Episode 98: Favorite Films of 2020 Part 1

“Archaeology is about digging. It’s like the work of moles, who live underground. A mole is virtually blind, but it has a nose and a feel for finding what it needs. And it has the patience to collect what it finds. It collects provisions to last through the winter.

In a dictatorship, the idea is to amass hidden stores of images and words, portraying the things that people living under the dictatorship might have actually experienced, but that could not necessarily be seen or heard. Then, when the dictatorship was no more, those images bore witness to it. Similar to the mole, the work of collecting those images required a certain nose for the worthwhile as well as practice, since a picture seldom makes it immediately apparent what it depicts and a sound seldom tells us of the part we can’t hear.”

Thomas Heise

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This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their number 10-6 favorite films of 2020. As well as hand out show awards for each of their Wounded Soldiers of the year, Squandered Talents, Top 3 Ensembles, Paths Back to Excellence and their Top 3 Documentaries.

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Slamdance 2021 Review: A Black Rift Begins to Yawn

Written by Taylor Baker

78/100

Meditative and melodic, A Black Rift Begins to Yawn soars on the back of low light and an unspecific sense of place. Like a deep dream, you don’t know where you are or when you are. But you can rely on the sensory input to feel like a “you are”. Matthew Wade’s ambiguous sophomore film, erases it’s budgetary constraints with smart choices that feel unifying instead of restricting.

Letting a singular early moment like when Laura and Lara are sipping coffee looking at the horizon while their bodies sway does more talking for the film then most expository dialogue dumps in hundred million dollar films do. Matthew not only directs and writes the film, but he serves as his own Composer, Editor, and Producer. With a continuous use of vapor, water, and light the film seems to come together naturally. As if it were simply a consequence of the footage, not something forced.

Liquid, light, glances, words, hidden actions, these all amount to something together but explaining their significance independently is nearly impossible. What connects our main characters? Who are they to each other? Questions like these are typically the very marrow of screenplay, but here they have as much significance as how far away the coyote yowling was. Which is to say, the thoughts crossed my mind, but an answer would have born no real significant weight to the journey. A Black Rift Begins to Yawn is felt rather than comprehended. Matthew Wade is an artist to watch as he continues to mature in his craft and master his voice as storyteller.

A Black Rift Begins to Yawn Clip

Buy a ticket to see A Black Rift Begins to Yawn at the Slamdance 2021 Film Festival

Slamdance 2021 Review: Bad Attitude: The Art of Spain Rodriguez

Written by Taylor Baker

77/100

Susan Stern’s reflective documentary on her husband, renowned cartoonist Spain Rodriguez, his life, and body of work offers a sincere engagement into his history, beliefs, and legacy. In the wide wake of the world renowned documentary Crumb by Terry Zwigoff the topic of underground cartoon’s can scarcely be skirted around in a conversation without a reference to the work. Going in to the film I was admittedly reducing it in thought to something adjacent to Zwigoff’s Crumb myself.

I was smitten by Stern’s presenting of her own personal interaction with her husband’s work, questioning herself just as pointedly as she questions him. Never alighting on a judgement, but rather sharing observation and what occurred, without recoloring it to make anyone appear in the right. Structured to keep the viewer from knowing exactly when the documentary is being shot until the end is perhaps the most pivotal choice Stern made, and an undeniably effective one. I would drone on about why this is such a masterful touch if it wouldn’t impact your viewing negatively, but it undoubtedly would. I’ll pivot instead to the strongest undercurrent of reflection in the film postulated by Stern, and that is Spain’s depiction of women. Undeniably lustful, and often pornographic. Spain depicted the female form in a way that his contemporary cartoonists in the burgeoning feminist genre of cartooning at best, disliked. It’s interesting to hear them describe their derision at some of the forms and stylings of his art while simultaneously praising him as a human to interact with. Someone who was sincere and truly grappled with good intentions and in good faith while in conversation.

