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Last week, I reviewed Z For Zachariah, the latest film by director Craig Zobel (read it here), which is based on Robert C. O’Brien’s posthumous 1974 novel of the same name. I had planned to reference an earlier adaptation of the book, a production shot by Anthony Garner in 1984 for the BBC program “Play For Today.” The two-hour movie is much closer to the source material in plotting but is also not without its faults. Most significantly, it feels very much like a dated product of its era: Cold War dread of nuclear fallout.

In his adaptation, Zobel does a fine job cutting out the dated concerns that played on Cold War era fears, so it’s a shame he doesn’t magnify the more primal tensions of the drama to make for a more timeless film. Though there’s a sense it was designed for it, I doubt this film will be remembered come Oscar time, considering some of the movie’s fine performers, who ultimately couldn’t seem to rise above the scant material.

In my review, I pointed out Zobel’s weak grasp on the film’s mood as a great issue of his version. Not so for the BBC version. What succeeds with this adaptation is that you feel a creeping sense of disquiet that surrounds the idyllic zach01farmhouse, spared nuclear annihilation because it happens to sit in a valley. Solitary farm girl Anne Burden is played by TV actress Pippa Hinchley, making her acting debut. Here’s a fun bit of trivia: she happened to have played a minor role in the Chris Pine vehicle People Like Us (2012). Pine plays a third character in Zobel’s adaptation of the film who was never in the book nor the BBC version.

There’s a darkly wonderful moment in the BBC version establishing Anne’s response to the loss of her family after they leave her alone at the homestead to search for other survivors but never return. After waiting for who knows how many days, she weeps for them, gathers their toothbrushes and some dead flowers, and tosses them all into the garbage. It’s an interesting gesture. Just when you think she will become sentimental about her loss, she does not. For what use is sentiment when there is no one else left alive?

Eventually, a survivor arrives at her house. John Loomis (a scenery chewing Anthony Andrews) first appears at a distance, emerging from a white tent in a radiation suit. He gradually moves the tent closer and closer to Anne’s house. This version of Z For Zachariah indeed takes its time with both atmosphere and character development. In Zobel’s film the chemistry and trust between John and Anne seems too simplistic with a sense of little at stake. Garner’s version genuinelyzach03 considers the chasm of trust that would lie between a teenage girl and a shady looking man, taking its time to reveal a sense of trust with John that is doomed to failure. There’s a profound sense of ambivalence between Anne and John from the start, something Zobel’s version so sorely needed early in its drama. In the 1984 version Anne keeps her distance for days. When she does approach, John has gradually been weakened by radiation poisoning. His sickness only enhances the specter of death that looms over the film. Meanwhile, in Zobel’s version, it only takes a few injections of a handy serum for John to recover from his illness.

In this 1980s version, John also gives soliloquies about the horrors of radiation poisoning, how it gradually eats away at a person’s body as well as revealing what happened to set off the nuclear holocaust that brough Anne and him together. This element of suspense feels remarkably zach04dated in today’s post-Cold War era, and Zobel is right to cut it back. He instead focuses on the personal drama of alienation from society. There’s an unnerving sense of the inevitable power of a man who invades on a world of a woman who thought she was alone in the world. She is getting by, but she can hardly fend for herself, lacking the skills and knowledge to get the lights back on and clinging to her precious faith for survival.

A sense of the grim inevitable in the early version is revealed during other scenes of dialogue, as this film seems more concerned with death than it is the dynamic between the man and the teenaged girl. In one scene, crippled by radiation exposure, John dishes advice to Anne on how she might survive on her own by rotating the crops. He slowly goes mad, and a third man does appear, but as a figment of his delusions, as he feverishly rants about his past, revealing to Anne deeper and darker secrets. Things get scarier from there, but the movie also tumbles over a cliff by dragging out a hackneyed turn in the plot. But one more plus: the dog figures into the story till its grim ending, unlike Zobel’s version, which inexplicably drops the dog out of the narrative a mere quarter of the way through. Both films are mediocre adaptations, but this older dated version really isn’t as weak a film as the more recent version.

