Andre Arnold has the ability to cultivate talent wherever she goes. Her films collide in theme and style but are never restricted to the comforts of her home. In 2008 Arnold discovered Kate Jarvis. She spotted her fighting with her boyfriend at a train stop in northern England, witnessing Jarvis’s cockney accent, her inner anger, and furious energy. Arnold saw something in her, she cast Jarvis in the lead role of her film Fish Tank (2009). Jarvis had never acted before or even been in front of the camera. Andrea decided to shape her film around Jarvis, crafting a coming of age story set against the British projects. The risk paid off big when Arnold won the grand jury prize at Cannes that year. Arnold became known for her ability to find unknown talent.
Some how Arnold has managed to find another unknown female lead to take the reins in her newest film American Honey. Arnold found Sasha lane on a beach in Miami during spring break. She spotted her on a beach alone, a drift among the chaos of the American youth holiday. Arnold a fifty year old Brit was sitting on this beach watching beautiful girls for one reason, to find talent. Arnold has a knack for spotting talent in the world rather than in an audition room. Lane only reestablishes this skill as a global one. American Honey is a film about the displaced youth of America and the reality of being female in a patriarchy. The film flourishes in Arnold’s trademark handheld camera, shot in beautiful 16mm it it’s true ratio 4:3. The movie is a long one running at two hours and forty five minutes, there are times that the film feels purposefully slow and very committed to showing all emotions through action. Even though Arnold’s greatest skills are on display the film does not harness the catharsis her other work seems to express with ease. It is an amazing work of art, but falls short on narrative and meaning. At the end of the day Arnold has holstered another girl found on the street into the realm of stardom.
The 2017 Cannes film festival line up is stacked with heavy hitters. It is rare to see a line up for a festival that contains so much diversely recognized talent from around the world. There is a mixture of veteran work immersed with work from newly established directors. It is truly exciting to think about these films being screened in the same competition. In this post I am going to talk about what I am most excited for. At cannes there are two major categories of programming; Competition and Un Certain Regard. The #1 on my list of anticipation is Happy End the latest film from world famous Austrian auteur Michael Haneke (Amour, The White Ribbon, Funny Games). The film reunites the renowned director with French star Isabelle Huppert, the story is a family drama set against the European refugee crisis. Haneke is my favorite filmmaker, anything he produces is sure to be exciting and explosively new. Tied for second on my list are both films from American directors the first is Good Time from directors Josh and Denny Safdie (Heaven Knows What). The Safdies have established themselves as some of the most anticipated and exciting new American independent directors, their presence at Cannes only solidifies them as the new wave. Tied for #2 on my list is Noah Baumbach’s new film The Meyerowitz Stories. Baumbach (The Squid and the whale, Frances Ha) is new York’s indie darling turned Hollywood auteur. His films have been around for over a decade now since he started making waves with his stylish and witty family dramas. This film reunites him with actor Ben Stiller and stars Adam Sandler. #3 on my list is While You Were Here the new film from Lynn Ramsay (We Need to Talk about Kevin, Rat Catcher). Lynn’s films are dark and emotional journeys that are fierce in their commitment to shocking the viewer, I am excited to see what she has in store for us next. Notable names also worth mentioning in this years competition that are sure to make headlines are Sofia Coppola, Todd Haynes, Andrei Zvyagintsev, Bong Joon-ho, and Yorgos Lanthimos. It will be an exceptional festival no doubt!
Vince Gilligan’s Better Call Saul is a bizarre anomaly. The show is a prequel to the massively successful Breaking Bad, it follows the back story of Saul the infamous lawyer from hit series. On paper the show sounds like a disaster from the get go, an excuse to get one more squeeze from the slowly drying success of Breaking Bad. Amazingly it’s not. The show actually holds it’s own, and it’s able to do what most spin-offs fail to, develop it’s own style and voice. There is some level of fan pleasing references, famous Breaking Bad characters giving insight to the pre Walter White era. But the show takes drastic differences in tone, while still maintaining Gilligan’ trademark editing style. The show is an amazing piece of television on it’s own for a number of reasons. The first is that Bob Odenkirk needs to be a leading actor, and this show is just that. His comedic talent that stems from a Chicago improv background has landed him a career in both comedy and drama, but he is often cast character roles, or as comedic relief. This show allows Odenkirk to shine, he is an amazing lead with phenomenal range hitting comedic and dramatic marks exceptionally. He is the force behind the show. Now the second reason the show stands on it’s own is it’s subject matter. It is a show about lawyers, something that would not assumably fit into Gilligan’s style. I think it took time for the show to find it’s own pace and energy, it’s not a crime show, it’s not a meth show, it’s a show about people and relationships and the law. Yes there is a crime element but it is the b plot, and compliments the structure of the show very nicely. I have never seen a successful spin off like Better Call Saul, it raises the bar for auteur television. The show is on Netflix, I recommend it everyone. It does start off slightly slow as it tries to establish it’s own world. Give season one a chance.
