Episode 115: Tribeca 2021: False Positive / Italian Studies / Last Film Show / Essie Davis Interview

“The invention of the tripod was the best thing to happen to photography and the worst thing to happen to cinematography.”

Pan Nalin, Director of Last Film Show

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This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of the Fantasia 2021 Titles: The Suicide Squad & All the Moons and the Tribeca 2021 Feature Films: False Positive, Italian Studies, and Last Film Show. Followed by an Interview with Essie Davis conducted by Taylor Baker on her recent role as Bunny King, in the Tribeca 2021 Film, The Justice of Bunny King.

Streaming links for titles this episode

False Positive is currently available to stream on Hulu

Italian Studies, Last Film Show and The Justice of Bunny King are currently seeking distribution and are not yet available.

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Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

Capsule Review: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

Written by Michael Clawson

90/100

A soldier returns from WWI and searches for satisfying work, but being in the wrong place at the wrong time lands him in a chain gang, where he suffers through grueling work and miserable treatment day after day before finally making a daring escape. As a wanted man, he runs, narrowly avoiding the law’s clutches at several turns, and slowly finds himself on his way to the life he dreamed of, but a cruel and unjust system turns out to not be done with him yet.

A suspenseful and involving drama that doubles as an indictment of the inhumanity in the penal system it depicts, it boasts efficient storytelling by Mervyn LeRoy, and a solid, sympathetic performance by Paul Muni. More than a few sequences thrill, especially our protagonist’s nerve-wracking escape from the prison camp, and his nearly being caught on multiple occasions as he tries to skip town. Subtle formal touches stand out too, like a sideways tracking shot that passes over the faces of demoralized inmates as they listen to a man being whipped, or the sounds of hammers endlessly smacking rocks or railroad ties. Not to mention a powerful finish, which shows Muni just briefly emerging from darkness to say goodbye to a lover, before retreating back into it.

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang Trailer

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel and available to rent and purchase digitally.

VIFF 2021 Review: The Girl and the Spider

Written by Michael Clawson

90/100

Apartment complexes are places of relatively constant change. There might be a few tenants in any given building who’ve resided there for what seems like forever, but otherwise, tenants tend to come and then leave, all their belongings, pets, dramas, and peculiarities in tow. The Girl and the Spider, a poetic and precisely assembled German language art film, co-written and directed by the brothers Roman and Silvan Zürcher, is about such moments of flux, and the emotions, dreams, and tensions exposed and discovered in periods of instability.

Lisa (Liliane Amuat) is moving out of one flat and into another, leaving her roommate Mara (Henriette Confurius) behind. A radiantly blue-eyed, cryptically expressive twenty- or thirty-something year-old , Mara is the focal point of The Girl and the Spider, but as the setting alternates between two different apartment buildings, myriad other flat dwellers, cats, dogs, and spiders included, win the Zürcher’s attention. Mara doesn’t help Lisa settle into her new place so much as she idles and observes as handymen, Lisa, Lisa’s mother, and neighbors come in and through Lisa’s new flat, introducing themselves to one another and exchanging glances and remarks that range from benign to hostile and flirtatious. The tone of communication between characters often changes on a dime. For example, one moment, Mara, for no easily discernible reason, is rudely declining to shake the hand of a woman neighbor who stops in to say hello, only to then, shortly thereafter, appear receptive to the woman’s furtively romantic advances. This is to say that the Zürcher’s aren’t operating in the domain of conventional drama or straight-forward storytelling, and they’re all the better for it.

Very much of a piece with The Strange Little Cat (2013), Roman Zürcher’s feature debut, The Girl and the Spider is a film of beguiling ambiguity and delightful idiosyncrasy. Carefully modulated acting is the first mark of the Zürcher’s unique film direction, but what further distinguishes their formal signature is their methodical framing, their lyrical focus on ordinary spaces and objects, and their musical sense of rhythm. At transitional moments in the film, a classical score accompanies montages of the items and household animals strewn about the flats that Lisa is moving in and out of. A yellow box cutter on a bathtub’s side, a blue sponge on hardwood floor, a cigarette sitting on a balcony ledge, a spider crawling up into the corner of room; some, if not most of the things are of minor narrative import in any obvious sense, but the Zurcher’s compositions suggest their worth considering all on their own. The Zürcher’s are formalists of the mundane, and very, very fine ones at that.