Without further ado, watch the 1984 adaptation of Z For Zachariah here:

And the new version of Z For Zachariah is currently playing in our Miami area exclusively at Sunset Place. It’s also available on VOD. Again, here’s my review: 

Z For Zachariah can’t overcome shortcomings to live up to its concepts — a film review

All movie stills in this post are courtesy of TV Cream. I’ll leave you with the trailer for the new movie, which I should note also stars Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor:

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

ZFZPOSTER1433438299Despite a curious concept and a strong cast, the post-apocalyptic drama Z For Zachariah cannot overcome several problematic decisions by its filmmakers. Director Craig Zobel and screenwriter Nissar Modi have adapted Robert C. O’Brien’s posthumous 1974 novel, a story about a teenage girl surviving alone on an English farm spared nuclear annihilation because of its location in a valley. Then a stranger in a radiation suit appears. Stricken with radiation poisoning, she takes the man — a scientist — in and cares for him. The story becomes a weird post-nuclear metaphor for the Garden of Eden until the sexual tension turns into something decidedly more sinister.

The fear of nuclear war isn’t what it used to be when the novel was released, so Zobel and Modi have thrown in a third character, a second man, to explore something decidedly more primal. Margot Robbie plays the young woman, Ann Burden, though she is no longer a naive, skittish teen but a stronger-willed young woman who hangs much of her survival on Christian faith. Chiwetel Ejiofor is the interloper John Loomis, an engineer who has grown tired of hiding in a bomb shelter. About halfway through the film, after the two gain a sort of trust and friendly affection for one another, real tension arises when Caleb (Chris Pine) appears. He’s a blue-collar type whose charm, age and race seems the better fit for Ann. The threat goes three ways, in a simmering, subtle conflict of manners.

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Unfortunately, it’s not enough to hold the concept together, as Zobel struggles to maintain the subtle tone necessary to explore the thin thread of social decorum in a post-society world. It’s either too subtle or too sloppy. The performers exude a sense of ambivalence to varying degrees. Ejiofer is the standout, transmitting the conflict within him with the most clarity. Pine does a fine job, too. He’s at times a grim and ominous presence. Robbie isn’t bad, but her character feels inconsistently drawn, either too meek or too independent, but most of the blame for that goes to the script and the dated story. It’s as if the filmmakers have hesitated to explore the woman’s psyche.

It could be the film is trying to be sly about the tension or maybe the script isn’t up to par to clearly present the subtle antagonism among this “society” based on a trio of people. Then there are the scenes that glaringly point to deficiencies in the writing. In one scene John spies on Ann through the site of a rifle, as she works a field of crops. It’s an unnerving moment that is quickly diffused soon after Ann returns, and he tells her it felt “weird” to point the firearm at her, and she explains, “It’s got a great scope.” It’s one of too many clunky occasions that undermine the mood the film strains to maintain. As overwrought as it sometimes feels, Heather McIntosh’s score does a more efficient job of controlling the film’s atmosphere.

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Then there are a few silly details that even more harshly breaks the film’s suspension of disbelief. Early in the movie, Ann plays a 78 record on an old phonograph to sit down to eat a dinner she fancies up with candles. It’s presented as part of a montage to show her loneliness and boredom. But those records have a maximum run time of three and a half minutes, hardly the time needed to complete a leisurely dinner. But the worst of these sort of missteps is the presence of a dog that seems to be Ann’s only companion, until John arrives. Somewhere off camera, he just drops out of the narrative. Maybe I blinked and missed something, but the dog plays a big role in the book, and it seems the filmmakers just had enough of the dog and cut him out without a single reference. That’s just sloppy.

Speaking of cutting out, the film’s fatal mistake arrives at the end and how it handles the inevitable confrontation between the two men. I don’t usually point out gripes with a film’s ending, but there’s something fundamentally wrong with how Zobel chose to deal with resolving this conflict. It sanitizes the characters by keeping their ugliest acts off-screen. This is how you weaken the impact of a concept. Zobel fails to have it both ways: presenting characters with dark, primal sides while trying to make them sympathetic, which many filmmakers have done successfully (take Noah Baumbach, for instance). This is especially disappointing because Zobel is the director who went all out when he adapted a disturbing real-life story that explores the profundity of the dark limits of human behavior while implicating the audience in 2012’s Compliance, (Compliance reveals horrific dimensions of social behavior – a film review). He could have so easily achieved the same level of unease with this movie had he only not backed away from the abyss. It’s a shame to see Zobel blink.

