film<br />

succeeds in bringing out the Toronto Revival from the shadow of<br />

Woodstock and sands of time.<br />

Following a chronological timeline, Revival69 takes us through<br />

the story of how this historical event grew from its seed as a<br />

humble idea to the massive event it became, thanks to the work<br />

of a scrappy but dedicated (and well-connected) team. At its<br />

helm was 22-year-old newbie promoter John Brower. Fresh off<br />

the success of organizing Toronto’s first pop festival in 1969,<br />

Brower was hungry for more, and the idea for the Toronto Revival<br />

was born as a way to pay homage to the icons of the ‘50s who<br />

pioneered rock and roll. Brower’s team secured Chuck Berry,<br />

Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley for the festival,<br />

and booked Varsity Stadium as the venue. How it all came<br />

together couldn’t be more foreign to the way festivals are<br />

organized in the 21st century, an era dominated by corporate<br />

interests like AEG and Live Nation. “In the 60s, it wasn’t the music<br />

business, it was the music,” Shep Gordon, legendary manager of<br />

Alice Cooper, states in the film. That this show even happened is<br />

impressive in the first place, but it wouldn’t have mattered if the<br />

performances didn’t live up to the hype.<br />

Revival69 is anchored in a tangible tension from the start.<br />

Specifically, can they pull this off? While core to the concert’s<br />

ethos, ‘50s rock and roll acts weren’t exactly in vogue at the time.<br />

In need of a contemporary act to attract a younger crowd, The<br />

Doors were named as headliners <strong>—</strong> costing organizers a pretty<br />

penny. Yet even this wasn’t enough to manufacture the hype<br />

needed to fill 20,000 seats. With ticket sales stuck at 2,000 just a<br />

week before the show, and with the event on the verge of<br />

cancellation, a true sensation needed to be booked. The answer:<br />

John Lennon. Thanks to a lucky connection at The Beatles’ Apple<br />

Corps HQ, organizers sold John and Yoko on the idea of honoring<br />

Lennon’s longtime hero Chuck Berry. Arriving at the peak of John<br />

and Yoko’s famous Bed-In for Peace, and also at a peak of his<br />

heroin abuse and depression, Lennon was excited about the idea<br />

of returning to the stage without the band that brought him to<br />

fame. He assembled a supergroup consisting of Yoko Ono, Eric<br />

Clapton, Klaus Voormann (bassist, artist, and friend of The<br />

Beatles), and future Yes drummer Alan White. This would be the<br />

debut of The Plastic Ono Band, mark a new chapter in the lives of<br />

John and Yoko, and hopefully prove to Lennon that a career was<br />

possible for him outside The Beatles. Seeming almost too good to<br />

be true, the press didn’t believe it would happen, and even the<br />

morning of, Lennon told organizers he wouldn’t play, before being<br />

pushed back into it by Eric Clapton. As it was, the gamble paid<br />

off.<br />

And it pays off for the film, as well. Given the mystery<br />

surrounding the festival, most viewers won’t know if or to what<br />

extent it will all work out in the end, and observing how it all<br />

came together is a thrilling part of the ride. Fittingly, then, where<br />

the film truly shines is in the festival footage Chapman has<br />

assembled. Much like Summer of Soul, it’s thrilling to be able to<br />

see these stage icons in living color. Shot by a team led by the<br />

late, great D.A. Pennebaker, not only was the concert itself<br />

1 10

SXSW 2023<br />

filmed, but we’re treated to incredible footage of its setup,<br />

backstage, crowd, and the surreal motorcycle caravan that<br />

escorted John and Yoko from the airport to the field (one of the<br />

film’s best sequences). This isn’t exactly a by-the-book concert<br />

documentary <strong>—</strong> we don’t get full performances from any artist <strong>—</strong><br />

but it still manages to convey a palpable energy from each<br />

performance. The film is also chock full of endless amazing rock<br />

anecdotes: from the birth of Alice Cooper and his unhinged<br />

on-stage antics, to the undeniably weird yet forward-thinking<br />

avant-garde of Yoko Ono, to the crowd raising a sea of lighters to<br />

welcome Lennon to the stage (now a time honored practice at<br />

every concert ever). Yet it’s Chuck Berry’s performance that<br />

proves to be the film’s standout sequence. Backed by a group of<br />

teen musicians he’d never played with before, Berry overflows<br />

with joy and charisma. And there’s something so pure and bygone<br />

about his performance that it’s simply a marvel to see on screen.<br />

The wealth of talent interviewed for the film offer great insight<br />

into the significance of the day <strong>—</strong> as well as lend it more humor<br />

than expected. Two particular highlights are Edjo Leslie, a<br />

rough-riding heartwarming Santa Claus and founder of the<br />

Vagabonds Motorcycle Club who provided security detail and<br />

funds for the show, and Rush’s Geddy Lee, who was in attendance<br />

that day and apparently tripping balls. The only two living artists<br />

not featured are Yoko Ono (who declined to appear) and Eric<br />

Clapton (who never responded to the filmmakers’ requests). Both<br />

polarizing figures, Clapton’s presence isn’t particularly missed,<br />

yet Ono’s would have added an extra dimension to the story given<br />

her complicated legacy, love story with Lennon, and unapologetic<br />

boldness she demonstrated on stage in Toronto.<br />

“… observing how it all came<br />

together is a thrilling part of<br />

the ride.<br />

Over the 50 years since the decade that transformed culture as<br />

we now know it, many moments have been recognized as the<br />

symbolic end of the idealistic ‘60s <strong>—</strong> from the police riots at the<br />

1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago to the murders<br />

of MLK and RFK to the disastrous Altamont Speedway Free<br />

Festival. Even more have been given for the end of The Beatles.<br />

The Toronto Revival invigorated Lennon with the confidence he<br />

needed to leave the group, sparking music’s greatest divorce.<br />

Given the incredible legacies swirling in Toronto during that<br />

summer of ‘69, Revival is a welcome addition to the history books<br />

and concert doc canon (and yet further required viewing for<br />

Beatles fanatics who need no convincing). Brimming with both<br />

revelry and reverence, Revival69 remembers a time when<br />

anything felt possible and arrives at a moment when we could all<br />

use a little bit of the optimism that felt so potent back then and<br />

so foreign to us now. It’s a welcome trip down a memory-holed<br />

alley of memory lane.<strong>—</strong> NICK SEIP<br />


Sophie Compton & Reuben Hamlyn<br />

A sobering reminder of the minefield the Internet can be for<br />

women, the documentary Another Body, from filmmakers Sophie<br />

Compton and Reuben Hamlyn, is perhaps one of the more<br />

unnerving recent examples of form being shaped by subject<br />

matter. We’re introduced to college-aged engineering student<br />

“Taylor.” “Taylor” is ambitious, academically accomplished, and<br />

outwardly happy until one day she learns from an apologetic<br />

male friend that there is a video on a popular porn website which<br />

appears to feature her engaged in an explicit sexual act. “Taylor”<br />

is mortified to discover that the video is not actually her but is a<br />

deepfake. For those blessedly unfamiliar with the term,<br />

deepfakes are a controversial form of video where, using<br />

commercially available software and A.I., “regular people”<br />

(although, boy, is that a relative term) are able to create<br />

photorealistic, full-motion facsimiles of human beings appearing<br />

to say and do things that they otherwise never would. Alarm bells<br />

first sounded about this technology years ago, primarily in<br />

anticipation of it being employed to spread disinformation and<br />

potentially swing elections (Jordan Peele even made a PSA on<br />

the subject back in 2018 which made convincing use of his<br />

Obama impersonation). However, as with all emergent<br />

technology, it’s primarily been applied toward pornography. More<br />

specifically, creating reasonably convincing video clips where<br />

everyone from movie stars to politicians to amateur citizens can<br />

have their faces nonconsensually imposed upon porn actors, at<br />

which point the videos are uploaded online and viewed by<br />

millions of people.<br />

This may be the appropriate place to discuss Compton and<br />



Hamlyn’s fascinating, if not entirely successful, formal gambit (as<br />

well as dispense with at least some of the scare quotes). As you<br />

can probably infer, the woman at the story’s center is not really<br />

named Taylor, and the school she claims to be attending isn’t real<br />

either. But, in what is either a commendable attempt to preserve<br />

the anonymity of its subject or a chilling glimpse into a<br />

post-truth future, the filmmakers have taken the remarkable<br />

step of creating a deepfake of Taylor, hiring an actor whose face<br />

has been mapped and placed onto her body for the entire film.<br />

And it’s not just for her either. As Taylor attempts to make sense<br />

of how this happened and who might be responsible for the<br />

videos (we learn there are a ton of deepfakes featuring her), she<br />

identifies female classmates subjected to the same violation of<br />

their privacy, including a young woman identified as Julia who’s<br />

similarly obscured by a benevolent deep fake. Further, in a rather<br />

extraordinary step, the film fabricates countless innocuous<br />

snapshots of unwitting women, as well as more insidious<br />

deepfake porn videos featuring our deep fake actors, blurring<br />

out the more graphic elements, then populating them on staged<br />

4chan threads and Pornhub accounts in order to convey the<br />

pervasiveness of the issue. The film wouldn’t be the first<br />

documentary to go to extreme lengths to obscure the<br />

appearance of its subjects (2020’s Welcome to Chechnya also<br />

used AI to disguise its interviewees, although it purposely called<br />

attention to itself more), but this feels like an especially bold, if<br />

troubling, application of the technology.<br />

It all falls just on the believable side of the uncanny valley, but it’s<br />

unsettling all the same. As a proof of concept of just how<br />

convincing deepfakes can appear to the casual viewer, it passes<br />

with flying colors, only inviting scrutiny with the occasional<br />

visual distortion (the technology seems to work best with limited<br />

mobility, which is less of an issue in a talking head format). But<br />

there’s something undeniably dead-eyed in Taylor’s otherwise<br />

forceful yet warm delivery; perceptible as “off” yet difficult to put<br />

your finger on why even before the film comes clean about what<br />

it’s doing around the 15-minute mark. Further, it’s slightly<br />

unseemly going to these lengths, in essence creating deepfake<br />

pornography (albeit presumably with the consent of all parties<br />

involved) just to make the argument for how pervasive it is. It’s<br />

not necessarily a question of “ethics” <strong>—</strong> which itself is a loaded<br />

term, historically bandied about in bad faith as an excuse to<br />

attack women on the Internet <strong>—</strong> but it does raise the question of<br />

what, if anything, we’re seeing on screen is actually “real.”<br />

Having found one another, Taylor and Julia share notes and<br />

collaborate on an informal investigation into who might have<br />

done this to them. The bulk of the film takes the form of a<br />


sxsw 2023<br />

two-way video chat, capturing their disgusted reactions to each<br />

new discovery in real time, all while trying to comprehend why<br />

someone would do this. After wading into the cesspool of<br />

deepfake porn sites and message boards, they come to the<br />

conclusion that the offending party is a former male roommate<br />

of Taylor’s (this individual, like the women in the film, is granted<br />

anonymity and given an avatar which conceals his actual face)<br />

who they had a falling out with years earlier. In an all too familiar<br />

turn of events, this individual allegedly lashed out over perceived<br />

emotional rejection, acting on his grievances <strong>—</strong> imagined or<br />

otherwise <strong>—</strong> by attempting to humiliate an innocent woman. It’s a<br />

narrative often associated with revenge porn, but as the film<br />

makes maddeningly clear, the laws about deepfakes are so<br />

nascent that there may not actually be criminal recourse for<br />

victims <strong>—</strong> the film presents a phone call between Taylor and her<br />

