King Kong (1933)

Written by Nick McCann

94/100

There is no other like the Eighth Wonder. Who could’ve thought in the 1930’s that movies can get so big? Sure talkie pictures had been around for a while and there were some B-pictures that came and went. However, none could compare to what RKO would release smack-dab in the middle of a poverty-stricken nation. After years of production and a ton riding on ambition, King Kong released and changed the course of cinema for decades to come. Today, it’s still nothing short of thrilling.

Our story is one of adventure and wonder. It’s a mythic tale about what happens when man discovers a living legend and his reaction. This movie doesn’t waste any time as it moves with efficient progression. It’s setup keeps you on your toes until a grand reveal that kicks off a primal thrill ride. Even with some outdated aspects, the plot holds up well as one of the finest cinematic adventures to this day.

Much of that is owed to Kong himself, along his island of danger. This film marked a major landmark in special effects filmmaking and it shows. Willis O’Brien’s stop motion creature effects are a show-stealer in the best way. It may not be as fluid as what would later come, but they are delightful. Every new dinosaur encounter keeps the action fresh and Kong himself displays a lot of character for being a 3-inch figurine. Miniature sets are also highly detailed, on top of clever uses of animatronics and rear-projection work. Bottom line, every effects sequence shows genuine work put into them and they are still a marvel.

One could also gather that the action sequences are just as much of a spectacle. For it’s time, there are some visceral sequences of dinosaur carnage and peril. From the famous sacrifice to the last stand on the Empire State Building, there is variety around every corner. Production design is spot on with great sets, sound design is highly rich and Max Steiner’s score captures emotion and scale beautifully. Sure a lot of it looks fake now, but I don’t care. It still gets me going like any big picture today.

All of this is kept grounded with well rounded characters. Robert Armstrong, as the film director Carl Denham, exudes charisma and bravado. One look at this guy will tell you he is a man of composure for how crazy he can be. Fay Wray also brings beauty as Ann Darrow. She’s likable as she tries to fit in around places, although she does turn into a scream machine any chance she gets. Finally, Bruce Cabot makes for both a voice of reason and a reliable man of action in Jack Driscoll. These three characters are sound in their standing within the story and perform well throughout.

King Kong is so important it hurts. The fact it inspired some of our best modern cinematic geniuses and people generally are still talking about it today marks it’s continuing success. It’s filmmaking breakthroughs are matched by it’s timeless, fantastical story. Age is just a number, as they say. Go see this one if you haven’t yet. No excuses!

King Kong 1933 Trailer

King Kong (1933) is currently available to stream on HBO Max

Slamdance 2021 Review: No Trace (Nulle Trace)

Written by Anna Harrison

75/100

As I started No Trace, watching the black-and-white train tracks move by in a blur and hearing the discordant music, I braced myself for a jarring and unsettling experience like Persona, or some other esoteric, unreadable film. I still got an esoteric and unreadable film, but one that was soft and slow, that unfurled at its own leisurely pace. Director Simon Lavoie clearly draws from auteurs like Ingmar Bergman and others, and so in some ways No Trace feels familiar, but only in the sense that it resembles other films who make it a point to feel unfamiliar; compared with most mainstream or even semi-mainstream films, it feels alien.

No Trace follows two women, N (Monique Gosselin) and Awa (Nathalie Doummar), as N attempts to smuggle Awa and her child across an unnamed border in a dystopic future, but we are left only to guess at how this grim world came to be. N succeeds in getting Awa and the child to Awa’s husband, but on her way back, some thieves steal her handcar and force N to walk on foot. During N’s journey back, she once again encounters Awa, unconscious and injured and without husband or child. N helps nurse Awa back to health, and the two tentatively develop a strange, strenuous relationship that tests the both of them.

Gosselin and Doummar are perfectly cast; Gosselin as the hardened, no-nonsense atheist, and Doummar as the delicate-looking, wide-eyed Muslim. There is hardly a shot without Gosselin in the entire film, and director Simon Lavoie relies on her to carry long stretches without any dialogue. In fact, most of the film remains void of any speaking, relying instead on precise and careful sound design to craft a sense of the world around the women. When the characters do speak, they do so brusquely, with the exception of N and Awa’s brief discussion on religion.  