Hans Morgenstern

Z For Zachariah runs 98 Minutes and is rated PG-13 (cursing, some light nudity and sexuality and the threat of violence). It opens exclusively in our Miami area at Sunset Place (put is also available on VOD) today, Aug. 28. Roadside Attractions provided all images in this post and an on-line screener link for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

the_look_of_silence_posterIt takes a strong constitution to look into the abyss presented by The Look of Silence, the latest documentary by Joshua Oppenheimer, the Oscar-nominated director behind 2012’s The Act of Killing. Beautiful images of the lush Indonesian jungle and a soundtrack that mostly features crickets are juxtaposed against tales of the horrors of the Indonesian genocide of 1965/66 and its terrible effects on its survivors. In this “war,” the military sat back and let propaganda do its work, as mostly civilian death squads took charge of killing the communists, intellectuals and Chinese immigrants that allegedly threatened their society. The Act of Killing already documented all kinds of killings in Indonesia, detailed by several boastful perpetrators. Oppenheimer showed how they are treated as heroes in Indonesia today, as those in power got there because of this genocide.

Though it takes on the same subject, The Look of Silence is a very different movie. Gone are the surreal, staged reenactments by the killers. Instead there is but one reenactment, and it’s only shown on a 4:3 TV screen watched by Adi, the son of elderly survivors who lost their first son, Ramli, during the massacres. It shows two old men laughing about eviscerating their victims by the Snake River before throwing their remains in the water. They also go into stark detail of how they chopped at one victim, including a humiliating death blow. That victim was Adi’s brother.

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Despite the collaboration of many victims in The Act of Killing, all were simply credited as “anonymous” for their protection. Adi and his parents, however, not only appear on camera, but Adi also goes out to interview known members of the death squads, seeking some apology for the death of a brother he never knew. His job as the village’s optometrist gives him access but also acts as metaphor. Oppenheimer never makes it feel heavy-handed, as he prefers to explore the silences with rich images. It’s a film that primarily exists between the lines of action. It’s in the pacing of the shot/reverse shot during Adi’s interviews or his silence as he watches the two jabbering old men in the video. It’s also in the wide shots of the gorgeous jungle that grows fruitful because of the past and its decay. Still, no amount of finesse can overshadow the crimes against humanity committed in the past, and Oppenheimer emphasizes this by repeating certain set pieces.

For instance, both killers and survivors repeat, “The past is the past.” The past certainly provides the distance necessary to cope with the horror, but Oppenheimer doesn’t allow it to cloud the viewer’s judgement of these scenes. He presents no archival footage to validate the statement. He keeps The Look of Silence firmly in the present, but the weight of the past is felt everywhere. Actions define the victims and the perpetrators now and what kind of people are they.

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So who are these people? They are Adi’s father, who, according to his mother, started losing his teeth after Ramli was killed. He’s now a shell of a person, lost to dementia, an object that sometimes lets out a groan of discomfort, as Adi’s mother bathes him, scrubbing with a familiar, routine purpose. Then there are the perpetrators who blame another time for what they did, even though those in power today are there as a result of the mass killings. The past is also no to be trusted. As in an early scene in an elementary school classroom where a teacher tells his half-bored students, including Adi’s son, about the evils of communism. He bends down to a boy and points a pen to his eye as he talks about communists who gouged the eyes out of their enemies. The only concrete presentation of the past, however, is in that video Oppenheimer shot about 10 years prior and Adi obsesses over.

These are people, but they are also walking metaphors for the effects of these crimes. They are human, breathing records of the effects of a society born of impunity. Adi is the lone optometrist trying to open everyone’s eyes. His mother is sadness personified whose longing for her murdered son is only qualified by her belief that Adi is his reincarnation. The father of Ramli, is the saddest of the lot. Adi’s mother says he began losing his teeth after the death of Ramli. Now his is blind, toothless and demented. In one harrowing scene shot by Adi, he scoots around the house on his behind patting at the walls, calling out for help, that he doesn’t recognize the building. Hope, however, lies in Adi’s two children, a daughter who still finds flatulence funny and a son who Adi must constantly re-teach history in spite of his teacher’s propaganda.

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We meet the kids as they watch jumping beans, larvae that struggle so violently to get out of their shells that they jump. Oppenheimer does not make The Look of Silence some precious movie about seeking closure. These are people deeply scarred by a most dehumanizing kind of warfare that pitted neighbor against neighbor. They are not victims searching for a way to forget the past and move on but accept it in order to live with it and move forward. The Look of Silence is an extraordinary document of the dark nature of humankind and a testament to its ability to heal. It’s a film that must be experienced fully, with eyes open, for the sake of our own humanity, as well.

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You can read more about this movie in my interview with the film’s director:

Joshua Oppenheimer, director of The Look of Silence, talks influences, follow-up movie and “the past” — an interview

Hans Morgenstern

Screening update: The Look of Silence returns to our Miami area thanks to the Miami Beach Cinematheque starting Friday, Sept. 4 (see screening calendar here).

