CIFF 2016: You might expect a documentary about three poor African American teens living in the shadow of twenty-seven prisons to be an exercise in stereotyping-as-drama. Raising Bertie is not that film. Director Margaret Byrne and co-writer Leslie Simmer spend six years with these kids, whose lives change when their nurturing alternative high school is dissolved. Junior, DaDa and Bud grow up before our eyes, gasping for breath in a system too overrun and underfunded to care, in a rural town that's short on role models, opportunities, and reasons to dream. Byrne showcases the promise within each of these young men and tracks how they harness, diminish, and refocus it to make the best of circumstances they either fall into or dive into recklessly. Though not an overtly political movie, Raising Bertie works to change the media narrative of "unarmed black men" to "disarming black men".
It used to be that "extended"/"unrated" home video releases were just excuses for movie studios to rake in extra cash by giving audiences more gore or more gross-outs--often at the expense of the theatrical version's narrative rhythms. Not so with Ghostbusters: Extended Cut. Why didn't Sony release this version in July? Placed judiciously throughout, the extra fifteen minutes really tighten up Paul Feig and Katie Dippold's rocky plotting, providing more background on the villainous Ronan; explaining why the Ghostbusters break up before the climax (Don't Think Twice's Chris Gethard makes a welcome appearance); and finally showing us the military dance sequence originally dumped into the end credits (not funny, but at least the bookend scenes make sense now). Aside from two minutes of the leads' "comedic" vamping, this is the definitive Ghostbusters 2016.
CIFF 2016: As modern lore goes, there are few stories more mysterious or more chilling than that of Christine Chubbuck, the 29-year-old Florida reporter who committed suicide on the air in 1974. The footage was never released, and a relative handful of people actually witnessed the event as it happened. If you come to Antonio Campos’ drama Christine expecting a slice of sensational ghoulishness, you’ll be sorely disappointed. If, however, you’re up for a deep-cutting portrait of depression, ambition, and what it means to stand at the forefront of a mass-media tidal wave, you’ll devour Rebecca Hall’s performance and Craig Shilowich’s insightful screenplay. Unforgettable supporting turns by Tracy Letts, Michael C. Hall, and Maria Dizzia underscore Christine as a prescient film that mirrors our present-day struggle to connect with one another in a world that values achievement and sensationalism over healing and humanity.
Don Coscarelli doesn’t need Phantasm anymore, and Phantasm sure as hell doesn't need him. In the nearly two decades between Part 3 (Oblivion) and Part 4 (Ravager), the writer/director brought other authors’ work to kooky, inventive, cinematic life with Bubba Ho-Tep and John Dies at the End. Returning to his own franchise, Coscarelli has outsourced directing to animation supervisor David Hartman, and all but abandoned the series' horror roots--further removing himself (and us) from the spirit with which he blossomed as an indie genre pioneer. The resulting no-budget fan film once again sees former ice cream man Reggie (Reggie Bannister) playing guitar, jumping dimensions, and fighting the evil Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) for our reality's very soul. Sadly, no amount of call-backs, cameos, and tricked-out CGI spheres can atone for Ravager’s utter lack of brains, heart, and, well… balls. Here’s to more adaptations and less recycling.
Listen to KtS Podcast Episode 160 for more thoughts on Ravager!
Denial works better as a cultural mile marker than as a piece of drama. This is neither the fault, per se, of writer David Hare or director Mick Jackson who, in adapting historian Deborah Lipstadt’s book, Holocaust History on Trial, turn viewers into flies on the walls of various courtrooms, apartments, and law offices during one of the new century’s most confounding cases. Lipstadt (played with fiery Queens spunk by Rachel Weisz) spent years defending herself against Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall, exuding wrong-headed gusto and insecurity). Though both sides make compelling cases (one more than the other), the filmmakers have zero chance, in the moment, of convincing viewers that the outcome could be anything but completely expected. Twenty years on, our political climate still tolerates bald-faced public lying about demonstrable facts. Sadly, that meta-commentary is all that gives Denial heft as a movie.