local police dispatch, with the officer taking the call at an utter<br />

loss as to whether a crime has been committed or how even to<br />

proceed investigating it.<br />

“It’s not necessarily a question<br />

of “ethics”… but it does raise<br />

the question of what, if<br />

anything, we’re seeing on<br />

screen is actually “real.”<br />

We’re ultimately left in a disquieting and unsatisfying place<br />

where comeuppances are in short supply and happy endings are<br />

measured. The sense of violation for the young women is<br />

palpable and, as the film briefly argues, these attacks against<br />

women are primarily a means of cowing them into compliance or<br />

forcing them off the Internet altogether. But beyond the<br />

justifiable sense of being skeeved-out, it’s uncertain what’s<br />

actually to be done to stop this sort of thing (it’s telling that no<br />

one in the film even mentions the phrase “First Amendment”). In<br />

addition, the filmmakers may have only further muddied the<br />

waters on the pliability of ostensibly documentary footage,<br />

opening the door for far more nefarious applications. You may<br />

want to take a shower after watching this <strong>—</strong> for more than one<br />

reason. <strong>—</strong> ANDREW DIGNAN<br />


Baatar Batsukh<br />

Director/cinematographer/co-writer Baatar Batsukh ends his<br />

new film Aberrance with a dedication to Darren Aronofsky,<br />

acknowledging the former indie darling/now-Academy<br />

Award-winning director’s influence on Batsukh's own low-budget<br />

psychological horror-thriller. A more proper shoutout might be to<br />

Park Chan-wook, from whom Batsukh has borrowed a certain<br />

hyperactive visual hyperbole <strong>—</strong> slick widescreen images that<br />

suffer from a surfeit of “one-perfect-shot” syndrome. It’s not a<br />

great film, in other words, although not without some small<br />

merits. But Batsukh’s attempt to chart the dissolution of a<br />

marriage between a mentally unstable woman and her oafish,<br />

abusive husband mistakes a plethora of ostentatious style for<br />

substance, employing an insistent score and ludicrous camera<br />

calisthenics to beat the audience into submission. It’s barely a<br />

narrative, functioning more like a demo reel or a calling card.<br />

The film begins with Erkhmee (Erkhembayar Ganbat) and Selenge<br />

(Selenge Chadraabal) arriving at a well-appointed house in the<br />

mountains of Mongolia. Selenge seems quiet and aloof, while<br />

Erkhmee attempts to cheer her up with talk about the clear<br />

mountain air and how the peace and quiet will do them some<br />

good. Before they’re done unpacking, a friendly neighbor, Yalalt<br />

(Yalalt Namsrai), has already introduced himself, leading to some<br />

glowering from Erkhmee. Then Selenge finds a dead cat out by<br />

the garbage and things suddenly devolve; in rapid succession, it’s<br />

revealed that Selenge is suffering from some kind of disorder<br />

and that Erkhmee is a particularly brutal caretaker, admonishing<br />

her for refusing her medication and force-feeding her soup when<br />

she declines to eat. Selenge has vivid nightmares, and despite<br />

her entreaties, Erkhmee refuses to let her leave the house. Yalalt<br />

witnesses some of these interactions, and begins snooping<br />

around to gather more evidence.<br />

Eventually, his anonymous report to the police backfires when<br />

Erkhmee instantly susses out that Yalalt made the call, and a<br />

later effort to win him over goes awry when Yalalt gets drunk and<br />

accuses Erkhmee of domestic abuse in front of Selenge and two<br />

of her friends. It’s a volatile mixture of rage and resentment,<br />

which Batsukh diffuses in the most asinine way possible; rather<br />

than building tension and following any of these plot threads, he<br />



instead switches gears about halfway through the film and<br />

begins focusing on Yalalt, who might not be as nice as he<br />

appears. It's the kind of twist that takes careful calibration to pull<br />

off, but here it’s simply ludicrous, a bald-faced attempt to<br />

snooker the audience. Even worse is a last-minute plot reveal<br />

that wants to be shocking but instead doubles down on the<br />

already bountiful stupidity on display.<br />

Throughout the film, Batsukh revels in all manner of over-the-top<br />

visual trickery and stylistic overkill. Conversations are filmed in<br />

nauseating whip pans, and there are ridiculous POV shots galore.<br />

This is the kind of movie where it takes multiple cuts from<br />

jarringly incongruous angles to convey a simple action like a<br />

character emptying food into a garbage can. Batsukh has a good<br />

eye for simple, evocative widescreen compositions, doing<br />

particularly nice work with the natural beauty of the snowy<br />

mountain landscapes. But the contrast between modes doesn’t<br />

work at all <strong>—</strong> it’s like a solemn A24 picture occasionally<br />

interrupted by frantic music video antics. All of this adds up to<br />

nothing much, a 75-minute wisp of a movie that lumbers<br />

awkwardly from genre to genre <strong>—</strong> a mishmash of thriller, slasher,<br />

and crime tropes blended and shaken. One thing is clear: Batsukh<br />

the director and Batsukh the cinematographer both need better<br />

collaborators. <strong>—</strong> DANIEL GORMAN<br />

WAR PONY<br />

Riley Keough and Gina Gammell<br />

“The question of who has the right to tell a story isn’t a new one,<br />

but in a country literally built upon the exploitation and<br />

displacement of Native populations and in the context of an<br />

industry with an unsavory history of Indigenous representation<br />

on screen, everyone should feel a bit squeamish at this<br />

proposition… It’s a significant relief, then, that the film proves to<br />

be a conscientious and measured affair.” <strong>—</strong> LUKE GORHAM<br />

[Originally published as part of <strong>InRO</strong>’s Cannes 2022 coverage.]<br />

1 14

SXSW 2023<br />


Davis Guggenheim<br />

“Those looking for long-buried sensationalistic material<br />

regarding Fox should probably venture elsewhere, as this is not a<br />

film interested in painting the actor in some sort of negative<br />

light, mostly because such a thing would prove nearly impossible.<br />

Yes, the actor did turn to alcohol following his diagnosis, and his<br />

job kept him from his family for long stretches of time. Yet the<br />

thing that has always set Fox apart from his peers is a seemingly<br />

genuine sense of self-effacement, the type of guy who can’t<br />

believe how lucky he got in winning the lottery of fame, and<br />

simply went along for the ride.” <strong>—</strong> STEVEN WARNER [Originally<br />

published as part of <strong>InRO</strong>’s Sundance 2023 coverage.]<br />

TALK TO ME<br />

Danny & Michael Philippou<br />

“By no means is Talk to Me [the directors’] first foray into feature<br />

filmmaking, any kind of profound exegesis on contemporary<br />

social turpitude or secular excess. There’s a looseness to its<br />

movements that draws perhaps from the directors’ RackaRacka<br />

channel, an eschewing of plot over-engineering and thematic<br />

stuffing that might evoke sniffy opposition from a select few: the<br />

ones who exclusively worship either John Carpenter or Ari<br />

Aster… The key to Talk to Me’s formula and future success,<br />

however, lies precisely in its rejection of overt didacticism or<br />

narrow identity politics, both of which have become endemic in<br />

contemporary high-brow horror.” <strong>—</strong> MORRIS YANG [Originally<br />

published as part of <strong>InRO</strong>’s Sundance 2023 coverage.]<br />




Merle Haggard<br />


In 1960, Merle Haggard was released from jail <strong>—</strong> he served a<br />

two-year stint in San Quentin for burglary. Before long, Hag<br />

started recording for the small Tally Records and notched a<br />

modest hit when Bakersfield icon Wynn Stewart gave his blessing<br />

to record the as-yet-unreleased “Sing a Sad Song.” But by 1964,<br />

Hag still hadn’t landed a top 10 on the country charts, and wasn’t<br />

quite famous. Then a fortuitous meeting occurred: Haggard went<br />

to the Sacramento home of songwriter Liz Anderson. To read<br />

about the two sides of this encounter is to experience a<br />

near-perfect microcosm of the era’s misogyny. Here’s Hag in his<br />

1981 autobiography: “If there was anything I didn't wanna do, it<br />

was sit around some danged woman's house and listen to her<br />

cute little songs. But I went anyway. She was a pleasant enough<br />

lady, pretty, with a nice smile, but I was all set to be bored to<br />

death.” Meanwhile, others have pointed out that, at the time of<br />

their meeting, Anderson already had a top 10 hit as a writer (Del<br />

Reeves’ 1961 single “Be Quiet Mind”) and was friendly with a lot of<br />

Bakersfield artists <strong>—</strong> including a country singer more well-known<br />

in the industry than Haggard was: his labelmate at Tally and<br />

future wife, Bonnie Owens. When Owens would send her singles<br />

to radio DJs, she would often slip one of Haggard’s songs into the<br />

same envelope; it was Owens who introduced Hag to Anderson,<br />

and who asked Anderson to come out to one of Hag’s shows when<br />

he played near Sacramento. In any event, Anderson was<br />

impressed with her house guest, and for his part, Hag recognized<br />

the error of his own obstinance quickly, recalling in that same<br />

passage from his autobiography that the songs Anderson played<br />

sounded like “one hit right after another” <strong>—</strong> and soon, they were<br />

his hits.<br />

The songs from that initial meeting with Anderson turned out to<br />

be formative for Hag’s career in a number of ways: One of them,<br />

"Just Between the Two of Us," was cut as a duet in 1964 with<br />

Owens on Talley, and later re-released when Haggard signed a<br />

1 16


new contract with Capitol; another, “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers,” gave Haggard his much sought after first top 10 single on<br />

the country charts. “Strangers” also became the namesake for both Hag’s debut studio album on Capitol and his newly-minted backing<br />

band. Even more importantly, though, Haggard would continue to tap Anderson for his next two albums, including the one that<br />

represents not only the gold standard of his Capitol years (1965–1977), but the album that best represents his whole ethos as an artist.<br />

I’m a Lonesome Fugitive was released in 1967, and led-off by a title track penned by Liz Anderson and her husband Casey that spent 15<br />

weeks on the country singles chart, peaking at number one. For a time, many assumed that “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive" was an<br />

autobiographical statement from Haggard, but the Andersons in fact were totally unaware of Hag’s still-fairly-recent bid in San<br />

Quentin, or for that matter his youth spent fleeing law enforcement, when they played him the song <strong>—</strong> which was actually inspired by<br />

the David Jansen-starring, 1965-1966 primetime TV series The Fugitive. Nonetheless, Hag’s obvious personal connection to the song,<br />

and its chosen subject matter, informs this whole album, starting with the song that Hag chose as the B-side to “I’m a Lonesome<br />

Fugitive”: “Someone Told My Story” (which Hag did write) almost functions as a wry acknowledgment of its counterpart, its stunned<br />

narrator singing, "I could scarcely believe the song I heard…It was almost like I’d written every word." He’s nominally commenting on the<br />

echoes of his own doomed romance that he hears in the jukebox’s lament, but plenty is left unsaid about the details of that<br />

dissolution. The song gains even more weight on the album, where its lover's longing is fleshed out on some adjacent weepers ("Mary's<br />

Mine" and "Whatever Happened to Me"). But more importantly, it’s also contextualized by songs that represent the other half of this<br />

album's title <strong>—</strong> alternately rowdy and haggard (sorry) songs about the inevitable fallout from living a life looking over your shoulder for<br />

the law.<br />

Hag's pseudo-concept album never stops wrestling with the rich tension between its central character’s vulnerability and his<br />

toughness. That may not be the most original of cowboy archetypes (the presence of Jimmie Rodgers’ classic "My Rough and Rowdy<br />