The Look of Silence runs 103 minutes, is in Bahasa and other Indonesian dialects with subtitles and is rated PG-13 (the most disturbing thing about it is the details of the past). It opens in our South Florida area exclusively at O Cinema Miami Shores today, Friday, Aug.14. It plays only for the weekend. If you live outside of Miami, visit this link for other screening dates and locations. Drafthouse Pictures provided a screening link for the purpose of this review and also provided all images in this article. Finally, listen to me on WLRN today as speak in praise of this movie as well as as films at 1 p.m. EST. The live stream is here. The show will also later be archived on that page.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Joshua_Oppenheimer - photo by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

For his follow-up to 2012’s The Act of Killing, documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer returned to Indonesia to once again explore the late 1960s massacres of innocents that put the nation’s current government in power. With The Look of Silence, once again, Oppenheimer, co-directing with the victims and the victims’ family members who he credits as “anonymous,” creates a stark testament to a grim history. As opposed to The Act of Killing where he spoke to only the perpetrators who killed people with clubs, knives and steel wire with impunity, The Look of Silence features the family members of one of the victims.

Speaking via phone from New York City, the Danish-born filmmaker reveals he first thought of this film before he shot The Act of Killing. However, he only began shooting The Look of Silence in 2012. It was actually too dangerous to identify survivors of the massacres because the current government could have imprisoned them or worse. People still live in fear of the government in Indonesia, and the release of The Act of Killing has now given him and his victims a kind of protection, though he still had to be careful not to shoot interviews with people who were too high-ranking in the government.

Oppenheimer calls The Look of Silence and The Act of Killing mirror images. He says the title The Look of Silence also came to him before The Act of Killing. Explaining the film’s title he says, “It was, above all, a definition of a project of making visible, of making palpable something normally invisible, this silence born of fear and the traces that fear and silence leave on a human life. How can you look at a family that’s lived for 50 years afraid and in silence, and in forced silence, and see the traces of that and how can you discern the inventive ways that people find to live with dignity and love, despite being surrounded by the powerful men who killed their loved ones.”

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It’s a profound observation for a heavy subject. The family Oppenheimer spotlights is that of Adi, a village optician who makes the rounds testing the eyes of his neighbors, including some who actually participated in the massacre. And it is Adi who conducts the interviews with some of the perpetrators. They share with him chilling stories of drinking the blood of their victims to keep from going mad. But what mainly gets to Adi is footage Oppenheimer shot of two elderly men while making The Act of Killing. The two men stand at a clearing by the Snake River and admit they were the ones who killed Adi’s elder brother, Ramli, They even act out their actions and go into gruesome details of each machete blow that they remember. And they laugh.

The film also features Adi’s parents, his mother, who calls Adi the reincarnation of Ramli, and his father, who is now blind, toothless and suffers from dementia. In a particularly unnerving scene that Oppenheimer says Adi shot one day when he was home alone with his father, his father suffers an episode and begins crawling on the ground patting the walls crying that he doesn’t recognize where he is. “Adi explained to me, ‘I shot this because I couldn’t comfort him that day,” says Oppenheimer, “because I was a stranger to him, and I realized that it’s too late for my father to heal. He’s forgotten the son whose murder destroyed his life and his family’s life, but he hasn’t forgotten his fear, and now he’ll die like millions of others, in a prison of fear. It’s too late for him to heal because he’s forgotten what happened, and I don’t want my children to inherit this prison of fear.’”

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Indeed, this is a stark movie that dwells not so much on explaining but understanding how to heal from such a past for the sake of the nation’s future. A sort of mantra is repeated by both survivors and perpetrators of the genocide: “The past is the past.” Oppenheimer explains this reasoning thus: “It’s a statement that absolutely belies itself because the survivors always say it out of fear, and the perpetrators always say it as a threat, indicating that the past is not the past. It’s right there, keeping people afraid. It’s a gaping wound. It’s an abyss dividing everybody. Keeping survivors afraid and a kind of threat by the perpetrators. The past is right there and is open … That’s really the experience of the film. I tried to create a film that’s so immersive that it goes beyond a message.”

Oppenheimer has created a poetic film, actually. It is much more than a documentary (my review: The Look of Silence explores aftermath of genocide with startling cinematic poetry). The quality of his filmmaking stands alongside the work of Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, two of contemporary cinema’s most influential and important documentary filmmakers. Both even acted as executive producers on The Look of Silence. However, Oppenheimer names very different filmmakers as influences on this film. “I kind of made a study in preparation for this use of silence of two filmmakers. I suppose for the viewing scene, I was thinking more of the work of Robert Bresson. Diary of a Country Priest, for example, the closing shot of that film, where you see a face reacting to memory and reacting to the plights of the world and the trials that are being thrown at the priest, and in the dialogue scenes, I was thinking about Yasujirô Ozu, whom I think is a master of creating dialogue scenes where everything important being said is articulated through silence and shame as opposed to the words.”

