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InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 12

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IN REVIEW ONLINE<br />

FEATURES<br />

SXSW 2023<br />

ONLY THE GOOD<br />

SURVIVE <strong>—</strong> 1<br />

FREMONT <strong>—</strong> 2<br />

BLOODY HELL <strong>—</strong> 3<br />

KITE ZO A: LEAVE THE<br />

BONES <strong>—</strong> 5<br />

HUNG UP ON A DREAM <strong>—</strong> 5<br />

THE ARC OF OBLIVION <strong>—</strong> 6<br />

MONOLITH <strong>—</strong> 7<br />

good. honest. fun.<br />

An Interview with Ratboys’<br />

Julia Steiner <strong>—</strong> 9<br />

KICKING THE CANON<br />

THE HITCH-HIKER <strong>—</strong> 13<br />

FULL MOON<br />

OVER PARIS <strong>—</strong> 15<br />

FILM REVIEWS<br />

JOHN WICK:<br />

CHAPTER 4 <strong>—</strong> 17<br />

WALK UP <strong>—</strong> 18<br />

THE FIVE DEVILS <strong>—</strong> 19<br />

TORI AND LOKITA <strong>—</strong> 20<br />

A GOOD PERSON <strong>—</strong> 21<br />

THE LOST KING <strong>—</strong> 23<br />

THE WORST ONES <strong>—</strong> 24<br />

TODAY <strong>—</strong> 25<br />

TIMESCAPE <strong>—</strong> 26<br />

ALBUM REVIEWS<br />

100 GECS <strong>—</strong> 27<br />

FEVER RAY <strong>—</strong> 28<br />

March 24, 2023<br />

<strong>Volume</strong> 1, <strong>Issue</strong> <strong>12</strong>


SXSW 2023<br />

ONLY THE GOOD SURVIVE<br />

Dutch Southern<br />

Best known as one of three credited writers on Joseph Kahn’s 14-minute Power Rangers (2015) short <strong>—</strong><br />

alongside the director and James Van Der Beek, in what had to have been a pull-a-name-from-a-hat collaboration <strong>—</strong><br />

Dutch Southern’s debut feature Only the Good Survive is the kind of film that feels lab-created to divide audiences. It boasts a<br />

massive, conspicuous personality, which will likely work wonders for those already attuned to its wavelength <strong>—</strong> basically, endless<br />

winking punctuated by lo-fi practical gore effects <strong>—</strong> while proving insufferable for the quirk-allergic.<br />

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Narratively, Only the Good Survive adopts the familiar Usual Suspects posture, with small town sheriff Cole Mack (Frederick Weller)<br />

interrogating young Brea (Sidney Flanigan) about the brutal events of the hours prior. The film is thus dominated by flashback, as<br />

recounts a twisty, unreliable recent past: after her boyfriend Ry (D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai) discovers, by chance, some incredibly<br />

valuable gold coins at a local farmer’s home, he, along with local psycho <strong>—</strong> and apparent mint nerd <strong>—</strong> Erve (Will Ropp) and<br />

neighborhood enforcer Dev (Darius Fraser) concoct an unsophisticated


FESTIVAL COVERAGE<br />

heist scheme that relies on the God-fearing rubes going to<br />

church. Brea takes on the role of lookout, but of course things<br />

immediately go wrong; specifically, in the<br />

form of discovering not gold, but a baby in a cage.<br />

Only the Good Survive, then, reveals itself not to be the heist film<br />

it initially suggests <strong>—</strong> the machinations and orchestrations of the<br />

caper are only barely explicated in a brief planning montage,<br />

then immediately disrupted, then abandoned <strong>—</strong> but rather a fairly<br />

bald-faced attempt at camp horror-comedy. You see, what the<br />

quartet instead find is what they believe to be some kind of<br />

paganistic cabal who steals babies (by cutting them out of<br />

late-pregnancy women’s bellies) in order to use them for blood<br />

sacrifices and sex (yes, unconscionable child sexual abuse is<br />

lackadaisically used as plot fodder here). It’s clear that Southern<br />

is attempting to send up our current era of QAnon-driven<br />

conspiracy culture in the broadest terms possible <strong>—</strong> perhaps<br />

believing that by saturing the film in ludicrous affectation, he’s<br />

condemning the essential absurdity of America’s MAGA substrate<br />

<strong>—</strong> but it’s all undermined by the aggressively annoying smirk the<br />

film wears in every scene. A baby in a cage <strong>—</strong> we get it, the<br />

iconography is bluntly legible, but a better film wouldn’t have<br />

been so hyperactively excited by its own designs from frame one.<br />

That Wayfair isn’t namechecked is the only bit of restraint to be<br />

found in the entire film.<br />

Southern furthers the film’s oppressively grating sheen with<br />

nearly every visual choice here. The camera rarely rests across<br />

the film’s runtime, all manner of movements and angles<br />

employed to establish its particular coy character. The<br />

flashbacks are frequently lit in garish color, a few pointless<br />

animated overlays are tossed around, and performers are asked<br />

to affect a performative style of speech and plaster on the kind<br />

of smiles audiences saw in Smile, just to remind us that what<br />

we’re witnessing in these scenes aren’t the actual events. But it’s<br />

impossible for that ever to be far from our minds because the<br />

film also constantly cuts to an interrupting Cole, asking<br />

questions and poking holes; it’s unclear if this is all in an effort to<br />

reorient our perceptions or if Southern is under the impression<br />

that the formal tête-à-tête that Cole and Brea are sharing is<br />

somehow comedically appealing.<br />

And so, a film that initially appears to suggest something like the<br />

Nee brothers’ Band of Robbers proves instead to be angling for<br />

Edgar Wright lite, flailing wildly in the attempt. Passion is of<br />

course essential to the success of any project, but there’s an<br />

exasperating giddiness, barrelling into the self-satisfied, that<br />

pervades the whole of the film. All of its attempts at reference<br />

and homage and meta-ness are limp. At one point, a character<br />

observes, “I can’t tell if this is supposed to be comedy or horror.”<br />

Southern clearly intends it to be both, and it succeeds as neither.<br />

But the more damning indictment is in how difficult it is to even<br />

care to answer. <strong>—</strong> LUKE GORHAM<br />

FREMONT<br />

Babak Jalali<br />

The metatextual fortune cookie message (e.g. “Help! I’m being<br />

held hostage in a fortune cookie factory!”) is an obvious premise<br />

for a joke, indeed one so omnipresent that it has transitioned<br />

into the realm of urban legend. Babak Jalali’s Fremont takes this<br />

as a jumping off point and, though he does apply some of the<br />

whimsy that genesis suggests, he manages equally to examine<br />

the corridor of apocrypha with a disarming earnestness. The film<br />

follows Donya (Anaita Wali Zada), an Afghan refugee working in a<br />

fortune cookie factory. Fremont takes a lackadaisical approach<br />

to plot: the moment functioning as the premise, in which Donya<br />

sends out a message in a fortune cookie, doesn’t occur until the<br />

middle of the film and has largely incidental consequences. But<br />

in exploring Donya’s relations with her coworkers, bosses, and<br />

Afghan neighbors, Jalali creates an affecting portrait.<br />

Fremont’s black-and-white photography points less toward any<br />

sort of nostalgia for Hollywood classicism than it does to the<br />

early films of Jim Jarmusch or Aki Kaurismäki. Each shot is<br />

precise, but they seem to communicate the energy of the<br />

individual moment more than contribute anything to the editing<br />

flow. Shot/reverse shots with wildly varying distances and<br />

isolated zooms lead to some disorientation, but it’s not an<br />

entirely displeasing effect. Eventually, it begins to feel of a piece<br />

with the film’s lightly stilted dialogue, which takes on a slightly<br />

more familiar form aligned with the more tasteful end of the<br />

indie quirk spectrum.<br />

Where the film really takes off is in its performances.<br />

Specifically, two recognizable faces, Gregg Turkington (On<br />

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SXSW 2023<br />

supporting roles. Turkington plays a psychiatrist from whom<br />

Donya seeks a prescription for sleeping pills. His character<br />

initially appears to be a bureaucratic obstacle for Donya, as he<br />

refuses to let her take on the appointment of a neighbor<br />

uninterested in continuing treatment, and then becomes an<br />

absurdity: a psychiatrist who specializes in treating immigrants<br />

as a tribute to his idol <strong>—</strong> the title character of Jack London’s<br />

White Fang (who he is frequently eager to remind Donya is a wolf,<br />

not a dog). And though Turkington does indeed bring a<br />

delightfully specific comedic energy to the film, peaking in a bit<br />

of physical comedy where he attempts to open a fortune cookie<br />

package with his teeth, there’s a deep pathos in the tension<br />

between his character’s desire to help Donya and his myopia.<br />

When he finds out she has been promoted to writing the<br />

messages for the fortune cookies, he encourages her to use it as<br />

both a creative and therapeutic outlet. But when he tries the<br />

exercise himself, he is more proud of his own originality than he<br />

is capable of communicating the efficacy of the therapeutic<br />

process. White, meanwhile, appears in the film’s final stretch, and<br />

affects a similar tension in a simultaneous display of brooding<br />

movie star swagger and overwhelming loneliness.<br />

Jalali has frequently worked with non-professional actors, and in<br />

the lead Zada is generally on the reactive end of scenes. She<br />

grounds the performances of Turkington and White, as well as<br />

other first-time actors with more colorful characters. Zada is<br />

herself an Afghan refugee, and the film is certainly more glaringly<br />

topical than most of its low-key indie progenitors. It’s never<br />

didactic in its messaging, but neither is the political content<br />

cordoned off to the realm of extraneous subtext. And it’s this, the<br />

way that Jalali imbues the politics of film’s content into the<br />

essential conception and construction of the film, that makes a<br />

project that is already quite charming feel consequential, all<br />

without ever engaging in self-congratulation. <strong>—</strong> JESSE<br />

CATHERINE WEBBER<br />

BLOODY HELL<br />

Molly McGlynn<br />

Molly McGlynn’s sophomore feature, Bloody Hell explicitly reveals<br />

its core conceit from the very beginning, opening with two<br />

quotes on a symbolically pink-colored background: the first, from<br />

Simon de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, reads, “The body is not a<br />

thing, but a situation”; the other, from Jennifer’s Body via Diable<br />

Cody, observes, “Hell is a teenage girl.” It’s immediately evident,<br />

then, that this indie Canadian coming-of-age dramedy is<br />

supposed to first and foremost tackle the complex and crucial<br />

issue of one’s body <strong>—</strong> more specifically, the meaning of a<br />

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FESTIVAL COVERAGE<br />

woman’s body <strong>—</strong> and the relationship between a person’s<br />

corporeality and the surrounding world as a means to perceive<br />

and understand it.<br />

Following her 16-year-old protagonist, Lindy (portrayed by Gen-Z<br />

teen idol Maddie Ziegler), McGlynn constructs her<br />

semi-autobiographical story through a quite familiar narrative:<br />

living with her single mother Rita (Emily Hampshire), who has her<br />

own struggles with dating apps, Lindy is a new arrival in<br />

suburban Sudbury, Ontario, a setup which immediately suggests<br />

the struggles she will face in terms of adapting to a new social<br />

environment and in her attempts to discover her own identity.<br />

But what distinguishes this cringe traumedy is not only its unique<br />

subject matter <strong>—</strong> Lindy unexpectedly finds out that she suffers<br />

from the MRKH syndrome, a rare congenital disorder that makes<br />

it impossible for her to have penetrative sex <strong>—</strong> but also the way<br />

