The Gateway

Written by Patrick Hao

28/100

Shea Whigham has the type of face that is able to give the whole backstory of his character. That’s why he has been a stalwart character actor in films like Silver Linings Playbook, Wolf of Wall Street, and Take Shelter. It’s a wonder why it took so long for Whigham to lead an indie crime film – hell, John Hawkes has led several at this point. The Gateway finally gives Whigham a chance to lead a film, although it does not match the sturdiness of Whigham’s performance.

The film, the second feature from commercial and music video director Michele Civetta, is stuck between a gritty sociopolitical character study and a pulp neo-noir destined to be a spontaneous movie choice by “that” uncle during the holidays. The Gateway, unfortunately, does neither especially well. On the character end, Whigham plays Parker Jode, an ex-fighter turn social worker, who takes an interest in helping a young girl, Ashley (Taegen Burns), and her troubled mother Dahlia (Olivia Munn) way beyond his duties as a social bureaucrat. Parker Jode is the classic reserved tough guy – one who feels more than he says. Civetta uses all of Whigham’s weathered wrinkles to his advantage in that regard.

On the crime end, Ashley’s father Mike (Zach Avery) is released from prison. He is a triple whammy of a drunk, cheat, and abuser who continues to commit robberies at the behest of local crime boss Duke (Frank Grillo). When an armed robbery turns violent, Mike decides to stash heroin into his unwitting daughter’s bag, setting the movie into action. Oh yeah, strong supporting characters playing their typecasts appear throughout from Taryn Manning (as a barfly of course), Mark Boone Junior (as a drug-dealing bartender of course), Keith David (as a Keith David type of course), and Bruce Dern (as a doddering cursing Vietnam vet, trying to atone for his sins as the father of Parker Jode of course).

The Gateway is exactly the type of movie you expect from the title, the poster, and the cast. None of it is especially convincing except for Wigham who is trying his darndest to make his world-weary character enough to carry the film. Civetta is not devoid of style. His influences are clear. The film starts out with neon hues like a second-rate Michael Mann and quickly devolves into straight to Redbox over lit tones.

It would have been better if the film decided to lean into its pulpier proclivities. Rather, Civetta and his screenplay written with Alex Felix Bendaña and Andrew Levitas leans into the hard times social message clichés. None of it is particularly convincing or inspiring. It doesn’t help that Olivia Munn and Zach Avery give stilted performances. It’s the chicken or the egg situation – was it the performances or the script that is wooden. The answer is probably a bit of both. Its hard to be too hard on a film like The Gateway. Its aspirations seem minimal, with its only ambitions being a calling card to whomever gets a break from this small film. It does not help the case of Shea Whigham, “Leading Man,” because even as the lead, the film is straining to focus on someone else.

The Gateway Trailer

The Gateway is available in select theaters and on VOD. Available on Blu-ray and DVD on September 7th.

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

The Wait (L’attesa)

Written by Michael Clawson

50/100

Just after experiencing a devastating loss, Anna (Juliette Binoche) hosts Jeanne (Lou de Laâge) for several days at a Sicilian villa as they await the arrival of Giuseppe, Anna’s son and Jeanne’s lover. They spend their time meandering the grounds and dining well together as Jeanne grows increasingly suspicious of Giuseppe’s absence and Anna waits to share with Jeanne the true reason for her grief.

“L’attessa” (aka “The Wait”) is the feature directorial debut from Piero Messina, who clearly prefers dialogue to be sparse and for imagery to tell much of the story. He leans heavily on Binoche’s ability to communicate emotion with facial expression and body language and tries to amplify dramatic moments with musical crescendos. Suspense is built on multiple fronts: the audience is probed to wonder about the true whereabouts of Giuseppe, his and Jeanne’s history, and when, if ever, Anna will bring Jeanne out of the dark about what so intensely upsets her.