“You’re not a believer?” Awa asks. “I’m not that desperate yet,” N replies. In the end, both of their beliefs will be tested, and the audience can arrive at their own conclusions.

The cinematography is the most striking thing in No Trace: while filmed largely on train tracks or by a nondescript shed in a nondescript forest, Lavoie employs beautiful and clever shots, making even the most boring frame a work of art. (He also includes perhaps the most horrifying image I have ever seen on screen, which was not pleasant, but he does so without overreliance on gore or a huge shock factor.)

No Trace will no doubt leave many viewers frustrated. It changes aspect ratios seemingly on a whim, leaves many things ambiguous, and the slow pace can be a turn off in spots. The film has no clear narrative thrust, only vague brushstrokes, and so has no strong plot to propel itself forward. While Lavoie clearly intends this to happen, I still found my mind wandering in several places—though never too far. No Trace requires no small amount of patience and willingness to accept ambiguity, making your own meaning out of the images on screen, but once you find the patience to sit and soak in the beautiful shots and admire the near-silent performances, it proves to be a rewarding experience.

No Trace Trailer

You can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd, Twitter, Instagram, and her website.

2021 Golden Globes Preview

Written by Alexander Reams

Well folks, it’s that time of year, where all of Hollywood’s best and drunkest get together, have one big cocktail party, and hand out a few awards.

In all seriousness, the Golden Globes aren’t the most prestigious or serious awards show, but they can boost or take away from a film more than people realize. Thinking back to 2019 BC (Before COVID), 1917 did not have much steam, until the Golden Globes where it picked up the Best Director and Best Motion Picture: Drama awards and became the frontrunner to win those awards at the Oscars.

Now this Sunday, February 28, are the 2021 Golden Globes and I’ll be giving my predictions as well as my insight into the upcoming night. 

BEST MOTION PICTURE; DRAMA 
– The Father 
– Mank 
– Nomadland 
– Promising Young Woman
– The Trial of the Chicago 7


These nominees are very similar to what we’ve been seeing throughout the critics awards nominees, with the surprise addition of Promising Young Woman. I agree that Carey Mulligan gives a great performance, but in my opinion it has no place being in this category. Be that as it may, I still think that the HFPA will award The Trial of the Chicago 7 with Best Motion Picture; Drama. My personal pick would be Mank, as my other choice was not even nominated Da 5 Bloods

BEST ACTRESS; DRAMA 
– Viola Davis: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom 
– Andra Day: The United States vs. Billie Holiday 
– Vanessa Kirby: Pieces of a Woman 
– Frances McDormand: Nomadland 
– Carey Mulligan: Promising Young Woman


Full disclosure, I have not seen The United States vs. Billie Holiday and Nomadland yet, however I believe that the winner will be neither of those films, Viola Davis or Carey Mulligan are who I believe will take home the award, Viola Davis is (FINALLY) getting more and more recognized for her fantastic work, and while Ma Rainey, might not be her best performance, the HFPA has always been about those career wins, and I think this would be another one after her win for 2016’s “Fences”. On the flipside, this is Carey Mulligan’s second nomination for a Globe after a very impressive career filled with fantastic performances so the HFPA might award her since Viola Davis already has won before. My personal pick would be Vanessa Kirby for Pieces of a Woman. 

BEST ACTOR: DRAMA 
– Riz Ahmed: Sound of Metal 
– Chadwick Boseman: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom 
– Anthony Hopkins: The Father 
– Gary Oldman: Mank 
– Tahar Rahim: The Mauritanian


While I have not seen The Mauritanian yet, I think we can all agree that the Golden Globe Best Actor race is already done, with the late Chadwick Boseman locking it up. Some have said that he is only getting the buzz because of his untimely passing earlier this year, however I believe that whether or not he had passed, he would easily be winning the Globe for his performance in Ma Rainey.

