Shadow in the Cloud

Written by Nick McCann

68/100

You ever get that feeling where you got what you wanted but just not how you were expecting it? I’m feeling that feel. When I first saw the trailer to this movie, I was all about the potential it gave off! World War 2. Creature feature. Female power trip. This can only be crazy fun. And it is! Albeit in the strangest way.

The mood starts off nicely with a wartime Hanna Barbara-styled propaganda cartoon and some sweet synthesizer beats. It builds up a pulpy B-movie atmosphere that carries on throughout, especially in a suspenseful first act. But at a certain point, certain plot reveals gradually build to a level of craziness that I didn’t expect. It’s all about the approach. I figured it would be a lot more of flying beasts vs. bomber crew instead of what writer Max Landis and director Roseanne Liang came up with. And yet, I isn’t much of a drag. Yeah I suppose it’s tonally inconsistent and overall nonsensical in areas. But when it commits this hard to an original execution like this, I can’t help but enjoy myself.

There’s also the usual monster movie suspects in the character roster. Chloe Grace Moretz is our near-perfect action heroine of the hour and she does a fine job, sans some overacting in the action sequences. Regardless of that and her overpowered writing, she keeps the movie going. Her male co stars are also fine. However they go in on aggression! Coupled with surprisingly limited screen time, they become a bunch of interchangeable anger vessels except for some particular players. Get used to a lot of radio voice work from them.

Thankfully action scenes are in steady supply. They are entertaining for how wildly absurd they get. We’re talking physics defying stuff here that still looks entertaining. Visual effects are decent and the slick camera shots are put together well in editing. All injected with an ultradose of female power fantasy that you better get ready for if you aren’t yet. As for the creature itself, it’s not half bad looking. It’s design gets the job done and never feels secondary to everything else for too long. Pretty refreshing too to see it prominent in frame more often than not.

I should also comment on the score. A synth soundtrack for a setting like this is definitely jarring. For the pulp atmosphere the movie gives off though, it’s nicely done. Key word there is “atmosphere.” The moodier portions where it’s background to quieter scenes are more effective than the action cues, where it has too fat of a beat. There’s also a couple music drops and they are too distracting. Almost making up for it is overall good sound design. Everything from gunfire to the rattle of the plane interior is mixed well.

Shadow in the Cloud is a movie that’ll depend on a few different elements if you decide to go ahead with a viewing. If you’re not expecting a pulpy female power fantasy that will go in a vastly different direction than what you’re expecting, you’re gonna shut it off immediately. That isn’t to say that it isn’t fun. There is mindless entertainment for how far out it gradually becomes. It isn’t perfect, but I can’t deny the giddiness I felt. It’s possible I just witnessed a fever dream of a test to see what can be done with film. That or my brain is like a melted slushie now.

Shadow in the Cloud Trailer

Shadow in the Cloud is currently streaming on Hulu and Kanopy.

You can connect with Nick on his social media profiles: Facebook and Letterboxd.

Nobody

Written by Alexander Reams

80/100

Nobody is the second directorial effort from Ilya Naishuller after his 2015 film Hardcore Henry. The film follows a “nobody” by the name of Hutch Mansell, portrayed by Bob Odenkrik. The film has drawn many comparisons to the John Wick franchise, with good reason. The story is very similar, a man with a simple life being pulled back into the world he left behind. Both films have great action sequences, an older mentor who reveals a side of them that is not seen often, Willem Dafoe in John Wick and Christopher Lloyd in Nobody. As well as a Russian villain who you always want to see more of. 

Bob Odenkirk is most known for his work in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Neither of which are action roles. Despite this, he shows off his versatility as an actor by committing fully to the role and clearly see him doing a lot of the stunts throughout the film. A particular scene in a bus is probably the best composed scene of the film in terms of editing, sound, stunt coordinator, and cinematography all working together perfectly in a scene that rivals the best hand-to-hand combat scene in the John Wick franchise, specifically Chapter 3: Parabellum.