Eventually we progress through his backstory from Buffalo and New York City, to his arrival in Los Angeles. In which a friend drove cross country to get him and bring him to LA for no real discernible reason. At least not in the narration and interview portions within the film share with us. Naturally, Zap Comix finally enters the picture at this point, Robert Crumb’s noted underground comix book. We hear from our talking heads how impactful those books were to the cartooning scene in New York City. What a genius move it was to do that with the ideas, and so on. Pieces of information anyone familiar with the underground comic scene has already heard multiple times elsewhere, but something that is required to make the piece stand on it’s own.

What constantly tempers and grounds the film is it’s focus on Spain. Once a young brash and burly biker teaching politics to a biker club with a Nazi Flag, Spain is now evolving his art across the country to new protagonists, new ideas, and new audiences. The new format almost seems an after thought to the natural progression of Spain the artist. He has a daughter we come to find, and she shares how protective a father he was always tucking his drawings away when she’d walk by. A far cry from the man we meet at the exposition of the film. Stern’s reflective Documentary is so filled with love and authenticity that it’s hard not to fall in love with it just as she did with Spain. I didn’t know who Spain was before, and now I’ll never forget him.

Bad Attitude: The Art of Spain Rodriguez Trailer

Buy a ticket to see Bad Attitude The Art of Spain Rodriguez at the Slamdance 2021 Film Festival

Keep up with distribution and screening news of Bad Attitude: The Art of Spain Rodriguez on their website

Sundance 2021 | Wrap Up Discussion With Members of ForReel and Drink in the Movies

That’s a wrap for Sundance 2021! In this video, Taylor Beaumont leads a conversation with Thomas Stoneham-Judge and Taylor Baker, talking about everyone’s experiences with the festival. We recap as much as possible, from the festival platform to award winners to festival favorites to honorable mentions.

Learn more about Sundance Film Festival

Sundance 2021 Review: Pleasure

Written by Taylor Baker

86/100

WARNING: EXPLICIT SEXUAL CONTENT

SYNOPSIS: Bella (Sofia Kappel) arrives in America with 25 tattoos, pierced nipples and a burning desire to make her mark in moving images. At Customs, when the U.S. agent asks the ambitious 19-year-old Swede if she’s in America for business or pleasure, there’s a beat. For Bella, who goes under porn name Bella Cherry, there is a fine line between business and “pleasure.”

Starting at the bottom, living with sloppy roommates in an innocuous shared house, she gradually enters the hierarchical world of adult cinema. As she bonds with her housemates, she discovers that the road to porn stardom demands that a young woman must practice and accomplish increasingly difficult and sometimes distressing “stunts.” This is the big leagues where performing a double anal on camera is like a professional skater’s triple axel. As time passes, Bella rises. She lands high-end adult movie agent Mark Spiegler (The 2012 Adult Video News Hall of Famer nicknamed Shylock plays himself). Leaving her roomies behind, Bella becomes a “Spiegler Girl,” taking limos to outrageous pool parties, filming scenes in fabulous Los Angeles mansions, and receiving an unsentimental education in the trade’s tricks.

Strong, self-confident but naive, Bella believes she can mold the corrupt system to satisfy her needs. But, in the end, she must confront whether she’ll pay with her soul for stardom, or not. That’s the high cost of being a hot young female body in the pleasure business from debut feature writer-director Ninja Thyberg whose 2013 short of the same name debuted at Cannes where it won a Canal+ Award.

REVIEW: There’s been what feels like dozens of Directorial Debuts at this years Sundance 2021 Film Festival. And only a handful touch the soaring heights and delicious biting criticism of Ninja(Nin-ya) Thyberg’s Debut Feature Film Pleasure. Cleverly titled as a response to a question that Jessica gives in the very start of the film. A love child of the industry reflexivity we saw in Refn’s The Neon Demon and the unrepressive imagery(full frontal male nudity) of Gaspar Noé’s oeuvre, Pleasure is entirely her own and rather than pulling us down her narrative–she makes us take it. Jessica is played by newcomer Sofia Kappel who by all appearances in the film has the makings of an unassuming and at times charismatic star. She assumes the name ‘Bella Cherry’ and embarks on a path to pursue a lucrative career in the Adult Film Industry.