BEST MOTION PICTURE: COMEDY/MUSICAL 
– Borat Subsequent Moviefilm 
– Hamilton 
– Music 
– Palm Springs 
– The Prom



I’m gonna take a quick minute and gush over the fact that a film like Palm Springs is nominated for (what will probably be) its biggest nomination this awards season. Palm Springs is one of my favorite Golden Globes nominations this year. Now the winner? I’m still on the Hamilton train, it took the world by storm, and while Borat might have more of an obvious political statement, I think that Hamilton will be taking the award home. 

BEST ACTRESS: COMEDY/MUSICAL 
– Maria Bakalova: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm 
– Kate Hudson: Music 
– Michelle Pfieffer: French Exit 
– Rosamund Pike: I Care A Lot
– Anya Taylor-Joy: Emma


I’ll keep this short and sweet, the only nominee who could challenge Maria Bakalova in my opinion is Rosamund Pike, whose nomination came out of nowhere.

BEST ACTOR: COMEDY/MUSICAL 
– Sacha Baron Cohen: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm 
– James Corden: The Prom 
– Lin-Manuel Miranda: Hamilton 
– Dev Patel: The Personal History of David Copperfield 
– Andy Samberg: Palm Springs

This Best Actor race is a bit more tied up than its other comedy/musical counterpart, between Baron Cohen, Miranda, and Samberg being the three vying for the award, but in the end I think that Baron Cohen will take it. 

BEST DIRECTOR 
– Emerald Fennell: Promising Young Woman 
– David Fincher: Mank 
– Regina King: One Night in Miami… 
– Aaron Sorkin: The Trial of the Chicago 7’ 
– Chloé Zhao: Nomadland 

The only person who could challenge Zhao at this point is Spike Lee, but seeing as he wasn’t nominated, Zhao is a lock, I’ll be shocked if anyone other than her wins. 

Thank you for checking out my Golden Globes preview, don’t forget to tune into it on NBC at 7PM EST/ 4PM EST.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.

Lola (1961)

Written by Taylor Baker

88/100

Anouk Aimée’s eponymous character Lola like the film is graceful, gorgeous, and effortless. Aspects equally shared in the choreography of the camera. The depth of field present in nearly every shot from Cinematographer Raoul Coutard adds detail to the life of the city and the interiors. This coupled with Demy’s unique blend of visual and narrative romanticism steeped in harsh circumstance is something you can practically taste. 

Quick cuts, lingering moments, shadow cast walls, expert mirroring, nearly every window used as a source of light. It’s hard not to fall in love with Lola, just as easily as Marc Michel’s Roland does. Demy’s first feature length film follows two separated lovers Lola and Roland as they reconnect after a chance bump along an outdoor hall of businesses that like nearly every other scene in the film looks absolutely stunning. 

Lola sprawls around the city and interiority of the characters without a lag, never getting sidetracked, or interrupted by communicating something pointless to the viewer verbally. Demy even early on understood well that showing instead of telling in filmmaking would serve his stories. Though it’s a debut, you can see all the early workings of a master, playing with the image, the narrative, the characters, and most of all the viewers expectations. As the first stepping stone of a career Lola soars to heights that many directors don’t achieve in their careers. 

Lola Trailer

Lola is currently streaming on Criterion Channel and Kanopy

Episode 99: Favorite Films of 2020 Part 2

“When I make film music, I’m a filmmaker first and foremost. It’s about serving the needs of the film. You’re telling a story; in a way, you stop becoming a composer and become a storyteller instead. You tell the story with the most appropriate themes. How you approach these things is a very personal matter, but your goal is to tell the story first.”

Jóhann Jóhannsson

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their number 5-1 Favorite Films of 2020. As well as hand out show awards for each of their Rising Stars, Top 3 OST’s, Favorite Actor/Actress in a Lead and Supporting role, Top 3 Directorial Debuts, and their Top 3 Classic Film Discoveries.