Binoche and de Laâge do more than enough to lend credibility to their interactions, but the film is dripping too profusely with contrivances to maintain a comfortable level of drama. At one point, we see Anna attempt to squeeze every last drop of air from an inflatable pool toy, as if the effort from doing so will allow her to shed the burden of her grief. It’s reminiscent of Messina’s effort to inject feeling into every frame, so much so that the experience is nearly stifling.

The Wait Trailer

The Wait is currently available to stream on Prime Video and Kanopy

Scenes from a Marriage

Written by Michael Clawson

100/100

An intensely emotional two-hander about the dissolution of a marriage. Shot almost entirely with extreme close-ups, Bergman puts a couple’s years-long emotional odyssey under a microscope, taking intimacy between viewer and character to new heights.

Each installment recontextualizes what came before it in such devastating ways. In “Innocence and Panic”, Johan and Marianne’s interview with a magazine about their seemingly idyllic relationship feels merely like a foundation for the story to come. Later, we learn that not only has Johan been unfaithful, but also that Marianne is the last in their social circle to know, revealing that Marianne unwittingly humiliated herself by participating the interview. It’s thrown in new light again when it surfaces that Marianne was also unfaithful, albeit earlier in their marriage, which further complicates our understanding of who she is. 

Also in episode one, Marianne has an abortion after accidentally getting pregnant. It’s much later that we learn their two kids were also the result of accidental pregnancies, which establishes the abortion as a sort of inciting event for the unwinding of their relationship. It’s their first act of resistance against expectations in years, made with themselves in mind, not others, and it leads them to contemplate what other decisions they’ve made for the sake of appearances and satisfying others.

Episode 4 – “The Vale of Tears” – is when the essence of the story crystallized for me. As Marianne shares entries from her diary with Johan, there’s a montage of photographs of Johan and Marianne throughout their lives. It’s one of the film’s most jarring visual transitions, and it suggests that the problems that infected Johan and Marianne’s relationship might be rooted in traits they acquired long before they ever met. Societal pressure to put others first, avoid conflict, repress desire and anger, and  keep routine made them unprepared for the emotional turbulence that characterizes their relationship.

Scenes from a Marriage Trailer

Scenes from a Marriage is currently available on Criterion Channel, HBO Max, and Kanopy

Only Lovers Left Alive

Written by Taylor Baker

95/100

“What is this quintessence of dust?”

An appetite for blood is exchanged for a lust of human culture. Written and instrumental, creators and sites of creation. The film begins with our characters Adam and Eve mirroring the vinyl Adam is listening to. Then the record stops and so does the rotation of the camera.

Only Lovers Left Alive appears to depict what life is like while the vampires are on the shelf, so to speak. Blood is acquired from sterile environments through social exchanges. Every encounter with a creature or plant elicits a hello and it’s Latin name from Eve’s lips, as if the creature is an old friend she’d expected to see again. Knowledge slips into Eve through her finger tips while Adam attempts to share and create through his own.

Adam believes he is truly alive and that the humans are zombies. Eve isn’t willing to consider it for a moment, belaboring on the rebirth of a location due to it’s quantity of water and the coming fire to push life north, to the waters edge. She knows that Adam is out of rotation and transverses the globe to get his world spinning again. The human world didn’t quit rotating, Adam did.

“Excellent, the name of Fibonacci.” Eve replies while booking her flight to see him. On the way back from Detroit she books under Daisy Buchanan of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Adam as Stephen Dedalus of James Joyce’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. Adam is in motion again but neither he nor Eve are steering their destiny. Now they are merely attempting to keep up.

“They only figure it out when it’s to late.”

Highly Recommended

Only Lovers Left Alive Trailer

Everybody Wants Some!!

Written by Michael Clawson

90/100

Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!”, a so-called “spiritual sequel” to the director’s 1993 film “Dazed and Confused”, is set in Texas circa 1980 and follows a group of college baseball players reveling through their last weekend before the start of Fall classes. The focus is on Jake, a Freshman pitcher (played by Blake Jenner), who’s eager to explore his newfound freedom and to whom class is a mere afterthought. The upperclassmen, some of whom are more welcoming than others, are both quirky and highly self-assured. They take it upon themselves to show Jake and his fellow newcomers that although the upcoming baseball season is bound to be a good one, the real fun will be had off the field. “Work hard, play harder” best summarizes their philosophy.