Ways" acknowledges the lineage), but arguably there's never been a country singer with a voice more capable of selling both sides, the<br />

authentic grit and the sensitive pathos, and his execution is flawless. From the anxiousness of the metronomic lick that soundtracks<br />

"I'm a Lonesome Fugitive," like a ticking clock hot on the escaped con’s trail; to the braiding of romantic and penal angst on "House of<br />

Memories" ("My house is a prison / Where memories surround me"); to the sober storytelling of "Life in Prison" (one of Hag's best-ever<br />



songs); to unabashed rave-ups like "Drink Up and Be Somebody"<br />

and "Skid Row" <strong>—</strong> the breadth of psychological color and lived<br />

experiences here are a perfect compliment to the<br />

consummately impeccable musicianship. More precisely,<br />

though, the Strangers are in exceptional form here: while the<br />

hodgepodge recording sessions of 1966’s Swinging Doors and the<br />

Bottle Let Me Down meant that they were still finding their sound<br />

(taking heavy influence from Buck Owens and the Bakersfield<br />

style), the chemistry of Roy Nichols's scalpel-sharp Telecaster,<br />

James Burton switch-hitting<br />

between electric guitar and<br />

fretted dobro, Ralph Mooney's<br />

scene-setting steel guitar,<br />

and Bonnie Owens' clear<br />

two-part harmonies makes<br />

for a rough-hewn honky-tonk<br />

magic on this album. There<br />

are also just enough breakout<br />

moments from the band that<br />

signify awareness of the era's<br />

expanding genre ambitions<br />

(Glen D. Hardin's boogieing<br />

piano on "If You Want to Be<br />

My Woman," the softer popstyle<br />

guitar of a young Glen<br />

Campbell on “I’m a Lonesome<br />

Fugitive”). A little over five<br />

months after I’m a Lonesome<br />

Fugitive’s release, Haggard<br />

put out his fourth album,<br />

Branded Man, which would<br />

try to double-down on the<br />

wounded outlaw persona but<br />

overshoot a bit on the<br />

sympathy side of things and<br />

skimp considerably on the<br />

rockin’ fun <strong>—</strong> as a result,<br />

leaving the Strangers with a<br />

lot less to do. Just under two<br />

years on from that, Haggard<br />

put out Mama Tried, probably<br />

his best batch of songs of the<br />

'60s, but overall lacking<br />

Fugitive’s thematic cohesion. Hag and the Strangers would have<br />

better success tilling this territory with their Jimmie Rodgers<br />

tribute (1969's Same Train, Different Time) and give arguably a<br />

better showcase as a band with their Bob Wills tribute (1970's<br />

The Best Damn Fiddle Player). But the combined achievements of<br />

Hag's most deft and conceptually characteristic focus as a<br />

songwriter and the Strangers’ crack playing as a unit make I'm a<br />

Lonesome Fugitive special <strong>—</strong> a signature album, even. <strong>—</strong> SAM C.<br />

MAC<br />

1 18



David F. Sandberg<br />

The otherworldly entities featured so prominently in the title of<br />

superhero sequel Shazam! Fury of the Gods certainly seem to be<br />

doing quite a number on the film in the lead-up to its release:<br />

star and notorious anti-vaxxer Zachary Levi sent out yet another<br />

boneheaded tweet; the film’s red carpet Hollywood premiere was<br />

hampered by biblical amounts of rain and flooding; and, most<br />

recently, co-star and West Side Story breakout Rachel Zegler<br />

declared in an interview that the only reason she agreed to take<br />

on the role was because she “desperately” needed a job. Then<br />

there’s the matter of new DC Films head James Gunn, who<br />

inherited the movie from an administration that had no clear<br />

long-term vision, claiming that the upcoming Flash feature will<br />

reset the entire universe going forward. In other words, you’re<br />

looking at the costliest “no stakes” venture in many a moon,<br />

which was precisely both the biggest virtue and hurdle of the<br />

2019 original.<br />

One could never accuse director David F. Sandberg of being all<br />

that faithful to the original source material in the first place,<br />

going so far as to change the titular character’s name because,<br />

oh yeah, Marvel already has a Captain Marvel running around and<br />

doing hero shit. The emphasis was always on familial bonds, a<br />

thematic sticking point that the seemingly eternal Fast & Furious<br />

franchise has now turned into a colossal joke. That Fury of the<br />

Gods boasts a writer from that very series, Chris Morgan, should<br />

clue viewers in to its essential tenor, where platitudes about<br />

brotherly love <strong>—</strong> set in the city of Brotherly Love; how’s that for<br />

symbolism? <strong>—</strong> butt heads with big action set pieces and a whole<br />

lot of quippy quips.<br />

2019’s Shazam! actually wasn’t a bad film, with Sandberg bringing<br />

a playfulness that served the material well, even going the ‘80’s<br />

Amblin/Spielberg route in delivering both kid-friendly scares and<br />

emotional earnestness, two qualities also present in the sequel.<br />

Billy Baston (Asher Angel) was an emotionally-stunted teenager<br />

kicked around from one foster home to the next before finally<br />

arriving at the Vasquez homestead, where he found love and<br />

support from both his nurturing foster parents and a ragtag band<br />

of “siblings.” Oh, and a magical wizard (Djimon Honsou) gave him<br />

the power of the Gods, because he sensed Billy had the heart<br />

necessary to use them in the name of good. Billy, in turn, shared<br />

them with his new brothers and sisters, and with a bellowing of<br />

the titular word summoning their powers, they turned into<br />

full-fledged adults <strong>—</strong> but saddled with the same juvenile brains.<br />

Perhaps it’s that dissonance that made the various goings-on of<br />

Shazam! feel a tad more organic and, quite frankly, tolerable,<br />

watching literal man- (and woman)-children<br />

17 19


figure out the best way to save humanity, instead of figurative<br />

man-children who just need to grow the fuck up.<br />

Fury of the Gods finds the Vasquez clan still up to their superhero<br />

shenanigans, but not as respected as they could be by the city<br />

they call home, with news outlets dubbing them The Philly<br />

Fiascos. Billy is trying to keep his new family a cohesive unit<br />

through it all, but as independent youths thirsty for their own<br />

individual experiences, that’s easier said than done, with little<br />

brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) proving especially rebellious.<br />

Yet they will have to learn to work together if they want to defeat<br />

their latest foes, a trio of vicious sisters and literal Gods who will<br />

stop at nothing to gain back the powers that were stolen from<br />

them at the hands of the wizard. This trio is made up of Helen<br />

Mirren (as Hespera), Lucy Liu (as Kalypso), and the<br />

aforementioned Zegler (as Anthea), all slumming it in roles as flat<br />

as the photography around them.<br />

Given all of that narrative gobbledygook, and the fact that<br />

superhero film fatigue is indeed real in 2023, it helps immensely<br />

that the majority of Fury of the Gods has tongue planted firmly in<br />

cheek when it comes to its more fantastical elements <strong>—</strong> there’s<br />

nothing worse than a belabored, self-serious superhero<br />

treatment, so the winking breeziness of the Shazam!s is<br />

appreciated. On the other hand, it also makes it near impossible<br />

to care about anything happening on screen at any given<br />

moment, even as viewers are likely to genuinely laugh more than<br />

a few times. At least, the ungodly <strong>—</strong> though apparently now<br />

standard <strong>—</strong> two-plus hours thankfully move at a clip. And despite<br />

any opinions you might bring to the film of Levi the man, Levi the<br />

actor is once again so puppy-dog earnest in his portrayal of<br />

Shazam/Billy that it’s hard not to be mostly charmed, despite the<br />

inanity of it all.<br />

On the filmmaking front, Sandberg is also to be commended for<br />

his use of actual sets and costumes, bringing a surprising<br />

tactility to the film’s visual design that’s sorely lacking from the<br />

likes of Marvel’s digital wasteland (though what does it say about<br />

cinema writ large that we are forced to consider this as worthy<br />

of praise?). Unfortunately, like everything else Marvel and<br />

superhero-adjacent, the big climactic battle takes place in the<br />

dark, is ass-ugly, and its action is nearly impossible to follow. And<br />

then there’s also a Big Cameo at film’s end that completely<br />

undoes everything that occurred prior, just in case viewers didn’t<br />

find the material consequence-free enough already. In fairness,<br />

Shazam! Fury of the Gods isn’t likely to inspire such titular rage in<br />

viewers, but that’s mostly because it isn’t doing enough to<br />

warrant any kind strong response at all. <strong>—</strong> STEVEN WARNER<br />

DIRECTOR: David F. Sandberg; CAST: Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren,<br />

Lucy Liu, Grace Caroline Currey; DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros.; IN<br />

THEATERS: March 17; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 10 min.<br />


Zhang Yimou<br />

The numbers aren’t wrong: the most successful film of 2023 to<br />

date, and the most successful film of Zhang Yimou’s career, is<br />

also one of the best films the director has ever made. The crown<br />

jewel of Zhang’s late period, in particular, Full River Red is a<br />

magnificently constructed and plotted work <strong>—</strong> though its<br />

occasional brutality and, perhaps more so, relentless plot twists<br />

may become a bit too much for some Western viewers. That<br />

complexity is much more rewarding than it’s been with some of<br />

the most recent Zhang films. It can be a bit hard to grok on one<br />

viewing, but the film is structured beautifully <strong>—</strong> the constant<br />

redefinitions and revelations of who’s on whose side feel both<br />

shocking and thrilling without forfeiting any of the narrative<br />

propulsion. There’s a dizzying amount of perfectly calibrated<br />

twists planted throughout Full River Red (making it particularly<br />

hard to lay out specific plot details, though you get a glimpse<br />

with the first words of the plot synopsis: “A pawn tries to get rid<br />

of a traitorous minister”), and while the film constantly threatens<br />

to collapse under that weight, its penchant for comic relief, in<br />

the form of Shen Teng’s bumbling sidekick, keeps it buoyant. Of<br />

course, that character isn’t quite who he seems either; and that<br />

intermingling of elements <strong>—</strong> light and darkness ever shifting <strong>—</strong><br />

keeps Zhang’s film endlessly engaging, and never as dour as it<br />

could have been on paper.<br />

It’s kind of astonishing how Zhang has managed to pull<br />

something like this off at this stage <strong>—</strong> a “late-style” masterwork<br />

that resembles the living chess-pieces approach of earlier films<br />

like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, and even the recent<br />

Shadow, but completely strips out the action set-pieces. But it’s<br />

never made boring through the lack of action because spectacle<br />

17 20


is instead found within the characters’ frequently shifting<br />

natures; this is a blockbuster fueled entirely by clever character<br />

dynamics. We trade combat for wordplay, battle for palace<br />

intrigue, and yet it all seems to induce the same sense of<br />

exhilaration as those earlier, grander action epics. Of course,<br />

Zhang is always interested in something more than the simple<br />

mechanics of structure, but the hyperfocus on narrative here <strong>—</strong><br />

generally speaking, he is one of our modern masters of “plot” <strong>—</strong><br />

works in a manner that simultaneously elevates the form and the<br />

content at once. Zhang’s major target here seems to be the<br />

illusions which allow for the functioning of a cultural hegemony<br />

within a basic society, an idea that could have become dense or<br />

confounding, but is instead, when packaged in a film like this,<br />

not just intellectually accessible <strong>—</strong> it’s thrillingly entertaining. <strong>—</strong><br />


