Episode 76: Best of 2020 So Far

“When I finish a film, I feel like I have overcome a certain hurdle. It’s really good for me as a human being, and I hope that for some people, my films will do the same thing.”

Hong Sang-soo

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

This week on the Podcast we discuss our 10 favorite films of 2020 so far, as well as hand out show awards for each of our Wounded Soldiers of the year, The Squanderies, Top Ensembles, Top Doc, Top 3 OST’s, Favorite Actor and Actress(Lead and Supporting), Top 3 Directorial Debuts, 3 Favorite Classic Discovery, and our Top Technically Beautiful Film.

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My Mexican Bretzel

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

    80/100

During the past few months I have developed a love for documentary filmmaking, but this “documentary” is unlike any other I’ve seen so far. From the opening title card which reads “lies are just another way of telling the truth.” I knew I should have been prepared but what happened next was surprising. 

The film starts with WWII Swiss pilots and culminates in the crash of a pilot called Leon Barrett who loses his hearing. From there we get more insight into his relationship with Vivian Barrett, through a series of homemade videos, and their eventual trip to Paris where they secure a business deal to develop a new antidepressant called Lovedyn which has minimal side-effects.  

As the documentary progresses, or so we are told, we see their journey across Europe, to places like Barcelona and Majorca, and the United States. We also see an apparent deterioration of their relationship when Vivian falls for a man named Leo. When Leon and Vivian eventually reunite in NYC they continue traveling by land, air, and sea promoting Lovedyn. 

The biggest technical achievement of this piece is audio-visual manipulation and not the story itself. Bretzel is mostly silent and sound is used sporadically throughout. When sound is used it conveys a particular purpose or emotion typically used to indicate movement such as the sound of an airplane crashing, a train passing by, an owl flying down to catch its prey, the sound of a gondola, the roaring of the engines at a race track, or the crashing of waves. There is little to no dialogue and in the rare moment we hear spoken words it is the voice of an announcer calling a race. Instead of relying on sound the director, Gimenez, relies on archival home video footage overlaid with diary-like entries to explain what is going on. 

This piece is the definition of a slow burn. I suspect that this is more of a pastiche of the stories that the director heard growing up as opposed to a strict documentary. When you try to learn more about who Leon and Vivian Barrett were nothing comes up. This genre bending compilation of images and people is worth a watch for those who have the patience to appreciate the little things in life. If you go in, like me, with zero expectations you might be pleasantly surprised.

Recommended.

My Mexican Bretzel Trailer

My Mexican Bretzel screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival 2020.

VIFF Website: https://viff.org/Online/

Available to stream thru IndiePix Unlimited here

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

Bad Times at the El Royale

Written by Michael Clawson

40/100

None of these characters elicited much feeling in me, nor did the atonal direction, which deprives the film of any noteworthy sense of anxiety, apprehension, or wry black humor that might have otherwise seeped outward from the performances. At the outset I was quite intrigued by Goddard’s willingness to move slowly, letting most of the first scene play out in a prolonged single take, but rhythmically the movie proceeds to be as monotonous as Darlene’s metronome. 

As played by Cynthia Erivo, Darlene did draw me in, as did Emily, Dakota Johnson’s character. Darlene’s singing voice is an emotional force, but it doesn’t register as deeply as it should because Goddard’s framing is so uninspired. Similarly, Johnson imbues every look at her character’s sister with believable affection and concern, but the script gives her little more than that to do; an attempt to complicate her character is made through hints at an abusive upbringing, but I would have preferred Johnson herself been given the opportunity to express the implications of that trauma. Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) is the film’s boldest attempt to simultaneously evoke dread and droll amusement, but I found myself neither amused nor uneasy in his presence. 

My excitement peaked at the sight of Xavier Dolan, who sadly was gone in no time. I could hardly even pay attention to what he was saying because I was too busy thinking about how The Death and Life of John F. Donovan just needs to come out already.

Episode 75: Da 5 Bloods / Babyteeth / Hill of Freedom

“Before shooting I try to observe as much as I can. I don’t want to work with my strong intention, because if you work with a strong intention I think what you do is you repeat what you’ve heard and what you’ve seen in the past. It’s not new. It’s not interesting. So what I try to do is observe and respond to what is given. What is given is more interesting than what I craft by my intentions. Intentions always dangerous for me, always stereotypical-not interesting at all. If I have to work in the line of intention, I will not work. It’s so boring. It would be like I’d be a construction worker, your whole design would be just like a railroad. I need something new, really unexpected things happen every day. Every day something new has to happen, that way I feel alive and want to work.”