Who knew the world needed Christopher Lloyd with a smattering of shotguns wrapped around him, I didn’t, but I am very glad that now exists. Lloyd and RZA provide some much needed levity to a film that without it, could be very droll and null you to sleep unless there are loud noises happening on screen. My issues with the film are few but still should be addressed. This film is inevitably going to be compared to John Wick, and that unfortunately works against the film in the long run. Nobody is basically a carbon copy of John Wick which means the only new ground that can be trekked upon is how the filmmaker approaches making the film. Thankfully, despite this issue, Naishuller approaches this with a more frenetic, caffeine fueled madness that the former film did not. Despite being a carbon copy, Nobody is a really fun time and I look forward to the future of this universe.

Nobody Trailer

Nobody is currently available on most major VOD platforms.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: Unforgivable (Imperdonable)

Written by Alexander Reams

56/100

Gay culture in prison has always been a misunderstood topic in society. This being the subject of Imperdonable the latest film from El Salvadorian filmmaker Marlén Viñayo. Focusing on prison culture, specifically homosexuality in prison. Looking at it not from the outside, but from the inmates and their accounts of seeing what happens to people who come out during their time in prison and accounts of the ones who did come out and how it affected them. The difference between this film and other LGBTQ+ documentaries is that this has the gang aspect thrown into the mix. Specifically discussing the 18th Street Gangs and MS-13 Gang, focusing more on the 18th Street Gang. Being part of a gang already sticks a target on your back. Being gay only adds more targets to your back in prison, and being in a gang, the only truly unforgivable sin is being gay. 

The film explores the tale of one man, who was a part of the 18th street gang, and his mental state throughout his time in prison since coming out. The other inmates feel sorry for him. Their accounts all almost being the same, but ending in the same way; homosexuality is forbidden in gangs, the only issue to unite the gangs hatred for each other to one common subject. While dealing with a tough subject, with people who have controversial beliefs, the film stumbles from major pacing issues. The interviews in prison are interspaced with footage of the warden talking to the inmates, which took me out of the film frequently. Unfortunately, that sin is committed throughout the film and actively frustrated me. The interviews, stories told, and love found are truly beautiful and it’s worth a watch purely for this.

Unforgivable (Imperdonable) Trailer

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Oscar Reflection | Best Picture & Best Director from the 86th Academy Awards

Written by Alexander Reams

Gravity: 76/100

12 Years a Slave: 72/100

There are some serious holes in my Best Picture and Best Director filmographies and I was given the idea to go through and watch them. I have seen most of the post 2010 Best Picture winners but I even have holes there. The first Best Picture winner in order from newest to oldest that I had not seen was Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, the Best Director winner was a film I had seen many times before, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. 

The 2014 Oscar race (for films released in 2013) is the first awards season I remember. I had seen Gravity in IMAX and continually heard about a film called 12 Years a Slave. Cut to awards night and I still had not seen 12 Years a Slave, but I knew Gravity had continually stayed in the conversation. I was electric that night, having seen the film I loved win so many awards. After Cuarón’s win for Best Director I was expecting to hear Gravity’s name called out when they announced Best Picture. Alas, that was not the case, 12 Years a Slave took home the award. 

Almost 8 years after these 2 films have been released I finally saw 12 Years a Slave and revisited Gravity. Suffice to say as the years have passed, other films nominated that year have gotten more love and attention within the film community. Her and The Wolf of Wall Street have stayed relevant more than any other Best Picture nominee from that year. Whereas these 2 films have been mostly forgotten. They both struck the zeitgeist when they were released, but have fizzled out over the years. For myself I remember Gravity’s win for Best Director more than the film itself, even after revisiting it. 