DIRECTOR: Zhang Yimou; CAST: Shen Teng, Jackson Yee, Zhang<br />

Yi; DISTRIBUTOR: Niu VIsion Media/Beyond Events; IN<br />

THEATERS: March 17; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 39 min.<br />


Matt Ruskin<br />

A boogeyman from a time that predates 24-hour news cycles,<br />

podcasts, and true crime docuseries, the Boston Strangler<br />

represents something of an unsolvable problem for filmmakers.<br />

Terrorizing Boston from 1962 until early 1964, the Strangler was a<br />

prowler who sexually assaulted and murdered thirteen women,<br />

asphyxiating them with their own garments after talking his way<br />

into their homes by pretending to be a handyman. The salacious<br />

details, as well as the fact that the victims invited their killer<br />

inside, cast a pall over a city already prone to distrust and<br />

provincialism until the murders stopped with the arrest of career<br />

criminal Albert DeSalvo. But DeSalvo was and remains an<br />

unsatisfying conclusion to the story: a mentally ill sex offender<br />

already in police custody at the time he was fingered as the<br />

Stangler <strong>—</strong> for what was, at the time, deemed an unrelated<br />

assault charge <strong>—</strong> DeSalvo confessed to all thirteen murders but,<br />

controversially, never faced prosecution for them and later<br />

recanted his confession. That, along with his poor recollection of<br />

crime scene details, has led to various theories over the years<br />

that he may not have been responsible for all of the murders<br />

(only exacerbated by his own jailhouse murder in 1973 by an<br />

associate of the Winter Hill Gang). Filmmaker Matt Ruskin’s new<br />

film, Boston Strangler, shares that skepticism and uses the film<br />

as a means of questioning the official story. But it’s stymied by<br />

the facts of the case, which lack any obvious heroes or especially<br />

compelling advancements in the investigation. Here, as in real<br />

life, the absence of any sort of forward momentum creates a<br />

vacuum which is only filled by wild speculation.<br />

Perhaps recognizing that the Strangler case didn’t cover law<br />

enforcement in glory, the film presents the story from the<br />

perspective of real-life Record American reporter Loretta<br />

McLaughlin (Keira Knightley), an ambitious journalist whose<br />

talents are wasted reviewing toasters for puff pieces meant forh<br />

ousewives. Loretta longs for the kind of impactful assignments<br />

that her colleague, the no-nonsense Jean Cole (Carrie Coon),<br />

17 21


takes on. However, after identifying what she believes to be a<br />

pattern in a series of purportedly random murders reported on<br />

by her own newspaper, Loretta wills herself into the middle of the<br />

story. Corroborating crime scene details during her off hours,<br />

Loretta deduces that all the women were killed by the same<br />

assailant, a conclusion the Boston police department was either<br />

unaware of or desperate to keep a lid on. Having blown the story<br />

wide open, Loretta earns the begrudging respect of her editor,<br />

Jack MacLaine (Chris Cooper, in the long tradition of stern yet<br />

supportive newspapermen), as well as the ire of the police<br />

department, who push back hard against her reporting. Facing<br />

increasing scrutiny, Jack keeps Loretta on the story on the<br />

condition she partners with the more seasoned Jean, even<br />

playing up the crusading “lady journalists” angle to sell more<br />

newspapers. But bodies continue to pile up, and Loretta’s dogged<br />

reporting puts a strain on her marriage and a target on her back.<br />

Ruskin cribs liberally from David Fincher’s Zodiac, another true<br />

crime opus that denies the viewer pat answers or any sense of<br />

comfort, but the connections are all superficial. The gloomy,<br />

desaturated photography, the conflicting evidence causing<br />

whiplash as one suspect falls away while another steps to the<br />

fore, the marital discord, the menacing anonymous phone calls,<br />

and so on. At one point, Loretta pays a visit to the home of a<br />

source, and it plays, almost beat for beat, like the scene from<br />

Zodiac where Robert Graysmith visits the home of Bob Vaughn,<br />

only here sapped of all tension (the film attempts to compensate<br />

for this by randomly populating the location with abundant<br />

mannequins). What’s really missing here is any kind of unique<br />

perspective on the personal toll that this case takes on Loretta <strong>—</strong><br />

Knightley is strictly a cipher here, forced to go through the<br />

motions of rote kitchen table arguments with her long-suffering<br />

yet somehow not supportive enough husband <strong>—</strong> or anything<br />

beyond the most glancing of blows against the organizational<br />

failings of the police.<br />

Boston Strangler also has little feel for the era or setting; it was<br />

filmed in and around Boston, but aside from a couple of aerial<br />

shots, you’d be hard pressed to tell. It’s probably for the best that<br />

the entire cast foregoes even attempting the non-rhotic accent<br />

(Boston-born Alessandro Nivola as Conley, a sympathetic<br />

homicide detective, is the notable exception, making a meal out<br />

of words like “department”), but it only adds to the suspicion that<br />

the film’s interest in the city, its victims, and the scared citizenry<br />

is cursory at best. Instead, Boston Strangler is primarily a critique<br />

of patriarchal institutions which conspire to intimidate, discredit,<br />

and demoralize Loretta and Jean, strictly on the basis of their<br />

gender. One can imagine an alternate universe where She Said<br />

had any sort of cultural impact, whetting the audience’s appetite<br />

for other examples of intrepid female journalists bravely bringing<br />

sex pests to justice. Instead, this simply feels late to an already<br />

under-attended party.<br />

But then there are those niggling doubts and inconsistencies<br />

about the case. Just when it appears as though the film is surely<br />

wrapping itself up, with DeSalvo safely tucked away in a<br />

maximum security facility, it simply keeps going, spinning out at<br />

the eleventh hour to consider a string of murders halfway across<br />

the country and the dim possibility that DeSalvo was in fact only<br />

one of several killers. Ruskin expends so much energy setting the<br />

table and presenting with a straight face scenes like the one<br />

where Loretta has to tell Conley that DeSalvo didn’t actually have<br />

an alibi because he was released from prison early <strong>—</strong> did he, the<br />

lead detective on the case, not think to check on this himself? <strong>—</strong><br />

that its multiple-killer theory, the ostensible reason the film even<br />

exists, ends up coming across like a hasty afterthought. Rather<br />

than carefully leading the viewer down the path of an alternate<br />

scenario that flies in the face of widely held beliefs, Boston<br />

Strangler seems to be surprised by its own conclusions, left<br />

scrambling to incorporate all the extraneous parts as if it were<br />

Ikea furniture with half a dozen leftover pieces sitting on the<br />

carpet. If the film wanted to do the “this book presupposes that<br />

Custer didn’t die at Little Bighorn” thing, perhaps it shouldn’t have<br />

buried it in an appendix. <strong>—</strong> ANDREW DIGNAN<br />

DIRECTOR: Matt Ruskin; CAST: Keira Knightly, Carrie Coon, Chris<br />

Cooper; DISTRIBUTOR: Hulu; STREAMING: March 17; RUNTIME:<br />

1 hr. 52 min.<br />

17 22


FURIES<br />

Veronica Ngo<br />

Real heads know that the truly exciting martial arts movie sequel<br />

coming out this week is not Keanu Reeves vehicle John Wick 4,<br />

but actress Veronica Ngô’s straight-to-Netflix follow-up to her hit<br />

2019 starrer, Furie. It’s fun to think that Ngô just walked into the<br />

Netflix offices and wrote “FURIE” on the whiteboard, and then<br />

added an “S.” (or $). With Lê Văn Kiệt (the director of the original<br />

film) busy with last year’s English-language The Princess, Ngô<br />

herself (billed as Ngô Thanh Vân) takes over as director. She also<br />

acts again, this time playing Jacqueline, the head woman in<br />

charge of a crew of lost women whom she trains up in the deadly<br />

martial arts in order to take down a ring of sex traffickers and<br />

drug dealers. Đồng Ánh Quỳnh takes the lead role as Bi, who may<br />

be a young version of the character Ngô played in the first film<br />

(it’s not really clear, but all the press for Furies calls this a<br />

prequel). We meet Bi early on and get a flashback to her horrific<br />

childhood: a prostitute mother who is abused by men, rape and<br />

murder to follow, leading to years on the streets, committing<br />

petty crimes, and fighting off further sexual assaults. Bi joins<br />

Jacqueline’s crew, made up of two other young women, Hong and<br />

Thanh (Rima Thanh Vy and Tóc Thiên, respectively) with similar<br />

backgrounds. They form a makeshift family and take part in a<br />

training montage. Then things really get rolling.<br />

The action, choreographed by Samuel Kefi Abrikh (who also did<br />

both Furie and The Princess), is swift and brutal, emphasizing<br />

quick punches and twists, stabs and pistol shots. While it doesn’t<br />

boast the intricacy of Furie, it makes up for it with scale: lots and<br />

lots of men are killed in this movie. Ngô films it all with style to<br />

spare, keeping the focus on the actors’ and stunt performers’<br />

movements while cutting it all together in a kinetic style that<br />

matches the pounding electronic score and psychedelic lighting<br />

of the first film (almost every scene is awash in some kind of<br />

colorful illumination: pink, green, purple, red, or blue). Computer<br />

effects are mercifully rare, but for one uncanny motorcycle<br />

chase sequence where two women are pursued by a gang of<br />

men; the humans and the bikes appear to be real, but the<br />

environments they’re ostensibly speeding through are obviously<br />

17 23


fake. It all looks like something out of Speed Racer, right up until<br />

one of the men gets smacked in the head by what should have<br />

been a CGI sign. From there on, the sequence freely mixes the<br />

faux and the real, in one of the few bits of action whimsy in an<br />

otherwise deadly serious film.<br />

But as good as all that action is, what’s most interesting about<br />

Furies is the way the film interrogates the rape-revenge genre.<br />

Jacqueline rescues her girls from the predations of evil men, and<br />

instills in them the skills necessary to take revenge on the kinds<br />

of people who abused them, while also preventing those terrible<br />

men from inflicting similar harm on other young women. It’s a<br />

feminist superhero team, dedicated to protecting the innocent<br />

with righteous violence. True to the rape-revenge genre’s<br />

exploitation roots, we see a lot of violence against women, only<br />

for that horror to be cathartically released when even greater<br />

violence is inflicted upon the abusers. But Bi never feels that<br />

catharsis <strong>—</strong> in fact, the infliction of bloody mayhem only seems<br />

to deepen her trauma, sending her into a kind of dissociative<br />

state after she kills for the first time. Her friends help her out<br />

and convince her that they’re on the right path, though she<br />

begins to have doubts about all of this, as well as Jacqueline’s<br />

motives. She’s known only cruelty and degradation in her life, but<br />

her friendships, as well as her memory of her mother, give her a<br />

glimpse of another kind of human relationship. Revenge may be<br />

satisfying (though not for Bi), but it also merely continues the<br />

cycle of violence. In the same way, a genre that is in many ways<br />

about female empowerment relies, to an often uncomfortable<br />

extent, on images of violence visited upon women.<br />

Ngô navigates this conundrum in a fascinating way by casting<br />

herself, the director/star/producer/screenwriter, as the<br />

character who assembles the revenge crew, but also (SPOILER)<br />

as the film’s ultimate villain. Jacqueline, it turns out, is merely<br />

using the language of feminine empowerment to get the<br />

(wo)manpower necessary to revenge herself on the gangster who<br />

murdered her husband and son. The auteur of the film is thus the<br />

architect <strong>—</strong> both literally and within the world of the film itself <strong>—</strong><br />

of almost all the violence we see. She didn’t cause the young<br />

women’s initial traumas, of course, any more than a filmmaker<br />



can be responsible for the state of the wider world. But her<br />

actions in response to that trauma only serve to perpetuate the<br />

kind of destruction and loss that creates so many lost souls, and<br />

as such, Ngô seems to be suggesting that films like this, which<br />

under one reading are feminist texts, ultimately only serve to<br />

feed the culture of violence, and violence against women in<br />

particular.<br />

It’s a fascinating kind of self-critique, clever and effective, albeit<br />

one that is in turn undermined by the fact that one of the men<br />

prominently involved in the production, serving as producer as<br />

well as helping with the English subtitles, is former Weinstein<br />

associate and accused sex pest Bey Logan, a man so odious that<br />

boutique label 88 Films recently had to back down in the face of<br />

a boycott after rumors spread that they were going to hire him<br />

for some upcoming special features. It’s a truly baffling decision<br />

for an otherwise thoughtful and self-aware film and filmmaker. <strong>—</strong><br />