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You can read much more about the film, its story and Oppenheimer’s intentions in an article I wrote for the Arts and Culture blog of “The Miami New Times.” I’m quite proud of it. Jump through the logo of the blog below to read an even more insightful piece on what is sure to be one of the greatest documentaries of the year:

NT Arts

Hans Morgenstern

Screening update: The Look of Silence returns to our Miami area thanks to the Miami Beach Cinematheque starting Friday, Sept. 4 (see screening calendar here).

The Look of Silence opens in our South Florida area exclusively at O Cinema Miami Shores on Friday, Aug.14. It plays only for the weekend. If you live outside of Miami, visit this link for other screening dates and locations. Drafthouse Pictures provided a screening link for the purpose of this review and also provided all images in this article.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

3047304-inline-i-1-poster-captures-the-strength-of-street-knowledge-in-black-and-whiteThe late ‘80s was a watershed era for music. There was a revolution against pop music driven by synthesizers and lyrics that were either superficial or overly conceptualized. New genres emerged, motivated by earthy, raw and real experiences. Some of these movements included grunge, hardcore and lo-fi music. Specific to the Los Angeles ghetto was gangsta rap, pioneered by the likes Ice-T and N.W.A. Depending on who you asked, it was a dangerous, brash style of rap that glamorized sex, drugs and the gang lifestyle or it was an angry revolt against oppression by the police and a frustrated howl against the disenfranchisement of those living in the inner cities.

With Straight Outta Compton, his biopic on N.W.A. (i.e. Niggaz Wit Attitudes) director F. Gary Gray, whose debut as a filmmaker was a music video for Ice Cube, does not gloss over both of these sides of N.W.A.’s story. It opens with a scary dope deal involving Eazy E (Jason Mitchell in an impressive debut starring role) and ends with the consequences of his hard-partying lifestyle. Best known for action films like The Italian Job (2003) and most recently Law Abiding Citizen (2009), Gray made his feature film debut with the cult favorite Friday (1995), starring Ice Cube, who co-wrote that film’s screenplay. In Straight Outta Compton, though he is working off a script and story by five writers, Gray blends the story’s gravitas with a kinetic style of filmmaking that still has moments of great humor (the scene where Eazy E finds his voice in the studio while recording “Boyz-N-the Hood” is a high point) and a nimble pace.

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Gray never lets up the tempo, despite a near two and a half hour run time. His flair for the music video comes across in moments as obvious as when the group takes the stage or in the smaller moments, like the intro to Dr. Dre (an exceptional Corey Hawkins). The slowly spinning camera compliments the fact that Dre is reclining on a bunch of records with his headphones, on listening to “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” by Roy Ayres, a song he would later sample in 2001’s “My Life.” The film is rich in these small details (including some sly references to Friday).

In the wider scheme, Gray never misses an opportunity to make encounters with the police confrontational. At the same time, he never lets the group off on their self-destructive hedonism. There are parties in hotel rooms and Dr. Dre’s house over-flowing with naked and willing groupies. But even deeper, are the egos that made the group so unstable (they only released two albums). You get the sense that though the music united them, it also divided them. They were strong and passionate as they railed against police oppression in “F**k Tha Police,” but they also turned that energy on themselves. There were the diss tracks to one another like N.W.A.’s “Message to B.A.” after Ice Cube left the group (B.A. stands for Benedict Arnold) and then Ice Cube’s take-no-prisoners response “No Vaseline,” which even included a jab at Jerry Heller, the band’s manager.

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Speaking of Heller, Paul Giamatti takes the role, bringing a humanity to the music mogul accused of taking advantage of the group. White people do not come off well in this movie, however. Heller and Priority Records exec Bryan Turner (Tate Ellington), have a couple of hokey high-pitched scenes in the face of threatening acts by Eazy E and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). Most of the stop-and-frisk obsessed officers are white, save for the black officer who leads a search on the group in front of the recording studio, an event that winds up inspiring Ice Cube to write “Fuck the Police.” But everyone does great work as actors in the film. The film’s standouts are Mitchell and Jackson Jr., who happens to be Ice Cube’s son. Both have important emotional opportunities on this roller coaster of a drama, and the performances are consistent and easy to empathize with throughout the film. The only time Gray ratchets up the cinematic sentimentality too far is after Eazy E’s AIDS diagnosis. It’s really a disservice to Mitchell’s ability to carry the drama.