The players spend the weekend bouncing from one venue to the next in pursuit of booze, sex, and camaraderie as if they were fraternity brothers, not athletes. This movie is not, however, a re-imagining of “Animal House”. Linklater has a more meaningful story to tell and his telling of it is simply a blast to absorb. He substitutes titillation for a more honest and nuanced depiction of young adults engaged in both pleasure-seeking and self-identification. In order to keep the alcohol flowing, the team ventures from a disco club, their stomping ground, to a country bar, a punk-rock show, and a party hosted by the performing arts “nerds”. As they do so, we watch them grow to understand that despite their identification first and foremost as baseball players, experiencing other cultural scenes is just as much fun as luxuriating at their home base. Linklater seems to posit that we each take our own road to adulthood, but what unifies our experience is the desire to have as much fun as we can along the way.

A few things detract from what overall is a highly enjoyable movie. One is that the film’s undoubtedly male perspective is occasionally overbearing. The camera tends to ogle the women, which is unfortunate considering that not all of the movie’s themes are applicable to men specifically. Secondly, the romance that blossoms in the story’s second half (Jake falls for a Theater student named Beverly, played by Zoey Deutch) feels a tad too good to be true. Nonetheless, I’d wager that “Everybody Wants Some!!” will hold up over time just as its predecessor has.

Everybody Wants Some Trailer

Everybody Wants Some!! is available on VOD

The Kid Detective

Written by Michael Clawson

70/100

A 31 year-old private detective in 21st century suburbia, Abe Applebaum’s glory days are behind him. When he was 13, Abe was a hot-shot kid sleuth who could crack any case brought to him by the members of his quaint little town. But then, his innocent, soda-guzzling secretary suddenly went missing, and his failure to identify the culprit disappointed everyone, destroying Abe’s sense of self-worth and drive, and slowly turning him into the hard-boiled slacker millennial he is today. The film begins in earnest when an opportunity for redemption presents itself: one day, a sweet blonde teenager (a winning Sophie Nélisse) hires Abe to find out who murdered her boyfriend—finally, someone trusting him to solve something more complex, more “adult,” than where a lady’s lost cat might have run off to. As Abe unravels the mystery, the film’s tone proves to be wide-ranging: it starts with light comedy that’s dryly and genuinely funny, but takes a sharp right turn into much grimmer territory for the final act. Morgan’s visual aesthetic is quite run-of-the-mill, which tempers my enthusiasm for the movie overall, but I was charmed by the performances and amused by Morgan’s sense of humor. The great last shot is minorly crushing: proving your value to everyone else doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve figured anything out for yourself.

The Kid Detective Trailer

Sundance 2021 Interview: Jonathan Snipes Composer/Sound Designer of ‘A Glitch in the Matrix’

Interview by Anna Harrison

Jonathan Snipes’ Website: http://jonat8han.com/

A Glitch in the Matrix takes audiences on a journey through science and philosophy to examine the theory that humans live in a simulation and the world as people know it is not real. It is a documentary style animated horror and composer Jonathan Snipes emulated the theme of the film into the score. Jonathan was inspired by 90s electronic beats and used those throughout the music. Beyond being the composer on this film, Jonathan also held the role of sound designer, sound supervisor, and re-recording mixer. Jonathan is also a longtime collaborator of Hamilton and Blindspotting star Daveed Diggs, through their freestyle rap group Clipping, and produced other Daveed tracks including Rappin Ced in the credits and album of Pixar’s Soul and Disney’s Puppy for Hannukah song. Alongside his work in film, he also works extensively as a theater sound designer, especially in Los Angeles’ Geffen theater. He also teaches a course on sound design in UCLA’s theater department.