DIRECTOR: Veronica Ngo; CAST: Đồng Ánh Quỳnh, Rima Thanh<br />

Vy, Tóc Tiên, Thuận Nguyễn; DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix; STREAMING:<br />

March 23; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 49 min.<br />

RODEO<br />

Lola Quivoron<br />

Outside the confines of polite Parisian society, there lies a wild<br />

west on wheels, in a subculture known as the urban rodeo.<br />

Though participation is criminalized and heavily criticized, the<br />

exhilarating, and dangerous, motorbike subculture at the center<br />

of Rodeo acts as a catalyst for community. This is director Lola<br />

Quivoron’s narrative feature debut, but it isn’t her first time<br />

behind the camera <strong>—</strong> she released Au loin, Baltimore, a short<br />

documentary set within the same scene, in 2016. Rodeo follows<br />

Julia (played by first-time actor Julie Ledru, who Quivoron<br />

discovered via Instagram bike clips), a lone wolf dirt bike rider on<br />

the fringes of a larger crew on the circuit called the B-Mores, who<br />

run a bike shop repairing and selling stolen bikes. Though she<br />

hasn’t mastered the risky stunts the group is known for, she<br />

shares their bravado, and better yet, a penchant for risk, stealing<br />

bikes for them later on. The crew is ruled from afar by Domino<br />

(Sébastien Schroeder), currently behind bars, but it’s Kais (Yanis<br />

Lafki) who invites Julia into the fold. In another film, this would<br />

be a setup for a romance over their shared interests, but Rodeo’s<br />

script is far more interested in thornier dynamics.<br />



Choosing high-octane impulses over the more popular naturalism<br />

of late, Rodeo is a gasoline western where the outlaw hasn’t yet<br />

mastered the reins. Julia remains feral, untested when it comes<br />

to the wheelie-popping showmanship of the crew, instead<br />

gaining respect via theft. Her Robin Hood stunt relies on<br />

expectations of her youth and gender. She approaches wealthy<br />

men in the French countryside posing as a new rider buying a<br />

bike, and rides off into the horizon when she is offered a test<br />

drive by the seller who's none the wiser. Her routine is helped by<br />

the time she spends with Domino’s wife Ophélie (co-writer<br />

Antonia Buresi), who disguises Julia in a more feminine persona,<br />

an act that appears akin to drag. Ophélie is a foil to Julia’s<br />

freewheeling life, trapped in a determinist narrative of her own<br />

life, a housewife with a young son in the suburbs sitting and<br />

watching a different life that excites her. The dynamic between<br />

the two, and a more lighthearted scene where Ophélie rides on<br />

the back of Julia’s bike, is the heart of a film that would<br />

otherwise be shallow in its grit. Though it is clear in these scenes<br />

that Ledru’s straight-from-life acting is somewhat amateur,<br />

Buresi plays the role with a haunting subtlety that humanizes<br />

both characters.The film’s nomination for Cannes’ Queer Palm<br />

award came as a surprise to some, as its queerness was less<br />

textually overt than, say, WIll-o’-the-Wisp in the same year. But<br />

despite this, the thematic throughline of Rodeo deconstructs a<br />

binary of gendered actions, and the relationship between Julie<br />

and Ophélie, though intentionally ambiguous, grounds an<br />

emotional arc for our unbound protagonist. Julia’s gendered<br />

dynamic within the rest of the bike group is never simplified as a<br />

lone otherness in the testosterone-fuelled culture. Rather, a<br />

bonfire sequence shows her moving seamlessly among the crew,<br />

and an assortment of women, mostly partners, who have come<br />

with them. She neither belongs to nor is outwardly excluded from<br />

either group <strong>—</strong> an in-between that parallels the purgatory<br />

between life and death that some of the film’s most dangerous<br />

and abstract sequences inhabit. Her nickname within the group<br />

is “Unknown”; speaking to an alienation in a group that doesn’t<br />

quite accept her, but also a desire to not be recognized solely for<br />

her gender.<br />

The shaky-cam-heavy cinematography and cast of mostly<br />

non-professional actors lends an impression that this is the<br />

veristic sort of contemporary coming-of-age film that treats<br />

diegetics as a sole virtue. Instead, the result is more akin to<br />

Titane than the Dardennes, seamlessly constructing a<br />

transhumanist bond with the fantasy of the machine world. Julia<br />

says she was “born with a bike between her legs,” an assertion of<br />

her own desire to avoid gendered interactions (more subtle than<br />

the tiresome balls jokes that bring an otherwise serviceable<br />

script down). Her freedom when connecting with the machine will<br />

be her downfall, as it will be for the rest of the crew, but this<br />

conflagration is rendered poetic in the film's coda. The<br />

out-of-body experience, as Julia and Kais have to accept the<br />

danger of the life they’ve chosen, one last heist, lifts them from<br />

reality, and for once the camera sits still long enough for the<br />

flames to subside and the ghosts to turn the corner. <strong>—</strong> SARAH<br />


DIRECTOR: Lola Quivoron; CAST: Julie Ledru, Yannis Lafki,<br />

Antonia Buresi; DISTRIBUTOR: Music Box Films; IN THEATERS:<br />

March 17; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 45 min.<br />


Paul Weitz<br />

2023 may still be in its infancy, yet here comes the second<br />

release of a high-concept comedy starring old pals and beloved<br />

Hollywood icons Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, following last<br />

month’s senior citizen sensation 80 for Brady. Those expecting<br />

the usual raucous octogenarian shenanigans, however, would be<br />

wise to look elsewhere, as this duo’s latest feature, Moving On,<br />

inspires laughs only in dribs and drabs, the result of an essential<br />

tonal mishmash found in writer-director Paul Weitz’s script. The<br />

filmmaker is certainly no stranger to the land of dramedy, having<br />

helmed a number of respectable yet forgettable entries including<br />

In Good Company, Fatherhood, and Tomlin-starrer Grandma. But in<br />

tenor, Moving On is closest to the director’s one outright<br />

catastrophe, 2006’s American Dreamz, a dumpster fire that tried<br />

to satirize both reality TV competitions and post-9/<strong>11</strong> anxieties,<br />

concluding with a suicide bombing played for laughs. Real<br />

provocative stuff.<br />

Moving On is similarly “of the moment,” a comedy that wants to be<br />

both woke and topical, but whose desperation makes it feel like<br />

an artifact from a distant and unenlightened era. There’s also the<br />

matter of the plot itself, which certainly doesn’t lend itself to<br />

easy laughs. Fonda stars as Claire, an uptight yet effortlessly<br />

17 26


classy retiree who, as the film opens, is headed across the<br />

country for the funeral of a dear old friend. Yet Claire has more<br />

up her sleeve than just mourning, a fact made clear when, at the<br />

service, she informs her deceased friend’s husband, Howard<br />

(Malcolm McDowell), that she is going to murder him, sparking<br />

interest in fellow attendee and former confidant Evelyn (Tomlin).<br />

But what could inspire such a seemingly heinous <strong>—</strong> not to<br />

mention, you know, illegal <strong>—</strong> act?<br />

At only 84 minutes, Moving On wastes no time in getting to the<br />

point, even as nothing of much interest ever happens, regardless<br />

of the sensationalistic hook of its plot. As it turns out, Howard<br />

had sexually assaulted Claire 46 years prior, leaving her a shell of<br />

the vibrant person she once was, ultimately dooming her<br />

marriage at the time, and making it impossible for her to form<br />

and maintain any sort of meaningful relationship with others. It’s<br />

certainly heavy material, and Weitz’s move is to try to offset it<br />

with a lot of painfully contrived jokes involving everything from<br />

the procuring of a gun through bacon cookery (don’t ask) to<br />

geriatric sexcapades. It ddidn’t seem like this needed saying in<br />

2023, but the last thing the world needs at this moment is a<br />

comedy about the PTSD-laden trauma of sexual assault, and yet<br />

here we are, courtesy of the man who made American Pie.<br />

The thing is, this material actually could have still worked, had<br />

Weitz pushed the humor into the darkest recesses imaginable,<br />

pitch black, dripping with acidity, and genuinely interrogative of<br />

psychology. As it stands, Moving On is too sunny by half, content<br />

to merely pat itself on the back for being topical yet failing to<br />

engage with its provocative themes in any sort of meaningful<br />

way. Most of the movie feels like Weitz simply working his way<br />

down a checklist of trending Twitter topics, whether it be the<br />

#MeToo Movement or trashy tales of true-life criminality. This is<br />

also a film that includes a completely superfluous subplot about<br />

a young boy who visits Evelyn’s independent living facility and<br />

likes to wear her clothes and jewelry, because Weitz is apparently<br />

nothing if not a most inclusive edge lord. He also presents<br />

homosexuality and interracial marriage as shocking realities in<br />

this 2023 film, so perhaps he isn’t quite as hip and progressive as<br />

he believes himself to be.<br />

Fonda and Tomlin are at least reliably good, but even they seem<br />

stuck in neutral here, hamstrung by a script that mistakes good<br />

intentions for depth. McDowell, meanwhile, is written as such a<br />

one-note cartoon villain that it makes Fonda’s one-note<br />

characterization seem profound in comparison, further<br />

highlighting the inauthenticity that coats nearly every frame of<br />



the film. A shoutout is deserved for Richard Roundtree, who pops<br />

up as Claire’s ex-husband and shares such an easy and gentle<br />

rapport with Fonda that one longs for a movie focused solely on<br />

the two of them. At this point, such an endeavor would prove<br />

bolder and more novel than anything found in Moving On, which, it<br />

must be repeated, is a comedy about the decades-long fallout of<br />

sexual assault. Potential viewers would be wise to heed the<br />

titular advice. <strong>—</strong> STEVEN WARNER<br />

DIRECTOR: Paul Weitz; CAST: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Malcolm<br />