Rather than casting her film with conventional performers, Thyberg chooses to lean on the talent that she seems to be dunking. At one point Kappel’s ‘Bella Cherry’ has finished shooting a scene and her face is covered in ejaculate. Rather than end the scene there, with the scene ostensibly finished the camera turns it’s sights off of Kappel’s face and pivots in real time into the camera and camera man she’s performing to. Uncannily clever Thyberg holds up the “black mirror” of who this was for in Kappel’s local experience, who it was physically aimed toward, and transfers the viewer of the Pornography from themselves to the man standing there. It’s a powerful shot that stands out amongst a half dozen equally powerful choices that Thyberg makes.

Inevitably the topic of sexual abuse arises, first as an offhand joke when she arrives from Sweden to her driver(Chris Cock) about why she wanted to join the industry. But this topic resurfaces, uncomfortably in two deceptively brutal scenes. Postulating consent in the “industry” as a philosophical problem in a brand new frame. Ultimately the extremity of Thyberg’s voice never broaches to crass, there’s always a tone of “this is how things are” to her depictions of sexuality, until ingeniously she once again flips the reality presented to the viewer on it’s head. Pleasure is a daring and unconventional piece of cinema that boldly and clearly announces Ninja as a contemporary filmmaker with a cultural criticism that goes past the surface level. If audiences will break convention to openly support and discuss her film, it seems inevitable that we’ll graced with more. A storyteller with a voice like this doesn’t stop after throwing just one punch.

I’ll leave you with a brief quote of Thyberg’s own words on the themes and her frame of thinking on her piece.

Ninja Thyberg, director of Pleasure, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Karin Stenwall.

“I think, unfortunately, a lot of people dehumanize the people that they masturbate to.”

Ninja Thyberg

Sundance 2021 Review: Violation

Written by Taylor Baker

88/100

SYNOPSIS: With her marriage about to implode, Miriam returns to her hometown to seek solace in the comfort of her younger sister and brother-in-law. But one evening a tiny slip in judgement leads to a catastrophic betrayal, leaving Miriam shocked, reeling, and furious. Believing her sister to be in danger, Miriam decides she must protect her at all costs, but the price of revenge is high and she is not prepared for the toll it takes as she begins to emotionally and psychologically unravel.

REVIEW:

“What’s wrong with a little Sammy Harris?”

Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer)

Built on naturalistic landscapes and a swelling score, Violation presents the brutality at the core of it’s story in close-up. Whether stirring batter, deboning a rabbits leg, or watching a spiders legs twitch while it suffocates under a cup. It forces a sense of brooding and suffocation onto the viewer in classic yet unconventional ways.

First time feature film writer/directors Dusty Mancinelli and Madeline Sims-Fewer—who also leads the film—present a somber look at pain and murder. Their collaborative first feature makes sound design it’s fulcrum and while at times it’s score propels us along, just as often and craftily it dips out allowing the stirring of nature to envelop us. Defining a sense of place that intensifies the collage, sometimes spectre like imagery that dances on screen with it.

Madeline Sims-Fewer plays Miriam a woman whose distanced from her family and is having trouble at home with her husband. In lieu of spoiling the narrative, I’ll just say an “event” occurs, prompting Madeline’s “Miriam” to commit a violent murder. The twist here is not so much a conventional twist as a spurring on of the form we’ve already seen employed, now toward active violence. The murder scene is cripplingly human, Miriam’s reaction to her own actions is like a dagger twisted into the gut of the viewer. Her anguish undeniable.