McGlynn subjects a woman’s body to various identities: here, a<br />

female body is alternately (sometimes simultaneously)<br />

understood according to sexual, medical, existential, cosmetic,<br />

and athletic terms. And perhaps more importantly, in Lindy’s<br />

case, as a waypoint between girlhood and womanhood.<br />

It becomes obvious, then, how McGlynn follows the dictum laid<br />

out by Beauvoir’s opening quote and constructs the narrative<br />

precisely as a series of distinct, and distinctly awkward,<br />

situations. The problem, however, is that Bloody Hell, functioning<br />

as a situational dramedy, does not always succeed in remaining<br />

fresh across its roughly 100-minute runtime, which causes it to<br />

frequently feel a little too flat and repetitive. It’s an unfortunate<br />

development, perhaps reflective of a lack of complete control<br />

over the material, for a film as sensitive, insightful, and<br />

conceptually thought-provoking as Bloody Hell. Making things<br />

worse is the fact that, aesthetically speaking, McGlynn asserts<br />

the film’s visual character in far too safe and standard a fashion,<br />

operating in a familiar low-key lane that viewers will likely<br />

recognize from similar-looking films like, say, the works of Lena<br />

Dunham.<br />

But despite such drawbacks, on top of McGlynn’s somewhat novel<br />

take on the film’s narrative material, what truly boosts Bloody<br />

Hell, at least beyond your conventional and plainly didactic<br />

treatment of this subject matter, is the Ziegler’s deeply relatable<br />

presence in the lead role, supported by an impressive troupe of<br />

young, empathic performers. Ziegler delivers a turn that is both<br />

bold and fragile, easily moving between joviality and a more<br />

guarded restraint, and it lends McGlynn’s Bloody Hell a tender<br />

emotionality and gentleness that helps translate its<br />

hyper-specific narrative considerations to messaging that will<br />

speak to a wider sphere of viewers. <strong>—</strong> AYEEN FOROOTAN<br />

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SXSW 2023<br />

KITE ZO A: LEAVE THE BONES<br />

Kaveh Nabatian<br />

In his landmark 1993 work Culture and Imperialism, historian<br />

Edward W. Said observes, “peoples being conscious of<br />

themselves as prisoners in their own land... returns again and<br />

again in the literature of the imperialized world. The history of<br />

empire... in Haiti, Madagascar, Burma, the Philippines, Egypt, and<br />

elsewhere, seems incoherent unless one recognizes that sense<br />

of beleaguered imprisonment infused with a passion for<br />

community that grounds anti-imperialist resistance in cultural<br />

effort.” Those phrases<strong>—</strong> “'a passion for community” and “cultural<br />

effort” <strong>—</strong> feel particularly apt when applied to Kite Zo A: Leave the<br />

Bones, an essayistic documentary that concerns itself with<br />

nothing less than the overflowing vibrancy and vitality of<br />

present-day Haiti.<br />

Director/cinematographer/editor Kaveh Nabatian smartly<br />

eschews much of the audience hand-holding endemic to<br />

contemporary issue docs, opting instead for an immersive<br />

collage of various performers and street-level subject<br />

interviews, all set to Malickian narration courtesy of poet<br />

Wood-Jerry Gabriel. A very brief introductory text acknowledges<br />

Bois Caïman, then continues, “where Africa meets the tip of a<br />

Caribbean island, where Boukman drowned the suffering of a<br />

race in the blood of a pig in 1791 to redefine the word liberty in<br />

1804 and trace a new tomorrow. Our history is long and has no<br />

end.” Bois Caïman was the site where the first large insurrection<br />

of the Haitian Revolution was planned; Dutty Boukman was a<br />

leader in that revolution, instigating a slave rebellion with a<br />

Vodou ceremony, considered to be a “sacred ritual.” History<br />

lesson aside, Nabatian then launches into a series of vibrant,<br />

even exuberant, explosions of movement <strong>—</strong> there are dancers,<br />

but also surfers (Nabatian supplied some people with Go-Pro<br />

cameras to film themselves in their respective moment) and a<br />

particularly fun tangent that explores the surprisingly large<br />

rollerblading sub-culture in Haiti. Interspersed with all of this are<br />

various religious ceremonies and assorted pageantry. There’s<br />

Vodou, of course, although the filmmaker is careful not to show it<br />

as some kind of horrific freak show, instead representing it as an<br />

essential spiritual practice. But there’s also a visit to a Christian<br />

church; as Nabatian explains in an interview with the website<br />

Awards Radar, Haiti is “50% Catholic, 50% Protestant, and 100%<br />

Vodou.”<br />

Much of the film’s last act, of a fairly brief film at that (it’s only 67<br />

minutes), is occupied by preparations for the annual Mardi Gras<br />

celebration, with ample footage of musicians performing in the<br />

street and people donning all manner of costumes. There are<br />

traditional, symbolic outfits, but also glimpses of someone made<br />

up like a blue Avatar alien and a young man who freely mixes<br />

Batman and Joker makeup together, remixing and<br />

recontextualizing American iconography into something new and<br />

unique. The threat of violence hovers around the margins of the<br />

film; even a cursory knowledge of contemporary Haiti is replete<br />

with stories of crime, political upheaval, and devastating natural<br />

disasters. The film recognizes this harsh reality, but Kite Zo A<br />

ultimately reveals itself to be about transformations, a document<br />

of a people in a still ongoing struggle to define themselves and<br />

build something from the ruins of an imperialism-ravaged past. A<br />

lovely bit of narration: “We travel with hope strapped to our<br />

shoulder; we are soldiers of time, our patience is never ending.”<br />

The past and present intermingle in an effort to carve out a new<br />

future. By allowing the film’s subjects to essentially dictate its<br />

form and content, Nabatian helps actualize this fundamentally<br />

important “passion for community.” <strong>—</strong> DANIEL GORMAN<br />

HUNG UP ON A DREAM<br />

Robert Schwartzman<br />

The music documentary is a pretty dependable product, sure to<br />

find space in a number of festival nonfiction lineups and,<br />

eventually, the programs of independent cinemas and arthouses<br />

across the country. With a built-in audience and not necessarily<br />

needing much in the way of production value or formal daring,<br />

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FESTIVAL COVERAGE<br />

music documentaries are sure, inoffensive bets, though rarely<br />

are they all that creatively or aesthetically satisfying.<br />

These generalizations mostly hold true for Hung Up on a Dream, a<br />

new film profiling the iconic ‘60s British rock act The Zombies,<br />

fittingly premiering at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival in their 24<br />

Beats Per Second section (a sidebar consisting of 8 different<br />

music docs). Billed as the first-ever documentary on The<br />

Zombies and directed by Coppola heir/Rooney frontman Robert<br />

Schwartzman (backed by exec producer Tom Hanks), there’s<br />

certainly some reason to anticipate that Hung Up on a Dream<br />

might transcend the usual failings of this subgenre, or at least<br />

boast a compelling angle beyond access to its subjects.<br />

Unfortunately, that’s more or less the beginning and end of what<br />

this particular film has to offer. Which isn’t absolutely nothing, of<br />

course; after all, The Zombies are a hugely influential band with a<br />

pair of chart-topping, canonical singles, and the brevity of their<br />

recording career (two albums in a four-year window) has made<br />

them enduring cult figures. So there’s some satisfaction to be<br />

had in seeing the surviving members reunited and revisiting<br />

Abbey Road Studios and the like. Still, Schwartzman struggles to<br />

get enough material out of the band, who are uniformly rather<br />

open, humble guys, all sharing a tendency to undersell their<br />

accomplishments. It’s not exactly a flashy story as recounted by<br />

them, with the general sentiment being that they were lucky to<br />

have had their moment and to have been in the company of a<br />

number of top acts of the era (although some bitterness and<br />

disappointment remains regarding the industry exploitation that<br />

ultimately drove the band into premature retirement).<br />

Told as a sort of career survey that leads into a track-by-track<br />

analysis of the band’s masterpiece LP Odessey and Oracle, Hung<br />

Up on a Dream lacks narrative spark <strong>—</strong> the album breakdown is<br />

definitely the more engaging section <strong>—</strong> with Schwartzman<br />

running through several weak visual ideas in an attempt to keep<br />

things interesting (vaguely psychedelic animations of a man and<br />

a woman looking at each other, slow zooms on CGI TV’s playing<br />

archival footage), just barely getting by at this 109-minute<br />

runtime. A historic film in a very literal sense, the film<br />

nevertheless doesn’t manage to bring new light or perspective to<br />

The Zombies’ tale, instead trading mostly in info dumps and<br />

content to be more of a broad career overview. <strong>—</strong> M.G. MAILLOUX<br />

THE ARC OF OBLIVION<br />

Ian Cheney<br />

Most religions around the world have a flood story. Whether it’s<br />

Noah’s Ark, the manvantara-sandhya in Hinduism, or the<br />

Cheyenne saga of the Great Flood, the story of a man building a<br />

boat somewhere is embedded in a good deal of cultural histories.<br />

One such story, the flood myth outlined in the “Epic of<br />

Gilgamesh,” serves as inspiration for director Ian Cheney’s The<br />

Arc of Oblivion. Cheney, like many of us today, lives in a<br />

predominantly digital world. Where our grandmothers luxuriated<br />

in letters from lovers, we have unending text message threads.<br />

Where our parents had cupboards full of photo albums, we have<br />

folders on our phones. Where once there were massive VHS and<br />

then DVD collections (and less massive LaserDisc ones), in their<br />

place are password managers for the ballooning number of<br />

streaming services. For Cheney, this means stacks of hard drives<br />

filled with footage from past films, videos of his children, and the<br />

other digital miscellany we all accumulate over the years. When<br />

contemplating humanity’s continued transition to a world of only<br />

0s and 1s, and the inherent frailty of such an existence, Cheney<br />

wonders: “Are we insane to imagine that anything can last?”<br />

In an attempt to answer that question, the director decides to<br />

follow in the footsteps of all those flood narratives <strong>—</strong> because<br />

obviously <strong>—</strong> and build an ark in his parents’ backyard in rural<br />

Maine. With the help of a neighbor, he designs and constructs the<br />

ark throughout the course of the film, and while this central<br />

metaphor is an obvious one, Cheney leverages it to pose more<br />

thoughtful questions. Experts in a wide variety of fields visit the<br />

ark to weigh in on the nature of history and memory according to<br />

their specific area of study: dendrochronologists talk about the<br />

trees that are cut down for the ark and how their rings tell a<br />

history of the earth; Kirk Johnson, paleontologist and director of<br />

the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, speaks<br />

about fossils and the idea of the earth itself as an archive; Jamal<br />

Williams, a neuroscientist at Princeton who studies the role that<br />

music plays in our memories, visits, listening to a song for the<br />

first time so that he can connect those two memories forever.<br />

Meanwhile, Cheney also visits places far away from the ark,<br />

interviewing those who are trying to preserve our existence for<br />

the future. In Austria, he speaks with a ceramist who started<br />

“Memory of Mankind,” an archive created by putting information<br />

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SXSW 2023<br />

on ceramic plates and storing them underground. And later he<br />

visits the arctic and has a conversation with Ida Beathe<br />

Øverjordet, an ecotoxicologist who is searching for compounds<br />

in the sediment that could be used in pharmaceuticals.<br />

Throughout all these conversations, Cheney’s skill as an<br />

interviewer is what keeps his essential inquiries engaging and<br />

moving at an effective clip. Each question builds upon the last,<br />

each person adding another layer to the director’s metaphorical<br />

ark, all while the actual ark fills out around them. But what<br />

stands out most in Arc of Oblivion is Cheney’s facility with visual<br />

storytelling. While this material could have easily been explored<br />

through bland talking head interviews with the experts, the<br />

decision to center the ark, heavy-handed though the conceit<br />

may be, provides a visual throughline that keeps the film<br />

appealing on both formal and narrative levels. As viewers, we<br />

watch the ark grow alongside our evolving investment in the<br />

film’s questions, and it’s almost tricky the way Cheney uses this<br />

to encourage our investment in the physical project’s finished<br />

product.<br />

But what exactly is the finished product? While the ark itself is<br />

completed, the question of our fundamental “insanity” posed by<br />

Cheney at the film’s beginning doesn’t ever arrive at a tidy<br />

answer. Therein lies the film’s greatest strength <strong>—</strong> unlike so<br />

many traditionally narrativized documentaries, its embrace of<br />

the unknown is liberating, and leaves viewers space to draw their<br />

own conclusions. Value is here understood to come in the time<br />

taken to ask the questions rather than in any specific, reductive<br />

destination. Given all that, it’s not surprising to see Werner<br />

Herzog show up at the end of The Arc of Oblivion. Sure, he is one<br />

of the film’s executive producers, but even more so, in his<br />

nonfiction work he is known for his existential questing and<br />

crafting films that find summative answers limiting. Herzog, who<br />

famously doesn’t use storyboards and tells Cheney that he<br />

doesn’t keep any footage from his films after they are completed,<br />

notes that “oblivion is a blessing… it would be an unlivable<br />

existence if we remembered everything.” This, delivered in<br />

Werner’s soothing, eminently identifiable voice, is perhaps the<br />

bleakest but also most probable answer to Cheney’s question.<br />

The desire for everything to last is quite possibly insane, and so<br />

the question we’re left to ask ourselves <strong>—</strong> do we really want it to?<br />