McDowell; DISTRIBUTOR: Roadside Attractions; IN THEATERS:<br />

March 17; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 25 min.<br />


Suzanne Hillinger<br />

If any company does brand recognition right, it’s Pornhub,<br />

launched in 2007 and now one of the largest purveyors of<br />

Internet pornography. Whether you’ve visited the site or not <strong>—</strong><br />

you have <strong>—</strong> you’re familiar, from the minimalist logo taking up<br />

space on a Times Square billboard to the iconic percussion intro<br />

inaugurating every video. No matter your kink, you’re sure to find<br />

the perfect video for your self-pleasure needs on its monolithic<br />

platform. And if you’re a true data nerd, you can even get your<br />

rocks off to their wildly popular Year in Review. Supporters of the<br />

site will quickly tell you it’s not just about inflation porn or BBW;<br />

there’s an entire movement promoting sex work as a career <strong>—</strong><br />

because it is <strong>—</strong> and championing performers’ rights. But on the<br />

flip side, you have the Nancy Reagans of the world who think<br />

anything more than a firm handshake is pornography, laying<br />

waste to the minds of anyone who dares to open their web<br />

browser.<br />

Somewhere between these two extremes lies the premise of<br />

Money Shot: The Pornhub Story. Directed by Suzanne Hillinger, the<br />

film chronicles the rise of Pornhub, told through the voices of<br />

content creators and detractors alike. Early on, the porn provider<br />

was something of a free-for-all; like Limewire or The Pirate Bay,<br />

Pornhub championed the idea that all videos should be available<br />

to anyone and everyone. Through advertising and excellent SEO,<br />

the site’s profits began to skyrocket, but very little of this money<br />

was going to the actual stars of the videos. In 2018, Pornhub<br />

launched ModelHub, a place where performers could monetize by<br />

producing and uploading their own content, which boosted the<br />

careers of many of the performers you know and love today. By<br />

not having to work with the slimy studios, adult stars could<br />

control what and how they displayed their bits for your pleasure.<br />

Unfortunately, these sex worker successes are only half the<br />

story. Because Pornhub didn’t require verification for uploads,<br />

for every consensual video created by willing participants, there<br />

was an objectionable one; those who were victims of revenge<br />

porn, sex trafficking, or child sexual abuse might find videos of<br />

their worst experiences uploaded for the world to see. An<br />

anonymous former employee in Money Shot describes their<br />

moderation policy, which included individual people viewing<br />

more than 700 videos a day to determine if there is illicit<br />

content. This sharing resulted in the National Center on Sexual<br />

Exploitation (NCOSE) launching #TraffickingHub, an anti-Pornhub<br />

movement that argued the site should be shut down. Eventually,<br />

the movement gained the attention of Nicholas Kristoff at the<br />

New York Times, who wrote an op-ed piece calling for the site to<br />

remove all questionable content and institute a verification<br />

process. But it’s important to note, as Money Shot explains, NCOSE<br />

is a religiously-funded organization whose motivations lay<br />

beyond just protecting victims: according to them, there is no<br />

difference between sex work and sex trafficking. Uninformed<br />

activists began insisting all porn is abuse and Pornhub should be<br />

shut down, and the demands that Nicholas Kristoff made (which<br />

Pornhub eventually complied with) subsequently caused<br />

companies like Visa and Mastercard to suspend payment<br />

processing with Pornhub. However, as the performers in the film<br />

make clear, this hurt them more than the company because now<br />

they couldn’t get paid, while Pornhub continued to make money<br />

through advertising.<br />

Money Shot takes a virtually neutral view on the topic, dedicating<br />

the same screen time to the religious nuts as it does to the<br />

performers getting paid to nut. But therein lies the rub: the<br />

aggressive commitment to objectivity results in a film that never<br />

connects with the viewer in any meaningful way. Whichever side<br />

of the argument you’re on entering the film will only be<br />

reinforced because Money Shot offers such a dull version of the<br />

facts that it’s impossible to even be narratively stimulated, let<br />

alone ideologically swayed. It’s fair to assume that the<br />

filmmakers are trying to assert that the “truth” lies somewhere in<br />

17 28


the middle, that supporting sex workers and condemning sex<br />

trafficking and child sexual abuse are not mutually exclusive.<br />

This is, of course, the case, but the film only passively suggests<br />

any messaging at all, and so the whole project seems merely,<br />

blandly informative. In fact, this tip-toeing results in both sides<br />

coming across somewhat poorly, with activists presented as<br />

impossible-to-please prudes, while the Pornhub supporters<br />

frequently come off more like basement-dwelling Redditors or<br />

Regina George-esque mean girls.<br />

Perhaps most frustrating of all is that Money Shot also takes<br />

itself entirely too seriously <strong>—</strong> for a film about porn, it’s<br />

remarkably tame; if the goal wasn’t to meaningfully interrogate<br />

the arguments and factions it introduces, it could at least bring a<br />

little more panache to the table than a fake cum shot and some<br />

blurred screengrabs (which is not to suggest that anyone is in<br />

need of any more “dick pics” in their life, especially when sitting<br />

down to enjoy a Netflix documentary). Frustratingly, even when<br />

Money Shot briefly hits on interesting material less often<br />

discussed in the world of porn <strong>—</strong> the way the industry supports<br />

conventional beauty standards and how its algorithm censors<br />

anyone who doesn’t fit the mold <strong>—</strong> it closes the loop as<br />

prematurely as Jason Biggs in American Pie. The optimistic might<br />

say that any discussion around the film’s subject matter is a good<br />

thing, but the other side could <strong>—</strong> nay, should <strong>—</strong> argue that the<br />

attention the film commits to the religious right’s side of the<br />

argument introduces more harmful rhetoric than productive. In<br />

either case, Money Shot is as limp as docs come. <strong>—</strong> EMILY<br />


DIRECTOR: Suzanne Hillinger; CAST: <strong>—</strong>; DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix;<br />

STREAMING: March 16; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 34 min.<br />

17 29




Wen Shipei<br />

“The narrative Wen is weaving is a familiar and fairly shallow one<br />

involving a hazily-remembered night, a bag of money, and some<br />

gangsters out to collect, and, in individual scenes, Wen hits the<br />

right notes competently if unexceptionally. Trouble is, he’s<br />

chosen to tell this story with fractured chronology and a<br />

sad-sack voice-over delivered by Xue Ming from prison. It adds<br />

about as much as the constant refrain of the title song, which is<br />

to say almost nothing save for applying an artsy sheen to the<br />

labored endeavor. At first, the nonlinear approach seems poised<br />

to lend the film the fractal quality of memory, as if the lead<br />

recalling the events would naturally remember the story out of<br />

order, but as the thriller plot begins to kick in, the technique is<br />

largely used only to superficially complicate the action and show<br />

off the simplistic web being constructed.” <strong>—</strong> CHRIS MELLO<br />

DIRECTOR: Wen Shipei; CAST: Eddie Peng, Sylvia Chang, Yanhui<br />

Wang; DISTRIBUTOR: Film Movement; IN THEATERS: March 17;<br />

RUNTIME: 1 hr. 35 min.<br />

RIMINI<br />

Ulrich Seidl<br />

“Allll this is trademark Seidl: a tad too clinical, a pinch too<br />

predictable at times, given that the absence of further backstory<br />

<strong>—</strong> hinted at with Richie’s brief encounter with his brother Ewald,<br />

and likely to be explored in an upcoming companion film, Sparta<br />

<strong>—</strong> frustrates attempts to elevate Rimini from caricature.<br />

Especially so for the filmmaker’s acolytes, who might reject its<br />

mellowed, almost adulterated causticness, but also a concern for<br />

his neophytes, more susceptible to habitual pigeonholing within<br />

a larger corpus of Austrian miserabilism. This caricature,<br />

nonetheless, possesses a frigid sociological potency whose<br />

disparate elements capture a stratified generation’s cultural and<br />

libidinal imaginary, typically white, male, middle-class, and<br />

anchored to little beyond the bygone echoes of social eminence<br />

and utopian intimacy.”<strong>—</strong> MORRIS YANG<br />

DIRECTOR: Ulrich Seidl; CAST: Michael Thomas, Tessa Göttlicher,<br />

Hans-Michael Rehberg; DISTRIBUTOR: Big World Pictures; IN<br />

THEATERS: March 17; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 54 min.<br />




Mickey Reece<br />

“This bit of absurdism doesn’t seem remotely out of place in<br />

Reece’s filmmaking <strong>—</strong> just look at the way last year’s haunting<br />

and inventive Agnes shifts gears halfway through from a spooky<br />

exorcism movie into something altogether more thoughtful <strong>—</strong><br />

and he deploys it as the perfect weapon to force Troyal to<br />

examine the legacy he thinks he’s building, not just as a musician<br />

but as a husband and a father. He’s also made to reckon with his<br />

healthy ego; it quickly becomes clear that he’s a sincerely<br />

vulnerable guy, especially when that ego is attacked, as in an<br />

early scene in which Jones chastises him for ordering a<br />

well-done steak.” <strong>—</strong> MATT LYNCH<br />

DIRECTOR: Mickey Reece; CAST: Laurie Cummings, Cate Jones,<br />

Ben Hall; DISTRIBUTOR: Cinedigm/Fandor; STREAMING: March<br />

16; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 24 min.<br />


Joële Walinga<br />

“It takes a few minutes to get acclimated to the constant stream<br />

of images; some suggest liminal spaces devoid of human figures,<br />

while others are teeming with people. Lush landscapes are<br />

paired with extreme close-ups of claustrophobic interiors. Some<br />

images are almost purely abstract, as the digital cameras<br />

struggle to record raindrops or snow flurries and instead register<br />

them as pixelated flecks of light. There’s also the progression of<br />

Walinga’s approximation of color grading; the film begins in<br />

winter, and accordingly each scene features snow or ice and cool<br />

tones. As we move into spring, and then summer, the images<br />

become warmer, each scene bathed in natural light.” <strong>—</strong> DANIEL<br />

GORMAN<br />


STREAMING: March 17; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 7 min.<br />

31<br />



INSIDE<br />

Vasilis Katsoupis<br />

“Inside benefits from a clear-headed spatial orientation. Shot in<br />

sequence, the movie maintains an impressive continuity, as all<br />

the debris from each of Nemo’s actions accumulate evidence<br />

strewn across the apartment <strong>—</strong> each action leaves a souvenir. As<br />

a central project, Nemo fashions a hodgepodge ladder out of<br />

various furniture pieces, reaching upwards toward the skylight:<br />

the most feasible means of escape. Throughout Inside, the<br />

makeshift ladder towers like a Dadaist sculpture; it becomes a<br />

centerpiece in an apartment full of art pieces.”<strong>—</strong> RYAN<br />


DIRECTOR: Vasilis Katsoupis; CAST: Willem Dafoe, Gene<br />

Bervoets, Eliza Stuyck; DISTRIBUTOR: Focus Features; IN<br />

THEATERS: March 17; RUNTIME: 1 hr., 45 min.<br />


Sébastien Marnier<br />

“Sebastien Marnier’s latest breezy, twisty thriller The Origin of Evil<br />

may lack any deeper interrogation in its Agatha<br />

Christie-reinvention of deception, but its strong ensemble cast<br />

makes the endeavor worthwhile, if not substantial, viewing… The<br />

broader class dynamic, however, is somewhat light on nuance. In<br />

the vein of popular recent releases like Parasite, the dichotomy<br />

between the bourgeois family and factory worker, with Stéphane<br />

representing the proletariat, is limited to two polarized ends only<br />

maneuverable via the absorption of the family unit. <strong>—</strong> SARAH<br />