12 Years a Slave packs a lot of punch, and has really powerful moments, however it is not nearly as nuanced as the film wishes it was, which is really disappointing after all the hype I’d heard about this film. Hindsight is 20/20 and with 12 Years a Slave and Gravity both having been mostly forgotten proves that the Oscars got it wrong that year. My personal wins would be Best Director for Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street, and Best Picture for Her.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Fantasia 2021 Film Festival Review: Yakuza Princess

Written by Maria Athayde

50/100

Yakuza Princess directed by Vicente Amorim caught me by complete surprise. Based on the graphic novel Samurai Shiro, by Danilo Beyruth Yakuza Princess stars newcomer Masumi, a Japanese-American actress, singer-songwriter, and stunt performer, alongside Jonathan Rhys Meyers in what I consider one of the most commercial pieces of Brazilian cinema in recent memory. For starters the story is told predominantly in English which is somewhat of a rarity for Brazilians productions. 

Alternating between past and present day, in Osaka, Japan and São Paulo, Brazil predominantly Japanese neighborhood Liberdade (Liberty in English). The movie tells the story of Akemi (Masumi) an orphan living in Brazil who forms an unlikely alliance with an unknown and unnamed amnesiac man played by Rhys Meyers.  Both characters are bound together by a supposedly cursed katana that could hold the key to their pasts. During this journey, Akemi discovers her family was part of the yakuza, or Japanese mob, and vows to avenge those who killed her family. Yakuza Princess is full of style but little substance. The cool visuals, combat scenes, and desaturated color palette, with pops of neon every so often, were what kept me going. Story-wise the movie is shallow and lacked any meaningful throughline to keep me engaged. 

My biggest criticism is why did this story have to be told in English? Brazil has the largest Japanese diaspora in the world. So why not tell this story in either Portuguese or Japanese? I understand this was a choice to make the movie more commercial but by doing so the movie undercuts itself and misses the opportunity to explore the relationship between the two countries and cultures which dates back to 1908 when the first Japanese immigrants arrived in Brazil. In this picture we don’t even get to know why or how the characters wound up in Brazil in the first place. Yakuza Princess scores major style points and signals a new and exciting direction full of stylistic freedom that is being embraced by Brazilian cinema now, we just need an actual story to back it up. 

Yakuza Princess Trailer

Yakuza Princess was screened as part of the Fantasia 2021 Film Festival.

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

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Review: The Last Thing Mary Saw

Written by Taylor Baker

60/100

The Last Thing Mary Saw is a naturalistic Victorian period piece detailing the events of our titular character Mary’s seeming descent, framed to the viewer through an interrogation sequence that begins at the outset of the film. Though the crime for which she’s possibly committed is not shared, a choice I was particularly thankful for. It stars Stefanie Scott alongside Isabelle Fuhrman, and Rory Culkin. It’s a punishing vision that while conventionally told in chapters doesn’t lose narrative thrust. With punishment doled out as frequently as the days change, it quickly corners us as viewers, not just sympathizing but aligning us with Scott’s Mary.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 

Edoardo Vitaletti’s camera, leers, peeks, and scurries along informing differing viewpoints. And just as quickly switches to more conventional shots that frequently but not always benefit from the natural soft lighting. While we do get by the book image sequences, familiar turgid strings backing the film to force emotion, and a forbidden love romance, there’s something personal, something simplistic and committed that allows a sincere engagement with the work despite it’s generic segments that when put together make something more.

It’s always worth noting when a film is from a first time director. And The Last Thing Mary Saw serves as not only Vitaletti’s first outing as feature director but writer as well. His fingerprints, while not totally definable do feel distinguishable frequently within the film. From the care he takes to browse his lens along the period costumes or the shallow focus splinter sequence with a large knife pulling a small splinter out of a young boys foot. It all builds a cohesive tone, that (and here’s that word again) while generic feels entirely self informed and referential. Not buried spuriously in making omage to greater predecessors but trying rather to make itself defined.

The sound design is perhaps the sorest spot of the picture. Inconsistently dancing between burrowing strings, music box tinkling, and an eerie distant viola. This paired with awkwardly balanced foley work puts the turning of book pages in a chicken coop cleanly above the words being spoken. It’s little mess ups like this in the back-end of the craft and editing that falter most. Which is disappointing, whenever you’re paying attention to the background stuff, that generally means something is off and nothing in the storytelling side can fix it. Only changing the mix levels can. The Last Thing Mary Saw is a dark familiar ride, that has enough originality and solidity to stand up to most skeptical viewers. It may not be all that impactful, but in the low budget independent horror film genre, it’s got more bravura than most it’s compatriots, and that alone is refreshing.