<strong>—</strong> EMILY DUGRANRUT<br />

MONOLITH<br />

Matt Vesely<br />

It seems that <strong>—</strong> at least in the past few years <strong>—</strong> a considerable<br />

number of films have proven their ability to manifest new<br />

sensibilities for the sonic and aural aspects of cinematic art.<br />

From Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria to Todd Field’s Tár,<br />

and from Steven Soderbergh’s Kimi to an indie sci-fi like Andrew<br />

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FESTIVAL COVERAGE<br />

Patterson’s The Vast of Night, an audience can easily discern how<br />

any of these films’ endeavors, through their uniquely singular<br />

strategies, enrich one’s filmic experience in terms of audiovisual<br />

exploration. In the same manner, Matt Vesely’s debut feature<br />

Monolith is a deliberately thought-out work that immediately<br />

exhibits a clear concern for its soundscape. Following an<br />

unnamed journalist (portrayed by Lily Sullivan, who merely gets<br />

credited as “The Interviewer”), who after taking refuge in her<br />

parents’ remote house decides to run a podcast (named Beyond<br />

Believable) with a special focus on extraterrestrial theories and<br />

government conspiracies, the Australian mystery-horror<br />

showcases a peculiar formalism right from the start. With<br />

Sullivan as the sole on-screen actress, and surrounded by the<br />

unruffled and minimalist spaces of the house she’s inhabiting,<br />

Monolith shapes its narrative via the Interviewer’s conversations<br />

over phone calls and emails, investigating a puzzling story about<br />

an undefinable and bizarre black brick. Through each online and<br />

otherwise distanced interaction, not only is the audience able to<br />

fill in the bigger picture of this weird, rabbit-hole story, but more<br />

importantly, they get a chance to attend to the auditory fabric of<br />

the film, all while patiently observing Sullivan’s marvelous<br />

performance, largely built upon excellent, reactive facial<br />

gesturing that ushers us into her headspace.<br />

Perhaps it makes sense, then, to consider Monolith as akin to<br />

Kiarostami’s Shirin, only in reverse <strong>—</strong> if the latter’s narrative<br />

shaped itself via the facial reactions of various women to a<br />

single dramatic piece heard offscreen, here it seems that Vesely<br />

exposes the film’s one and only actress to the offscreen voices of<br />

unseen characters, who in turn eventually unravel the story so<br />

that we are able to discern exactly what role this half-paranoid<br />

and half-delusional interviewer plays within the clickbait plot.<br />

The film is entangled in a web of computer tabs and screens,<br />

mostly in front of the mansion’s enormous window, and Vesely,<br />

through a cold color palette of gray-inflected greens and blues<br />

and a steady, patient rhythm, beautifully and eerily intensifies<br />

the film’s slow-burning and supernatural atmosphere, which step<br />

by step blurs the defining line between the real and imaginary<br />

and tackles the very philosophical question of what truth is.<br />

While it’s true that, as Sullivan’s character remarks, “All you have<br />

to do is listen” <strong>—</strong> as this is a film wherein sounds and voices<br />

communicate what’s beyond the images <strong>—</strong> the way Vesely and<br />

his DP Michael Tessari articulate a sophisticated dynamism<br />

within their compositions is what gives Monolith a prismatic<br />

quality that, despite the film’s confined setting and<br />

claustrophobic mood, delivers an intricate sensorial work<br />

wherein the richness of sound, silence, and spatial minimalism<br />

are tightly integrated. Or at least that’s the case before the final<br />

act of the film, which admittedly feels a little dissonant and<br />

unnecessarily prolonged given that Vesely doesn’t seem<br />

completely assured as to when to cut. But despite a relatively<br />

loose ending, Monolith truly asserts itself as an impressive,<br />

grounded, and solid sci-fi/horror indie that should inspire plenty<br />

of excitement for Vesely’s future work. <strong>—</strong> AYEEN FOROOTAN<br />

8


good. honest. fun.<br />

An Interview With Ratboys’ Julia Steiner<br />

To twangy Chicago indie rockers Ratboys, making music is all about good, honest fun. Their new song, “Black Earth, WI,” lives up to<br />

that promise. An epic, eight-and-half-minute journey through the eye of a storm, the track boasts visual storytelling, a charming “Hey<br />

Jude”-adjacent refrain, and one of the best guitar solos you’ll hear this year. We caught up with singer and guitarist Julia Steiner for a<br />

chat about how the track came to life, whether Ratboys is bringing back the guitar solo (they are), and the secret sauce that makes<br />

their music so road-trip-ready.<br />

Nick Seip: Hi Julia! I wanted to start off just by saying congrats on “Black Earth, WI.” It's been on repeat.<br />

Julia Steiner: Thanks, man. We're really excited to have it out.<br />

NS: I just love the songwriting and imagery it conjures. The guitar solo. The vocal processing and piano at the end.<br />

JS: Thanks! Yeah, it's funny, we tried our best not to add too much to the song. But what's there we wanted it to really shine. But it was<br />

very exciting because when we went into the studio, we wanted to achieve this live band in a room sound. Specifically, that very open,<br />

almost ‘70s roomy vibe. And with this song, I think it really came through and it was just all one take and we were just so thrilled that it<br />

worked out.<br />

NS: So you recorded it live to tape in one take?<br />

JS: Yeah, it was an interesting experience. As our first time recording to tape, we had always wanted to experiment with that, but we<br />

never had the right opportunity. And so when we went into the studio, this tape machine was just there and fully functional and we<br />

started to try it out. It was a cool workflow, because we recorded the live band track (drums, the two guitars, and the bass) altogether<br />

to tape and then we bounced that into the computer and did a bunch of overdubs. So it was a cool combination of analog and digital<br />

recording styles. And very freeing.<br />

NS: Do you usually do everything live in the studio like that? Or do you typically layer your tracks?<br />

JS: The first time we tried that was with Printer’s Devil, a record that we put out in 2020. That whole record, with the exception of two<br />