The Girl and the Spider Trailer

The Girl and the Spider was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

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Episode 114: Rescreening Cape Fear (1991)

“The cinema began with a passionate, physical relationship between celluloid and the artists and craftsmen and technicians who handled it, manipulated it, and came to know it the way a lover comes to know every inch of the body of the beloved. No matter where the cinema goes, we cannot afford to lose sight of its beginnings.”

Martin Scorsese, Director of Cape Fear (1991)

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On Episode 114 of Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor Rescreen Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear (1991) and provide a First Impression of the next Rescreening episode title, Michael Mann’s Thief.

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Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

Naked Childhood (L’Enfance-nue)

Written by Michael Clawson

90/100

A searingly honest chapter in the life of an unruly foster child, Francois, who as the film begins, is handed back to Social Services by a youngish married couple who can’t bear his egregious misbehavior— stealing, fighting, hurting animals (some of which is tough to watch). From there, Pialat follows Francois into the home of the Thierry‘s, a much older husband and wife, who already have one foster child, an older boy, and also live with the wife’s elderly mother.

It bears resemblance to The 400 Blows as a heartbreaking, naturalistic, and semi-autobiographic coming-of-age story from a French auteur. Michel Terrazon, who plays Francois, even looks quite like Jean-Pierre Leaud. Their mischievous smirks are remarkably alike, and God can only imagine what kind of shit they’d pull if Francois and Antoine existed in the same world and met each other. It also brought the Dardennes’ The Kid With A Bike to mind.

Pialat doesn’t indict anyone for failing Francois or any of the other foster children we see getting shuttled around, some of whom are so devastatingly young and vulnerable (and adorable), nor does he excuse any of Francois’ heinous wrongdoing. He simply observes, giving equal aesthetic treatment to moments of kindness, pain, bonding, and separation. The Thierry’s, though sometimes tough, are patient, loving people who see the good and sweetness beneath by Francois’ volatile temperament; his growing close with Grandma Thierry is enormously touching. The ending hurts, but it’s in keeping with the film’s piercingly truthful beauty.

Naked Childhood Trailer

Naked Childhood is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel.

Episode 113: Best of 2021 So Far

“I believe that as much as you influence your film, the film also influences you. You think you are in control but then things happen that you didn’t anticipate. That’s cinema, and you need to be open and listen to your film.”

Dea Kulumbegashvili, Director of Beginning

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This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their 10 favorite films of 2021 so far, as well as hand out show awards for Wounded Soldiers, Squandered Talents, Best Ensemble, Best Documentary, Best OST, Best Actor and Actress(Lead and Supporting), Best Directorial Debut, and Best Classic Discovery.

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Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

Forget which film you wanted to check out while listening? Find links to both Taylor and Michael’s lists below: Michael’s Top 10 on Letterboxd | Taylor’s Top 10 on Letterboxd

Crisis (Kris)

Written by Michael Clawson

60/100

“Let the play begin”, says a narrator as the camera pushes toward the window of a house from outside, while inside, a woman opens the window’s curtain. It marks the beginning of the film as well as Bergman’s career, this being his debut, and evident immediately is an idea that would run throughout his filmography: life as theater. 

About that narration: it’s not great. Neither is the movie in general, but it’s fine, and better than its reputation suggests. It’s about 18 year-old Nelly and her foster mother, whose quiet, small-town lives are upended when Nelly’s biological mother arrives suddenly, and lures Nelly away to the city with the promise of a job and urban pleasures. Nelly’s foster mother is ill and devastated to see Nelly go, and things go awry for Nelly when she gets mixed up with her biological mother’s younger lover.

Some characters are much better developed than others, and the tone can be inconsistent. Bergman reveals a natural sense for composition though, and the film’s visual appeal took me far enough. A flawed but still interesting movie about maternal grief and disillusionment in young adulthood.

