Invisible Life

Written by Taylor Baker

87/100

Invisible Life details the separation of two sisters and the subsequent passage of time that details each’s experience. In that journey along the river of time lies a deep undercurrent of overwhelming emotion. The turbulence that each experiences comes with its own focuses. Featuring one of the best introductory sequences of the year, this is a film that builds deliberately and is rich in empathy.

Due to it’s release date window of early 2020, late Janurary-early February, it feels like a natural bookend to A Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and I mean that in the most flattering way possible. I’m absolutely flummoxed this hasn’t generated more noise. Carol Duarte knocks it out of the park in her first performance in a film, and… Julia Stockler completely floored me. She has all the potential and range that is necessary to be a star.

Hélène Louvart’s cinematography, Benedikt Scheifer’s original music, and Karim Anouïz’s direction are equally intoxicating and exciting. I’m excited to dig deeper into their filmographies and see what they do next. The scope of emotionality is what lingers after the credits role. The feelings of complete and utter devastation that each sister experiences, juxtaposed to the “crude” humor sets a tone that especially in this genre of drama is very unique.

Highly recommended.

Fourteen

Written by Michael Clawson

100/100

A little time and a second watch has only made me more confident that this is micro-budget anti-drama par excellence. I could nit about an unconvincing performance here or there, but even the weaker bits of acting have charm, and those minor imperfections are really nothing in light of the genius at large. 

“Is this the supportive girlfriend issue again?“, says Jo, after Mara gets frustrated by Jo’s natural gift for writing. “No, I don’t need support.” The film spans a dozen or so years, and with exchanges between Mara and Jo like that one, Sallitt lightly hints at the conversations and fights that may or may not have been had in the years he skips over. He keeps subtly prompting us to sketch in what’s happened in those gaps, making them as much a part of the movie as what we do see. I love how Sallitt actually executes the time jumps too; cuts that leap us forward in time are as abrupt as any that might just move a simple conversation along, and there are only subtle visual cues that indicate that a significant amount of time has passed (Mara has a new haircut, is in a new apartment, etc). For a film that initially appears small, the temporal elisions continue to add up, and suddenly, it surprises you with its expansiveness. 

It really devastated me this time around to hear Mara tell her daughter a bedtime story about Jo. As lopsided as the relationship becomes and as taxed Mara is by Jo’s capriciousness and unreliability, the roots of the friendship are too deep for her to pull the ripcord. Instead, the friendship just slowly wilts, without any real goodbye, and the sadness in that more than justifies that emotional release that comes in the end, even if it is a little jarring.

Fourteen Trailer

Fourteen is currently available for purchase through Grasshopper Films.

Episode 78: Bad Education / Ema / Putney Swope

“Even with the lowest budget in the world, you better get some names in there; that calms people down. Then be sure your leading character is in a hurry.”

Robert Downey Sr.

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

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of a duo of Dev Patel led films in The Green Knight & The Personal History of David Copperfield. Followed by a discussion of the Titles: Bad Education, Ema, and Putney Swope.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

Bad Education on HBO Max

Putney Swope on Prime Video

Ema is currently seeking distribution


Finding Yingying

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

80/100

I could see myself in Yingying Zhang’s story. I came to the US to study as well. I came here looking for a better future and aware of the financial and emotional sacrifices my family made for me just like her family did for her. Yingying’s description of independence, loneliness, and homesickness are also emotions that I grappled with when I first arrived in this country.  

While, the cinematography was nothing remarkable Yingying’s passion for learning and her family’s determination to find her made this a compelling watch. The story was told through a mix of Yingying’s diary entries, testimonials from friends, family, and the FBI as well as interrogation footage of her assailant. 

As we began to uncover what happened Yingying’s family discusses the differences between the criminal justice system in the United States and China. Her family respected the work of US authorities but grew increasingly frustrated waiting for the trial. I wish they spent more time explaining these differences.

It pains me to even suggest that I wanted to “learn” more about her assailant. But when incidents like this happen we forget to ask how did this radicalization occur. I think about this question frequently when similar acts of violence occur around the world. How can someone torture, assault, decapitate another human being? 

This documentary should be an urgent call to action for academic institutions to invest more resources in counseling and mental health services. Some might say that the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign failed to act when the assailant discussed thoughts of hurting others during a counseling session. However, in April 2019, a judge sided with the University when he dismissed a case brought up by Yingying’s family claiming the University should have alerted the authorities. 

By all accounts Yingying was an independent, curious, steadfast, and passionate woman. In the end, my heart broke for Yingying’s family. They were never able to find her remains despite their best efforts. It was devastating to see her family, especially her mom, come to terms with what happened. One of Yingying’s diary entries mentioned “life was to short to be ordinary.” This is the only fitting way to remember a woman who wanted to pave a future for herself in her own terms. I sincerely hope Yingying’s family finds the comfort they need to overcome her loss. 

Recommended

To find more details about the latest lawsuit check here.

Finding Yingying will be available in Virtual Cinemas on December 11th you can find screenings here.

Finding Yingying is part of the Heartland International Film Festival 2020 line up and Double Exposure Film Festival 2020 line up.

