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Sundance Film Festival (#110 of 62)

Sundance Film Review: It Follows

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Sundance Film Review: It Follows
Sundance Film Review: It Follows

David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, the latest from the John Carpenter Sensory Ethnography Lab, begins with a stunning confluence of panic-rousing stimuli. As the camera pivots slowly to the right, the soundtrack throbbing with sinister synth washes, a girl runs from her home, pausing briefly in the middle of her suburban street to stare in horror at a threat that’s invisible both to the audience and the neighbor who kindly asks her if she needs her help. Before running back into the house, before driving off into the dead of night, before tearfully calling her father from a lonely beach, and before Mitchell jump cuts to a ghoulish vision of the girl’s corpse, leg broken and dreadfully twisted back toward its head, the camera unbelievably, in one unbroken movement, flips between positioning the audience as victim and victimizer.

Sundance Film Review: Christmas, Again

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Sundance Film Review: Christmas, Again
Sundance Film Review: Christmas, Again

Christmas, Again opens with a series of diffuse, colorful lights, suggesting the electronic video art of Nam June Paik in their abstract arrangement against a black background. They are less identifiable as Christmas lights than isolated beams of energy striving for coherent meaning. Fitting then, that these vibrant shimmers quickly give way to Noel (Kentucker Audley), a wayward twentysomething, pacing in front of his Christmas-tree lot, “sometime fairly recently in New York City,” a subtitle explains. The immediate lack of both fine points and specificity in writer-director Charles Poekel’s debut feature, shot on 16mm, is imperative to following its through lines of poorly uttered names, apocryphal stories, and faces that appear and then quickly vanish from the film, often within the same scene.

Box Office Rap Machete Kills and the Gravity Wrecking Ball

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Box Office Rap: Machete Kills and the Gravity Wrecking Ball
Box Office Rap: Machete Kills and the Gravity Wrecking Ball

In January of 1993, Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi screened at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award and was picked up by Columbia Pictures. A month later, it was released in theaters, grossing over $2 million at the domestic box office, an anomaly for a film made for a mere $7,000. At the time a director with no formal training, Rodriguez served as a beacon for the independent spirit, even writing Rebel Without a Crew in 1996, a book recounting his initial success and subsequent collaboration with Quentin Tarantino. This week, Rodriguez’s Machete Kills opens in theaters, but the film reveals the filmmaker to be far removed from his independent and creative origins.

Rodriguez appears content to make sequels of his own hits: Machete Kills marks his sixth, and next year will bring a second installment in the Sin City franchise. Such practices are certainly not uncommon in Hollywood, nor were they uncommon to the exploitation cinema of the 1970s, which Rodriguez has clearly modeled so much of his work after. As Ian Olney explains in his recent book Euro Horror: Classic European Horror Cinema in Contemporary American Culture, Hollywood stole distribution tactics from B-film production studios, such as saturated openings, while also recognizing the viability of cheap sequels to accompany these methods, where films could make so much money in one weekend, as to become profitable, that whether or not audiences actually liked the film ended up being an afterthought.

Oscar Prospects Fruitvale Station, A Contender on an Uncertain Track

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Oscar Prospects: Fruitvale Station, A Contender on an Uncertain Track
Oscar Prospects: Fruitvale Station, A Contender on an Uncertain Track

This is the first film year in a long while that’s made me want to applaud Harvey Weinstein. The mega-producer has suddenly become a powerful force in the dissemination of popular, feather-ruffling, discussion-prompting black cinema. The Weinstein Company gave us Fruitvale Station and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and still to come is Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom with Idris Elba. These are just three titles in a year that’s uncommonly packed with major black-themed movies, and thanks to Weinstein’s backing, they’re that much more likely to be seen. That said, Weinstein is still the hungriest and savviest awards monger in the biz, and part of his motive for pushing these movies is, without doubt, their clear Oscar potential. At the risk of suggesting that Weinstein is an outright, opportunistic monster, it was admittedly hard—as a film-obsessed person, at least—to think of anyone else who was more pleased with George Zimmerman’s acquittal (apart from Zimmerman himself, that is). Having already serendipitously clinched priceless topicality with Fruitvale’s Trayvon Martin parallels, Weinstein suddenly had skyrocketing cultural rage in his corner, rage that a little film about the similarly, tragically slain Oscar Grant might alleviate. The modest Sundance sensation Weinstein acquired was now inextricably linked to one of the year’s biggest stories, a story that won’t be forgotten come Oscar-nomination time.