The Last Thing Mary Saw is screening at the Fantasia 2021 Film Festival.

New York Asian Film Festival 2021 Review: Shadows

Written by Taylor Baker

25/100

Shadows marks the first time director Glenn Chan has gone up to a 90 minute runtime. After previously releasing the 70 minute film Two Boys and a Mermaid in 2015, Glenn exchanges comedy for a psychological exploration of murder. Using an unexplained phenomena our main character Ching, visually appears inside of various victims subconsciouses and witnesses their experiences of abuse and murder.

New York Asian Film Festival 2021

The film opens in an underwater like sequence, broken glass decorates the floor, there’s smashed items and whole items of all sorts adorning an apartment. Eventually the camera does a full 180 and we settle in on a man standing very self important in front of a window as he puts on a shirt. I will say the amount of style over substance in the first minute of the film was immediately worrying. After he’s put his arms through both sleeves we wander over to his dead family strewn along the couch with audaciously made up head wounds and him holding the instrument of murder, a trophy of some sort. This sequence ends with him placing a nonsensical phone call to the police followed by him leaping out of the aforementioned window.

What proceeds is somewhere between a Medium episode and David Fincher fan fiction. The investigation is forced and uninteresting, with typical dialogue we’ve heard spewed out a thousand times. “If there’s no new evidence in two days, I’m closing the case.” “Run a background check on all of them.” You get it. It’s not that this dialogue doesn’t have a time or place in film or storytelling in general it’s that when it’s used the audience should be invested in what is happening and that’s the problem with Shadows. It’s very hard to care, because it’s unclear what exactly the stakes are that are in play, and the stakes you’re aware of aren’t very interesting, let alone gripping.

Shadows Trailer

Shadows is screening as part of the New York Asian Film Festival and is available to watch virtually through their streaming platform until August 22nd.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Interview: Richard Bates Jr. Talks “King Knight”

Interview by Anna Harrison

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 

Director Richard Bates Jr., known for his horror-comedies such as Excision and Suburban Gothic, recently had his latest film, King Knight, premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival. He sat down to talk with Anna about all things witches and LSD trips.

King Knight is playing at Fantasia Film Festival 2021.

You can read Anna’s review of King Knight here, and you can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: Stockholm Syndrome

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

60/100

Stockholm Syndrome directed by The Architects is a documentary that tells the story of multi-hyphenate artist A$AP Rocky from infancy to world wide superstardom to his arrest in Sweden. Described by his friends and family as unorthodox, visionary, and ahead of his time Rocky is an artist in full control of his craft.  As an artist Rocky is never content until he can execute his vision at the most extreme level.  This apparent quest for perfection never comes off as cocky and instead it is just part of who he is. 

Born and bred in Harlem, Rocky started rapping at 8 years old–at influence of his older brother. This story culminates in Rocky’s 2019 arrest in Stockholm where Rocky and two of his friends were arrested for an alleged assault. While in confinement Rocky was alone with his thoughts, it gave him a lot of time to reflect on his life, especially his relationship with his father and the sacrifices his dad made that shaped Rocky into the man he is today. 

When recalling his treatment in jail Rocky said he felt that Swedish authorities wanted to make an example out of him. The most fascinating aspect of this documentary was understanding the differences between the American and Swedish legal system which has no bail system.  As Rocky remained in jail and his trial approached his arrest could have caused an even bigger diplomatic incident, between the countries, when former President Trump became involved and vouched for Rocky’s release. This was met with considerable push back from the Swedish government and former Swedish prime ministers that praised the independence of the Swedish judicial system. 

Rocky’s plight was also met with some criticism in the US by activists that were upset about arguments he made about the Black Lives Matter movement and Ferguson, MI in the past. When questioned about this, for the documentary, Rocky mentioned he still had a lot of learning to do and that his time in the Swedish prison made him “confront” his own blackness. The main takeaway from this doc, however, is this examination of criminal justice systems outside of the United States. Just as important, it highlighted how broken criminal justice is everywhere in the world and how problematic this idea of “guilty until proven innocent” is. 