Thanks to David Magdael & Associates for providing this film.

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

Episode 77: Rescreening A History of Violence

Censors tend to do what only psychotics do: they confuse reality with illusion.

David Cronenberg

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

The week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor Rescreen David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence and provide a First Impression of the next Rescreening episode title, Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects.

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And when you do let them know we sent you!

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The Nest

Written by Michael Clawson

90/100

Unease pervades nearly every dusky image in this brooding, slow-burn drama from Sean Durkin, writer/director of the also great Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011). Set predominantly in the countryside of 1980s England, it’s the story of a marriage as it begins to unravel, and it plays like a Gothic thriller, with hints of menace materializing out of the omnipresent shadows, Kubrickian zooms, and empty spaces of the secluded Victorian mansion that serves as the primary location.

“I think we need to move,” says Rory (Jude Law) to his wife Alison (Carrie Coon) as the film begins. Rory is an eager, possibly struggling businessman, and while opportunities have dried up stateside, he explains, deals are waiting to be made in London. Alison is reluctant—they have already moved multiple times in recent years—but concedes after Rory insists that they’re doing fine financially and that the move will grant them another fresh start. Along with their teenage daughter and a younger son, they relocate to a centuries-old mansion outside of London, one that’s many times too big (and expensive) for the family, but that Rory is wildly confident is the right place for them.

Durkin has a masterful grip on the film’s tone, which is one of inexorably lurking dread. As he follows both Rory’s overzealous, increasingly desperate efforts at work and Alison’s time at home, much of which she spends with a dearly loved horse that also made the trip over from the states, Durkin composes static, murkily lit shots imbued with foreboding (cinematographer Mátyás Erdély does incredibly fine work). As Alison gradually learns of Rory’s dishonesty about their financial footing, the relationship begins to roil with tension, with flares surfacing both privately and publicly.

Jude Law and Carrie Coon both turn in tremendous performances, and they are especially great once disdain and distrust have started to creep into Rory and Alison’s marriage. Law successfully taps into Rory’s blind ambition and denial regarding his professional woes, and Coon is downright thrilling to watch as Alison spirals into exasperation. They grow colder and crueler towards each other as the movie unfolds, and their spite is both unsettling and devilishly fun.

A cautionary tale about conflating domestic bliss with professional and financial success, the film mostly avoids obvious moralizing. Durkin plants a variety of red herrings that suggest the film might suddenly veer off into the territory of the supernatural, and they’re effective as ruses that briefly steer you off the scent of his principal idea. The conclusion he reaches is a worthwhile one, and the filmmaking that leads us to it is exceptional.

The Nest Trailer

Softie

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

95/100

Documentaries like this one remind me why I do what I do (in my day job I work on public policy and policy development). This documentary tells the story of Boniface Mwangi a photojournalist turned activist trying to reshape politics and political life in Kenya. Throughout this piece we are reminded that Boniface, affectionately known as Boni or Softie, is a man with an undying love for Kenya and who is willing to put his life on the line for his country and ideals.

Boni’s love for country generates conflict in his family life. He engages in an interesting discussion with his wife, Njeri, about life’s priorities. Boni claims his priorities are country, God, and family. While his wife argues that God, family, and country should take precedence over politics. Boni’s and Njeri relationship is an enduring sign of their love as they try to find a balance between family life and political life.

Beyond this exploration of family and faith, the documentary discusses the stain British colonialism had and continues to have in Kenya. Boniface argued that “the British planted the seed of tribalism but the Kenyan government made it prosper.” This is the driving force that makes Boni fight for a better country.

When Boni decided to run for parliament he did not rely on bribes in exchange for votes. Instead, he wanted people to vote for him because of his principles and platform. Boni argued that he was trying to do “politics the right way.” Boni, along with his campaign manager, were able to raise 1.6 million shillings from individual donors which was unheard of in Kenya’s political world.

Even though Boni did not win the election his resolute fight for a better country is something that can inspire all of us. Boni’s story resonates outside the borders of Kenya. Undoubtedly, if everyone had one ounce of the relentless determination Boni has, in fighting for a better future, the world would be in a much better place. 

If you want to learn more about Boniface Mwangi you can click on these resources: Website, Twitter, TED, and Book.

Softie Trailer

Softie is currently available through virtual platforms.

Thanks to David Magdael & Associates for providing this film.

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

Mr. Jones

Written by Taylor Baker

76/100

Agnieszka Holland’s harrowing look at the under discussed Holodomor in the 30’s is one of the many overlooked films of 2020. Mr. Jones features elegant transitional supercuts early on. The effect of which is to display the telephone wire and railways as ideas and functions. Holland evokes a sense of excitement about the promise of these technologies in the 1930’s. A point that begins to wane as the film progresses. The film settles upon the shoulders of James Norton playing the titular Mr. Jones, who was the journalist that first reported the tragedy occurring on the Eastern Front of the Soviet Union.