songs, was recorded as a live band in a room.<br />

9


And that was our first time doing it, so I was kind of unfamiliar<br />

with the way it works. Going into that, I was always under the<br />

impression that, if someone made a mistake while we were all<br />

playing, it would screw up the whole take and we'd have to start<br />

over. But we can isolate instruments. There's a lot more room for<br />

error than I realized. And so when we fully embraced that, leaned<br />

into it, it actually was very liberating and oddly enough made the<br />

whole process go way faster. All of a sudden, you play the song<br />

once, you have it recorded, and you're good to go.<br />

NS: I think that's a testament to your strength as a live band.<br />

Especially given the fact that “Black Earth” is over 8 minutes<br />

long. What made you want to do such a long song?<br />

JS: Well, thank you for saying that. The song developed a lot over<br />

time. Since it came out, I've been trying to hunt down the earliest<br />

iterations of it that I can find on my phone. Most of our songs<br />

start out as a little seed, where I'm playing by myself and just<br />

coming up with a chord progression or melody idea. And for this<br />

song, that seed came in like 2019. And then over the course of<br />

the next two-and-a-half years, we kind of just slowly started<br />

jamming on this idea. And that riff that Dave plays at kind of the<br />

climax of the guitar solo part was another part that was in the<br />

same key in the same tempo, so we just dragged it in. Over the<br />

course of playing the tune, with no real deadline, just enjoying<br />

ourselves and figuring out the best arrangement in a very slow,<br />

natural, organic way with the band. We kind of settled into this<br />

groove and this like length, for the song. I will say the final piece<br />

of the puzzle was that final verse that I sing at the end. For the<br />

longest time, we had the architecture of the shape of the song,<br />

but didn't know how to end it. And Marcus, our drummer,<br />

suggested to me, “You know, you need to add another verse.” And<br />

so I came up with that at the 11th hour, a few weeks before we<br />

went into the studio. So yeah, it came together very gradually, but<br />

it let us really enjoy ourselves, getting to figure it out over<br />

time.<br />

NS: Did you have any reference points for the track?<br />

JS: Yeah, kinda. I grew up really enjoying A Ghost Is Born by<br />

Wilco, and the song "Spiders" on that record is like nine minutes<br />

long, I think maybe ten. And I would always go to visit my friend<br />

when I was like 17 or 18 and just got my license, feeling like this<br />

new freedom and that song was the exact length of time that it<br />

would take me to drive home from his house. And so I just had so<br />

many special, wonderful memories of listening to that song and<br />

driving home and just getting lost in it. And so that feeling is kind<br />

of something that has always been very special to me. I don't<br />

presume to think that our song would have that impact for<br />

someone, but if it came close to something like that for anyone<br />

else that would be really cool.<br />

NS: I love that. I've always felt like Ratboys is such good road trip<br />

music. I was introduced to your music on a road trip and there's<br />

something about it that's so good for putting on in the car. Do<br />

you write a lot of songs in the car or on the road?<br />

JS: You know, not really. It's tough because I do most of the<br />

driving on tour. I'm kind of a control freak. I love to drive. So I<br />

don't have a ton of opportunity, especially when I'm with the<br />

guys. We're usually listening to music or listening to podcasts.<br />

But you're right – sometimes there's something about driving on<br />

the open road where your brain has so much room to wander,<br />

that little lines or snippets will just like pop into my brain. I've<br />

definitely, you know, had little moments where I'll write<br />

something down if it's safe to do so. Or especially if I'm alone and<br />

driving, I've definitely enjoyed just singing by myself and figuring<br />

stuff out. Just messing around. That spirit and that energy of<br />

moving and enjoying music with very few distractions and<br />

getting really lost in it is something that I think I'm able to<br />

channel or remember when working on songs. So it's nice to hear<br />

that. That might come through a little bit.<br />

NS: It definitely does. Before we move on from “Black Earth, WI,” I<br />

wanted to ask: There's this “whoosh” sound that's featured<br />

throughout, which is maybe my favorite part. What is that sound?<br />

JS: So that is actually a reverse tambourine hit. That was one<br />

really fun thing with recording to tape, playing with the idea of<br />

reversing things and playing with varispeed and all that stuff. It<br />

just sounds so much cooler than it would on the computer. So<br />

yeah, that was, I believe, a tambourine hit that Chris reversed.<br />

And then just placed it, like, at the end of each big bar.<br />

NS: It's a very cool effect. And Chris Walla is the producer on the<br />

track?<br />

10


JS: Yeah, we got to work with Chris Walla. It was amazing.<br />

Absolute dream come true. He's one of our favorite producers<br />

and musicians in general. He was in Death Cab for Cutie and<br />

produced a lot of their albums. He made The Con by Tegan and<br />

Sara which is one of my all-time favorites and a special record to<br />

me. He made a Foxing record that came out in 2018 that's just<br />

mind-blowing. Yeah, I could go on.<br />

NS: Is it fair to say that “Black Earth, WI” feels like a turning point<br />

for Ratboys? Is this an indication of what's to come?<br />

JS: Yeah, we have some more new music to share soon. And<br />

yeah, I think the song really speaks to the level of collaboration<br />

between us. It feels very fully realized to me from what it started<br />

out as. And I think that was something that we really had the time<br />

and space and like, energy to do with a lot of our new tunes. It<br />

just feels the most collaborative and “us” sounding record that<br />

we've made so far. So very excited to share more.<br />

NS: Is it fair to say that Ratboys is bringing back the guitar solo?<br />

JS: Dude, yes. I would be honored if someone said that. Ratboys<br />

is bringing back the guitar solo. I'm biased. I'm just a huge fan of<br />

Dave's guitar playing. And I feel like this is, like, the ultimate<br />

showcase of what he can do.<br />

NS: You're playing at SXSW this week and this is your first time<br />

back since the pandemic began.<br />

JS: Yeah. We haven't been to SXSW since 2019, so it's gonna be<br />

great. We always love going down there. There's just this insane<br />

circus energy that happens over the course of the week. You get<br />

to see so many awesome bands and see a bunch of friends all in<br />

the same place. It doesn't really happen any other time of the<br />

year. So we always really look forward to it.<br />

NS: Yeah, there's like a summer camp kind of energy. Do you<br />

have a mission, so to speak, for SXSW this year?<br />

JS: Well, that's a great question. There's a few different goals. We<br />

originally were thinking, like, “Ah, maybe we shouldn't go down<br />

this year.” Like, we don't have a new record out, you know, but we<br />

were thinking about it. We were supposed to play in 2020 and<br />

didn't get to. We had a new record out that year that we never got<br />

to play in Texas and at SXSW specifically. So the goal is to play<br />

those songs for the first time down in Texas, even though they're<br />

three years old now. We want to give Printer's Devil its due down<br />

at SXSW. We also put out a record a year after called Happy<br />

Birthday Ratboy, that's a bunch of old songs, but with new<br />

arrangements, and so we're gonna play some of those. And then<br />

throw some of these new tunes in the mix and see how people<br />

feel. And we might try to make a couple of music videos there,<br />

too. So it's gonna be a busy week, but it's gonna be really fun.<br />

We're excited.<br />

NS: Yeah, I wanted to talk about Happy Birthday Ratboy, too. It's<br />

such a cool concept, revisiting older songs. Was there a song<br />

that stood out to you when you were revisiting it that maybe took<br />

on new meaning?<br />

JS: Yeah, that's a nice question. It was really strange and fun,<br />

inhabiting those songs again, and some for the first time. We had<br />

played some of them live from time to time, but a few of them<br />

we had never played live as a full band. And so diving back into<br />

those and figuring out how I played guitar when I was 18 was<br />

really wonderful and strange. It made me kind of appreciate the<br />

whole scope of my time playing music. The song "88 Fingers<br />

Edward" was something we demoed out for Printer's Devil. It's an<br />

old, old, old song that we never properly recorded. And it just felt<br />

like it fit on this project. The song was only a minute and a half<br />

long. It initially ended where the vocals end. And I don't<br />

remember who, it might have been Marcus again, suggested we<br />

add a jam to it as an outro. Kind of like a Built to Spill vibe. And it<br />

just was the best choice – the song feels very reimagined and<br />

new. And actually, that was the first time that we asked Dave to<br />

kind of do an extended guitar solo. And it went well. It kind of felt<br />

like it laid the groundwork a little bit for this new song, “Black<br />

Earth, WI.”<br />

NS: Yeah, it sounds like it's like Ratboys as a band whose<br />

members all throw in ideas.<br />

JS: Yes. I mean, that's always been all I've ever wanted. Like, I<br />

grew up playing music by myself, like in the bathroom, you know<br />

what I mean? I always wanted people to play with. I just didn't<br />

know anyone else who played music outside of like choir. So<br />

11


when I met Dave, and then by extension met a bunch of other<br />

friends and musicians, it just opened up all the possibilities. So,<br />

I'm just so thrilled to have bandmates who are so open to<br />

collaboration and just love music and want to make cool stuff.<br />

NS: I wanted to talk about the video for “Black Earth, WI,” which<br />

consists of footage of storm chasers paired with footage of the<br />

band. And I find in it this beautiful chaos of this band chasing<br />

shows from one city to another like one would chasing storms.<br />

JS: Totally. Our friend just mentioned that the other day. He's like,<br />

all these guys hopping in vans makes me think of going on tour.<br />

And I did not think of that at all while we were making the video,<br />

but that's such a cool observation. Because that is totally how it<br />

feels sometimes. It's funny, the gist of the song “Black Earth”<br />

itself was based around this idea of a bunch of friends driving<br />

around in, like, the rural Midwest in the middle of a tornado<br />

warning. And so that storm imagery was always top of mind when<br />

thinking about the song. And we had thrown around the idea of<br />

making a music video where we were storm chasers. But when it<br />

came down to it, we realized it's like the dead of winter in the<br />

Midwest, and would be very difficult to film an accurate storm<br />

chaser video because that stuff usually happens in spring and<br />

summer. So yeah, we ended up finding all of this crazy old VHS<br />

footage of actual professional storm chasers doing their thing.<br />

I've always been a huge fan of meteorology. My earliest dream as<br />

a child was to be a meteorologist, and so diving into this crazy<br />

rabbit hole of extreme weather was awesome. I can't even<br />

describe it. I just felt like I was underwater for two weeks, like<br />

just fully immersed in this footage. And then it was a total<br />

accident – we plugged in this old camcorder and it interacted in<br />

this really glitchy colorful way that we couldn't control. We were<br />

supposed to have band practice that night, and ended up just<br />

playing around with this camera for like six hours. We did not<br />

practice that night. It felt like something that was happening to<br />

us. You know, like we couldn't control it. It was really cool. It felt<br />

like a happy accident.<br />

NS: Your videos can be very cinematic and contain a lot of film<br />

references. Like "Alien With a Sleep Mask On" has big Gravity and<br />

Apollo 13 vibes. What kind of movies are you into?<br />

JS: Oh my god. That's so funny as I've been consciously trying to<br />

get more into film over the last few years because I always joked<br />

that compared to every other human on Earth, I haven't seen very<br />

many movies in general. But John, the director of the "Alien"<br />

video, made me watch Gravity the night before we filmed it. And<br />

honestly, I am kind of terrified of outer space. So it was actually<br />

a very good thing to do because it calmed me down a little bit in<br />

a weird way. I usually gravitate more toward, like, dark comedy. I<br />

am just simply obsessed with The Banshees of Inisherin that<br />

came out last year. I just watched it last night. Oh my god, what<br />

did you think?<br />

NS: I loved it. I love that director too, Martin McDonagh. I can be<br />

pretty late to the party when it comes to movies, too, sometimes.<br />

JS: It's the combination of morbid darkness and whimsical<br />

absurdity. When those two things collide, that is just my favorite<br />

thing. So that movie blew my mind. It was very sad, but I also just<br />

found it so funny. I've watched it like five times. I also love the<br />

movie Coraline. That's another one where it's just kind of, like,<br />

dark but whimsical. Wet Hot American Summer is another one.<br />

NS: Your video for "I Go Out At Night" captures that – it's got a bit<br />

of darkness but it's very cute and wholesome.<br />

JS: That video was really fun because it does play with those two<br />

things. Like, when you shine a light on your fears, you can find<br />

the lightness in it and find that everything's okay. Especially<br />

when you're with your friends or people you trust. That was a<br />

really, really fun video to make. And that was also John TerEick.<br />

Who we love collaborating with and who we're going to<br />

collaborate with again when we're in Austin.<br />

NS: Is there a core ethos to Ratboys?<br />

JS: I don't know. The other day someone asked, how would you<br />

describe your band in three words? And I was trying to think of<br />

an answer. And what I came up with was: good, honest, fun. So I<br />

think that's what we're after. We want to be good at what we do.<br />

And be ourselves authentically and write music that’s honest to<br />

who we are. And also just have a fucking good time. So that's our<br />

goal. It's just some good honest fun, I think. <strong>—</strong> INTERVIEW<br />

CONDUCTED BY NICK SEIP<br />

<strong>12</strong>


KICKING THE CANON<br />

THE HITCH-HIKER<br />

Ida Lupino<br />

Our contemporary understanding of film noir tends to valorize the intricate<br />

psychological dimensions present within its frames of black and white <strong>—</strong><br />

dimensions which lend themselves, at different junctures, to close, symptomatic,<br />

and even paranoid readings of sexual and queer anxiety. Perhaps it’s inevitable,<br />

with the likes of Nicholas Ray and Alfred Hitchcock, that such characterization has<br />

become commonplace, each onscreen artifact a literary symbol, each movement a coded gesture of deception and double meaning.<br />

But as undeniable as the literary potential of film noir may be, the genre does not quite forgo its rugged, external environment. The<br />

workings of the land shape the trappings of the mind, and much like the windswept frontiers of Johnny Guitar or the theatrical<br />

claustrophobia of Rope, the arid Mexican wilderness in Ida Lupino’s taut and terrifying The Hitch-Hiker proves both emblematic of and<br />

necessary for the rabid violence that ensues, first on the plains, and then among a trio of trapped and lost men.<br />

Roy Collins (Edmund O’Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) are two average Joes who temporarily leave the confines of nuclear<br />

conformity and inadvertently run into potentially fatal trouble in the form of an outlaw named Emmett Myers (William Talman). With a<br />

gun to their heads, Myers takes them hostage in their own car and makes his way southwest, away from the eagle eyes of the law.<br />

Armed with a cruel physiognomy and an equally sharp suspicion for his captives, the fugitive and spree killer towers over the frame,<br />

his shifty yet steely demeanor looming as an overwhelming and foreboding presence while time ticks and the inevitable closes in. In<br />

The Hitch-Hiker, grand theatrics are dismissed, relegated to a mythos of desperado glory all but sanctioned within a canvas of<br />

grayscale realism. There are no preternatural forces of good, nor that of evil, except for pure contingency and a forceful, persistent<br />

amoralism. Why does Myers kill? For survival, as well as a ruthless, Hobbesian view of nature that actively guarantees this survival.<br />

13


KICKING THE CANON<br />

When the law arrives in the film’s closing minutes, it does so<br />

without righteous fanfare, but just as the consequence of logical<br />

deduction and undisturbed institutional efficiency.<br />

What strikes one, seventy years after The Hitch-Hiker’s release, is<br />

how enduring the film’s images are, how its apparently simplistic<br />

set-up still engenders taut, palpitating anxiety despite its paucity<br />

of motives or motion effects. In retrospect, perhaps, we<br />

experience such anxiety given our newfound reliance in the kind<br />

of prestige, “elevated” thrill that combines perfection of craft<br />

with auteurist signature and narrative intricacy; the modern<br />

Fincher vehicle, for example, has nary a shock without a spoiler,<br />

or a protagonist without an unconscious. Lupino, a<br />

boundary-pushing artistic voice even in today’s estimation,<br />

wasn’t some gun-toting performative feminist that overturned<br />

male-dominated convention in pursuit of aesthetic<br />

independence. She was a skilled filmmaker with subtlety,<br />

deploying the latter right within convention itself to encode and<br />

decode the ideological functions central to cinematic form. The<br />

Hitch-Hiker, a studio-funded feature despite its independent<br />

direction, was also indebted to the real-world figure of Billy Cook,<br />

a subject of controversy due to his destitute upbringing, and also<br />

a man who kidnapped and murdered in cold blood. In its<br />

dramatization, or fictionalization, of America’s uneasy<br />

confrontation with its repressed malaise, the film furnishes an<br />

equally veritable documentation of historical reality.<br />

Sans the retrospective gaze, however, Lupino’s most notable and<br />

accomplished work also achieves an immediate<br />

tactile clarity through its acute observations of<br />

masculine self-image within its economical<br />

seventy-minute runtime. Prior to the duo’s run-in<br />

with Myers, we witness two parallel acts of<br />

identity formation: Myers’ other killings, ever<br />

slightly off-kilter from the camera frame to<br />

refract and magnify their menace, and Bowen<br />

and Collins leaving the clockwork performativity<br />

of their traditional, middle-class lives possibly in<br />

search of another kind of performativity <strong>—</strong> the<br />

weekend fling, sworn to secrecy under an oath<br />

of brotherhood <strong>—</strong> disguised as a fishing trip.<br />

Whether or not we should read into these initial<br />

minutes and diagnose America’s Golden Years as<br />

a festering sore of window-dressed moralism is, naturally, a<br />

matter of debate, but an undeniable implication that follows is<br />

how the thriller’s genetic machismo quickly falters, is<br />

undermined by the emaciation of its characters into impotent<br />

figures atop a stage whose deterministic injunction <strong>—</strong> kill or be<br />

killed <strong>—</strong> dissolves the patriotism of a former era for a<br />

rejuvenated paranoia.<br />

Even The Hitch-Hiker’s denouement turns the typically lavish noir<br />

schema on its head, rejecting transcendent payoff and moral<br />

affirmation for a barely satisfactory resumption of justice: Myers<br />

apprehended, and Bowen and Collins walking away generally<br />

unscathed. But the surface presumption, of a weekend wasted<br />

and of a harrowing encounter happily resolved, belies a deeper<br />

existential question about the two other men. Where Myers is<br />

defined explicitly against the law, our two American subjects are<br />

blank ciphers, neither foregrounded by national exceptionalism<br />

nor spectacular enough to be recognized as anything more than<br />

a potential crime statistic. “You haven’t got a thing except that<br />

gun. You’d better hang on to it, because without it you’re nothing!”<br />

Collins sneers at the embittered Myers, whose lone working eye<br />

stares back, livid at the suggestion. In Myers’ case, his visual<br />

handicap proves a useful means to his ends: conjuring fear and<br />

corralling his victims. For his victims, nothing shapes them, and<br />

the bleak environs of The Hitch-Hiker is that which mockingly<br />

positions its newfound inhabitants, and that which Lupino<br />

subversively employs as a geographical marker of a deprived<br />

national psyche. <strong>—</strong> MORRIS YANG<br />

14


KICKING THE CANON<br />

FULL MOON<br />

IN PARIS<br />

Éric Rohmer<br />

Despite the French New Wave being widely considered obsolete by the 1980s, all of its directors remained active, finding varying<br />

degrees of success in adapting to the dramatically shifting political world around them. Jean-Luc Godard found himself reborn after a<br />

decade of alienating fans with a bombardment of radically left-wing pieces of agitprop; Francois Truffaut released the largely beloved<br />