Hong Sang-soo

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

On Episode 74 of the Podcast Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: You Should Have Left & Lovecraft Country. Followed by the Feature Films: Shirley, The King of Staten Island, and Young Ahmed in their lead up to the Top 10 of the year so far Episode.

Streaming links for titles this episode

Da 5 Bloods on Netflix

Babyteeth on Hulu

Hill of Freedom is currently available to rent from Grasshopper Films.

Drink in the Movies would like to thank PODGO for sponsoring this episode. You can explore sponsorship opportunities and start monetizing your podcast by signing up for an account here: https://podgo.co/apply If you do please let them know we sent you, it helps us out too!

Nasrin

Written by Alina Faulds

86/100

Nasrin Sotoudeh is a human rights lawyer fighting for marginalized people in Iran. A strong proponent of civil rights, Sotoudeh has represented countless people in her country including Baháʼís, a religious minority in Iran, children facing capital punishment, and women protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab laws. Nasrin directed by Jeff Kaufman and narrated by Olivia Colman documents Sotoudeh’s fight to make Iran a more just society. 

Nasrin was largely filmed in secret over two years, with many of its camera crew wishing to remain anonymous in order to protect themselves from unjust charges at the hands of the Iranian government. The documentary is an intimate portrait of Nasrin Sotoudeh’s life, exploring not only her law career but her personal life as well. Much of Nasrin’s time is either spent in her law office or in court, a clear testament to the dedication she has to her job. In fact, Sotoudeh sees her law career as more than a job, it is a fight for justice. In court defending women from such charges as inciting prostitution and spreading propaganda against the state, simply for protesting to have the choice to wear the hijab or not, Sotoudeh is impassioned in her defense, her morals on full display as she argues for her clients. 

In her office, Sotoudeh’s beliefs in law and justice are also very present. She often gives interviews in front of Lady Justice, a blindfolded statue holding a beam balance in one hand and a sword in another. Sotoudeh is fighting for Iran’s laws to properly represent this notion of blind justice, hoping to see the country shift towards a more democratic society filled with choices instead of punishment. Despite the constant arbitrary injustices Nasrin witnesses day after day she remains a positive and happy person. She hangs up drawings and words of motivation around her office. She’s always smiling around her loving husband Reza and their two children. 

What makes Nasrin Sotoudeh such an interesting subject is the balance between her work and her life. She is loving and kind in each and every aspect of her life, driven by the belief that Iran can be a better place, for ethnic minorities, for religious minorities, for children, for women. Nasrin Soutoudeh knows this hopeful reality is possible and this is why she keeps fighting. The documentary captures this balance extraordinarily well as it shifts between Nasrin’s work and personal life in the same way Sotoudeh does. Nasrin also features a number of activists to further illustrate Sotoudeh’s incredible work. The audience is treated to words from Nasrin’s husband, women’s rights activists like Shirin Ebadi and Narges Mohammadi, along with filmmaker Jafar Panahi and many other Iranians that believe in Nasrin’s work. Olivia Colman occasionally narrates over archival footage of Sotoudeh or reads letters written by Nasrin to her family to fully round out her character.

Given Sotoudeh’s work, Nasrin should of course be classified as mandatory viewing. She is such a compelling figure and a hero for women’s rights. She teaches other women to fight for their rights. Director Jeff Kaufman illustrates this inspirational trait of Nasrin’s by showing other women protesting. One beautiful scene features different videos of women standing on podiums before pulling off their hijabs and wearing them like flags. Nasrin is unafraid to speak up for herself and other marginalized people, she’s been imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison and still continues her fight.

Nasrin follows Sotoudeh until her second imprisonment in 2018. This is what makes Nasrin fundamental viewing. She is still serving prison time, sentenced to 38 years and 148 lashes for a number of charges including spreading propaganda and insulting Iran’s supreme leader. The documentary functions as a way to put Nasrin Sotoudeh’s story out there in hopes that people will continue to pressure the Iranian government for her release. Nasrin Sotoudeh is an incredible woman and the documentary on her life’s work is no different. She is someone that deserves to have her story told and someone who deserves to be freed.

You can petition for Nasrin’s release here: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/iran-free-nasrin-satoudeh-now/

Nasrin will be available through DOCNYC Nov. 11th-19th 2020. Link below.

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

Thanks to David Magdael & Associates for providing this film.