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Love in the Afternoon (L’amour l’après-midi)

Written by Michael Clawson

90/100

The final installment in Rohmer’s Moral Tales is the only one where the tempted male protagonist is actually married, and not only that, but rather happily so. Frederic is, however, a daydreamer. After commuting into Paris from the suburbs everyday and busying himself with work in the mornings, his mind tends to drift in the afternoon, the throngs of attractive women he passes on the street stirring in him a longing for first love again, even though he is maritally content. One of the film’s greatest sequences is of Frederic, as he sits in a cafe, imagining himself actually courting a series of women on the street, each of them played by key actresses from the previous Moral Tales. 

He wants both, the newness and excitement he imagines feeling were he to take up with someone else, and the rhythm and comforts of loving familiarity with his wife. Rohmer’s suggestion that those desires exist in parallel, grating up against each other, drive a tension that’s only further magnified by the reemergence of Chloe, a woman out of Frederic’s past that he begins flirtatiously spending his afternoons with. Just like he reads different books at once to satisfy the desire for different forms of escape, he tries to do the same with Chloe and his wife, but it’s really just torture he’s inflicting upon himself, the temptation to sleep with Chloe felt every time they meet, but him never actually succumbing to the urge. 

Relative to the other Moral Tales, here Rohmer strikes me as more sympathetic to his male lead. While in no way excusing Frederic’s flirting with Chloe behind his wife’s back (I spent a good deal of the movie feeling sad for her), he recognizes the conflicting, concurrent desires of married people, and reveals an optimism about happy marriages withstanding temptation. Rohmer does risk looking like he’s patting Frederic on the back in the end for not cheating on his wife, which bothers me, but the hopefulness and romance of the conclusion is moving nonetheless.

Love in the Afternoon Trailer

Watch Love in the Afternoon on Criterion Channel, HBO Max, and Kanopy

Sundance 2021 Interview: Frank Barrera Cinematographer of ‘Together Together’

Interview by Anna Harrison

SYNOPSIS: When young loner Anna is hired as the gestational surrogate for Matt, a single man in his 40s who wants a child, the two strangers come to realize this unexpected relationship will quickly challenge their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love.

Frank Barrera’s Website: https://www.frankbarrera.com/

Together Together played during the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

You can read Maria’s review of Together Together and you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website.

Slamdance 2021 Review: Holy Frit

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

75/100

Who knew stained glass could be so interesting? Justin Monroe’s documentary tells the story of artist Tim Carey and Judson Studios who were commissioned by the Church of Resurrection in Kansas City to craft a 400,000 sq foot stained glass window which would be the largest installation known to date. In this process, I developed an entirely new appreciation for the art of glass making, the history industry that is over 1000 years old, and the personal growth that occurs when an artist discovers and reinvents himself.

In this doc, we learn about the history of glass making of the 120-year LA based glass making Judson Studios and the artists who work there. Our “protagonist” is Tim Carey who is the lead artist on the stained glass window commission. Even though I am not an artist I really identified with Tim who had these conflicting notions of perfectionism and impatience about his work and purpose as an artist. It was also a story about a man who underestimates himself and the need of words of affirmation to carry out his work.

This story about innovation relied heavily on a remarkable stained-glass master called Narcissus Quagliata. Tim, Narcissus, and the rest of the team at Judson Studios had a seemingly impossible task at hand; they had 24 months to complete 161 stained glass panels that would form the installation. Time wasn’t on their side. Traditional stained glass window techniques where single-color glasses pieces were individually bound together by lead would not be possible. Instead, they incorporated a new fusion glass staining technique that would allow them to fuse together multiple colors into a single piece of glass.

You will need to watch the documentary to see the final result. In the end, this was a story about finding your light through art and innovation. It was this passion for art and the commitment of the artists that possibly saved a dying industry and one of the last stained glass studios in the US who’s commissions increased after the Church installation. To quote Narcissus, “this window is going to be part of the history of glass.” I, for one, think they successfully accomplished this goal.

Recommended.