DIRECTOR: Sébastien Marnier; CAST: Laure Calamy;<br />


2 hr. 5 min.<br />




Vasilis Katsoupis<br />

“The narrative Wen is weaving is a familiar and fairly shallow one involving a hazily-remembered night, a bag of money, and some<br />

gangsters out to collect, and, in individual scenes, Wen hits the right notes competently if unexceptionally. Trouble is, he’s chosen to<br />

tell this story with fractured chronology and a sad-sack voice-over delivered by Xue Ming from prison. It adds about as much as the<br />

constant refrain of the title song, which is to say almost nothing save for applying an artsy sheen to the labored endeavor. At first, the<br />

nonlinear approach seems poised to lend the film the fractal quality of memory, as if the lead recalling the events would naturally<br />

remember the story out of order, but as the thriller plot begins to kick in, the technique is largely used only to superficially complicate<br />

the action and show off the simplistic web being constructed.” <strong>—</strong> CHRIS MELLO<br />

DIRECTOR: Mitchell Stafiej; CAST: James Watts, Travis Cannon, Oscar Aguirre; DISTRIBUTOR: TUBI; STREAMING: March 10;<br />

RUNTIME: 1 hr. 34 min.<br />

33<br />



Miley Cyrus<br />

The real story with Endless Summer<br />

Vacation might be that this is the album<br />

where pop’s forever fickle princess finally<br />

finds her sound. In truth, she kind of<br />

already did on 2017’s fantastic Younger<br />

Now, but either the tepid commercial and<br />

critical response or commitment to a<br />

holistic roots music out-of-step with her<br />

more radical impulses soon sent Miley<br />

careening in other different directions,<br />

first with a 2019 EP of resolutely<br />

contemporary hip-hop bangers, dance<br />

floor fillers, and power ballads (part of a<br />

subsequently aborted trilogy), and then<br />

with the classic rock pastiche of 2020’s<br />

Plastic Hearts, which wore its<br />


retrofetishism so transparently that Billy<br />

Idol, Joan Jett, and Stevie Nicks showed<br />

up for features. Miley has tended to have<br />

trouble getting all the constituent parts of<br />

her massive talent moving in concert, and<br />

while Plastic Hearts boasts some of the<br />

most accomplished and consistent<br />

writing on any of her albums (with pop<br />

fixers Andrew Watt, Mark Ronson, Ryan<br />

Tedder, Louis Bell, and Emile Haynie all in<br />

the credits), it’s also the least sonically<br />

adventurous effort since her Disney<br />

Channel days.<br />

So Endless Summer Vacation is another<br />

reset in a career full of them. But it’s also<br />

the first Miley album that seems like it<br />

cracks the code of creating a coherent<br />

fusion between her most out-there<br />

psychedelic experiments (there are songs<br />

that could slot into the sprawl of 2015’s<br />

90-minute Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz)<br />

and her commercial pop ambitions.<br />

Unfortunately, the work gone into<br />

thinking through the sonic identity of this<br />

project isn’t met at the other end by the<br />

writing. It’s also notable that while<br />

Endless Summer Vacation continues the<br />

trend of Miley teaming with a small army<br />

of industry-proven writers (after<br />

retaining almost sole credit for the lyrics<br />

on Younger Now), the personnel this time<br />

is largely different than it was on both<br />

Plastic Hearts and the She Is Coming EP.<br />

Two recurring names in particular from<br />

the credits here <strong>—</strong> Thomas Hull (AKA Kid<br />

Harpoon) and Tyler Johnson <strong>—</strong> are also<br />

best known as a pair for being the chief<br />



architects behind the last two Harry Styles<br />

albums, and there’s a similar vacuousness<br />

and posturing substituting for real<br />

personality that defines the lyrics to many<br />

of these new songs.<br />

The major exception to that rule is<br />

“Flowers,” the lead single and opening<br />

track of ESV and its unassailable peak.<br />

Like few other popstars working, Miley<br />

(and her collaborators) can be counted on<br />

for an empirically perfect song every five<br />

years or so that represents the ideal<br />

synthesis of her genre ambitions during<br />

that era (see: “The Climb,” “7 Things,”<br />

“Malibu”), and “Flowers'' adds to that tally: A<br />

chilled-out, slow burning neo-disco<br />

confection pitched right at a level of<br />

mature edification that deliberately<br />

betrays the raw heartache beneath its<br />

surface. Some have dinged the song as<br />

maudlin self-love, but the tame<br />

ordinariness of the imagery (“I can take<br />

myself dancing / I can hold my own hand”)<br />

is entirely the point, the simple pleasures<br />

of a woman rebuilding her confidence one<br />

comforting thought at a time <strong>—</strong> and the<br />

lightly perceptible change in intensity of<br />

Miley’s vocal sell that gradual<br />

transformation. Miley has proven a better<br />

vocalist than almost anyone in her bracket<br />

when she wants to be; it’s her instincts<br />

that are sometimes questionable. On<br />

“Flowers,” the reserved nature of the lyrics<br />

have her hold back that caterwauling she’s<br />

often prone to with her bigger pop<br />

moments <strong>—</strong> which is to say, she sings it as<br />

well as she does her ballads, but with the<br />

added buoyancy and tempo of a banger.<br />

That restraint is short-lived, though, as<br />

“Jaded” (produced by that menace of<br />

in-the-red mixing Greg Kurstin) favors a<br />

sky-scraping vocal that wrings out any<br />

character. More frustratingly, its lyrics<br />

don’t really justify the intensity: “I’m sorry<br />

that you’re jaded” is a pretty weak<br />

missive.<br />

This album’s lyrics constantly drag down<br />

and prevent a generally grooveful set<br />

from selling itself with the charismatic<br />

personality of Miley at her best. “Rose<br />

Colored Lenses” rides a squelchy,<br />

psych-rock beat and fuzzed-out guitar<br />

licks like a more cleaned-up and<br />

accessible version of what she cooked up<br />

with the Flaming Lips a few<br />

reinventions back, while the free jazz-lite<br />

saxophone solo the song goes out on<br />

provides a nice touch of idiosyncrasy.<br />

But the repeated refrain of “We could stay<br />

like this forever / Lost in wonderland” is<br />

filler writing at its most obvious, and the<br />

attempts at more descriptive detail<br />

(“Somehow the bed sheets are dirty / Like<br />

sticky-sweet lemonade”) feel generated by<br />

the same Mad Lib logic as Styles’<br />

“Music for a Sushi Restaurant'' and<br />

“Watermelon Sugar.” The country-ish<br />

ballad “Thousand Miles” (with a<br />

harmonizing Brandi Carlile) fares worse,<br />

alighting on the genuine word salad<br />

chorus of “I’m out of my mind but still I’m<br />

holding on like a rolling stone / A thousand<br />

miles from anywhere.” There’s no good<br />

reason for this: In the Backyard Sessions<br />

concert movie that she released to<br />

Disney+ the same day as this album, Miley<br />

proves that the original lyrics for<br />

“Thousand Miles” weren’t nearly so<br />

convoluted. In a clip before her<br />

performance, she explains that the 2016<br />

version (then called “Happy Girl”) was<br />

written in response to a friend’s suicide,<br />

and sings a verse a capella: ”There was a<br />

friend of mine, her name was Darlene but<br />

all of us called her Becky. I don’t know why,<br />

I knew she was hurting. But I never thought<br />

I’d wake up to that call.”<br />

Miley rarely allows herself that level of<br />

vulnerability and directness here,<br />

seemingly out of a concern that getting<br />

too personal might make it harder for<br />

others to connect with her songs (she<br />

always tends to pivot when there’s<br />

evidence of some receding cultural<br />

attention). And there’s nothing wrong with<br />

writing for the cheap seats, per se <strong>—</strong> she<br />

largely did that on Plastic Hearts <strong>—</strong> but<br />

the effort to court that audience here<br />

tends to vacillate between painfully<br />

played-out cliché (“Wildcard”) and<br />

genuinely head-scratching strangeness<br />

(“Muddy Feet”). Occasionally, the music is<br />

strong enough to overcome its lyrical<br />

shortcomings: The wild and horny<br />

synth-pop grenade of “River” (as in,<br />

“you’re just like a river / you go on<br />

forever”) plays like the strutting She Is<br />

Coming runway song “Cattitude” on<br />

steroids, and manages to invigorate what<br />

could have been retro genre drag with a<br />

distinctly modern energy. Even better is<br />

“Island,” which also boasts one of the<br />

sturdiest metaphors of this whole set<br />


(“Am I stranded on an island? / Or have I<br />

landed in paradise?”), as Miley weighs the<br />

utopian company of her own individuality<br />

against the distance she feels from others.<br />

The chorus is big but never over-sung, and<br />

the production again finds a comfortable<br />

middle ground between its various vintage<br />

signifiers and a sharper, more<br />

contemporary form of synth-pop.<br />

It’s not hard to imagine Endless Summer<br />

Vacation eventually having value as a<br />

transitional album for Miley <strong>—</strong> that is, if<br />

she goes against her record and commits<br />

to this sound for longer than one release<br />

cycle. Chances are better than usual for<br />

that to be the case because, this time, she<br />

seems more willing to embrace all the<br />

different directions she’s explored in the<br />

past, and even command more agency<br />

over them (producer Mike-Will-Made-It has<br />

three credits here, but it’s actually some of<br />

the songs on which he doesn’t, like the<br />

rap-rock of “Handstand” and the prowling<br />

verses of “River,” that sound closer to his<br />

work on 2013’s Bangerz). Ultimately, there<br />

are some pop stars who do well ceding<br />

some writing and conceptualizing duties<br />

to their crew of collaborators, and some<br />

who come out feeling a bit<br />

straight-jacketed and focus-grouped by<br />

that generally accepted modern pop<br />

practice. Miley can honestly go either way<br />

<strong>—</strong> certainly Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz<br />