Joe Swanberg has defined his career as a love affair with the city that defines his work, Chicago. Although his films vary in tone and approach they all have one common theme; relationships that take place in Chicago. Swanberg has been making waves in the independent world for about 15 years now. He is an actor, writer, and director, who despite having risen in recent years in success still shoots on location in his home town for every project. His 2016 Netflix series Easy feels like an ode to the city told through a number of intertwining vignettes. It uses vivid realism to paint a picture of Chicago’s diverse working class community, involving a lot of beer. This is not surprising since Swanberg’s break out hits Drinking Buddies (2013) and Happy Christmas (2014) both take place in Chicago and revolve around beer consuming thirty something year olds who have familiar sets of relationship problems. Swanberg’s work seems to thrive in the moment. His films feel personal and often emotionally underwhelming. His strongest tool as a director is his ability to capture vulnerability on the screen in almost every shot. His takes are sometimes long and sloppy, but they always feel natural creating a personal view that reflects his ideology on relationships and the struggles of middle age success. He has a close knit set of characters that seem to be reused in all his films. They are normal people with real problems (i.e. kids, money, relationships). Because of this his films often lack a sense of urgency especially if you have seem a lot of them back to back. Swanberg’s latest film Win It All (2017) premiered on Netflix last week. It of course takes place in Chicago. Win it All revolves around a normal working class guy played by Jake Johnson who is in almost all of Swanberg’s movies and also cowrote the film. The difference in this film from any other of Swanberg’s Chicago based work is that Jake has a gambling addiction. The movie is an attempt at taking Swanberg’s trademark naturalistic style and applying it to a more exciting and plot driven narrative. The result is a bizarre combination of high stakes gambling and a mumble core film aesthetic. I am always entertained by Swanberg, his editing alone is revolutionary for independent cinema and his fluid camera seems to only get more interesting as his budget increases. But Win It All fails to reconfirm him as a filmmaker taking leaps forward, the film feels more like an attempt of applying a previously successful style to a fast paced narrative.
Robert Altman’s 1974 masterpiece California Split is a dazzling journey into the trials of gambling addiction. The film flows with Altman’s trademark looming camera, slowly zooming and moving with the characters like a living, breathing entity. Set against gorgeous 1970’s California the film takes place in mostly poker rooms, and horse tracks, this creates a feeling of desperate nostalgia that compliments the films energy. Two gamblers George Segal, and Elliot Gould meet at a poker game and hit it off. They decide to embark on an idealistic quest for the “perfect streak” together. Altman uses a large amount of improv which injects the film with an extreme level of spontaneity, the characters often break into long improvised jokes that are both physical and verbal. The film moves like jazz; zooming in on a poker game in one scene, then cutting to the next bet on a whim, weather its a sports game or a boxing match. Altman does not confine the world he has created to the tropes of gambling movies, the film is no moral lesson on the pitfalls of gambling addiction. It is truly a movie that is led by the energy of the gamble, everything is a gamble to these characters from the moment they wake. In an early scene in the first act Elliot Gould’s character has won 1800 at the horse track. He was robbed the previous night after winning a card game. As Gould is getting into his car holding his money a man pulls a gun on him in the parking lot demanding his winnings. Gould’s character refuses to be robbed blind two nights in a row so he puts half his winnings on the roof of his car and says you can take half. “I’m not getting robbed two nights in a row”. The man holding him up is so shaken by his confidence that he takes half the winnings and runs off. This scene captures the mentality of the film beautifully, it’s all a gamble and if your not playing your not winning.
Jordan Peele’s 2017 feature Get Out has established him as a new directorial force to be reckoned with. It stands as his first transition to directing from his prolific career as a comedic actor and writer. Get out has been a box office smash, and has also received rave reviews from critics earning an astonishing 99% on rottentomatoes.com. This is a huge achievement for a number of reasons other than the fact that it is a directorial debut from a highly respected comic. Get out follows a simple effective structure that fits into the horror/thriller genre. A black guy goes to meet his white girlfriends parents only to discover that things aren’t as they seem. It has a mystery element that pays tribute to films like The Stepford Wives (1975). But get out is a film about the black experience, directed by a black man and it has made over 100 million at the box office. That is a huge accomplishment that deserves recognition on it’s own. Peele’s directing is deliberate and self-aware. His use of comedic undertones and traditional thriller beats makes for a very enticing and shocking film. It is hard to talk about the underline meaning of Get Out without spoiling the movie here, so I’ll save that for a later post. But it is worth mentioning that Peele doesn’t drop the ball in the content department for a second. There’s a strong commentary the film is hinting at, leaving the audience entertained and thought provoked when it’s over. It is a masterfully complex idea packaged into a thriller than can be unpacked by a range of audiences. Peele has delivered a masterpiece that breaks down the normal expectations for a thriller, effectively raising the bar for the quality of such entertainment. The film has a spectacular cast starring British actor Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams. The supporting roles are filled by comedic veterans Katherine Keener, and Bradley Whitford. It really is a smash hit, by far the best film I’ve seen in a theater in 2017. I highly recommend it to everyone!
