Trailer: A Ghost Story

Despite the title, this is no ghost story, but rather a Malick-ian meditation on time, place, legacy, the stories we make and the stories we tell. Either this kind of thing is your cup of tea, or it isn’t. But Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara look like they are doing their damn best to equal out the didactic aspects the dialogue and leaven the Sundance-earnestness of the films concept.

Recently deceased, a white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to console his bereft wife, only to find that in his spectral state he has become unstuck in time, forced to watch passively as the life he knew and the woman he loves slowly slip away. Increasingly unmoored, the ghost embarks on a cosmic journey through memory and history, confronting life’s ineffable questions and the enormity of existence.

A24 is releasing A Ghost Story, so you know it will be worth a look. David Lowrey (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) directs, and if you are a fan of Kelly Reichardt’s films, you will have noticed that Will Oldham (Old Joy) makes an appearance here.

Friday One Sheet: Dark Night

I have not been keeping a close eye on Sundance this year, but Tim Sutton’s documentary on the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting that took place in a movie theater showing The Dark Knight, played Sundance last year. Dark Night is getting a commercial release shortly (February 3 in NY, February 9th in LA.)

The poster has a lovely use of negative space, and grain. I like the red emphasis on the exit light of the cinema which matches the title and unconventional location of the credit block. The three street lights echo the ‘shine a light’ on the subject which is obviously the intent of the docudrama.

Trailer: Wilson

High on my list of 2017 films is the sad-sack comedy, Wilson is based on Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel of the same name, directed by Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins) and starring Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern. The trailer is pretty heavy on the slap-stick kind of humour, where you can either see Harrelson’s character be beat up, or beat people up, but there are a few zingers in there too. The trailer makes the film look a bit more uneven than (hopefully) the finished film will be. Much like Clowes’ Ghost World, it is the longer development of character and ideas about society that make that one a winner.

A lonely, neurotic and hilariously honest middle-aged man reunites with his estranged wife and meets his teenage daughter for the first time.

Wilson opens in the US on March 24th.

Trailer #2: The Birth of a Nation

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Nate Parker’s ‘taking back the title’ historical drama, The Birth of A Nation is an important corrective measure in American cinema, coming to cinemas 100 years after all the damage that D.W. Griffith’s epic blockbuster of the same name enabled back in 1915 — not the least of which is resurrecting a near-extinguished KKK. Griffith’s film also is considered the first mega-sized film produced, and kicked off the ‘bigger is better’ mentality that has been the rhythm of Hollywood almost ever since.

If 2016’s The Birth of A Nation looks like Oscar-bait, that is because it is. But not the cynical, play the game Hollywood boutique kind, that of an earnest, passionate voice looking to come to the table on his own terms. This is what Oscar-bait should look like if we are to take the derogatory connotation away from the phrase. The challenge of this picture is to come out from the long shadow of Steve McQueen’s extraordinarily shot and acted, 12 Years A Slave.

The Birth of a Nation won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival before being picked up by Fox Searchlight. The film hits theaters stateside on October 7, 2016. And the second trailer is below.

Trailer: Swiss Army Man

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For those of you who thought Weekend At Bernies didn’t have enough feels, or enough special effects, two directors named Daniel bring you Swiss Army Man. Paul Dano, in a rare film where he does not appear to get beaten up by somebody, instead puts the corpse (ahem, the farting corpse) of Daniel Radcliffe through the paces of The Sundance Movietm. All joking aside, this film is getting stellar reviews, and is being released by the consistently astute A24.

Trailer: Last Days In The Desert

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Visually splendid, but by the feel of this trailer, also seemingly facile and dunderheaded, Ewan McGregor plays Jesus and Satan in a story of The Christ’s temptation in Last Days In The Desert. Cinematographer turned director, Rodrigo García (Thing You Can Tell By Looking At Her, Mother And Child) tells a story Jesus in an imagined chapter from his 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert, which will likely evoke memories of Martin Scorsese’s 1988 classic, with Willem DaFoe in the lead role. On his way out of the wilderness, he struggles with the Devil over the fate of an ordinary family in crisis, setting for himself a dramatic test with distinctly human conflicts.

Tye Sheridan, Ciarán Hinds and Ayelet Zurer also star in the film that got a pretty low-key response coming out of Sundance 2015. The film will be released in May 2016.

Trailer: Turbo Kid

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It is not only Astron-6 doing cheesy 1980s throw-backs. Out of Montreal, Anouk Whissell, François Simard, Yoann-Karl Whissel originally made T is for Turbo for the first ABCs of Death anthology open-submission contest. It did not win the slot (losing to claymation T is for Toilet), but ABCs producer Ant Timpson, along with Hobo With A Shotgun director Jason Eisener, liked the short so much they decided to produce it into a feature. It bowed at Sundance in the midnight program, but to coincide with its premiere last night, they released this 80s synth-scored trailer.