The Last Metro, before his tragic passing in 1984; and both Jacques Rivette and Claude Chabrol continued pushing their abstraction<br />

and dissection of Hollywood themes, with varying degrees of success. Éric Rohmer, however, found himself in one of the most prolific<br />

periods of his entire career, with his ‘80s work mostly consisting of his comedies and proverbs series, a selection of six films that<br />

ruminate on the classic Rohmerian themes of failing relationships, conspicuous love affairs, and embittered jealousy. Full Moon in<br />

Paris is the fourth entry in this canonical run, and despite its strikingly beautiful visual palette and poignant thematic concerns, to<br />

this day, it remains one of the auteur’s most underrated works.<br />

Pascale Ogier, in one of her final roles before a devastating early death in 1984, plays Louise, a free-spirited woman whose life in the<br />

Parisian suburbs with her partner, Remi (Tchéky Karyo), has left her desiring both the excitement of French nightlife and the ability to<br />

spend time alone. Remi’s boring and monotonous attitude seems to be the antithesis of Louise’s outgoing and vibrant personality, and<br />

an early scene showcasing an argument at a party highlights the dichotomy between the two lovers’ desires. Remi is unlike many<br />

classic Rohmerian male characters <strong>—</strong> he is physically strong, doesn’t speak in borderline insufferable intellectual jargon, and appears<br />

to be devoted to his girlfriend. Rohmer instead deposits his classical stereotypes of pathetic or fallible men onto Octave (Fabrice<br />

Luchini), a married man who, despite his continued efforts to instigate a sexual relationship with Louise, is repeatedly rejected in<br />

favor of platonic friendship (non-romantic friendships are one of the very specific social orientations at the heart of the film).<br />

15<br />

To escape from the mundanity of life, Louise decides to split her domestic life into two homes: her suburban house with Remi and a<br />

pied-à-terre in the center of Paris, where she mostly stays on Friday nights, allowing herself to go out to parties by herself. Full Moon in<br />

Paris largely takes place in the bustling streets of nocturnal Paris, making this an outlier in a Rohmerian oeuvre that typically visits<br />

the sunny settings of rural France or small but hectic coastal towns. But the film remains very obviously crafted by his hands: the


KICKING THE CANON<br />

entirely static camera creates frames that look like paintings;<br />

the use of space is brilliant, seeing characters gracefully moving<br />

around one another; and Rohmer’s use of real locations allows<br />

this all, story and aesthetic, to feel authentic. However, the film<br />

also reveals an alternative side to Rohmer in many ways. An<br />

obvious departure from his usual style can be seen in the<br />

multiple, beautifully shot dance sequences <strong>—</strong> including a<br />

memorable one in which Louise dances to ‘80s French electropop<br />

<strong>—</strong> as the images overflow with an expression of pure happiness.<br />

Meanwhile, the final dance is spliced into a montage, an editing<br />

technique that feels somewhat alien to Rohmer. Here, Louise is<br />

seen dating a mysterious lover; that sequence is coupled with a<br />

serene moment where they ride a motorcycle together, the Paris<br />

streetlights casting gorgeous shadows on the open roads<br />

surrounding them.<br />

It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Louise other than Ogier;<br />

she infuses her character with such charisma that it’s quite<br />

impossible not to be enticed. As the film unravels, Louise<br />

consistently finds herself conflicted between her committed<br />

relationship to Remi <strong>—</strong> whom she clearly loves despite his flaws<br />

<strong>—</strong> and the exhilarating yet enigmatic thrill of single life in Paris.<br />

While Rohmer never adopts a patently mournful tone, there is<br />

something deeply moving about Ogier’s ability to convey the<br />

pathos swirling within her character, a woman whose desires<br />

consistently appear to be in natural and irresolvable opposition<br />

to one another. It’s this clash of desires that drives Full Moon in<br />

Paris. Can you have total independence while requiting<br />

someone’s love? Is settling for a committed relationship a<br />

signifier of stagnation? How easy is it for love to move from one<br />

person to another? All of these are mystifying questions that<br />

trouble and captivate Rohmer, none of which he can answer by<br />

his films’ ends, and who could?<br />

Despite appearing to be a rather rudimentary story about<br />

relationships on its face, Full Moon in Paris is full of small grace<br />

notes that accumulate and transcend simple drama to become<br />

something far more profound. And while relatively short, the film<br />

sees Rohmer develop myriad morally complex and dynamic<br />

characters, each with clear flaws and dreams, deeply empathetic<br />

even as they slip into the darker sides of themselves. Rarely does<br />

Rohmer seek to judge or moralize them, treating each instead as<br />

humans desperately seeking fulfillment in whatever small<br />

capacity they can find. Unlike his Cahiers du Cinéma peers,<br />

Rohmer was far more conservative in his political views. It could<br />

thus be easy to see Full Moon in Paris as a subdued diatribe<br />

against a typically free-spirited, Parisian attitude: Louise, after<br />

all, by immersing herself in it, falls into tragedy. But the film<br />

mercifully never makes any direct ideological statement, instead<br />

simply highlighting the oscillating contradictions between the<br />

comforting safety of relationships and a desire for amorous<br />

liberty. <strong>—</strong> OLIVER PARKER<br />

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FILM REVIEWS<br />

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4<br />

Chad Stahelski<br />

It’s 2023, and while movies barely exist anymore, franchises<br />

certainly do. Hence John Wick: Chapter 4, a film that brings the<br />

whole John Wick series one step closer to something like the Fast<br />

and the Furious series, or <strong>—</strong> if Wick’s producers really wanted to<br />

dream <strong>—</strong> the white whale of the MCU. A John Wick spin-off just<br />

wrapped production, and a Mel Gibson-starring miniseries debuts<br />

later this year. But for now, we simply have star and executive<br />

producer Keanu Reeves, director Chad Stahelski, and Chapter 4<br />

itself, a solid retread of the three previous films’ clever action,<br />

wryly comic universe, and (basically) simple story structure.<br />

“Solid” might not be stellar, but it’s also no easy feat to<br />

accomplish for a film with the dreadful number 4 appended to its<br />

name, and a bloated three-hour runtime to boot; plus, when the<br />

series has proved as consistently captivating and well-delivered<br />

as the Wick films have been up to this point, solid definitely<br />

means something.<br />

When last we left Wick, he was waging war against an<br />

international network of assassins known only as the High Table.<br />

And when we find Wick again, lo, he’s still waging war against the<br />

High Table. Now, the shadowy organization has sent someone<br />

called the Marquis (Bill Skarsgård) after him, in turn hiring Wick’s<br />

ex-friend and blind ex-contract killer Caine (Donnie Yen) to take<br />

him out. Luckily, Wick is aided by Winston (Ian McShane), another<br />

former friend and former hotelier who turned enemy in the last<br />

film, but has since returned ally, who convinces Wick that his<br />

only hope is to rejoin one of the crime families that make up the<br />

High Table, in order to challenge the Marquis to a duel which, if<br />

Wick wins, will clear his name. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure<br />

calling himself “Nobody” also pursues Wick around with his dog<br />

in tow, alternatively aiding and attacking Wick as he sees fit. Oh,<br />

plus there’s ex-wrestler and DTV mainstay Scott Adkins, in a fat<br />

suit, as a German crime boss and club owner; Japanese-British<br />

pop star Rina Sawayama as a hotel manager who loses her father<br />

(Hiroyuki Sanada) to assassins; and the always great Laurence<br />

Fishburne, reprising his formerly inspired role as the Bowery<br />

King, the leader of a secret network of homeless assassins, who<br />

appears just so infrequently, randomly, and halfheartedly enough<br />

for you to think more about his paycheck and contractual<br />

objections than his performance.<br />

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FILM REVIEWS<br />

Stahleski is certainly a skilled director, as evinced by almost any<br />

scene where someone lets off a bullet or throws a punch, but his<br />

ability to generate tension, engagement, and emotion on a<br />

narrative level is never more than functional and non-distracting.<br />

It might be something of a criticism to note that this critic never<br />

cared a lick about what happened in the plot, but it’s also a<br />

compliment to note that it doesn’t much matter <strong>—</strong> the action and<br />

revenge-story template are legible enough that the film actually<br />

thoroughly works on a scene by scene level. If anything, there’s<br />

even something comforting about Stahelski’s inability to<br />

convincingly pull off the heightened sense of scale and<br />

tacked-on epicness that’s tethered to the series’ ballooning<br />

budgets and runtimes. The Fast and Furious franchise may have<br />

eventually taken its small band of L.A. car thieves all the way to<br />

outer space, but Wick still finds Reeves punching, kicking, and<br />

shooting his way through the same sort of expressionistic night<br />

clubs and iconic urban locales that we’re used to from the start<br />

of this series.<br />

“[Stahleski’s] ability to generate<br />

tension, engagement, and<br />

emotion on a narrative level is<br />

never more than functional and<br />

non-distracting.<br />

To that end, Stahelski almost always keeps his camera at a<br />

medium distance when people are fighting <strong>—</strong> conveying as<br />

lucidly as possible the flow of action, while foregoing both<br />

panoramic wides that convey the scale of carnage and gritty<br />

close-ups that could develop psychological tension <strong>—</strong> and on the<br />

narrative plane, he’s not much different. Scenes work clearly and<br />

comprehensively so long as they stick to Wick’s simple, linear<br />

struggle to move up the ladder of the High Table and enact<br />

revenge. When the film suddenly drops Lawrence of Arabia<br />

quotes and randomly jumps to a horseback shootout in the<br />

Sahara, or whips together subplots about side characters stuck<br />

in endless cycles of revenge, it almost completely misses the<br />

mark. But when it sticks to simply exploring the many clever<br />

ways it can stage endless fight scenes in interesting locales, it<br />

soars.<br />

Stahelski’s main gift is his knack for picking recognizable urban<br />

settings and exploring their physical dynamics in ways both<br />

familiar and wittily transcendent. From a circular car chase<br />

around the Arc de Triomphe that results in a lengthy brawl<br />

amidst traffic and numerous car crashes, to a shootout that<br />

wends its way through a derelict building and is delivered in a<br />

floorplan-style bird’s-eye view shot that creates some<br />

gut-churning kineticism, to a Sisyphean melee up the stairs of<br />

the Sacré-Cœur, and then down again, and then up again, John<br />

Wick: Chapter 4 showcases some of the most ingenious and<br />

exciting action scenes around. And importantly, it does so in<br />

ways that go beyond technical skill, arriving at something<br />

uniquely expressive.<br />

Cinema has always had a knack for exploring the dynamics of<br />

our engagement with urban space, from Harold Lloyd dangling<br />

off a building to Adam Sandler dangling his cash out of a window<br />

WALK UP<br />

Hong Sang-soo<br />

“On the one hand, Walk Up presents his life as existing in linear, chronological time, with the four parts as episodes in a larger<br />

trajectory of withdrawal and decline…On the other hand, Walk Up allows us to see that single afternoon as a simultaneity of<br />

presents, to see the four parts as the same event played out in different ways, and, crucially, unfolded in a kind of empty time,<br />

detached from a linear succession of past, present, and future.” <strong>—</strong> LAWRENCE GARCIA [Originally published as part of <strong>InRO</strong>’s NYFF<br />

2022 coverage.]<br />

DIRECTOR: Hong Sang-soo; CAST: Yunhee Cho, Lee Hye-yeong, Kwon Hae-hyo, Song Seon-mi; DISTRIBUTOR: Cinema Guild; IN<br />

THEATERS: March 24; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 37 min.<br />

17 18


FILM REVIEWS<br />

in Uncut Gems. John Wick, then, is the rare action franchise to<br />

showcase such a sharp focus on physical reality in a cinema<br />

landscape that’s overladen with CGI. It could be better paced,<br />

sure, and could boast greater emotional depth, and could<br />

definitely shrug off some of its franchise bloat. But at the end of<br />

the day, it’s still a John Wick movie, and that is really starting to<br />

mean something. <strong>—</strong> JOSHUA BOGATIN<br />

DIRECTOR: Chad Stahelski; CAST: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane,<br />