Many have written about the discomfort that they experienced during the film, and I don’t want to completely write that off. But I think that in high caliber pieces of cinema that have similar topics, these feelings of discomfort are more a sign of greatness than any indicative modicum of banality. I can’t quite say I’m thrilled by this film, but I was astounded. 

Violation Trailer


Highly Recommended

Violation played during the Sundance 2021 Film Festival and scheduled to release in multiple territories on March 25th 2021 on Shudder.

Sundance 2021 Mid-Festival Round Up with Members of ForReel Movie News and Reviews

Click here to review the Festival Awards!

The festival officially runs from January 28th to February 3rd.

  • Jan. 28th – festival kicks off with the opening night welcome at 5pm MST, followed by the premiers of Coda and In the Same Breath at 6pm MST.
  • Feb. 2nd – festival awards winners are announced starting at 6pm MST.
  • Feb. 3rd – on-demand screening of award finning films takes place 8am-12pm MST.
  • Note: Short films and Indie Series programs are available for on-demand screening for the duration of the festival.

Whether you’re charting your own course through the festival, in need of guidance, or content to sit back and wait for recaps, we hope you will find some time to touch base with us here at Drink in the Movies and over at ForReel Movie New and Reviews for festival news, coverage, and updates. I spoke with Thomas & Taylor from ForReel Movie News and Reviews to talk about our favorite festival films so far, experience using the Sundance Virtual Platform, and our most anticipated remaining films. Watch the video above, and we’ll see you at Sundance 2021!

Sundance 2021 Review: Night of the Kings

Written by Taylor Baker

76/100

SYNOPSIS: A young man is sent to “La Maca,” a prison in the middle of the Ivorian forest ruled by its inmates. As tradition goes with the rising of the red moon, he is designated by the Boss to be the new “Roman” and must tell a story to the other prisoners. Learning what fate awaits him, he begins to narrate the mystical life of the legendary outlaw named “Zama King” and has no choice but to make his story last until dawn.

Night of the Kings has been formally submitted in the category Best Foreign Language Film by Côte d’Iviore (Ivory Coast) for the Oscars.

REVIEW: A finished story is a dead man. Or so it seems in Philippe Lacôte’s sophomore feature. About a prisoner who is renamed Roman on an ominous night when the moon turns red and the title of storyteller is foisted upon him. Hinging on the words of debut performer Koné Bakary(Roman), this Scheherazade-like fable mixes reality, history, and desire.

Night of the Kings is at it’s most engaging in the prison(La Maca) as we’re witnessing Bakary engage in the act of storytelling. Holding his own against the crowd of prisoners shouting, singing, and jeering as he weaves his tale. When we shift to the images of the story being told they often lack atmosphere, tension, and propulsiveness. Things that immediately leap back into the viewer as we shift–often mid-scene back to the prison.


I found these choices to be deft and thoughtful ones. Reproposing the hypothesis: does a story belong to the storyteller or the audience? It does this all while engaging in the meaning, expectation, responsibility, and duty of telling of ‘your’ story not just as a man but as a nation. Rather than proffering answers Night of the Kings lingers on the cost of these questions.

The contemporary in prison timeline is sumptuously lit, with warm lamps and a near total absence of natural lighting until daybreak. Fabric hangs everywhere, the sets are dressed with care but not overfilled. The sound design and foley work seam together trickles of water, chirping insects, and dampened bare-feet splashing small pools of water to evoke an atmosphere that, were I able to view in a theater would assuredly be all encompassing.

Night of the Kings tells it’s story, and performs a transference of emotion. Emotion at a sense of history, a sense of loss, a hope for the future, but the agony and vigor it takes to just reach one more day. One thing is sure, I want to see more out of Philippe Lacôte as a writer/director and if he can re-team with newcomer Koné Bakary all the better.

Recommended.

Night of the Kings Trailer

Sundance 2021 Review: All Light, Everywhere

Written by Taylor Baker

94/100

SYNOPSIS: ALL LIGHT, EVERYWHERE explores the personal and philosophical relationships between cameras and weaponry. Once again, as in his acclaimed debut feature RAT FILM, director Theo Anthony roots his inquiry in Baltimore, a city that has long been a testing ground for new policing technologies.