Finally, there is a timeliness to this film. N.W.A. arrived during a tense time in Los Angeles history. The tension between police and young black males was at fever pitch. The rap group’s rise to fame grew with the tensions that included the caught-on-video beating of Rodney King and the subsequent riots after the officers’ were acquitted of their actions on the unarmed black man. Now, once again, there is tension among police and African-Americans. The cameras are more ubiquitous this time and some of the crimes have grown increasingly violent, involving guns and fatalities. There have been riots, as well. Yet, no one in the popular music scene has taken the spotlight quite like N.W.A. did — the fuming personification of angst through artistry.

Hans Morgenstern

Straight Outta Compton runs 147 minutes and is rated R (the parties, the drugs, the language and violence that N.W.A. rapped about is all here). It opens in wide release this Friday, Aug. 14. Click here for tickets. Universal Pictures invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review. All images are courtesy of Universal.

Update: The Miami independent theater O Cinema is bringing Straight Out of Compton to its Wynwood location beginning Friday, Aug. 21. Details here.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

TALES OF HALLOWEEN POSTERJust in time to warm up South Florida for Halloween, comes the Popcorn Frights Film Festival. It marks the region’s first film festival dedicated to the horror film genre. All movies will be Florida premieres. It will take place from Oct. 1 through Oct. 4, and all screenings are at 11 p.m. and feature shorts, creating a grindhouse kind of experience for every screening. Some films feature big names from the horror genre, from directors like Neil Marshall (The Descent) to actors like Kurt Russell.

The festival was put together by two experts of the film programming scene, Miami Jewish Film Festival executive director Igor Shteyrenberg and Marc Ferman, a local film critic and host of many vintage movie screenings at Popcorn Nights at Miami’s O Cinema. The festival will unfold at O Cinema’s Wynwood location. The line-up, which appropriately kicks off with an omnibus of horror shorts called Tales of Halloween, was announced this morning. We were given permission to share their press release below, which reveals the full line-up, schedule and ticket details with some handy links.

For immediate release Monday, August 10, 2015

SOUTH FLORIDA’S FIRST AND ONLY HORROR FILM FESTIVAL KICKS-OFF THIS OCTOBER
MIAMI, FL – Horror fans will soon rejoice as South Florida’s first and only genre film festival, the Popcorn Frights Film Festival, launches October 1-4, 2015 at the O Cinema Wynwood, premiering four acclaimed and highly anticipated international films, and an additional six shorts. “We’re thrilled to present such an array of cool, twisted, beautiful, mind-bending, horrifying, and hilarious films for our inaugural genre festival,” said Co-Founders & Co-Directors Igor Shteyrenberg & Marc Ferman. “We scoured the globe for the freshest and craziest films to present for our community of film lovers, and this first incredible selection of films just gives a small taste of the fun that will be in store as our Festival grows in future editions.”

The program for the first annual Popcorn Frights Film Festival is a fearsome feast filled with vampires, werewolves, psycho slashers, cannibals, and all the sinister things that go bump in the night. Opening Night will see the Florida Premiere of Tales of Halloween, an anthology film featuring shorts by the likes of Neil Marshall (The Descent), Luck McKee (May), and Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II), while the closing night highlight will be Bone Tomahawk, starring Kurt Russsell, Matthew Fox, Patrick Wilson, David Arquette, and Sid Haig in a horrific Western about how the west was truly won…against savage cannibals!

Other buzzy entries in the lineup include the Florida Premieres of Howl, An American Werewolf in London-inspired creature feature, and the genre-bending supernatural shocker Diabolical, starring Ali Larter (Final Destination, Heroes). In addition to these feature films, the Festival will also present six award-winning short films as part of its official program, notably “The Night of the Slasher,” a remarkable shot-in-one-take short with nods to the slasher genre’s roots, and the eerie stop motion animated film “The Shutterbug Man,” which features a voice over narration by the queen of horror Barbara Steele.

NIGHT OF THE SLASHER (SHORT FILM)

The Festival’s Opening Night on Thursday, October 1st will kick-off with an under the stars courtyard reception courtesy of Pollo Tropical. The reception will be exclusive to the Festival’s Badge Holders. LOCATION: All films will screen at 11pm at the O Cinema Wynwood (90 NW 29th Street).