Bill Skarsgård, Laurence Fishburne, Scott Adkins; DISTRIBUTOR:<br />

Lionsgate; IN THEATERS: March 24; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 49 min.<br />

THE FIVE DEVILS<br />

Léa Mysius<br />

An overhead shot tracks a car’s snaking glide down a mountain<br />

road as a turquoise lake looms below. Credits appear, and the<br />

score begins to brood something like The Shining’s “Dies irae,”<br />

before revealing itself as an orchestral pop cover of Robert<br />

Johnson’s “Me and the Devil Blues.” “And I said hello Satan, I<br />

believe it’s time to go,” the vocal croons as the sweeping scenery<br />

churns. The cold open that precedes this bit of icy dread is<br />

actually red hot, all screams and fire as Adèle Exarchopoulos<br />

stares back at us in disbelief, her face hued in crimson <strong>—</strong><br />

revealed as an image from a little girl’s nightmare <strong>—</strong> or was it<br />

something else?<br />

This is how Léa Mysius (who made her exhilarating feature debut<br />

Ava in 2017 and has since been collaborating with the likes of<br />

Téchiné, Desplechin, Audiard, and Denis) sets the stage for her<br />

directorial return with The Five Devils. If Mysius' screenwriting<br />

work across a French auteur bingo card betrays a<br />

chameleon-like adaptability, her directorial efforts carry an<br />

unmistakably auteurist stamp. Together with DP and writing<br />

partner Paul Guilhaume, she crafts textured coming-of-age<br />

stories where characters slip into flights of fantasy injected with<br />

pop, or sometimes into other genres altogether, amidst the glow<br />

of bright, expressionistic color palettes.<br />

The opening nod to The Shining is telling, as there is a good bit of<br />

off-kilter menace that rings more like horror here than the sense<br />

of futility that gave Ava its somber undercurrent. Out of her<br />

peers, Mysius’ wavelength may most closely resemble the work of<br />

Céline Sciamma, with a special focus on girls and young women<br />

yearning, searching, and discovering themselves in the process.<br />

Fragments here and there recall Water Lilies, Girlhood, and most<br />

obviously, the mother-daughter time-bending of Petite Maman.<br />

But there are also flashes of Lynch-tinged discomfort and<br />

meticulous interlocking symbols and allegorical modes hinting in<br />

the direction of Jordan Peele.<br />

Whatever the proportions of this concoction, Mysius prepares it<br />

with overwhelming confidence, delivering the story of Vicky<br />

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FILM REVIEWS<br />

(Sally Dramé), a young girl who yearns to understand her<br />

detached mother, Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and who, much<br />

like in Petite Maman, is aided on her quest by metaphysical<br />

means. The arrival of her mysterious aunt Julia (Swala Emati) is<br />

as disruptive as it is revelatory, opening up a pathway into the<br />

mystery of Vicky’s mother’s past, a buried secret that the young<br />

girl begins to piece together through her journey across time.<br />

The twist here is that Vicky’s window to time travel is olfactory: a<br />

mysterious potion bottle from Julia’s bag forms a scent so potent<br />

that it, fueled by our young protagonist’s hyperosmia, allows brief<br />

sojourns into the past. These segments, which essentially find<br />

Vicky waking up within flashbacks, flesh out Joanne and Julia's<br />

backstory, a love affair between the two that ends with the<br />

traumatic inferno of the opening shot. After this, Joanne will go<br />

on to marry Julia’s brother, Jimmy (Moustapha Mbengue), and<br />

settle down, while Julia disappears from the picture altogether<br />

until her sudden return, which sets off the action of the film.<br />

In a way, what Mysius accomplishes here with Joanne’s narrative<br />

is an inversion of the conservative underpinnings of Back to the<br />

Future, wherein Marty McFly must fix the past in order to save<br />

himself, restore his father’s masculinity, and preserve the<br />

traditional nuclear family unit. In her own way, Vicky faces the<br />

same existential threat as Marty, understanding that her origin is<br />

predicated on a sequence of events in danger of swinging the<br />

other way. Unlike Marty, however, she is forced to confront an<br />

uncomfortable truth: that perhaps her very existence is the<br />

outcome of a devastating mistake.<br />

The intricate interplay of past and present, mother and daughter,<br />

old lovers, and a betrayed friendship is woven together by Mysius<br />

with an assured sense of ease. Deeper within these intertwining<br />

narratives flows an undercurrent theme of racial identity. Vicky’s<br />

Blackness is a source of racist bullying at her predominantly<br />

white school, and so as a coping mechanism, she clings to her<br />

white mother, Joanne, and is distant to her Black father, Jimmy.<br />

Her hostility toward her aunt, Jimmy’s sister, encapsulates her<br />

alienation from this part of herself; thus, as the story progresses<br />

and Vicky journeys to understand and accept Julia’s place in her<br />

mother’s backstory, she is simultaneously able to see her aunt<br />

fully and understand the connective tissue that unites the two of<br />

them just as strongly. Indeed, though Mysius may conduct this<br />

symphony, the film hinges on the young Dramé’s sophisticated<br />

performance grounding these difficult ideas and symbols within<br />

her minute gestures, and the empathetic pull of her expressive<br />

gaze.<br />

Of course, just as in Ava, Mysius and Guilhaume take care to build<br />

out a cinematic playground on which the story unfolds, including<br />

quite a few dazzling sequences punctuated by remarkable<br />

fragments of pop. And much like last year’s Aftersun, The Five<br />

Devils gets tremendous mileage out of an outsized ‘80s classic<br />

that by all means and measures should feel exhausted and spent<br />

by now, yet somehow roars back to life here, driven by adept<br />

cinematography and what is seemingly nothing less than the<br />

song’s primordial power. The very same could likely be said for<br />

the whole of The Five Devils itself; from the over-ambitious script,<br />

to the odd genre-bending, to the unapologetic dedication to its<br />

conceit, it’s hard to anticipate all of this working. But once<br />

TORI AND LOKITA<br />

Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne<br />

“Across their filmography, the Dardennes have demonstrated a keen interest in character transformation, which is why their films<br />

so often build to moments of grace and forgiveness, scenes where the exterior viewpoint of the camera takes on the quality of<br />

an epiphany. No such moment is forthcoming in Tori and Lokita, which is to some degree exciting in the context of the<br />

Dardennes’ filmography, if somewhat flat in the context of the film itself.” <strong>—</strong> LAWRENCE GARCIA [Originally published as part of<br />

<strong>InRO</strong>’s Cannes 2022 coverage.<br />

DIRECTOR: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne; CAST: Pablo Schils, Joely Mbundu, Alban Ukaj, Tijmen Govaerts; DISTRIBUTOR: Janus<br />

Films; IN THEATERS: March 24; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 28 min.<br />

17 20


FILM REVIEWS<br />

again, under Mysius’ careful watch, everything just clicks. Not<br />

only is it obvious from this second feature that Ava was no fluke,<br />

but it’s clear that the concoctions she’s crafting are only getting<br />

more potent. <strong>—</strong> IGOR FISHMAN<br />

DIRECTOR: Léa Mysius; CAST: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Swala<br />

Emati, Sally Drame; DISTRIBUTOR: MUBI; IN THEATERS: March<br />

24; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 35 min.<br />

A GOOD PERSON<br />

Zach Braff<br />

As any “junkie” can tell you, at a certain point, Oxycontin stopped<br />

being Oxycontin, and many Oxy users in the United States turned<br />

to heroin. Almost overnight, the stock character of “the addict” in<br />

the middle-class American mind transformed from Skid Row<br />

ne’er-do-wells and failed rockstars to “somebody I actually know.”<br />

This <strong>—</strong> and the overdoses that came with it <strong>—</strong> formed what was<br />

called the opioid epidemic. It gave the Sackler family (the<br />

founders of Purdue Pharma and inventors of Oxycontin) the<br />

one thing they didn’t want: attention. And now, years later, the<br />

narrative may be most comparable to the AIDS crisis, where<br />

bands of survivors speak longingly of lost friends, the villains of<br />

the story are known but not held accountable, and, well, it’s also<br />

not really over. Though last year gave us Laura Poitras’ All the<br />

Beauty and the Bloodshed, there’s still plenty of cultural<br />

mythologizing about the opioid epidemic that can be made<br />

before a trend is identified, milked, and then tossed aside. And<br />

though it may sound like a Madlibs creation, Zach Braff’s<br />

indiewood drama about opioid addiction, A Good Person, dutifully<br />

arrives this year to mythologize further.<br />

In typical “written and directed by Zach Braff” fashion, A Good<br />

Person is a story about small-town drama, dissolving<br />

relationships, very serious conversations, and quirks in lieu of<br />

humor. It’s serviceable as an actor-heavy project, as the majority<br />

of the movie composes two or three characters in alternating<br />

medium shots as they scream or cry their way through<br />

paragraphs of confessional dialogue. It’s all very capital-A acting,<br />

with a serious enough subject to justify the emotions on display<br />

17 21


FILM REVIEWS<br />

here, and that’s the kind of movie Braff can comfortably make.<br />

No shots are held for dramatic effect, and no flashy cuts<br />

announce themselves. Instead, every formal choice is a<br />

utilitarian one in service of the next dialogue. This is not<br />

necessarily a bad thing: invisible studio style is far preferable to<br />

a parade of mismanaged visual quirks. But, by the fifth yelling<br />

match, the pleasures of A Good Person begin to resemble the<br />

pleasures of watching a series of audition tapes. Who among us<br />

has ever thought, “I would like to watch a series of audition<br />

tapes.”<br />

Braff paces the story itself such that at least one big dramatic<br />

revelation happens every scene or two, ensuring that 1) the<br />

characters have something new to yell about and 2) no plot<br />

description can be attempted without venturing into spoiler<br />

territory. The film starts before the yelling, as Allison (Florence<br />

Pugh) and Nathan (Chinaza Uche) host their engagement party,<br />

filled with schmaltzy jokes and ribbing (couples publicly calling<br />

each other out for their private “cute” eccentricities) that clearly<br />

signal we’re in antediluvian times. Then, after a few more<br />

conversations revolving around just how great everything is,<br />

Allison crashes her car, killing Nathan’s sister and brother-in-law,<br />

who rode with her to look at wedding dresses. Allison is<br />

prescribed Oxycontin, a year passes by, and voila: we’re in Braff<br />

county, New Jersey. A few vignettes with some locals catch us up<br />

with Allison’s failures before we’re treated to a shot of her<br />

smoking heroin on the street, which is an experience just<br />

unpleasant enough to compel her into Narcotics Anonymous.<br />

That’s where the small town curse hexes Allison, as she just<br />

happened to pick the chapter Daniel (Morgan Freeman), the<br />

father of her ex-fiance, attends. After the death of his daughter,<br />

Daniel memorized all the police reports related to the accident,<br />

blamed Allison, and now accepts her arrival as a challenge from<br />

God, much like his struggles to raise his orphaned hellion of a<br />

granddaughter (Celeste O’Connor). By the time that exposition<br />

falls into place, the film can finally settle into the acting reel of<br />

intense conversations about grief, addiction, and listlessness<br />

that drags these characters into a bizarre final act <strong>—</strong> one that<br />