Crisis Trailer

Crisis is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel and a restored version is currently available for free on YouTube from the channel Old Films Revival Project.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

Written by Michael Clawson

75/100

Hadn’t heard of this movie before I saw it on Criterion’s ‘70s Horror program. The well-played ambiguity and eerie atmospherics are just what I was hoping for.

Just after her release from a mental hospital, Jessica moves into an old farmhouse in Connecticut with her husband Duncan and his friend Woody. Upon arriving, they’re startled to discover a vagrant named Emily has been squatting in the house since the previous owners left. After the initial surprise, they find that they all get along, so Emily’s invited to stay. Weird situation if you ask me, but hey, to each his own.

Jessica starts seeing and hearing things, and she’s not sure if something supernatural is afoot or if it’s all in her head. When they go swimming in the nearby lake, she briefly sees a woman’s body floating beneath the surface (a creepy image), and she keeps spotting a young woman watching her from afar outside—perhaps it’s the woman that a townsperson says once lived in their house, up until she drowned in the lake. Local legend says she became a vampire.

Despite some clunky film-craft and less than great performances, Hancock keeps the film pitched in a creepy register. Between the synth music and voices in Jessica’s head, the sound stands out as one of the cooler elements. The role of the townspeople, who aren’t welcoming to the free-spirited newcomers, along with Duncan’s driving a hearse with “Love” and a heart painted on its side, positions the film as a kind of sounding of the death knell for hippie culture.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death Trailer

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is currently available to rent and purchase digitally.

Giraffe

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

Stimulating docu-fiction that contemplates the attachment of history and memory to physical spaces, and what’s lost when those spaces are ignored or destroyed. 

An ethnologist arrives in a seaside community that finds itself on the cusp of significant transformation. A collection of homes are about to be razed to make way for a tunnel that will connect Germany and Denmark, and the ethnologist, Dara, is there to document what the infrastructure project is about to relegate to history. Between interviews with people who have to relocate and visits to dusty, abandoned homes that still hold their previous owner’s intimate possessions, Dara strikes up a relationship with Polish construction worker, a younger man who, like her, is in the area only temporarily for a project. 

Hartman films from a studious remove that draws attention to her precise, often static framing. I was absorbed by her visual exactitude and the coldness in her craft, and love how long she lingers on character’s faces, allowing their humanity to really sink in. Schanelac regular Marren Eggert has a small role, but Hartman appears to have more in common with Helena Wittmann than Schanelac.

Giraffe Trailer

Giraffe is currently awaiting distribution and is not yet available.

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets

Written by Michael Clawson

75/100

In a wide shot, a guy with long grey hair wearing a yellow shirt, denim overalls, a beige blazer and a beret shuffles across a large gravel lot. The camera pulls back as he walks towards it. The lot is empty, and all there is around are cheap storefronts. 

He’s walking towards the Roaring ‘20s, a Las Vegas dive bar that’s about to close down for reasons that are only briefly alluded to – it sounds like gentrification is the culprit – and he’s one of the bar’s colorful regulars that the Ross brothers spend their film observing in vérité fashion on the bar’s last day. From opening through last call and closing time, the doc is a loose, casually ruminative hang-out with friendly drinkers as they lament the closure of their neighborhood watering hole, appreciate how they’ve become like family to each other, and muse generally about the state of the world (the setting is pre-election 2016).

…except that it’s not exactly a documentary, at least in a conventional sense. It resembles one in its fly-on the-wall mode of observation, but the bar we see isn’t even in Las Vegas, and the people we watch are mostly non-professional actors. Does that matter? The Ross brothers don’t think so – the film never openly confesses to its deception. I don’t think it matters much to me either. What we see is partially contrived, but the sentiments, about the community and togetherness to be found in hole-in-the-wall establishments and the sadness in a good thing coming to an end, ring true. And actors or not, these folks are hilarious.

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets Trailer

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is currently streaming on Kanopy and can be rented or purchased digitally.