TICKET SALES: Festival Premiere Badges are on sale for a limited time for $45, and single screening tickets are available for $12. To purchase badges or tickets and view the Festival schedule, visit www.popcornfrights.com MORE INFORMATION: Follow the Popcorn Frights Film Festival on Facebook (/popcornfrights) or Twitter (@popcornfrights) for updates with the latest information about the Festival. Join the conversation using the hashtag #popcornfrights on social media.

FESTIVAL LINEUP
October 1st
TALES OF HALLOWEEN, Florida Premiere Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, Axelle Carolyn, Adam Gierasch, Andrew Kasch, Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Mike Mendez, Dave Parker, Ryan Schifrin, John Skipp, Paul Solet

US | 92 minutes | 2015

Ten tales of terror unfold in a sleepy suburb on All Hallows Eve as ghouls, imps, aliens, goblins, demons, axe murders, and serial killers roam the witching hour. Join our celebration of all things Halloween with a host of dreaded nightmares directed by the cream of the scream industry crop.

INVADERS, Florida premiere Directed by Jason Kupfer

US | 7 minutes | 2014

It’s Thanksgiving and two would-be robbers are planning a quick heist. But they might get more than they bargained for.

 

October 2nd
THE DIABOLICAL, Florida Premiere Directed by Alistair Legrand

US | 86 minutes | 2015

Ali Larter (Final Destination, Heroes) stars in this genre-bending supernatural shocker as a single mother trying to protect her two young children from an increasingly strange and intense presence tormenting their quiet suburban home. Seeking help from her boyfriend, they embark on a hunt to destroy the violent spirit.

THE SHUTTERBUG MAN, Florida Premiere Directed by Chris Walsh

Canada | 5 minutes | 2014

An all-out stop motion horror short that’s heavy on shadows and atmosphere and narrated by the queen of horror Barbara Steele.

HUSH, Florida Premiere Directed by Michael Kehoe

US | 6 minutes | 2015
A young college graduate babysits an 8 year old girl during a terrible storm, only to realize their house is possessed by a malevolent entity.

HOWL STILL

October 3rd
HOWL, Florida Premiere Directed by Paul Hyett

UK | 95 minutes | 2015

Make-up effects master Paul Hyett (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) creates a lycanthropic horror tale about a group of passengers on a midnight train who find themselves under attack by a terrifying pack of werewolves. As his effects background might imply, Hyett completely eschews CGI beasts and takes a more American Werewolf-inspired practical approach that is unlike anything the silver screen has seen before.

BAD GUY #2, Florida Premiere Directed by Chris McInroy

US | 10 minutes | 2014 This outrageously gory comedy follows a struggling hitman whose upward mobility lands him at the dreaded position of Bad Guy #2 – a prominent but ultimately expendable character in the bad guy pantheon – leaving him no choice but to up his game or die violently at the hands of his emotionally erratic boss. NIGHT OF THE SLASHER, Florida Premiere Directed by Shant Hamassian US | 12 minutes | 2015 Every slasher has rules for selecting his prey. But tonight’s prey might have the upper hand.

October 4thBONE TOMAHAWK POSTER
BONE TOMAHAWK, Florida Premiere Directed by S. Craig Zahler

US | 95 minutes | 2015 Kurt Russell stars in this character driven and horrific Western about a group of men (including Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, and Richard Jenkins) who set out to rescue a local woman and a young deputy who have been kidnapped by a tribe of cannibalistic troglodytes. This is a men-on-a-mission Western full of all the genre staples we love, but with the added joys of brutal horror such that, by the end of the film, you will understand how the west was truly won…against savage cannibals!

CROW HAND!!!, Florida Premiere Directed by Brian Lonano US | 3 minutes | 2014 The title says it all!

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ABOUT POPCORN FRIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL

Popcorn Frights Film Festival presents the very best genre films from across the world as it celebrates the art of horror. As the first and only horror/genre festival in South Florida, its mission is to premiere films from emerging and established filmmakers enabling the industry and general audiences to experience the power of storytelling through genre film. The inaugural Popcorn Frights Film Festival will occur October 1-4, 2015.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

phoenix posterA mystery movie doesn’t always need to have its mysteries hidden away, obliging itself to constantly stringing along the audience with questions and twists. There are other ways to create thrills, and German director/writer Christian Petzold (Film review: ‘Barbara’ – transcending suspicion with grace) has devised an unequivocal experience with Phoenix. Working with regular co-screenwriter Harun Farocki, Petzold has adapted Hubert Monteilhet’s 1961 novel Le Retour des cendres (Return from the Ashes), which already had a bit of a convoluted film adaptation in 1965 by J. Lee Thompson starring Maximilian Schell. Hence, the possible title change.