The film is Turbo Kid and it is set in the apocalyptic future of 1997. A young solitary scavenger becomes a reluctant hero when he meets a mysterious girl in the wasteland. The villain is well represented by Canuck legend, Micheal Ironside. If you grew up on everything from BMX Bandits to Hell Comes to Frogtown to Solarbabies, then this might hit your nostalgia sweet-spot when it pops up on the genre festival circuit, or I’m guessing, VOD. If you reside in Canada, indie distributor Raven Banner already has the rights for the great white north.

Friday One Sheet: The Forbidden Room

Motion posters. There are not many of them made at this point, but as cinemas switch to screens for their poster displays, I expect there to be more of them in the future. I doubt they will be as ethereal and evocative as these from Guy Maddin’s forthcoming feature, The Forbidden Room.

Dreamy vaselined lenses and putrid yellow colour palette that remind me of smoke and water damaged book covers…In a good way. There are more tucked under the seat.

Would you like to know more…?

Mega-Mamo #338: More Is Better

Dinner for five! Mamo welcomes THREE special guest stars to a roundtable discussion of Manohla Dargis’ recent contention that the American indie market is overstuffed with product. Row Three’s Kurt Halfyard along with Dave Voigt and Ryan McNeil tell the Matts what’s what.

To download this episode, use this URL: http://rowthree.com/audio/mamo/mamo338.mp3

Review: Escape From Tomorrow

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After the Disneyland antics on Exit Through The Gift Shop, I guess it was only a matter of time before somebody decided to make an entire guerrilla feature inside Orlando’s Magic Kingdom, and the whole of Disney World. The result, Escape From Tomorrow has its queer moments, indeed, many have described it as ‘weird’ or perhaps the ultimate compliment in modern surreal filmmaking, ‘Lynchian,’ but I think a better description is ‘ill-formed.’

The resulting 90 minute feature, which likely feel a bit of a stretch at 60 minutes, is the embryo of an halfway decent theme – albeit one that was not particularly a new one 35 years ago – where success hinges completely on execution. And in that, Escape From Tomorrow is sorely lacking. Not really a best-worst film in the vein of The Room or Troll 2, as the actors are mostly competent and conservative used CGI is solid enough. Even the framing is surprisingly good considering the filmmakers had no legal way of setting up angles and cameras while working on the sly. The well shot majority only underscores when the ungainly minority. The green-screen and soundstage work to jury-rig the narrative together, likely to get scenes that were not easily doable with themepark security around, undo the inkling of a spell Moore and his cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham begin to weave. The rest is undone by the padding (or lack of pacing – your call) in the set-up.

After losing his job on the last day of their vacation, Jim opts not to tell his family and make the most of their last day in the Magic Kingdom. By ‘enjoy’ that is to say, humid weather, long lines, and their kids either demanding food or trinkets in that petulant and whiny voice that comes to 21st century children so naturally. His wife, Emily, is often depicted at wits end and takes it by knocking Jim out at the knees. There is no doubt that dragging two small children around the wide network of theme parks in ever-groomed Florida swampland has its emotional toll. A scene involving the application of sunscreen, while delivered a tad broad, is something likely plays around the pools and water-parks daily. This constant emasculation by his increasingly shrewish wife gives Jim license to rebel against the whole notion of familial responsibility by stalking two attractive French teens, often with either his son or daughter in tow. As the day presses onwards, he gets mighty drunk at Epcot Centre, and in his own woe-is-me narcissism starts to hallucinate a bigger plot at work, either the park and its denizens are actively out to humiliate him, or something far more nefarious involving ‘Stepfording’ or ‘Bodysnatching’ him out of existence. That is never clear, and clearly doesn’t matter all that much. The whole thing is more a hallucination of his anxieties than literal truth.

Maybe we do not dream in colour? The film in sharp Black and White, which I am guessing offered better light balance when shooting under less than ideal conditions. Like many a constraint, however, it actually helps with generating a ‘not-quite-right’ feeling in taking such a kaleidoscopic environment and re-framing it as blanche-noir. Far from taking himself too serious, Moore offers a smattering of bare breasts, goofy sex acts, and copious amounts of lead actor Roy Abramhohn’s sweaty body hair serve to counter the pristine image of the theme park by way of the Walt Disney Corporation’s thick layer of sales pitch and nostalgia that most Americans (and Canadians) have lived with for the past 30 years.

Would you like to know more…?

Trailer: The East

Following up the quite excellent Sundance gem, The Sound of My Voice with a bigger budget and broader scope, comes the sophomore directorial effort from Zal Batmanglij. Co-writing the film and starring in it is new Indie queen Brit Marling where she will be joined by Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Skarsgard. The East looks to be a 70s styled paranoid thriller wiht a 21st century independent bent to it. There also appears to be a fair bit of action for what is, relative to the rest of the summer blockbusters, a much smaller beast.

Sarah Moss is a former FBI agent and an operative for the private intelligence firm Hiller Brood. She infiltrates an anarchist collective called The East and convinces its members of her genuine participation. Moss begins to fall in love with its leader Benji, and she begins to question the moral underpinnings of her undercover duty.