could’ve been improved with a little more<br />

outside intervention to reign-in its<br />

ridiculous bloat <strong>—</strong> but here not only is too<br />

much of Miley’s unique voice as an artist<br />

sacrificed in the name of accessibility, but<br />

the attempted professionalism isn’t all that<br />

well executed. A simple recalibration of<br />

her own presence within this music and<br />

some more compelling material could<br />

reap substantial rewards next time out,<br />

but on Endless Summer Vacation, Miley<br />

takes her holiday a little too literally. <strong>—</strong><br />

SAM C. MAC<br />

LABEL: Columbia Records; RELEASE<br />

DATE: March 10<br />





Yves Tumor<br />

Just as rock music has fallen out of<br />

fashion, Yves Tumor has become<br />

increasingly<br />

insistent on<br />

performing it. What<br />

does it mean to<br />

become a rock<br />

star,dripping<br />

swagger and<br />

larger-than-life<br />

mystique, in an age<br />

where achieving<br />

actual mass<br />

popularity playing<br />

this kind of music is<br />

almost impossible?<br />

(In a conversation<br />

with Courtney Love<br />

for Interview<br />

magazine, Tumor<br />

insists on the<br />

importance of<br />

protecting their<br />

privacy rather than<br />

exposing the details<br />

of their life to a<br />

potentially hostile<br />

audience.) Tumor’s<br />


music has never felt cynical, but their<br />

presentation in live shows and videos<br />

suggests a certain degree of irony.<br />

Guitarist Chris Greatti plays the Mick<br />

Ronson to Tumor’s Bowie, with long hair<br />

and makeup making him look as though<br />

he stepped out of an ‘80s Sunset Strip<br />

metal band. (Greatti’s YouTube channel<br />

shows him playing guitar solos from Van<br />

Halen and White Lion and inserting<br />

shredding leads into Lady Gaga and Dua<br />

Lipa songs.)<br />

In a review of glammed-out Eurovision<br />

rockers Maneskin’s latest album, Steven<br />

Hyden described that group as<br />

“cartoonish caricatures of rock stars,”<br />

and added Yungblud, Ghost, Greta van<br />



Fleet, and even Harry Styles to a list of<br />

popular acts who fall into the same<br />

category, before going on to say that “the<br />

caricature is fun.” On Praise a Lord Who<br />

Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or<br />

Simply, Hot Between Worlds), Tumor’s<br />

verbosely titled new album, the artists<br />

addresses this very subject head-on: “A<br />

parody of a pop star / You behaved just like<br />

a monster / Is this all just makeup?” But<br />

wearing a ripped Slipknot T-shirt, leather<br />

mini-skirt, and fishnet stockings <strong>—</strong> as<br />

Tumor did at Pitchfork’s 2021 festival <strong>—</strong><br />

might articulate something even deeper<br />

than confessional balladry.<br />

Queer Black artists have been present<br />

since the birth of rock’n’roll, and Tumor is<br />

following in the lineage of Sister Rosetta<br />

Tharpe and Little Richard. Without getting<br />

heavy-handed, the video for “Heaven<br />

Surrounds Us Like a Hood” makes this<br />

point. It cuts from Tumor playing guitar<br />

while sitting on a rotating statue of an<br />

apple core to images of two child stans<br />

dancing in a bedroom plastered with<br />

Tumor posters. At its end, one of the kids<br />

takes a bite from an apple. While LGBTQ<br />

people are being regularly demonized as<br />

corrupters of youth, the video, like Oliver<br />

Sim’s “Fruit,” understands and shows the<br />

necessity of passing down the gift of our<br />

knowledge.<br />

Tumor’s music notably became far more<br />

accessible after signing to Warp Records<br />

for 2018’s Safe in the Hands of Love, but<br />

they’ve still always kept an eye on the<br />

future, even while their first album was<br />

entirely based upon samples. Comparisons<br />

have been drawn from Dean Blunt and<br />

James Ferraro to Bowie and Prince, but<br />

few of Tumor’s songs actually sound like<br />

anyone else’s. The power ballad<br />

“Kerosene!” from Heaven to a Tortured<br />

Mind, Tumor’s answer to “Purple Rain,” is<br />

a distinct exception, but it borrowed its<br />

melody from the unlikely source of Uriah<br />

Heep’s “Weep in Silence.”<br />

Praise a Lord… was recorded with a<br />

shifting group of musicians, yet it<br />

reflects the same discipline as live shows<br />

with Tumor’s tight touring band. Seven<br />

bassists, including Tumor themself,<br />

perform on the album, but they share a<br />

consistent sound: thick, distorted, often<br />

occupying a rhythm guitar’s space. It’s<br />

the rhythm section that drives most<br />

songs, and a track like “God Is a Circle,”<br />

without adopting the motoric beat, still<br />

races ahead with the same compulsive<br />

forward motion. Tumor’s recent music<br />

has utilized thick, layered production,<br />

with subtle bits of noise hidden in the<br />

mix, and it repays loud, close listening.<br />

But no matter how much their songs add<br />

on top, the groove remains: “Meteora<br />

Blues,” for instance, takes a lunge into<br />

heavy metal, with lead guitar used for<br />

additional texture.<br />

Tumor’s origins in vaporwave <strong>—</strong> making<br />

music based on loops on a laptop <strong>—</strong> are<br />

also still faintly perceptible in Praise a<br />

Lord. Now that they can afford to pay to<br />

clear samples, “Operator” lifts from Faith<br />

No More’s “Be Aggressive,” and on the<br />

album’s most experimental song, the<br />

instrumental “Praised by the Trial of Fire,”<br />

Tumor again returns to those roots. The<br />

track filters and processes horns, guitar,<br />

and drums into an approximation of a<br />

warped, skipping record. The source<br />

material becomes unrecognizable, as<br />

though burnt by the title’s fire, and the<br />

drums refuse to stick to a steady beat. A<br />

brief melody does emerge, but the song<br />

never puts much emphasis on it.<br />

Praise the Lord… also retains the motif of<br />

religious imagery that is a constant in<br />

Tumor’s music and videos: take song<br />

titles like “Psalm,” “Gospel for a New<br />

Century,” “Face of a Demon,” or this<br />

album’s very name (following<br />

Experiencing the Deposit of Faith and<br />

Heaven to a Tortured Mind.) Their second<br />

album, Serpent Music, which was<br />

originally going to be called God Fearing,<br />

alludes to the Garden of Eden. At the<br />

same time, their specific use of these<br />

references suggests a skepticism about<br />

Christianity and an interest in “occult”<br />

spirituality. They’ve played devilish<br />

figures in the videos for “Lifetime,” where<br />

they struggle within a pentagram made of<br />

rope, and “Gospel for a New Century.” (Lil<br />

Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”<br />

video suggests Tumor’s influence.)<br />

Similarly, the video for “Kerosene!”<br />

continues rock’s time-honored tradition<br />

of Aleister Crowley references, with a<br />

flying golf ball exploding over a “Love Is<br />

the Law” banner during Greatti’s guitar<br />

solo.<br />

Praise a Lord… engages with all of these<br />

concerns in a thorough manner,<br />

examining Tumor’s ideas about religion in<br />

their full complexity. On “Meteora Blues”<br />

they sing, “I’ll always pray to an empty sky<br />

/ stare straight into the morning star.”<br />

“Heaven Surrounds Us Like a Hood,”<br />

meanwhile, uses a sample of a boy<br />

saying “I love the color blue because it’s in<br />

the sky and that’s what God is.” These<br />

references bleed the spiritual, carnal, and<br />

romantic into each other, laying out the<br />


impossibility of separating them <strong>—</strong> song<br />

after song describes God and a lover in the<br />

same breath. Tumor’s flirtations with the<br />

occult reveal the power of desire to break<br />

down black-and-white morality; see, for<br />

instance, “In Spite of War,” which relates a<br />

difficult relationship in which Tumor<br />

yearns after a lover who is compared to<br />

both angels and devils. It’s clear, then, that<br />

the increasing polish of Tumor’s music<br />

hasn’t eliminated its experimentation, but<br />

has instead only made it more subtle.<br />

Praise the Lord… suggests that a reliable<br />

groove is the best starting place to ponder<br />

some of life’s biggest questions. <strong>—</strong> STEVE<br />


LABEL: Warp Records; RELEASE DATE:<br />

March 17<br />

CIRCLE<br />

Onew<br />

Circle is the first full album by Onew,<br />

member of K-pop boy group SHINee, who<br />

debuted as a soloist in 2019 with the<br />

ballad-heavy Voice EP, and returned last<br />

spring with the vibrant synthpop of second<br />

mini-album Dice. After finding his footing<br />

in freshman and sophomore projects,<br />

Circle is an opportunity for Onew to settle<br />

more deeply into a signature sound, as<br />

well as take on the challenge of crafting a<br />

full-length album statement for the first<br />

time. (The latter is a particularly notable<br />

task in the world of K-pop, where<br />

mini-albums are the standard and<br />

tracklists are sometimes thrown together<br />

without much thought for cohesion.) The<br />

end result is a project that brings together<br />

dance-pop and ballads to create a<br />

sensitive pop album quietly brimming with<br />

life.<br />

The record opens with title track “O<br />

(Circle),” a pensive tune just slightly<br />

untethered from reality that puts the<br />

voice of SHINee’s main vocalist front and<br />

center. With lyrics courtesy of Kim Eana,<br />

Onew muses about how life goes on, yet<br />

some things never seem to change: “The<br />

eternal cycle around the sun, the wind, the<br />

clouds, the rain, the sea / All the greetings<br />

and farewells have been the same.”<br />

There’s a choir, but it somehow works,<br />

upping the sense of scale without<br />

sounding too corny or spiritual. The<br />

overall vibe is of an existential<br />

coffeeshop <strong>—</strong> inviting and gently<br />

atmospheric, but where the barista might<br />

ask, “How much are you willing to pay?”<br />

“O” begins the album with a feeling of<br />

discovering how much you don’t know.<br />

The B-sides, in terms of tone and tempo,<br />

follow behind in a wave that moves from<br />

gentle acoustic to distinctly upbeat<br />

tracks, before finally settling back into<br />

the mellow sonic space where the title<br />

track began. “Cough” is a classic<br />

singer-songwriter-esque midtempo track<br />

that blooms into a tender chorus; “Rain<br />

on Me” is a hushed, pleading ballad;<br />

“Caramel” is lightly jazzy, with a touch of<br />

mouth trumpet. From there, Circle takes<br />

off into a surprising groove: it’s a funny<br />

choice to open the record as if it’s on<br />

course to deliver an all-ballad affair, and<br />

then slyly bury the bops right at the point<br />

when listeners stop expecting them. The<br />

crisp, funky production of “Anywhere” and<br />

“Paradise” combines with Onew’s<br />

weightless vocals to fashion dancy cuts<br />

with distinct character, and “No<br />

Parachute” fittingly pairs the project’s<br />

lightest, simplest hook with lyrics about<br />

trying to escape everyday anxieties. The<br />


album then closes with the warm hug of<br />

“Walk with You” and the standard-ending<br />

piano ballad “Always.” The immediate<br />

impression is of a satisfying journey’s<br />

gentle end, yet the open question of the<br />

title track leaves you wanting to listen<br />

just one more time pretty much as soon<br />

as the end arrives.<br />

Circle is yet another jewel in the crown of<br />

excellent SHINee solo projects, and it<br />

entirely lives up to the expectations of a<br />

K-pop mainstay’s first full-length outing.<br />

The music reflects on the styles Onew<br />

has previously visited, experiments with<br />

yet more new ones, and, while doing so,<br />

moves just the right amount forward: a<br />

comeback without opting for reinvention,<br />

a progression rather than a departure.<br />

Most importantly for a record of such<br />

origins, Circle stands on its own as a<br />

well-crafted and well-performed work<br />

with a strong point of view about the<br />

emotional potential of pop music. In the<br />

pre-chorus of its title track, Onew sings<br />

about “the joys of an unhurried sunrise” <strong>—</strong><br />

a fitting sentiment to open an album that<br />

so understands patience and the<br />

importance of subtle, unique color. <strong>—</strong><br />


LABEL: SM Entertainment; RELEASE<br />

DATE: March 6<br />


Photo Credits:<br />

Cover - Jonnie Chambers; Page 1 - SXSW; Page 4 - Still by Kristen (K2) Correll; Page 5 - Theo<br />

Montoya; Page 6 - SXSW; Page 7 - Paper Street Pictures & Last Resort Ideas; Page 9 - Chris<br />

Kasick, Jared Washburn; Page 10 - Grégoire Graesslin; Page 10 - Rock N Roll Documentary<br />

Productions Inc.; Page 12 - Another Body; Page 14, 15- SXSW; Page 16 - AP; Page 17 - Towne Post<br />

Network; Page 18 - Capital Records; Page 19 - Warner Bros.; Page 21 - Niu Vision Media; Page 22 -<br />

20th Century Studios/Clair Fogler; Page 23, 24 - Netflix; Page 25 - Music Box Films; Page 27 -<br />

Aaron Epstein/RGB; Page 29 - Netflix; Page 30 - Coproduction Office; Page 31 - Cinedigm; Page 32<br />

- IFC Films; Page 33 - Fantasia Fest; Page 34 - Brianna Cappozi; Page 35 - Columbia Records; Page<br />

36 - Jordan Hemingway; Page 38 - SM Entertainment; Back Cover - Jessica Miglion/Warner Bros.

Hooray! Your file is uploaded and ready to be published.

Saved successfully!

Ooh no, something went wrong!