Using the rise of police body cameras as a point of departure, Anthony creates a kaleidoscopic portrait of our shared histories of cameras, weapons, policing and justice. Moving from the 19th century, where the nascent art of photography went hand in hand with colonial projects and the development of automatic weapons, to the headquarters of Axon, a company with a near monopoly on body cameras in the United States, Anthony charts a long view of the relationship between photography and violence. His narrative encompasses abstract explorations of the nature of perception and concrete examples of how the limitations of that perception are weaponized.

All Light, Everywhere presents this authoritarian use of photography without ever losing sight of the medium’s potential to subvert. Anthony’s self-reflexive style makes room for both ambiguity and the sublime, employing verité, performance, and archival research to frame and reframe, underline and undermine. The film stands as a rebuke of the very images it uses to construct its argument. All Light, Everywhere orients the viewer toward a more democratic approach to the image, forsaking the illusion of certainty for a shared journey towards truth.

REVIEW: Broad but narrow, specific but all encompassing, personal but private. Solar parallax, Taser-Axon Body Cameras, optic nerves, eugenics, the operant observer effect, pigeon cameras, the history of photography, Charles Darwin’s cousin, anthropomorphism, constitutional rights — how does one properly begin a review of a film with so may facets? I think with it’s own words. A quote from one of the dozens of lines it has that would define any other picture. But in a film as unique as All Light, Everywhere they simply make up it’s marrow and in a film centered on images it’s astounding that all of it’s narration is worthy of quotation.

“The eye only sees in each thing that for which it looks, and it only looks for that of which it already has an idea.”

Alphonse Bertillon

Theo Anthony’s All Light, Everywhere marks his third project since his 2016 tour de force Rat Film. He edits as well as directs, using Dan Deacon’s evocative score to great effect. In the beginning of the film we are greeted by the smooth voice of narrator Keaver Brenai. Brenai almost reassuringly chimes in as the film builds and elucidates thought provoking realizations in conjunction with troubling facts and historical technologies that expand not only your way of thinking about sight, recording, and images. But the way those pieces of photographic technology have been curated and at points exploited to attack, denigrate, and falsify claims against races, soldiers, and types of individuals.

Theo introduces us to the Axon Technologies Headquarters and shows us, the viewer the process of setting up the choreography with our presenter, walking through the steps to ensure the lighting is correct and the scene is a fluid movement. Presented almost straightforwardly as a bit of corporate marketing. It’s only as the film progresses and these choices and the spoken lines that our guiding executive declares offhandedly that you see the genius of not only the inclusion of these moments with Axon but their pacing. Foreshadowing a critical moment later in the film in which Baltimore citizens and community representatives debate the merit and legality of a new “god’s eye” technology, high above their city recording everyone.

This “god’s eye” technology uses twelve cameras attached to a plane to capture a live feed of whatever is beneath the aircraft. In this case it is the city of Baltimore, which also served as the subject of Baltimore based photographer/director Theo Anthony’s Rat Film. We come to learn that this technology was previously in use for some weeks without the Mayor of Baltimore knowing. This is at once a monumentally disconcerting moment, but also just another brick of grievances in the wall that Anthony has been building. One can feel a clear connection to the black drop effect shown to us earlier in the film in which we learn of an optical phenomenon visible during the transit of Venus that makes it appear to have a liquid-type surface. During this scene a casual line of great implication is shared with us “the act of observation, obscures the observation.”

This off the cuff statement at once beckons one to think of the Hawthorne Effect. Something many budding Psychology Students often learn as the “Operant Observer Effect”. In which one is taught that the very act of observation has a multi-variant effect on that which is being observed. A quick example to consider this idea is to imagine a child at play who knows a mother or father is watching. This also applies to particles in physics observations and has been attributed in many fields of thought in between. Though these claims have on occasion been disputed by some as ‘placebo effect’, knowing that discourse only enriches the film. Knowing that Anthony is playing this bit of insight against us the viewer as well.