It is almost as if Rocky’s story was a vessel to bring attention into systems of incarceration and racism in the United States and Sweden. Rocky and his friends were released on a suspended sentence. While this documentary did start to feel a little bit long towards the latter half, the creativity the directors interwove, particularly in the animation segments, helped drive Rocky’s story home. I’d say this is a must watch for Rocky’s fans and I’d highly recommend this to anyone else that is interested in learning more about the intersection of race, politics, diplomacy, fame, and the law in the US and abroad. 

Stockholm Syndrome Clip

Stockholm Syndrome screened as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival thru Tribeca at Home(available only in the USA). Further Distribution TBD.

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

The Projectionist

Written by Patrick Hao

52/100

The Cinema Village is one of the last great independent movie theaters in New York. From its famous triangular marquee jutting out between gentrified buildings to its dated decor that has probably seen more horrors than anyone can imagine, Cinema Village represents a period of time in New York that feels lost. That is why it is great that its owner Nicolas Nicolau, and his career as a movie theater owner, is the subject of Abel Ferrara’s loving documentary The Projectionist

I recently attended a screening of The Projectionist at the Cinema Village with Abel Ferrara as special guest. This screening coincided with a special retrospective of Ferrara’s career and to commemorate the recent reopening of the theater, which had been closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. At this particular screening, Nicolau was there acting like a nervous host during an important dinner party. He walked up and down the aisle of the nearly sold out theater (tickets were free) asking if he could get anyone concessions. Before the movie started, he even began to hand out bags of free popcorn. 

Ferrara, the iconoclast independent New York filmmaker known for Bad Lieutenant and Ms. 45, was as rambunctious as his reputation suggests. As the trailer for his retrospective began playing, you could hear him in the hallways outside the theater screaming for the projectionist to increase the volume in colorful expletives. A real New York independent movie experience if there ever was one. 

The film itself was middling. Nicolau, an immigrant from Cyprus, is an interesting subject for a film. Nicolau’s exuberance for cinema and his career as an exhibitor comes through as the film chronicles his experiences working as a ticket taker at art house cinemas and porn houses to owning several theaters across New York City. Some of the more interesting aspects of the film exhibiting business – the collusion of the conglomerate movie chains with film studios to prevent allowing the exhibition of their films in independent theaters – is only briefly touched upon.

Ferrara kept undercutting the pacing of the film by instilling film clips that lasted far too long and had little relation to what was happening in the documentary. At the Q&A, Ferrara complained that the film originally had even more film clips but he could not secure some of the film rights. And like the Q&A, the film can meander on Ferrara’s amusing tangents. At one point, Ferrara begins asking some of Nicolau’s patrons why they would want to see It and becomes preoccupied by their Egyptian heritage.   

There is an interesting film here but Ferrara is far more interested in celebrating a New York that is slowly fading away. He revels at the section where Nicolau recounts the various movie houses across Manhattan that he worked in. As Ferrara stated in the Q&A, this film is using Nicolau’s story as a medium for Ferrara’s own autobiography. Many of these theaters are the same haunts that he attended which helped develop his unique taste and style.

In the end this film is an ode to a New York that feels like it is slowly disappearing. There are not many people like Nicolau anymore who are happy to forgo profit in order to keep affordable cinema for people. He and Cinema Village are worth celebrating, even in a messy uneven film. 

As Nicolau spoke upon during the Q&A, last year, with Covid-19, he was very close to losing his theater because of the loss of patrons and no reprieve on property taxes. But, he is happy to be able to reopen and is excited to introduce a new batch of truly independent films to the public. I implore anyone who is in the New York City area to visit the Cinema Village. At the very least, support your local independent cinema.

The Projectionist Trailer

The Projectionist is currently available to buy and rent from multiple storefronts and is streaming on Kanopy.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.