DOC NYC Website: https://www.docnyc.net/film/nasrin/

GlobeDocs Website: https://globedocs2020.eventive.org/welcome

The Empty Man

Written by Taylor Baker

82/100

The Empty Man marks the first time since The Invisible Man that I’ve been to a theater this year to see a film that I had low expectations for and came out the other end of the auditorium doors feeling completely different than when I went in. The Empty Man isn’t new IP, nor is it a directorial debut, it isn’t really doing anything remarkably “new”. But there’s something about it, something that simultaneously brings the hope and joy of storytelling through the lens format and plots itself along the methodical dark brooding that the horror genre can touch at its best.

The Empty Man isn’t a great film, I’d likely concede in conversation that depending on your preference for cinema it may not even be good film. However I find myself having loved the experience of watching it. David Prior very visibly had a clear direction he wanted to go with the film. It’s blending the expectations of horror tropes and go to cinematic moves and then twisting them just a bit. This isn’t a director with a story over his head, putting a hat on a hat to try to “get” the audience. This is a storyteller, who has a voice and isn’t making bold choices in how he presents his story but rather smart, simple, and effective ones.

Prior not only directs, but edits his film. A decision that may be wholly responsible for my positive response. There are more than a handful of moments that a transition or editing choice won me over as an audience member. Even in the face of it’s flaws, I’m looking at you CG pan down into the forest from a sub-orbital location. James Badge Dale turns in a sturdy performance. The special effects almost never underwhelm. The use of attention to negative space and sound design were incredibly flattering to the films progression.

I don’t know that I expect David Prior to continue on and grow further as a director. I can say that this work has me willing to offer him another chance. I’ll end on the most positive note I have, in the first third of the film there is a Google Search sequence with some of the most deft work of parsing and shooting search results and Wikipedia results that I’ve ever seen.

The Empty Man is the first true reason to go back to a theater since Tenet.

Recommended.

–Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 10/27/20

Jumbo

Written by Alina Faulds

60/100

The narrative structure of Zoé Wittock’s debut feature Jumbo is reminiscent of the amusement park ride that Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) is supposedly enamoured with. The Move-It ride is the kind where you’re strapped in as the machine’s arms fling you in all sorts of circles and every which way. Jumbo’s tonal shifts feel the same way, often not making sense as the film’s emotions change too abruptly leaving the viewer confused and nauseous.

Jumbo follows the character of Jeanne, a young woman that still lives at home with her single mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot). Preferring to tinker with machinery over interacting with other humans, Jeanne takes a summer job working at an amusement park, the perfect form of employment for her interests. The amusement park is where she first encounters the Move-It ride which she affectionately decides to name Jumbo and quickly falls in love with it. Along with having to cope with her newfound objectophilia, Jeanne has to take a lot of criticism from her overbearing mother and deal with a boss that has feelings for her. 

Noémie Merlant’s performance is one of the few lights of Jumbo. She totally commits to the role, having Jeanne unconditionally fall in love with Jumbo and expressing confusion at her own actions. Merlant does her best to refrain from making Jeanne a mockery despite her strange and bizarre obsession with an inanimate amusement park ride. Merlant portrays Jeanne’s feelings for Jumbo just as she would if Jeanne was in love with another human, the same devotion she shows for Adèle Haenel’s Héloïse in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Another highpoint of Jumbo is the film’s score by Thomas Roussel. Its synthetic and techno beats help portray the character of Jumbo as Jeanne looks for signs that the machine is acknowledging her, along with the rides mechanical groans and flashing lights.

Director Zoé Wittock puts in an immense effort to make Jumbo feel real despite the whimsically fairytale nature of the film, which is actually based on a true story as stated at the beginning of the film. However despite reality, Jumbo is still going to be too bizarre to be a believable story for many people. People who are more attuned to reality will simply look at Jeanne’s character as crazy, while those who live in fantasy will understand the love she has for Jumbo. No matter how great Merlant’s performance and Wittock’s directing efforts the plot will just be too out there for people to get behind. 

Jumbo’s tonal shifts fail to help as well, making the film’s realism even more difficult to believe. Jumbo freely jumps between the mother-daughter relationship with Jeanne and Margarette, Jeanne’s uncomfortable relationship with her boss, and Jeanne’s romantic relationship with Jumbo. It jumps between a comedy with humorous jabs coming from Margarette to a drama as Jeanne cries at Jumbo’s base begging for forgiveness. There are also a few scenes where Jeanne pictures herself in a blank white room with Jumbo as her only company. Pitchblack oil comes out of the machine and envelops Jeanne’s naked body, meant to be Jeanne’s release of pleasure but it just pulls the viewer out of the story’s realism once again and doesn’t make sense in the context of the entire film.