In the end All Light, Everywhere is an enriching documentary with great consideration and thought. There’s a slow zoom in on an ugly cartoon-ish face of a dummy that Axon Technologies is testing their weaponry on, cleverly invoking the viewer to reconsider what importance there might be to the faces that our policemen and women target while training with their weapons. There must be a consequence to practicing shooting at specific types of things, mustn’t there? There’s many things that beg deeper inspection and engagement, but after one viewing in the middle of the festival this is as far as I feel I can dive adequately without a rewatch and some more time to research many of the specific points and references within the project.

DIRECTOR THEO ANTHONY’S STATEMENT:

All Light, Everywhere is a film about vision and the power to frame perspective. The project is a natural outgrowth of my first two films, Rat Film and Subject to Review. In Rat Film, I was trying to understand the history of Baltimore through the maps and the power of the mapmaker. In Subject to Review, I tried to understand how power manifested itself through a tool like instant replay. All Light, Everywhere brings together these investigations, focusing on the intersection of cameras, weapons, policing and justice.

I look for subjects that can be latched onto as a vector across time and place, subjects that have contradictory or ambiguous meanings and make strange bedfellows of those who attempt to define them. It’s a process of constant curiosity, exploration, and iteration. I try to move with an understanding that a film doesn’t need to be distilled to a takeaway, that a film and the process of making it can be a proposal, a hypothesis, a gesture to how things can be, rather than how they are.

I believe that concepts are only effective insofar as they connect to the concrete. In my films I want to advocate for a practice that encircles ideas, peoples, and stories into a configuration that not only refracts a greater truth about the nature of their relation, but also lays bare its blueprint, accessible to disassemble and rearrange. I approach documentary with a recognition of the manufactured construct of the medium, and I hope to use that artifice to shed light on arbitrary frameworks masquerading as objectivity. A pursuit of a truth that acknowledges the impossibility of ever arriving, and attempts to make peace with its own failed agenda.

All Light, Everywhere is currently playing the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

You can follow Theo Anthony’s career at his website.

Sundance 2021 Review: Wild Indian

Written by Taylor Baker

66/100

In an effort to define a train of experience for Native life Wild Indian starts in the 1800’s with a man who appears to have the pox wandering west. It quickly changes course to the 1980’s where a young boy commits a murder and his friend witnesses it. We then jump time once again to 2019. It’s unclear which adult actor is portraying which child, and right when you think you have it figured out a pivotal and violent scene in a strip club occurs. Acted out by Michael Greyeyes’ M’kwa. The previous portion of the film until we arrive at this timeline was uneven at best. In this newer adult aged portion of the story though, we see grounded heart-pulling performances and a vast improvement to the editing. In the pivotal murder scene in the 1980’s there was an editing flub that undid a lot of the gravity of the moment.

Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. demonstrates an original voice in his directorial debut, smoothly stringing together lens movement, committed performances, a ringing tone of guilt, and an almost lovable anti-hero. It should be noted that this not only serves as his directorial debut but the first feature film screenplay he’s written. There are some exterior shots that lose the pace a bit, and editing fades that leave much to be desired. But there’s talent on display here, and when Corbine Jr. let’s the performers go the film jumps to life. I’d love to see him re-team with Greyeyes in the future.

The dramatic beats lean heavily on Gavin Brivik’s score, that’s swells queue a compassion for our anti-hero that would be hard to muster without. Eli Born provides a consistently clean shot. His images are never ugly and occasionally border on gorgeous. There’s few filmmakers at Sundance thus far that have put the ownness on the performer to make a film sing and wrote their screenplay to adequately set their performers up to do so. Though the ending doesn’t provide the payoff we as an audience want, our longing for more clarity shows how effectively it’s narrative worked.