Holy Frit Trailer

Buy a ticket to see Holy Frit at the Slamdance 2021 Film Festival

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Interview: Beppe Tufarulo Talks About His Short Film ‘Baradar’

Interview by Anna Harrison

When did you first read Alí Ehsani’s book, Stanotte Guardiamo le Stelle (Let’s Look At the Stars Tonight)? Did you know right away you wanted to adapt it, or did someone else have the idea?

It was my longtime friend Francesco Casolo, author of the book with Alí, that told me about Alí’s story that he was putting into a book and got me hooked on it after a few seconds of him talking. Soon after I was meeting Alí and hearing about his exceptional journey that brought him here in Italy, after five years of trying, made me think right from the start that it was something worth being transposed into images as well. 

How involved was Alí Ehsani himself in the film?

Alí’s contribution to the film was paramount: not only getting the chance to discuss with him directly the many aspects of the events that lead him to Italy, to get an intimate look at what his emotions were all the while, but also having him near me on set to help overcome the linguistic and cultural differences with the two brothers that we cast for the film, who were coming from his same area in Afghanistan and had shared with him a similar story and journey. 

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first start filming, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

I started working around the idea of getting the film made around 2017 and then it was in the spring of 2018 that I got the two production companies on board, Tapelessfilm and Art of Panic. We knew right away that we didn’t just want to make the film, but we wanted people to be able to see it. Which meant production and distribution. So, in order to achieve that, together with the two co-producers of the film, Tapelessfilm and Art of Panic, we got to work on the whole process of getting the financials in place to cover the production costs (through public funding, like the MIBACT tax credit and the Puglia film commission regional incentive; private funding like Blue Sands Foundation, very active on humanitarian issues and refugees relocation; and producers equity) and drafting the first production timelines. 

Once we knew that the film could would have been feasible, from an economic point of view, we started working on getting the crew together (starting from some professionals that I knew from the start I wanted to be with me, like Francesco di Pierro, our amazing DoP, or Daniele Carmosino, responsible for the very emotional original soundtrack) and in the meantime we did the first location recce and scouting in Puglia. All the while, I was still looking for the cast, remember that I had been looking for them for a year already. When we realised that we had all we needed, we went into pre-production in June and filming started at the end of September 2018. Shooting lasted for a week in Puglia. I got very quickly into the editing room because our idea was that of starting the festival circuit straight away: and for that we sought the involvement of Prem1ere Films, an Italian distribution company specialised in distributing short films and with a strong expertise (and success history) in International festivals. Thanks to their widespread activity, Baradar was acquired in Italy by Rai (our broadcaster), ended up being selected at over 50 festivals around the world, winning 21 awards and pocketing a nomination at the David di Donatello 2020 (the Italian Oscars).  

Were there any major script changes from conception to end? How much of a say did you have in any changes?

We worked hard to stay as faithful as possible to the story and Alí’s experience, and this was possible thanks also to the constant presence of Alí on the set. However, I was interested in isolating a specific moment of the children’s story that could represent the human meaning of the whole, a cross-section of everyday life between the two brothers that could enter the audience’s chords and convey something powerful. This idea of the script was maintained from beginning to end and Francesco and I were very much on the same wavelength throughout. If truth be told, I have to say that we worked on the script very organically and it evolved pretty much to stay in tune with the two brothers that we cast for the main roles, because, in order to get the maximum authenticity, intimacy and expressiveness that I wanted to return to the audience, we had to adapt to them. 

How did you find Nawid and Danosh Sharifi? I thought they both gave great performances—how did you approach directing with non-actors/first time actors?

From the very start, I had an almost impossible desire: finding two protagonists with a background close to that of Alí and his brother Mohammed. For this reason, I turned to associations that deal with refugees. After a long search, I received from an NGO (Binario 15) the photos of two brothers, Nawid and Danosh Sharifi, who, from a scenic point of view, could have been the same age of the protagonists. They had just arrived in Italy to be reunited with their older brother. Basically, something that was well beyond my hope! In terms of my approach to directing them, I was looking for truthfulness and expressiveness. I didn’t want anything to be trivialized or clichéd. And the two actors were so authentic that … they didn’t even utter a word in Italian! 