Cementing the narrative at the beginning is the lead in of Eric Arthur Blair better known as George Orwell sitting at a table looking at a pig in his yard. He is beginning to write one of, if not his best known work, Animal Farm. There is still a spirited debate as to whether the Farmer Jones character was indeed named after Gareth Jones, the hero of our film or not. We will likely never truly know this historical detail. There is a very compelling dissertation on this subject can be read here. Despite that debate you can’t help but see the similarity of the content of Animal Farm and the actions and events of the Soviet Union. An apt point that brings a layer to the story that is not only earnest but rings with a feeling of truth.

The film stays away from some of the more disturbing aspects of the Holodomor. Never venturing into the stories of cannibalism or the reality of the mass graves. It focuses exclusively on what Jones’ experience may have been and minor asides of those around him. It expends a bit more energy than is good for it on a budding romance between Kirby and Norton. Which while enjoyable in the thrust of the film, now in retrospect feels to have dampened the impact of the picture.

There are some consequential lulls in the narrative. The real engagement between myself and the film came from the behind enemy lines journalism segments and slow graduation into understanding how nefarious the “success” of the Soviet Union was. This is precisely the type of Historical Drama I often lament at not being made these days. If you like me are hungry for more stories in film about little seen historical events of great importance I encourage you to view Holland’s Mr. Jones. It’s what Snowball would have wanted. 

Recommended.

Mr. Jones Trailer

Mr. Jones is currently available to stream on Kanopy and Hulu

The Eagle’s Nest

Written by Alina Faulds

72/100

The Eagle’s Nest is a thrilling debut feature from up and coming British-Cameroonian director Olivier Assousa. The Eagle’s Nest finds Paris (Claude S Mbida Nkou) and Samantha (Felicity Asseh), best friends and sex workers, living in their rural village in Cameroon. Paris, appropriately named, dreams of leaving behind everything and moving to France, her sex work is a means to achieve this goal. Samantha on the other hand uses her work in the sex industry to further her standing in Cameroon. Both women are seeking to escape from their current lives, but after a night of work ends in tragedy, both women are pulled back into their familiar violent worlds.

The Eagle’s Nest employs traditional themes in African films, the desire to leave the continent for a better life, and the love for Africa keeping their characters home. In addition to the desire to escape, multiple other themes are explored such as violence, patriarchal societies, the search for truth and friendship. The Eagle’s Nest does get muddled as it delves into all of these elements, but brilliant performances and chemistry from Nkou and Asseh pull the film along. The two women are the film’s most compelling characters, Paris’ ripped jeans and combat boots and Samantha’s blue dress and Africa-shaped earrings are both iconic wardrobe choices. Their clothes are totally reflective of their desires, Paris’ need to rebel and Samantha’s need for home. The film’s setting is also visually stunning and reminiscent of Paris and Samantha’s ambitions, with wide-open shots of Cameroon’s nature and claustrophobic scenes in village huts. 

Much of the scenes in The Eagle’s Nest are quite grim but the film never has the guts to properly dive into the violence. Much of it is glossed over or fails to hit hard, though this can largely be chalked up to The Eagle’s Nest’s minuscule budget. At some points, it gets a little too campy and sometimes it’s a little too dramatic. The film needed to completely go in one of these directions to work better. English language songs also take the viewer out of the film, a weird juxtaposition to Cameroon’s French culture. Despite its fluctuating tone, The Eagle’s Nest remains a compelling film because of Paris and Samantha’s relationship. With high tension and hostilities, it’s easy to understand their desire to escape the patriarchal violence and inequalities plaguing the women in Cameroon, especially as the plot escalates. Paris and Samantha are the emotional core of The Eagle’s Nest, dragging the viewer along as they seek vengeance. The Eagle’s Nest is an interesting take on emigration, with two conflicting characters and their conflicting wants. 

The Eagle’s Nest Trailer

You can follow Alina Faulds’ LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of her work here.

The Eagle’s Nest screened as part of the 2020 edition of Raindance Film Festival.

Raindance Film Festival Website: https://cinema.raindance.org/

Mr. Soul!

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

90/100

Mr. SOUL! is a remarkable documentary. It tells the us the story of a variety program and its host Ellis Haizlip, an openly gay Black man, during the late 1960s early 1970s. The documentary resonates today, just like SOUL! did back then, because it unabashedly showcases Black pride.

One of the through lines is that the media has been weaponized to argue for the inhumanity of African Americans. This still holds true today. The media landscape is built on whiteness. SOUL! did just the opposite. It presented Black men and women without having to justify their blackness.

SOUL! was the definition of something special. It propelled the Black Arts Movement and showcased remarkable performances by artists such as Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Kool and the Gang, and Ashford and Simpson. It also included interviews with Muhammad Ali, Louis Farrakhan, and James Baldwin.  

The main takeaway from this piece is cliche and simple. Representation matters! The documentary ends with Quest Love, from the Roots, asking to imagine if SOUL! had a 20 year run? This question is important since we see few Black faces and voices on late night TV.

If you are looking for a similar vibe consider checking The Late Show with Trevor Noah (on Comedy Central), The Amber Ruffin Show (on Peacock), and Wilmore (on Peacock).

Recommended.

Mr. Soul Trailer

Mr. Soul is currently available through virtual cinemas.

Thanks to David Magdael & Associates for providing this film.

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