• The Souvenir

    The Souvenir

    ★★★★½

    "You're inviting me to torture you."

    Homework for Part II.

    I still remain very confused as to why so many people disliked this film. Is it unpleasant to watch? Of course. Many of the best movies are. Yes the story is elliptical and chopped up with abrupt cuts and jumps in time. But that's how actual memories are! You can't think back on an emotionally fraught period of time and recollect every single moment chronologically and with complete detail. I…

  • Cryptozoo

    Cryptozoo

    "We should have left the unicorn alone."

    Ahaha, no. Not at all, folks. You knew I would hate this.

    Just the sixth animated movie to ever earn an Independent Spirit Award nomination -- for the low-budget "John Cassavetes Award" -- Dash Shaw's Cryptozoo is just absolutely never going to be the kind of film I could ever enjoy. There's a story here and some intelligent themes attempted in the midst of this bizarre narrative. I'll give credit to this wild…

  • Luzzu

    Luzzu

    "What do you pay?"
    "One-fifty."
    "Two hundred and your trucks make it on time."

    The Maltese entry for Best International Feature Film at the Oscars also ended up with an Independent Spirit nomination for the "Someone to Watch Award" for writer/producer/editor/director Alex Camilleri. Luzzu is a poignant film with a taut and powerful story about being pushed to the edge in a moment of family crisis.

    The central pair is fisherman Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) and his waitress wife Denise (Michela…

  • Try Harder!

    Try Harder!

    "Oh it's snowing in Boston! If you were at Harvard you'd have to wear a big coat!"

    Wanna feel inadequate?

    The best public high school in the San Francisco area, and one of the highest achieving in the country, Lowell High School is "Tiger Mom central," as one of its students explains in only a barely joking manner. That's no surprise with a majority Asian-American student body. But it's just one of many places like it in America, with shockingly…

  • The First Wave

    The First Wave

    "We weren't made for this. But I think this made us."

    Film Independent screener.

    Shortlisted for an Oscar this year and waiting for a nomination, Matthew Heineman's The First Wave begs to be seen despite some audiences who are tired of pandemic cinema. Just because you're over COVID doesn't mean COVID is over.

    What makes this documentary worth watching is twofold: its specific focus on a short period of time and eschewing of a larger narrative in which to get…

  • This Is Not a War Story

    This Is Not a War Story

    "I only feel comfortable around people who want to kill themselves."

    The last handful of Spirit Award nominations aren't available by screener access. So, that's a shame, and it will make fewer people vote for them. Great job, film distributors.

    Hopefully I can track them all down, even if I have to -- gasp! -- pay for them. Tonight begins with the low-budget indie produced by Rosario Dawson, This is Not a War Story, up for the John Cassavetes Award…

  • King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis

    King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis

    ★★★★★

    "And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with ya. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the promised land!"

    Directing legends Sidney Lumet and Joseph L. Mankiewicz team up for one of America's essential nonfiction works, the monumental King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis, over three hours of archival footage, interviews, quiet reflection, history, and narration by many of the greatest cultural and Hollywood icons of the…

  • Parallel Mothers

    Parallel Mothers

    "I have no doubts!"
    "But I do."

    Film Independent screener.

    I think it says something about a director when even his mid-tier films are better than almost everybody else's.

    And as usual, that's the case for the Spanish genius Pedro Almodóvar, who has reached the highest of highs over and over again but manages to be in awards contention every year he makes a movie. Here we are again with Madres paralelas ["Parallel Mothers"], his latest collaboration with Penélope Cruz…

  • CODA

    CODA

    "There are plenty of pretty voices with nothing to say."

    Film Independent screener.

    Sugary sweet and with maybe one or two more warm hugs that this cynical bastard could stand, but still with something meaningful to say, there's a reason why so many people love CODA. This awards season, the film is getting new attention for the remarkable supporting performance by Troy Kotsur, one that's seriously in Oscar consideration. Before that, Film Independent has him up for a Spirit Award,…

  • Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America

    Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America

    ★★★★½

    "Ignorance is not bliss, because it allows a false history to thrive."

    Not everybody likes their historical documentaries to just be a straight-up History lecture, albeit one that is in-your-face and grand in scope, but you can sign me up when you're talking about a scholar like the former deputy legal director of the ACLU, Jeffery Robinson. At the Town Hall Theater in New York on Juneteenth in 2018, an audience came for his presentation, and filmmakers Emily Kunstler and…

  • In the Same Breath

    In the Same Breath

    "Eight people were punished for spreading rumors about an unknown pneumonia."

    Film Independent screener.

    Documentarian extraordinaire Nanfu Wang goes back to China -- not long after her hit film and exposé One Child Nation -- for another work that can be added to the growing canon of Pandemic Era Cinema, with a harrowing look at the early days of the novel coronavirus that's continued to disrupt our world like almost nothing else in our lifetimes.

    With In the Same Breath,…

  • Ascension

    Ascension

    "Be as non-tattooed as possible."

    Film Independent screener.

    I love impressionistic documentaries like this that are more about the images and feelings than perhaps a set agenda or path, and allusions to Godfrey Reggio's immaculate Koyaanisqatsi are clear in the Spirit Award-nominated Ascension from Jessica Kingdon, with a dash of the observational style of Frederick Wiseman as well.

    Documenting the pursuit of the “Chinese Dream," as the People's Republic surges into a new generation of purpose and profits above all…