I noticed that several translators are listed in the credits. Were there any language barriers, and if so, how did you adapt to those?

The main difficulty was of course due to the fact that Nawid and Danosh had just arrived in Italy and didn’t speak any Italian. So we didn’t just need translators but cultural mediators that would help me convey the meaning of a scene or simply what was happening and how they should behave on set. Alí’s presence on set was, of course, a plus. 

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after watching your film? What lessons can we learn?

I would like the audience to go back home and be more open about the refugee crisis and emigration issue, because, beyond the political positions, it is a profoundly current, urgent issue that affects us all. Because being born on another side of the world shouldn’t be a discriminating factor in taking away or giving the right to have a passport and freedom of movement.

You have several projects in the works for Amazon Prime which seem to be much larger scale than Baradar. How does directing on a bigger budget change things, or do you take the same principles with you from short films to features and television shows?

New streaming platforms lead to the research and development of new contents, some of which are of great quality. The opportunity to work with Amazon Prime allowed me to carry out more ambitious projects aimed at an international audience. They are universal projects, worldwide and for a director this means being able to experiment and grow. If I had a choice I would always like to bring my directorial vision to these projects that have bigger budgets, maintaining a more intimate and delicate approach to following the stories. Having a clear vision and the freedom to follow it makes a project more solid. On the other hand, when there are too many compromises, the final result is also affected, despite the fact that we are talking about projects with more important budgets.

What’s a memoir that everyone should read?

Speaking of this short film, I would like to name both books published by Alì Ehsani (Let’s Look At the Stars Tonight and Boys Have Big Dreams). Because this is not just a story of immigration, but the story of two brothers, a small one who seems too fragile to face such a long journey but who over time will demonstrate incredible strength, and one of seventeen, who becomes a man ready to do anything to be able to give himself and his brother a new life. Because Ali, who arrived alone in Italy at the age of 13 and was able to graduate in law, is the proof that making dreams come true is always possible, no matter what the starting point is.

Baradar Trailer

You can read Anna’s review of Baradar or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website.

Baradar

Written by Anna Harrison

75/100

Baradar opens with two brothers engaging in typical brotherly antics as they carry a raft through the streets of Istanbul. The bright colors and playful music cultivate a warm image, one that immediately evaporates as we realize this flimsy raft is meant to carry the elder Mohammed (Danosh Sharifi) across the sea and into Greece. He won’t risk bringing his younger brother, Alí (Nawid Sharifi, Danosh’s younger brother), along, and instead will attempt this crossing alone, even though he cannot swim, hoping to find that mystical better life and come back to provide for his brother. 

Director Beppe Tufarulo based this harrowing tale off Alí Ehsani’s autobiography Stanotte Guardiamo le Stelle (Let’s Look At the Stars Tonight), and in Danosh and Nawid Sharifi, found two non-actors whose story mirrored Alí’s, as Danosh and Nawid travelled from Afghanistan to Italy to reunite with their older brother after the death of their parents. Despite their lack of acting experience, Danosh and Nawid turn in fine performances, selling their brotherly bond with ease (helped in no small part, I’m sure, by their actual relation). The scenes where Mohammed tries to teach Alí such simple things as making scrambled eggs before he departs are heart-wrenching as we realize how tall of an order it is for ten-year-old Alí just to survive on his own.

The short does get a little heavy-handed towards the end with a rather melodramatic voiceover, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t crying like a little baby at it anyway. Immigrants are so often treated callously as one monolithic group by politicians and citizens alike, viewed only as a population problem and almost never as individuals, except when we want to show how great a country is because this one single immigrant managed to become a lawyer, or a doctor, or some other socially acceptable/admirable thing. Baradar forces us to reckon with the individual consequences as we watch the individual courage and bravery of these two boys, and heavy-handed or not, it lingers long after the screen fades.

Baradar Trailer

You can read Anna’s interview with director Beppe Tufarulo or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website.