betrays every value held by the first ninety minutes.<br />

Back in 2004, Zach Braff’s Hamlet adaptation, Garden State,<br />

helped solidify the ennui-prick archetype as the darling lead of<br />

big-budget indie productions. Prince Hamlet served as a good<br />

model for the Scrubs actor’s big, serious directorial debut, but<br />

where the melancholy Dane speaks with ghosts and fights with<br />

swords, the melancholy Jersey boy Large listens to The Shins<br />

and decides not to be fashionably sad anymore. Pugh plays A<br />

Good Person’s Allison as an updated Large, though her<br />

middle-class, addiction-riddled sadness works a bit better than<br />

Large’s floundering actor syndrome. Alas, poor Yorick’s skull<br />

remains unacknowledged in both as the emotional gravitas<br />

mutes all attempts at humor or literally any other register of<br />

acting. This is a death knell for an “actors’ film,” with Braff<br />

choosing extremity over range for his cast, forcing them all to<br />

play one loud note over and over. Though Allison’s mother (Molly<br />

Shannon) lends a bit of wonderful levity in her scenes, every<br />

other character uses their scars and fears to lash out or enter<br />

into confessionals. When veteran actor Freeman suddenly shifts<br />

to a completely different character at the end, it’s literally<br />

unbelievable.<br />

“Though Braff’s overly sincere<br />

cascades of dialogue fall once<br />

too often into the reviled<br />

aesthetic category of cringe, A<br />

Good Person clearly wants to be<br />

helpful.<br />

What is believable is Pugh’s portrait of addiction. Even when she<br />

starts taking bigger and bigger leaps toward helping herself, she<br />

still might self-medicate for an NA meeting by taking half an Oxy<br />

and rationalizing it: “I’m half-fucked-up.” Any setbacks are met<br />

with four shots of tequila, and Tequila Allison wants Oxy or, as<br />

America found out, the more easily acquirable heroin. Braff<br />

clearly cares about addiction; otherwise, he would’ve given her<br />

an easier recovery. It’s perhaps the film’s only real strength, and<br />

that’s enough to make it a historical curio. It’s certainly not<br />

interested in pointing fingers or rhapsodizing about politics <strong>—</strong><br />

the very fact that a white woman killed two black people is<br />

literally never addressed, not even by Freeman’s Daniel at his<br />

angriest moments <strong>—</strong> and that may be for the best. After all, what<br />

would a Zach Braff movie about the ins and outs of the Sackler<br />

dynasty and 2020s racial relations look like? If God loves us, He<br />

will keep us as His happy, ignorant children.<br />

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FILM REVIEWS<br />

Though Braff’s overly sincere cascades of dialogue fall once too<br />

often into the reviled aesthetic category of cringe, A Good Person<br />

clearly wants to be helpful. But its Hollywood ending opts for<br />

fantasy, as if the movie thought itself too cruel and hungered for<br />

the simple, saccharine notes of the first scene. As our prince<br />

reminds us: “I must be cruel only to be kind; Thus bad begins,<br />

and worse remains behind.” <strong>—</strong> ZACH LEWIS<br />

DIRECTOR: Zach Braff; CAST: Florence Pugh, Morgan Freeman,<br />

Zoe Lister-Jones, Molly Shannon; DISTRIBUTOR: United Artists<br />

Releasing; IN THEATERS: March 24; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 9 min.<br />

THE LOST KING<br />

Stephen Frears<br />

At the very start of his career, Stephen Frears was seen as part<br />

of a wave of exciting British filmmakers, many of whom often<br />

worked with publicly-owned broadcast companies: the BBC made<br />

films with Alan Clarke and Mike Leigh in their Play for Today<br />

series (1970-1984), before the latter went onto work with Channel<br />

4, who even produced films with queer iconoclast Derek Jarman<br />

towards the end of his life. They also produced what’s arguably<br />

regarded as Frears’ most famous film, My Beautiful Laundrette<br />

(1985), and it seems those connections never faded for him. Most<br />

of his recent films have been partially funded by the BBC, though<br />

they truly speak to the reduced state of these institutions. It<br />

seems impossible to imagine a time when they would make<br />

something as bold, experimental, and challenging as Alan<br />

Clarke’s Elephant (1989) <strong>—</strong> which reflected on the ongoing<br />

Troubles by showing only scenes of decontextualized violence <strong>—</strong><br />

especially when looking at films as safe and empty as Frears’<br />

recent run of Florence Foster Jenkins (2017), Victoria & Abdul<br />

(2019), and his latest, The Lost King.<br />

It might seem wise of Frears to build up to this film’s premise, in<br />

which Phillipa Langley (Sally Hawkins) <strong>—</strong> the woman who will go<br />

on to discover the body of Richard III long after it was considered<br />

lost <strong>—</strong> speaks to the spirit, or perhaps just a hallucination, of the<br />

titular King (Harry Lloyd). At first the two only exchange looks,<br />

and then just a handful of words. But instead of keeping the film<br />

23


FILM REVIEWS<br />

from feeling silly and compromising the sense of realism in this<br />

true-story narrative, the decision unintentionally results in a<br />

movie that’s dead on arrival. It stops it from reaching the level of<br />

cutesy, though it remains nonetheless stylized, and further sands<br />

the edges off of an already rather edgeless project. It’s easy,<br />

then, to let one’s eyes glaze over in the face of such commitment<br />

to inoffensiveness, but to an extent, that response lets it off the<br />

hook too easily, allowing the film’s ideas to slip through<br />

unchallenged. That’s not to suggest this is a conscious strategy<br />

on Frears’ part, though that level of cynicism would seem a good<br />

explanation as to how he ended up here, but still it makes its<br />

ideology more conspicuous by hiding it under a sense of flat,<br />

boring normality that the modern-day BBC works so hard to<br />

maintain.<br />

The Lost King frames itself as feminist, with its opening titles<br />

reading: “Based on a true story <strong>—</strong> Her story.” And in its early<br />

scenes, Phillipa is shown missing opportunities at her unfulfilling<br />

advertising job because she’s looked down on as a woman, and<br />

especially as one entering middle age. Though another reason is<br />

because of her disability: she has ME (myalgic<br />

encephalomyelitis), and often finds she must insist that it is a<br />

real condition, which of course later aligns her with Richard,<br />

when she sees his alleged hunched back used as a symbol for<br />

some inner deformity in Shakespeare’s famous play. This might<br />

all seem plenty nice and progressive, if gently so, but much of it<br />

plays into the tropes of “girlboss” feminism, in which feminism<br />

only exists to expand the same limiting boundaries in order to<br />

allow some women into them. It’s driven by the same fantasy of<br />

the individualistic outsider who comes in to bring innovation in a<br />

way that’s only possible under the alleged freedoms of<br />

capitalism; the exact kind of images that Steve Jobs and Elon<br />

Musk worked so hard to cultivate.<br />

This isn’t to say that Phillipa didn’t face real institutional<br />

opposition. The film’s presentation of the University of Leicester,<br />

and the way that they stole credit for the dig that Phillipa<br />

organized and led, has been controversial, but mostly with those<br />

who are portrayed, some of whom have threatened to sue. But<br />

Phillipa wasn’t put on the panel of the first and most important<br />

press conference <strong>—</strong> as it was the one that all the press attended,<br />

where the history was written <strong>—</strong> for the discovery of the body,<br />

and was instead left only to function as the last of thirteen<br />

speakers. Frears takes pains to make a point of comparing a<br />

university to a corporation, which rings increasingly true as they<br />

move ever further from a necessary part of any education. But<br />

criticism of capitalism being subsumed into the larger capitalist<br />

mythology is hardly new, and in fact, is a core precept of this<br />

idea of the innovator: for an individual to be needed to bring life<br />

back to a company, it must assume that those structures<br />

naturally fade into emptiness.<br />

It’s interesting that, in real life, Phillipa founded the Scottish<br />

branch of the Richard III society, while in the film, she only<br />

comes across a much smaller Edinburgh branch. But either way,<br />

these seven or so outsiders don’t become a group in which<br />

Phillipa finds community, but are instead simply supporters to<br />

rally around her. Their only contributions to the “Looking for<br />

Richard” project are choosing between two potential names and<br />

helping to find funding for Phillipa’s bold vision. That vision isn’t<br />

solely driven by her extensive knowledge, however, but by<br />

something far stranger, which reveals, quite nakedly, the magical<br />

THE WORST ONES<br />

Lise Akoka & Romane Gueret<br />

“But as Akoka and Gueret focus on their leads, a few of the other kids disappear into the background, given only flashes of real<br />

personality before being dropped entirely… The Worst Ones is sensitive, intelligent filmmaking, but its even-handed nature toward<br />

both the population of Picasso and Gabriel’s film sometimes feels like an elision of perspective, like it’s walking up to the line but<br />

ultimately letting everyone off the hook.” <strong>—</strong> CHRIS MELLO [Originally published as part of <strong>InRO</strong>’s Cannes 2022 coverage.]<br />

DIRECTOR: Lise Akoka & Romane Gueret; CAST: Mallory Wanecque, Timéo Mahaut, Johan Heldenbergh; DISTRIBUTOR: Kino<br />

Lorber; IN THEATERS: March 24; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 39 min.<br />

17 24


FILM REVIEWS<br />

thinking within the idea of the visionary: her powerful intuition.<br />

When she finds herself standing in the car park, where she will<br />

later find Richard buried beneath, and before she has any reason<br />

to believe that he could be there, she seems to be able to feel<br />

him.<br />

This also connects to the film’s rather bizarre royalism, passively<br />

promoting the notion that royalty is a position both innate and<br />

deeply, almost spiritually, meaningful. Phillipa doesn’t just want<br />

to find Richard, she wants to redeem him: to restore his rightful<br />

nobility after his alleged disability, amongst other things, led to<br />

him being seen as a usurper. When arguing with a lecturer about<br />

him, she says that actually, “he brought the country the strong<br />

leadership it needed.” In fact, a large conflict in the film’s latter<br />

half, once the body has been discovered, is whether or not it will<br />

be buried in a coffin with a royal crest, to which this writer<br />

humbly responds: who cares. But royalism runs so deep in the<br />

mind of Frears <strong>—</strong> and based on reactions to the recent death of<br />

Queen Elizabeth II, the British public at large <strong>—</strong> that he can’t see<br />

the blatant contradictions. These include the film’s final scenes,<br />

which contrast Phillipa giving a talk to a small school of girls with<br />

a cross cut of the university usurpers who are mingling amongst<br />

the big wigs, the out-of-touch elites. But if royalty is so honored,<br />

then it can’t be power as such that’s the problem. These elites<br />

can only be less worthy of respect because they aren’t imbued<br />

with the same divine rights as kings and queens.<br />

Phillipa starts her speech by saying that she’s going to tell a story<br />

“about a person who was judged unfairly in life, and never given<br />

the opportunity to show their true potential,” which is obviously<br />

supposed to reflect and draw parallels between herself and<br />

Richard. Though if that could be said to be true of her, at least to<br />

some extent, it’s a truly absurd thing to say about a literal king. In<br />

The Lost King’s final moments, Frears shows the crest on<br />

Richard’s coffin, the king that was restored to his rightful<br />

position, and Phillipa is given the happiest ending the film can<br />

imagine, justifying her in a way far beyond what any class could<br />

offer: she is given an MBE, an honor awarded by the Queen<br />

herself. <strong>—</strong> ESMÉ HOLDEN<br />

DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears; CAST: Sally Hawkins, Steve Coogan,<br />

Harry Lloyd, Mark Addy; DISTRIBUTOR: IFC Films; IN THEATERS:<br />

March 24; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 49 min.<br />

TODAY<br />

Su Friedrich<br />

Documentarian of the personal, Su Friedrich's latest film, Today,<br />

begins with a story. A friend reads aloud a passage from The<br />

Odyssey, in which Odysseus prepares to get rid of accumulated<br />

suitors as he returns to his native shores. We hear this passage<br />

and are inclined to wonder what the allegory behind its inclusion<br />

is. Friedrich is fully aware of this, and toys with our instinct to<br />

associate images and ideas with our own experiences and<br />

knowledge. When the ponies of Chincoteague are observed riding<br />

on the beach, she superimposes the cover of Margaret Henry's<br />

Misty of Chincoteague, recognizing the immediate childhood<br />

association before we do. White text appears on screen, voicing<br />

instinctive reactions and frustrations, and her images<br />

accompany us.<br />

The imposition of this predictive text begins with generalized<br />

sentiments, like a flashing “oh fuck off PETA” when a protestor<br />

gets too close to the filmmaker while soliloquizing to New York.<br />

These moments soon turn toward Friedrich’s own elaboration on<br />

the background of who is on screen. She intersperses the<br />

universal with the personal, placing us and our prior stated<br />

relation to the images instead into the position of her own<br />

personal history. Her childhood anecdotes and memories are no<br />

less a part of the moment than our reaction as observers, and<br />

that moment is no less in the present than an amalgamation of<br />

pasts and hoped-for futures. These unspoken asides begin to<br />

disassemble the myth of the film’s central conceit <strong>—</strong> how can<br />