There is some elegance in Monteilhet’s original title, which offers a more deliberate reference to where the film’s main character comes from, as a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. However, Petzold and Farocki have streamlined the story quite a bit, dropping characters, and focusing profoundly on the notion of love and the past, and the two characters at the center of the film, the Jewish singer Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss, Petzold’s go-to lead actress) who finds several levels of freedom following liberation by the allied forces, and Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), her gentile husband, a pianist who performed with her, until the Nazis separated them. He thinks she, as is the case with her entire family, is dead.

PHOENIX

Nelly first appears onscreen with her face wrapped in bandages. She is driven into Berlin by the only friend she has left, Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), where a surgeon will help repair her face, a process he clarifies is “not reconstruction” but “recreation.” Though Lene promises Nelly that they will find their true sanctuary in Palestine, Nelly remains obsessed with finding her husband in the ruins of Berlin. Though Lene tells Nelly that Johnny betrayed her to the Nazis, Nelly goes out at night secretly searching. Nelly comes across Johnny working in the maybe too aptly named Phoenix lounge. She takes advantage of her new face to feel him out and introduces herself as Esther. So begins a deception that explores moral character in the wake of an atrocious past.

Lene is desperate to find love again, but the question always lingers whether Johnny loved her to begin with, and if so, what was that loved based on? The answer might seem simple when Johnny notes enough of a similarity in “Esther” to his wife Phoenixthat he comes up with a scheme to use her. He suggests that she might be able to impersonate Nelly, so he might get his hands on her inheritance. But Phoenix is a much more complicated film than that. Petzold instead has created a film that feels like an inversion of the film noir. The femme fatale is duplicitous, yes, but she loves someone, or an idea of someone, and that someone is a man she is both scamming and scamming for.

The conflict and irony of her actions is what make Phoenix‘s drama so compelling. It’s in the small moments when Nelly lets out a smile behind Johnny’s back, as he gives her a ride on a bike to their old hiding place. There’s a practicality in his relationship with “Esther” that fills a void for Nelly who wants to be herself in the past, but cannot seem to face her new reality even with a new face. The lack of existence is revealed an intensity that lies in the smallest gestures.

PHOENIX 2013

Not only is Petzold working again with his co-writer and Hoss, who again brings a soft-spoke grace to a complicated female character, but also with cinematographer Hans Fromm. Fromm has always had a knack for brightening the dark moods of Petzold’s films, and he does it again in Phoenix. Film noir comparisons would be incomplete without recognizing how this movie plays with shadow and light. From the harsh red neon glow of club Phoenix, the site of Nelly’s rebirth, to her struggles of devotion enhanced by the subtle contrast of shadow and light in the home Nelly and Lene are taken in as lodgers, there is hardly any incidental lighting. There’s also a different kind of light and darkness in the set pieces. There are deep shadows in the ruinous devastation of Berlin that speak to the past of the city as well as that of Nelly and the natural, green bucolic beauty in the still very intact, lakeside mansion where Lene once hid from the Nazis.

An intelligent film with style to spare, Phoenix is driven by a strange mystery, in that it invites the audience to contemplate deception from another angle. Driven by a dramatic irony that lets the audience in on everything, Phoenix becomes something else entirely, much like the main character who finds empowerment in her wounds.

Hans Morgenstern

Screening update: By popular demand the following have for Sept. 4:

Aventura Mall 24 Theatres – Aventura
Indian River 24 – Vero Beach
Silverspot at Coconut Creek – Coconut Creek
Last Picture Show 5 – Tamarac

Phoenix runs 98 minutes, is in English and German with English subtitles and is rated PG-13 (it has its disturbing moments). It opens in our South Florida area on the following schedule:

AUGUST 7:

  • MDC’s Tower Theater in Miami
  • Miami Beach Cinematheque
  • Cinema Paradiso Fort Lauderdale

AUGUST 14:

  • Bill Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables
  • Movies of Lake Worth
  • Movies of Delray 5
  • Living Room Cinema 4 in Boca Raton

AUGUST 21:

  • Silversport Cinema in Naples
  • Prado Stadium 12 in Bonita Springs

SEPTEMBER 9:

  • Lake Worth Playhouse

It first premiered in Miami at the Miami International Film Festival. IFC Films shared a DVD screener for the purpose of this review. All images are courtesy of Christian Schulz for IFC Films.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
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