Despite immense efforts from Merlant and Wittock, Jumbo is just too bizarre of a film to fully enjoy. It’s difficult to give oneself over to the film’s while remembering how strange it is that Jeanne is in love with an inanimate object, it’s flat out weird. Wittock’s intentions are to have the viewer understand Jeanne’s love for Jumbo but instead, the viewer is just going to feel bad for Jeanne because her actions are so crazy. Jumbo is worth checking out for its bizarre plot but overall it is a disappointing piece of film.

Jumbo screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival 2020.

VIFF Website: https://viff.org/Online/

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

Episode 74: Shirley / The King of Staten Island / Young Ahmed

“Filming is like a house, you have to feel comfortable in it.”

Luc Dardenne

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

On Episode 74 of the Podcast Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: You Should Have Left & Lovecraft Country. Followed by the Feature Films: Shirley, The King of Staten Island, and Young Ahmed in their lead up to the Top 10 of the year so far Episode.

Streaming links for titles this episode

Shirley on Hulu

Young Ahmed on Kanopy and Criterion Channel

The King of Staten Island is currently available to rent from multiple sources.

Drink in the Movies would like to thank PODGO for sponsoring this episode. You can explore sponsorship opportunities and start monetizing your podcast by signing up for an account here: https://podgo.co/apply If you do please let them know we sent you, it helps us out too!

The Neon Demon

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

Visually and musically luscious, The Neon Demon is the latest great example of a film that rewards you for watching it in a movie theater. A dark space, large screen, and enveloping sound system (e.g. SIFF’s Egyptian theater) substantially magnifies the immersive nature of NWR’s cautionary tale about beauty, vanity, and jealousy, and allows the film’s exaggerated, bright, pulsating, and other-worldly atmosphere to firmly take hold of you.

Whether or not the narrative measures up to the film’s stylistic achievements is more debatable. The story follows Jesse (Elle Fanning), a teenager from the Midwest hoping to make it as a model in LA, whose innocence and naïvete is gradually replaced by stunning self-assurance as she becomes aware of the power of her physical self and the lengths to which women would (and do) go to look like her. She’s increasingly exposed to the dangers of being envied, but her new found confidence blinds her from the closing in of circling sharks in fashion model form.

Jesse’s rapid ascendancy, and ultimate demise, functions as a rather straight-forward critique of an industry based on supremely shallow values and the jealousy and viciousness, even amongst supposed friends, that it cultivates. As a foundation for the trajectory of the story, Jesse’s emergence and downfall is compelling. What limits the film’s impact, ironically, is the lengths to which it goes to make its point. Unlike Drive, in which the stylized and extreme violence felt like a shocking but believable outcome, the grotesquerie into which the The Neon Demon occasionally dips feels more like directorial over-excitement. But it’s hard to criticize the periodic missteps when, on the whole, you can’t wait to see the movie again.

Michael Clawson originally posted this review on Letterboxd 06/25/16

Available on Prime Video

First Man

Written by Taylor Baker

96/100

Visual Jazz

Chazelle assembles a first-rate series of high high’s, high low’s, low high’s, and low low’s. I couldn’t agree more with everyone heaping praise upon the technical proficiency found aboundingly in this film. If one were to put it in a class of technical mastery based off of recent films you would lump it amongst Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, and just ever so slightly beneath Mad Max: Fury Road. During this film I experienced shock, awe, jubilation, grief, anger, and solace. Chazelle tosses narrative norms to the side and brings you into an emotional ride loosely tied together by it’s handful of main characters and main goal.

Reach the Moon.

I’ve been trying to think about it’s narrative depths so as to express it’s wrinkles and omages and it keeps slipping through my fingers like that fine grain silt on the Moon’s surface. What I am absolutely certain of is that beauty and love are the two most apt words to describe what Chazelle packs into First Man’s omages to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The lights reflected to us off of Gosling’s helmet near the end, the docking sequence, the brief AI concern, the Moon as a monolith, and that last shot of Foy reflected off the glass within Gosling’s head. The love while not easy to see on the surface was always there, it was behind everything. Behind the sacrifices.

Gosling’s performance is amazing, and of the Fall fare as of yet Foy’s supporting role is peerless. The entire ensemble is almost sure to grab the best ensemble cast this year unless Vice or Widows really floor audiences. This is a bonafide blockbuster and a wonder to behold. See it in a premium format if you can, whether it’s IMAX or Dolby you won’t be let down.

Highly Recommended.

Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 10/12/18