“living in the moment” truly be possible with all of the history we<br />

perpetually inhabit?<br />

The final effect leans into a video diary spontaneity a little too<br />

much to fully establish a consistent throughline. Though it<br />

touches on pandemic isolation, and change, this<br />

day-after-day-in-a-life is a möbius<br />

strip that connects without incident. But when Friedrich remarks,<br />

in white typewriter text, on childhood memories of a bird like the<br />

on screen one who flew away, she hints at a clearer picture of<br />

Today’s loose concept, where every moment is punctuated by its<br />

history. What’s commendable, then, in this exchange between the<br />

internal and external, is how adept she is at following the<br />

viewers’ whims with her camera. The handheld tracking shots<br />

17 25


FILM REVIEWS<br />

are attuned to what catches our eye <strong>—</strong> panning down as a child<br />

pours out her bucket of water on a hot summer day, scrolling text<br />

along a train ride, and the stretch of a baby bird reaching for its<br />

mother. Her instincts as a filmmaker are no different than ours<br />

as an observer, drawn to capturing and studying motion and<br />

change.<br />

Today’s structure isn’t as defined as Friedrich’s magnum opus,<br />

Sink or Swim, which portioned its diary into an alphabet in<br />

reverse order. Using that structure, she toys with distance, and<br />

what’s on screen doesn’t always match the essay being read.<br />

Today builds on that approach somewhat, in that its subtitles can<br />

go on digressive tangents, offering background information and<br />

personality to the subjects that isn’t always directly depicted. A<br />

more direct corollary from Friedrich’s catalog, then, would be the<br />

loose and observational The Head of a Pin (2004). In that film,<br />

viewers can glean a rough draft for the anti-chronology diary<br />

that Today is today. <strong>—</strong> SARAH WILLIAMS<br />

DIRECTOR: Su Friedrich; CAST: <strong>—</strong>; DISTRIBUTOR: Icarus Films;<br />

IN THEATERS: March 17; RUNTIME: 57 min.<br />

TIMESCAPE<br />

Aristomenis Tsirbas<br />

“Roughly 20 minutes into the film, it’s quite obvious that Timescape is striving to be a collage of many things: a kind of fusion of<br />

Spielberg’s E.T. and Jurassic Park, a combination of Joe Dante’s Twilight Zone and Explorers with Richard Donner’s The Goonies,<br />

and even some Home Alone sprinkled in <strong>—</strong> particularly when Jason pulls a Kevin McCallister by screaming directly into the<br />

camera. But what’s quite vague, at least in the beginning, is whether <strong>—</strong> and if so, in what way <strong>—</strong> Tsirbas intends to pay tribute to<br />

all of these at-hand millennial nostalgias. Unfortunately, as the film progresses, all viewers are left with is a very unimaginative,<br />

inauthentic series of winks and nods that do nothing but flirt with overfamiliar clichés and mimic everything from the dialogue to<br />

the drama that we’ve seen played out multiple times in much better works. ”<strong>—</strong> AYEEN FOROOTAN [Originally published as part of<br />

<strong>InRO</strong>’s Fantasia Fest 2022 coverage.]<br />

DIRECTOR: Aristomenis Tsirbas; CAST: Sofian Oleniuk, Lola Rossignol-Arts, Nathaniel Amranian; DISTRIBUTOR: XYZ Films;<br />

STREAMING: March 23; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 20 min.<br />

17 26


ALBUM REVIEWS<br />

10,000 GECS<br />

100 gecs<br />

For an era-defining band like 100 gecs, it’s<br />

surprising that so few conversations<br />

about the group tend to involve talking<br />

about their actual music. The duo of<br />

singer/producers Dylan Brady and Laura<br />

Les, gecs’ debut album 1000 gecs <strong>—</strong> one of<br />

the final masterpieces of the 2010s <strong>—</strong> was<br />

mostly overlooked when it dropped in<br />

2019, with critics tending to favor the<br />

music of safer contemporaries like Charli<br />

XCX and Caroline Polachek. Perhaps<br />

realizing their mistake, this tastemaker<br />

subset kicked into sweaty overdrive to<br />

explain gecs the following year, identifying<br />

their embrace of “low culture” signifiers,<br />

Laura Les’ trans identity, and the group’s<br />

engagement with digital life as being<br />

reasons for their unique now-ness. While<br />

these qualities do speak to gecs’<br />

significance, their next release <strong>—</strong> 1000<br />

gecs and the Tree of Clues, a full-length<br />

remix album with an astute guest list<br />

that’s practically a monument to<br />

hyperpop <strong>—</strong> was also overlooked, despite<br />

being a pulverizing work of similar<br />

consequence. And gecs’ glacial timeline<br />

for releasing a follow-up, during which<br />

artists like Jane Remover and brakence<br />

embellished the contours of sounds that<br />

gecs molded, has prompted some<br />

epitaph inscription for the duo, in effect<br />

declaring gecs deceased before awarding<br />

them in life. Fittingly, given these<br />

unflattering meta-narratives, the<br />

provocations of the excellent, finally-here<br />

10,000 gecs are largely musical. Adopting<br />

a crunchier, guitar-centric guise, gecs’<br />

new record sees the group shed some of<br />

their computerized allure while<br />

remaining the silliest of polyglots, “selling<br />

out” in the most eccentric terms<br />

possible.<br />

The duo’s shift towards Y2K-era<br />

terrestrial radio was signaled in advance<br />

by pre-release singles like “doritos &<br />

fritos” and “Hollywood Baby,” whose tidier<br />

structures suggested that gecs were not<br />

necessarily interested in being<br />

mind-blowing shape-shifters any longer.<br />

While 10,000 gecs is more oriented<br />

around traditional riffage, the 26-minute<br />

record ultimately achieves a more<br />

holistic balance than these singles<br />

suggested, presenting ten genre<br />

exercises that match the extreme tonality<br />

of gecs’ previous works (if not their<br />

specific sonic character). Following the<br />

familiar shimmer of the THX theme, a<br />

serrated guitar lead declares gecs’ intent<br />

to rock on opening song “Dumbest Girl<br />

Alive,” its synthetic bass squelches<br />

resembling torpedos bouncing off an<br />

energy shield, and Les’ magnetic<br />

performance capturing the desperation<br />

and exhilaration of freefall. “757” overlaps<br />

the most with gecs’ earlier style, its<br />

auto-tune oscillations entwining with<br />

gated drums that boom loud before<br />

eventually fading in an emotional<br />

denouement, the song emerging as if<br />

from the digital ether in its coda. 10,000<br />

27


gecs’ singles are also improved by album<br />

context; in particular, “Hollywood Baby”<br />

now sounds less like a “Beverly Hills”-aping<br />

victory lap than a poison pill pretending to<br />

be one. And where “One Million Dollars” <strong>—</strong> a<br />

thick slab of 3OH!3 homage <strong>—</strong> might have<br />

been an electronic abstraction on<br />

previous albums, here it’s a 64kbps<br />

dubstep track affixed to a funk metal<br />

bridge reminiscent of Mr. Bungle. Though<br />

the song doesn’t make having seven-figure<br />

wealth sound especially fun, its<br />

compressed collisions embody 10,000 gecs’<br />

flexibility with genre and form in<br />

microcosm.<br />

10,000 gecs’ non-rock homages are also<br />

dynamic, if initially head-scratching. On<br />

rager “Billy Knows Jamie,” gecs’<br />

longstanding affinity for nu-metal is<br />

codified in song, its twisty riff and record<br />

scratches recalling <strong>—</strong> yes <strong>—</strong> Limp Bizkit,<br />

and chunky chords/Cookie Monster vocals<br />

later taking things into not-so-nu metal<br />

territory. Meanwhile, the Cypress<br />

Hill-sampling “The Most Wanted Person in<br />

the United States” <strong>—</strong> with its<br />

Neptunes-esque bounce and spoken word<br />

delivery <strong>—</strong> brings gecs close to genuine<br />

hip hop; while an uncertain prospect on<br />

paper, gecs’ self-effacing playfulness keep<br />

the reference-heavy song from ever<br />

sounding disingenuous. The most divisive<br />

cuts may end up being gecs’ winsome,<br />

goofy forays into ska (the bouncy “Frog on<br />

the Floor” and “I Got My Tooth Removed,”<br />

which resembles Reel Big Fish run through<br />

a Kidz Bop filter at 1.5x speed). If an<br />

objectively less cool package for gecs’<br />

omnivorous footprint, both songs could<br />

plausibly be subverting genre and<br />

metaphor to disguise darker content <strong>—</strong> a<br />

violent squatter in the case of “Frog,” and<br />

a painful romantic rupture on “Tooth.” Or<br />

they could simply be songs about a frog<br />

on the floor and getting your tooth<br />

removed. gecs aren’t anonymous per se,<br />

but on 10,000 gecs the duo are so in on<br />

their own joke that it’s hard to know how<br />

much veracity to ascribe to their songs’<br />

narratives; as Brady repeats in closing<br />

song “mememe,” “you'll neverreally know<br />

anything about me.” His and Les’ carefully<br />

cultivated generality has long been a core<br />

component of the 100 gecs project: both<br />

members obscure their faces on album<br />

covers, and their persona as 100 gecs is<br />

instead defined by the hyper-specificity<br />

of their musical and pop-cultural<br />

interests. This ethos of building one’s own<br />

identity out of everything else in sight is<br />

arguably this modern band’s most modern<br />

quality, and on 10,000 gecs their reach<br />

extends to impressive lengths. <strong>—</strong><br />

MICHAEL DOUB<br />

LABEL: Atlantic Records; RELEASE<br />

DATE: March 17<br />

RADICAL ROMANTICS<br />

Fever Ray<br />

Karin Dreijer returns with Radical<br />

Romantics, their highly collaborative third<br />

album under the solo moniker Fever Ray<br />

<strong>—</strong> with production from heavy hitters like<br />

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and<br />

multiple features from Karin’s<br />

brother/former bandmate in the Knife,<br />

Olaf Dreijer. Opener “What They Call Us”<br />

reflects on the fear behind the<br />

experience of queer relationships in the<br />

context of an increasingly hateful world<br />

(“Did you hear what they call us? / Did you<br />

hear what they said?”), and in a way<br />

creates a framework for the whole<br />

ALBUM REVIEWS<br />

album. Subsequent tracks follow this<br />

lead, exploring similar narrative and<br />

thematic territory, enriching the record’s<br />

conceptual core as it goes along. Which<br />

isn’t to say that this is a particularly sad<br />

record; it takes on the many emotions<br />

that love can elicit, ultimately favoring a<br />

joyous approach rather than a cynical<br />

one, a celebration of that full spectrum of<br />

feeling despite the challenges that come<br />

with it.<br />

The Knife reunion here is likewise born<br />

out of a sense of purpose <strong>—</strong> rather than<br />

mere convenience <strong>—</strong> as the tracks that<br />

feature both Dreijers extend the record’s<br />

considerations beyond romance and into<br />

the realm of familial love. There’s both an<br />

intimacy and intensity to these particular<br />

songs, as heavy synthesizers and intense<br />

pop beats surround and threaten to suck<br />

the listener into a whirlpool of emotions,<br />

creating a palpable tension throughout<br />

the eclectic, varied record <strong>—</strong> a forceful,<br />

but not unpleasant, presence in which to<br />

let oneself be enveloped. Radical<br />

Romantics closes with a meditative,<br />

seven-minute ocean soundscape that<br />

acts as a sort of cooldown. It’s a bold<br />

choice, one that most artists couldn’t pull<br />

off without some assumption of pompous<br />

pretension. But here it feels almost<br />

necessary, a welcome release from<br />

spending so much time toeing the edge<br />

of an abyss. And it’s intuitive choices like<br />

this that help push a good album toward<br />

being a great one <strong>—</strong> one that should both<br />

please Fever Ray’s old fans and entice<br />

new ones. <strong>—</strong> ANDREW BOSMA<br />

LABEL: Atlantic Records; RELEASE<br />

DATE: March 10<br />

28


Photo Credits:<br />

Cover - Lionsgate; Page 1 - SXSW; Page 3 - Laura Valladao; Page 4 - Bloody Hell Productions;<br />

Page 5 - Kaveh Nabatian; Page 7 - Wicked Delicate Films; Page 8 - Ian Routledge; Page 9 - Manda<br />

Specht Photography;Page 13 - Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded<br />

Sound Division; Page 14 - Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound<br />

Division; Page 15, 16 - Les Films du Losange; Page 17 - Lionsgate/Murray Close; Page 19 - MUBI;<br />

Page 21 - Jeong Park/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures; Page 23 - IFC Films; Page 26 - Courtesy<br />

Icarus Films ; Page 27 - Atlantic Records; Back Cover - Cinema Guild

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