Netflix’s presence at Sundance this year has been extremely prolific. They bought eight films and have been dispersing them onto the streaming sight at a frequent rate. I wrote about how streaming services effect the programming of the festival in an earlier post. The most recent addition is Gerard McMurray’s Burning Sands a coming of age fraternity drama set in a prestigious all black college, presumably Morehouse. The film resembles many other fraternity dramas in theme, the serious abuses of hazing, trauma, and masculinity. After a first look at the trailer the film looks like a new take on an old trope. The difference this film seems to be marketed on is that it takes place in an all black community. McMurry previously known for producing the acclaimed Sundance hit Fruitvale Station has a lot more chops than the trailer lets on. Yes the film does go through some of the motions that these hazing films seem to be obligated to portray, a group of pledges band together, their relationship grows as they endure further humiliation. What is different about this film is the underlining history of the black fraternity. There is not a lot of common knowledge about how these organizations operate. The assumption is that they are no different from any other fraternity or white fraternity. This is far from the truth. McMurry shows in detail the different pressures black students face, first of all it is much more selective. Only five people are chosen out of hundreds who pledge, and to even pledge you must be sponsored by an alum. These fraternities pride themselves on producing the most dignified and successful black men in America, doctors lawyers, politicians, entertainment executives. The film exposes what one is put through to earn this extremely prestigious right of passage. Without giving anything away the film covers the entirety of hell week, sounds pretty standard I know. But this film is full of real developed scenes and characters. There is a clear message the director is trying to get across. I recommend this film to anyone who is interested in a film that breaks the mold of its trope and transcends its genre. Disclaimer it is extremely violent, I would not watch it if you don’t like to witness abuse.
The five part ESPN produced 30 for 30 doesn’t fit into the normal mold of successful commercial documentary. With a run time of seven hours and forty seven minutes the piece breaks down into five feature length segments. The beauty of director Ezra Edleman’s work is that it doesn’t just cover the story of O.J. or his notorious trial, it covers the extensive history of racial tensions in California. Miller has been recognized for his work on a massive scale, the film won the 2017 Oscar for best documentary. It is an astonishingly fascinating story of a man’s ambition, rise to fame, and his eventual down fall. There is a poetic timelessness to it, resonating on the scale of greek tragedy. Miller considers every aspect of the pressures of O.J.’s life when telling his story. It is truly an un bias account of the events that created O.J.the American icon and led to his controversy. I highly recommend it to everyone!
I’ve wanted to make films since I was a kid. I don’t have a date, or even a specific age to landmark this revelation, I just know that I was interested in movies all the time.
So now I’m eighteen and I live in Chicago attending film school, and I’m trying to figure out why everything I imagined in my head hasn’t become instant reality. I thought fuck, this is sort of working for me.
But I was meeting a lot of people, and having all these new experiences. So this internal question of why am I doing this sort of got put on the back burner. I new I wanted to make films, and I was pursuing that, but I couldn’t answer the question why?
It was my junior year and I’d been watching a lot of Cassavetes. I’m shooting a film that’s all improv, no script. At this time I had just gone through a break up with my long time girlfriend. So felt like I was coping through this film, working 16 hour days, three or four days in a row.
I was directing this scene (show clip) and I just started to get really upset. It was like 2am and I was just getting insanely frustrated, the scene was going fine. I talked to my friend after, and I said this is the most frustrated I’ve ever been directing something. And he said to me that’s because this is just a version of your life.
I realized then and there that was my answer to why, through frustration and anxiety I had answered this internal question. I want to make films to express myself, to cope. Not because I love films. It was like a form of therapy.
After that I new I needed to make personal films, subjects that I could feel.
Lambert’s chapter on story structure explores multiple narrative themes that have played a large role historically in the structure of fiction. He first mentions the classic story arch, which derived from greek literature. This simple plot structure begins with the initiating or (inciting) incident. The structure reaches it’s highest point of tension half way through with the point of crisis, leading into the climax. Finally there is the resolution. Lambert connects this structure to the heroes heroes journey, a common story arch that deals with self conflict and change of character. It is a structure commonly adopted by Hollywood, seen in films like Star Wars and so on. Lambert contrasts the heroes journey with the handless maiden, an interesting take on the trope of the woman who questions her role as bride and goes on a journey of self discovery, than finally has a change in character. Lambert sites seven stages of story that apply to both these archetypes. Rejoice, react, reconsider, revise, reclaim, resolve, and rebirth. It is nice they all start with the letter R. This common structure break down can be found in a story telling all over the place, Lambert does a good job at highlighting the elements in an accessible manner.