A Glitch in the Matrix Trailer

A Glitch in the Matrix played as an official selection of the Sundance 2021 Film Festival. It has been released on VOD by Magnolia Pictures and is also available through Virtual Screenings.

You can read Anna’s review of A Glitch in the Matrix or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website.

Sundance 2021 Review: A Glitch in the Matrix

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

A Glitch in the Matrix starts off by examining an idea that’s been bandied about for years and viewed with varying amounts of skepticism: what if we live in a simulation à la The Matrix? The film heavily features Philip K. Dick’s lecture in 1977 wherein he declares we are, in fact, living in a simulation, a weighty declaration from one of the foremost science-fiction oriented minds. Elon Musk and other bigwigs pop up with soundbites, but A Glitch in the Matrix focuses most of its time on ordinary people—some with families, some without; some with advanced degrees, some with high school diplomas—who happen to subscribe to this theory. 

Director Rodney Ascher playfully obscures the faces of many interviewees with animated, mechanical masks, complete with creaking and scraping sound effects provided by sound designer and composer Jonathan Snipes that toe the line between diegetic and non-diegetic. (The film possesses a level of self-awareness that many within it do not.) We never get to see the expressions of those interviewed, but they lay bare their souls as they describe the metaphysical experiences that led them to believe in the simulation theory. Ascher rarely judges; he simply lets the speakers speak, often accompanied by extensive animations of their narratives and underlaid with appropriately eerie music, though there are moments when the viewers—and speakers—are brought back to reality. At one point, an interviewee’s dogs start barking, completely breaking the immersion and giving a much-needed moment of levity.

The first half of the film is interesting enough, if not that groundbreaking aside from the largely-animated style. The second half, however, examines a question I have not often seen brought up alongside the simulation theory: if we are in a simulation, then our actions should have no real consequences, and so what does that mean for our morality? How do we relate to other people?

Here, the film gets more intriguing and more harrowing, especially as we hear Joshua Cooke speak calmly of murdering his adoptive parents at the age of 19 while believing he was inside the Matrix. Yet many of the others interviewed, strange as it may sound, took the apparent lack of consequences in a simulated world and went in the opposite direction, wanting to “level up” for the person controlling them, concerned more with doing good than running amok. Several admissions turn out to be unexpectedly touching.

This is A Glitch in the Matrix at its best: engaging at a personal level with those interviewed, discussing the why over the what. Unfortunately, this is largely delegated to the back half of the film, but while we have to wait awhile before getting to the heart of the matter, it turns out that the heart, simulated or not, beats quite strongly.

A Glitch in the Matrix Trailer

A Glitch in the Matrix is now available everywhere

You can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Sundance 2021 Review: The World to Come

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

65/100 

With Portrait of A Lady on Fire (2019) as the gold standard, everything that’s come after it has seemed subpar. Fastvold’s second feature, The World to Come, isn’t bad; but it’s hard to ignore comparisons to its precursor Portrait, which shares similar themes. Although superior to the recently released Ammonite (2020), The World to Come suffers from the timing of having to follow up Sciamma’s masterpiece. 

It’s a slow burn (which I adored) and an intimate portrayal of two women who are unhappy in their separate marriages. They find a sense of self, of love, and renewed purpose in each other. I most enjoyed the continued exploration of the female gaze. When I see and hear stories about women on film it is essential that I hear them from a woman’s perspective. This grounds the reality I see on screen with the reality I live.

Anchored by Waterston and Kirby’s performances, and captured vividly at times by André Chemetoff’s cinematography. The World to Come is a story of intimacy and loss that we don’t often see. Though it lacks the swooning magic that made me fall in love with Portrait of A Lady of Fire. It still manages to be a satisfactory addition to the frontier romance drama, even if it fails to be bigger than it’s individual moments.

The World to Come Trailer

The World to Come is currently scheduled to have a limited release February 12th 2021 and become available on March 2nd 2021 on VOD platforms.

The World to Come played at the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

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